September 5, 2012

Grasping for a Thread of Hay in a Stack of Needles

I hated China. 10 years ago during our package trip there, vendors from a black market were cursing us after entering and leaving their stalls. I don’t understand why they’d be angry but they just were. Maybe they find it disrespectful that people come and go as they please while ignoring their wares. Strange.

Brushes with Chinese literature have doused the “hate” completely and replaced with an admiration that borders on love, especially after reading “Waiting” by Ha Jin. There’s something beautiful in the simplicity of the narrative that brings about complexity in how the novel can be interpreted. More importantly, despite the novel being written in the 20th century, it was still able to evoke its culture in a fresh manner through literary devices such as dream sequences and the importance of filial piety, both elements of which are present in the classic “The Dream of the Red Chamber.”

Such texts were taken up in my Asian Literature class. We also took up Japanese and Indian works and how all of the works must be read without wearing the spectacles of a Western readers. There’s no unifying aspect that ties Asian stories together, nor is there a prosaic plot structure that follows the typical “parts of the story” schlock taught in school. What we have in their literature are simply a bunch of events that impress an image in the mind, like a painting that tells a story through the texture of the brushstroke and the symbols that serve as metaphors to real life.

And then there’s love as depicted as a distraction, a destructive force in the realization of one’s being. It’s a pretty brutal departure to the Western canon, where most works ends with a “happily ever after.” But what westerners refuse to delve into their literature are the events that take place when man and woman becomes all too enraptured by love.

In Asian literature, love is an afterthought. Attachments must be rid away in order to fulfill the prophecy of self. It’s not out of selfishness, mind you, but people like Rama in “Ramayana,” Xiangzi in “Camel Xiangzi,” and Lin Kong in “Waiting” affirm the Asia perspective that love can only bring suffering.

Literature aside, it’s easy to not be in love or in a relationship because there is suffering involved in the process of love. If love has been too easy for you, then you haven’t really loved yet. On the other side of the coin, it’s easy to be envious of people who have made it together by getting married, having children, and settling down because of the same thing – love is labor. To love is to achieve a higher purpose beyond our reaches. It is like being able to understand string theory without having the ability to articulate it. It is life’s best kept secret that only reveals to people once they have it. And I know I have it.

It is this dual nature that allows people to be in and out of love. Strange, yes.

I had to write about it because of the goddamn Chinese and Indian texts! And I love it even more.

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