I went to Taipei in December of 2013 for a business trip. It was my first time there, so I added a couple of days to the end of the trip to see what there is to see. And because my sister and I decided against going to Abu Dhabi for the holidays, I invited my mother to join me. Mom and I had a lot of fun, which I expected, and a number of interesting adventures, which I didn’t. I’ve been trying to write about them since December, and I hope that you’ll see some of them in future posts.
For the leisure portion of the trip, we stayed at the Westin Taipei. I have elite status with Starwood, so Mom and I had access to the executive lounge. Lounges in overseas Starwood properties are much more exciting than lounges in the U.S. One of the reasons that makes them more exciting is the amount of free food with which you can stuff yourself. Mom and I spent a lot of time in the lounge when we were there.
The people-watching turned out to be pretty good, too. We saw a lot of the same people return to the lounge, including a Caucasian-American gentleman and his Asian girlfriend. The gentleman was in his early 60s, and his girlfriend was in her early 20s. She struck me as pretty silly because most of her conversation with him was about shopping, especially at the Victoria’s Secret store. Her English was not fluent, her outfits were skimpy, and I pointed them out to my mother, expecting her to join my in my judgmental disapproval.
She didn’t, not in the way that I expected. Mom said that this was a woman who probably didn’t have access to a good education, and even if she did, she’d have a better life attaching herself to a man who would take care of her. Mom said that western men tend to be nicer and more generous than Asian men, and that the woman in the lounge made the best choice available to her. Mom said all of this in a matter-of-fact, even kind, tone of voice.
I’d almost forgotten this conversation until this week when all of the nasty news broke about Donald Sterling. It’s been interesting to see all the different reactions. The racism outrages most of us. The cynics snicker at the naivete of our assumption that Sterling’s attitude is an aberration among NBA team owners. The lack of consent to being recorded angers a handful of people. Sterling’s adultery and the lack of outrage about it offends at least one person I know.
Here’s the thing that strikes me: Sterling’s girlfriend is a stunning woman who looks like she’s a good 30 to 40 years his junior. She’s not white. Why is she dating a married, racist billionaire? Some of you just snorted because we assume that she’s dating him because he’s a billionaire. But even if that’s true, why is that her best option?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that in addition to the outrage, I feel sadness. It’s 2014, y’all. Why do we still live in a world where the best option for some women is to attach themselves to a rich guy? I’m trying not to judge, because I don’t know the intimate details of either of the relationships I’ve referred to in this post. It may be that the couple in Taipei have a lot in common, that they are not the stereotypical older white guy with his submissive, young, pretty, Asian concubine. It may be that V. Stiviano and Donald Sterling thought of themselves as being a team on equal footing. In the blackest part of my heart, though, I don’t believe those things to be true.
Look, what do I know? I’m a middle-class American woman who won the parent lottery. My immediate reaction is to think that more education and/or better values would fix things for these women. Who the hell am I to judge? I don’t know what these women’s lives were like before they met these men. Maybe the women feel genuine happiness and believe themselves to be living their best lives. It’s so hard to step out of my own world view and understand how that would be the case, but I think I owe it to the universe as a human to try.
My goal with the Donald Sterling story and with the couple at the Westin is not to feel pity or disgust, not to judge, and not to jump to moral outrage (which now makes me flinch as much as certainty does). If you need me, I will be trying desperately to feel gratitude for my life without crossing the line into smugness. Enlightenment continues to elude me.
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