My parents sent me a short message on WeChat: “Can you call?”
Immediately, I knew that they had found out about my tattoo. We had spoken on the phone only a couple of days before, and my parents would never want to speak with me deliberately unless something was up. And, thinking back on the last few months, the only thing I have done that was “up” was getting my half-sleeve in London.
I called them after I returned from Church and before I ate lunch.
At first, they insisted that I eat my food first, as the broccolini and brussel sprouts will shortly be cold after I had scooped them out of the pot. But, wanting to get this conversation over with as quickly as possible, I told them that I could wait.
They started slowly, asking me if about 富养 and 穷养 (roughly translated: being raised rich and being raised poor), asking me which one was better. I found the question to be oversimplifying, so I articulated both aspects of my childhood. But, my parents kept on insisting on the binary, so I told them what they probably wanted to hear from me: 富养 (being raised rich).
My parents then started to tell me about their various lifestyle choices that are the results of their consumption habits. For example, my dad goes to a shop that is two blocks away from his office as opposed to one that is directly across the office to purchase coffee for $0.85 as opposed to $1.00. But, there is a homeless person on the way to the cheaper coffee, which he occasionally gives a couple of dollars to. He stopped going to the cheaper shop because he realized that his generosity had been costing him more than just going to the coffee shop across the street from his office.
But then, there is me and my tattoo. My expensive tattoo.
I had saved up for my tattoo in the sense that I did not spend my income that I had earned the previous summer on any luxuries. My parents cover my food and rent, so it made my accumulation of savings to be quite easy. But, after all, my savings are the result of the absence of certain expenditures, such as food and rent. The existence of my savings, in the first place, is contingent on my debt to my parents. Oh, tuition. How could I forget tuition? The mere fact of me forgetting tuition is indicative that often I take my parent’s charity for granted. They are, after all, my parents, but there still exists a spectrum of what is considered to be acceptable financial support even in the case of unconditional love.
After I had gotten my tattoo, I also had felt bad for how much money I had spent on it. But, soon enough, I got over myself. If my environment has shaped my consumption habits, then certainly attending LM and Penn has affected what I consider to be acceptable levels of spending, and what I consider to be acceptable levels of spending is very different from those of my parents, who grew up impoverished during the transition of China into a modern economy during the years leading to Mao’s death.
My mom also chided me about formerly being her flesh and blood, claiming that any damage to my body hurts her immensely. That is, of course, that my tattoos were damaging my body. I suppose that is true; sometimes, tattoos hurt like a bitch. But, I think she was referring to a more of a spiritual desecration of the cleanliness of my body. Tattoos, after all, hold a different connotation in China than they do in the liberal spaces I occupy in the United States. She had already told me this once, and I knew that I would hurt her when I got my second tattoo. But, despite knowing this, I also knew that I wanted to my life true to myself before others.
I could live a life in accordance to my parent’s values that would not hurt my parents, or I could live a life in accordance to my values that would hurt my parents. Such is the presence of Kierkegaard’s Either/Or in this situation. Both choices would cause suffering. My parents would probably be hurt more than I would be happy, and I made the choice that is not utilitarian. But, this is what I value, and given a different situation with the same framework, I would make the same choice again. This is universality of my choice, and I do not regret living in accordance to my ethical framework.
I am privileged. I am entitled. For them, I am sorry for my choices. But, I grew up in a different generation with different standards of consumption and different ideals of lifestyle. For that, I am not sorry for my choices. I knew what I was getting myself into when I had made my choice after choice to get tattoo after tattoo. My parents do not understand me in this regard, but I love them regardless. They grew up in a different generation with different values. They disapprove of the values I have acquired. I love them for that, but I do not regret my choices. I love through my independence, and that is the love I have learned from them.
Do I cause harm? Is my love egocentric? Perhaps. I am the problem child, and I have been the problem child for some time now. But, this is the irrational nature of my love towards my parents, and I cannot excuse myself for loving in the way that I do, even if it hurts them.