A Letter from Taiwan by Aisvarya Prabhu
Dear Distinguished Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis,
Please accept my respectful obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada! All glories to your services!
This past year I had the fortune to visit Poland, Greece, and the Far East. The people have something common, and that is:
"In this iron age of Kali men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed." (SB 1.1.10)
We all tend to project our problems onto others, but many of our interactions reflect back the flaws and anarthas that we have.
I have stopped so many people on the street and disliked them. And how many times have I later recognized that the thing I found objectionable was in my character, too? Too many times!
Many times I miss this, though, and then Krsna works on me. An example of this is the story I have to tell. But first some background:
The Far East. What do you visualize? Exotic temples? Samurai swords? Paper houses? Martial artists? Lots of bicycles?
When I finally went there, I found it a little different.
Almost gone are the samurai, but exotic temples are still intact. The warrior spirit is now dovetailed in business, while the temples lay mostly empty.
Like many other Asian places, the culture remains but seems to be under the weather. Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, with fusions and hybrids, along with heavily oppressive Maoism, permeate the scene. Monks and nuns are common in many areas, but people in general are absorbing materialistic values fervently. Bicycles have been replaced with noisy, polluting scooters.
Since Chiang Kai-Shek arrived in Formosa (Taiwan) with many of his countrymen over 50 years ago, leaving behind the communist uprising in China, there has been a trend towards Western (so-called) values. Along with the technological revolution have come many changes in the culture and people. One example is the existence of three 7-11's (convenience stores) on every street in Taiwan. If it's not a 7-11 it's something similar; the Taiwanese are extremely good at cloning. Fast food and a fast pace is what the young want. Their elders are fastidious about collecting money to look after their families.
Along with passion comes the tendency to be religious in order to get what one wants. Mainstream religion in Asia is impersonal. Therefore, whereas in America we find ourselves up against the fanatical born-again mood, in the Far East everything is one, so nothing matters.
So off I go again; rebuking others for being in the modes of passion and ignorance. But the fact is "like attracts like", and I know I'm fully endowed with those two enchanting qualities myself!
And so it happened that preserved in formaldehyde from my iniquitous past, lurking deep within my heart, beyond my shallow vision, was something very dark and sinister. Unfortunately, along with the cultivation of other bad-seeds and weeds in my devotional garden, it had begun rising from the dead…
It was an exceedingly bad day for me in a town called Nantau, in western Taiwan. For obvious reasons, i.e., lack of KC, I had reached the point of no return, a place wherein even I was concerned at how low I could stoop, especially in a land where people are polite and helpful.
Poor Mr. Wu didn't know what was about to hit him — nor did I!
Culturally, by ignoring me, he was doing exactly what all his ancestors had done to satisfactory effect. In Chinese culture, if someone asks you for something you don't want to give, you don't say "No" to him, as this would cause him to lose face. Instead, you ignore him, to let him off the hook. Simple, eh?
Not for yours truly, who was unacquainted with that cultural trait and had, at that precise moment, regressed to a caveman mindset. I had been conditioned by the British cultural norm, wherein one considers above and beyond all logic that it is outrageously rude of someone to ignore you.
Added to this, Mr. Wu didn't speak English, and I knew only Mandarin words for "donation" and a few more. The word used for "donation" can also mean "beautiful flower" if uttered in a different pitch.
So what's wrong with this picture? I'm yelling at Mr. Wu from across a narrow, busy street to give a donation, while chastising him for ignoring me. I openly insulted the poor man, and he didn't understand a word of it, except for the word "donation". In the end, just as my anger at his impersonalism reached a crescendo, Mr. Wu pulled out his wallet, gave me a donation, and took a book.
Shocked and paralyzed – this is how I felt.
In the past I have been smashed, humiliated, rejected and regurgitated in this service, but I never felt as disgraced as I did at that moment.
Instead of showing compassion toward someone else's impersonalism and so- called rudeness, I was rude and impersonal. And Lord Krsna inspired someone else to show compassion to me while I was being rude to him. That one stuck!
I think that I may be the only person on earth to have distributed a book to someone by blatantly insulting him.