Advice, Current Events, Mental Health

How To Mic Drop: The Privileged Perspective

Dear Reader,

Shall we begin?

Last week, a Korean co-worker visited NYC for the first time. “OMG how was it?” I asked, expecting pornographic descriptions of food. “It was scary,” he stammered. He’d run into gun-strapping gangsters late at night. One yelled, “Mother f*cka! Gimme your money!” My co-worker threatened to call the police so they left him alone eventually, but not before his first, distinct impression of black people had been formed.

The good news? My co-worker felt comfortable enough to talk about his fear openly. It gave me the opportunity to console him and to remind him that not all black people carry guns and steal your money. Now, more than ever, facts like these need to be spelled out. Conversations must be held with compassion. What if my co-worker had spoken to someone who reinforced his nascent stereotype? What if this continued over the years? Could he end up agreeing with the Charlottesville Nazis?

Anything is possible. But before trying to understand where someone else could be misled, let’s start with ourselves. How does racism begin? If we can’t identify it, how can we fight it?

Fresh Off The Boat

I grew up with mildly racist parents. Exsqueeeeze me…mildly?

When my parents first arrived in America, they bought the ugliest house they could find and tried to rent it. Most people didn’t want to live in a scene from The Shining, so they attracted prospects with low cost + cash only. Many of the tenants were black or latinos who ended up not paying their rent. My parents developed a prejudice based on their limited experiences. They weren’t painting KKK on my bedroom ceiling, but they weren’t eager for me to date a black guy either. Thankfully, the same parents gave me the chance to see more of the world and make my own informed decisions. Nowadays, I’m all about affirmative action. 😉

My first memory of meeting someone black was in the 3rd grade. His name was Tyrell Brown. I remember his scrumptiously thick lips, resting on his choco-caramel skin, forever pouted. The boys loved his playground skills and the girls, everything else.

One day, he happened to tie his shoes next to me. I bore a hole into the back of his skull, willing him to notice me. When he looked up, I blushed, all cheeks. “Girl, your eyes are tiny!” he shook his head and laughed. Though rejection’s a b*tch, I didn’t have the sense that “all people who look like Tyrell are jerks.” Maybe all boys in general are jerks, but that’s another story. The point is, had I gone home and told my parents what had happened, had they said some racist things, this belief might have taken root and spread into my adulthood.

We all have varying degrees of prejudice based on nature and nurture. For example, many Koreans believe all Indians and Africans are poor and starving. My dark skinned friend gets stopped in the street by ajummas (old ladies) who give him food, regardless of how nicely he’s dressed or how many shopping bags he’s carrying. I also have a model-esque friend from Cameroon whose students call her “Black Monster”. She reported this to her school, but little has been done to rectify the situation. Whether it’s misplaced pity or outright violence, racism comes in many degrees, all of which undermine human dignity and common decency.

Have you ever met a racist baby? No, of course not. All they do is cry, poop, eat.  They’re not plotting Charlottesvilles. So if we’re not born racist, then we must be taught such things. Hate, anger, and negativity are acquired. I struggle with all three. It takes conscious effort to grow into a decent human being.  

Let’s not forget about mental health. To hate anyone so much you’d drive a car into a crowd…would an emotionally stable person do such a thing?  Mental illness can be hidden in plain sight. Sometimes it manifests as racism. Check out the Oompa Loompa defecating the Iron Throne.

I Am Privileged

Interestingly, I met my first “All Lives Matter” proponent outside the US.  She argued the Black Lives Matter movement was counterproductive and based largely on emotion, not facts. She and I could not reach any middle ground during our discussion and we ended the conversation quickly. “I’m angry now,” she shook her head, frustrated. I stayed silent, knowing any further response would fuel the fire.

Yet all was not lost. I asked if she’d be interested in speaking with someone from an African American perspective. She agreed. I connected her with a friend from the States who kindly offered to chat. “Listen with your hearts,” I encouraged them both. Sadly, that conversation didn’t last long as well and both parties felt defeated. When asked what went wrong, my friend from the States hit me with a powerful sentence, “She doesn’t recognize white privilege.”

BOOMSHAKALAKA!

Thuurrrr it is. How can we prevent events like Charlottesville, if we can’t even recognize our own bias?

So allow me to declare now for the record: I AM PRIVILEGED.

I’m writing about racism from the safety of my home. I don’t need to worry about my life or liberty being threatened on a daily basis. If I have kids (unlikely), I don’t have to give them talks about the dangers of hoodies. I don’t lose loved ones based on how they look on a regular basis. I don’t have to ‘educate’ people who hate people like me.  I don’t have to control my temper when these crimes continue to occur. I can post on social media about how f*cked up the world is, and then go about my day.

THIS IS PRIVILEGE.

It’s OK to be privileged. What’s NOT OK is staying silent. As long as as our hearts beat, we have a moral responsibility to say something. If we don’t understand why something is happening, let’s google the sh*t out of it. Let’s speak to people face to face. It will be challenging and sometimes downright nasty. But standing up for what’s right is one of the only things remaining between us and integrity.

What can we do? We can teach each other about MLK, Katherine Johnson, Nelson Mandela. We can empathize with the suffering of our neighbors and offer support. We can try to understand how systemic racism is, fail, try again, and keep trying until one day, future generations will shake their heads and say “ Wow, how could they have been so mean?”

FullSizeRender.jpg

Black is beautiful!

Remember: we are not our fathers nor do their teachings define us.

Like Heather Heyer’s mom said at her eulogy, “you tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well guess what, you just magnified her.”

Mic drop.

writinginsoysauce

Advertisements
Standard
Advice, Career

How To Speak In Public When Nakedness Doesn’t Work

Dear Reader,

When did you first realize your talents? Deep breaths if you haven’t yet:  discovering diamonds takes time.

In 4th grade, I swept Fur Elise off her feet in front of 200 strangers. My teacher sent me to all-expense paid music camp. I don’t reminisce about prom, but that week of American-food-my-mom-never-made was life changing. I burped hot dogs for a month.

In high school, my drugs of choice were slow-release pesticide capsules. It’s every nerd’s wet dream to finish first at the science finals. My parents prayed harder for Harvard.

13 years later, this BU grad and struggling pescetarian had to present for Teachers Teaching Teachers. Mouthful, much?

When imagining everyone’s naked doesn’t work, here are 6 steps that do.

Step 1 Talk To Yourself

Whether you’re preparing for an interview or TED talk, talking to yourself “relieves loneliness, helps you clarify your thoughts, and tend to what’s important and firm up any decisions you are contemplating.”

I tend to pace in my room while yelling AHA! at my world map. Practice what you’ll say while walking your dog or hugging your body pillow. Adding gestures give oomph! to your key points. Muscle memory will help if you freeze up.

Science agrees. Repeat after me: I’m not crazy. I’m GENIUS.

Step 2 Spin The Bottle and K.I.S.S

Remember that game spin the bottle and how quickly you learned braces suck?

“Rapid learning goes with play like pie goes with ice cream,” notes life coach Martha Beck. She’s rolling in 7 figure clients so best trust. Whether it’s a board meeting or a classroom, adding a well-placed joke goes miles. These 2 games transition well from day to night(adult beverages):

  • To introduce multiple intelligences, I had 3 people come up. Each held a name card to their forehead and asked the audience Yes/No questions till they guessed correctly. Ex: Am I alive? Am I a woman? Do I have a unibrow? Frida!
  • To emphasize Listening skills, I drew inspiration from body diversity she-ro Ashley Graham. 2 people to play. Person A asks rapid fire q’s. Person B answers. Test memory of Person A at the end. Excellent icebreaker.

Death to learning is boredom so  K.I.S.S: Keep It Short and Sweet.

Step 3 What’s your AWESOMESAUCE? 

Feeding cats popsicles = awesomesauce

Think of yourself as a barista making the special-of-the-day. How can you bring your unique approach, or awesomesauce, to your customers?

First, understand their needs. With sleep-deprived entrepreneurs, it’s all about the espresso. You’d serve mint tea to quell anxiety whereas spinners love anything green. For teachers, add wind surfing with Obama in the Maldives. Seriously. Though education is the backbone of society, we don’t get much credit. We’d like a Venti of purpose + positivity + a raise. Cue my Hunger Games monologue:

In penance for their uprising against Korean moms, each district shall offer up an educator. These honored individuals will be recorded as a warning to future employees about the dangers of PROCRASTINATION. Management will heavily edit any expletives they drop. Henceforth and forevermore this shall be known as 75th Annual Teacher Games.  

Conclude with 3 finger salute and Katniss whistle. You know how I do, baby boo.

Step 4 I Am A Mistake Maker! P.O.P

Nobody’s perfect

Perfection is a disease of our nations. It sets people up to fail and fosters shame for anything less. I prefer P.O.P. or Progress Over Perfection. Try this exercise alone or with your peers to encourage learning from our mistakes. Answer the following:

  • What is my mistake?
  • Why did I make it?
  • What actions have I taken to change?
  • I am a mistake maker! Loud and proud!

Question #3 provides a moment for reflection. We may recognize our destructive behavior but do little to create healthier habits. Start somewhere. How about today?

Step 5 Make It Clap By Busta Rhymes

Do you clap for co-workers/students/strangers before or after they do a good job? Try both. Building support from the get-go is golden.

Even at small organizations, we’re either too busy to mingle or just don’t gel. That’s OK. It’s important to hold space for each other. Don’t hover. Learn to read body language.

While respecting boundaries, a true leader knows how to unite. I began with a hearty round of applause. I ended the presentation with compliments. We lined up single-file and paid it forward. Where some were awkward, others got teary. Given the chance, genuine outshines skepticism.

I took May 9 as an opportunity to say: we all get there together or we don’t get there at all. Coincidentally, Korea voted in a new president the same waking hours.

Step 6 Affirmations: I Can Handle It

When it comes to food, I am not beyond bribery. Had things gone south, I’d planned to go Forrest Gump and whip out a Costco-sized box of chocolates.

Naturally, I forgot the sugar at home. Freud would call this subconscious in action: my desire to excel eliminated the need for a back-up plan. Riiiiight.

To assuage any panic attacks, I turned to affirmations. These are daily life-savers for reaching a calmer state:

  • I can handle it.
  • I’ve got this.
  • I am pure love.

The thoughts we think have everything to do with how we feel.

The presentation went beautifully. My boss even said, “you’re extremely talented. I enjoyed that more than I could’ve imagined.”

The best part? I didn’t need his validation to know my self worth.

writinginsoysauce

Standard
Advice, healing, Mental Health, therapy

How To Deal With Duality: A Teacher’s Take

Dear Reader,

Have you ever felt on top of the world one minute just to fall on your face the next? You master 3 inch heels…PIGEON. You find the one…ICEBERG. You can have the best day ever and feel like sh*t the moment you walk home. Short of plugging back into The Matrix, how do we deal with duality?

Exhibit A: last weekend.

1. Ying: Love Sucks

The ex clearly cares. He started therapy, sends letters, shared my betrayal blog, and publicly apologized on facebook. However, rebuilding trust is a slow grind. The happy memories are rudely interrupted by his hands on some other girl’s hips. Cue rage dialing and f*ck yous.  Sacred incense burned. ‘Love is a lie’ chanted.

Come Sunday, anxiety drove auto-pilot.  ‘I can handle it’ affirmations morphed into ‘WHY MEEEE?!’ The hummus-avocado baguette from my favorite cafe tasted like nothing. Speed walking got me stuck behind  a guy caressing the back of his girlfriend’s neck like Noah from The Notebook. OH GAWD. I barreled through oncoming traffic to cross. Naturally, I ended up behind another couple.

Preach

2. Yang: Thank Universe 

The spirits heard my pain and answered. Outside my photography class, a woman oozing euro-hippie-chic dangled a cigarette in the sun. Her pale-green pashmina, flowing black dress, free people boots stood out in a sea of conformity. She smiled: the kind that emanates from the soul. Hello Teacher!

In open-book fashion, I blurted out my 3 month elephant internship news, expressing jitters about living in a remote village 5 hours from Pai, Thailand. The village is untouched by tourism, which means I’ll need to embrace being alone. I’d never heard of Pai till now: she lived there for 2 years.  “Such an artist town,” her doe-eyes lit up.

Since the other students were a no show, we shared an intimate session commenting on her favorite works. Ever wonder about your perception on life? Try this revealing exercise at home. Mine is ‘exuberant-optimism-pulverized-by-reality.’

Airbnb Busan

I felt embarrassed by my dreamer tendencies. “Please don’t change,” she encouraged. I told her about sharing my abortion on this blog. “I have goosebumps,” she wrapped her pashmina closer. I apologized for talking too much. “I’m just listening…you’re so beautiful,” her meditation voice soothed. Cue tears over pad thai.

3. Peace Be With You

Come sunset, we landed upon the inspiration behind this post. My philosophy: “Just as I’m starting to get my life together…BAM! D*ck-slapped.” Hers: “Wow, well said. You know, we all have ugly days. I just let myself feel it.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. In our world of Get-Over-It-Faster-On-Instagram, how do we allow ourselves to feel low? Do we give ourselves enough time to do so? Why is there so much pressure to be high performing when we really should be taking a break?  So how do we deal with duality? DON’T.

Don’t resist. Don’t force energizer bunny when you’re feeling ramen-for-days. Don’t tell your loved ones you’re OK, when you can’t remember the last time you showered. Don’t hide your demons in the closet. They won’t stay there for long.

DO allow crappy days to free up room for better ones. Do vocalize your monster so you can manage it. Do seek a professional healer for any unanswered questions.

Do take a mental health weekend where you only nurture yourself: that means saying no to other people. Let me know how it goes.

Remember: JUST DO IT! made Nike rich, but it’s a poor coping habit.

It’s OK to have bad days, too.

Teacher,

writinginsoysauce

Standard
Advice, healing, korea, Love

How To Get Over Someone Without Getting Under Someone

Dear Reader,

When you’re learning to be alone, you should watch Jerry McGuire and Beauty and The Beast. You should source a steady playlist of empowering songs(Beyonce) intermittent with weep-worthy ballads(Adele).

You should be listened to, really listened to. You don’t need advice or judgment: you just need to be heard. When you’ve let it all out, take time to inquire about others. Derive hope from their bliss, borrow joy from their blessings.

img_5664

Sea of Solitude.

You should ask your ex for 30 days of silence: Do not contact me unless I contact you. If you love me, you’ll let me go. It’s good they’re oceans away on nights alone when you return to an empty home. It’s better they started going to the same therapist you had. Take the tiny rainbows.

You should get tested for an STD and be relieved you don’t have one. When your ex says they “only kissed”, you should trust science.

You should make a list of what you want to accomplish this year. Cross out “girlfriend” and replace it with GOALS.

Write them down: silly to serious, ridiculous to realistic, right now to retirement. Mix ’em up with links. Go!

Here and Now

  1. Prepare to apply for a Nat Geo-Fulbright blogging fellow on Elephant Conservation. Must watch wildlife documentaries:  Virunga, The Ivory Game and Tyke.
  2. Buy a beginner’s Canon DSLR camera. Develop photojournalism skills. (Booked Workshop April 9 Woot!)
  3. Learn to surf (Busan Mellow Surf May 5! )
  4. Grow as a teacher (Feel terrible when parents complain you’ve fallen behind with homework. Work your ass off to make it up. Communicate too much homework kills creativity. Feel ecstatic when your bosses decide to lighten the workload)
  5. Repeat “I can handle it” to yourself when the noonsday demon claws against your chest. Louis Hay affirmations. Sleep to this night meditation. Wake up with Jennifer Aniston’s yogi.
  6. Be abstinent for 6 months, exactly ½ the length of your last relationship. Detachment from desire can lead to enlightenment. Sexual liberation is onyx, but true intimacy is gold.
  7. From traveling to picking your nose, learn how to be happy alone.

A Flexible Future

  1. Teach adults in Thailand (need a break from the kiddies)
  2. Volunteer with elephant sanctuaries all over SE Asia
  3. Exploring Master’s Programs: TESOL/Education/Photojournalism. Must be affordable. NYC Teaching Fellows, MIIS, or Europe might be the way to go. Refuse to go into debt. Beware of cash cows.
  4. Teach in The Middle East (Masters required)
  5. Volunteer for Marine Conservation and learn how to dive.
  6. Volunteer at an Ayahuasca retreat center in Ecuador(your friend is the director yaaaaas!)
  7. Visit the Galapagos (your friend teaches there woohoo!)
  8. Invent a vibrator that transforms into a Justin Trudeau body pillow.
img_5694

Walk alone. Wonder. Haedong Temple.

Remember: gratitude is the key to happiness.

Dear reader, whomever you are, wherever you are, I am grateful to you. I wish you love. I wish you purpose. I wish you the courage to never stop fighting for good.

To discovering beauty in a cup of tea,

writinginsoysauce

Standard
Advice, Happiness, healing, Loss, Love, Mental Health, therapy

Heaven Would Be A Love Without Betrayal

Dear Reader,

This is the diary of a girl with a shattered heart. I debated sharing this publicly, but I need to release. I’m also asking you and the universe for some much needed kindness and reprieve.

One month ago, the week of my birthday, I discovered Luis was cheating on me online with multiple women. We shared computers and his facebook was open. The bolded-black of blinking, unread messages from girls I knew not. After reading them with growing horror, I had to screenshot them as proof. Agony.

One of the most important questions in therapy is: ‘What do you need?’ The answer: space. We were sharing a home, I was financially supporting him, and I needed him OUT. One week later, he went back in Ecuador.

Last night, after persistent questioning on my end, and continued denial on his, he finally admitted the cheating happened in person. While in Korea, there was a girl in November at a club. Then there was his ex in Korea just last week. At least that’s what he’ll admit to.

Reality stopped making sense. How deep his lies go I’ll never know. The trust is so far gone. I have defriended him. No contact is best.

In the midst of shock, confusion, and grief, here’s what I’m processing:

  1. I am worthy of commitment and honesty: core values of any thriving relationship. I have done nothing to deserve his destructive, inexcusable, deeply hurtful behavior. I will rise knowing I loved purely and faithfully. Dear reader, I’m certain of my self-worth. The journey continues.
  2. My pre-therapy self would’ve internalized his misdeeds: ‘Is it me? Am I not enough?’ Fuck no. This 100% comes from his insecurities and need for validation. Days before his departure, he opened up about a serious childhood trauma that happens to 1 in 6 men. I believe him and have told him it’s not his fault. However, this does NOT excuse his actions. Cheating is not OK because you have unresolved issues. I hope he finds a professional to help him heal. Anyone can benefit from therapy.
  3. We share a common background of rejection and abuse yet I thought we were both on the path to love and light. I was wrong. Healing is like climbing a ladder. If you have missing rungs,  you’ll plunge.
  4. The love we shared was real. The joy we felt. The support we gave and received. We wouldn’t have lasted through 3 countries otherwise. Yet everything we built is SHADOWED by his deception. I was not in the relationship I thought I was. The blinders are off.
  5. Friends ask: ‘Were there signs? Did you have this gut feeling?’ I wish. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? If I could just rationalize it with “Oh, he was a (insert-worst-insult-you-can-think-of) all along so good riddance.” No, that’d be a lie. I will not tell lies.
  6. I am shocked. I am bewildered. How could someone be such a doting partner and an irresponsible jack ass at the same time? How does someone disassociate so much that they hide it from you and themselves? Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are one and the same. It’s not going to make sense anytime soon. This will take time.
  7. All actions have consequences, whether we want to face them or not. I’ve made many mistakes in my past. I’ve cheated and been cheated on. I was involved with a married man once. I learned the hard way about poor decisions. We live. We learn. Or we don’t. Self-destruction is a thorny road: blood on the leaves. THANK YOU to all those who’ve supported me, especially when I’ve faltered.
  8. Since college, I’ve never been single. I’ve always been involved with someone casually or seriously. Time to try something different. For the rest of this year, I am committed to ACTIVELY being single. That means filling my free time with empowering activities: therapy, traveling, elephant research, writing, running, meditation, yoga, volunteering, going vegetarian. More life, less death. Like Whitney’s ballad: I’d rather be alone than unhappy.
  9. These wounds will not heal with a quick and easy band-aid. You know what would help though? Making a Cry Me A River JT revenge sex music video.
  10. What does it feel like to wake up with unfettered space in your mind and heart? I look forward to finding out. Humans of wisdom, do reach out 🙂
IMG_3656

Took this at the Itaewon International Food Festival in Korea. We met in Ecuador. We made a home in Korea. Full Circle. To happier times…

Remember: you only know someone as well as they know themselves. Make self awareness your holy grail.

What do I know about myself? I have a big heart. I won’t give up on a love cuz of heartbreak.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Thanks Elizabeth Warren and Coretta Scott King. Jane Goodall and Lek Chailert. The list goes on.

Waiting out the darkness for eternal light.

writinginsoysauce

Standard
Advice, Animal Rights, Family, Loss, Mental Health, Travel, Volunteer

Why I’ll Never Ride An Elephant

Dear Reader,

Tis my first post of 2017! My 1 woman trip to Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park was pure therapy.

1. Traveling Alone: Never Have I Ever

I never thought I’d like traveling alone. Who am I going to be loud with? When I think This looks like an edgy spot Lonely Planet hasn’t discovered, who’s going stop me? Dark alley. Not cool.

To anyone who’s nervous about a solo trip, just think: a machine levitates you into Smore-worthy clouds. By the time you’ve finished Mindy Kaling’s book, fully reclined your seat, and drooled all over your neck pillow…you’re in another world. MAGIC

2.The Elephant Nature Park Experience

IMG_5313.JPG

Brave One: Seal!

What You’ll Do

Schedule:

  • 6 am Breakfast
  • 8 am Work 1-2 hours
  • 11:30 am Lunch
  • 1:00 pm Work 1-2 Hours
  • 3:10 pm Elephant bathing/Free Time
  • 6 pm Dinner
  • 7 pm Ceremonies/Performances/Workshops/Free Time
  • Feed Elephants (They LOVE pumpkin and will reject not-so-juicy watermelon)
  • Bathe Elephants (Throw water on them from a safe distance, not into their eyes)
  • Scoop Poop
  • Cut Corn/Wash Watermelons
  • Shovel and sweep mountain to clear way for fire tracks
  • Group meetings to watch short elephant documentaries. Bring tissues.
  • Visit a local school: get your hair braided, drink iced cocoa lattes, jump rope
  • Free Time:
    • Walking handi-capped dogs
    • Assisting the vets
    • Listening to Lek, the founder, teach with love, not hate. Animal rights activists, please choose to educate instead of attack.
    • Waiting for Lek at her dinner table to profess admiration. Realize you’re sitting in her seat, next to her husband. Awkwardly leap to the other side. Turtle.
    • Tell Lek she needs a TED Talk. She’s already been approached. “Who’s Ted, anyways?” she asks. Laugh with the queen. #LekTalks.
    • Eat small donuts with huge bday candles.
    • Pick songs for Group C’s last night hurrah. Everyone loves Pony, especially Germans.
    • Pray for your family with new friends. Moment of silence cut short by trumpeting.

IMG_5341.JPGWhat To Bring:

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses/Hat
  • Mosquito repellant( Miraculously, I didn’t get a single bite. Could be February. Or god)
  • Clothes you don’t mind getting dirty (they have a laundry service)
  • Long sleeves/pants/socks (cold at night!)
  • 1 pair of closed toe shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals/flip flops
  • Bathing suit to wear UNDER your clothes. Respect Thai traditions. Do not distract the mahouts(elephant guides). A Jumanji stampede is not worth your side boob.
  • $100-$200 spending cash for soda, alcohol, snacks, thai massages, souvenirs (Friendship bracelets, carved wooden elephants, tip generously)

What You’ll Eat

  • Buffet Style AMAZING Vegan Food
  • So FAHCKIN’ good they need an NYC lunch spot
  • So good they’re releasing a cookbook next year
  • So good I’m becoming a vegetarian. Live consciously. More clean, less death. Shoutouts CHolls&Stace&Steph.

IMG_5149.JPG

Accommodations

  • 2-3 people per room
  • Single beds with mosquito nets
  • Clean and spacious
  • Shared bathrooms and showers
  • Ours had a balcony overlooking the river
  • Optional: chubby cat/stealth door opener

Golden Rules Of Safety 

  • You are NOT an elephant whisperer. Maintain a respectful distance.
  • Each elephant is different. Some are NOT OK around humans or other animals.
  • Ask the mahout before feeding/touching/engaging
  • Do NOT stand directly in front of them.
  • Do NOT stand directly behind them.
  • Their trunks are extremely powerful. A small flip can send you flying.
  • Stay behind the red line
  • Listen to the staff. Watch Out means “Move away before you get popped like a prune”.

3. The Tale Of Lucky

Lucky loves his mom and his nanny. They tower over him, tickling his face with their trunks. Under the shade of a disappearing forest, they search for food. When vegetation ran out, they eat garbage left behind by humans. When garbage runs out, hunger drives them to stumble upon a farm. When night falls, they feast on sweet corn. Lucky, lulled by his family’s happy chewing sounds, drifts to sleep.

The darkness erupts. A piercing crack rings out. Human yells. Lucky’s mom screams. His nanny pushes him hard.RUN, little one, RUN! Lucky listens. He doesn’t see his nanny fall to the ground, nor his mom.

Days later, the locals find him. Lucky is caught between two trees. He’s starving, dehydrated, lost. He’s an orphan now.

The locals call Lek. She and her team bring food, medicine, transport but Lucky won’t let anyone near him. He refuses to eat. He cries for his family. Did you know elephants can die from heartbreak?

No one knows if Lucky will make it. Lek coaxes him with pumpkin, piece by piece. She sings him to sleep. Some days she passes out from exhaustion. One day, she wakes to the warmness of his trunk. Wake up. I’m hungry.  Lucky is healing.

What happens now?

  1. The locals let Lucky go. Either they cannot afford to keep him, or they understand the ethics involved. Lucky lives out the rest of his 60+ years in peace with the support of philanthropists like us.
  2. The locals ask for Lucky to be returned. They’ve lost time, labor, money due to destroyed crops. Their families need to eat. Debts must be repaid. Time to put Lucky to work.
IMG_5502.JPG

Navaan’s mom stepped on a landmine. Thank god for vet volunteers like Paige.

4.The Phajaan: The Crushing

When we see Lucky next, he’s all grown up. He carries us on his back. He paints for us. He performs tricks for our amusement. He walks down a crowded street, waving his trunk for bananas. What we see calm, obedient elephant. What you might miss is that the mahout still carries a bullhook.

None of these activities are natural or normal. How does one get a wild animal to obey?

***DISCLAIMER: This is graphic. I humbly ask you to read on.

There is an age-old tradition in Thailand called the Pajaan. Men tie ropes around Lucky’s neck, legs, trunk.  They shove him into a tiny corral. Imagine cramming a brick into a pencil case. From all sides, he is beaten with hooks. Blue-violet blood oozes out of his cuts. Lucky cries for his mom and his nanny.  He defecates from fear and anger. His eyes glaze over till you only see white.

This process will be repeated until the spirit is broken and an obedient elephant remains. Some don’t survive. 85% of the elephants arrive to ENP with mental health problems.

IMG_5508.JPG

Missing an ear. Cruelty is real.

5. How You Can Help: Do’s and Don’ts

Animal tourism puts food on the table for many locals. For change to happen, we need to 1. educate ourselves on better practices and 2. support a sustainable alternative. If we’re only willing to support ethical tourism, businesses will follow. Think SeaWorld’s stocks dropping post-Blackfish.

Education must come first. Laws are only half the battle. For example, once logging became illegal, elephants were either abandoned or put to work in tourism. When there’s no sustainable alternative, all animals suffer.

Do

  • Do your research. Find a reputable, ethical, sanctuary to visit and see for yourself
  • Do educate with love, not hate. Try “Hey did you know that…” rather than “What’s wrong with you…”
  • Do support conservation. Our time and money goes to buying food and medicine. ENP is also home to thousands of dogs and cats, a bunch of water buffalo and horses, and one crazy-ass goat.

Don’t

  • Don’t ride elephants
  • Don’t feed elephants off the street
  • Don’t buy products “made by” elephants. Paintings, etc
  • Don’t support festivals/parades with live elephants
  • Don’t visit the circus or zoos
  • Don’t attack others. Like Lek says, it’s very difficult to educate someone if you make them an enemy.
  • Don’t assume people know what’s going on behind closed doors. It took me 30 years.

6. Goodbye Grandpa

img_5385

While at the park, I got a voicemail from my sister. My grandpa passed the day after my 30th birthday. Before therapy, how would I have felt? Guilty. Overwhelmed. Out of control. How did I handle it last week? Terribly sad, but not guilty. I trusted my decision to be in a haven of healing. I recognized who could support me. I allowed myself to feel a spectrum of emotions. I laughed while shoveling elephant poop. I cried doing the same. I journaled, an exercise recommended by many therapists.

I channeled my grief into curiosity. I asked Lek about her grandpa, a shaman in a village of Northern Thailand. When she was 7, he gave her a gibbon to care for. Let’s call it Love.

“Do not name it. Do not hug it. Do not take it to your room,” he said. She did the exact opposite. When it was time to release Love, Lek begged her grandpa to keep it. He ignored her. “Love!” Lek cried out. The gibbon returned to her arms.

“You broke the rules,” her grandpa sighed. He sent her back to the village and freed Love alone. Lek refused to talk to him for months, believing him to be cruel. “I was wrong,” her voice now softens, “I’ve seen gibbons after too much human contact. They chew off their own legs.”

Remember: Love cannot grow in a cage. Release to nurture.

With truth,

writinginsoysauce

Standard
Advice, Current Events, Mental Health, Teaching

The True American: A Love Story

Dear reader,

I’d like to share a childhood story: one of hope and love. I’ve written in second person to put my shoes on your feet (tongue-in-cheek.)

Imagine you are 4 years old. You can’t get enough of banana popsicles. You’re terrified of pooping alone, especially in the outhouse in your grandma’s village, which happens to be a ditch.  You love your mom. You don’t remember your dad.

After school, you and your mom go to a sand-brown, brick building. You wait for her on the steps. She walks in happy, she comes out sad. One day, she scoops you up in her arms and spins you in the air. “Lu ka!”she’s cries out. She’s gone mad over a green card.  Timing is everything so you ask for a banana popsicle. The two years she has spent raising you alone are over.

At the airport, you go down the escalator towards a man with brown glasses. “Jiao Ba!(Shout dad!)” your mom pinches your cheek. You yell as loud as you can. They’re laughing, hugging, crying. You haven’t learned about happy tears, so you start crying too.

You move into a white house with black shutters called the Jewish Service Center.  Having never set foot in a house, you’re certain it’s a palace. You don’t know your family is the live-in help nor that your dad works nightshifts at 7/11 and any parking lot that accepts Chinglish. You like your teachers, but not the kids. They pull their eyes into slits. None of that matters because you’ve discovered Happy Meals.

Imagine your first snow. The whiteness hurts your eyes in a good way.  A strange creature awaits you on the porch. Her disheveled hair sticks out of her trucker’s hat and owl-eye glasses.  “I’m Madeline,” she hands you something. “Hold this will ya?” Pop eye voice.

She sticks two fingers in her mouth and whistles. Streaks of color paint the yard like a Jackson Pollock.  Their purring emanates through your belly like tiny grandfather clocks. You are bewildered, flattered, overwhelmed. Turns out you’re holding a can of cat food.

5 years fly. When you’re not being cat-dundee, your nose is in a book. Madeline introduces you to lifelong friends: Tom Sawyer, Heidi, Gulliver.   You’re clueless about holidays: she brings you marshallow peeps. Her minimum wage is bank rolling your Americanization.

Happy birthday 9. Your family reaches the pinnacle of the American dream: property. They move outta there fast. So fast you don’t remember to get Madeline’s number, nor call, nor send Christmas cards.New school, new place, same loneliness.

Grow up. You equate money with success. You take shit from people you shouldn’t. You walk away from your country, partner, job. Volunteer abroad. Consume attention like drugs. Self-destruct. You’re so fucking lost. Start therapy. Learn about co dependence. Learn to say no. Set boundaries. You keep going to therapy. You don’t plan to stop. Discover meditation. Run. Re-educate on love. You grow healthy. Strong. You actually enjoy your job: how did Columbus claim land? He slaughtered children.  What do Leonardo DiCaprio and Standing Rock have in common? Fight global warming. How can we help? Eat less beef. Who was the first woman to make it to space? Valentina Tereshkova. Why isn’t her name in the book? “They thought girls were stupid,” your smartest kid says. Think, not thought. Ask questions. Never stop. Love is love is love is love.

Arrivez election results. For everything you’ve been teaching, the opposite stands. You shut off facebook cuz it just fucking hurts. Chimamanda, where art thou.  You’re safe for now, but what about everyone else? What about L? “Everything will work out,” he strokes your hair and smiles. Storm meet lighthouse.

You apologize to all your friends. “Orange is the new Hitler,” you choke on your jokes. “Trump tells the hard truth. Hilary doesn’t,” one blurts out. Your friend is one of the nicest people around.  So you give him a hug with 3 words: “Please fact check.” Be like Trevor Noah, you repeat to yourself. Commit to conversation even if it’s hard. How else will we understand what’s going on?

A sliver of silver shakes up the clouds. Madeline it spells. Once you’ve met a true American, you’ll never forget. Once you find your voice, you can never be silenced.

Dark days lie ahead. Fortify my friends.

Compassion. Wisdom. Love.

writinginsoysauce

Standard