Wednesday, April 14, 2010

thoughts from the south bound train

I'm now on the train ride home from my meeting in Los Angeles.

I'm traveling high speed over a network of tracks that criss-cross tens of thousands of miles across the entire country. The sheer engineering that goes in to this, boggles my mind. From what I heard today, they are building a high speed train that will soon travel from San Francisco to San Diego in two hours. I'm in one of the largest cities in the United States and there are currently less than 10 people in my car that probably sits 100. I don't know why more people don't use public transportation. I really love trains. Especially when we're flying by cars that are stuck in traffic. I wish my mother was here. She'd love seeing southern California by rail.

I'm sitting next to a sweet elderly couple. Although I'm not intentionally eavesdropping, I am overhearing a conversation that the wife is having with who I believe is her husband's medical provider. She is pulling out various prescription bottles and reading off dosages. He's been battling nausea and exhaustion. He's losing weight. They are on their way to San Diego to check in to an alternative medicine clinic. They need to try something new because nothing is working. Hopefully this clinic will help because their grandson is getting married next month in Chicago and if he's not feeling better, they won't be able to attend. Sure, I might be a few pounds heavier than I was last year. But I am healthy and I feel great, as do my husband and our four children. For that, I am enormously grateful and couldn't feel more blessed.

Today I met with a variety of government officials. Not a single one of them had white skin. Not a single one of them spoke English as their primary language. Each one of them had names with lots of vowels and they spoke with strong accents. Every one of them was passionate about the job they were tasked to do.

I've got to admit, I was so impressed.

Not just by their rank and obvious passion for work, but by the fact that every single one of them migrated to this country. They took off for a land, far from their home, that was completely unknown. Along the way, they learned how to speak and write English so well that they can effectively understand and communicate highly technical data.

It's my opinion that a vast number of Americans are totally smug when it comes to immigrants. It's like we have a sense of entitlement - or superiority - when in reality, a large number of people that have migrated to this country could run laps around us on the intelligence and motivation track.

Compared to these brave souls who have taken off to pursue their lives in a new and different environment, I feel so sheltered and overly cautious. I've been to Canada and Mexico but the only stamp I have in my passport is from he Bahamas. We've got but only one life to live. So while I still have my good health, I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to travel around the world.

By train.


  1. Where we live the public transportation system is practically non-existent. Maybe if we lived "in town" the bus might be okay. But to get to the closest bus stop from my house is probably about 6 from here (and a lot of places in the US) it's just not a practical option. That and the fact that we are all so dependent on our cars. Because we don't have reliable public transportation. See? It's a horrible cycle.

  2. I agree about the intelligence of immigrants. Several other countries place a lot more value on education than say the ability to shoot basketball. It's not that I feel that Americans are stupid, it's just that I feel that the focus is in the wrong place, if that makes sense?

  3. I love the train also and have experienced it several times while staying with you. They think I may have a infection in my knee that had the joint replaced and I am on a ton of stuff.

  4. I have always been a "lurker" on your blog - for over a year I think! - but I have never felt the need to comment. I love your writing style, your children are adorable and I admire and envy your energy! I do feel the need to comment about the "smugness" of Americans and how taken you were with immigrants. I disagree with you SO strongly on this. I work for Medicaid (20 plus years) and these illegals are the ones who get all the "free" services yet my COPAY - yes COPAY only on my last lab bill was over $900! I am SMUG when it comes to being a "legal" citizen and I don't care how freaking smart you are if you're from another country, you'd better be willing to contribute to this country by paying taxes, and speaking my language. I have absolutely NO intention of learning yours. I was here first and I telework. And I am constantly on conference calls with people whose names are 50 characters long and I cannot understand ONE WORD they are saying. And I freakin resent this. Why do I have to keep saying "I'm sorry, can you repeat that" a million times. This is my country and you'd better be speaking my language if you want to live here. JMO only.

  5. Henley, your comment has me laughing so hard.

    I do agree that to live in this great country you need to contribute. I'm not at all for anyone who wants to free load. Boot 'em to the door says I. But the people that I met today are all legal citizens. At least they BETTER be since they work for the government!!

    That being said, I totally hear you about having a good grasp our the english language. Whenever it's after 5 PM PST, all of my work-related computer tech questions are routed to India. This is a real problem since a lot of the work that I do is at night, which also happens to be the time by computer seizes up the most. So, there I am on the phone troubleshooting with some one on the opposite side of the world, who is supposed to provide support to US citizens, and I can only understand every ninth word they say.

    Still, I give these people a lot of credit. To learn a second language is no easy task. And to learn it as well as the government officials that I was working with today, just knocks my socks off. Then again, I'm highly impressed with any one who is fluent in more than one language.

    You wouldn't want to learn another language? Really? Gosh, I'd LOVE to be able to jabber on with someone in a language other than English. Sometimes I talk to the kids in my own version of pig latin meets spanish, french and chinese, just because I think it's sounds so cool.

  6. Start traveling. Do it as soon as you can. The world out there is mind blowingly amazing. Come to Australia - it isn't far and having read your blog for a while now I would happily open my house to you all lol.

    The only thing is although we both speak English you guys have weird accents :)

  7. Right there with you both on immigration and on travelling the globe.

    As a family we have done by train Melbourne - Perth (Aus), Vancouver - Jasper (Canada), London - Paris, Germany - Austria - Switzerland - France - Germany loop and all over Italy. Planning on doing Milano - Vienna - Prague - Budapest this xmas. We don't spend all our time on the train, but once we fly to a country - all further transport until we leave is public transport (usually for 3 weeks). We have not been so adventurous here - but that's because they have a habit of having landslides or falling off tracks.

    Now - in regards to immigration. I guess you could sort of say we have immigrated here (be it for only 5 planned years). We certainly contribute our weight in tax, revenue, and employment. But I have not grasped the language after 3.5 years and that's after working in an office that is 90% bahasa. It is no easy task to go to a new land, where everything everyone says is foreign - all the time. Every time you want anything, it needs to be in that language - it's tough and fustrating, (why can the only thing everyone can say in perfect english is "I can not speak english"?). Hats off to the people who move and assimilate (plus pay their fair share of taxes).

  8. Agree wholeheartedly about the train and public transport (but then again I live in NYC so it's a given that I buy into the whole public transport thing...). I do wish more American cities would make real attempts to institute public transport options.

    I was really dismayed at Henley's comments though. REALLy dismayed, to the point that it got my shackles up. I do understand where she is coming from, but I have to shake my head in sadness that people in our country feel this way. (I also have to say that her comments about "50 characters long", etc. sound awfully condescending and narrow-minded to me, which personally I believe goes hand in hand with a perspective like hers. But oh well, I dont mean to turn this into some sort of raging debate on immigrants - legal or otherwise.

    I was so pleased about your comments about immigrants by the way. I couldn't agree more. Immigrants are truly one of the things that set our country apart from others and make it the amazing country that it is.

    I'll sign off with saying that I'm the daughter of immigrants (albeit highly educated and non-illegal, but still). And my sweet children have immigrant grandparents who are truly the light of their lives (in both directions) and belong in this country with their American grandchildren just as much as "Henley" does.

  9. When I was a senior in high school, I went on a whirlwind European tour, and one of the best parts of it was the traveling by train. We had a sleeper car and they came around with a snack cart and we all loved it - it was so - I don't know - old fashioned. The first time I watched a Harry Potter movie, I was immediately reminded of that trip.

  10. I just heard on NPR that 28% of all residents of NY, NJ and PA were foreign-born. That's almost 1/3. I think that's a pretty amazing statistic -- and very indicative of both the past and the future. This country has ALWAYS depended on immigrant labor --and intelligence -- to survive and thrive. I have to say, I am deeply saddened when I read comments like Henley's that disparage and demean people who speak a language other than English and who make gross assumptions about a huge group of people based on their own personal experience. Like it or not, our world is getting more and more diverse every day, and you can either learn to cope or you will find yourself quickly becoming obsolete. I agree with you that the first-generation Americans I have met are among the most hard-working, ambitious, self-sacrificing individuals I have ever met. They give up everything to come to a country where they can provide a better future for their children. That is to be respected, not attacked.

  11. I feel awed daily by the motivation of my immigrant husband. And awed daily by some of the bigotry he encounters because of his accent. It doesn't matter that he has PhD at the end of his name. To most people, they hear the accent and assume he doesn't speak English very well (never mind the fact that in reality, he is often the first person to teach English grammar and usage concepts to college freshman, which they must know before attempting to use them in his language classes... and the fact that he speaks four languages with near-native fluency, and another three well enough to travel without a dictionary and has another seven or so that he's studied for at least a year...).

    And I'm not trying to be ugly to Henley, but because my husband started learning British English in 5th grade, his accent is often quite difficult, because it's tainted not only with a British accent AND the accent of his native country, but also with the accent of various areas of the country where he lived when he picked up certain phrases. And it's really, really mean to presume that because you can't precisely and immediately understand him that he must somehow be an uneducated, likely illegal, freeloading, intentionally obtuse jerk who just doesn't want to "speak [her] language", even though he's as educated as you can be in the US, is a LEGAL Green Carded resident alien, and is the main bread winner and thus the ONLY tax payer in our house.

    As the Indigo Girls say, "Funny I think we were on the same boat, back in 1694..." (meaning that whether you like it or not, unless your lineage is 100% indigenous, then we are ALL immigrants...). So, I really get offended when we start to get all indignant about the fact that THOSE people are coming to OUR country. Rest assured that many people who you think are non-taxpayers who are taking advantage of "your" system are, in fact, contributing more than you could ever think.

    So, again, I don't mean to be ugly, but sometimes the idea that a person has to be a citizen in order to contribute, that a person who has an accent should be treated with prejudice, is really hurtful to me. We should try to think twice about exactly what we say in this regard because issues of citizenship are often not as black and white as we'd like them to be.

    That said, one of the many things I liked about traveling in his home country last summer was our ability to go everywhere by public transit or by bicycle. It was absolutely lovely, and something I wish we could have over here.