A mankind in solidarity, humanity in one collective voice; such are seductive concepts. It brings to my mind an image of brothers and sisters of one human race, arm in arm, with differences put aside for an unending celebration of peace, love and unity on the terrestrial plane in a lifelong jubilee. The good is reciprocated with good and becomes an end to itself.
诸重佑 (제중우), these are the Chinese characters of my Korean name, translated as ‘ giving all a heavy help.’ There was once a time when I took this as a mantra, a supernatural calling, a fate decided from birth and thus accepted the inscriptions of these characters. I remember one particular scene four years ago, when I was inspired by a book titled Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood, a former executive of Microsoft and the later founder of charitable foundation ‘Room to Read.’ I told my mother that I wanted to devote my life to helping people and changing the world. It would be a meaningful life that I would lead, soaring on lofty heights looking downward towards the crass materiality of commerce and the world below (I was a commerce student at that time).
Albert Camus’ The Fall tells in second-person narration the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clement, whose life went through a vertical translation from up to down, from a former life as a virtuous lawyer defending widows and orphans (in short, noble causes) to the seedy central district in subsealevel Amsterdam as a practising “judge-penitent.” His cynical reflections of his former life recount his gradual enlightenment on the superficiality of his existence, leading to his fall. He acted for and on the vulnerable as a way of chasing summits and becoming one above reproach to a level of purity and innocence. He was an actor on a stage; his generosity to beggars and his aid to the disabled was all a play for the surrounding public, just as when he tipped his hat to a blind man after helping him cross the street. From great heights he expressed his will for domination onto the human ants crawling insignificantly below.
One of my predominant impressions of China before my actual sino-voyage was that of pity. I heard and read and saw the conditions of the majority who were not able to enjoy North American middle class privileges. From my North American heights, I looked down onto the poor Chinese people and I felt my heart reaching across the Pacific Ocean out to their poor lives, full of pity for these not-knowing people, wishing dearly to teach them something of my North American knowledge and experiences to make an impact on their poor existences, an impact that would undoubtedly be positive (after all, I was from North America, the opulent).
While living there, I found that I could not connect with my fantasized Chinese people. I could not relate with their squalor and my sympathy turned into indifference, although pity remained. In Nietzschean terms, I was the good and they were the bad. I saw one sight (which I wrote about in a previous blog post) that made even the homegrown Chinese bourgeois turn their heads for a split second in interest. It (or he or she) straddled the boundaries between the categories of human and non-human. I had five mojitos that night, not because I felt a profound disturbance about the sight, but because I enjoy drinking and wanted to get drunk and have a good time. So much for my pre-Chinese ideals. Why did I have the desire to change the world as a younger man?
In approaching man as a totality, a reified abstraction, a personal interrogation is necessary. Why am I doing this? Who am I doing this for? Is this a self-branding initiative? Do I approach man as a collection of subjects or objects? It is a continual affirmation and reaffirmation of a belief.
I still have strong feelings from time to time about (wo)man, but I realized that I do not always like (wo)men.
Note: Second time using that photo, “it” is there