Culture, Trauma, or Personality?

I almost died again today. I was riding on an ojek (a motorcycle common for transportation in Jakarta), and an old Indonesian woman callously sped ahead in the gridlock and hit my knee from the side. She didn’t have enough force to make impact, but had the driver not pulled ahead or had she pushed forward a bit more, my right knee would have been crushed between the ojek and her car.

I didn’t get mad, I didn’t feel afraid, I didn’t even yell at her, it was just “Oh, another stupid bitch callously holding her dog and nonchalantly driving on, not even noticing me glaring at her”. After driving away, I forgot about it, but in thinking back, I am full of anger, some violent thoughts, and hatred.

It’s not the first time either, because I’ve grown up in an abusive series of environments around abhorrent individuals, many of them being family. When the mall I was in was bombed in 2000, I wasn’t afraid or shocked, it was just “Oh, so it was a bomb in the mall.” When an American Christian threatened me and bullied me in Los Angeles in 2010, it was “Oh, this guy is being a jerk.” When my father was under the influence of some narcotics, it would be “Oh, dad’s acting strange”. But the situations always end up the same later on: I remember what’s happened, have had time to think it through, and then I get angry, very angry, and these replay in my head again and again.

Initially, I thought this was just me trying to stay out of trouble. Some friends say it’s me being a lot more patient and mature (which I vehemently disagree with), but it’s coming to a point I’m questioning this lack of reaction. I see it as partially cultural as one potential reminder, but what culture? Sure, it’s typical in America to be callous and just resort to bystander syndrome as Kitty Genovese’s case indicates; and in Manila, Bangkok, Beijing, and Jakarta, I’ve seen people get hit by motorcycles or cars and nonchalantly either continue on or have no reaction either.

I used to think it was because we all live in a world of greater risks in the Third World, and for that reason, every day occurrences don’t faze us, yet it numbs us to taking necessary action, let alone reacting to protect ourselves from danger.

Sure, I’m a shut-off individual nowadays because humanity continues to disappoint me, yet a situation like today that wakes me up just before going to sleep and compels me to write about it in anger needs to be addressed: am I emotionally numb to danger and situations with the jerks of the universe because of growing up in seedy corners of the earth? Was being traumatized by dad and my sisters part of that? Was my personality shaped by all of this? Do the environments I grew up in include the madhouse that I called any place living under the same roof as my younger sister with her verbal and physical abuse and my father?

I’d like to think that the whole “nowhere to run” probably created this numb spot I go to without knowing it in the face of adversity. It’s allowed me to be stronger and continue on instead of breaking down completely. Nowhere to run: being in places I didn’t know, not having a home to dream of returning to one day. Nowhere to run: coming to the home my father was in to endure his verbal and physical abuse. Nowhere to run: going to school and being called stupid by my teachers, bullied by students, ostracized as my younger sister encouraged it while climbing and being popular by helping make a bigger pariah out of me, then coming home with her and having her ridicule me, then going home and being beaten up and yelled at by my father who would tell me how weak I was and how I was a liar about my sister acting in an un-lady-like way.

This is what makes me think it’s more trauma, but the more I observe things like a friend who gets hit by an ojek crossing the street and grabbing it, then brushing it off like it was just another daily nuisance to be dealt with like radio commercials, the more I wonder how many layers reinforce this inability to react are rooted in culture. Culture here being culture of a nation, a region, an ethnicity, an economical class, and of course, culture of abuse. Add the trauma of not having a sense of identity, community, home, or self, and the self-worth becomes another layer of withdrawal from reality that makes facing it difficult.

Whatever it was, it creates another level of withdrawal, which is my personality when faced with adversity. A very business-like professional, emotionless tone and expressionless face. Eloquent speech, calculated movements. It is a part of me that exists, and I want it to be gone. It may allow me to be perceived as more professional, but it doesn’t allow me to feel or relate to other human beings organically. I avoid altercations, but I carry around bitterness when remembering the injustices and rudeness directed my way. It affects my ability to relate to people in even the slightest disagreement because I lock up and don’t know how to react to someone’s anger rather than to speak out as they say “Say something, that’s normal!”

Normal. Where is it normal, how, and why? Nobody has a perfect life, granted, but I’d sure like to know where this void inside me exists and where it came from.

Ha! What a joke. Asking your neurosis, “Where are you from?” Maybe one answer would be “I was born in a abusive household, I grew up in different cultures of apathy around Asia and North America, I react to things in a Southeast Asian way but express myself in an American manner.”

Or, asking friends “What’s your craziness? Where is your craziness from? Where did your craziness grow up?” No, I don’t know where it’s from.

There are tempestuous lunatics in the TCK community I’ve encountered who have this insanity in one form or another. Take this one girl, whose bitterness and obliviousness is my numbness. A girl I asked a simple question once about working in Korea instead launched into this tirade about how unfair life was for her as a TCK of Korean heritage living in Korea, and chose to tell me to work in a gas station or McDonald’s because that’s work experience, to not even bother moving to Korea. Not once did she answer my question, but instead used it as an opportunity to complain about how unfair her life was. Additionally, she was also completely wrong about work experience to say “just take anything because it’s experience”, because anyone who says that demonstrates a complete inability to comprehend careers versus work (let alone even answer the question asked), and also is completely unable to empathize with loss and relocating to a new environment for greener pastures. (I let her know I was planning to move to Korea because my father died and I thought it would be a good idea to change up the scenery, hence me asking about work culture in Korea).

I know I’m crazy in my own way and we all are, TCK or not, but often times, I want to ask someone like her, “Where are you and your craziness from?” These are questions I pose time and again that make me say “I’m not really a TCK” because of the socio-economical gap from not being a rich kid and from rudeness like above (which TCKs who are bitter but not rich have just as much rudeness too, if not more), but often, someone ends up writing and saying “I feel the same way too”. Maybe they relate, maybe they think they do, but otherwise, I’m not sure where this comes from.I understand intellectually what my emotions are, but I’m not connecting to them or feeling them. But like my travel experiences, I understand the life of the untraveled, and they have an idea of my travels, but they don’t feel what I do.

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