YOUR UNCLE IS SEVERLY UNDERMEDICATED
All the way across the hill from Grant Avenue he was talking. Intitially we though he was in a phone conversation, but then we noticed that there were no wires, and his eyes were fixated on an invisible person. Not a cell-phone. A lecture to his son (?) about buying dope in Oakland. Which, we think, was a figment of his imagination.
The vehicle was jam-packed, and predictably everyone tuned-out everyone else. But he was standing right next to me, and I can't do that so easily.
I'm always drinking in the stimuli and the details. It's a handicap.
No, no-one could possibly think that he was addressing me, because for one thing he wasn't looking in my direction. For another, he spoke in Cantonese. Very nice clear Cantonese, too. Eloquent. Just the right notes of kvetch, whine, indignation, and righteous older-person vituperation. With literate words.
The short country-side grandpa on the other side kept a wary corner eye on him all the way to Mason Street, then gratefully scooted into a vacant seat when I hissed sotto voce "ah sang, ney joh ney joh".
It got him out of the broad field of vision of Mr. Dramatic Upsetness.
When I got off at Polk Street, Angry Uncle was still in full flow. His son must be a truly horrible person to ire him so. A real terror, what with his "suck big hemp" and all. Probably going to marry some trashy white chick, too. One who has no clue about the proper relationships, just like her useless husband-to-be.
The truly great thing about being a white man in Chinatown is that I am virtually unrecognizable. Consequently, while I can keenly observe the unbalanced people, my face just doesn't register. Unless, of course, they too are white. Like many people in San Francisco I am adept at not catching some one's eye, but with Chinese loonies I do not need to be quite so careful.
Even normal Caucasians tend toward invisibility.
How much more so those who aren't.
Chinatown Cantonese are somewhat under-serviced by the mental health profession. Partly it's extreme personal resistance to seeking help -- I'm NOT crazy, who said so, it was my MOTHER, wasn't it?!?! -- and partly it's hesitation about calling in the bat-squad on someone older, like a senior relative who is deserving of respect.
There are a number of individuals roaming the street during the day who imagine themselves other than who and what they are. They vocalize for that role, and channel the character that they think themselves to be.
At night they head home to families who know that auntie is screamingly bonkers -- who else would dress in resplendent robes like the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin -- but who tolerate her "eccentricities", as long as she doesn't try to help her cousins with their homework. Or go out into the yard and howl at the moon.
And auntie obeys. Her many years of cultural conditioning remains strong enough that she just cannot bring herself to upset the apple-cart that far. She'll play along with these mere mortals, in hopes that eventually they will see the light.
Some of the insane are remarkably well-educated. Their knowledge sets are profound, but in no way prepared them to be fully competitive in a society which functions in a language that is hard to master.
"I would like attack-hamsters! Bands of furry enforcers roaming about with numchucks and tasers!"
Sorry, that was an interruption from somebody who is actually very sane.
Totally beside the point. But, somehow, indicative.
Ngoh suiyiu keungtaai dik chong-syu pongpaai, manyau chuen-kwok;
faan faancheuiche yü yong sheung-jit gwan, taai-sat cheung!
This is San Francisco. We do not impose medical care on those who are grounded in alternative realities.
The onus is on them to actively seek help, which is available.
But someone needs to persuade them to do so first.
And there's a language barrier in between.
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Labels: San Francisco Chinatown