aspergers, autism, culture, health, ideas, living abroad, psychology, travel

Elephants in the Room

elephant in the room, modern industrial office 3d rendering image

A New Arrival

When I first arrived in Asia, I had different expectations from what I’ve seen in person. I was under the impression everyone was well-disciplined, everything was tidy, and there were no crimes. That was what I’d seen on television, so it must’ve been true. My anthropology professors discussed ancient civilizations not modern culture. I studied the physical geography of the continent in college not the cultural aspect. Those images I’d seen were either distortions or facets of Japanese culture. For whatever reason, the Western media paints Japan as the archetype of Asia. Little did I know there’d be total chaos and gridlock. Not until I landed in Bangkok did I realize the traffic was atrocious. The only reason I knew about the crooked cab drivers was because Nitya, a Thai acquaintance of my mother, told me when she learned I was going there. Nitya further advised me not to point my foot at or touch anyone on the head as the foot is considered the dirtiest part of the body while the head is the purest. That correlates with Buddhism and each body part’s distance from the sky and ground.

No Dogs Allowed

I was certain the locals ate dogs and puppies as delicacies. While that may have been true before, that’s not the case anymore. They own dogs and cats as pets the same as Westerners. Many times I’d drive around Saigon on my motorbike seeing puppies yapping away inside cages. I’d worry they might wind up in a soup, but they don’t. They have puppy mills in Vietnam which are illegal in the United States. People sell them on the streets as pets. While that may be questionable, that’s not as barbaric as the former. I’ve seen locals walking around with their dogs every day. There’s a bodega down the alley from my apartment. The shopkeeper brings in one of her two dogs periodically. They smile and seem friendly with the customers. They love being petted. That tells me they’re not abused, nor are their lives in danger. The only bad thing I can say is I’ve noticed strays roaming streets here and there. That’s because not everyone is inclined to spay and neuter like they are in the West. That doesn’t mean they want to filet them. Just as nobody in America eats possum and squirrels anymore, Asia experienced a cultural shift. This region is more developed than that now. They’re not savages.

An Asian Equation

Another stereotype you hear is that the women are submissive. I’ve gotten into heated arguments with Western women over this. Some feminists presume any Western male who comes here to find a partner is looking for a subservient housewife who keeps her mouth shut and knows her place. That’s another convention long outdated. I’ll bet whoever believes that has never met a Japanese or a Korean woman before. They have a reputation for being a handful. Any skeptics reading this might also want to Google ‘tiger mom’ or ‘dragon lady’ whenever you get a chance. Like the dog-eating, that may have held water in the past, but that’s anything but true from what I’ve seen. In fact, Thai women can be quite aggressive. They don’t mess around. They’ll cut you in half if you step out of line. Overall, Vietnamese women I’ve seen aren’t as bold, but they still hold their own. Just because the women in this region don’t hyphenate their surnames when they marry, have purple Skrillex hair, or cover themselves with tattoos and piercings doesn’t mean they’re barefoot, pregnant, and stuck in the kitchen. Even in this ‘horrible patriarchy,’ women comprise more than half the work force and college graduates. And yes, they drive cars, own property, manage businesses, and have positions of power.

All Work and No Play

How does this relate to Asperger’s? If anyone knows about my condition, I’m sure you’ve heard the suspicions about us as well. I ran into occupational trouble back home over this when I worked at Hospira Labs. I didn’t want anyone to know, but it slipped out. To make a long story short, I was backed into a corner and forced into that position. It was a semi-hostile working environment. One of my African-American coworkers compared me to Nathan, a friend and fellow employee who’d worked there several years. He said to me, “Well you ain’t like no other autistic person I met. You ain’t no math genius. You ain’t discussin’ no string theories and science. You ain’t no computer guru. You ain’t beatin’ your head against the wall. Do you wear diapers, collect toy trains, or watch Star Trek?” This shows you his lack of education. It didn’t bode well when I fired back and told him, “Well you’re not like every other black guy I’ve known. Your name isn’t Tyrone, Jamal, or Leroy. You’re not a basketball player, a football player, or a rapper. You don’t wear Nikes or your pants below your butt like you just soiled them. You don’t drive a Cadillac, an Oldsmobile, or a Pontiac. You’re not in jail or prison. I assume you’re not a deadbeat dad or an ex-con. Do you eat cornbread, fried chicken, and collard greens every night? Do I get to ask who your baby mamas are? Do you have any illegitimate children or pay child support?” The fella didn’t appreciate me placing him in the same box as all the other African-American males depicted on television, but that was the point. I hope he got the message. Not long after I was sacked for reasons unrelated to this.

The Elephant in the Room

The morale to this story is I believe exposure is the key to any education. Any fool can reverberate what one hears on television or what one’s teachers may or may not tell them. First-hand experience is another ballgame as it leaves less room for interpretation. As you can see, even with my background in anthropology, I was ignorant about some Asian customs. All I understood was what I was told by other Westerners or what was depicted on screen. I knew nothing about the corrupt police in Vietnam and Thailand or the stigma about mental health until I came here. I had no idea Asperger’s would be a deal-breaker for certain jobs until I started seeking employment in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and other places. It’s hard to distinguish these case because, like pedophilia, abortion, and homosexuality, it’s a taboo subject nobody wishes to touch with a 10-foot pole. It’s the elephant in the room. Usually, I don’t divulge it to any colleagues unless I have to because not only is it none of their business. I don’t want them to undermine or mistrust me.

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