I had been striving so hard to push my own problems away, convincing myself the course was set and the outcome would be inevitable. I believe it to my core. And in doing so, I opened my heart up and made room for the troubles and problems of others. And they are so many… It felt like those first moments you step out of the darkened afternoon theater, into the sun, and your eyes can’t even take it all in. I can’t turn without a friend having a problem. And I can’t find my own breath without wanting, needing to make things right. And my confused, open heart, keeps breaking at the idea that the world can be so cruel and unfair to people who just don’t deserve it…
This interview by Radiolab gets pretty real at the end. It draws that line that stands between Victims and Truth Seekers. The interview seeks to dig deeper into the 1975 Yellow Rain that fell in parts of Laos. The controversy behind it, and the consequences of it. The host of Radiolab, interviews a man, Eng Yang, who was in Laos when the rain fell.
The podcast was initially released in September of 2012. After much uproar and upset over the end of the interview, it was amended and rereleased less than 2 months later. This is the amended version.
Here also is the 2 part 1991 New Yorker article that got Radiolab interested in this story in the first place. (if you have a subscription)
Eng Yang’s niece Kao Kalia Yang, who acted as translator for him during the interview, and spoke on behalf of the injustices placed on her people. Born in 1980, in a Thailand refugee camp, right as the world was beginning to open their eyes to the idea of chemical weapons. Her first book, published in 2008, 4 years before this podcast, The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, recounts the Hmong people and her own grandmother’s experience during the Vietnam War. She is a writer, public speaker, and a teacher. Here is a link to her website: http://www.kaokaliayang.com/
After a long week, a long day. After a long shift, a long drive.. after all that, I was able to sleep in, nestled between the undying love of pets. I was able to have a long conversation in bed with my mother. We went to the Saturday Market, not the size of the one in my home town, but filled with PNW artists and people who care to their core about quality. There was live music that reminded me of a Sunday Afternoon pandora station. The smells of coffee and spices filled the air, and everyone smiled. We went down to the dockside and saw the bay full of boats, milling about like runners warming up for a race. As we drew closer the sounds of auld sea shanties could be heard blaring from speakers. And families watched, in the sun, the smell of the sea. We ordered coffee by people proud to make it by hand, no fancy machines, just age old skill. We drank in the small shop, filled with friendly faces, everyone a stranger, but everyone chatting, no one on their computers or iphones. I strolled down the welcoming sidewalk, everyone going somewhere, but no one in a hurry. In the sun, on this Saturday afternoon, I remember how much I love it here..
Today I timidly approached the small, elderly patient of mine when I realized she was crying. Not the loud sobbing sort of crying, but very silently, just letting the tears fall. The sure, fat tears that come with soul shattering pain. Her accent was thick, but the gist was, she felt descriminated against. She hid her face as she explained to me feeling like everyone hated her because they laughed at her. She took deep breaths as I asked her why she hadn’t told anyone. She had been on the unit for 3 weeks already. She finally met my eyes and asked me who she could tell, who she could trust. It was the very people assigned to take care of her who were the ones laughing at her. I didn’t know what to say. Regardless of whether anyone had really been laughing or not, or even been directing their laughter at her, it was the reality she had experienced. And then she told me that if she were ever to be hospitalized again, she would never come back to my hospital. And my heart broke. She had come into my life right when I needed her, when I needed to hear someone tell me how proud they are of me and the life I’ve lived. She had touched my heart with those 5 words. She had been on the unit for 3 weeks now, and yet I’d only known her for 3 days. And I hadn’t been able to return the favor. The one personal goal I live by, to bend over backwards to ensure my patients atleast feel comfortable and safe, I hadn’t done. This person who had touched me so deeply, I had failed. It broke my heart. And when she left, she gave me a long hug, never holding anything against me. We wished each other well, sincerely, and then she walked out of my life.
I was timidly approached by a small, elderly patient of mine. I knew that she was Korean from reading her history, but was surprised when she asked if I was Korean. I said that I was and she nodded approvingly. Her voice was quiet and her accent was thick, but she immediately seemed to be at ease with me. She asked me how long I’d been here, probably judging by my lack of accent, and I told her all my life. She nodded again and I asked how long she’d been here. She said since 1998, and I asked how she liked it. Her nose crinkled and she said that it rained too much. I laughed, thinking of my own childhood spent in Southeast Alaska. No amount of rain was “too much rain” compared to that. She asked me how old I was and if I was married. I told her, 30, and no, not married yet. She nodded again, understanding and told me her own son was not married yet. Not in a, “you two should meet,” sort of way, but in a, “it seems that times are changed since when I was your age,” sort of way. I told her as much. Too many things to occupy us these days, school and more school, difficult jobs, it takes time to find the right one. She nodded and then asked if I’d been adopted. I smiled and said yes, when I was a baby. She asked if I went to Korea. I told her no, not yet. But I wanted to soon. She mused that it was probably very different now… This time I nodded. She seemed far away, and yet right here all in the same moment. Finally after some moments of silence, her eyes met mine, and she told me that she was very proud of me. She probably would never know how much it meant to me, right now when I am having so many thoughts and curiosities about my heritage and my birth mother, to hear those five words. I was able to hide some of my watery eyedness in the glare of the sun. I finally took a breath, and thanked her.
Photo credits: Images of Gwangju, South Korea. Called The City of Lights. The city where I was born.