Saturday, July 21, 2007

I've really been meaning to write--there is so much going on--but I just haven't been motivated. I recently wrote a letter to a friend from a China, an American colleague, and actually, what I wrote him really sums up well what's going on with me. Here is a large excerpt of the letter; I think it serves well to illustrate my current frame of mind.


Things on this side are, not to put to fine a point on it, shit. I am
still in Hawaii and I won't be going to Columbia this year after all.
There is an exceptionally good reason for this. Dad is very ill and has
been diagnosed with diffused large B-cell lymphoma. It came on
very suddenly and rather strongly, and he starts chemo next Wednesday.
Given that Dad is divorced, my older half-sister was never close, and he
lives alone, there is no one in a good position to look after him,
save for my younger sister and myself. (Dumping him into a home is not
an option I would consider, as I like my dad and wouldn't want him
living out his last surrounded by a bunch of deteriorating old farts
who look forward to bingo on Tuesdays and institutional meatloaf on

Of course, looking after the old man is not easy either. I am living
with him, sleeping on an army cot in his room (he has another room,
but a couple--friends and clients of his, one of whom is a nurse--live
in the other; they have been around a year, which is nice, but are
leaving soon). I get up when he gets up, take him to the toilet when
he needs it, listen to him violently hack throughout the night as his
poor body tries to cough out the lump in his lung that will never come up,
put on his socks, take them off, shave his face, and then do stuff like take
him to the doctors, field calls from his voracious clients--of which he still
has many--and keep my meddling Chinese mother, his ex-wife, at bay.
Very fortunately, my sister has also given up her job and come home,
and while she lives with our mother, she comes over often and relieves
me of my responsibilities so I can sleep, go to yoga, or just fuck off for a
few hours.

Let me tell you, getting old is shit. My new ambition in life is
to die before all the parts start coming undone.

So, after two letters and a weepy phone call, the ever-competitive
and, but in the end much more compassionate than expected Graduate
School of Journalism at Columbia University has seen fit to break with their
usual policy and granted me a one-year deferral. This is excellent,
for obvious reasons.

Also, as Dad does not require non-stop attention 24-hours a day
(he mostly needs help mornings and nights), I do have stretches of
free time during the day (deliberately enhanced by assigning my sister with
a certain amount of time with Dad--I like to see to it that she
contributes her share of filial duty) and have applied for very part-time work at a
new tutoring center, and as a substitute teacher at the local high school
(totally flexible work). This should be interesting as I'm curious to see what
teaching in the States might be like. (I imagine the students won't be as motivated
[internally or externally] as they are in the Asian countries, for the most part.)
Actually, as I went through the public system myself, I'll be working
alongside a number of my former teachers. Weird.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

Well, I miss China. I think Americans, or at least, the Konaese, are
miserable, fat people, who don't smile and are stupid. I know this is
a harsh assessment of the simple, native people of my home town, but I
maintain that it's mostly accurate. Kona used to be filled with
not-so-miserable, fat, smiling people, and they were usually pleasant, and much
more bearable. But, in the last five years, thousands--literally thousands--of
White (no offense) assholes, mostly from Southern California--have
moved to the town, throwing any semblance of social order painfully out of
whack. (Though possibly unconnected, at the same time, the the most garish markers
of contemporary America, such as Jamba Juice and Hooters, have made presence on the
public tableau.) Property values have skyrocketed and now there are really only
two kinds of people who live here: wealthy White Republicans who wear
tacky Hawaiian clothes and try desperately to incorporate archaic
Hawaiian words into their vocabulary in efforts to "go native" (while
they hang around Starbucks and complain about the laziness of the
local people and the incompetence of the local government [valid point
there]) AND the poor bastards who commute three to four hours daily
from the more affordable towns north and south of this one, on the
only and thus traffic jammed at all hours of the day main road, to
wait, serve and slave for their modest share of the foreigners' wealth. Most
people I know who grew up here are working in real estate,
construction, tourism or hospitality. Most are married with children,
or unmarried with children, and because of the high cost of living, they
barely make ends meet. Ice (crystal methamphetamine) has become a huge
problem here and at night, I won't walk home alone. There are lots of
reports in the paper about racially-motivated violence and everyone
knows someone who has been affected. My sister's friend, a local kid,
but a Caucasian, was hospitalized because he was severely beaten by an
angry mob of local kids while camping at the beach. My mother's
yardman didn't show up for work one day because the van he shared with
his friend, a Korean guy, was stolen when a couple of unknown guys
approached him while he was loading the van, beat the shit
out of him for no apparent reason, then drove off with the van, leaving him for
dead. (This happened shortly after Virginia Tech, which they think
might have been the motivation, though they aren't sure. Asians are
usually not targets for racial violence here.) The last story I will
share is the worst. The page designer (a Caucasian transplant) at the
newspaper where I used to work has a bunch of kids, his own and
adopted (I believe). One of his boys, who is about 14, is autistic. He
and a similarly aged brother both saved up for an xBox and when
they had enough money, they walked down to the local game store to buy it.
On the way home, xBox in tow, a pick up truck pulled up next to them
on the side of the road. Two local guys got out and tried
to pull the xBox off of the autistic kid. But, being autistic, the kid
didn't really get what was going on, other than these assholes were
trying to separate him from his precious xBox, and was having none of
it. So, unsuccessful in getting it away from the kid, one of the guys goes
into the truck, produces a baseball bat, and then proceeds to beat the
kid across the ribs with it. The guys got the toy, then drove off. The
police said there was little that could be done, but as it turns out now,
the guy who beat the kid was found out to be the son of a policeman,
and he's a classmate of my sister (which makes him about 24). That's

But of course, every town has bad news and good news, so the good news
is, as people keep reminding me when I tell them I hate this fucking
pathetic excuse for a human settlement (they should know better than
to ask), is that everyday is sunny and it doesn't snow. (Apparently,
in America, snow is very dangerous, life-threateningly, burns-the-skin-off-your-
flesh dangerous, and being cold is something akin to walking over 30 feet of
red hot coals every hour for eternity.) Nevermind the fact that asthmatics,
such as myself, don't do well in the heat, and the air is polluted from the
volcano and something else I can't divine, though I know it's there
because I have had to double my dose of asthma medication AND add an
allergy pill, just to breathe at levels I am accustomed to in
Beijing. (Yes, my asthma is worse here than in Beijing!) Ladies and gentlemen,
Kona is better than "the Mainland" because it's not cold!

Ah paradise...

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