This is based on a true story. Let’s just say her name was Arong. She worked as a team manager for a big energy company that provides electricity to a big Asian city about four decades ago. As in many developing countries, the energy company is a tyrant as well as a victim of the huddled mass it serves. The tyrant can arbitrarily reduce the electricity supply to a manufacturer, which consequently is forced to “beg” to get their lights restored. On the other hand, the tyrant is also a victim since many of its customers refuse to pay or lack the money to do so–many of these customers are the city’s essential service providers like hospitals, schools, community centers etc. The power company can’t just cut the power to these places for fear of public backlash and general outcry, however they also don’t want to carry the burden of providing free electricity. To recover the lost, the energy company had a clever plan–it organized a collection team made of tough middle-aged women who would travel to these hospitals or schools to collect money.
Although Arong barely finished her middle school, she had a knack in dealing with people and very quickly she became the manager of the collection team. Her job was to recruit tough women and train them so that they could go out to do their job. The recruiting was quite demanding since the turnover rate and burnout rate for the job was very high. Even the toughest women could only last for six months or so and had to be assigned to other jobs to recuperate in order to regain their equilibrium. The recruiting was also tricky since she couldn’t recruit normal women, who had no wish to argue with people for a living. You may want to ask why she didn’t recruit men. Here is the thing in many cultures of the world, a man being scolded by a woman in public will automatically lose face as well as his masculine standing in a society. Taking advantage of this psychology, these women went out to curse and berate the head of these organizations, mostly men, when they were having a meeting or giving a speech. The result was obvious–many chose to pay at least a portion of the money owed just to save themselves from the public embarrassment. In contrast, if a man was sent to do the same job, it might incur a fist fight or a brawl or a police involvement–the energy company didn’t want such kind of publication.
Arong got married and had two young kids when suddenly her husband, only thirty years old, died due to an accident in the workplace. He worked in the same energy company, which didn’t have a good record for workplace safety in the first place. The company refused to acknowledge the accident and the family ended up receiving zero compensation for the bread earner’s death. And this was four decades ago when life insurance was still in its infancy in the area and most people didn’t have it. Suing the powerful energy company was impossible–these kinds of lawsuits could take years if not decades and in the meantime she would lose her job. With her middle school diploma, it would be very hard to find another job as good as the one she already had.
The young thriving family was suddenly thrown into the abyss of financial difficulties. Her salary was not enough for three people to live on, but she tried everything to make ends meet. For twenty years, she struggled all by herself.
I met Arong two decades ago when she married my father after my mother died of a traffic accident. At the time I just graduated from college and her children had already grown up. My mother’s death finally put an end to the acrimonious relationship between my parents–other couples might have learned of setting boundaries and delineating personal space to reduce conflicts, but my parents escalated their friction, growing more and more bitter with each passing year.
They waged battles daily and tirelessly. Yesterday, I was trying to do a psychology “new word” post for which I had to review a website with more than 40 signs of mental abuse, such as “sarcasm”, “belittling”, “yelling”, “dismissiveness”, “pushing buttons”, “spying”, “gaslighting”, “playing victim”, “withholding affection” etc. I think among the 40 items in the list, “derogatory pet names” is the only trick my parents didn’t practice on each other. However they added several more that are not on the list, like “bringing in your own relatives to live together as your ally”, “making unnecessary business trips just to get away”, “trying to convert your spouse’s sister into your own supporter” etc.
This post is getting too long and I think I will continue it another day, probably tomorrow. I want to explain how wonderful a mother Arong was, not to me, but to her own children. I can’t say I love her, but I certainly like her very much. If she wants to get all my father’s money, by the way it is not much, I will say I am happy she’s doing it. Go ahead, Arong. One day many years ago, she even made an effort to connect with me, which my mother had never done, but I was too cautious to reveal myself for fear that my revelation might implicate my father in an unflattering light. For that, I say I am really sorry. Even though I didn’t connect with her as much as I would wish, I know she’s a nice and decent woman who is also strong and loving. What a wonderful person you are, Arong.