Being an Other in the West

It took some determination to complete this short post… besides all the excuses, I failed to keep up with a promise. But that’s okay. The bright side being I didn’t give up this story. I believe it is a great reflection of my current status.

In Dominique Moïsi’s book – The Geopolitics of Emotion, one of the focuses on the rise of Asia has caught my attention.

“… a Chinese or an Indian… is used to living in parallel worlds, his own and one that is Western dorminated… Most of my Asian friends went through the best Western universities. They have an intimate knowledge of us and our culture. They know what makes us tick… By contrast, the ‘Asian side’ of their personality remains largely a mystery to me and my Western friends… the hybrid nature of Asian identity seems much more adaptive to a world in conflict… we in the West still tend to see ourselves as central… [Asians] manage to remain themselves while becoming us.” (p. 21)

Despite the book being published almost 10 years ago, the trends predicted by Moïsi has been playing out now. I can kind of identify myself with his words.

In work, I was given opportunities to work with families of the same cultural background as me. Whenever I took my colleagues to interview these families, their values and practices stroke my colleagues every time. However, I was placed in a privileged position to say, ‘I understand you.’ In my area of work, these families are truly remaining themselves while becoming the dominant culture (otherwise they will not be able to escape from the eyes of these enforcement). I can see the struggles of these families, especially the parents. Just like myself, these parents are raised in our traditional cultural values and practices, but we all migrated to the West for the better lives of our children (not that I have any children now…). However while we can see that our children is having a brighter future here, we continue to struggle how to disseminate our cultural values to them. It would be hard for the children themselves too. Being told one way at home and the other at school.

On the other hand, it is interesting how our society pushes for cultural awareness in our practices, but our practices and policies do not necessarily reflect these cultural sensitivities from the perspective of the Others (other cultures in opposition to the dominant culture I am situated in). These policies and practices are often generated from the views of the dominant culture with little exceptions.

 

As an Other living in the West, it has been an interesting experience. To be honest, I enjoy the privilege of living in both worlds. The exposure to the beautiful and vivid lifestyle in the West allowed me to reflect upon my core Chinese values. This, in turn, strengthen who I am.

I’m in no position to suggest policy changes in terms of cultural awareness. However I only wish that we better engage with each other with less conflicts and more understanding.

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When Breath Becomes Air (When Death Becomes Life)

One of the best books that I have read in awhile — “When Breath Becomes Air”. (It’s probably because I don’t read much…)

This book is about the journey of Paul, who is a neurosurgeon (aka the author), when he comes to term with his diagnosis of terminal cancer. How he constantly shifts between the role of a doctor and patient. This book also reflected on his journey in accepting death, which is one of the hardest fact to accept.

I loved how vivid Paul described his experience. As if you are walking through the journey with him.

There are multiple reflection points in the book. Although I am not a medical doctor, I could understand some of the author’s struggle in my daily life.

  1. The author depicted vividly how he desensitised himself from dissecting a body. “We objectified the dead.”

Powerful.

As a child protection worker, I realised how I have came to desensitise child abuse. To be fair, you kind of need to desensitise yourself before you are hit by vicarious trauma. HOWEVER. This does not mean I work without compassion. I have seen workers work for the sake of working. Putting vulnerable families at further risk due to their ‘bare-minimum’ work (I have talked about this previously. I don’t think I have the energy to go through this topic again…).

I get to learn about a family inside out is part of my work. Sometimes I need to reach into their personal information. I don’t see them naked like the author has experienced in the anatomy lab but I was exposed to pages and pages of daily lives of these vulnerable families.

Recently, I was exposed to this statement “the better your skills are, the more desensitised you are (in our field).” Unfortunately, this is the nature of our work. However, this does not mean we should work without reflection. If we do, we truly “objectified the dead.”

2. “Treat all my paperwork as patients, not vice versa.”

This is an add-on to the previous point. However, my personal experience tells me that this happens on a daily basis in the realm of my work. Once again, people doing bare-minimum is harmful to our vulnerable families. I was once told that our job is never ending, and therefore, “things can wait,”; “there is no rush to complete these case notes,”; “it’s just case notes, I am the one reading it anyways.”

No. NO. NO!

Every case notes should be treated carefully. It is extremely important to document information clearly and in detail. Imagine you are rushing to the Emergency Department one day due to some chronic illness you have, the attending doctor relies on previous notes to develop a quick assessment of your medical history, and what s/he found nothing besides, for example, completed blood tests on xxx date. I am sure you would want more about your medical history to be written in order for the best, timely treatment.

Some might think that I am comparing people at risk of death to vulnerable families, which are of different urgency. However, they are equally vulnerable. Their imminent risk could be equally destructible. Children neglected could be at risk of death.

3. When Death Becomes Life

Paul was able to accept the fact of death, and continues to live, as he said: “even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m still living.” Unfortunately, not everyone can see through death like Paul did in the book. We often hear what Dr Seuss said above “sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” When death hits, people often starts to live their life because they know there is a limit to their life. But… why wait until death hits upon you before you start living your life?

I always remind myself to be grateful of what I have currently and I always cherish every moment spent with my loved ones. In the hope that, when I know the limits of my life (if I was given the opportunity), I was able to continue my life like Paul – continue to strive for excellence, live for my dreams. Most importantly, not regretting choices I didn’t make.

What does your car’s window’s being smashed means?

Very simple answer. It means that my car’s window was smashed by some people in our community.

I did all I needed to do to solve the issue… Such as making a police report, lodging an insurance claim, getting someone to fix the window. But most importantly, I kept calm. I was surprised by myself too actually. Everything that I would usually do, I did not do this time. I did not stomp the floor, I did not panic, I did not curse the person who did this. I decided to be calm. I tried to seek an explanation for my own behaviour.

Firstly, this society is hopeless. If there is a need for these people to steal, that means they might not be well supported by the community (even though they might do that for fun…or you can always argue some people are lazy and abuses the system). I never blame the government for anything. Maybe this time I would slowly inquire into this.

Secondly, I have been desensitised from such ridiculous situations. If you work in my job, you will be surprised by people’s actions as well as their rationale behind their behaviour. So an adult smashing my car’s window to nick a few dimes isn’t that bad. I have seen worse. I was at a work training yesterday, the psychologist pointed out a great point — “the better your skills are, the more desensitised you are (in our field)”. This is sad. But luckily, I remain curious and reflective of my personal practice. Just like this short post today — reflecting and exploring the meaning behind different scenarios.

I don’t know what to feel about my car’s window’s being smashed. But I certainly know that I have grown up again. I could only hope that my neighbours or other people in the fellow community could be immune to this unfortunate event.

Little self help

A recent Chinese book I read — “do not choose a comfortable life in an age of toughness” — gave me some ideas of how to become a leader of myself.

I must admit I am going through a time where I constantly look for self-help books, advice, motivations etc. I believe I reached a point where I am unsure of my future directions. I would be seeking the “right advice” every day — an advice that I want to hear. I always say I am grateful that I have all the options for me to choose that’s why I am in such a state. I am grateful that my parents have worked hard for me to live with choices, and not be in a state that I was forced to do things to keep myself alive.

During this time of constant seeking advice, I was pretty angry with myself actually. Rather than exploring all the resources I have, I spent a significant amount of time in searching the “right path.” On the other hand, there’s a saying in Chinese that keeps running in mind — success is reserved for one who is well-prepared. When I was younger, I constantly question “how do you prepare yourself?” This constant battle of how do I become the person I wanted to be in a quicker, more effective way.

Unfortunately, I did not realize that the answer lied within me. While I am searching here and there, I did not give up my current state — meaning that I keep devoting 100% to my job and my PhD, and this is one of the key advice from the vast amount of self-help I got — keep working towards it.

Recently, there is a viral video about how we all have different timelines in life, and that there is no one correct path that leads to success. To be honest, I am not sure how my success would look like. But I am willing to sit with this uncertainty, and put in my effort to this journey. I can only hope that I am getting more prepared every day. Instead of crying why I am not as fortunate as my peers, I am slowly dropping these fancy stories around me, and focus on my journey.

Responsibilities as a Worker

Just like any other organisations, the organisation I work in has many departments, where we each have our role. In the perfect little world, everyone does their work and always do slightly extra in order to help out other colleagues, and portray the organisation as reputable and responsible. However, this is never the reality. Reality is, people do their bare minimum in order to stay in the job, and that people take you for granted. This is human nature — two of the seven sins — greed and sloth (I never referred to anything religion-related but this is an exception). To further your frustration, these people are hired ‘permanently’ meaning that it is nearly impossible to remove these people from the organisation. How hopeless.

To be honest, I hate to step over other’s territory and do work for them. However, it happens to me often (But I guess deep down is that I wanted someone to recognize my work and appraise me :P). Sometimes I wish that before people go on leave, which they are 100% entitled to, make a to-do list or follow-up list for other colleagues, so that we can cover their work. However, this is one of those perfect little world of mine again. You know the feeling when you can make a simple phone call to rectify the issue but you can’t because that’s not your role? This is how I felt sometimes. Because some people decided to do the bare minimum, what they don’t recognize is that they are leaving part of their responsibilities for others. I just want to clarify again, I am not saying that you should be doing more than what is asked for you. But I am hoping that people can be a tad more responsible. Especially in my job with child protection. We work with vulnerable people in the population. Anything that happens with the clients could mean a turmoil for them. I believe it is our responsibility to manage these situations and ease them out before things escalate further.

A little reflection — It appears that I have been blaming others and not being reflective of my practice. However, I must defend myself and tell the story about me attempted to work collaboratively with the people I refer to. It is when collaboration broke down, communication discontinued that I decided to comment on this.

Now I wish to talk about two examples of my hopelessness. Firstly, I had a colleague complained about me for not getting documents sent in early because that created more work for them. Reality is I am one of the most junior staff in the organisation. Please don’t blame me for not getting the directors of the organisation to sign off on important documents. Not to mention that I filed the documents well before the ‘deadline’.

Another situation occurred when I had clients calling me accusing that our organisation is ‘useless’ and that’s what they expect from us. Firstly, I never blame the experience of our clients as we all have different lives and journey. I totally respect that. To be honest, I felt very powerless when it came to this situation. When some part of the organisation decided to do the bare minimum and not being responsible with their work, such as not proof-reading their email sent to third parties, this puts my relationship with my clients in jeopardy. Customers are always right. Therefore, they don’t see me as separate to the organisation, but part of the ‘useless organisation’.

Sometimes I wonder how does one’s resilience build up.

It is my desire to serve our community and improve’s people’s lives that I must be resilient and strong. My father often used this analogy of a lighthouse. As a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, you have to be rock solid in order to prevent waves from crushing you in any directions. More importantly, a lighthouse is round, when a wave comes to you in one direction, you absorb the impact and deflect the force it brought. In a world of different opinions and views, you have to be firmed with your values because you never know where and when the next person will try to crush you with their opinions. However, it doesn’t meant that you disregard their views straight away, but you absorb the information, try to understand their views, and you deflect them away.

If there is one single lesson I have to take from my dad to disembark on this journey of life, it is to be a lighthouse.

Lost Faith

Since my return home, there were two major issues happened to my new rental place. Firstly, I found out that our apartment complex has been broken into. Secondly, our open private car space was being parked by some random person.

Well, when I was trying to seek help with our apartment complex being broken into, my answers from different person is that ‘I am sorry, this is not our role.’ In my head, I was hoping someone could do something about this issue, not telling me ‘no’, their rationale being this is not part of their job, and it is your responsibility of your own property. Excuse me… I am the victim here. When I approach the building management and question what could be done to secure this, the answer is… Unfortunately, there is no results about the Executive Committee yet. Mostly because installing security camera is expensive. I was shocked. To me, that sounds like you tenants should protect yourself better, it is your lost for not further securing your properties/car in a ‘secured’ parking lot.  I cannot believe this is the society we became, where we should be caring for ourselves more than anything else, and do not blame the community for not helping because that is not their role.

Another issue happened recently about our open private car space being parking by some random person attending a sporting event at the stadium. When I asked the security guards of the stadium parking about any methods of solving the problem, the answer I received was ‘I am sorry, this is not my job.’ Bang. How did I not thought of that? Of course it isn’t, but maybe you could made an announcement for that owner of the car to remove the car? Nevermind, I went on to call the building management. You guess it right, they told me that it is not their role to manage this issue. I am surprised because if the building management cannot do anything to control these issues, how can residents feel safe and comfortable about staying here? Ridiculous. The person on the call even suggested to call the tow ‘at my own risk.’ I could not hold my anger but to ask how is this my responsibility? The answer is, well, you asked someone to towed someone else’s car. I simply lost faith. When I thought a day could not get worse from this… I was driving home from groceries shopping, figured that the entire street was shut because the sporting event has concluded, and the people needed to be directed to exit, so I stopped to ask a person in charge of this procedure. First thing he said to me ‘you can’t do this. You have to turn around.’ I was holding on my anger and asked ‘but I have moved here recently, can you show me the way to enter my place?’ The response was ‘Can’t help you man, this is not my job, you have to turn around, now go.’ I have never sworn to any person of some sort of authority in the public. This is beyond ridiculous. I ended up drove around the suburb to find another entry to my place.

Sorry for all this vent. I had to do vent somehow. This is ridiculous. I think it’s fair to say that I lost faith (once again) to other people. All it takes is for someone to kindly point to the direction of solving some sort of issue, instead, people are redirecting you away because ‘it’s not part of our job.’

Our Special Children

When the film Wonder was released in 2017, I always wanted to watch it. Reason being I wanted to see how the movie portrays the battle of a ‘special’ child in mainstream school settings and hoping to get insight into my PhD studies.

I was lucky enough that the in-flight entertainment was showing this film. To be honest, I have cried several times on the flight. To a point that I felt slightly embarrassed as there’s another passenger next to me, and I’ve got nothing to rub my tears beside my shirt.

The tears did not only came from the main character, Auggie’s experiences in a mainstream school setting. It is the struggles of Via (his sister), his parents, and his peers that added to this personal experience. As Auggie was born with a deformity, it is difficult to deal with the eyes of other people, particularly in a school setting where young children might not aware of the right thing to say. The struggles that Auggie faces everyday was well portrayed. This caught my attention not just because it is unfair for Auggie, it made me reflect on my own childhood, where we tend to say things that hurt each other without realising it, and it is not okay. We can never be sure of how one’s words hurt or even traumatised the other. Once the damage is done, it is hard to go back. Just like Auggie’s best friend Jack in the movie, Auggie felt betrayed when Jack was saying something behind Auggie’s back with other peers. For Auggie, that was the most hurtful thing to hear. Just like when we were all young, the last thing we wanted to hear is our friend betraying us. Further to that, when we felt betrayed, we never get to hear both sides of the story. We will be fixated on the perception that we were betrayed. The way this movie portrayed it, it allows us as viewers to think twice about our actions.

When it comes to Via, being the eldest sibling, there are responsibilities that she carries, just like myself, I would say. The worst thing we wanted is for our parents to worry about both of their children. Via was acting protectively of Auggie and her parents most of the time. But it was reflected clearly that no matter how mature she is, she is a child in the family home. She needs the attention from her parents. It is not fair to place all the responsibilities on her.

When it comes to Auggie’s parents, they have done everything to protect Auggie from the judgment of other people. However, there reaches a time where Auggie has to learn to face it himself. To me, this is the best parents can do for us when we are a child. Providing a safety net for the child to fall if anything happens during their journey of exploration. Through the movie, it also gave me insights into the difficulties as parents in decision making in the family home. Life is about constant trade-offs. It is a difficult skill to master. I only hope that I could practice this before I have a child! Another thing that was portrayed very well was the way that Auggie’s parents responded to Auggie’s experience at school.

On the other hand, the bully in the movie, Julian, also caught my attention. His actions demonstrated what a typical bully would do to other students at school. During one incident, where Julian was called to the Principal’s office for his bullying behaviour, the responses from his parents were shocking. They were supportive of Julian’s bullying behaviour and threatened the school to pull out their funding. “Be the parent today that you want your kids to remember tomorrow.” This is what I perceive from this juxtaposed parenting style.

Finally, I wanted to comment on the portrayal of a healthy, respectful family in the movie. This movie portrayed a family who are respectful of each other, shows up for each other, and more importantly, apologises to each other. There is nothing called ‘you should’ in a family. Never take your family for granted.