I just got home from a trip with Lime. Though there were endless comments that made each of us laugh and laugh, strange situations including one of the worst dinners we’ve ever shared, and all kinds of funny things, I’m not gonna rehash a bunch of details here. I will tell one story, though. Unfortunately, it’s a story about something that upset Lime, but it’s also something I learned from, and learned about her from, so I’m going to tell it anyway.
It was a rainy, cool day today, and we were wandering around this little tiny island outpost of the city, waiting for our bus to come. Like all of the buses we caught during the trip, this one would come just in time and we’d catch it just in time. I was munching on an ice cream bar, and Lime was drinking her prepackaged Cappucino coffee.
The town we were in, Yeosu, is near the sea, and all around there are these places that serve sashimiraw fishand so they have fish tanks out in the street. The fish tanks have the fish that you can choose from to eat, at least that’s the idea. We walked around, looking at different tanks and all the fish in them, and one tank in particular was quite horrifying. The water had obviously not been cleaned in a fair while, and the fish were all kind of weak-and sickly-looking.
Lime pointed out a pink spot on the lip of one fish, and when she pointed it out, I quickly noticed it was on all the fish around it. These fish, stuck in cramped quarters in these little dirty tanks, were damnably ill. Not only that: then she pointed out the eyes of a few other fish. “They’re broken,” she said, and though what she meant to say was probably something more like “ill” or “damaged” or something, she was actually absolutely right to use the word broken. After all, that’s how we would describe people in that condition.
But I didn’t register it at the time. At the time, my main reaction was about 10% made up of an awareness of the fish’s suffering, a kind of token, “poor fish,” response, and about 90%, “Good God, do people actually choose and eat fish in that condition? How disgusting! That’s an awful state to find your food in!”
She made a comment about greed and we moved away from the fishtank,both of us quite horrified. A couple of tanks later, seeing the pink spots again, she told me she’d rather not see any sickness there might be, so we wandered off to another area. It wasn’t until we talked about it later that I realized her reaction was so strong because of her compassion for what she was quite aware to be living fellow-creatures, the fish. Sure, it was also her disgust at the mindset of the people who own the fishtanks, who put the fish into the situationtheir greedy and stupidity, their callousness, their lack of concern for the environment and for the pain of the animals they profit from, all combined to make her feel quite awful.
And I wondered at my own reaction, at how powerfully my relationship to the world has been shaped (or should I write, “deformed”?) by my forging (under duress) an identity as a consumer. I look at animals and see potential food, rather than living beings that can suffer or feel anxiety. As much as I value compassion, and want to cultivate it in myself, it was not my first response. I shall have to set about learning this stunning, deep, surprising compassion. It’s a beautiful thing, and feels like something I’ve lost, when I see it so clearly in someone else. It’s nice to be with someone who feels the same way about businesses and money as I often do.
One more thing: it’s a good idea to remember that when talking about units of money, Koreans default to the 10,000s decimal place, where Westerns tend to default to the 1,000s. Thus $45,000 can become $450,000 in the space of a slightly careless conversation. Which can be highly entertaining.