The Crazy Rich Asian that I Really Know of in Reality

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I find it hard to relate to the life of these filthy wealthy Asian Chinese but one man offered me a glimpse of his life as a part of this world unknown for me. (Photo: WIkipedia)

It is odd to say that Facebook is the most hateful virtual place where I can get to know the most interesting and authentic people on the earth. I’ve seen jerks, cons, and liars, psychopaths here. But real deals are rarities, indeed.

After the movie craze “Crazy Rich Asian” that has swept the world, I recall my encounter with someone who really reflects the familial background and wealth of an Asian clan that are also well versed with Western values and worldviews but at the same time also still retain their Asian DNA. By ‘Asian’ here, I mean Chinese.

Call him Brad. We knew each other on Facebook. But what led us to each other is nothing but yoga. We’re both so into yoga, so when I posted a lot of my yoga photos, he found out somehow and we became friends. We have a mutual friend on Facebook as well, and he is a seasoned tour guide from Bali who is so kind and nice and terrific. If anyone wants to roam Bali, I can never recommend no one but him. Brad coincidentally had taken a cruise with the tour guide guy to one of the eastern islands in the archipelago

What sets Brad from other yogis that I know of is that Brad is not only into yoga but also traditionally-made fabrics, batik. I am Javanese yet I was never willing to learn more about the history and culture of batik, but Brad made me in awe and total shame as he has spent a great deal of time and money and all of his resources to research and collect all. While I can only admire batik as beautiful piece of cloth, he explains in great length about batik and traditionally made, ethnic fabrics made in various islands and areas in my own homeland. I am kind of humiliated in a way but humbled as well to witness his cultural prowess.

But Brad’s breadth and depth of interest have never ceased to amaze me. He is also very adept at culinary world. He preached in an inconceivable level of meticulousness about his gastronomical observations in many restaurants in Bali and other big cities in the world. And I was stunned to learn he has his own book of culinary recipes. It seemed he used to work at a five-star hotel as a sous chef and in the course of time, the management downgraded the quality of ingredients and prices owing to the decline of diner’s number, resulting in his rebellion. He cut off the contract and had no remorse ever since. He went from a chef to an art activist, founding his own gallery because if you have a bottomless bank account, why bother working sulkily with a business partner that betrays your idealism?

At his 60s, Brad is not a particularly a man with a body of his age. His yoga practice and ovo vegan diet have made this achievable. And he also can never get enough with durian.

And before I forget, he is no ordinary yogi. He sets up his own school of yoga in Cambodia, where he trains local youths to be a band of competent yoga teachers. From Taiwan where Brad resides, he goes back and forth to Cambodia only to make sure this yoga teacher training works well.

Brad is doing all this because he has a lot of time. He seems to be single and free as a bird, and he takes his liberty to whatever he wants to. A couple of years ago when we met, Brad told me he was still living with his mother but where it is exactly, I never quite understand.

While taking care of his 90-year-old mother, Brad came to realize that life goes downhill from the middle age, an age bracket where he is now. He sometimes told me that he has this vision telling him his time is not long so he had to make haste with his life. As I was cringing on hearing his words, he seemed so carefree and nonchalant. He seemed so stable and has achieved this point in life where nothing else matters.

His odd view – or I’d rather say, fascination – about death has reached a level of comfort I fail to fathom. He casually recounted how he found peace while he went to bed naked and then wrapped himself in a man-length ethnic fabric some vague tribe in Indonesia makes to wrap a dead body. “I can feel in some way how it feels to be dead and wrapped in this beautiful work of art,” Brad joked. “But before that, I wish I could accomplish my work.”

His work?

He has a lot of work to do. He owns and manages a gallery in Taipei. His property is there and as he is approaching death, he has a growing concern about his assets and wealth he has amassed thus far. ”You know. I have to find someone as my heir or the Taiwanese government confiscates my assets and changes the ownership into theirs, which is against my will,” he told me in one fine afternoon dining at a fancy restaurant in the southern part of Jakarta.

I suggested he make his nephew and niece heirs. “That wouldn’t be possible, Akhlis. They’re Singaporeans, and I won’t make my sister go into a lot of trouble for this.”

Brad’s sister is married happily to an Indian man. An intercultural marriage that is endowed with one son and one daughter with a mixed beauty of Indian and Chinese physique. I can tell you Brad’s niece and nephew are rare hybrid breeds. They have the wide, beautiful eyes of Indians and at the same time has a smooth-featured facial shape and yellowish fair skin only Chinese have.

Another work Brad feels urgent to accomplish soon before his death is a book. Like any other typical stories of Crazy Rich Asians, Brad in his teenage years went to the United States to get a proper education that every young man in his family should have. I made a smart guess that his family is definitely no ordinary, proletarian, working class family.

And I am right.

Brad gave me – and everyone in his friend list on Facebook – an extremely generous access to his private past life as a university student somewhere in the US. I saw younger Brad wearing a pair of thick-framed glasses. He was quite a nerd and bookworm it seemed. And another photo showed him holding a diploma in his hand and smiling from ear to ear. A smile of ignorance, not knowing what awaited him in the future. All this explained a lot as to why Brad’s Chinese does not sound very much like Singlish. It’s a confusing combination of various accents and his own idiosyncrasy. An accent only he has developed over the decades, I suppose.

The book he wanted to publish anytime soon is one related to his great great grandfather. “He used to be a great trader during the era of [insert some past ruler’s name in the southern tip of Malayan Peninsula] and I want to follow his traces as traders of beautiful cloth around South East Asia,” he said. That explained a lot why he was so fervent about any research on Malayan traditional cloths. He knew so much about batik, tenun, and ikat from Java, Sumba, Sumatera, Cambodia, etc. And it utterly makes sense that he was invited by a renowned museum in Singapore to present his findings about the relations of all these traditions. He is just the right keynote speaker on the issue. I can tell he drew many people’s attention with his deep understanding.

He travels extensively across borders in South East Asian countries, from Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, and then goes back to Taiwan. But he also mentioned sometime that he paid a visit to a member of his family in the US.

Though Brad has his property in Taiwan, he is still a registered American citizen. I still recalled the day before the US presidential election arrived. He was glad he had the chance to cast a vote virtually though he was away from the US territory at the time. That got me into thinking of the future possibility that Indonesians can also cast a vote via internet someday. He was even more pissed at the fact that a man like Trump won the election. He lamented so much over the loss of sanity of the American people when he discovered the heart-wrenching news. Poor (filthy rich) man.

Now that I quit Facebook and deleted my account and left everything inside it, I have lost contact with Brad. Facebook is the one and only communication channel we are on.  This might be the right reason to revive my digital presence on Facebook. (*/)

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