Thursday, March 14, 2013

Old, Useless and Stupid

Whoo, Boy! Did I go off on a tear last post, or what? Can you tell this situation really bothers me? Again I plunge into the depths of thought, analyzing one culture’s more against the other. This whole week I spent thinking, thinking and thinking some more. Observing, asking questions, having conversations… trying to understand this phenomenon.

Lancy called. AGAIN! Not feeling it proper to run away from her forever, I took the phone call. It lasted twenty minutes and again mostly consisted of her admonishing me to get rest, not work hard, take it easy, eat good food and get good sleep. Of her accident – getting run over by a motorbike and ending up in the hospital, very little was said. Only that she did not want me to worry and everything is OK now.

I found out about her accident via Tristan, our mutual friend. He will resurface later in this entry. For now, my dealings with Lancy. Again I appealed to her that, if we’re going to be friends we should be on even keel. If something happens with her I’d like to know about it, and I promise that I will tell her if something happens with me.

It amazes me that, when such a topic comes up, my Chinese friends somehow lose the ability to understand English. No, not all my Chinese friends. Only the female ones.

On Saturday I taught my first session at the Lil’Uns school. Lea, as always was supportive and helpful, genuinely sweet. Treacle tart sweet. Cloyingly, nauseatingly, chokingly sweet. Mid-lesson I made the mistake of confiding in her that I could feel an allergy attack coming on by the swelling of my eye (VERY strange feeling, let me tell you!). Immediately she took over the class as though I were completely incapacitated. OH, NO!! When I told her about my eye swelling, I was just sharing a feeling, not implying I could no longer manage my class of 6 small girls! 

I miss the days when Lea and I were just friends. I could share my feelings with her and she would empathize, but was one step removed. Since we’ve started in this business together she has made me her business. She tells me what I can and cannot do. How to board a bus and how to cross a street. When I confided to her that Sam is arranging a volunteer opportunity for me to visit country village schools as a guest teacher this summer she took it upon herself to decide that that was too much work for me.

Later, having discussed schedules and after I thought that matter was finished, I shared with her that I would like to bring my friend Sam to meet her and her husband. She immediately enjoined: “Yes, you bring Sam (Teacher Song) here. I will make him understand that you should not do too much work.”

Why does she not think I’m capable of managing my own life? Furthermore, what if volunteering in small villages is something I want to do? (It is.) In the good old days when we were just friends I was managing just fine. OOPS!!!! There I go, ranting, again. That’s not the point I wanted to make.

My point is that I’m being cared to death. I’m being respected and venerated straight out to pasture. Lea and Lancy’s ministrations make me feel old, useless and stupid.

Since speculating on this subject I’ve taken to really looking at the old folks from the OTW community who amble aimlessly around our campus. Mostly the women. Their eyes inscrutable, hands behind their back they stroll, rolling gait announcing their lack of direction or purpose. These are not people who, after raising this generation of movers and shakers, and caring for their children’s progeny are enjoying their golden years. These are women who long to be seen as still valuable. Women who, but for cultural edict could contribute plenty to their family and to society. These women, coming from a generation that relegated females to second class status are most likely uneducated, maybe even illiterate. They cannot delve into a good book or even entertain themselves by watching television.

They do not understand the national language – Putonghua, what everyone in movies and on TV speaks. They only speak and understand their regional dialect. At age sixty, after they are deemed too old or too venerable, they are no longer required to help take care of grandchildren, shop, cook or even clean the house. Besides, their grandchildren are most likely in school, leaving them with nothing to do all day but sun themselves, gather on the corner and chat like magpies or hide their resentment at having been relegated to worthlessness by virtue of deep respect.

Conversely, men the same age still retain some worth, if only intellectual, or holding of patriarchal power. Traditional Chinese society is, of course, patriarchal. Whereas mothers are debased to the status of nags ready for the glue factory, fathers are truly elevated in status. Whatever the family’s eldest male says is what goes, no matter how the rest of the family feels.

Older men in China are in fact revered. The finest cuts of meat, the best portions of vegetables and the most comfortable chair are reserved for them. If an elderly couple boards the bus and there is only one seat available, the woman will forsake sitting in favor of their mate occupying it. With no qualms these men do in fact sit while their spouses remain standing.

The family’s elder male opinion is solicited before any decision is made regarding finance or life choice. Even a child’s – male or female – choice of mate is offered up for scrutiny, and this elder’s opinion and decision is in fact adhered to.

When old men amble around campus it is usually with a measure of vigor. They can be seen with their head held high, swinging their arms as they walk about. Their gait is more peppy and their eyes do not reflect that horrible vacancy and shameful frustration of being deemed useless. Old men are just as likely to nap extensively during the day as they are to while the afternoon away, reading or playing cards or checkers. Any activity of theirs is considered acceptable to the younger generation left to care for them. To my knowledge, no one ever tells old men they must rest, relax, or no do too much. They are in fact encouraged to do as much as they’d like, and resources are made available to them to pursue any passion they might have.  

Gary grew to understand that I do not need to be constantly admonished to care, nor do I need to be constantly watched over when we descended into the giant crater last year. (See Am I ever going to tell you where we went and what we did?’ entry, posted November 2011) After about three fourths of the way down where alternately Gary and Mask lagged behind to ensure my safety, and Gary even volunteered to pay for a porter to carry me out should the exercise become too much for me, I snapped at them both that I certainly can manage to climb a few (thousand) stairs and to just let the mother hen act go. Since then Gary has learned that I’m well worth my salt as a traveling companion and has never since mentioned that I need to be careful, take it easy and relax.       

I had a great conversation with Tristan a few nights ago. Remember: he and I have Lancy as a mutual friend. He expressed what a great girl she is. REALLY a terrific person. Honestly, I could not agree with him more. Lancy is truly a gem of a girl: sweet, devoted, doting, caring… caring me to death.

Somehow I was able to make Tristan understand that, while I ‘get’ the Chinese cultural edict that requires younger ‘family’ members to care for seniors – mostly women, the level and extent of caring expressed does not make me feel loved, respected or venerated at all.

It makes me feel old, useless and stupid.

Sam had to agree with me. There is a world of difference in how older men and older women are treated. He averred that, come time for his parents to need such a level of care, it will be up to him and his wife to do the caring. He already anticipates long, meaningful conversations with his father, while Penny will be admonishing her mother in law to just sit, relax and do nothing.

Somehow I just can’t see Sam’s spunky, fun loving, passionate mother being put out to pasture. Maybe I should talk with her and learn how to handle being esteemed into uselessness.  

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