I have been wading through the entire set of books by James Clavell, five of which showed up one day on the shelves of National Book Store. My current reading is Noble House, which centers on Hong Kong in 1963. The protagonist is Tai Pan Ian Dunross, a descendant of the original British Tai Pan, Dirk Straun. I’ve already done away with Shogun, Gai-Jin, Tai-Pan, and King Rat. Only Whirlwind and The Children’s Story are left, and I suppose I will have to order them from Amazon and pay some outrageous Custom’s fee to import material that Custom’s has in a category next to drugs. After all, books influence the brain and are therefore appropriate to be banned or taxed into oblivion.
Clavell’s protagonists are strong characters living within foreign cultures, shaped by them and shaping them. I suppose that is why I enjoy his perspectives. He has a sharp eye for cultural distinctions and the natural friction that occurs when cultures intertwine. He does not condemn or praise any culture, but lets the people representing those cultures exhibit themselves, for the reader’s condemnation or praise.
One of the concepts in Noble House is that of “joss”, or fate. Or God’s will. Or karma. It is the way the outer world greets us, good and bad. It is that part of life we cannot control, and so we must bow to what it presents us – death and joy and problems and surprise solutions - and move on. It does no good to wail and weep or shout with glee, for there is a new surprise just around the corner that will humble us properly.
I look at my wife and say, ah, “joss”.
Here is a woman born in the depths of Philippine poverty, educated only for the good grace of an uncle she was handed off to. In and out of school. Bounced from this family member to that. Graduated from high school at 20.
Yet her intellectual capacity far exceeds mine, with my two college degrees. She can remember more, argue better, and hold up under stress in situations where I get shaky. She has this peculiar strength typical of Filipinos, unbending self-assurance. Had she been born in the USA, she would likely have blasted through college and would be engaged in a professional career. That self-assurance combined with education and professional refinement would have led her to the top.
And, indeed, it is her strength of character that led her to me, on an internet dating site, and the risks associated with meeting an American, not really known.
We’ve done fine. Beautifully, if you must know. Fundamentally, we like and enjoy each other, and have taken our occasional cultural “rub” as being something to talk about and resolve. Not be angry about. We have an amazingly bright and charming kid, more handsome than Piolo. He blabbers in Visayan, which I don’t understand, and in English, including a few swear words that I have to learn not to utter. The utterances usually come whilst driving and dealing with the chaos on Filipino roads.
An aspect of Filipino culture we face is the unending envy and cruelty imposed upon my wife by other Filipinas. Filipino men are generally respectful of her, although who knows what goes on inside their brains. But the women are outwardly engaged in battering my wife’s reputation, claiming to friends that she is a prostitute and selfish and has a “bad attitude”. Well, yes, she has learned to stand up for herself, even if the other party is the Barangay Captain, and she speaks forcefully.
So, in terms of those who expect subservience, she indeed has a bad attitude.
But she is not a prostitute, and has never been one. She had one boyfriend before me, and had sexual intercourse once before me. (I reveal these private details because curious spurious lascivious minds presume to know what has gone on in her bedroom before, and I wish to set the record straight).
She is considered “selfish” because she will not part with the money that will fund her life, and our child’s education – our savings – after I die. (I’m quite a bit older). It is amazing how many people believe they have a right to the money I earned, simply because they need it and we have it. It is rather the attitude of a thief.
The “selfish” tag suggests others know better than we do about how we should spend our money.
As if they would actually take care of my wife and young son if I died . . .
So “joss” it is. Friction there is. Joy there is. Yoda there is.
We’re doing fine here, thanks. Rolling with the punches. Carving out a future amongst the surprises. Laughing a lot.
Best regards to others with the spiritual and intellectual vigor it requires to cross cultures, and persist . . .