Saturday, March 06, 2004

A Slippery Slope

When the phone rang, I was going to ignore it -- must be a telemarketer. American companies are insidious with their demographic research, even the telemarketers callng this neighborhood speak Chinese. At first I found it difficult to hang up on someone who spoke Chinese (deeply-ingrained Confucious upbringing), but now, I can just slam down the phone with no remorse.

"Wei?" I still answer the phone with the Chinese equivalent of "Hello," which is effective in scaring off non-Chinese-speaking telemarketers.

"Um, this is Delia." Her voice sounded tentative. My heart sank.

"You don't have to explain anything to me, I'm not your mother, I'm not going to tell anyone back home either, it's--"

"It's not what you think, I haven't done...that..."

"It matters only to you, even if you won a Nobel Prize later on, someone is going to bring this up."

"I only have a few people I see, and it's very limited when it comes to what I let them do--"

"Why stay here and do this when you can go back home?" I couldn't help asking.

"You're such an innocent, nobody wakes up and suddenly decides to do this, and definitely not do this for life. It's always just to pay bills for a little while, and a little while lasts forever--"

I'm fast losing my patience with her. This is a sane, highly-educated woman who has so many options than the one she has chosen. "Look, if you want to borrow money so you can get out of this seedy situation..."

"No no no, this is just a stepping stone, I can handle it."

With that, she hung up. I took down her address and made a note to check on her now and then. Though we aren't close, I find the depth she has sunk to so demoralizing that it's almost as if her eventual fate has become my personal project. She can tell herself this is not as bad as it looks, because she only does certain things, but like that old Chinese proverb says, "Even if she jumped into the Yellow River now, she can't get clean."

The Yellow River is the chief artery running through large parts of China, it's very muddy, thus its name. The proverb is not logical, but it's used so often that people understand its allegory.

Delia is underestimating the stain she has already brought upon herself. Her Chinese name is purple lotus flower. The lotus plant grows out of muddy ponds, yet its pink and lavender-tinged petals always look pure and untouched, despite the soiled environment it's enmeshed in. Is that what she tells herself when she opens the door to a client?


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