Monday, October 17, 2005

It's a sad, sad situation

Anthony Faiola from the Washington Post Foreign Service writes :

«TOKYO -- Sakura Terakawa, 63, describes her four decades of married life in a small urban apartment as a gradual transition from wife to mother to servant. Communication with her husband started with love letters and wooing words under pink cherry blossoms. It devolved over time, she said, into mostly demands for his evening meals and nitpicking over the quality of her housework.

So when he came home one afternoon three years ago, beaming, and announced he was ready to retire, Terakawa despaired.

" 'This is it,' I remember thinking. 'I am going to have to divorce him now,' " Terakawa recalled. "It was bad enough that I had to wait on him when he came home from work. But having him around the house all the time was more than I could possibly bear."

Concerned about her financial future if she divorced, Terakawa stuck with their marriage -- only to become one of an extraordinary number of elderly Japanese women stricken with a disorder that experts here have recently begun diagnosing as retired husband syndrome, or RHS.»

While the syndrome is probably more widespread than reported, at least in Asia, I want to discuss an even more prevalent situation: the commonality of unhappy marriages among Orientals. I rarely go to events organized by the Vietnamese diaspora but every single time I do, I spend the evening listening to wives complaining about their husbands: he drinks, he gambles, he is unfaithful, etc.. I used to ask the complainers: «Why don’t you leave him?». But divorce is not socially acceptable. One of my Vietnamese friends complains incessantly about her husband. Not that he ever did anything wrong, it’s just that he’s boring and cheap and never wants to go out. She never loved him and married him for the same reasons most Vietnamese women marry : because it’s time and he was a good prospect. «Divorce him? After spending all these years waiting on him, cooking, cleaning, enduring his sweaty body on mine, bearing his children, I would leave him and his money to the whore he will bring home the minute our divorce is finalized? Never!» So she spends the rest of her life hoping he’ll die soon and dreading the day he will retire and she’ll have to spend more time with him.

I assume the men are also dissatisfied with their married life, if only out of boredom. But in their case, their sole duty is to go to work and bring back a regular income. In exchange, the wives will take care of all the housework and the children. So when they get home from work, dinner’s ready, the house is relatively clean, the laundry washed and ironed, and the kids’ homework done, even in families where the wives also work outside the house. So of course, Vietnamese husbands don’t like to go out and waste money in movie theatres and restaurants, since Blockbusters are a few blocks away and whatever they want to eat, the wives can cook.

And when the couple grows older and the children are gone, the wife would find a pagoda where she can devote her time to serve, this time not her husband, but the high priest. Every priest at a Vietnamese pagoda has his «harem» of middle-aged and older matrons, fighting over the privilege of cooking his vegetarian meals, squeezing his fresh orange juice, serving him the most expensive and exotic fruit, chocolate, pastries, etc.. For these women, the need to be somebody’s handmaid will never die.

As to the men, after their retirement, the first thing they do is fly back to Vietnam where they can flash their dollars and buy themselves a concubine or two, younger and prettier than Old Wives and much more appreciative of their manly mediocrity.

All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
Where do they all belong?



Ringohime said...

Yeah that's a very common and very sad story.

I spent 17yrs in Japan so I heard this kind of story all the time. My mom always complains about my dad and tell us kids how she will divorce him at the moment the kids become fully independent. I was always like, for God's sake, you are grown-up. Keep this out of us kids, but I guess it was to untolerable to keep it to herself.

I wonder how the kids of those unhappy parents can still have beautiful perspective of marriage. You know, most young people dream of finding "the one" and have romantic marriage and great family.

I dunno where I am getting with this comment... I guess I will just personally talk to you about it if I feel like.

Buddhist with an attitude said...

Ringo, I think the situation is not as tragic for the younger generation. Romantic love is a relatively recent concept and most women (in the developed world, at least) now have the freedom to marry the person of her choice or not getting married at all. Of course, that doesn't mean they will live happily ever after, but at least they can't blame others for their bad choice. The good thing is they are not condemned to a lifetime of unhappiness like their mothers.

Ringohime said...

Hm, maybe the situation is a bit different here because I am from very rural region in Japan.

I guess you can say, "Well, just don't care what others say, then", but anyways.

Like if I'm still not married at the age of 25 or something, my neighbour would start not so great rumours about me. (unless I am so freaking successful that it's persuasive I haven't married yet, or something like that) I don't know if it matters that much to my parents, but I can see my grandma feeling crappy hearing that.