To Mumbai with Love from New York

I never had much interest in going to India until today.
This morning, a glowing Saturday in Beijing, I treated myself to watching to Ric Burns’ 16 hour long eight-episode New York documentary.  I had gotten up to the final episode, which chronicles the rise and fall of the World Trade Center.  I had seen this episode before, and it’s not the best of the series, so while the steel symbols of a globalized world were rising and falling on one window on my laptop, I was reading the news on another.  News of a city on the other side of the world that I had never been interested in, until a friend shared a story of her parents driving past Cafe Leopold seeing people streaming out, and watching the fire on the rooftop of the Taj as the army rolled in.

The terrorist attacks on Mumbai felt familiar, but this one Op-Ed by Suketu Mehta, a professor at NYU, really nailed down why. The Mumbai he describes has a New York soul. 

And his suggested response is a New York response:  “…the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever… Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.”
Dear Mumbai, as a New Yorker who has marveled at our own great city rise from the ashes of an incomprehensible terrorist attack, I have confidence you will overcome this too.  As Mayor Giuliani said on 9/11, “Tomorrow New York is going to be here. And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before.”

So will you.  New York is cheering for you.

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We expats are proud to be American today

Tonight I went out to celebrate Obama’s victory, and the end of an administration that history has already judged as a failure in so many ways.  As an American living abroad, no failure has hurt me more than America’s loss of esteem in the world’s eyes.  Why did I feel I needed to slap Canadian labels on my luggage all these years?  Why have I been so embarrased to let people know I’m American?

But tonight, it finally hit me what today’s election meant to our country — and to me — when I overheard a young woman raise her glass and toast proudly, “I’m an American!”  Tomorrow, I’ll go back to being skeptical of “change” and critical of the new administration too (as always), but for now, it feels great to be an American.  I am proud of the democratic process, proud of my fellow Americans, proud of Obama and his team, and proud of this moment in history.

And I’m not the only one.  Here’s a video I took (endure the first 5 seconds of static please) of a spontaneous outpouring of patriotism that erupted on the rooftop of the Saddle in Sanlitun, a bar district in Beijing, so you can see for yourself what this means:

Congratulations, America.

As always,


Not just because Obama’s name also has two As and a B

I still don’t know what Obama’s voice sounds like.

I don’t watch foreign television here in Beijing, and for whatever reason, haven’t caught Obama clips on Chinese TV, though I am sure they have them.  When I realized my pretty unique situation half a year ago — how many non-deaf eligible voters in the whole world don’t know what Obama sounds like? a hundred?  — I started to make a concerted effort to avoid videos of him speaking until I could read his policies and platform objectively.  I basically ran out of time, unfortunately, and now only have 15 minutes to share my thoughts, so apologies for the haste.  In a few minutes, I’ll bike over to a restaurant in Beijing where I can watch CNN.  If Obama is elected
president, I’ll hear his voice for the first time when he gives an
acceptance speech.

But before I do that, I wanted to write down why I felt it was
important to not hear him in the first place:  when asking people what
they liked about him (most Americans living in Beijing are Democrats),
almost everyone pointed to a time they heard him speak — the 2004
convention, or a key debate.  And it had me wondering: was this just a
charismatic guy, who could work a room better than a “beady eyed” and “grouchy” McCain?  Were his supporters getting swept up by his
charisma more than by his policy stance?

In broad strokes, I do agree with Obama’s policies on most topics —
though his seemingly protectionist stance concerns me and I’m not
clear whether an Obama administration will be able to fix the key
problems in America’s health care system.  And there are bigger things
that worry me about McCain, including his choice of Sarah Palin for
VP, that had me cast anti-McCain absentee ballot more than I was
casting a pro-Obama one.

But as I’ve talked to people about my “charisma concern,” I realized
that actually, for a president, personal character SHOULD matter, a
lot.  Other legislators in D.C. should be, well, people who legislate,
and so when you vote for them, you should be voting for a set of
policies.  But a president is special;  he (or one day, she) needs to
be a leader, someone who can react to problems that we can’t
anticipate, build consensus to get things done, make prudent decisions
under pressure, listen when it makes sense to listen, and speak when a
clear voice needs to be heard.

More to say (always), but my 15 minutes are up.  Obama’s 15 minutes,
though, look like they be far from done.

Happy 2008,