Reflections in a Mirror
“You’re a racist”, an anonymous blogger recently wrote to me. “You should go back home”, the blogger said. Am I a racist, I wondered? And if I went back home, where would that be? I haven’t lived in Canada for twenty-four years.
When I created this blog two months ago, I had no expectation of it becoming anything more than a link for that rare person who might possibly read my story, “The Rainiest Season”, which was published in an anthology called “How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia”. I thought I might write a couple of stories here, maybe post a photo or two, and then move on to other projects.
Much to my surprise, I have come to enjoy writing these posts. Even more to my surprise, people have been reading them! And I thank you for that…. But here’s the thing I’m really amazed at — by writing these stories I’m learning a lot about my own character.
I like to think I’m the hero in my stories, yet fairly often the woman staring back at me in the mirror looks rather villainous. I profess to being an introvert who likes to live privately and quietly — yet here I am, baring my most private thoughts and feelings to you, most of whom I have never met. I meditate every day, yet I realize how often I shout and curse when things go wrong. I view myself as low-maintenance, yet I routinely expect to have what I want when I want it.
I honestly don’t think I’m a racist. I like and admire Filipinos. I don’t live in a gated community in a large city, guided and protected by a multinational corporation. For thirteen years I have lived on an island in the Philippines, surrounded by chickens, goats and rice paddies — and Filipino neighbors who are pretty damned poor. For the most part, my neighbors and I get along fine. Once in a while, there are collisions: collisions of interests, of expectations, of culture. They don’t last long, maybe five minutes of unpleasantness. Maybe a day or two. But we always get past it. The thing is though, it’s those collisions that make the best stories. Who wants to read about my day at the beach?
And so I write from the perspective of a woman who comes from a race and culture that, like it or not, considers itself to be top dog in the global scheme of things. But in my Asian world, the tables have been turned on me. I’m living on someone else’s turf and they have a gigantic set of rules that I don’t understand. I don’t even understand the language, for God’s sake. The deck is stacked against me, though that might not seem obvious at first glance — and that’s something that takes some getting used to. Once in a while I find myself in a predicament that scares me, which I usually respond to by getting mad (or sleeping). Luckily, I can almost always buy myself out of trouble — because when the chips are really down, money is about all I’ve got going for me in this part of the world. In the meantime, my life really is one crazy adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Am I a flawed character? Absolutely. Do I mean well? Most of the time. Do I have some interesting stories to tell? Hell yeah…