Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Sunday, June 19, 2005
8mm 'Big Fish' Clips
Mom calls me up every year on the 12th of June. This year it was a Sunday. I woke up and got ready for the meeting, half expecting my phone to ring. I even wondered whether or not I would pick it up if it did. But it didn’t. I left the house a quarter after 9, arriving at the Hall in time to set up the sounds and mark the song on the CD player.
Lately I’ve been thinking about all the things that I can actually remember now. I can remember a time when all I could remember were fuzzy childhood memories, just short clips, faded like an 8mm home video. These memories were so choppy that they were practically half truths in my mind.
Like the time when Aunty Joei-Mae watched a baby named Jester Candelerio. He was 2 years younger than me, and in my 8mm memory he was just a newborn, so I couldn’t have been more than 3. I remember Jester crying, and Aunty Joei holding him in her left arm, patting his back. She walked into the kitchen to bounce him to sleep. His tiny fingers curled around her dangly earrings, and he pulled on them as he cried himself to sleep. In my mind, I always connected that fuzzy 8mm memory with Aunty Joei’s earlobes. When I was 8, I noticed that the earring holes in her ears were long. They were long because Jester had tugged on them until he fell asleep when I was 3 years old.
Have you ever seen the movie ’Big Fish’? It’s about a guy who tries to figure out which of his dad’s stories were real, and which of them were blown out of proportion. In the end he realizes that in all of those ’big fish’ tales, there was some truth. I remember a time when all I could remember were those fuzzy half-truth ‘big fish’ tales. But now I can think of all the memories that are no longer a kid’s 8mm edited version of reality. Now I can think about all the things that I actually remember.
But anyway, getting back to last week Sunday when I half expected a phone call from mom. I got home from the meeting and checked my messages, and sure enough she’d left me a voicemail. “Hi JR, this is mom.” She was on Oahu, helping Wendy and Jared out with their newborn baby, Riley-Joy. “I was just calling to ask you what it feels like to be a quarter of a century old.” I smiled.
I was happy that she’d called. I’d be worried if she didn’t. But I was annoyed at the reminder. Now my car insurance premium, (if I had a car to insure), wouldn’t be affected by my age bracket. Or actually it would, because now I fit into the bracket of males that are not as statistically wreckless in their driving habits. And now I could rent a car from any rental company without having to pay extra because now, as mom so kindly pointed out, I was a quarter of a century old.
As I write this, I can hear the kids playing on the lawn outside. It’s summer break, they’ll be out all day for the next couple months, playing around, running, screaming, filing away fuzzy, half-truth, big-fish, 8mm tales of their own. I wonder if, a quarter of a century from now, they’ll remember the ’old guy’ who would walk out of his apartment every Sunday morning a quarter after 9, dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase.
In retrospect, I guess I should call mom and tell her that it’s not so bad to be a quarter of a century old. I could be younger, and still clinging onto fuzzy half-truth memories, unsure of where the line between the fantastical and realistic should be drawn. I could be older now, two quarters of a century old, pining even more about the unfairness of aging in this imperfect world. But instead I’m just 25, fresh, young, experiential 25. And now I can take some time out to sit back and enjoy all the things that I actually remember.
Sunday, May 09, 2004
Truths Self Evident
A day and a night and Cambodia's left an indelible mark on my conscience. Why is it that we cry equality... and yet a man in forgotten Asia lives off of 1G a year while another of equal value in a prosperous land rolls in 30? We hold these truths to be self-evident, but we do so on cushy beds and full platters.
Driving through rural Cambodia, we passed villages, farmlands and people scraping out a living on mine rich fields, most traveling by foot along dusty roads, or if better, than by bicycle. On our way to Poipet, we passed a barren field with a single grass house raised on stilts. On the side of the dusty highway was a mud pond. In the middle of the pond were three men, with three mopeds, polishing off their prized possesions.
Back in the real world, I work in a restaurant where mothers and fathers bring their ripe children to sit and dine on holiday wine, saucy dishes and good cheer. They drop grands a night to sleep with the security of soft beds and full bellies. While on the dusty streets of Siem Reap crawl men with withered limbs, and calloused elbows. I remember one night, walking back to our guesthouse, and a man in this condition crawled up to a restaurant with street seating. Surprisingly limber, he moved on his elbows with practiced grace. But the patrons saw no man, they could only see a cripple, and some of them laughed behind discreet palms, or took pictures, while one of the lot went to ask the staff to have the beggar removed.
I am not stainless. From our balcony seat on the second floor of the restaurant where we dined for two nights in a row, Crystal and I watched the nightlife on the streets of Siem Reap. Across from us is a restaurant, again with streetside seatings. This time they're empty, but people are walking by because it's at a busy intersection. I spot a boy, about 7 or 8, with a baby strapped to his shoulder. He walks around and bumps into anyone who looks like they may have something to give. Who knows what he says to them, but for the most part the people just keep walking. Some of them actually look down at him, but they just shake their heads and look away... No, not tonight. But wait, one woman turns around after brushing him aside, looks for the wandering child, finds him and presses something into his tiny palms. He walks away and leans on a moped, smiling down at his good fortune. The owner of the bike, I assume, comes out of the restaurant to shoo him away. A few seconds later the little boy is at another persons side, calling out his little line.
My attention is caught, so I try and get Crystal's. "Look at this one," I tell her. We look down at the child from our point of view. Than Crystal says, "You know you walked right by him on our way here." After a few seconds I nod. "Yah, that's right." When we passed him, he was sitting on the curb out front, legs extended and crossed, with his eyes shut and his thin arms wrapped around the tiny baby. "I don't know... I guess I thought he was sleeping."
Eventually, it gets so hard to think of these little faces as individuals. After a while, they turn into the same face with the same voice. Palms open and waiting for the rich man to give a handout. But I'm not rich... I make just enough to live. And enough to eat. Just enough to eat out every day. More than enough to pay my bills. And enough to put away for a rainy day. Of course the occasional splurge here and there. And if somewhere sounds exotic enough, I make enough to get there on a budget. I make enough. And it's more, so much more, than what this tiny hand is asking for. So I press a bill into his hand and he walks away.
But not a few seconds later, comes another hand and another voice. This time a little different, but still the same. And they just keep coming. A split second of indecision cools me, then I quickly turn on the blank look... a cold stare at nothing in particular. I push past the small voices, and slowly make my way to the bank doors while our tuk-tuk driver waits, and watches me, from the side of the street. I peek inside to see how Crystal is doing with her withdrawal. She smiles at me reassuringly. I turn around and sit next to the security guards on the concrete bench outside, give the guards a smile, and slowly by slowly the little voices with little hands fade away.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. And yet a child in Africa will share a doctor with 2,000 other children, while a child in America will share hers with 200. But one can get so caught up, and eventually brought down, by the reality of statistics. So there is a world out there, only a few that I've witnessed but countless more that are just as real, where all men are not equal, and I can drop a bill, or two or three because I can always return home to my comfy zone and make it up and some change... but how much more can one person do? One could get dragged down by such reasoning. Or one could put on that blank stare, staring at nothing in particular, shaking their head... No, not tonight. Or one could be like the Swiss doctor who dedicates his whole life to the local hospital. Bandaging up those who need bandages, and soothing wounds with the sounds of a musical instrument. But what is one victor, in a sea of victims?
The half truth sometimes hurts. And the half truth is, Who is man to take into his own hands a responsibility that he cannot bear? But the whole truth is far from painful. In a blurr of poverty one's mind may become cloudy and his emotions fittingly stirred. But when time clears your vision, and the entire truth is evident once more, the answer to the question is two times stronger than it was before. Man is nothing. But Jehovah see's everything. And it's his responsibility to handle his creation in a manner that he see's fit.
Truthfully, the time for now is hard to bear... but it's just not Jehovah's time yet. It's comforting to remember, though, that when his time does come around, then all of the former things will have passed away. But this will take some time. Yes, all men are created equal... and only in Jehovah's time will this truth become evident.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
I found Joy in Bangkok, at a coffee shop, in a soi off of Thanon Pra Athit, a young man about my age, maybe a year older.
While all of the other waiters showered attention upon me, he was slow to open up. They said I was a curiosity to them. Not Thai, but not farang. Most were chatty but bland. But Joy was different.
It took awhile, but after some time he talked. Curiosity got the best of him I guess. His first words... "You and me look same-same. You same-same like Thai people."
I had to smile at that. Just the night before, I'd seen a tee shirt at the night market. A black tee with thick white letters on the front that read: Same Same. At the time I'd wondered what that meant. I kind of had an idea of it's meaning now.
At first Joy apologized to me for not knowing english so much. I only smiled and nodded. But after a pause I apologized for not knowing Thai at all. I think that broke the ice, because an hour later, I'd learned much about this young Thai. I learned that in fact, we were not same same, and that besides our age, we had nothing in common at all. The life of an average Thai is unlike anything that I thought I understood.
Upon my arrival in Bangkok, I took note of the many young people around my age living here. I thought that we may have much in common, but now I just feel simple and ignorant saying that. Because it wasn't until after I found Joy that I realized where the line of similarities was drawn, and where a world of difference began.
Joy was a baby when his papa died. He and his sister were raised by his mama and her family in a northern province of Thailand called Isan. At the age of 14, Joy moved into the city, 9 hours away from his home, to find work. He never finished school. "I'm not student." For ten years he worked at whatever jobs he could find. On the streets of Bangkok at first, and eventually working from dishwasher to cook to waiter. This is as good as it gets for him, and for 3 bucks a day, six days a week, Joy is able to pay for himself and his family and make enough for them to live. The only time off he has to go home and visit is once a year during a five day buddhist festival. He drives the 9 hours home by motorbike, and drinks away his time-off with his family and friends, before heading back into Bangkok to work for 72 bucks a month. His sister managed to somehow move to France, the details were intentionally vague, but she became pregnant while there, and she returned home to Isan, Thailand with a half-farang baby, and without a husband.
In the middle of our broken english conversation, I began to wonder how much of Joy's story was the truth, and how much of it was embellished to gain the sympathy of just another well off visitor. But I realized that I didn't care. In any case, his story was enlightening, and he never asked me for a handout, for money nor any contact information. It was just a conversation between two people who, at first glance, looked the same. Nothing more, just a conversation for comparison.
Joy pointed to one of his fellow workmates who walked by, "She from Bangkok. She student, live with mama and papa. Me her not same-same." And there it was again. His simple phrase to compare the situations of two very different people.
I began to understand what he meant. In this world you may find someone whom, on the surface, may seem to be the same as you are. But if you scratch a little deeper, you'll find a world of difference.
Surprisingly, we finished our conversation on the topic of politics. Joy told me of the Thai Prime Minister, Taksin, who is currently instituting new laws that will alter the face of Bangkok. This was a concern for Joy. It meant a lot of change for his work future. "If no work, than only die. I die... family die." Truth or not to this tale, there was a deep sadness in his tone.
I wanted so much to tell Joy about the true security soon to come... for both his family and worldwide. But I didn't. I held back. I walked away from the coffee shop hit with the realization that I was in a world that I didn't yet understand, and to try and speak to a man in this world on an equal level would only cause more confusion. I was afraid I would seem simple minded in my assumptions. I left Bangkok that night, and I never told Joy the truth, that one can live a satisfying life despite whatever challenging circumstances. Ultimately, I've thought about it, and I regret that decision.
But maybe when I go back to Bangkok, I can find Joy again.