Originally taken from my blog at https://heyitsjohnnyc.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/the-third-culture-kid-chimera-lament-of-a-vagabond/

This is a warning to all those who click on the the link to this post and those who click on the link that leads to more: twenty-eight years of lies, anger, hatred, self-loathing, loneliness, despair, and more lay ahead. If you are easily offended, do not read any more. If you are an ignoble stranger (re: trolls and bullies) who intends to ridicule someone for his honesty in comments or e-mail during this process of catharsis, stop reading now. This is not a post in self-pity, but a post in self-reflection drawing upon the memories of the anger and loneliness that accumulated over the years, in order to put into perspective this journey I have been on. As such, this is a long, long post. You have been warned.

This post originally started as a follow-up to my last entry on hidden immigration and elaborating, but as I thought more and more about my past (a dumb thing to do), the more the anger, the loneliness, and memories of hatred, and bullying all flood the space that my mind occupies. I’ll make no effort to be politically correct, for that was a habit necessary for survival in America, in spite of its many hypocrites, bigots, xenophobes, and ignorant self-entitled self-righteous rabble. They are the rabble who all fail to realize that using political jargon and  passive-aggression will never make up for compassion, respect, and manners– the true currency of the world that all true travelers and compassionate beings know.

Let me start as the bitterness is already spreading through every atom of my being and while a small bit of rationality remains. I am a true minority amongst minorities, and a loner in the truest sense. I have no community, whether it is amongst Americans for my place of birth and country of citizenship; the Filipinos in spite of my ethnicity and my mixed heritage; the Asian Americans because their experience and story is nothing like my own; or even the Third Culture Kids, for I was raised on lies amongst the wealthy brats of parents who were military, diplomat, or business parents. I was not even the son of a missionary, or money. We had money, but it had been lost and squandered long before I became a TCK, and though we lived well, it was off of debt, lies, broken promises, and deception.

Listen: my father had it all, and then he lost it because of Marcos in the 1980s. I was dragged around from hotel to motel to foster home to friend or relative’s house. I watched him become incarcerated multiple times, and then move to the Philippines. My mother was absent in this time frame for my father had moved on to another, and she had no money of her own or any ability to care for her three children.

In 1995 I became a Third Culture Kid as I began wandering through Hong Kong and Manila, first in a trip to Manila with my mother, then when my father told me I should come for two weeks in the middle of middle school. Two weeks became three, which became a month, which became months, and eventually, many years in Manila. I was lied to and kidnapped by the man who was my father. For years, I was bitter about being the new kid everywhere I went, being bullied in school while being berated by my father or beaten by him, then yelled at by my own younger sister or humiliated by the things she would bring up in front of my father and what she would tell her friends about me so that she could have a scape goat to laugh at for his eccentricities and to bring her closer to people by sharing a common enemy.

Fast forward ten years later after developing some methods of coping, and I discover all that I endured was because of someone else’s lies: there was no money even if we went to an international school with Manila’s wealthy elite alongside expats; it was all off of borrowed money to maintain an image. This world that I knew, the world where I was nothing but a pariah, a living mass of flesh that was garbage, the only world I knew–it never had to be that way were it not for the lies I was raised on. Passed between different people, out of school for months and years at a time, called stupid by teachers for not knowing simple mathematical equations (even until graduate school), beaten up at home by father and humiliated by sister–it’s hard to have a positive attitude in light of this.

You may say it’s all behind, but this is only filling in the background of the odyssey I have been on.

Listen: Manila was a gauntlet of humiliation, being told I was not an American because all I did was have a blue passport, and that I was denying my culture as a Filipino, a culture I had absolutely zero familiarity with growing up in the U.S. the early childhood years. Asian Americans talk about racism for not being included and considered forever foreigners in the land they called home, but I was excluded even amongst other American expats in the community in Manila, for I was not a member of the embassy’s club, I was not enrolled in any international school (or receiving any education for that matter) for several years–to them I was just a Filipino who spoke English from hanging around Americans, and the blue passport I carried like a crucifix was laughed at.

For years, I had no way to fit in, which meant being around decadence and depravity, who were the filthy rich and the invincible expats with diplomatic immunity, as they told me I was a loser for not drinking, smoking, or enjoying life by smoking marijuana. Spend time with the nice crowd? Even worse. I couldn’t talk about the books I read or the experiences I had because the sheltered within the international school community couldn’t fathom what it was like to be seeing a father constantly incarcerated, dragged around as a domestic TCK, bullied left and right, and lied to. To them, I was just a sinner, I was as bad as the drug addicts and boys who would get multiple prostitutes by the age of fifteen.. There was no escape, there was nowhere to go to for shelter, and there was nobody who could understand, and there was absolutely nobody who could help.

My mentor, Bruce Belkin, used to believe strongly in me and say that I am not looking at a mirror of reality, but a fun house mirror that distorts reality. Unfortunately, these were the only realities that I knew, and nothing made sense, so I knew not what I could do. Home didn’t exist in the form of a place, a community, or a special person and people, and it still is lost on me.

Returning to America, the place I thought was familiar that I had been taken away from when my father took me out, I discovered this was not my home, and Asian Americans were not my people. I thought I would merely spend a few weeks adjusting to reverse culture shock, and I would never leave again. I was wrong. The politeness I had to strangers was laughed at and mocked by people who made fun of my accent and manner of speech, the stories I told of those dying on the streets and watching Hong Kong become Chinese, the drivers and maids–I was an arrogant rich kid to them, and subsequently had no friends, aside from the few who would take advantage of me by stealing my money or getting me to do things for them. But I was not a rich kid, for I had no money, I was just told to “be generous, compassionate, and kind” which was my father supporting people off of debt he owed other people to keep up his image of being rich, and I thought that I had to do that as well, and I would often end up not eating just so that other people could be happy and like me more.

As I write this the words and story become nebulous in my head. My heartbeat is heavy and rapid, my breathing is faint. But I am not going to become him anymore. No, I won’t become Bad Johnny, the one who used anger to protect himself as a child in a world he never understood.

Kid Miracleman: something inside poor Johnny Bates, much like Bad Johnny who once lived inside me

Bad Johnny was the one whose anger and resentment pushed away many people who tried to understand and care, who became the wild beast that he thought he was supposed to be because that’s how everyone treated him. Bad Johnny wanted the world to burn because he had no place in the world. But secretly, Bad Johnny just wanted to be as far from the world as he could be. He still had both of his ears, but his “art” was laughed at even by his own father and dismissed, so he was no prodigy waiting to be recognized long after his departure from this transitory life on earth like Van Gogh. Then one year, Bad Johnny finally died: my father passed away in 2010 of pancreatic cancer, and the lies that kept his reality together flew away, and I was on the receiving end of it all.

Goodbye Bad Johnny. Even if you are a part of me, you have to go. Even if you have to go, you were a part of me.

Family, friends, home: all lies, for they only cared who my father was and what money they thought he had from supporting them half-heartedly, saying that he had to because “he was an enlightened being with compassion and I didn’t understand because I wasn’t compassionate”. Manila was no longer a home, Los Angeles was a place to leave behind because it was full of people who offered no support for me when I was left with no money, just the debts of my father, while insisting I pay them back for their minor debts or complaining about their perceived more important lives of going to law school, dating better men, and buying the newest gadget or car.

I tried to start all over again, but all that happened was more lies from the “friends” who claimed to support me, but were truly after more of what they believed I had, which was money, because they still thought I had money due to the lies. Tell that to some TCKs, and most of them just said “ask your mom for help” because that’s all they knew: traveling on first class, diplomatic immunity, and mom and dad using leverage to keep them out of trouble. The rich, invincible brats were no different from the materialistic, self-important Americans I was surrounded by.

The bitterness grew, and the memory of bitterness still feels fresh and recent at this moment. It is this bitterness that I had which pushed away some who may have genuinely cared, but also protected me from wasting time on those who may have cared but had no ability to understand and no ability to help. It is a bitterness I curse the gods over, for without their machinations, I would not have been like a monkey trying to swim in the ocean, a fish trying to climb trees, or a bird trying to hunt with tigers; I would not have tried to be one animal while amongst another type of animals, much like a foreigner tries to be one thing in one place while he is another. To be all things to all men: that is a lie and impossible. To be a mutant, a chimera: a mixture of many different species surviving in a cruel environment much like the mixing of cultures in America’s multicultural society, but unable to adapt with the subtlety of a certain breed of animal outside in a homogeneous society. I would have hated myself, but I didn’t even know what I was.

But hatred is the opposite of love. Love. What a strange thing. I don’t even know if it exists because though my dad lied to me, he did so because he loved me (but he also was unwilling to lose face–a very Asian trait–by admitting he had no money and that he was committing some abhorrent acts). I don’t know if I have been loved by the friends I walked away from over the years, or the ex-girlfriends whom I parted with, for they wanted something or another from me and never had the patience to take me as I am or appreciate my efforts to make them happy. Though I have my mother now, it is still fragile, for there were lies my father used to bring my more in tune with his reality than the one my mother endured, and, due to karmic fate, I would endure as well in the form of homelessness and hopelessness after he passed.

The other lies I lived were trying to be Asian American, but not sharing their immigration story. I never could believe in the American Dream or move up in that society, because my dream was to travel more, to make a difference in other people’s lives, which is what I do now in the developing world. The Asian Americans merely dismissed me as trying too hard to be different, stand out, and get attention, like every pretentious actor, writer, and independent filmmaker out there wants to. But I don’t reflect the Asian American experience, and I only reflect a small minority within the minority experience of Third Culture Kids.

Worse even: when I used to encounter some other TCKs amongst Americans, and try to befriend them or have them help acquaint me with a circle, oftentimes, I’d be shoved out for one reason or another because of my oddities (re: being a lot different than the rich international school TCK) and they would climb while I was pushed down.

So no empathy was there, and their ideas about Asia were completely different, for I lived in parts of Asia they never had been to; and those who had traveled rarely ventured outside of their American expat bubble, which included other students in exchange programs, sex tours in China and Thailand, debauchery in the Taiwan “Love Boat” summer, or the English teachers in Japan and Korea. No, even here, I can’t mingle with the expats (particularly the Americans and especially the Asian Americans) because our energy is different: they look for what’s different from their home culture, and they see themselves in a land of “others”, while I am the other: I try to be a respectful guest here as a foreigner, and I do not understand why they are loud and disregard local norms without making even the slightest effort to be respectful–respecting local norms does not mean to cast away their American mannerisms and become Indonesians or whatever culture they are in.

An escape. I was looking for an escape. We all were, and some still are. I am alone now, because the escape some took was far more drastic than what I was willing to: one attempted to take her life because the pain of this existence and ostracism was too much for her, another lost his mind from too many drugs to numb the feeling and sorrow away, a guy who often went to find someone to latch onto and become co-dependent on in a relationship context, and lastly, girl who escaped through sex with people around the world to feel wanted and connected. And I remain alone, all alone, with my thoughts, my books, my music, and my art.

If the space men find a way to decipher these symbols I write in and derive meaning from it once they discover a way to unlock cyberspace eons after humanity has become but a footnote in history, what will my story mean, if anything? I do not reflect all of humanity, for I have been shut out by it. My experience makes no sense to “civilization” for the nomadic life has been lost to most of the modern world. “Home” before was the community of the tribe, not the place, for humans wandered this earth looking for food and shelter, and leaving when it was necessary. It was the shared experience, the language, the learned behavior that was home, and those who would hunt and care for their people were one in the same. Yet I give to the communities that have rejected me from my volunteering and my art, I help those who are sick with my tonics and listen to those who are hurting while offering them kindness–and nothing. I am still not one of them.

I used to try to find home in the form of love, that someone, Ellen Wong or whomever it was I’d dream of in my mind, would come and make it all better, listen, understand, and say it’s over, we move on, and life is good. Those dreams are over, and dreams of people who are my community, my people are dead too. There was a song about a man in his loneliness dreamed of a love whom he never met but was certain probably existed, and how we would keep living and dreaming to be with her. As it turns out, she does exist, and she dreams of him as well, having never met him, but the trick here is, they both speak different languages, implying a connection that transcends culture and the world they know.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oi8XTvhwF1U]

I used to wander the world looking for my people, and they don’t exist. I may have people who enjoy reading this blog, but very few can relate or help. When I am gone from this world, this will be nothing but data, and a part of me will still not be revealed as best as I’d like it to be even with these words, for it is not just what I am unable to convey, but what people are unable to understand unless they have crossed through the portals of reality I have, and only several friends (living and dead) understand.

So now I am alone. Am I sad, lonely, hurt, depressed, angry? Perhaps in writing this many things came out, many things were not captured by the words. All I know is, I did not run away, I did not try to find my happiness, I simply left the environments that took away from my happiness.

Then I remember, many people, some friends, say I am not alone. One offers God, but I can not look to God as my relief, for I still have a sour taste in my mouth from the Christian Americans who saw my behavior and attitudes toward the rest of the world as blasphemy of their word and world view (or lack thereof). Imagine: being told you are wrong and they carry the authority of their God and church to condemn and correct you. That is what Christianity in America (and distinctly Christianity in America) was to me, and why it’s a word that even when offered with good intentions for support actually puts me off. Likewise, some Buddhists have put me off because of my seeing spirituality as all different colors all shining a light toward the same destination–it isn’t the colors to focus on, but the destination everyone is headed toward.

“The Journey is the Destination.” Those are Dan Eldon’s words, and he was a TCK too. His journal title. I wanted to be like him and travel, writing and taking pictures, and he ended up being stoned to death by a Somalian mob.

“Who is the happier man? He who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?” Hunter S. Thompson, another man who wrote a lot and was loved for his grumpiness, his outrageous yet memorable antics, and his hubris.

I have lived life, yet I still feel there is more to live, not helped by people calling me sheltered. The difficulty of looking for a job, the challenge of dealing with the opposite sex, the problems relating to people and forming friendships, the confusion in American academic environments and the whole silliness behind certifications and titles may be all I think of in recent memory, but it is not mine nor does it feel like it’s part of the world I know–or think I know. Maybe that world doesn’t even exist. Or maybe it hasn’t been explored yet and I truly have very little life and travel experience. I’ve only been to nine countries. I am not fluent in Chinese or Japanese. Maybe I don’t have as much life experience as I’d idealized to have had by 28. But in comparison to many monoculture peers, I’ve discovered that even when they say I have no life experience for the reasons I’ve listed above, my first response is that “maybe I just had different life experiences that did not prepare me for the lives you expect to live here in this country and society.”

Imagine: being raised as a blacksmith then being sent off to work in a gemologist’s institute, and being told you have no life experience because you don’t know how to do even the simplest things they’ve all been prepared to do and expect people to do. This is my experience in America. It is not friendly to immigrants, and it is a horrible place for expats who don’t intend to immigrate and integrate with the hopes of becoming American. I don’t ever want to be American upon seeing the majority of Americans overseas being idiots, especially the people who think they are being open-minded liberals making documentaries about Africa and using white man’s burden to help save Africa from Africans, or to document their perceived backwardness of a country that they think oppresses a subculture within that would be protected with political correctness in America (but still mocked). I have my blue passport from being born there and I have no shame in using its current advantages, but the sun set over all empires before, and I will go wherever I am meant to go.

The Chimera

But as I briefly mentioned earlier, I’m a chimera. I am a monster that has parts taken from different animals to make up its whole being. A patchwork beast like Frankenstein’s creation. I will always be different parts from Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok, much of America, and now, Jakarta. If I could separate the parts and just be one, like the Southern Phoenix (sarimanok) in the Philippines, the Bald Eagle of America, or the Dragon of Hong Kong and China, and just be one animal, think like that animal, and act like it, I would do well. But each part of the chimera may be a separate animal, yet as a whole, it is a fearsome beast. And that beast as amazing as it is, will be slain because to the heroes of Greece, China, and all over, they do not see it as a work of beauty, but an abomination that must be destroyed. I am a cultural chimera, and I have been exiled to live as an outsider. I am a monster in their eyes, even when I help children in the countryside. But everything was designed by the Creator for a reason, even if it is meant to be a sacrificial lamb. So perhaps, I shall bare fangs at God for leaving me alone in the universe. But I suspect that that was what I was designed to do, to fulfill a function I still struggle to understand or even know what for.