For days now, I have wanted to write about an experience I had with the Sacred last weekend in the mountains.  But I just can’t seem to get my thoughts and words to come together.  So, until they decide to join forces….

 The whole world seems to be keeping up appearances.  We are all guilty.  We use make-up to cover up our blemishes, in hopes no one notices.  We wear fake smiles and always answer, “I’m good, how are you?” to make it seem like our lives are in order.  In Cantonese they say, “ho-ho” – “very well.”  It crosses all cultures.  We want to give the appearance that everything is great.  Countries too are trying to keep appearances.  Until 4 days ago, most people probably couldn’t place Burma on a map, or knew that Burma was the same country as Myanmar.  And everyone thought they were a happy, peaceful country, because we never heard anything.  But their mask of silence has slipped, and now we see what is really going on.  We see images of monks, thousands strong, marching for peace and justice.  We are hearing stories through text messages about the oppressive junta.  Burma/Myanmar can no longer appear at peace.

America – Bush – they are giving the appearance of offering help to Burma/Myanmar.  Strongly worded threats of boycotts, sanctions and a responsibility to stand up for people suffering under a brutal military regime” makes it seem that America wants justice and peace in the world.  But again, that mask slips when we catch wind of heavily US-supported and funded “brutal military regimes” in the Philippines. 

Two nights ago I attended the mid-Autumn Lantern Festival in Victoria Park.  Hundreds of beautiful lanterns.  Children were carrying homemade and purchased lanterns, dangling the lights before them.  There were complex lanterns, depicting ancient folk tales.  And in the center was a dragon, green as the grass, 10 meters tall, with flowers and bright colors surrounding him.  The sign of explanation read, “…to represent minority equality in China.  A nation that has been working to give a voice to ethnic minorities for generations, offering them hope and a place to call home.”  Yet every day I hear of the women who are forced off of buses, simply because of their accent.  Of men who cannot find work because of their nationality.  Of large groups of women, foreign workers, forced to work long hours, without holiday or rest day, suffering abuses and mental anguish.  Where is the equality for the men and women who came to Hong Kong in hopes of a better life, a chance to send their children to school and support their aging parents?  Is their equality only wrapped up in a lantern?  Is it merely a light, flickering one night out of the year? 

On my ride home, I see the appearance of a sunset over the mountains.  I am riding the ferry, having had to chose between the upper and lower deck – which class am I?  Do I ride on the lower deck, where the benches are worn and crunched together, taking the sidewalk to my destination?  Or do I ride up top, where the benches have perfect stars imprinted in the seat?  Do I pay the extra 50 cents for the appearance of being on top of things?  Because either level, I see the same bay.  I feel the same breeze, smell the same salt-water.  When I look over to Kowloon Island, I see the same appearance of a sunset, going down over a mountain.  The ferry tips to a wave, and I realize, it is not a sunset at at all.  Where once there was a grand view of the horizon, there are now high rises, banks, windows, and a glowing half globe on the top the hotel, where the sun used to be before it was blotted out by pollution.  The appearance of beauty.

In my own life.  I’m guilty of this too.  Maybe that is why it bothers me so much.  I get so angry at fake sunsets and governments that prevent peace – yet in my own life, I try so hard to maintain the appearance that all is grand.  That I can move to the other side of the world, eat strange foods, listen all day to languages I don’t understand, come home to an empty apartment – and adjust just fine.  Ask me how I’m doing?  “Ho-ho, doh je.”  (very well, thank you)  But, just wait for my mask to slip, and really, you will see that it is hard.  Not all the time.  But some of the time.  Sometimes, I get really lonely.  And I play old videos from Kentucky and home on my laptop just to hear familiar voices.  And sometimes, I don’t want to be brave and try whatever unpronounceable food is on my plate, I just want grilled chicken and mashed potatoes.  Sometimes, I get really frustrated that I only know English – that not knowing Cantonese keeps me from doing something as simple as installing internet in my apartment, and not knowing De-gala leaves me out of the jokes in the office. 

So here’s to dropping the masks.  For authenticity.  For hope for true justice, and for the peace and bravery the monks are demonstrating will spread throughout the nations.  How am I doing today?  I’m a little tired, hungry, and missing some of the comforts at home, but excited about my day off tomorrow.  Doh jey.  Thanks for asking.


4 thoughts on “Appearances

  1. ‘The whole material world seems to me like a newspaper headline: it expressly demands your attention and might even contain some truth…but what’s really going on here?’
    –from a song by mewithoutYou

  2. If I could mail you grilled chicken and some mashed potatoes, I would.
    I fight that mask all of the time, too. Just when I think I’ve gotten it off, I find out there was another one under it.
    Thinking of you today…

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