autism, culture, education, health, ideas, living abroad, psychology, travel

Expecting the Impossible

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Learning Center Blues

Last year, I left my second teaching job in Vietnam not long after getting into a heated shouting match with a staff lady I’ll call Sonya. She tried gaslighting me saying my teaching was bad and ineffective. Sonya was being passive-aggressive and a workplace bully thinking I couldn’t read between the lines. This was at a learning center in Bien Hoa, a suburb of Saigon. Towards the end of her litany, she turned around saying I was a great teacher and the students loved me. She wanted to intimidate me making me second guess myself, and I wasn’t biting. This was after the secret was out that I had Asperger’s. Nobody was supposed to know except for my companion, Yael, who deduced it as her brother has it. Yael helped smooth things over after I was told kids complained I was shouting too much and that I was boring. They expected me to smile 24/7 and have more intonation. They didn’t like that I’d get impatient with students sometimes or that I was hypersensitive to high-pitched squealing noises kids made. The headteacher appeared sympathetic but then had my manager at the agency tell me not to bring Asperger’s up again.

No Control, No Redemption

It doesn’t come with an on/off switch. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, either. Denial isn’t a river in Africa. The altercation was my second run-in with Sonya. The other teachers concurred unanimously I was good at my job and that Sonya was out of line. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her about my condition, but it seemed I didn’t have much choice. So Sonya scolded me and saying, “Well, just act like a normal person. Stop having outbursts, meltdowns, or whatever you call them. Try not to be so serious and don’t let the noise bother you.” I was insulted when she made these remarks because it was clear she had no idea what she was dealing with. So I fired back and told her, “Well, just act like a man. Control your monthly cycles, woman. Stop menstruating, ovulating, or whatever you call it. Try not to urinate sitting down and don’t have any hot flashes.” That wasn’t the response she’d hoped for, but I was making a point. She was expecting the impossible from me. Therefore, I returned the favor. Not long after, I started seeking employment elsewhere. I ascertained this was a hostile working environment. I sure as hell didn’t appreciate them berating me like a child or trying to silence me.

What We Know and Don’t Know

Sadly, that wasn’t my first rodeo. This is one of the primary reasons I have limited contact with my two oldest siblings. They were in denial the whole time. My oldest brother thought I chose to be difficult and this was learned behavior. My sister shared the same opinion and got carefree criticizing my mother for coddling me. Sister knew better than anyone (including the doctors who gave me hyperactivity medication.) When I was hospitalized for depression, they both thought I was seeking attention. I remember confronting Sister not long after I received my official diagnosis and my mother suggesting she read about Asperger’s. She then said, “Wow! That sounds so much like Dustin; it’s unreal.” Then I couldn’t resist the urge shouting at her, “Yeah! I know! It’s amazing what you learn when you shut your fucking piehole and listen to your master when he speaks, isn’t it?” Mom scorned me for that, but it’s not like Sister didn’t have it coming, either. That was a cathartic release after years of pent-up frustration due to her intractable disposition. She’s bull-headed like our father. Sister thinks she’s an authority on things with which she has little to no experience. That’s one of the few times I recall her ever admitting she was wrong.

The Vaccine Dilemma

Not long after my diagnosis, the scare about vaccines emerged. That exacerbated everything to say the least. It started in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield falsified his research about MMR vaccines causing autism. Skeptics jumped on that like white on rice. Jenny McCarthy claimed she cured her autistic son. This part infuriates me most. Not only are there idiots in denial; now there’s charlatans who think it’s curable. Basically, what they’re both saying is that it’s some kind of burden to society. My friend, Nathan, who was lower-functioning had a father convinced holistic medicine would make it disappear. Here’s the thing. I don’t need to be cured. I’m not dying or contagious. It’s not degenerative, venereal, or anything of that sort. Nobody with whom I came in contact contracted it from me. Wakefield had his license revoked after it was unearthed he juked the stats and that he was on the payroll of a large insurance company. The latter alone was a conflict of interest that should have discredited him. Eventually, Jenny McCarthy’s son was discovered to have Landau-Kleffner Syndrome ruling out any possibility of her curing him. Sadly, the anti-vaxxer crowd won’t listen. Anyone who believes a former Playboy bunny over medical practitioners has issues. We all know what they say in Hollywood is the law of the land just like Tom Cruise is the world’s greatest expert on psychotherapy. I’m sure Brooke Shields would agree.

Same Language, Different Accent

Reasoning with the naysayers and anti-vaxxers is like nailing jello to a wall. You can present all the tangible evidence in the world, but it won’t register through their thick noggins. They’re too proud to put their egos aside and admit they may be wrong. That said, I distance myself from them as best as I can. I’m moving back to the West because I’m not going to live in a society where I feel I’m being monitored every day due to my personality quirks and they pressure me into be a cookie cutter person. I’ve been known to hit back twice as hard whenever I’m provoked such as the case with Sonya. Just because my brain isn’t hard-wired like that of the average NT doesn’t mean I’m stupid or defective. It’s like voicing a language. Most of my friends in Vietnam are from the UK. They speak British English while my vernacular is American English. There is no right or wrong way to enunciate the words just because our accents and slang differ. The same is true about folks on the autism spectrum versus NT’s. It’s not a disease; it’s an anomaly.

autism, culture, health, ideas, living abroad, psychology, travel

Elephants in the Room

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A New Arrival

When I first arrived in Asia, I had different expectations from what I’ve seen in person. I was under the impression everyone was well-disciplined, everything was tidy, and there were no crimes. That was what I’d seen on television, so it must’ve been true. My anthropology professors discussed ancient civilizations not modern culture. I studied the physical geography of the continent in college not the cultural aspect. Those images I’d seen were either distortions or facets of Japanese culture. For whatever reason, the Western media paints Japan as the archetype of Asia. Little did I know there’d be total chaos and gridlock. Not until I landed in Bangkok did I realize the traffic was atrocious. The only reason I knew about the crooked cab drivers was because Nitya, a Thai acquaintance of my mother, told me when she learned I was going there. Nitya further advised me not to point my foot at or touch anyone on the head as the foot is considered the dirtiest part of the body while the head is the purest. That correlates with Buddhism and each body part’s distance from the sky and ground.

No Dogs Allowed

I was certain the locals ate dogs and puppies as delicacies. While that may have been true before, that’s not the case anymore. They own dogs and cats as pets the same as Westerners. Many times I’d drive around Saigon on my motorbike seeing puppies yapping away inside cages. I’d worry they might wind up in a soup, but they don’t. They have puppy mills in Vietnam which are illegal in the United States. People sell them on the streets as pets. While that may be questionable, that’s not as barbaric as the former. I’ve seen locals walking around with their dogs every day. There’s a bodega down the alley from my apartment. The shopkeeper brings in one of her two dogs periodically. They smile and seem friendly with the customers. They love being petted. That tells me they’re not abused, nor are their lives in danger. The only bad thing I can say is I’ve noticed strays roaming streets here and there. That’s because not everyone is inclined to spay and neuter like they are in the West. That doesn’t mean they want to filet them. Just as nobody in America eats possum and squirrels anymore, Asia experienced a cultural shift. This region is more developed than that now. They’re not savages.

An Asian Equation

Another stereotype you hear is that the women are submissive. I’ve gotten into heated arguments with Western women over this. Some feminists presume any Western male who comes here to find a partner is looking for a subservient housewife who keeps her mouth shut and knows her place. That’s another convention long outdated. I’ll bet whoever believes that has never met a Japanese or a Korean woman before. They have a reputation for being a handful. Any skeptics reading this might also want to Google ‘tiger mom’ or ‘dragon lady’ whenever you get a chance. Like the dog-eating, that may have held water in the past, but that’s anything but true from what I’ve seen. In fact, Thai women can be quite aggressive. They don’t mess around. They’ll cut you in half if you step out of line. Overall, Vietnamese women I’ve seen aren’t as bold, but they still hold their own. Just because the women in this region don’t hyphenate their surnames when they marry, have purple Skrillex hair, or cover themselves with tattoos and piercings doesn’t mean they’re barefoot, pregnant, and stuck in the kitchen. Even in this ‘horrible patriarchy,’ women comprise more than half the work force and college graduates. And yes, they drive cars, own property, manage businesses, and have positions of power.

All Work and No Play

How does this relate to Asperger’s? If anyone knows about my condition, I’m sure you’ve heard the suspicions about us as well. I ran into occupational trouble back home over this when I worked at Hospira Labs. I didn’t want anyone to know, but it slipped out. To make a long story short, I was backed into a corner and forced into that position. It was a semi-hostile working environment. One of my African-American coworkers compared me to Nathan, a friend and fellow employee who’d worked there several years. He said to me, “Well you ain’t like no other autistic person I met. You ain’t no math genius. You ain’t discussin’ no string theories and science. You ain’t no computer guru. You ain’t beatin’ your head against the wall. Do you wear diapers, collect toy trains, or watch Star Trek?” This shows you his lack of education. It didn’t bode well when I fired back and told him, “Well you’re not like every other black guy I’ve known. Your name isn’t Tyrone, Jamal, or Leroy. You’re not a basketball player, a football player, or a rapper. You don’t wear Nikes or your pants below your butt like you just soiled them. You don’t drive a Cadillac, an Oldsmobile, or a Pontiac. You’re not in jail or prison. I assume you’re not a deadbeat dad or an ex-con. Do you eat cornbread, fried chicken, and collard greens every night? Do I get to ask who your baby mamas are? Do you have any illegitimate children or pay child support?” The fella didn’t appreciate me placing him in the same box as all the other African-American males depicted on television, but that was the point. I hope he got the message. Not long after I was sacked for reasons unrelated to this.

The Elephant in the Room

The moral to this story is I believe exposure is the key to any education. Any fool can reverberate what one hears on television or what one’s teachers may or may not tell them. First-hand experience is another ballgame as it leaves less room for interpretation. As you can see, even with my background in anthropology, I was ignorant about some Asian customs. All I understood was what I was told by other Westerners or what was depicted on screen. I knew nothing about the corrupt police in Vietnam and Thailand or the stigma about mental health until I came here. I had no idea Asperger’s would be a deal-breaker for certain jobs until I started seeking employment in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, and other places. It’s hard to distinguish these case because, like pedophilia, abortion, and homosexuality, it’s a taboo subject nobody wishes to touch with a 10-foot pole. It’s the elephant in the room. Usually, I don’t divulge it to any colleagues unless I have to because not only is it none of their business. I don’t want them to undermine or mistrust me.