Intrepid Girl Reporter

Sunday, 3/13: smaller tragedies
March 13, 2011, 11:28 pm
Filed under: cultural theorizing, okay seriously America

(Crossposted to my other, sort of professional blog.)

It appears to have been a bad week for Asians, as a whole. Aside from the whole tsunami/hurricane business, which (rightfully) dominated the headlines, there was this event, much less spectacular:

After Deadly Bus Crash, Chinese Community Devastated (NYT)

Gambling is a long-established part of many Asian cultures, my own very prominently among them. (If you don’t believe me, I suggest you watch the first twenty minutes or so of Zhang Yimou’s brutal film To Live*, or peruse Wikipedia’s list of famous Vietnamese athletes. Bet you didn’t know poker was a sport.) It should surprise no one that the main customers for a bus that allows you to gamble all night long were elderly Asians who viewed this as a hobby. And, unfortunately, it’s that same population that is now paying the price.

I recognize that casinos are a business, that these are all adults who can make their own decisions, and that running these buses is ostensibly a market-based decision. But I still wonder how necessary, and wise, this procedure is. Bus drivers may not get enough sleep; visibility is reduced; one driver interviewed by the Times says he stays awake on “tea, soda, and…Parliaments.” What I am trying to say is: this is, empirically, a terrible idea, and not one that any responsible business – bus company or casino – should be enabling.

My grandmother was a compulsive gambler. Towards the end of her life, a series of health problems had weakened her cognitive capabilities and made it difficult for her to walk, even with a walker or cane. When I was in college, she had another stroke, and my father and his siblings went to clean out her apartment while she was in the hospital. They found piles of casino memorabilia – shot glasses, decks of cards – that hadn’t been there the last time she had let anyone clean her place. As it turned out, despite her complete inability to even shop for groceries without external assistance, the casino buses had come, without fail, straight to her apartment. Even though this woman could not walk, spoke a peculiar hybrid of French, Vietnamese, and English that was mostly incomprehensible to the outside world, and was visibly in no shape to make financial decisions, these businesses had actively enabled her to come and spend her money.

None of this is to argue that casinos and bus companies are inherently bad organizations, or, again, that adults aren’t free to do what they want. But it would be nice to see these types of organizations adhere to a certain ethical standard that – to my mind, at least – is clearly not on display here. Yes, the major casinos appear to have implemented responsible gambling and gambling awareness programs. But in an industry that actively promotes a highly dubious outcome, that continues to reward high rollers, such actions appear to be so much wallpaper.

Let me be clear: I am not blaming the victims of this crash. Many of them were immigrants who had worked very hard without much time for fun of any sort. Still, you don’t expect to be bright and bon vivant, Paul Simon sings, so far away from home. Who am I – or anyone else – to say that people who work much harder than I have ever had to shouldn’t have the chance to enjoy themselves? But preying on that impulse, in an irresponsible manner, shouldn’t earn anyone much of a reward.

*If you have a few extra hours and no desire to experience happiness for the rest of your day, go ahead and watch the whole thing. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.