Thursday, June 25, 2009


In Which Death Is Mentioned, Society Is Further Maligned, And More Seeds Of Future Posts Are Sown

We went to the beach.  I put those pictures up some time ago.  It was a good time - a group of mutually benevolent people hanging out with a relative minimum of high-school behavior.  Afterward we came back and I opened my box.

It was a little boring, to be honest.  The most consistent predictions were that I'd no longer be vegetarian (false), that I'd have a cat (also false), and that I'd be married with a kid or two (1/3 true - the marriage isn't probably what they meant, and while I've got some 40 to 50 kids, it's not quite in the same way).  I'm hoping the next one will be better, or at least more interesting.

We also went to Ali Shan when Katy's friend Aidan was here.  I didn't really feel like there was enough time to do anything there, but the train ride was cool.

I went back to Yingge with Thomas, who's going back to Australia in a few weeks to start law school.  He made a saki set.  I made a few more containers of various sorts.  We ate at a delightful restaurant of a hole-in-the-wall variety, and then came back for a TED talks gathering chez Katy and Rowan.  In some ways it's very nice to have a bunch of intelligent friends with whom to discuss ideas.  On the other hand, I do get the impression that we often intellectualize happiness into non-existence. 

Our jobs here are the same as ever: the same challenges, the same rewards.  My H-class put on a play that none of us wanted to do for parents who resented having to take the time to watch it, so that our director could stress out and try to make us stress out, all for the sake of face.

Which brings me, indirectly, to the next point.  Last week, someone we met here near the beginning of our stay committed suicide.

Now, I'm pretty isolated here, and I have a feeling that this is making my viewpoints less and less connected with the society I left in the United States, so take what follows with a shaker-full of Pacific salt.  Death isn't an easy thing to process at the simplest of times, and it gets more complicated when it's a choice someone's making.  We humans sometimes get offended by much less permanent choices, like who someone marries or how someone cuts his hair.  We get positively irate over choices like where to eat or what color to paint the house.  When someone chooses to die... we don't know what to do.  We feel guilty, usually, and sad, and probably angry.  We think, "If only I'd done X," or "Why didn't he/she value me/my friendship enough to live?" or "Now I will never see him/her again."  We think that our existence ought to have had more bearing on their decision.  A decision as final as death, though, is sometimes a response to exactly that kind of pressure from friends or family or co-workers or society.  Family members tell someone to live his life this way, friends advise something else, co-workers say "just do this," society tells him to put on a happy face and be strong, and no one takes the time to let him do or even say what he'd prefer.  It is too frequently entirely unimportant.  From the time people enter school until they retire - most of their lives - they are battered by a constant onslaught of opposing pressures to do a very narrow set of things and practice a vary narrow set of behaviors.  You're an American girl who doesn't shave her legs? SHAME.  You're a Taiwanese boy who wants to be an artist? FIE.  When there's no real outlet for personal happiness or even opinion, the only way people can assert their right to control their own lives, it often seems to them, is to end them.

So we should feel guilty, I suppose.  We should, but not in the narcissistic manner to which we're accustomed.  We shouldn't feel guilty because we as individuals were so important to a person that by one action or lack thereof we could have made them realize that life was worth living.  That is simply not the case.  We should feel guilty collectively.  A person's decision to die should make us consider whether we've allowed others the room to be themselves, or if we've decided that we are so omniscient that we know exactly how they should proceed with the rest of their lives, and that we're so important that we have the right to deny them the right to ever choose anything again.

To end on a brighter note, I found a little children's book recently in Chinese that is the first chapter of a book I read growing up and have always sort of loved: The Finn Family Moomintroll.  It is the inspiration, in fact, for my sub-headings.  I was very glad to get it.  It's relatively easy to read, but I'm learning new words with it, too.

Next up, I hope, the long promised entry about education.

1 comment:

Hobbes said...

First, apologies for falling so far out of touch. I suck.

Second, you'd better not be isolating yourself socially to the extent I was when I lived on West Wilson - when you could tell on which Wednesdays I hadn't had people contact for several days... That just never ends well. I will be able to chat more (I now have my very own internets), though that's no substitute for real live people.

Third, I'm going to be in a situation today wherein it will become immediately apparent to professional peers that I have not shaved my legs in months (we're doing a team-building ropes course for the group of new people at my Corporate Job). We shall see how they react.