2/02/2020
Choose your bogeyman

On her way to do the laundry yesterday, Shalla saw a Chinese national - one of many who have moved into the flats surrounding ours - walking around with a sign hanging around his neck, much like a pre-schooler on the first day of school would. It said "sorry".

And then she saw another one, also with a sign saying "sorry" - complete with crying emoji - hanging around his neck.

For many reasons I feel so strongly about how inherently racist we really are as a nation. Shalla is one of them. She's half-Taiwanese, although she was born here and grew up here. I never got the chance to meet her father, as he died when she was nine or ten. She carries what you'd call a typical Chinese last name, but she doesn't really look like one; it'll all make sense if you go to Taiwan and see the, uh, natives. She often tells me about how her Chinese heritage becomes part of the conversation when her colleagues talk about the more negative side of the Chinese - you know, the peeing-in-sidewalks, berating-service-crew, flouting-the-rules thing you always see on social media. It's what I was thinking when I wrote this last week.

"You know," she told me this morning, "the healthy Chinese must've felt the chills when there was a confirmed case here. I know I felt that. Hearing about myself on TV, knowing it was me... it was terrifying."

And there's also that time eleven years ago when she found herself quarantined in Hong Kong, at the height of the A(H1N1) scare. She and her sister took a flu shot the day before, and was flagged even before they could go through immigration. They spent a week at isolation, with only one DVD of Stardust to keep them company.

"Getting hounded by cameras... I was lucky it was 2009. No quick media. But it was scary, forcefully getting quarantined and [being] branded a health hazard. And when I saw the sign saying 'highly infectious diseases', my legs went jelly. I can imagine it must be the same for them, even though they're not quarantined. Just the thought of you being 'identified' gives you the chills."

I can understand the panic, however. It's a new virus; nobody has a complete idea yet of how this works. That said, it's kind of funny seeing how lax the people here are when it comes to their health. Surgical masks flying off the shelves are one thing, as we're not really a mask-wearing people, at least until recently. Alcohol flying off the shelves, though - either we're hoarding it for the apocalypse, or we never really had it at our homes and offices, and now that we realize we don't want to take any chances, we'll fight with others to get that sweet, sweet... well, not sweet, but, well, the metaphor was "elixir of life", or perhaps "elixir of death" for germs.

The panic also means we're also looking for something to blame for our woes. So, in comes those peeing-in-sidewalks, berating-service-crew, flouting-the-rules mainlanders. And anyone who's vaguely Chinese, for that matter. Frankly, I'm paranoid because I have small eyes and am asthmatic. If even the Taiwanese think I'm one of them, what about idiots here? But then, why bother knowing the full story when you can just go with your gut?

I was going to write about Shalla's anecdote about the mainlanders wearing "sorry" signs yesterday, but then the narrative began to shift towards how the anecdotes that popped up on social media this weekend, about apologetic mainlanders, are very likely to be a product of troll farms. Admittedly I thought people will think I'm just being paid to write about these Chinese in a more sympathetic light, especially since they're the subject of my last three essays, including this one. But, I mean, fucking hell. Instead of talking about how we can up our resistance to this new strain, we're instead apportioning blame on the people who are suffering from both the disease and the stigma of being the same kind as patient zero. And then we fight about the definition of racism, and why your racism is not racism because it has the national interest at heart, which somehow must be better even if it really is fascism, the kind Hitler embraced eight decades ago or so. And, sure, this government really has been slow to respond, and this president's tendency to kiss Chinese ass doesn't help, but we won't get anything done to mitigate this health crisis - or this political crisis, if Duterte being president is what classifies as one - if we keep on just showing off how much better we are than the next guy.

I was going to write about it all this morning, but then news came of the first death from novel coronavirus outside of China - that being here in the Philippines, coming just half a week after our first case was confirmed. I just sensed people would be angry, at whoever they determined to be the big bogeyman in this story, whether it be Duterte, or the Chinese people he so loves, or the trolls mucking up their news feeds.

But, yeah, anger is the default emotion. The past few years we've been on edge, angry at what's happening, or at other people for tolerating, or encouraging, or supporting, what's happening. If you're faintly in the fence about something, they'll tell you that you must be angry. "If you truly love your country, you must care!" But I'm tired. Even writing this makes me tired. I'm only doing so because these are thoughts bouncing around my head for days now, and I need to free up space for marginally less demeaning things. But I also have to show off, and say that things aren't as simple as one side or the other, and then you'll demand I choose a side.

And your responses...

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