Sunday, April 5, 2009

'Sane' or 'Insane'...?

My friend knew that I am interested in photography and sent me these pictures that he shot with his handphone. These photos are named ‘The Chain’.

I looked at the photos, questions started forming in my mind.

1) Why are they all chained up in pair?
2) Who are these people – convicts?
3) Where is this place – a prison?

When I looked carefully at their expressions, I realized that they looked like they are mental patients. The are in a place in Taiwan. They live in an asylum run by monks. Again I wondered why they are chained. Isn’t it ‘inhuman’ to do so? When my friends told me that the monk named the chain, ‘The Chain of Compassion’, it finally drawn on me that it may seems cruel and I think it still is…but it is probably the best way.

Mental patients live in a world of their own. They imagine things, they hear voices, they talk to themselves, they smile to themselves, they laugh to themselves, they cry to themselves… can anyone one of us understand? What has gone through them that they are what they are today? What tremendous happenings turned a ‘sane’ person into an ‘insane’ person? Where is the line between ‘sanity’ and ‘insanity’?

The monks explained that they chained the ‘not so insane’ to an ‘insane’ one. This is to let them looked after each other so that they will not run loose and it is easier to account for them. It is a method but what about the issue of being compassionate? Does it means that the ‘insane’ have no right to be treated like human? My friend argued that the ‘insane’ can be dangerous. I agree but they react because they are frighten or being threaten? If they are left in their own world and no one ‘ignites’ the fire, will they run amok?

To me, the ‘Sane’ are more unpredictable. We saw the chopping up of a Chinese girl by her lover and dumped into the river – this person was supposed to be ‘sane’? Although I sympathized with his family, I just wonder how can a man lift his hands to chop up a girl whom he has slept with, had relation with, had provided him comfort and had met his animal needs? What stage of mind justified such behavior? If it was ‘fear’ or ’shame’ or ‘felt threaten’ or probably the cat is getting out of the bag so why did he ‘keep’ the cat in the first place?

The Chain of Compassion…erm.m.m…such a beautiful name.

My friend narrated to me briefly about one of the inmates who wrote a letter to his mother. His mother sent him into the asylum 30 years ago. She probably did not return to see him or she is no longer around.

This is my summary. He wrote to his mother telling her that he is much better now. He is no longer being chained like he first arrived because he loves to set fire and he nearly burnt down the house. He remembered that he got chained because the monks couldn’t risk him burning down the whole asylum. He said that he is now the leader and mother should be proud of him. He promised that he will not play with fire again and whether his mother will allow him to come home? He mentioned the activities inside the asylum. The inmates are taught how to sing and dance and perform. This is needed because the outside world heard about this place and wanted to come in and see for themselves. These ‘sane’ people brought with them presents, foods, clothes and money as donations. To thank these ‘kind souls’, they have to perform. He compared the inmates to be like ‘monkeys’. The inmates do not like it but the monks said that these donations are needed to run the asylum. He mentioned that he personally do not like it at all.

I am curious as to all these ‘sane’ people. Most when they heard about something like this, they will rush to offer their kindness. This is 100% out of good heart but without sensitivity.

What do you make out of this? To me, between ‘Sane’ and ‘Insane’ is a thin line. When we acted out of the norm...we are ‘insane’ or in Hokkien dialect we scold others by calling them ‘Xiao eh!’ meaning ‘crazy’! Actually we are ‘insanely’ sane. It is just that we have not been provoked, so we are ‘normal’. Have you experience talking to yourself? Mostly you are unconscious about it but others saw you. Have you ever thought about something and smile to yourself? You are not conscious that others saw your ‘abnormal’ expressions?

How to explore into the world of ‘insanity’? Doctors, psychiatrist and psychologist - can they? Again why do the ‘insane’ do not want to ‘wake’ up and come back to the 'normal' world? Is there a choice? I believe some remained ‘there’ because the outside world is cruel… in their ‘little’ world they can be themselves. The starting point probably is ‘stress’….and when it becomes greater, it becomes ‘depression’…and when ‘depression’ gets deeper….we started to behave oddly….and so people brand by saying ‘you are mad’. Occasionally I do mad things to release tensions.

I take my hats off ‘cool’ and ‘controlled’ people. I had a colleague – she was the gentle one, I am the fiery one. She was soft and I am outspoken. When there is unfairness, she kept quiet. I am that ‘fighter’, 打抱不平! People said she is congenial, but people love and hate me at the same time. One day she asked me: ‘Lian, what do you do when you are stressed up to the ‘brim’?’. I told her:
1) I have a religion, I will either read or meditate;
2) I have friends – my friends will listen to me ranting away with zest and anger and agree with me (haa..a..a because they are my friends..tough jobs to all my pals); or else,
3) I will go to a secluded spot and scream and scream and scream my lungs out..yes! like ‘xiao charbo’ or lunatic! Because of my tomboy character, I survive. So much for my ‘insanity’!

To end this, just share with you a joke. A monkey in a cage and a man standing outside the cage. The man looked at the monkey and he thought to himself ‘Poor thing, he got caged’. The monkey on the other hand looked at the man and he thought ‘Poor thing, he got caged’. Now who is being caged? The man or the monkey?

Note : The photos posted here are credited back to Mr Chang Chien-Chi (张乾琦), an Award-winning Magnum photographer. Thank him for being a controversial photographer.

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