Saturday, September 24, 2011

Asia Breaks My Heart

No one really talks about it. No one really says anything about it at all. The mindset here is to finish, to complete the task against all hardship and odds. No one really cares the price as long as it’s done quietly and without complaint.
The old languish in market stalls, slicing up Styrofoam boxes full of fish or selling papaya and pineapple on little wooden benches between glances at karaoke tv. Their little apartments are upstairs, cluttered and roach infested, their children come to visit and take them out on walks, push them in wheelchairs, but there’s not much to say.
Kids are thrown into memorization schools without any challenge to their creative or imaginative instincts. Parents know it’s wrong. It was wrong when they went through it, but they say nothing. Just study. Study and preserver. If you are strong, you will succeed.
Workers spend all day in the office, filing papers, taking notes at meetings, listening to superiors go on and on. They get a thirty minute nap at their desk but are not allowed to leave during business hours. Two or three days off a month, best use it wisely.
Parents run off to China to hide. Fathers keep second wives. Mothers drop off their youngsters at grandmothers and come back once a year. The kids tell me they are on their own. I believe it.
The general belief is, if you have enough money, you can buy your way out of any problem. Hit someone while driving drunk, just pay off their medical bills. Have stress, just spend the night with the whores at the KTV blowing steam. Kill someone in a fire, just slip the family red envelopes full of cash. It worked with the inspectors who came by with their clipboards. It will work again. People only care about money. It’s being rich that leads to a better life.
I see it in my student’s faces. I tell them to not throw chalk at my classroom television. I ask them to not take the thumbtacks from the posters and poke each other in the arms. I implore them to stop pulling out chairs while others are sitting and laughing as they crash to the ground. I plead with them not to drop garbage on my floor or trip the other boys down the stairs or strike each other with ping pong paddles. They look at me like I’m so confused. Like why wouldn’t I share in their joy? These things are funny. Funny makes me laugh. Hurting others makes me laugh because it is not me being hurt. Why don’t you see that?
The parents tell me too. In the third week of school we have the Back to School Night and all the mothers and fathers squeeze into the little desks and take aim. I hear them grumbling, whispering. They say, “Why is he praising my child? Does he always speak in such falsities? Does he only say nice things to parents about their children? He can’t be trusted at all? What teacher won’t tell the truth? Where is the negative? The reality? My child must improve in something. My child always makes mistakes. Maybe this teacher is a mistake too."
When the classroom is empty I close and lock the door and sit beside the open window in the dark listening to the street and trying to breathe. Is it like this everywhere? Have we gotten to the point where no one cares?
I used to think, people in Asia suffer because they have no one who is a positive light to them. That one person who compliments them, who tries to make them laugh just for fun, who notices when they are suffering and listens, who gives them hope.
Yes, Asians have friends, good friends, but so many of these relationships are mentor / junior dynamics or colleagues and classmates that are competing against you or family members who only judge and give advice, where are they when you are alone? When you really need someone? And how many Asians look to be this random stranger to others? The one who stops to help you with your bags at the corner? The one who pauses at the traffic light to give a compliment to another driver? The one who speaks that little word of encouragement in the elevator to their office mate on the fifth floor?
So few? Is it, Asia… any?
There are so many funny things here in Asia. Things that make me laugh, surprise me with their sweetness. But mostly it just kicks me in the gut. The stark nakedness of it. The uniform dullness that permeates and blinds. Returning now, I see I’ve a job to do here. It’s my small little part to play, but it’s a purpose. It may be foolhardy, but it suits me. Bring a little hope, man. That’s all.

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