The Wandering Jew, the Migrating Chinese

Y’all know I love operas, right? Ok, I’ve never explained in depth but now you know. But I probably mentioned briefly how I’m big on Wagner, and although his music isn’t my favourite sound, his worldview – especially aesthetics and spirituality, and excepting the antisemitic parts – speak very well to me. Ok, Wagner wrote like 15 operas, only 10 out of which were produced during his lifetime. As very outspokenly antisemitic as he was – to the point of inspiring Hitler’s Nazi regime – he liked to write/stage stories that has the wandering Jew character who finds (some kind of) solace in the end. If you don’t know about the figure/character of the “wandering Jew”, here’s the general gist:

You can find out about the late Medieval legend about the Jew who picked on Jesus, who was about to be crucified, and is damed to wander the Earth till Jesus’s second coming. And allegorically, anyone (a Jew) who rejects the norms of society (Jesus/Christianity), commits some crime against some sort of holy figure/institution (taunting Jesus) and thus becomes rejected by society and just wanders around for their whole life without a stable home, somewhere to settle down, someone to settle down with, etc. (cursed to wander the Earth till Jesus’s second coming/Judgement Day) can be called a wandering Jew figure.

Now, I haven’t seen all 10 Wagner operas; I’ve only seen 6 whole and 1 I left unfinished (because it got boring, since I didn’t get the context). But here are some of his “wandering Jew” characters:

  • The Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), Wagner’s first big hit :: The Dutchman was cursed by Satan to sail the seas forever, because he tried to defy nature (a storm). He can’t go home to Holland. He can only approach shore once every 7 years but can’t dock, because there’s a storm that follows his ship. He is immortal and he has to find a lover who can love him till she dies to be set free. If the woman is unfaithful, she dies at the moment of cheating on him. Tough deal, huh, to be a great sailor?
  • Kundry in Parsifal, Wagner’s last opera :: Kundry’s more literally a wandering Jew, coz she did personally laugh at Jesus on the cross. She can’t cry or show any other emotions; she can only laugh, like she laughed at Jesus. Her laugh freaks the fuck out of everyone and she lives as an outcast for centuries and centuries. No, she can’t die either. For having lived that long, she doesn’t care about good or evil anymore, and she becomes a neutral chaotic force. Her curse would break only when somebody feels compassion for her.

    Flying Dutchman - Wagner

    Here’s a dramatic Flying Dutchman poster for scale.

I guess Wotan in tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycleand some character(s) in Lohengrin and/orTannhäuser, too, but I’m not sure or educated enough to talk about those. Anyway, I had been educating myself on operas and queer culture over the summer and it’s been very interesting. But I had to stop recently – or rather I decided to stop – coz it was all starting to mess with my emotions, as feeble as it is already. I started identifying with the “wandering Jew”.

It comes from being an opera aficionado, being a Wagnerian (a Wagner fan/follower) and being naturally melodramatic, heehee. Oh, how I have rejected what has been expected of me by society! I have decided not to become a doctor, an engineer, a computer scientist or a physicist like other good Asian sons. Plus, I have rebelled against the natural order of heterosexuality and heteronormality. Woe, woe is me! Now, I am cursed to wander this strange land called the United States. Wherever and whenever and with whoever will I get to settle down? Probably never! I never belonged at home (in Burma) and I will probably not ever here. This curse that drifts my body and soul across this strange land, this pain that burns me inside out. Why, why does this happen to me? And so on … And Wagner’s characters usually find their happy ending in death, ugh. I don’t want to die, not as yet. I’ve had suicidal thoughts and such but NO, I wanna live. So I just stopped.

B-T-Dubs, I have 2 awesome book recommendations, from my realm of studies:

  1. The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality And the Mystery of Desire by Wayne Koestenbaum :: A sort of an auto-biographical account of a gay man trying to understand his own love for opera (and musical theatre), interpreting vocal theatrical music as bowchicawowwow, a sublimation of sexual desireds for the gay/lesbian population, analyzing scenes and materials that speak directly or indirectly into the LGBT population, embracing the drama queen gay stereotype, etc.
  2. A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical by Stacy Wolf :: This one’s darker. It deconstructs American musical theatre which the gay populace of modern day culture has so much affinity to, unearthing its misogynistic and homophobic facets. And referencing the classic Oscars and Hammerstine Sound of Music number “(How do you solve) a problem like Maria?” as the book title is very prudent and says it all.

So I dropped my books on opera and watching operas online. Trust me, you can find subtitled great productions online and I just attached a couple here, too, and have been learning from them. I had to form a new through process, to counter my identification with the wandering Jew. I needed a coping strategy. And I, very naturally, resorted to my Chinese ancestry.

3 of my great-grandfathers are from China. They’d come to Burma for a future of their own and for the future of their next generations. They made it in the new land. Now we have relatives all over mid-land Burma and they have their own successful businesses. And there are some more in Singapore. They’d gone there for a better life and they did fine what they were looking for – or that’s as far as I can tell. I started telling myself I’m embracing the Chinese in me and migrating to a new land scouting for where the grass is greener. I haven’t found everything I’ve been looking for in the US, you know, but I tell you the grass is relatively greener than in Burma. There’s a lot of racial/religious intolerance going on politically and there have been recent news of gay people being arrested in broad day light. I wouldn’t want to be prosecuted for my race, faith or sexual orientation. Well, there are some prosecutions here in the US but still it happens far less than it does in Burma – or in the third world in general. I’m actually lucky to be looking around for a new place to belong to. Chinese people are really tough survivors and they adapt very well, and they preserve their culture very well, too. Just think: there are Chinatowns in every big city in the world. Except maybe in China, coz most everyone’s Chinese already. Anytime anybody decides to hate on the Chinese people, I’ll warn them this, “We have Chinatowns all over the fucking world. We can take over anytime we want. We have a great sense of community and we survive hard; we’re strong. Whaddaya think of that?

Mushu, "I live!"

Yeah, we Chinese are tough survivors!

Well, folks, that’s how my being intellectual tries to backfire me in the middle of coping with depression and my coping technique. And I’m glad to be back to blogging and that I’m showing you new stuff. I hope this post was relatively shorter, too.


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