Some differences are in our head, and what’s in our head are even more difficult to change than visible and perceptible aspects of differences like accent and manners etc. Not that I can change my accent or my manners. I can’t. However I know it’s there and I’ve developed a way to deal with it.
It all comes from the poem “Cemetery Ride”, in which a pleasant bike ride in a Florida cemetery is described in a relaxed and fun style. How nice. I read it before, but didn’t notice until now that an Asian poet will never write about a cemetery in this way. Well, I can’t say never. I mean it will not happen without substantial cultural change. A cemetery is to be avoided and only to be visited in the annual “tomb sweeping” day; a cemetery poem is either sad or eulogizing–well, the best praise is usually reserved for funeral and this aspect of human reality is probably universal in all cultures.
Actually my friend L pointed this cultural difference to me before, but I didn’t pay much attention. She said that in America people don’t care if a piece of real estate is close to a cemetery. She means that a house next to a cemetery will not suffer a price loss. It is true. “Are people afraid of ghosts here? Ghosts can come out of the cemetery and haunt their house.” She asked, but I didn’t know how to reply. She’s a mortgage broker and had American colleagues. “You can ask your colleagues.” I said. “How can I ask? Are you afraid of ghosts? Just like that. They are going to think I am half mad.” She said.
She’s right. A lot of things just can’t be included in a conversation. First there has to be a context to get into such a topic. Then once there, one has to explain the cultural fear of living right next to a cemetery, the mythical habits of ghosts in another culture, and the reason why one feels incomprehensible that people make random visits to cemeteries and build houses next to where the ghosts live. So much explanation to do before one can ask, “are you afraid of ghosts?” Nobody will do a conversation in such a long detoured way. It’s like a comedian telling a long joke. Before she comes to the punch line, she has already lost all her audience.
I’ve heard similar incidents happen again and again here in the Asian community in New Jersey. This is one story I heard about five years ago. One manager in a big drug company suddenly fainted. He is middle-aged and held a lower level management position, which is reachable by Asians before hitting the usual bamboo ceiling. Being a workaholic, he obviously abused his body to the point that his heart gave away. At the hospital, he was given the best care, with surgery and everything. He was improving for a couple of days and then inexplicably he descended into a coma. The doctors were baffled. The only conclusion they came to is that as an Asian, his body is reacting in a non-typical way for the drugs that were administered to him. Fortunately with the best care he got, he eventually recovered. What a relief to his family.
And this incident is not alone. A friend told me that his wife took a medication for some minor problem. The next thing she knew she was having a terrible diarrhea and stomach problem for two weeks. Another friend took a medication for her severe flu. Her symptom was too severe for her to bear and she wanted a quick relief. Then the medication she took was completely disagreeing with her body that she almost had to be sent to the emergency room. Their doctors said the same thing: their reactions are strange, untypical. The side effects of the drug, according to literature and the experienced doctors, don’t include anything they have experienced.
As Asians, we have to be careful when taking medications as prescribed. I am not saying that we don’t listen to doctors. Of course we listen, but we also have to be more savvy than other patients. Our body is smaller and our bone structure more delicate–prone to osteoporosis. Our food–without diary product and with a lot more soy–accustoms our bowel to very different things. If a drug trial is not conducted on Asian, the drug’s special effects on Asian will not be commonly known. Since the East Asian population in America is probably only 3%, it is unrealistic to expect any drug doing a trial on Asians.
Whenever I take Ibuprofen for my headache, I wonder whether the body weight should make a difference on the dosage. I mean a small Asian woman can weigh only 100 to 110 pounds, and a six foot man can weigh 200 pounds. That’s a huge difference. However the Ibuprofen bottles have no dosage-weight information.
And I am writing this all because my friend was asking me if it is a big deal if he continues to drink alcohol while taking a medicine, for which his doctor explicitly told him not to drink and take the pill at the same time. I am no health expert and I don’t know why my friends like to ask me such questions; I am no computer expert either, but my friends come to me for their download or virus problems. I don’t know. Probably I just can’t keep my big mouth shut about things I know as well as things I don’t know.
I am just wondering why the drug companies have to make such drugs. People will drink and smoke. Most can’t quit, or can’t quit without serious efforts. A drug with an alcohol warning doesn’t do much to stop the drinking. He will continue to drink and the drug will only damage his liver. Can they make drugs that can go with alcohol? No?