Dogs and Chinese are not permitted


6/26/20234 min read

Approaching trauma from a distance

Meditation is teaching me to walk, at the rim of my mind, observing the swirling thoughts, inside a round turning plate that holds what ressembles a gallery.

A gallery with no walls, no formal organisation, just several paintings, held up in mid air

Paintings with wooden ornamented frames, memories, words, alphabets, and chinese characters flying around in between

The turning wheel brings me through time, the interconnected traumas, from the age of my grandparents, to my parents, to my early childhood, teenage years, up until the most recent periods of my life

After the rollercoaster month of April, where one discovery after another, at an alarming rate, brought about uncontrollable emotions, tears, and relief into this overloaded system of mine, late June appears to be more peaceful.

When this joruney first started, there was swirling pain, anxiety, fear, joy, and hope. Violent gusts of emotions whipped together into a tornado, a whirlpool of chaos, a deafening howl.

But then, as if the tempest had grown weary, a subtle change began to take place. The twisting funnel of the tornado gradually slowed its frenzied motion. With a gentle grace, the feelings settled, its bits and pieces landing, slowly and softly, onto the soil. Twisted remnants laid strewn across the land, the mind. She who is gathering its strength, preparing to heal and rebuild.

However, there is one particular memory, or thought, where, whenever pronounced out loud, or brought to mind with enough sincerity and attention, hits me. This violent gust, pierces through the peace, shoots towards the ground, bringing about another splash of sand, rocks, and dust, another splash of pain, resentment, anger, and a pinging desire for change.

The memory presents itself in the following manner: My mother’s voice, softly telling me, about this sign that used to exist in a park in Shanghai, a park I go to play in as a child. The sign read: “Dogs and Chinese not permitted”. ‘华人与犬不得入内

I cannot write these words with steady hands, dry eyes, or a regular heart rate. I tried, several times, my efforts futile. Something about these words trigger me. I cried about it alone, I cried about it in my therapist’s room, and here, again, it brings tears to my eyes and trembles to my arms. Why?

I did a quick Google search this morning. There was this paper published at Cambridge University Press, addressing this historical artifact with formality, in a distant tone. It was Huangpu park, one that located right across the british council, in the then part of shanghai that was colonized by the british, and what is now what is arguably the most prosperous part of shanghai. The bund. The heart of its commerce, where the skyscrapers budded from the ground, that once shed tears of profound humiliation, unfair trade, maybe degrees of forced labor, and much more that is unknown to me.

I scrolled through the pages of historical and symbolical analysis that the historian makes, grateful that some tribute is paid to this humanizing and disgraceful act.

But this eloquent analysis doesn’t seem to capture the outrageousness of this act. This park, a piece of land, in Shanghai, was barred to the people of Shanghai, who is also made felt like they are an animal. And the people accepted it.

Imagine someone entering your home, without an invitation. They take over your couch, and your kitchen (How did they do it? Don’t mind that, imagine they have superior technology, or guns, and you don’t). Then, they invite their friends over, start playing some music, they are now all partying in your living room and kitchen. You are astonished, how could they do this? You try to protest, yet they overpower you, they have mechanical assistance that you do not have. Your life hangs on the line if you protest too much. The only safe option is to stay silent.

The only safe option is to stay silent.

Day in, day out, they raise their guns at you, and soon enough, you understand, you are not allowed in your own kitchen and couch anymore. Overtime, they constantly state, with a firm tone and a loud voice, that you do not belong in this kitchen, that you do not deserve to be in this kitchen, because you are not as cool as their friends. Then, they ask you to clean the place for them, serve them alcohol, cook for them. You have no choice but to do it. You do it, again and again, until one day, it becomes a habit. Until one day, you believe that they are, indeed, in some way, superior to you.

“Dogs and Chinese not permitted”.

The sign stands clearly in my vision, with banging pain, the directness of its implication is simply impossible to ignore.

Tired souls, faceless shadows, nameless bodies, walked past this sign, day in, day out. Hope once existed in their eyes. They see this sign, this sign that once brought them pain, which they now accept. One less ray of hope in their eyes. Until there is no more light.

Your hands busy, arms sore, from serving the unwelcomed guests in your living room, for weeks now. When are they going to leave? No idea. Hope hurts. Going to just serve them and not hope for much.

Overtime, you start to fear. You fear for your life, you fear for your safety, because your home can be invaded and taken away, anytime.

The dog obeys. It follows its master, with no questions.

Its only means of expressing itself is the sharp barking, piercing noises that brings pain to the year, a noise that has no power to influence, only to annoy, the owner.

When without a master, the dog is lost in the streets, dirty, scrambling for food. A dog cannot survive on its own, without a master.

This sign was enforced until 70 years before my birth.

I am a dog who has been freed, its collar removed. But a dog, who had been so accustomed to serve, loses all sense of direction.

Freedom is intoxicating at first, becomes more bewildering as it is used, until it becomes downright painful and terrifying.

It is

painful as the dog realizes its life’s purpose when it had a collar

painful when the dog sees its peers, still collared, still serving

terrifying as the dog attempts to do better than his master, to not cause pain.

Sometimes, the dog wishes that its collar had not been removed

At least back then,

it was numb to the pain.

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