When you look into the ponds found in many Japanese parks and shrines there are always koi and carp. From time to time you’ll spot an almost translucent white carp, an albino of sorts, gliding like an aquatic white ghost. Japan and Asia, for that matter, are fairly lousy with ghosts. One of the most haunting spook stories is that of “The Hungry Ghost.” It pops up in Thai, Chinese and Japanese folk-tales and ghost stories. It goes that if one has led an unscrupulous life, he, or she, is doomed in the after-life to roam the world as a hungry ghost for 800 years. The Ghost is said to have a mouth so small that no food can fit in it. I’ve heard this story, or variants of it, many times. To wander, hungry, is thought to be the worst of fates. Perhaps this is because, all over Asia, starvation is a very real-world problem. In all of these folk-tales and parables, hunger is akin to madness.
Tokyo has made an impression on me. It is another world that lingers in the imagination long after one returns home. The ease with which I was able to navigate Tokyo was a surprise to me, as well as the feeling of comfort while wandering that city. It is good to get away from one’s landscape. To experience new sights and sounds and ways of living is a great blessing. I spent years making work about the wonder of my own city and now it is time to let the rest of the world into my work. I’ve thought long and hard about just what it is I want, and the simple truth of it is, I don’t want much of anything. I pretty much have what I want. What I’d like now is to spend my money and time on experiences rather than “stuff’.” I want to see more of the world and get out of my land-locked existence as an American. We often just see the world through our own myopic scrim and when we view ourselves from another country, our whole picture becomes exponentially more visible. We wonder why other countries fear and distrust us, but when you view the U.S. from Asia or the U.K., we look awfully big and reckless. I’m always curious to know what America means to the rest of the world and very often, we are an enigma to foreigners in their countries.
I’ve never been treated with anything other than kindness when I’ve traveled to other countries. People are curious about us. They do tend to think we’re all rich, which is kind of funny, but by and large, most of the people I meet are surprised that Americans are as nice as we are. Given what they see of our government’s policies, I understand this.