America is a country of such extremes, despite having achieved the status of a first world. In some ways, it reminded me of Asia 20 years ago, where there was not a middle class. The cities were often scenes of rich folks in cars driven by their chauffeurs and people in simple means, hurriedly going about their lives from one place to another, earning a few dollars for a day’s honest work. Then Asia changed as businesses became more global and tech revolution created many opportunities for everyone to have higher education and earn better wages. Life of ordinary folks improved greatly and a large middle class was born. With that, the face of Asia had changed forever.
Each time when I walk the cities streets of America, I would be reminded of the old Asia in the 80s. I wonder how this is possible for America to have come this far and yet seem to have gone astray in providing for her people. All too often, I would walk by homeless persons at city street corners. A homeless man sleeping with all his worldy possessions on the sidewalk or another that I saw who was eating saccharin out of a sachet to stave off his hunger. His frail body leaning against a lamp post at the railroad track by the waterfront in downtown Seattle, he looked down as I walked past him. When you are so hungry and have no one to turn to, you eat what you can get your hands on. Then there was this homeless man in his forties eating ramen out of a hot pot outside a gas station in California. He had asked for the free hot water from the store attendant and bought the ramen with quarters and few cents he collected from begging. He looked ashamed and made clear he rather be incognito. If he can help it, I am convinced he does not want to live his life this way.
I often cringe when the media talks about a certain rich tycoon, about how he has got his fancy mega yacht and many mansions. I have nothing against being rich, if you have earned it honestly. But I often wonder why this sort of news is even important to anybody? Beyond a certain point, when you are this rich, what more would another million or two do to your standard of living?
Then there is the obsession with Hollywood celebrities. What they wear, who they date or marry, what they eat and where they vacation is of such immense interest to some in this country that it boggles my mind. I just could not understand what one and one’s children could possibly learn from this Hollywood obsession because 95% of us have very different lives to live each day.
Each day ordinary folks who earn an honest living struggle just to try to maintain a bare minimum standard of living. Getting squeezed from all fronts, they juggle to cope with rising costs of food, child care and medical expenses in the face of stagnant wages. Retirees, pensioners who are on fixed income from social security and pensions, that is provided their pension has not been decimated by the recent horrific market crash, could not possibly make ends meet today. I remember a 70 year old pensioner I saw at a Ralph supermarket once who spent a very long time at the dairy aisle trying to decide if he should spend that few dollars on a pack of cheese, salami meat or hotdogs. He would pick them up and then put them back as he changed his mind on how best to stretch his few dollars. I could not help but noticing and it broke my heart. At his age, after working hard his whole life, he should not have to make such difficult choices still.
There has got to be a balance we can strike in this country between extreme capitalism where every man is for himself with no concern for his poorer countryman and extreme socialism where able bodies might come to expect government handouts. Surely there must be a common ground, a common sense approach that we as a people can take to help propel this country forward in a more meaningful direction.