Once Upon A Time

Do you know it is considered socially rude in Taiwan to randomly talk to a stranger on the street? It is true, I have asked every one of my students and the unanimous consensus is that saying hello to a stranger is an odd behavior. Perhaps it is the high density of this concrete jungle. We try to mentally shut out other people and meld into the background. Most of the people walk with eyes down cast or looking far away to avoid eye contact. Perhaps the greeting pulls them back from reality and breaks them from the camouflage. No one likes to feel vulnerable.

There is an exception to that rule. A boy may talk to a girl when she is working. It is considered romantic. Where as westerners would feel like you are rude in interrupting the work, an Asian girl would welcome the distraction. This, I realize, is the power of fairy tale. Trapped in her work (castle), the prince must risk the dragon (boss), in order to rescue her [from her boredom].

Another way to look at it is that the girl has a more socially acceptable excuse to turn down a boy. She might say "go away, I am working". Where Asian cultures has functioned for 4000 years on arrange marriage there is a mentality of impoliteness to turn down a guy (purely speculation on my part). Where as if a boy walk up on the street to talk to a girl, he is not just exposing her to the crowd around her, he is also cornering her with no socially polite way to turn him down. You may ask, then how come western girls will generally feel annoyed? They have fairy tales too. The answer is immunity; do you have any idea of the childhood stories used in Asian cultures? Believe me you, there is no prince to rescue you and being chosen by a dragon is of great honor. It is arrange marriage at its finest. Fairy tales are fairly new to Asians; we came in contact but for a couple hundred years. It is, I realize, an odd way to interpret fairy tales but I can't deny the grain of truth i sense in it.

Once upon a time there was a lovely princess.
But she had an enchantment upon her of a fearful sort which could only be broken by love's first kiss.
She was locked away in a castle guarded by a terrible fire-breathing dragon.
Many brave knights had attempted to free her from this dreadful prison, but non prevailed.
She waited in the dragon's keep in the highest room of the tallest tower for her true love and true love's first kiss.

That was the beginning of Shrek and the end of an old age. Many stereotypes were sifted, examined, and then sorted for values that still apply for today. We laughed and cried through the movie (okay, I didn't cry, that was just an expression) but ultimately we learned hero doesn't have to be handsome nor perfect; princess doesn't have to be helpless nor the dragon terrible; we see true love occur to two imperfect beings each with shame and sorrow. In the end, we are left with a better working model of what might benefit children more in the long run. Life is not perfect, and you don't have to be ashamed to have a less than perfect body. The strength and weakness in fairy tales are their simplicity. The black and white mentality. You are either good or bad there is no middle ground. It is a nice little box that exists far far away that bears little resemblance to the present world.

Now having said that, would you be surprised that I would like to live in that black and white world? The ability to see at a glance who is the hero or villain. To know your station in life and how to act with clarity. Above all, no lies. Not even the villains lie. They might kill or imprison or disguise, but no one look you in the eyes and say that which is false. It is an attraction to me. Yes, it would be a waste of free will. Yet isn't free will mine to give away?


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