I wrote about this yesterday in here, and today I feel that I have more to say on this topic. I said in the previous post that one can feel very strongly the first time one encounters the cultural difference, but that strong feeling can’t be reflected in one’s writing–when one writes about it, it doesn’t come out right. And I have an example:
Many years ago, I met R who’s from Sri Lanka. He told me the first time he left home, he came to America. He landed in Atlanta International Airport, where he saw a man adding milk and sugar into his hot tea in a plastic cup. He had never seen anything like that. It’s so different from how people drink tea back home and it’s so new. He suddenly felt so overwhelmed that he almost cried. Now I’ve totally forgotten the details of his “better” way of making hot tea (his mother of course made the best hot tea every morning), but I remember I instantly understood the feeling he was talking about–it really resonated with me. A trivial daily occurrence can provoke such a strong emotional response, seemingly for no reason.
If one tries to write his story, as I just did, one feels that the story is so inconsequential, the feeling seems too sentimental, the hero is probably immature, and it all feels so weak. However as a person who experienced similar things, I know the story is consequential, natural, and strong. It’s neither sentimental nor immature. However written words cannot do justice to the merit of it.
Now reflecting on the past, R is such a gentle soul and a wonderful person too. If I am going to write a story about him, what can I write? How can I make his story beautiful, knowing that this real person only has a mundane life, just like mine? I can imagine what a gentle mother he has. Actually he loves both his parents deeply (which is more than I can say for myself), but his mother and his father always have bitter fights. It became so bad when he was in middle school that his mother started to sleep in their family owned shop, which is connected with their family home. Everything his mother did was to spite his father, for which his father responded with equal animosity.
The fact that R is so gentle really made me more sympathetic towards him. My parents’ fights are more of a bitter comedy to me since I distanced myself from their fray since I was ten. I was never plagued by the hopes that my parents would miraculously have a good relationship. However R felt so tragic about the whole situation. He felt that it’s his burden to make the family a good family and to make his parents happy. He obviously put too much pressure on his gentle self. Or probably it’s R’s parents who put such an illusion on him…