Just want to thank those who came out to our Thelma Parker Library reading February 6th. Join us again as the Hawaii Writers Guild  presents another reading at the North Kohala Public Library February 12th at 6 pm.



Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival


This weekend, February 3rd, is the Cherry Blossom Festival in Waimea.  Events include mochi pounding, sake tasting. and a tea ceremony presentation. Plus you can have your heart beat to the throbbing sound of taiko drums. Local vendors and artisans will have food and craft items for sale. I will be there with writers from Hawaii Writers Guild selling and signing books. For more information about the festival check out their Facebook page at Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival  Info on Hawaii Writers Guild click here.

Artist   Anna Sullivan

Diplomacy Matters


Diplomacy does matter. The many foreign service vacancies left unfilled by the Trump administration is deplorable. It is imperative that all positions in U.S. embassies and consulates all around the world be fully staffed. Ever since the presidential election our allies have been thrown into a diplomatic conundrum while at the same time our enemies have become more trigger happy. Recently NPR reported that South Africa, an ally, has launched a formal protest to the U.S. Charges de Affaires regarding Trump’s comments calling African countries “shit hole” countries. Under normal circumstances a host country would summon the U.S. ambassador to file a complaint.


We have no ambassador in South Africa.


Meanwhile Kim Jong Un is firing monthly missile tests and my home state of Hawaii, in response to the North Korean missile threat, has now started testing the air raid siren, something that has not been done since the end of the Cold War. This is in addition to our monthly natural disaster siren test that is conducted the first Monday of each month. This is the result of what happens when two mentally unstable leaders who have access to nuclear weapons start comparing the size of their buttons.


Now we are hopping mad about our recent false missile attack in which a Hawaii Emergency Management employee mistakenly pressed the wrong key during a shift change. Many of my friends believe that Trump should be held responsible for his bellicose rhetoric. Had he toned down his language, or better yet, kept his mouth shut, Hawaii would not be in this position.


I happen to agree.


This is why diplomacy matters on a large scale. What most Americans back home don’t realize is that when our government does something objectionable it gets broadcast around the world and Americans like me who live abroad, bear the brunt of criticism from our hosts. But when the U.S. does something remarkable we overseas Americans reap the praise.


I recently saw on the News Hour Judy Woodruff’s interview with former Vice President Joe Biden. She asked how he felt about the state of diplomacy in the current administration. Biden was very pessimistic about the current state of world affairs. He described being on a trip in the Middle East with then Secretary of State John Kerry when news of twelve Americans were detained in Iran. Kerry got on the phone with his contacts in that country. Several hours later the Americans were released. Biden then asked the following question:


“What do we do now? Do we call the in the military?”


Scary thought.


This reminded me of the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in which three journalists were killed.


I was in Anji, a small town in east China’s Zhejiang Province. Anji is famous for its bamboo forests and it is where scenes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon were filmed. I was the only westerner in the entire town at the time, along with two Japanese teachers.


I woke up and turned on my shortwave radio and tuned in to the Voice of America.


“U.S.-NATO airstrikes accidentally bomb Chinese Embassy!”


I didn’t think much of the news until I opened my door and saw students in their classrooms watching T.V. They were watching the anti-U.S. demonstrations that were taking place all around the country. I heard bits and pieces of U.S. officials speaking in English about the bombing.


“We have been in contact with the Chinese Embassy here in Washington and…”


I closed the door. I did not want to hear anymore.


Oh no! What am I in for today?


I knew that the Chinese were going to demand the U.S. government to issue a formal apology. I also knew that my government was not going to give one. If they did, it would be a watered-down version.


It’s easy for them to get away with such an insincere remark. They don’t live in China.


I do.


I feared what could possibly happen to me. Thankfully there were no demonstrations in Anji. But I still had no idea what to expect from my students and colleagues. I had to think of something. The only thing I could do was to apologize.


When I arrived at the teacher’s office it was business and usual. Teachers were chatting, working on their lesson plans, or dealing with students.


I nervously placed my things on my desk and issued the following apology. I treated it as a dress rehearsal for what I might expect in my classes that day.


“I’m so sorry for what my country did to you.”


“Don’t even worry about it,” one teacher said. “We know you have nothing to do with it. We are not angry with you or the people of America. We are just mad at your government.”


Whew! I thought. That went well.


Thankfully I got similar responses from my students, and I was able to conduct my classes as usual.


However, at the end of the day I was still nervous. I may be safe on campus, but in order to survive I had to go into town to purchase food.


As the only westerner in this small town I thought it better to be safe than sorry. I called the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai and was put through to the American Citizen Services Center.


“I live in Anji in Zhejiang Province,” I told the woman on the other end. “What should I do? What precautions should I take?”


“Stay away from any foreign establishments.”


There are no western establishments here I thought. There are no KFCs or McDonalds in Anji.


“Stay away from places where foreigners hang out.”


My school is the only place where foreigners “hang out”.


Then it struck me. I don’t look foreign. I could easily blend in with the crowd unlike other foreigners who stand out like a sore thumb. I found safety in my ethnicity. As long as I am friendly to people and don’t draw attention to myself I should be okay.


This was not the case with some of my fellow teachers in other parts of the province. About a month after the bombing and the demonstrations, the U.S. Consul General invited all Americans in Zhejiang for a debriefing in Hangzhou, the provincial capital. Several teachers described how their gates to their compound were locked and they barricaded themselves in their homes because students were actively protesting right outside their gates. Others described how they had to change their plans to avoid getting caught up in the madness.


Then it was my turn to share my experience.


“Gee! I missed all the action,” was my smarty pants reply. “There were no demonstrations where I am.”


Nonetheless I am grateful that someone answered my call. I’m grateful that a consular staff member was there to ease my jittery nerves.


On the other hand I get all the praise when my country does something positive.


One such example is the 2008 Presidential Election. Several weeks before the election I had met a Chinese English teacher named David. When I told him I’m from Hawaii he said two things. The first thing he said was, “Hawaii! A beautiful place.” Then he said, “Obama!”


“Yes,” I said beaming. “Obama is from Hawaii. Have you been there?”


“No. But it is my dream to visit.”


Students also shared their enthusiasm for American culture. Some of them would show me articles in their English readers about the election and the candidates. They were especially enthusiastic to show me their articles about then Senator Obama’s family. One story said that he and his wife, Michelle, have two daughters named Malia and Sasha. Another article described how the senator met his future wife. Still yet, another mentioned Obama’s upbringing in Hawaii and Indonesia.


This enthusiasm for Obama also spilled out unto the streets at my favorite restaurant where my friend Mr. Mu, an ethnic Muslim minority sometimes would say in broken English, “Obama! Black man!” He’d then smiled and gave me the thumbs up sign.


This is why for me and my fellow expatriate Americans diplomacy does matter. If something should happen to me while abroad who can I call? If I were in China right now and another crisis like the Chinese Embassy bombing happens under the Trump administration who can I call? If I am the vanguard of U.S. diplomacy who will back me up in case of an emergency? Who will contact my family? Who can my family talk to?


If you are the leader of a host country and the U.S. does something offensive who do you contact to launch a formal protest if there is no American ambassador in your country? Do you directly call the President of the United States?


What do you do?


Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.” Our diplomats are peacemakers. They can negotiate peace agreements to avoid war. I am a peacemaker. I go in peace to build cultural exchanges between America and the rest of the world.


That is why diplomacy matters.