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I guess it's a reboot.
Good morning, afternoon, evening,
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One reason I don’t post enough in this newsletter is that I always wait to have a big text to publish and then it takes a lot of time (including to write it) and things get delayed or not even posted at all.
Also, I noticed that Sections here are organized in such a way that the main newsletter is considered as a section too (I thought it was just the “root” of all the sections, a bit like folders for your files, or categories for blogs, and such). So basically, my “Soliloquies” section and the root “liminal web” are not only considered separate but serve the same purpose. It means I don’t really need that “Soliloquies” section, and by the time you read this, it will have been deleted.
I’m a little worried about people who subscribed to the Soliloquies section only, and not to the “root” newsletter. Are they going to disappear or be sent to the main newsletter?
No idea. I hope it’s the latter (this is what happens to previous posts from that section). We’ll see. If you were one of these subscribers, please tell me, so that I know.
And by the way, this is a reminder that if you’re not interested in one section in particular, please don’t unsubscribe from everything, just unsubscribe from that one section. I know I posted a lot about fiction writing recently, and I fully understand that it’s of no interest to some of you, and a few people completely unsubscribed. 😥 And also, yes, I know that I haven’t posted in my “Setouchi news” section in quite a while, but be patient, it will come in time. It’s just that things are quiet at the moment and there isn’t any news that is big enough for a whole post. They’ll come, they’ll come…
Alright, so yes, bye-bye “Soliloquies” section and hello “Soliloquies” posts. Posts that don’t really have one topic in particular and where I tell you about random stuff and whatever goes through my mind.
Starting with this:
A little something about my university.
I don’t talk a lot about where I work, mostly for privacy reasons (mine, but also the privacy of the people involved), but I guess I can talk about this.
I want to talk about the cleaning people at my university.
See, the cleaning staff at the university is composed of - not only, but mostly - older people who are retired but continue working. It’s a pretty common thing in Japan.
Don’t believe all the neoliberal propaganda about how they love working and that they don’t want to retire, etc. (The French government used that
argument lie a little while ago, when it increased the age of retirement)
It’s true that a certain number of Japanese Boomers have been brainwashed since birth into believing that life is work and work is life (because of the specificities of postwar Japan), and they just don’t know what to do with their time once they’re retired. The concept of “hobby” and “free time” is sadly foreign to them, so they continue working. Yes, once again, it’s true for some. But do you honestly think that these people want to clean universities, clean stores, spend their days in underground parking lots, and such well in their 70s? Come on.
No, the reason why some retirees continue working unpleasant and lowly-paid jobs when they should be enjoying their retirement is that retirement pensions in Japan are ridiculously low. Sure, richer people had nice bonuses all throughout their careers and they have enough savings to compensate, but what about the rest?
Oh yes, also don’t believe the saying that everyone is middle-class in Japan. It was probably true in the 1970s-1980s, but the burst of the “bubble”, 30 years of stagnation, and a neoliberal turn in the 2000s put an end to that. Unfortunately, many Japanese people still believe that it’s true and they will tell you as such.
The truth is that poverty is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in the country, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to pretend it doesn’t exist. Sometimes people don’t see it (or don’t want to see it) because it mostly affects single moms (another taboo topic in Japan) and elderly people.
As a consequence, a lot of the latter are forced into working lowly paid and lowly respected part-time jobs.
Another thing that we, equality-loving Westerners, sometimes have trouble understanding about Japan is that equality is a Western concept. Well, maybe not solely Western, but definitely not Japanese. I’ll even go as far as saying that no one is equal in Japan. You’re always above or below someone. Always. There are many (more or less) explicit and many (more or less) subconscious criteria, but you’ll always be above or below someone else. At the university, it translates into teachers being above students (obviously), full-time professors being above associate professors being above lecturers, etc. But also, fourth-year students are above third-year students, and so on.
So, I‘ll let you imagine where the cleaning people fit on that scale.
At the very bottom, of course.
And sadly, you can see it in their everyday interactions with other people on campus.
While students and cleaning people seem to mostly ignore each other (in part because they’re on different “status and rank” scales, it’s quite different between teachers and cleaning people.
As you’ll have guessed, most teachers ignore them, but while students ignore them in a way that feels like they live on two different planes of existence, most teachers ignore them in a very different way. A very patronizing and classist way. And you can see the cleaning people’s body language change too when they approach teachers. They lower their head a little bit (not formally bowing, that’s different). They don’t make eye contact. You really can feel a rapport of dominance being established.
Side note: To avoid any misunderstanding, not all teachers are like that, but a lot of them definitely are. I also want to underline that the university’s president is not. Actually, he helps clean the street in front of campus most mornings. I find this very impressive. He’s always seemed like a good guy to me. Unfortunately, I think he’ll be retiring soon.
Back to our cleaning people. It does make me a little sad how those teachers are with them. But you know me, I’m French. There are many things that are wrong with my country, but one thing I love above all about France is its motto “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.” I assume that I don’t need to translate the first two terms. Don’t be confused by the third one, it’s not Fraternity (no, French people are not Frat Boys), it’s Brotherhood/Fellowship. I strongly believe in these three words.
And worse than just being French, I’m a leftist-French (the kind who goes on strike), so you can imagine how this idea of being superior to another human being because I have a better job sits with me.
When I run into the cleaning people, I always acknowledge them, I always say hello the same way I would say hello to another teacher, and sometimes, I say it even more nicely to them than I would to a teacher that I don’t know. And, I actually know them better than I know most teachers. I see the cleaning staff every day cleaning the corridors that I use, the bathrooms that I use, and the classrooms where I teach. I owe them more respect than a law or economics teacher with whom I’ll never interact.
As a consequence, most of the cleaning staff also know me (sure, I’m recognizable, but still) and most are not “afraid” to say hello to me when they see me.
Two of them stand out a little bit.
One guy who’s relatively new. He started working during some major construction on campus and at first, I thought he was a construction guy. Maybe because he is (or at least looks) a bit younger than most cleaning people and also because since the first time I noticed him, he has said Hello to me in a very friendly and outgoing voice, which, as I mentioned, is not the usual cleaning people’s way. He even tries to speak to me in English sometimes, but I think his English skills don’t go much further than “Hello.” That’s the intention that counts.
There’s another guy. He must be in his early 70s. He often cleans the floor where my office is located, and he never smiles. He never really responds much when I say Hello to him. At first, he seemed like an old grumpy unpleasant man. But the more I see him, the more I think he’s sad, not angry.
And in a strange way, it kind of makes me want to hug him. It will never happen of course. People don’t really hug in Japan, and well, that wouldn’t be very appropriate anyway. Also, it’s true that he does smell like cold tobacco a bit.
But, despite being extremely different from him, there is something that reminds me of my dad in him. Something in his facial expression, I guess. Also, while he never talks about it, there is some sadness in my dad. I don’t know the details, and even if I did, you understand that I wouldn’t share them here, but in short, while he has a pretty good life as an adult, it wasn’t always the case when he was young (the part I can share is that he was drafted for the Algerian War, he spent two years there, and it’s the same with most veterans around the world; if you haven’t lived through it, you can’t understand and you can’t relate.) That’s just one of the shitty things that happened in his youth and that he had to carry his whole life. There are more, some I don’t even really know.
So, yes, I kinda sort of care and worry about this old guy. Does he have a family? Does he have friends? Etc.
Well, a few weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon, I was driving near the port, and I saw two old guys on bicycles with fishing poles returning from the port.
It was them.
The friendly outgoing cleaning guy and the old grumpy-looking one. Except that he didn’t look grumpy at all. He looked very happy at that very moment. They both looked very happy and like two good old friends having an awesome day.
And somehow, it made my day too.
Without much transition, as the original purpose of this newsletter was to inform you of my latest blog posts here and there, let’s do that again:
On liminal web (the site), I tell you about my attempts at befriending the crows in my neighborhood. There are a few posts on the blog, but here are the latest two:
If these two posts got you interested in the whole thing, know that I regularly post short updates on Mastodon.
There are also a few mini-posts centered around one picture in particular. Go to the home page to see them.
In Setouchi Explorer, my site (mostly) devoted to the Art Islands of Japan and the Seto Inland Sea, you can find:
Yoshifumi Oshima, one of my favorite local artists as well as simply one of my favorite people had a very cute solo exhibit this summer.
People who follow this newsletter for my local news, know that a new museum is currently being built on Naoshima. I will talk about it in more detail as soon as I can.
Well, I guess that is all for today.
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