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From 1st World to 3rd Pt#2: Journey Through Time

    I went to see the gala opening of George Balanchine ballet at the Opera Garnier in Paris.   To American audience, Opera Garnier is known through the broadway musical show "Phantom of the Opera" by Andrew Lloyd Webber.    The French writer Gaston Leroux wrote "Phantom of the Opera" while sitting at a cafe across the street from this famous opera house.   Stepping inside the theatre reminds me of my grandfather, an architect who studied under the French at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Hanoi.    He must have studied this particular building in great detail – a symbol of French culture at its peak when European aristocrats spoke French, ate French food, emulated French culture, French style, French gardens, French buildings, and of Paris when Paris was the scientific, cultural, and art center of the Western world.    It’s an extraordinarily beautiful building with a double staircase built of marble of different colors, painted frescoed ceilings, gold-plated decorations, red damask seats, huge chandeliers hanging from the ceilings.    Coming here to see a ballet by the American choreographer George Balachine at this famous opera house reminds me how far American citizens have achieved since the 1830s to 1900s when America was an economic and cultural backwater as depicted by the American historian David McCullough.    Americans were coming to Paris in drove to learn science, arts, and medicine.   When Opera Garnier was opened in 1875, it became a favorite place for Americans to visit when they first arrived in Paris.    They must have been awe-struck at the beauty and luxury of this opera house coming from such a backward place as America and it’s a feeling I could certainly relate even 140 years later.    Even today, the U.S. is no longer an economic and cultural backwater, but I haven’t seen a theatre in the U.S. as beautiful as Opera Garnier.  

By Degrémont Anthony assumed (based on copyright claims).  Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0,


            Opera Garnier also reminds me of a visit by a Vietnamese envoy during that time.     He visited Opera Garnier in 1878 when one of the first electric street lights were installed just outside the opera house for the opening of the Paris Universal Exposition.    If you think Americans coming to Paris during that time were mesmerized by the stunningly beautiful building, imagine what it must have been like for someone from a totally different culture and even more backward country such as Vietnam at the time.    It was like being transported into a totally different world in a futuristic time.    Surprisingly, there was already a group of Japanese in Paris learning about Western culture and technology at the time following the Meiji Restoration in 1868.    The Dutch painter and French Impressionist Van Gogh, who lived in Paris at the time, was inspired by the May 1886 edition of Paris Illustre devoted to Japan with text by Tadamasa Hayashi.    Not only Van Gogh was taken by Japanese art.   Another famous French Impressionist painter Claude Monet also painted quite a few Japanese-themed paintings reflecting the current Paris fad for all things Japanese during that time.    Monet painted so many paintings of his Japanese bridge in his garden at Giverny that the Japanese bridge became a symbol of Western art linking East and West cultures.    When I visited Japan in 2000, I was surprised to find a room full of copies of European paintings -- many of them are copies of nude paintings by European masters such as Botticelli and Michelangelo from the Uffizi in Florence and Gericault, Delacroix, Ingres from the Louvre -- by Japanese artists living and studying in Paris and Florence during that time at the National Museum in Tokyo.    In my opinion, it is the most interesting room at the National Museum since it is devoted not to Japanese art and culture, but it tells a story of a period in the 1870-1900 when Japan, then under the leadership of Emperor Meiji, decided to catch up with the West.   In just 20 years, Japan emerged as one of the world's major economic and military powers comparable to any European powers at the time by defeating the much larger country China.    The status of Japan as one of the world's major powers remains to this day and so is the animosity between China and Japan that started from this period.    Twenty years earlier, France already took over the three southern districts of Vietnam.    The French military had guns that the Vietnamese lacked.    But most French soldiers at the time came from French provinces and not Paris, it was not obvious how far ahead were European countries had advanced in science and technology at the time.    The Vietnamese envoy wrote back to the king of Vietnam describing the scenes in Paris and urging the king to reform and modernize Vietnam.      Unfortunately, his letters and diaries felt into deaf ears.  Twelve years later, Vietnam became a French colony.    It’s a beginning of a century of tribulation for the Vietnamese and humiliation for the Chinese.   

            Some Vietnamese historians wondered why the Japanese were able to modernize following Western culture during that time but the Vietnamese could not.    I have my own theory.   Vietnam at the time was under the Chinese cultural orbit that viewed foreigners as culturally inferior and barbarians.     Thus, there was nothing to be learned from Western cultures.    It could be that geography plays a very important role in determining a country’s path as argued by Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs, and Steel:  The Fates of Human Societies”.    At least there is the sea of Japan that separates Japan from mainland China.    Even though Japan was also heavily influenced by Chinese culture, they were able to break away from the Chinese due to its geographic distance.     There is no such barrier between China and Vietnam.    History doesn’t repeat, but it rhythms.     Today, Vietnam and China is once again in conflict with China over the South China sea.     It remains to be seen if Vietnam is able to align with the U.S. against China.


            Why am I telling you about Opera Garnier and the impressions that earlier Americans and Vietnamese envoys had?    Because today we are in a similar position as China was in the 1875.   During last year election, there was a denial of the reality of the U.S; the U.S. is #1 in the world and there is nothing we can learn from other countries.     But to an American citizen who has travelled overseas, it is obvious that this is not the case.    Mr. Trump pointed out the fact that there is so many things in the U.S. that are third-world and behind other countries; people recognized that what he said is true and he ended up winning the presidency.   I am not saying that the U.S. would become a Chinese colony anytime soon.    But compared to Western Europe, Japan, Singapore, and emerging China, there are so many things in the U.S. are outdated and backward.     We need reform and we need to modernize our infrastructure.     When my parents came to the U.S. in 1958, they were impressed with the skyscrapers of New York.    The U.S. was building the interstate highway system at the time.    Now if you arrive at New York airports after a flight from Singapore, you feel like you’ve stepped into a time warp – it’s like somebody has transported you into a third world nation.    Even the President-Elect Trump said:


“Our airports are like from a third-world country,” Mr. Trump said at Hofstra University during the first presidential debate. “You land at La Guardia, you land at Kennedy, you land at LAX, you land at Newark, and you come in from Dubai and Qatar and you see these incredible — you come in from China, you see these incredible airports, and you land — we’ve become a third-world country.”


    Our schools are failing and they rank at the bottom compared to other industrialized countries.     Our roads are full of potholes; our bridges are collapsing.     There are beggars and homeless people everywhere.     The public schools are failing and American students are ranked way behind other countries in reading, writing, science, and math.    Our public transportation system is a national embarrassment.    When I was living in France, I often took the TGV (high-speed rail) going around Europe.    It took me only 3 hours to go from Paris to the Mediterranean sea (a distance from San Francisco to San Diego).   By using high-speed train, I could leave Paris early in the morning and had a full day swimming in the Mediterranean sea and return to Paris in the evening and it only cost $50 for the whole trip.   The 200+ miles per hour high-speed ride was comfortable with restaurants on board serving delicious meals.     Last time I used Caltrain to travel from SFO to my home in San Jose and it took me 5+ hours using public transportation.    With that time, I could have traveled on high-speed train from Paris to Milan in Northern Italy.    Don't even mention about U.S. carriers, when my parents first flew on a U.S. carrier in 1958 on their way to the U.S. to study, they told me it was a delightfully civilized experience.   It was definitely one of the experiences from the 1st world country.     One had to dress nicely to go on airplane and the service was top-notch.       Today, it has become a degrading experience.    I try to support American products as much as possible, but whenever I fly overseas, I avoid flying U.S. carriers like plague since I know that the flight is likely to be packed like sardine (with carrying-on baggage overflowing overhead bins and underneath seats just because the airlines try to nickle-and-dime passengers to death by charging huge fees to check in luggage), terrible on-time departure, and I would be lucky to have tiny bags of peanuts served on board instead of real food during the long flight.   Over the decades I've lived in the U.S., it seems to me like most things have supersized (food portion, soda drinks, etc).    One of the things that have dramatically shrunk in size is a seat on U.S. carriers while Americans are getting larger.   I am just a medium-sized man, but it's already a torture to sit in that tiny seat during a long flight.   For larger Americans, it must have been much worse.   U.S. carriers often intentionally overbook their planes to increase profit, and then boot customers off the planes at the last minute (even violently dragging the customers of the planes).   

You can see it online (In this case, a medical doctor -- ah, I could see myself being this doctor).

United Passenger Dragged From Overbooked Flight



 NYC 6 hours ago

Even if United is acting to the letter of the law and of their policies, surely it can't be in their playbook to be physically violent to passengers. Heads will roll over this one, I'm sure. The optics are just so bad -  Cops pulling an elderly doctor out of his seat, smashing his face into the armrest and pulling his limp body down the aisle like a wheelbarrow? Come on.

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Does this story sounds to you like a story in a 1st world nation?    It sounds so 3rd-world to me and don't even think that there will be any law preventing such abuse since our Congressmen/Congresswomen like our Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren have been bought by the corporations.   They don't fly economy class like us and they are too busy counting political contributions from the corporations than to pass any law protecting the dignity of American travelers.

    When people overseas heard that I live in Silicon Valley, they imagine that I must have superfast Internet and since Silicon Valley is the high-tech center of the world, everything must be superfast and futuristic.    I just laugh.   Silicon Valley is so over-rated.     Silicon Valley has some of the worst Internet connection anywhere.   At home in Silicon Valley, I have to go outside when I use my cell phone and my Internet connection is embarrassing slow if it works at all.    Not only I have much better phone signals in Europe and superfast Internet connection in Paris and even Bangkok, I also have much faster and much more reliable Internet connection on the French and Dutch islands in the middle of the Caribbean sea which are more than several thousand miles from mainland Europe and hundreds of miles from continental U.S.    

     In her 20+ years in Congress, I haven’t seen Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren done a thing that improves that lives of her American constituents.     It seems to me like she spends all her time in Congress pandering to the illegal immigrants and selling out American professionals to multinational corporations with her corrupt H-1B program.    Her district is fast becoming more and more like a third-world country.    There are beggars at every intersection in her district; libraries are full of homeless people.    During her tenure in Congress, the American middle class has been decimated.    The U.S. has the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world.    Social and economic mobility is ranked last among developed countries.     The poverty, the hopelessness permeates the whole country while the population of the illegal immigrants has multiplied 10 times compared to the 1980s.    With me, I rather spend my time and energy focusing on fixing the problems in healthcare, student loan, and infrastructure.    Illegal immigrants are flooding into American emergency rooms that raise the healthcare cost for everyone.   They depress the wages of working Americans (factoring in inflation, the average income of a working American actually declined compared to the 1970s).    They are flooding into American schools that are already under severe financial stress and now they have to provide remedial instructions to the child immigrants (who has a 70% high school dropout rate) at exorbitant cost to American taxpayers.     

We need a new direction.    Unlike Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, I am more excited to find money for cancer research, AIDS vaccine, improving the U.S. educational system, providing universal healthcare, and providing social security for American citizens or even sending an American mission to Mars rather than spending time in a rally for the people who ignore and treat American immigration law with contempt.


Lofgren is one of the Pelousi crew that screwed the state and the Federal government up. Why don't we ask her about the illegal alien, who was DUI, that was supposed to be deported and hit a vehicle full of nuns, killing one of them?

Posted by: Steven M. | April 22, 2011 at 06:55 PM

hoapres • 9 minutes ago −

I called Lofgren's San Jose office telling her that I was thinking of starting a soup kitchen in front of the office with H1Bs serving soup to unemployed American STEM workers.

Her staff was not too happy with the idea. They were even less happy when I said that the local news media would be in attendance.

medocad at 8:22 PM April 22, 2011

Someone should remind the Congresswoman (Zoe Lofgren) that when she took the office, she swore to uphold the constitution of the US. Immigration and defending the borders is part of the oath. It is the Federal Government's obligation to deport people who are in the country illegally. I don't care if they have committed a crime or not. Being here is a crime punishable by deportation.

RC is a trusted commenter MN 8 hours ago

The politicians who are forcing US taxpayers to continue spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan should be held accountable (let me remind the 19th Congressional district voters once again that our Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren voted for this war.  Thus she should be held accountable). The money could be used much more efficiently to support our country.


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an observer, New York, comments July 31, 2017

Wow! I've always been impressed at how the Piccadilly line can transport one from Heathrow to central London in under an hour, and light rail travels from St. Pancras to Gatwick in an hour. And, now the Crossline will halve the time to Heathrow. I used to dream NYC would build similar links to JFK as efficient as the Piccadilly line. Now I dream of getting to work without 20-30-45 minute delays and without the stench of urine on the subway. On my most recent return from Newark airport I waited over an hour for a delayed NJTransit train, which eventually arrived moved at a crawl after more delays into Penn Station. The new Farley renovation at Penn Station (in New York city) is already being used as a toilet. Three cheers for the Brits! Wish they could take a second vote on Brexit.

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Nathaniel Brown

 Edmonds, WA July 31, 2017

And it has taken me 2 hours to cover the 17 miles from my home to Seattle... In London I catch one of two train links from Heathrow, and can make the trip in as little as 12 minutes. From SeaTac to my home costs $50, and the van can take over an hour... Remember hen the US was a "can do" country, with modern, up-to-date infrastructure?

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Mike Robinson Chickamauga, GA 5 hours ago

Silicon Valley today is all about insisting that "qualified workers simply cannot be found" in this country, so that it can bring back abusive labor practices that were outlawed and fought-over in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and indeed it has done so. But an abusive labor practice is an abusive labor practice no matter what kind of spin is put upon it.

Silicon Valley gets away with these exploitative labor practices largely because it now employs millions of "non-immigrant visa" workers –who cannot say "no" to anything that they are told to do for risk of losing their sponsorship. It insists, however, that this is not the "indentured servitude" that is prohibited by the 13th Amendment.

It eagerly paints its massive "company campuses" as being something other than the "company town" of the 19th Century, but history is simply repeating itself.

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