Seedtime Multilingual™

Culture in Cinema Center Stage – Netflix hits the top of the list for scores of great black comedies and dramas. My husband, white male baby boomer, and I joke about the number of times we watched Coachella-#Beyonce #HBCU, all the way through.  Together, we enjoyed other movies: The Book of Eli, Denzel Washington, I Called Him Morgan-Lee Morgan, Chasing Trane-John Coltrane, The Black Godfather-Clarence Avant, Soundtrack of our Lives-Clive Davis, Quincy- Quincy Jones, and What Happened, Miss Simone?  Ok, I will confess, I’ve loved Nina Simone’s music since childhood and wore out the threads on her solo, “To Be Young Gifted and Black.” Even through the sadness of many of these documentaries, we both enjoyed listening to the music and learning the history and culture behind the stories.

Culture on the Surface. What prevents my husband from watching the Netflix movie, Becoming?  You know why it seems to be a struggle for him, and perhaps other white Republicans, to watch a documentary about the first African American / negro / beautiful black, Democratic First Lady?  It suggests the same logic that blacks and whites can pack out sports stadiums (pre-Covid19), share pop culture-related venues, worship together in Christian churches and other religious and civic gatherings; talk sports, chit-chat about family matters and exchange colloquialism in black vernacular (like “what she said,” “what up dawg,” “you straight?” and many more “in da hood” terminology. Even some black people believe Ebonics to be shameful, something to laugh at, secretly snicker about, as though the linguistic form is indicative of ignorance, rather than an actual contribution to black language.  It is more comfortable sharing black culture on the surface level.  America has never invested in educating the masses in black culture.  It is the X factor of our history.  Such that, many black people, generally, sense the void in their own lack of knowledge. Even so, there does exist an American zeal for black culture; but it is not grounded in knowledge. Sometimes this zeal produces a kind of “want- to-be-black” adaptation.  In some countries, there is adoration (as seen inb-girl and b-boy), possibly a result of Hip-Hop and Urban Culture.

It’s been years since the enactment of landmark civil rights and labor laws, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, sexual orientation, national origin; and yet, most Americans (black and white) have less than 普通な教育水準a basic education about black culture.  Many whites define black culture through their experience of action movies, sit-coms, comedy, and sports.  For some, music and entertainment prove to be their most educational resource for “relating to black people.”  Thankfully, there are white friends and family members (some bi-racial or married into white families) that know there are layers of complexity in black culture. Watching youth of all cultures, leading and participating in peaceful protests should give us all hope!  There are others who may have less cultural knowledge but respectful and conciliatory toward African American people.

So, I am curious to know how America intends to mend cultural inequities in police and policing policies, without demanding cultural knowledge and understanding about its most policed people? American Society, in general, reflects a repetitive history of efforts to fix broken race relations with little cultural knowledge about  the “race”.  My husband and I  have “race” discussions where we don’t always agree; but we always learn from each other.  It is important that we all learn from each other.  How else can we understand or share the perspectives of others? I suggest, we can understand people through learning about their culture: i.e., history, customs, language, art, poetry, prose, politics and economics, religion, family structure 家族構成 struggles in daily living, gender roles, foods, artifacts, and relics. Understanding that pierces the veil ignorance will affect changes below the cultural surface. Only change will bring shared perspective and create harmonious communication.

The Culture Decree

Amid the historic protests for civil rights, against racial oppression (joined by other countries all over the world), we should individually pray for our nation, praise for leaders who support positive change.  We must think of actions that we can take that lead to solutions. One solution would be to mandate African American history in Secondary and Post-secondary education. Black history is deeply rooted in American history and should be made a mandatory component of compulsory education.  As a reminder, Black history does not begin with “slavery” nor end with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as this is the extent to limitations of many programs and courses.

Corporate Diversity Programs, Police and Firefighter academy training, and above all America’s religious institutions should include annual culture courses for African American, Hispanic & Latino, Native American, Asian, and Arab cultures. Collective efforts for cultural education would prove the importance of diversity and give America a multiethnic, multicultural competitive advantage. #Ican’tbreathe, #blacklivesmatter, #sweden, #Japan, #Zimbabwe, #London

In the face of the coronavirus outbreak, here are some assessments and observations that I have from living here in Shanghai.


Toni’s photo – partial scale model of the city of Shanghai taken at the City Planning Office in October 2019

In the middle of an epidemic, although mostly contained in Wuhan, still very present in many other cities across China, and as an expatriate who is not a citizen of this country(China), it is a hard but crucial decision to make. To go home or not to go home…That is the question. Abandon my current life, job, home, and loose the majority of my belongings and income security to return to the US away from the virus host country or stay being extremely vigilant in hopes that things will get better not worse. It is a risk since, realistically, no one knows what will happen.

From my experience I can see the government is, at this point, making phenomenal efforts to help by providing assistance, enforcing paid holiday despite the extension of one weeks to the official holiday and postponing the return of students for one month, Feb 29th. At this point in time, conditions here are more or less the same.

People are alert and cautious, but life goes on. I hope I am making the right decision and I believe that I will know what to do when the time is right. I spent the first seven days of this at home time pouring over the internet reading any and everything I could get my hands on, spending hours on the phone with family and friends, spending day after day worrying and trying to decide if I should leave or stay, constantly checking flight prices, daily infection statistics, spending hours in massive group chats trying to ty current. I found myself not being able to sleep, staying up until the sun came up, night after night, forgetting to drink water, getting migraines, crying until I felt exhausted, being torn apart by all of it. Then I saw a vlog of an expat who is in Wuhan who did not leave. He said, “If I worry now and then I get it and worry again then I’ve worried twice. “

It may take a few months or maybe even a few years for things to return to the way they were, but the communities here are strong, the people pull together, Chinese and foreigners, and I know that here more people would help me that if I were at home, so I will stay. Being at home puts me at no greater ease so I might as well stay. I could also unknowingly carry the virus home with me and unintentionally affect the ones I love.


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Toni’s Photo of Rooftops against high-rise background in Shanghai 

It is a crisis, not an apocalypse, and I am not helpless here. We need to stay still, let the incubation period pass, stay out of close contact with others. And practice good cleanliness habits. I do not know how this will go but I am hopeful so that’s a start. Does that mean I am not scared? No. I am. But there is always something, some challenge, some scary situation, some disruption. Seems to be the way of things. All that I can do is to do all that I can do and that’s exactly what I plan to do. 


Have You Ever Wanted to Learn a Foreign Language ?

Not sure where to begin? With a sea of web-based resources, who knows their beginning from their end? My journey to learn Japanese language started many years ago.  Unable to physically immerse in language study for a lengthy period of time after studying at a Japanese University (Kansai Gaidai, Osaka), my return home meant returning to a job and managing family matters. Improving my language skills required taking every opportunity available,  and some twists and turns in seeking resources (on-line courses, books, and study partners).  I always seek to communicate and learn from native and non-native speakers. Although rewarding and a lot of fun, acquiring a foreign language can also be a slow and sometimes tedious journey and well worth the effort!

It occurs to me that one of the most effective ways to learn a language is to learn the people who speak the target language. Mandarin Chinese is difficult to learn, I have managed to improve with time, and having knowledge of Japanese Kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing) has helped a lot with reading.  My Chinese friends and associates have been a the best source of encouragement, correction, and even challenge. 

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The most inspirational and reassuring experience as a language learner, teacher, or enthusiast is to “get up, get out, get moving” to discover the country and its peopleTravel to the target country may not be an available option, but there are scores of books, electronic media, and resources, as close as your local library, internet websites, chambers of commerce, and even television (for example, National Geographic and Create T.V. travel shows)

As a student and teacher of language, who majored in Interanational Studies in college, I can recall the excitement of learning about Chinese Politics (and history), studying under the guide of Dr. John Copper, Rhodes College, Memphis, TN.

But until the Odyssey Unlimited China, Tibet, and Yangtze River Tour (a wedding anniversary trip with my husband), my book knowledge had not been challenged, nor did I have the full understanding and appreciation for the country and people until I experienced this small group tour (over a 17-day period of flights) taking us to Beijing, Chonqing, Lhasa Tibet, Three Gorges Dam, and a Yangtze River Boat Tour.  Our jouney ended with a final flight to Shanghai for an extended four days. The tour was an opportunity to participate in the history, politics, and culture of China.

As difficult a time as I had breathing in Lhasa, it seemed all worth it when I was welcomed (as a mere bystander and tourist), invited to join the Tibetans in their morning dance in the mountains!  We shared a rare moment where we spoke same language in dance. Somehow, I forgot about the the difficulty in breathing the Himalayan atmosphere. Tibetans are genetically adapted to the high altitude, I am not.  Yet, like magic, as I danced, breathing was not problem at all.


Most importantly, the experience was a chance to speak, read, and write Chinese language and take advantage of every effort to communicate and be understood. Like me, there were a few Chinese, who desired to excercise their knowledge of English, which made for a dual-language exchange and harmonius communication.


Here, I share a few photos (and videos) from our China tour.  However, photos nor video can express the experience of being immersed in the language and culture. My advice to the langauge learner and culture ethusiast, “love the langauge you’re in,” but if you are really into learning a new language; start by getting to know, try to learn, more about the people and their culture.


Tiannamen Square_near Great Hall.jpg


What is your language curiosity?  In other words, what interests, baffles, or gets under your skin about language learning?  Of course, if you are a heritage speaker, you already have a (non-English) first language (L1) .  I know of parent complaints about their children of Hispanic or Asian heritage, who lacks skill in their heritage language; instead, showing preference toward English, with little or no interest in their ” mother tongue.”  Or, maybe you are struggling with a second language (L2), perhaps struggling with English. In some countries where several languages are spoken, English is used as the primary language of communication, a kind of lingua franca,“a language of commerce and widely used as such.  As our program receives funding support through donations and grants, in addition to Japanese Language, our site will offer a menu of other languages, including English langauge tutoring, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. This site is also translation capable, scroll down to bottom of ‘Home Page’ and choose your language to join us in making language and culture great again!

As a healthy reminder and a means of rejuvenation, think about when you first met (began to listen, learn, speak) “the language you’re in.” Revive that feeling of never wanting to stop practicing, peeling away pages of a language dictionary, and piecing together words, stumbling over grammar, straining through audio and (and most recently, video). Did you make a complete fool of yourself, trying?  Good!  This is how language is learned, with great effort and lots of self-motivation.

My interest in Japanese language began with a chance meeting while working at a multinational chemical company in Memphis, TN.  Prior to meeting Kaoru Matsuyama and Takeshi Suzuki, I had no interest in the language nor Japanese culture.  My curious view of the world was crowded from the perspective of single-parenting, work-a-lifestyle-work-a-holic, with the usual trials and error of the day-to-day. Read More