Blessed to be a witness

Monday, 26th September

Family matters

So we flew another low cost airline, this one called AirTrans, from LA to Atlanta. It was a pretty good service, similar to Tiger Air in Asia, and I was impressed with the 155 channels offered on the plane's satellite radio - I was particularly chuffed to listen to the BBC World Service at 38,000 feet, live and in stereo. Isn't technology brilliant (sometimes).

My parents were waiting to greet us, and they drove us the two hours back to their house on Signal Mountain, Tennessee. Before we got there, though, we called in on my sister at her place in Chattanooga for a cup of tea.

I can't really write about Tennessee, I am sad to say, without mentioning race, because my sister is adopted, with one biological parent from Jamaica. Chattanooga, as I know it, appears voluntarily segregated, and like much of the American Deep South, there is very little integration between black and white - there are separate cultures, accents and dialects depending on race. Simplistically speaking, in Chattanooga there's a large black underclass and a large white underclass, and a smaller middle class living above the city on the hills, that is mostly white. Despite a few minor incidents when she was growing up in the UK, my sister never really experienced racism - the colour of her skin was only slightly more significant to most people around her than the colour of someone else's hair or eyes. It seems to me, however, that when she moved to Tennessee with my parents in 1989, especially as an adolescent, she had to make a decision that had not confronted her in the UK: am I "black" or am I "white"? Due to her skin colour and the prejudices attached to it by the white community, there was little choice for her. And since the black people there are mostly in the underclass, she was associating with some really nasty characters for a while.

Happily, she's now married to a really nice guy, and has an adorable little son who is just turning three, and they live in a lovely house in a 'subdivision' that appears to be one of the few pocket of black middle class in the town.

After hanging out with her and my almost impossibly cute nephew, we ascended the hill above the town to my parents' house. It's huge by British standards, with a deck, on the side of a hill in the woods - yet a fraction of the financial value of its equivalent in the UK. It's where they've been living for the past sixteen years. They have, however, just retired and are selling it to return to the UK. I was surprised at my vaguely nostalgic reaction to the house. It's never felt like home, and I've always viewed it as fairly new, however, it did strike me that this was where I'd stayed back in 1992 before heading to Japan for the first time - to a certain extent what I view as the beginning of my 'adult' life, and the beginning of my love affair with Asia. All the stuff I've done and been through since then is huge, and this house has been there the entire time.

I enjoyed being with my parents, who don't seem to have had too many problems adjusting to retirement. With me in Ireland and them in Tennessee, we don't see each other too often - the last time was May 2004 - and I enjoyed fulfilling a role that sees me acting really rather immature (even less mature than normal) our relationship perhaps not having developed tremendously since they left the UK due to the scarcity of our time together. Though I had slept well in LA, I was clearly still very jetlagged, having crossed seven timezones in the previous 48 hours, and so was up very early.

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