Youth In Asia

August 13, 2009 § 3 Comments


Okay, we don’t need health care. We need genetic modification, so that future Americans will not be so stupid, plus a few courses in logic before anyone is allowed to vote or drive a car.

I’ve resisted writing a sentence like this for some time, because what does it help to call people stupid? The only other explanation I can think of is that the Bush era built up so much frustration, then ended with a bang and a whimper, and Obama’s getting the brunt. He’s the good parent you can misbehave around, the one who takes all the shit for the drunken, out-of-control one. I don’t like this either, politicians as daddies, voters as teenagers, yet it keeps coming to mind.

I’ve been reading Aravind Adiga who wrote the Booker-prize winning novel The White Tiger, about the angry underclass and mind-bending realities of India, and it casts an interesting light on America today. Adiga’s India is a crazy quilt of custom and corruption, made worse by the veneer of democracy. The book is hard-hitting but very funny and somehow sweet, as the best Indian fiction often is. Novelists can find a place for everything that has no place in justice, common sense, or intelligent governance.

Fiction reminds me that it’s always a mistake to expect too much clarity from human beings.  Kindness, maybe. Daring, even brilliance. Endurance. But clear, reasoned thinking is rare. It’s a tool all of us use sometime; it’s not the fallback. The fallback is fear of change and loyalty to whomever or whatever imprinted you at the right moment. There are all sorts of clever ideas—in the evolutionary psychologists’ lounge—as to why our ‘flaws’ helped to make us the great successes we are today, though of course tomorrow is another story. Not to mention the second half of this century.

My niece is in China, enjoying herself immensely. According the The New York Times, lots of recent graduates are going to China for jobs.  China is suffering from the recession—my friend Andree, who’s been living there for 14 months, says rents have been cut in half, but there are still a lot more jobs for young Americans than there are here, and it’s cheaper to live, not to mention being an adventure. Yet the pollution is so bad than even on the coast, it can make you ill. Every time I count up my credit card points, and realize I could visit everyone I know there (niece, cousin, close friend) in three different interesting cities for a net cost of whatever travel within China would be, I think of the pollution. It sounds wimpy, but there it is. I like breathing. If it weren’t for that, I’d probably be dreaming of living there in my poverty-stricken old age with all my other poverty-stricken friends. We could offer a taste of home to the young Americans having adventures. But the health stuff is just too spooky. I’d rather face Obama’s death panel any day. (Genteel, overeducated overachievers sipping green tea and munching cucumber sandwiches as they discussed my life, its pluses and minuses. I could get off on that.)

I don’t know why people want to keep living when they’re at the point of needing constant care, drugs for pain, have no mobility, and the end is in sight. It’s one thing if you’re young and disabled, or if you expect to recover, or if you get a fatal cancer in late mid-life and want time to prepare yourself, say goodbye, and so on, but at 80 or 90-something, once your systems start to go, once the slide’s gone on a while, and you’re in the hospital for weeks, then a nursing home—really, why? When you think how many people would risk their lives to save a strange child darting into the street, why not give up those last clouded months in exchange for a young family having health insurance for years? If it were possible—if people weren’t so paranoid—I would like that to be an option. Not a requirement, an option. You could cut a deal with your insurance company, one in which they’d save maybe 10% of your projected medical expenses and guarantee coverage for a needy family (unknown to you) for a set period.

And once the deal is done, the children come to the hospital and say hello and goodbye to you, if you’re not too ill; you enjoy the pleasure of seeing the faces of those you’ve helped—the glow of children’s flesh, their warm little fingers!—and they learn what death is, and that it doesn’t have to be only bad.

This reminds me of 9th grade, when we read “Utopia” and then were given an assignment to write our own. I had lots of clever ideas then, too. I got an A on the paper. A lot of good that does in our world.


The wind returns; my little courtyard is green and overgrown.
The willows have come back this spring.
I lean for a long time on the railings; alone, without speaking
The sound of bamboo and the new moon are like in days gone by.
The playing and singing have not yet ceased; the wine cups remain,
The ice on top of the pool begins to melt.
Bright candles and a faint fragrance are deep in the painted hall,
It’s hard to think I must allow my temples to turn white.

~Li YU, 937-978


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