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

Eastern Attitudes, Western Failures

low angle shot of young woman
Photo by Jack Winbow on

Take it Easy on Asia

For the longest time I’ve been critical towards the way Asian cultures view mental health. They either don’t understand or act like it doesn’t exist. I’ve cut Vietnam some slack because it’s an underdeveloped nation. Thailand was more receptive overall because it’s a more advanced country. Thailand isn’t into keeping face as much because it’s neither a Confucian society, nor is it communist. Their culture is built around Buddhism and reaching nirvana. Thailand has also been a tourist hot spot for the longest time. They’re more accustomed to dealing with foreigners. You can’t compare the two. I mentioned in my last note most other Americans and I think of Asia what we see on screen, and that’s mostly Japan. Not all of Europe is like Great Britain or France, so it’s unfair to assume the whole of Asia is akin to Japan. Thailand and Vietnam are night and day from one another. That said, I’m not going to lie.

Club Med is Fully Booked

My life was easier in Bangkok regarding my mental health than in Saigon. There was a period in the beginning of 2016 when I had frequent anxiety attacks. It felt like my chest was exploding whenever I walked down the street. I thought I was having a heart attack a few times. I visited a doctor at the local clinic. During my session, he told me “No worry so much!” in broken English. Easier said than done I thought. I figure he was trying to tell me my anxiety was out of control. He prescribed me sleeping pills and meds to lower my cholesterol. The good news is I wasn’t going into cardiac arrest like I imagined. I asked if I could get some anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication, but he said I must go to the hospital for that. I wasn’t inclined to do that for fear I’d be institutionalized. If I knew then what I do now, I would’ve chosen otherwise.

Severed Thais and Sweet Little Lies

I’ve even had to tell white lies about my medical screenings and keep my autism a secret in Vietnam to get my visa. I’m not proud of this, but I didn’t have much choice. I’d already come here and had nothing else to fall back on. I couldn’t get hired in South Korea, Taiwan, or Japan because nobody there wants to deal with it. That’s where my tolerance runs out. Those are developed countries. They know about mental health; they just choose not to acknowledge it. They know better. There’s no such thing as doctor/patient confidentiality in South Korea, and I wasn’t going to lie on my applications like I did when I joined the U.S. Coast Guard. I wasn’t obliged to make that mistake again to become another cookie cutter person in a conformist society that treats people like robots. Unless there are antennas connected to my head and/or my joints make hydraulic sounds whenever I move them, I don’t deserve that kind of treatment. My parents didn’t make me on the assembly line. I’m not a cyborg, either.

My Way or the Highway

That leads me to my second point. It’s not just Asian cultures’ dispositions towards mental health that repulses me. Western attitudes aren’t much better from my experience. There were times in the military when I’d see a therapist. I wouldn’t tell anyone for fear of embarrassment. I should have been discharged long before I was. I would have loved to claim unsuitability, but it was too late when I considered that option. I realized I’d gotten myself boxed in. All I could think of was biding my time. Knowing that culture, I would have been shamed for it and branded a coward who couldn’t hack it. Either that, or they would have accused me of malingering. The military is awash of toxic masculinity. The last thing I needed was a bunch of meatheads already making my life hell having more ammunition. In the military, it’s tolerated yet frowned upon for one to seek professional help. The powers that be start second guessing that person’s competence and get carefree with the ridiculing and gaslighting. The counselors I saw meant well, but I knew they couldn’t help me.

Shape Up, Young Man

My father and others were the same when I was younger. They thought I was just a spoiled brat who needed extra discipline to ‘shape up.’ Deep down I think my dad knew, but he was too embarrassed to admit it. I wasn’t there when it happened, but my mother told me she tried to get Dad into therapy sessions when they were together. He wouldn’t go because he felt emasculated. I don’t know if that’s Dad and his insecurities or the old-school mentality people from his generation and before had, but I don’t like it. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. He even sent me to military school when I was a teenager. My dad in his infinite knowledge in wisdom decided that only after he realized he’d made a mistake placing me in the public schools but never admitted his faults. That’s who he is. I was placed in the same boat as a bunch of juvenile delinquents involved in drugs and gang activities when I should have been either in special-ed or a school for troubled youths.

Alpha Males and Alpha Men

He used to get preachy about my mother giving me antidepressants and other medications. I imagine he’s not the only person who felt that way. I don’t know everything about Russia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America, but I do know there are some factions of those societies convinced that any man who suffers from depression or anxiety is weak and less manly. Like the military, they show off their bravado and think bashing each other’s heads in over the Alpha male position is the only way to go. They have a tribalist mentality. I surmise much of that is because communism made those countries that way. They’d been in survival mode for the longest time and didn’t have the resources or know-how. If only they knew most Alpha males can only survive in their natural habitats.

On the Street or in the Clinic

Skeptics everywhere like my dad accuse the psyche system of giving people crutches to lean on. Psychiatrists and psychologists are wrong in their eyes. What would they rather I do? Visit a local crack dealer who promises a cheap vacation with no travel arrangements? That way I can inject all my problems away with a hypodermic needle and down it with some Scotch. Then I can wind up in the Betty Ford Clinic with Charlie Sheen and go on The Today Show telling everyone I’m a warlock with tiger blood in my veins and Adonis DNA. Since I’m not bipolar, I can’t be bi-winning. So if the interviewers inquires if I have Asperger’s, my retort will be, “I’ve got aspirations.” Because we all know Hollywood and the drug counterculture set a better example. I’m sure Pablo Escobar and Chapo Guzman had more to offer society than did any psychotherapist. If only mental health professionals drove around town in black BMW’s with wide rims and wore flashy clothing in public, people might take them more seriously. Of course none of those know-it-alls like my father from his generation wouldn’t know anything about abusing drugs or alcohol to drown their sorrows away, either. That’s the point I’m making. We live in a world where abusing recreational drugs and booze and becoming an addict is more acceptable than seeking professional help and taking prescription pills.

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 moral 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.

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

Eating Routines of an Aspie

The Asian Equation

Myriad things I do as an Aspie are abnormal to the average person. Not all entail my clothing and grooming. Some involve eating. I always consume one thing at a time in a sequential order. Most times I ingest the heavier food followed by the lighter. The first thing I place in my mouth is the meat ensued by a starch or grain. The fruit or vegetables I’ll have last as a digestive aid. Usually, I cut my meat and other food into small bits before anything to use the knife only once. That way I’ll be preoccupied with the fork the rest of the time. As peculiar as some Asian customs seem, there are facets that make perfect sense. I like how Asian cuisine is decimated into bite sizes so that one can use the chopsticks and not rely on silverware. I appreciate how they eat lean meat, and fresh veggies with either noodles or rice. None of their food to my knowledge entails white flower. Another thing I love about Asian food is they have no bones in their meat. I’m a stickler in that regard. Mostly I admire how Asian food is served in smaller portions as it should be. That explains why you almost never see any overweight Asians.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Aspies

However, that’s changing now that fast food made its way to this continent. Were it up to me, all restaurants by law would have restrictions on portion sizes. All societies would have six small meals a day in lieu of three large ones. In order, they’d be breakfast, brunch, lunch, dessert, dinner, and supper. Each one I’d spread two or three hours apart. Perhaps I’d include snack time or teatime in the afternoon if necessary. I’d even adopt this during Thanksgiving. The turkey, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole I’d serve for dinner maybe. The holiday ham, cranberry sauce, and sweet corn would be for lunch. Pumpkin pie and other desserts I’d serve mid-afternoon. Either that or they can serve soup for one of the meals. Moreover, I’d have three meals unique to the holidays. There’s no reason in my book it should be confined to one large banquet in the evening when it can be an all-day affair. Similar things I’d engender for Christmas, Halloween, New Year’s, Fourth of July, and so forth.

My Divine Ideation

If I were king, I’d have all schools public and private do the same. Kids would be allowed to have dessert only during the mid-afternoon on my watch. Most nutritionists recommend eating sweets sometime between the morning and afternoon to burn off all sugar one has consumed throughout the day. In all cases, I’d serve portions the size of one’s fist and no larger. This I’m certain would cut down on obesity in America and the rest of the world. That said, I intend to adopt this technique over time to keep myself healthy as I’m getting older. The ingestion of things in sequential order is just an Aspie quirk. Most Americans are too accustomed to having salad served before dinner when it should be part of the meal. For the longest time, I wondered what Asians for breakfast. I learned in Thailand they have soup, rice, noodles, or whatever they eat the rest of the day. It’s no more different than using chopsticks. Breakfast food like pancakes, waffles, omelets, and cereal are social constructs in the West. If you think long and hard enough, it’s not that ridiculous to have for breakfast what you’d have any other meal. How can over 3 billion Asians be wrong?

Fifty Bites in Fifty Sips

That said, I’ve started to eat how the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggested in his book Anger. On the one hand, it’s recommended that one chews at least twenty times before swallowing. On the other hand, I try to chomp at least fifty times. Hanh stated the more you do that, the more your food is broken down thereby making it easier to digest. Another thing I do is sip my drink in smaller doses while eating to liquefy it. When I drink something, I might take a large gulp but swallow it in smaller increments. These I’ve read decrease flatulence, indigestion, and whatnot. None of those are preventable, but I’m convinced they can be minimized through these techniques. They should teach children to eat this way from the time they’re in nursery school in my humble opinion. Sadly, Americans have a tendency to stuff their faces like they’re in a rush. I had a bad habit of doing that myself when I was in the service. From the time I was in boot camp to when I was discharged, I was expected to shovel in my food and scarf it down because everyone was in a big damn hurry to go nowhere. It took me a long time to break that habit, and I still have to think about what I’m doing while practicing the Hanh maneuver.

The Best for the West

The former I suspect is another reason why the obesity pandemic is in record numbers in America. Studies have shown the faster you eat, the hungrier you stay because you’re not giving your body enough time to digest. Buffets should be outlawed across the board I feel. I’m debating what’s a worse dilemma in America and the rest of the Western countries; obesity or hunger. Both I’m certain can be nixed if we adopt these principles. Six or seven small meals a day also speeds up one’s metabolism. Bodybuilders and athletes eat that way, so it’s beyond me why everybody else doesn’t. That’s what I find most mind-boggling. How in the world does everyone have time to get on Facebook, watch TV, surf the Internet, and play with their smartphone, but nobody has any inclination to consume six or seven small portions a day which should take no more than 15 or 20 minutes. Hereon, I say that’s how it should be done. In the workplace, people shouldn’t have hour-long lunches but 20-minute snack breaks every two to three hours.

My Last Meal in Kuala Lumpur
This is a picture of my last meal I had in Kuala Lumpur at a Moroccan restaurant.