YOUTH IN ASIA
by Andreas Economakis
When I was a kid I kept hearing the phrase “youth in Asia” around the dinner table. These youth were mentioned with guilty tones and frustration. I equated the ambience regarding these youth with another phrase that constantly popped up: “They’re starving in China.” Whenever I didn’t finish my food (a rarity I might add, as I was always hungry and had two voracious older brothers), my mother would smack my conscience with that phrase. I figured that everyone in Asia must have been starving, especially the youth.
I remember looking at my older brother in awe one day when in answer to my mother’s China guilt phrase he calmly replied: “Then go ahead and send them the remnants of my meal.” Obviously my brother was not a famished youth in Asia. He was a youth in Greece, surrounded by tons of feta cheese, ripe tomatoes, warm village bread, lemon and oregano drizzled souvlakis and oven baked moussaka. My mother slapped him upside his head and he ran away in a flurry of overturned tables and flying tri-color penne. But he had a point. The leftovers generally went in the garbage. Was my mom blowing hot air? Did no one care about the emaciated youths in Asia? I made a point of finishing my meals to a rice kernel. I still have this habit, no matter how bad the food is or how full I am.
A week after the “send them the remnants” incident, I finally understood what all the talk about youth in Asia was about. My parents were discussing the rampant stray cat and dog problem in Athens. They said it was our responsibility to stem what they called a “population explosion.” The poor animals were too numerous for the food chain. There wasn’t enough grub for them and they just kept on multiplying. Letting them be was simply hazardous and cruel, not only to them but to everyone. The solution? Euthanasia. I was shocked by the mere thought. To me it sounded like selfish cold blooded murder disguised in a duplicitous cloak of mercy. And to make matters worse, I soon realized that euthanasia didn’t only apply to kittens and puppies. I think that my parents secretly fancied applying euthanasia to Greek taxi-drivers, a few politicians, my dad’s business partner, Turks, a couple of relatives, anarchists, a certain large-framed fisherman in southern Greece, communists, one nationalist dictator who’d emptied the family’s bank accounts, the Olympiakos football team, several booming populations in Second and Third World countries and, dare I say it, youth in Asia.
The contradictions in my parents’ euthanasia philosophy confused me. We had more food than we could eat while millions of people and animals were starving all over the world. My brother’s suggestion to send food over to China seemed far more logical than subjecting anyone to euthanasia. And as for the kittens and puppies, what was even more strange was that my mom was an avid animal lover. Why did she prefer culling animals instead of neutering or feeding them? Was she so detached from reality to not see the folly of her words, of the very foundation of her philosophy? My mom was (and still is) an American woman who has lived most of her life amongst cultures and peoples who have displayed no shortage of prejudice against both women and Americans. Has she never felt the sting of sexism or ethnic bigotry? How would she like to be erased from planet earth, a victim of some chauvinist nationalist’s euthanasia policy? My dad was (and still is) a Greek from Egypt, a racy combination that raised eyebrows in the hallowed white halls of corporate America in his day, and yet he’s always admired the very people, cultures and institutions that considered him and many others like him eccentric, different, “other” and advanced his blue-blooded colleagues over him regardless of merit. It makes no sense to me.
I recently found myself in Hong Kong for work. There I was at last, a tiny speck floating in a veritable sea of youth in Asia. I’ve never seen so many people packed into one city. The apartment buildings are so tall they seem to be reaching for the stars. A walk in Hong Kong is like strolling through a Lady Gaga homecoming concert, only everyone is Chinese. If you want youth in Asia, boy, Hong Kong is the place! I made many friends, met lots of youth in Asia. I sure am glad that there was enough food to go around over the years and that my mom and dad’s euthanasia philosophies didn’t catch hold. But truth be told, I’ve come to rethink my stance on euthanasia. I just can’t figure out why so many people in Hong Kong are obsessed with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. One gander at these two and I finally understand my parents’ obsession with euthanasia.
This piece is part of a collection of stories on blindness entitled: The Blindness of Life.
Copyright © 2010, Andreas Economakis. All rights reserved.
For more stories by Andreas Economakis click on the author’s name below.