A permanent 'yes' relationship to the world

What it means to be poor

The email was short, but alarming. It scared me. I was teaching English at a language school in South Korea in early 2003 when this showed up in my inbox.

"Steve, I am having some problems. John (a pseudonym for my sister's husband) is beating me and has threatened to kill me. We had to call the police and they took him away. Daddy is now sleeping over and has been here since last week. But I need to ask you a favor. I saw a house that I want to buy. It would be good for us (my sister and her two children) to get away from this place and start over. But I need $20,000 for the down payment. Daddy doesn't know and would be probably disapprove if he found out. That's why I'm asking you. Please let me know ASAP. I love you and take care."

I wrote back immediately. Yes, I said. Take whatever you need. We are family, but shouldn't dad know what you want to do?

In the end, my sister didn't borrow the money from me. She told my father and, far from disapproving, he gave her the money she needed. She moved out, bought a new house, and then sold her old one. I was glad at the time that I had the money. Ten years later, I have a lot more. So does the rest of my family. We take care of each other.

I have lived and taught in Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and China. Like other foreigners in this part of the world, I have seen and done many things. I have made great friends and have gotten involved with the wrong women. I have made mistakes and have learned painful lessons. But one mistake I have not made is marrying a third-world peasant. I can only imagine my feeble and impotent response to my sister's desperate plea for help had I'd been involved with a third-world peasant family in Southeast Asia.

"Sorry sis, I'd love to help you out but my wife has all my money. Her mother needs an operation and her father had a motorbike accident while delivering sacks of rice to the market. The monsoon rains are coming so I had to replace the leaky bamboo roof on their house in the village, and my sister-in-law's seven children all start school soon so I had to buy uniforms, pencils, and notebooks."

You get the idea. Anyone married into a third-world peasant family knows exactly what I'm talking about.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been there and done that. Like so many others, I too have a past. When you've been in and out of Asia since 1997, you develop a past. In 2007-2008, I made a terrible mistake for which I am still paying; not financially, but emotionally and psychologically. While teaching in a middle school in South Korea, I took three trips to the Philippines to look for a wife. I almost found one; or two; or more if I wanted. Did I really want a wife from a third-world country? I don't know. But I did what I did and learned a painful lesson.

I am 54 years old. I hold a Canadian passport as well as a Canadian birth certificate. That wouldn't get me a cup of coffee and a donut back in my hometown, but flash a Canadian passport in the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, or Vietnam and suddenly I'm a superstar! Just about any 20 year old can be mind. It doesn't matter how fat I am. It doesn't matter if I suffer from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gout. It doesn't matter how many teeth fall out of my mouth. It doesn't matter if I'm bald, deaf, blind, or need help going to the bathroom. I'm from Canada and have a six-figured bank account, and in a third-world country like the Philippines where 3,000 of its citizens leave everyday for greener pastures, I'm one hell of a catch.

If you think that fact makes me feel good, you would be wrong. It neither fills me with joy nor compassion. Instead, the fact that so many third-world girls and women relentlessly and shamelessly throw themselves at desperate and damaged men from the first-world makes me sick: This coming from someone who, again, has been there and done that.

Was it a conversion on the road to Damascus? Who knows? I do know one thing: You can work to help solve a problem, or you can contribute to the problem. Being an educator, I have chosen to help solve the problem by simply staying out of it.

In 2011 while teaching at a Phnom Penh English Language Institute, I had the "honor "of having email order brides in my class. Once I found out what their
modus operandi was I began to question them. One of the conversations went something like this:

ME: So, why do you want to learn English?
HER: I learn English so move to America.
ME: What will you do in America?
HER: I live with boyfriend.
ME: Oh, so tell me about your boyfriend. How old is he?
HER: Five-five.
ME: You mean fifty-five?
HER: Yes.
ME: And how old are you?
HER: Two-one.
ME: You mean twenty-one?
HER: Yes.
ME: Where did you meet him?
HER: On Internet.
ME: And what does your mom and dad think of this?
HER: They say okay.

I'll mercifully stop here. Another email order bride at the same school, barely out of her teens, had a similar story. The difference was that she had a Khmer boyfriend and did not want to go to America. Her extended family was forcing her to marry a 40-something year old man she had never met personally, but only communicated with over the Internet. It's about money, said one Khmer teacher brave enough to talk about this in the teacher's room that day. Well, duh!

While teaching at a high-school in Northeast Thailand in 2010, I "lost" a few female students over the course of the year. I say "lost" because no one wanted to tell me what really happened. I had to do some digging. It turns out that sometimes mommy and daddy go into debt. And sometimes it's more than sometimes. They really can't afford that brand new 1.2 million baht car, but daddy just had to have it. So little "Nid" had to pay the price by being sent to Pattaya. The money little "Nid" sends back home by sleeping with foreign men will certainly pay for mommy and daddy's spanking new Ford parked outside their Issan shack.

I like to live in countries like Thailand and Cambodia for several reasons: To teach, to learn, to reconnect with my true self, and to study human evil. In places like Thailand and Cambodia, there is a lot to teach, a lot to learn, and a lot of human evil. One reason I didn't go to Thailand and Cambodia: To help mail order brides with their English so that sex-tourists can better communicate with them. In a situation like that, one of us will have to walk out of the classroom, and it's always me. Let someone else do that dirty work and to hell with the sex-industry that has now worked its slimy way into the classrooms and boardrooms of developing and non-developing nations alike.

This reality angers me, but I save the lion's share of my anger and disdain for Western EFL teachers who marry financially poor and uneducated women (usually much younger women) from the third-world. I fully understand that many of these women may be physically attractive, charming, and can steal the ATM cards from pack of wild orangutans. What I don't get is this: Many of these EFL teachers claim to care about education, especially the education of Southeast Asian village girls. Yet many of them will marry an illiterate peasant girl who never finished primary school: EFL teacher, meet cognitive dissonance; cognitive dissonance, meet EFL teacher. Do I believe these EFL teachers truly love these women? Yes, absolutely. Do I believe these women truly love the EFL teachers? No not at all. (Notice I said "truly." More on true love later)

My family means a lot to me. In fact, they are all I have left. We are very close and I communicate regularly with my father and two sisters through Skype, email, and Facebook. I know how fortunate I am to have the family I do. Unfortunately, not too many others can say the same.

During my 18 months in Cambodia I spent most of my Friday nights and the occasional Saturday at the rabbi's residence for prayer and to share a Shabbat meal with my fellow Jews. The singing, eating, and drinking were always fun and jovial and the camaraderie between fellow Jews in Southeast Asia was always touching. But what saddened me, especially as a Jew, were more than a few people who were so lost, strangers in a strange land.

"I spent more than 30 years in Asia", said one American man in his 60's. "I have nowhere else to go."

"I remember you telling me last week that you have a brother in Boston", I said to him.

"Yes, but I haven't seen that son-of-a-bitch in 30 years!"

Another man hasn't seen his children in almost as long. And on and on it goes. Foreign expats in Asia running away from something: The issues run deep and are dangerous to dig up. I've met so many of them; young and old alike in Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and China. It's sad because there is not a Sunday night that goes by when my father and I exchange "I love you's" and "I miss you's" on Skype. While there are families that are as close as mine, those that are not feed the perception in Asia that we Westerners don't care about our parents or children.

While back home in the summer of 2012 waiting for my paperwork for China, I re-read one of my favorite books. It's a little-known obscure book written by an American pastor named Garret Keizer. The Book is simply titled "Help." The subtitle calls it "The original human dilemma." Keizer draws on his own personal experience as well as history and the biblical story of the Good Samaritan to discuss when it may be appropriate to help other people and when to steer clear of them.

I bring this book up because I was just talking about some EFL teachers marrying Southeast Asian peasant girls. Keizer also talks about the poor, the American poor and the worlds poor. He quotes David Shipler's book, The Working Poor: You are considered poor "not by a lack of money, but by a lack of hope."

Keizer goes one better than that: being poor, according to Keizer, "is the inability to renounce anything. To live in poverty is to exist in a permanent yes relationship to the world. When you have nothing, you must say yes to everything."

The truly poor cannot afford a house, a new car, fancy clothes, or shoes. They also can't afford to say "No." So when a sweet-talking foreigner (possibly and EFL teacher, but not always) flashes the cash and promises the moon to a young peasant girl and her family, (regardless of whether or not he can deliver), she can't say no. She exists in a permanent yes relationship to the world. That's what it truly means to be poor.

What does this have to do with TEFL and English teachers? If English teachers need a reason for doing what they do, it is this: To teach people to renounce what they don't really want or need; to break the permanent yes relationship chain that binds the poor to the world. In other words, through our teaching we must give people the option to say no; a loud, clear, and resounding "NO!" I know how difficult this is whenever I'm rejected after asking a woman on a date. Then I remember two things: She has good taste, and she does not live in a permanent yes relationship to the world. One of the reasons I teach in Asia is so that poor and disadvantaged women wouldn't have to marry Western men who see as their only option in life to marry a woman who can't say no.

This leads me to another definition, the definition of marriage. Before going out on a limb by defining something as historically and culturally sacred as marriage, allow me a salient example or two of my eventual definition.

While at home last year waiting for my work visa for China, my father and I would regularly have dinner at my sister's home; one sister on Tuesday evening and my other sister on Sunday. Occasionally, a lady friend of my father would join us. In her 60's, her parent's holocaust survivors, we would chat about many things along the way to my sister's house. She would spend many hours each week visiting her father in a nursing home because, apparently, after 68 years of marriage, her mother decided that it was time to separate. Why, after 68 years of marriage? I have no idea.

Also while at home waiting for my work visa for China, I noticed my father, first thing every morning, looking at the obituary section of the Montreal Gazette. "Guess who died yesterday?" my father would ask me as I was about to leave for my McDonald's breakfast ritual.

"I don't know, dad, who?"

Then he would tell me. His old childhood friend Harvey died of a heart attack; his past running buddy died of a stroke; then the brother of a friend died of cancer. The list went on and on.

This may sound like a harmless game played between bored father and his even more bored son; but it wasn't. After about three months of this I asked my father how many of his friends and acquaintances have died since I came back from Cambodia. He did a quick count and concluded that it was probably more than 10 but less than 15. This includes three people in one day; so much for being 79 and enjoying your "golden years."

On my way to my sister's house on Sunday, and before we would pick up my father's lady-friend, my father and I would stop off at Maimonides Nursing Home to visit an old friend of his who didn't die. He did, however, suffer a stroke a few months before, which left him semi-paralyzed and unable to remember who people were. My father would bring his dog, a 12 year old shiatsu named Poochie, and together we would watch a Filipina nurse shovel food down his throat. On occasion an alarm would sound throughout the building signaling an attempted escape by one of the "inmates." The inmate would always be caught by a massive and overly-aggressive guard and be dragged back kicking, biting, scratching, and screaming to his or her room to be given a sedative. After 20-30 minutes of this, it was time to leave; time to buy bagels and cream-cheese and drive to my sisters.

This time it was my turn to initiate conversation while walking back to the car. "Dad, I hope I never have to go through anything like that. A nursing home like this is the last place in the world I want to end up in. Retiring in Thailand in my condo in the sky, dying on the beach, or in Playpen-a-go-go, with a gin and tonic in one hand and the ass of a 20 year old in the other... now that's the way to go!"

Okay, I didn't actually say Playpen-a-go-go or 20 year old ass; but forgive me for thinking it.

"Steve", my father began, "remember the more than 10 but less than 15 of my friends and acquaintances who have met their maker in the less than three months since you've been back?"


"They are the lucky ones. They don't have to lie in a hospital bed hoping that their children or grandchildren will visit them. They are in heaven looking upon their children and grandchildren. They are the lucky ones."

They are the lucky ones. Indeed. As Keizer so aptly put it, you want loyalty? Get a dog!

This brings me back to my definition of marriage: A pathological union between a sex-starved male and a childlike and simple-minded female who's only emotional, spiritual, and psychological connection to one another is the shared human proclivity for torture and a penchant for self-inflicted punishment.

Okay, I'm joking --- or maybe I'm half-joking; but I am rather fond of that definition. Here is my real definition of marriage: Marriage is an end of life insurance policy. Pause here for a moment and think about that: An end of life insurance policy. How did I come up with that? Just about everything that I have said up to this point and everything that I have seen and done, especially in my 15 years in Asia, has led me to that definition of marriage.

A confession is in order here. I am not a very patient man, especially when it comes to women; and even more especially when it comes to Asian women. I find most of them childlike in their nature, the single ones that is. Married Asian women are another story. Focusing on gossip, make-up, clothes, pop-music, movie stars, and other "earth shattering" matters; well, that's just not my cup of tea. On a date I am not very much interested if she prefers Gucci to Prada, thinks it's cool that Kim Kardashian named her baby daughter "North West", knows every word to Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber songs, can dance flawlessly to "Gangnam Style", and idolizes Miley Cyrus's foam finger, (although, as a human being, this should concern and frighten me to the core.) I would much prefer that she be well-raised, well-mannered, well-dressed, well-read, and well-educated. Being able to quote Shakespeare and Schopenhauer would be nice as well. I am certainly not holding my breath.

On the very rare occasion that I do go on a date, I just want to know one thing. If there is a future here, then there can be but one essential question for me: Where will you be in 20 years when I'm dying of cancer; or in 10 years if I'm lucky? Where will you be when I'm 80 years old and can't bend down to wipe my ass?

Okay, I know how romantic that is; and I also know that that's two questions. But I have chosen to have all my romantic inclinations surgically removed since they are practically useless in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Korea, the Philippines, and in most places where money is king. So that's the only question I have on the first date, and as you can well imagine, there is almost never a second date.

Maybe, dear reader, you can understand (I know I do) why this question is so essential to me. All I have to do is think back. All I must do is listen, learn, and remember. Listen to the endless ramblings of my father's friend in a hospital bed that his children don't visit him; listen to the gut-wrenching anger and heartbreak of person after person in Southeast Asia who haven't seen or spoken to family members in 30 years; listen and learn from the heart-wrenching stories of my father's lady friend whose mother left her father babbling in a hospital room after 68 years together; remember my ex-girlfriends from the Philippines, one who cheated on me while my mother lay dying in a nursing home, the one soon after who left me standing alone at the airport wondering if she would show up once she realized that I would not be taking her to Canada after all. Trafficking in human persons is also not my cup of tea; my apologies to human traffickers and the women who love them.

Where are you going to be in 20 years when I'm dying of cancer? Now that's a good question to ask someone who couldn't be bothered to meet me at the airport.
I did ask her that question, by the way; in an email months later. I never did receive a response. In that email I told her a story from a book I had read several years before; a book by the Jewish-American novelist Philip Roth titled "Patrimony." The book is what we Jews call a "Kaddish" (a prayer for the dead.) A true story, it's about Roth's father who, at the age of 86 was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Like any good son, Philip Roth took care of his father and became, as Publishers Weekly describes, "a helpless, horrified witness to his father's humiliating demise." One particular scene stood out.

Roth and his father were having dinner one night. The elder Roth was constipated and had taken a laxative the day before. While eating he excused himself as the laxative began to kick in. The bathroom was upstairs and down the hall, but the elder Roth never made it in time. By the time Philip went to check on his father, he found the old man whimpering on the bathroom floor in his own piss and shit, his pants pulled halfway down his legs. Philip did the only thing he could; he cleaned up his father. He undressed him and gave his dying father a bath. He cleaned the floor. While lovingly soaping every inch of his father's nakedness, Philip Roth realized something about life. This is patrimony, he realized. This is love.

Love is not just flowers and chocolate on Valentine's Day. Love is not just saying "I love you" over and over again until the words become meaningless. Love is also cleaning up your dying father's piss and shit. Love is staying with your husband of 68 years. It's an end of life insurance policy. Have you ever tried collecting on your insurance after 68 years? After 50 years? After 30 years? I'm 86 years old! I have a brain tumor! I've had a stroke! I have Alzheimer's. I'm sitting here in my own piss and shit! I'm lying in a hospital bed while some nurse from Asia shovels food down my throat! I can't remember who my grandchildren are! It's time to collect.

Where are you going to be in 20 years when I'm dying of cancer?

Dear reader, don't believe for one second that I'm flogging a dead horse; anyone with more than three brain cells who has ever been involved with an Asian woman knows that the horse is very much alive and chomping at the bit. Many of them can't wait 20 years, or 20 months, or 20 weeks, or 20 hours.

You want loyalty? Get a dog!
November 13, 2008

Kumusta kana uli? Pasinsya na kung di ako makapag email nang mahaba ngayon kasi pagod pako..Kailangan ko magpahinga muna..sweetheart, kung totoo mahal muko bakit natitiis moko na mahirapan..kaya mo naman ako tulungan diba.gusto ko bantayan si daddy ko..Okay show me how much you love me...i have to go i need more sleep...i love you very much steve..

For those whose Talalog is a bit rusty, here is the English translation with thanks to a Filipino Facebook friend.

November 13, 2008

How are you again? Sorry if I couldn't email you a long one right now because I'm still tired. I need to rest first. Sweetheart if it's true that you really love me, how could you stand me suffering? You could help me couldn't you? I want to watch after my daddy. Okay show me how much you love me. I have to go I need more sleep...I love you very much Steve.

This email was sent to me by an ex-girlfriend; the same ex-girlfriend who cheated on me while I was back home watching my mother die of complications of multiple sclerosis from which she had suffered for the previous 20 years. It is especially significant since it was written on November 13, 2008, seventy-four days after my mother's death on the first of September.

Excuse me, dear reader while I play a game. I usually don't play games; you can ask any of my students. But I can't resist this time. Let's call this game "I am God" mostly for two reasons: First, I like playing God; I find I learn more about life that way. Second, it seems to me that this question, "Sweetheart, kung totoo mahal muko bakit natitiis moko na mahirapan?" (Sweetheart, if it's true that you really love me, how can you stand me suffering), is a question one should be asking God, not a mere mortal like me. "You could help me, couldn't you?"

Yes, I suppose I could have (by perhaps emptying my bank account) but there are two essential questions here that are well worth asking:

1) How can I be of any help?
2) Why should I help?

Before attempting to answer these questions through the parable of the Good Samaritan, let's play "I am God." First, the parable taken from Garret Keizer's book "Help: The Original Human Dilemma."

Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road when he saw him, he passed on by the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
(Page 24-25.)

"Sweetheart, if it's true that you really love me, how can you stand me suffering?"

The only way I can truly answer that question is to give the same answer that God would give. It's been five years since this experience. I too have suffered, but I think enough time has passed for a response that is wise and germane, but what most of us in our ignorance, denial, and childish naivety simply refuse to properly hear.

No, my dear, I cannot stand you suffering. As a compassionate human being, I hate to see you suffer; but suffer you must if you are to grow and learn something truly important from your suffering. Once you pass through your suffering, once you make that journey to the other side, you will come out of it stronger, wiser, and able to make the decisions and life choices you need in order to realize and fulfill your destiny on earth.

Wow, I feel so much better now. As God I may even quote one of my favorite poems titled "I walked a Mile with Pleasure" by Robert Browning Hamilton.

I walked a mile with Pleasure
she chatted all the way.
But left me none the wiser
for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne'er a word said she.
But, oh! The things I learned from her
when sorrow walked with me.

Yes my child, you are suffering; you feel sorrow. But now is time to close your mouth. It is now time to open your ears and your heart and listen to what life and God are telling you. There is a reason you are suffering. There is a reason you are now walking a mile with sorrow. And there is a reason, a very good reason, why Sorrow does not speak. Sorrow does not speak because she wants you to listen and learn. 

Where ESL teachers and other foreigners make the fatal mistake when getting involved with Asian women, in particular, Southeast Asian women like my ex-girlfriend, is this:

1) Thinking that these poor and uneducated women actually love them; and
2) Thinking that their current predicament is only temporary and by playing the 'good Samaritan', with enough time, patience, and love they will turn their lives around.

Either these foreigners are extremely naive or they are not well-versed when it comes to the biblical version of the Good Samaritan. As Keizer clearly states in his interpretation, "The Good Samaritan certainly goes the extra mile, but he hardly goes the whole distance. There is, as we like to say nowadays, closure to this good deed. The duration of his commitment is less than twenty-four hours. When the sun rises on the new day, he moves on." (p. 25.)

He moves on; he doesn't hang around long enough to hear the sob stories. Papa have accident, momma need operation, brother number one must go school, need money for rice and vegetables... less than 24 hours and his good deed is done. And the Good Samaritan is certainly not receiving pleading emails like,

"Sweetheart, if it's true that you really love me, how can you stand me suffering?"

The Good Samaritan is also not sitting in cafes with his Southeast Asian beloved and listening as she asks, "But if you really love me, why don't you take me to Canada?" If he wants to know how she's doing after her mishandling at the hands of the robbers, he could simply wait a week or two and check her Facebook page. That's just enough time for her to trash the room at the inn and slam the Good Samaritan as a selfish pig who uses Southeast Asian women as toys for his own perverted pleasure. Or better yet, after her Facebook post, I would love to see my Southeast Asian beloved standing on the roof of the inn shouting at the top of her lungs, "I don't need your pity! I don't need your money! So take your six-figured bank account, your mutual funds, your stock options, your retirement savings plan and shove it up your ass!" (Remember, the original Good Samaritan was "moved with pity" when he first saw the beaten man.) But this kind of self-reliance and renunciation of an easy meal ticket would take a very mature and courageous Southeast Asian woman who still lives in a permanent yes relationship to the world.

Instead, I received this on August 2, 2008 less than a month before my mother died:

Sweetheart this is emergency u know my brother victor right? Sweetheart he's died today somebody shot him his head....he is in funeral now...please help me I need money for his burial....they guy shot him 11am died my brother died already...please help me for this time
This my no# xxxxxxxxxxx.
love **** xxx

At first I thought it was a joke, or an extortion attempt. I did find out several weeks later that her brother really was murdered by a member of the Abu Siyyaf, a Muslim terrorist group based in Southern Mindanao. I'm not sure what my response was at the time, (probably something feeble like "I'm sorry to hear that, darling"), but I do know what my response would be today.

"Oh come on lady! I bandaged your wounds. I poured oil and wine on them. I brought you to the inn and took care of you. I gave you two denarii, which should have tied you over for at least two weeks. Now get back on your fucking donkey and ride off into the sunset!"

Yes, I have come a long way baby. You want loyalty? Get a dog!

While writing this I finally realized why my question "Where will you be in 20 years when I'm dying of cancer?" is so offensive to many Southeast Asian women.
While sitting opposite you enjoying their Caesar Salad and anxiously awaiting the main course, they are asking something very similar. But it's not their own eventual demise that they are anticipating; it is their mother or father's eventual death, or another family member.

"Sweetheart he's died today somebody shot him his head....he is in funeral now...please help me I need money for his burial...."

The Caesar Salad and main course in a fancy air-conditioned restaurant is nice. So is the genuine Louis Vuitton handbag you bought her for her birthday and the 18 carat gold earrings for Valentine's Day. But that's not why the third-world peasant is marrying the old white guy. She needs money for future funerals, and unlike the old white guy, she's planning ahead.

So am I. I see my modern and spacious condo in the sky overlooking the Gulf of Siam. I see bookshelves full of books and a fridge full of cold coffee and orange juice. (No beer, I still have gout!) I see satellite TV with 400 channels and sunrises from my balcony. I see my dog wagging his tail. The future looks good.

One more definition, dear reader, before I go: but I must warn you, it's a biggie. For my final act, I will now define love. I told you it was a biggie. I'm kind of partial to Antoine de Saint Exupery's (the French World War Two pilot and author of "The Little Prince") definition of love. "Love is the process which leads one back to oneself." Ah, that's lovely Mr. Saint Exupery. A large part of love is the reconnection to the person we all once were. But I think I will go one up on you. It is not my definition, (I wish it were), but it's the best definition of love I have ever heard.

At the end of the musical "Les Miserable" (again, those Frenchmen!), as Jean Valjean lay dying, he explains to Cosette, Fantine's daughter that he helped raise as his own and now and adult, the story which had brought them to that point. He also told her the "truth that once was spoken. To love another person is to see the face of God."

"To love another person is to see the face of God." I'm going to try and put this into perspective.

At the end of the 11th Century, the Christian philosopher and theologian St. Anselm of Canterbury was asked, "What is God?" His response:

"God is that which nothing greater can be conceived."

I would put love, true love, the love that God wants us to experience and enjoy, into that definition as well. There is nothing greater that can be conceived and experienced than true love.

But here is an important question: Why God's face? Why not another part of his anatomy? Why not, to love another person is to see the leg of God? Why not, to love another person is to see the arm of God? Could it be that the face, whether God's face or our lover's face contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Looking into God's face, there is no place to hide. Seeing the face of God in those whom we love is to live totally in the truth. Unfortunately, far too many people in the world choose to take the easy way out by living a lie or a series of lies. Looking into our lover's face is scary. Seeing the face of God can be frightening. It is much easier to look away from the truth. But that is not why we are here.

Eric Liddell, a devout Christian, a Scottish missionary, and a runner in the 1924 Paris Olympics, (made famous in the movie "Chariots of Fire"), also puts this into perspective. During the movie, based on a real life episode, Liddell's sister Jennie accuses her brother of putting running before God. Liddell tells Jennie that he feels divinely inspired when running, and that not to run would be to dishonor God. Then these famous words to his sister that still send shivers up my spine whenever I see it on YouTube: "I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure."

With these awe-inspiring words, Liddell gets right to the core of why we were put on earth. Liddell knows exactly why God put him here. He knows his purpose. And when he fulfills God's purpose, he feels His pleasure.

Now this is what gets me in trouble, especially on a date: Since I know my purpose on earth it's easy for me to say, "You want to please me, first please God. You want to feel my pleasure, first feel God's pleasure. Only then will you know you are doing the right thing."

So this is our purpose on earth: To seek the unique reason why we are here and to fulfill that purpose. To show the rest of the world how brilliant we can be through both words and deeds; to bear witness to those who do bad, and those who do good; to speak out against those who do bad, and praise those who do good; to accurately document, for reasons of posterity, both the good and bad deeds; to see the face of God when we choose to truly love another person; to feel His pleasure when we do the right thing; to clean our mother or father's piss and shit when they can't make it to the toilet in time; to visit ageing parents and grandparents who languish alone in hospital beds or in their own homes; to stay with your husband of 68 years when he no longer remembers his own name and needs you the most; and for us educators, to walk into the classroom day after day and instill in the next generation a sense of the respect, responsibility, and restraint necessary to ensure that at appropriate moments in life, we have earned the privilege of feeling God's pleasure.

I'm thinking back to last Thanksgiving holiday back in Montreal. While I was waiting for my 'Z' visa to arrive from China, I received a call from my sister. "It's Thanksgiving. Come to my house tonight for some turkey."

My father was away that week visiting friends in Toronto. But this is what Thanksgiving dinner looked like at my sister's house in October 2012.

(From Left to right: Me, my niece, her boyfriend, my brother-in-law, my sister, my other niece, her boyfriend.)

(From left to right: My niece, her boyfriend, my brother-in-law, my sister, my niece's boyfriend, my niece, my other sister.)

Yes the same other sister who sent me the email at the top of this blog. Not to leave my father out. This was taken on my twin sister's birthday in November 2012.

(From left to right: My father, my sister, and my father's lady-friend. The same lady-friend who's mother walked away from her father after 68 years together. The young man with his back to the camera is my niece's boyfriend.)

Family birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Sunday afternoon outings at my sister's house, that's what life is all about. This is seeing the face of God. This is feeling God's pleasure. And I dare say this, even though my family will not like it. I know where my family will be in 20 years when I'm... okay, I'll stop right here.


Steve, you went on three wife hunting trips t0 the P.I. and struck out three times? Not sure that is good evidence that you are considered a “good catch.”

Am I seeing some sore grapes?

Ok, seems you need to be judgmental of all others to maintain your self-esteem, but this is a symptom of a serious self-confidence issue.

I find it hard enough to manage my own love life and don’t have the time or a feeling of expertise to tell others how to live and who to love/marry/sleep with.

But if you want to all ESL teachers in Asia to follow your path and adapt your values and disdain for all Asians you are likely to be remain quite disappointed.

Although I am not an ESL teacher myself, it doesn;t seem to be the hell of an industry you like to describe.

By Jack, Next to my third world wife of over 20 years (4 years ago)

Sam in Shanghai,

To understand the negative comments and ad hominem attacks, you should first understand the mentality of the average ESL teacher in Southeast Asia in relation to where they come from. Since they are graduates of Western universities that, for the last 40 years, have put tolerance above intelligence, they know of no other way of reacting.

In a world that now places more emphasis on tolerance (the politically correct and feminist versions of tolerance) rather than rational thought and intelligence, if one freely chooses not to date or marry a poor woman from a third-world region, then one is seen as intolerant, closed minded, and perhaps racist.

In Thailand it is easy, far too easy, for a foreign man to forgo any rational thought when choosing a partner (a woman with a post-secondary education, middle-class status, etc.) and settle for a poor woman from Issan because in the eyes of others he is seen as tolerant and open-minded.

I, on the other hand, with higher standards is seen as closed minded and judgmental. So much for a western, liberal education.

In the end these foreigners are neither tolerant nor open-minded; just angry and bitter about past mistakes of their own that they have taken into their present lives and still haven't learned from.

By Steve Schertzer, Bangkok (4 years ago)

"I know when I see Steve’s name on an article, I know it is going to be poorly written, irrational and filled with anger and self-importance."

This is going to be the last time I chime in on this article, hopefully, but it really Pisses me off to see people responding to this and other articles with ad hominem attacks. It's not poorly written, just (potentially) offensive in the first part, and let's be honest, this guy has character. It's rare to come across honest people with character these days. He makes a point, and none of the people here have responded rationally, simply with ad hominem attacks. If you have a concrete objection to what he says, then post it, but ad hominem attacks are rude, crude, and flat-out immature. It seems that he's right about a majority of ESL teachers being utterly unequipped to handle their jobs!

By Sam, Shangh (4 years ago)

I pity this guy Steve. Obviously, he doesn't understand the meaning of love and concern. It's so alarming however if he really is a teacher. This kind of person tends to undermine some groups of people...oh no, don't ever try to do this to your students!

By Sensei Aijin, (4 years ago)

I know when I see Steve's name on an article, I know it is going to be poorly written, irrational and filled with anger and self-importance.

But I can't help myself, I have to read it and comment on it anyway.

Steve, hope things will someday start to eventually go better for you, maybe then you can find something positive to write about and enjoy your life more.

By Jack, Back in front of my computer (4 years ago)

This comment sums up this fellow's ignorance:

"You get the idea. Anyone married into a third-world peasant family knows exactly what I'm talking about."

So these girls are peasants?

What an insulting term.

You, sir, are an ignorant fool. You talk about things that you do not understand.

You should look in the mirror and remove the plank from your own eye before commenting on the mote in the eyes of "the peasants" you speak of or the men who love them.

You know nothing-nothing.

And you are way off base.

By eyenitnoy, Pattaya (4 years ago)

Sad to see such negative responses here. I thought this was highly entertaining and had a point, too. Glad to see there is still common sense and straight talk in this lost world. Look forward to hearing from you, Steve!

By Sam, Shanghai (4 years ago)

I read down to 'Jesus' and just stopped. This is too much ranting and raving for me. The guy needs serious help! Maybe this is his therapy to write, but he needs to sort it out with the professionals. He's dealing with a lot of 'issues' on his plate.

By Lisa, (4 years ago)

I liked it!! Simple but I think its unfair for all this negativity to be on this page.

By Mark, (4 years ago)

Why does Ajarn.com keep publishing this guys articles?

Again and again he makes these racist and misogynistic comments about Asian women and Asians in general.

If he has so little respect for them why has he chosen to live and work in Asia for so long.

There is something really off about this guy.

It sounds as if he has been screwed over by some women in the past and now he is just very bitter and sanctimonious.

By Lib, Bangkok (4 years ago)

It must be difficult for you to engage in an intelligent /engaging conversation with an educated Asian lady who can blatantly view her opinions so you resort talking to uneducated ones who just agree in every word you utter.

The article speaks volume of yourself. It is spelled ....pathetic. Reduce your anger and be happy..might save you more years of your life.

By Nadz, Australia (4 years ago)

Jack - I've seen exactly what Steve is talking about so many times in two years in SE Asia to say it's not a racist stereotype. Seems like enough has been written about this topic already, though, (and I've seen relationships like you describe as well, between a "normal" Thai and "normal" westerner, but only ones where the Thai was educated abroad) and the substance in this response is in the latter half of the article. I enjoyed this and appreciate the reference to Garret Keizer.

By Sam, Shanghai (4 years ago)

Wow, I was wondering how Steve was going to fit in all of his negative stereotypes, generalizations, anger, and feeling of his own cultural superiority into this one piece, but he was able to do it.

Ah, if you are mid-50s, fat, balding, and have a low income (ESL teacher), but from a developed economy, the ONLY 20 somethings who will be interested in you are those who are from a poor background and want a trip to Farang land where they will dump you as soon as possible so they can search out someone closer to their own age and restart their lives where there are more opportunities.

Who doesn’t know this?

Women often (but not always) seek out spouses for financial reasons while men often (but not always) seek out spouses based on physical attractiveness. What in the world does a 50 something farang guy, like me, have to talk about with a 20 something female from a different culture when the two don’t even speak any of the same languages. The only reason is because he finds her attractive and the only reason she goes with him is money. WOMEN GREEDY, MEN STUPID? Been the story since the dawn of mankind?

But before we jump to the conclusion that ALL Asian women are money grubbing whores and ALL farangs married or involved with an Asian women are stupid and gullible, it might be of value to throw away Steve’s limited experience and see the wider picture.

I am sure all of us know guys like me who have been married to the same Asian (Thai) women for well over 20 years and have a normal relationship and grown kids with all the ups and downs one would expect. Although I do not have any hard data to back this up, I doubt marriages between farangs and Asians, of roughly the same age and social background, break up much more often than do marriages between people of the same nationality.

Trying to paint all Asian women, even if only those from low income backgrounds, as money grubbing whores is distasteful, racist and just plain wrong.

No Steve, you cannot have ALMOST ANY of the young women in Asia as a bride or lover, but the few who you could have would fit into the category you described.

Get away from the bars, and internet mail order brides websites, learn the local language, look for someone within a generation of your own age, and you will probably have a very different experience than has Steve.

Just my two satang.

But if one is looking for an angry and irrational rant, Steve never fails to deliver!

By Jack, In front of my computer (4 years ago)

Wow, I'm in absolute awe. This article must be a contender for several world records! That of most boring, most ridiculous, least coherent etc.

Thankfully this drivel is only published once in a while.

By John B., Bangkok (4 years ago)

wow!! I'm in absolute awe. This is easily the most poignant, thought-provoking piece I have read in a long, long time.

By Kerry-Ann, UAE (4 years ago)

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