Siamese If You Please

Ugh! I’ve got a song in my head, and this one is embarrassing. As a child I loved the Disney animated movie Lady and the Tramp. For some reason one of the songs from that film, We Are Siamese If You Please, is on this feedback loop in my brain and nothing seems to be able to dislodge it.

The problem with that is that from an adult, twenty-first century perspective, this song is racist as hell. I feel as though I should apologize to the people of Thailand for humming it under my breath. If you watch the video below, you’ll see what I mean. It portrays Asians (in this case, Asian singing cats, but hey, it’s a cartoon) as dangerous, devious, cruel, and deadly. If they don’t kill you, they’ll rob you blind. Those slanty-eyed beasts simply cannot be trusted. Poor Lady, the all American dog, runs around desperately trying to keep her family and property safe from these evil creatures.

And as the film goes on, poor Lady becomes disenfranchised because of Si and Am, after their owner tries to muzzle her. She feels the need to run away. It’s all the cats’ fault, of course.

This film came out in 1955, two short years after the end of the Korean War, and you know, all those countries are exactly the same, right? That was the perspective at the time, anyway. But what disturbs me most about this is that it was a film directed at children like myself, who didn’t know any better. It was basically racist propaganda for the next generation.

So if you pass me on the street and hear me humming this diabolical tune, please don’t slap me upside the head. I’m already doing that to myself. Thanks, Disney, for such a wholesome earworm.

Union Dues

For the first time in my life I’m a member of an effective union, and holy crap, what a difference it’s making in my life! I’ve actually got a living wage and can look forward to raises. I have decent health insurance for the first time in well over a decade. I have retirement. Retirement! I can’t even imagine. And believe me, that’s just the tip of the benefit iceberg.

I actually know several people who have bought into the whole Republican propaganda machine and therefore resent unions. That always kind of amuses me, because they would be the first people to squawk if they had to work more than 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, or if child labor came back, or if they were in sweat shops. They have unions to thank for their excellent working conditions, and yet they disapprove of them.

I’m assuming these people think that employers are going to treat their employees decently as a matter of principle. Unfortunately, this has never been demonstrated to me. I’ve been working since I was 10 years old, and I’ve held 23 different jobs. What this has taught me is that greed will always prevail. Power always corrupts.

Yes, unions can take advantage of their power as well. Some of their benefits are a bit over the top. Yesterday I worked 12 straight hours, and because of that I was entitled to have my dinner reimbursed. I felt a little guilty as I turned in my receipt for coconut crusted prawns, top sirloin with mashed potatoes and broccoli, and salted caramel vanilla crunch cake. But you know what? I guarantee you that there isn’t a member of a board of directors anywhere in this country who hasn’t eaten even better, and I know I work harder than they do.

So unless you can wave your magic wand and come up with some way of making everyone behave fairly, I’ll continue to pay my dues and eat my prawns, thank you very much.

union

The Best Museum I’ve Ever Seen

Walking down Andrassy Street in Budapest at high noon can be a chilling experience regardless of the temperature. It’s a beautiful historic boulevard with gorgeous architecture, and you have enjoyed every bit of your Budapest experience up to this point. The food, the people, everything about Budapest is lovely. And then a shadow crosses your path, and it says “Terror”. In English. In big, block letters. And that’s by design. You look up at the building that has created this word and realize that in a not so subtle way, it has also created that feeling within you. It’s grey. It’s austere. It’s imposing. It’s Budapest’s House of Terror, the best museum I’ve ever encountered in all my travels.

terror

This building used to be Nazi headquarters during their brief occupation, and then became the headquarters of a Communist terror organization for 40 years. Untold numbers of people were tortured and killed in this building. It’s a part of history unpleasant to recall, but one which should never be forgotten.

You take a deep breath as you enter because you get the feeling you will need it. When you walk into this building, you are greeted by a huge Russian Tank that isn’t dwarfed by the cathedral ceilings. What does dwarf it, however, are the rows upon rows upon rows of photographs of the people who entered this building and never came out again. It renders you silent. And the eerie music makes the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up.

Terror Tank

From there you go up to the top floor and work yourself down to the scary basement, which was the one place on earth you did not want to find yourself in that era. That basement looms in your future the entire time you’re in the place.

What is so incredibly impressive about this museum is that it isn’t row upon row of cases of artifacts and dry explanations. Let’s be honest. Halfway through a museum of that type, you tend to stop reading, stop learning, and you just look at the displays and move on. But this museum isn’t only about informing you. It’s about making you feel like you were there. It uses a variety of displays, including video, abstract art, and actual artifacts, so you are never bored.

There are a lot of videos with English subtitles that show people who have survived this building, people who haven’t, and what was actually happening in Hungary during these occupations. There is a room filled with communist propaganda posters that make you really feel how absurd and yet how powerful and scary the adherents to this movement were. Each room has flyers with an English explanation of the display, which is very helpful and informative.

One room had run out of flyers, however, and I wish it hadn’t. The walls were made of these white rubbery bricks. What did they represent? Rendered human fat? I guess I’ll never know, and that made it all the more chilling.

Another room holds banks of listening devices, and really brings home the fact that you couldn’t say anything to anyone, anywhere, ever. They were listening, and they did not have your best interests at heart. How exhausting to have to live under that level of paranoia just to survive.

IMG_1390

As you go downward, ever downward, you are treated to a display of the puppet court that could sentence you to death just for being Jewish, and/or intellectual, and/or an enemy of the State. You really sense the feeling of helplessness.

And then you arrive in the basement. The ceilings are low and feel as if they are trying to crush you. Everything is grey. You see the labyrinth of tiny suffocating cells and the torture chambers, and you can almost hear the sounds of people screaming from years ago. As I peeked into one room, which was designed for a type of torture so horrible that I can’t even bring myself to describe it to you, I was hit by this wall of terror so tangible that I nearly sank to my knees. I had to leave. I mean, I HAD to get out of there.

Perhaps the most profound and meaningful experience in that museum is leaving it. You have been transformed. You have gotten a little tiny taste of what life must have been like under a terrorist government. The fear, the futility, the inevitability of it all, the hopelessness, all of that resides within that building. And then you walk outside into the beautiful city of Budapest and see the hustle and bustle, the variety, the joy that is that place, and you are struck by the fact that they’ve overcome. That it’s possible to survive.

As long as you never forget, it’s possible to be free.