Monday, March 30, 2009

An eye for an eye

My good friend Dennis Garcia sent me last Sunday the following article written in Hong Kong. He said it was guaranteed to make my blood boil on a fine Sunday morning. Felicitously, I opened my mail only after a sumptuous lunch of Chinese food. The menu prepared by my daughter included her signature tofu soup, light and refreshing, followed by a quiche chinoise of dried scallops, Yunnan ham, pork, water chestnuts and black mushrooms, and then roast goose with plum sauce, along with fried rice of Batanes salted fish. For desert we had an apricot, plum and mandarin orange compote with a hint of Chinese rice wine.

Wrote Dennis: “In the guise of being a satirist, this Hong Kong douche bag wants to be controversial and famous at OUR expense. I read this article online, and it got me really upset. This Chip Tsao fella has crossed the line…and it’s time for all of us to unite and work out a plan so that his next meals in this world are spiked with Pinoy saliva, urine, and maybe some salmonella thrown in for good measure --- a eye for an eye!” Well, it’s good I opened his mail after that lunch of home-cooked Chinese food, except for the goose, which came from Yung Kee upon Lan Kwai Fong, the gift of a friend.

The article, printed March 27, is entitled “The War at Home”, by a certain Chip Tsao, who is described as “a best-selling author and columnist, a former reporter for the BBC, whose columns have appeared in Apple Daily, Next magazine, and CUP magazine, among others”. Here it goes:

“The Russians sank a Hong Kong freighter last month, killing the seven Chinese seamen on board. We can live with that --- Lenin and Stalin were once the ideological mentors of all Chinese people. The Japanese planted a flag on Diaoyu Island. That’s no big problem --- we Hong Kong Chinese love Japanese cartoons, Hello Kitty, and shopping in Shinjuku, let alone our round-the-clock obsession with karaoke.

“But hold on --- even the Filipinos? Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its Congress to send gunboats to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as $3,850-a-month cheap labour in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.

“As a patriotic Chinese man, the news has made by blood boil. I summoned Louisa, my domestic assistant who holds a degree in international politics from the University of Manila, hung a map on the wall, and gave her a harsh lecture. I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell every one of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of Spratly Islands belong to China.

“Grimly, I told her that if war breaks out between the Philippines and China, I would have to end her employment and send her straight home, because I would not risk the crime of treason for sponsoring an enemy of the state by paying her to wash my toilet and clean my windows 16 hours a day. With that money, she would pay taxes to her government, and they would fund a navy to invade our motherland and deeply hurt my feelings.

“Oh yes. The government of the Philippines would certainly be wrong if they think we Chinese are prepared to swallow their insult and sit back and lose a Falkland Islands War in the Far East. They may have Barack Obama and the hawkish American military behind them, but we have a hostage in the Mid-Levels or higher. Some of my friends told me they have already declared a state of emergency at home. Their maids have been made to shout “China, Madam/Sir” loudly whenever they hear the word “Spratly”. They say the indoctrination is working as wonderfully as when we used to shout “Long Live Chairman Mao!” at the site of the portrait of our Great
Leader during the Cultural Revolution. I’m not sure if that’s going a bit too far, at least for the time being.”

Strangely, while I am angered at the insulting arrogance of this Chinaman called Chip Tsao, my blood did not boil, as Dennis said it would. Instead, I felt sad and depressed. I wondered if those 130,000 Filipina domestic helpers labouring in those cramped Hong Kong flats would not in fact implore their government back home to give up the Spratly claim rather than lose their jobs.

My mother used to tell me how she was spanked by her teacher in Chinese grade school, and was made to endure the ostracism of the entire class when she mistakenly wore a Japanese-made silk blouse to school during the time Japan invaded China. And how my Chinese-Filipino grandfather would contribute heavily to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in a fund-raising campaign to fund the soldiers “back home” in fighting the Japanese, despite the protests of my Filipina grandmother. To this day, hardly any Japanese visitor strays into Nanjing, where their forebears massacred hundreds of thousands in what history recalls as the Rape of Nanking. The Chinese people find it difficult to forgive, and they certainly have not forgot. In 2002, as if to underscore how China had risen like a phoenix from the ashes of oppressed past and the closed economy of Chairman Mao, Zhu Rong Zhi spoke before a congress of overseas Chinese, and chose Nanjing as venue.

Those Filipina domestic helpers are not required to pay income taxes by the Philippine government in recognition for their being part of the “bagong bayani” diaspora that has saved the benighted land from sinking into the pits, so this stupid Chip Tsao does not need to worry about them financing a war against his China. And neither does he have to worry about Barack’s troops. They won’t enter a shooting war against China for puny little Philippines, unless there’s something in it for them.

But while I am mad at the condescension with which Tsao views our country, I truly wonder if our own people, given a choice, would wave the flag as fiercely as Tsao does, because the politics of the stomach of the dependents back home would take precedence. Poverty gives our people little choice, and nationalism always takes a back seat.

In the fifties, and long before that, Chinese flocked to the Philippines like ours was land of milk and honey, and even bribed politicians who possessed immigration quotas, just to be allowed to stay. My richer cousins had “amahs” from Canton and Amoy, now renamed Guangdong and Xiamen.

When I first travelled to Hong Kong in the mid-seventies, shopkeepers welcomed Filipinos like they were manna from some land of shoppers. Now those shopkeepers hire Filipinas, not as salesladies but as domestics in their flats or utility persons in their godowns.. And on the Sundays that I happen to be in Hong Kong, as I leave the Star Ferry terminal for the short walk to my favourite H & M boutique in Central, or the Shanghai Tang beside the Mandarin, I see an army of my poor compatriots huddle like work-worn souls for a few hours of convivial encounter in the environs of Chater Road. And each time, I weep inside.

Good fortune has allowed me these little luxuries of travel every now and then. Most of our people travel not for leisure, not for business, but for almost enslaving work in distant climes. To them, leaving the benighted land is the only chance for surviving the present and their only hold to a possibly better future.

Now it would seem, even loving one’s country and protecting its sovereignty, has become the luxury of a few, and an incomprehensible abstraction for the many whose country is perennially led by the corrupt who do not quite love them back.


Mon Sagullo said...

"Now it would seem, even loving one’s country and protecting its sovereignty, has become the luxury of a few, and an incomprehensible abstraction for the many whose country is perennially led by the corrupt who do not quite love them back."

A farmer of a great grandfather, a carpenter for a grandfather, a tricycle driver for a father. This is a "best case" scenario for ones forebears to have the means to scrape a meal for the table, from a plateful of rice and dried fish (busog) to instant noodles divided by 4 or 6 always hungry mouth.

We love a person for the qualities we find admirable, likable and enjoyable.

Repeated and generational denial of their rights to have decent livelihood, and three, four generations of hearing broken promises, now culminating to its apex, personified by GMArroyo (if one can still call her a person) - who and how can anyone convince the masses that this country is worth fighting for? They have been dying from hunger and disease, how dare I now to tell them - "don't lose hope, your love for this country will see us through?"

Mon Sagullo