‘There is no ‘why’ in Thai’ is the saying in a certain southeast Asian country. (Can you guess which one? However, it is representative of them all) If you are in some government office—say for a passport, permit, visa, license & so forth—and you keep saying ‘Why? Why?’ you have lost before you begin.
Instead, what you do is say, ‘Thank you for telling me which form I need to bring. Thank you for telling me how to do it right.’ Then, when you return with the form, you say, ‘Thank you for telling me what other form I also need. Thank you for helping me this way.’
Sounds crazy? Not in that part of the world. It does sound crazy here, though. It is the format I should have followed in Pittsburgh, because the more raucous American way did not work. After Pop died, my brother and I figured we’d transfer ownership of his 10-year-old Cobalt to our sister living there, the one most in need of a replacement. Since the power-of-attorney forms were all in place, and I feared there might be something lacking with the death certificate paperwork (I forget what), I tried at the motor vehicle office to transfer it the power-of-attorney way, as though the 94-year-old was still alive.
Nothing doing. A certain document was a copy. It had to be original, with a raised seal. Look, this is just a Chevy Cobalt we’re talking about, I said, that a 94-year-old father wants to leave his daughter to replace her old Saturn. It cut no ice. I leaned into the clerk some, not so much as to trigger one of the official-looking people to toss me out of the building, if not in jail, but enough to convey that I didn’t relish driving 300 miles to retrieve the proper raised-seal document. It didn’t do any good. I just raised the temperature all around.
That route exhausted, I tried to go the death-certificate route with the documents that I had feared weren’t quite up to snuff. Not only were they not up to snuff, but I also suffered an accusation of having tried to defraud the state of Pennsylvania with the power-of-attorney documents! ‘I was not trying to defraud the state of Pennsylvania, I shot back. I was thinking of trying to defraud the state of Pennsylvania but I changed my mind!’
It was all for nothing. I got hackles raised, including my own, to no purpose. Raised seals are raised seals. I drove 300 miles to retrieve one.
In Southeast Asia, ‘saving face’ is very important. You do not lean into officialdom because they must ‘save face.’ It is not a personal face they must save, though it is that, but more importantly a societal face—including your own! You should be embarrassed to be carrying on so outrageously. The fact that you’re not means they have to be embarrassed for you. Ever think of what originates the expression ‘the ugly American?’
Americans are obsessed with refusal to yield to authority, a manifestation of those who take ‘the spirit of independence’ to the nth degree. After a visit here of several months, my friends couldn’t wait to get back to their need-greater home. They were aghast at some TV news report of a disgruntled airline passenger manhandling one of his fellows, maybe even the steward himself! ‘They’d cut your arm off if you did that there!’ they observed, ‘not that anyone ever would.’
You can take ‘resisting authority’ to the picayune point of absurdity. Westerners butt heads over how they won’t to this or won’t do that because they know of some authority who didn’t do something right. Pretty soon one of them quotes Lord Acton, the way people used to quote Jesus: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Thereafter they think themselves very wise as they resign themselves to a society in which nothing gets done because nobody will cooperate.
Traffic in the large Southeast Asian city looks impossibly chaotic. Ever seen video footage? It does. When the light changes, oncoming motorcycles turn right in front of you, as you begin to accelerate! It takes some getting used to, my friends assure me, but once you do it’s like a waltz. If traffic is 100 times more chaotic, it is compensated for by people 100 times nicer.
(Photo: Hanoi - Straßenverkehr 04.jpg, Wikimedia)
Nobody would dream of driving in the passing lane; that’s for passing. If you are there, expect to get a little friendly ‘beep’—a full horn blast is unheard of—that says, ‘Excuse me. You obviously didn’t realize I am here trying to pass.’ Promptly you move over, waving, smiling at your own mistake.
In America, you give them the finger.
Officials are taken from the ranks of ordinary people. If you grant them authority, it can go to their head. But you can get around that by ‘affording honor to the one who calls for honor.’ It also does happen that a gift will expedite something that is otherwise slower than tar. But I remember around 1980 a certain Watchtower article about paying bribes. Bribes are a no-no, per the Bible, but if you are merely paying someone to do their job, rather than secure a special favor, you might look at it differently.
‘Wow, those third world countries must be bad!’ I said to my Bethelite friend John while I was there visiting. ‘Naw—they were talking about New York City,’ he replied. Still, he told me Bethel was always able to get what they needed, despite a system of ‘favors’ that might be demanded by then-crime boss infested unions. There is even a story—is it in the literature somewhere or just in my head, that back in the days of Max Larsen, some crime boss was say, ‘It’s Watchtower, boys. We can’t touch em.’
Presumably, they had God-fearing mamas back home that would give them what-for if they messed with anyone trying to do the will of God.
The visitor who greeted Max in the Squibb building lobby was a top Brooklyn Mafia Boss, an older man escorted by some pretty tough-looking associates. His huge black limo was parked outside of the lobby door, Max said, something not allowed by the police as it was a no-parking area. The Mafia Boss had gotten wind that Watch Tower was using non-union construction labor to do work on the inside of its buildings. In no uncertain terms, Max was told Watch Tower construction work had to be done by union members only. For instance, I remember Max telling us that the Mafia controlled the Plumber's Union and there was a rotation system in place to determine which plumbing company got the next big job, etc. The Mafia Boss said that under no circumstances could Watch Tower use non-union people, but only a union-approved plumbing company could do the plumbing renovation work inside Watch Tower buildings, or else there would be trouble.
Max told us that he was extremely concerned about the future of Watch Tower’s expansion plans and couldn’t think of anyway to handle the problem except to “witness” to the man. This he did by explaining the non-profit work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. First, he told the Boss that all the workers lived at Watch Tower and were volunteers. He next asked the Mafia guy if he was Catholic, which he was. Then Max talked about the Lord's Prayer and how Catholics prayed for God's Kingdom to come, and said that's what Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have in common. Plus, he explained about the Witnesses announcing the soon-to-come Kingdom where all people would belong to one big brother-hood, everyone working in harmony. That idea really seemed to resonate with the Boss, Max said.
In Max’s opinion, it was “witnessing” that turned the tide for Watch Tower with the Brooklyn Boss backing off from his demand. Subsequently, Max was assured by the Boss that from then on, Watch Tower was the only organization in the NYC area that could use their own workers, volunteers, to do all interior construction work without interference, which Watch Tower continues to do until this day.
****** The bookstore