In Vietnam, we don’t have a tradition of celebrating family members’ birthdays.
We do have a big one when an elder turns sixty or more. We very rarely celebrate birthdays between friends. So I never had a birthday party!
I’d attended many surprised birthday celebrations at work. I waited for my turn in anticipation and with excitement but it didn’t eventuate.
I told Elderflower of my sadness and the feeling of being unworthy at work. Elderflower surprised me with a morning tea organised by her the next morning. How kind of her!
I felt elated with high self-respect and self-love. As I was surrounded by around ten people in the section, I saw a group of five women stream out of the office. I felt rejection!
They were the women I longed to befriend. It was the most busy time in my life, too busy to have time for myself, let alone socializing. Adding to that, being isolated from my cultural community, having no close friends, and being a shy extravert, I constantly hungered for human interactions.
My social life was made up of what happened at work with other women. I observed with covetousness how these five Australian women at work gathered to chat or joke, exchange women magazines and go out together. I wished to belong.
In my heartache that those five women walked out at my morning tea, I wanted to find out what I’d done to upset them. Yet I felt shy to come to their desks and ask.
I wrote 50-something Foxglove an email “Why didn’t you come to the morning tea?”.
I felt anxious as she didn’t answer. I’d no idea a storm was brewing to unleash its fury on me. My email didn’t carry with it my pleading tone!
Soon, my supervisor told me that I’d harassed my colleague with my email and she wanted to put the offense into my personnel record so that I’d be discipline if I did it again.
I felt as if a shell had exploded near my ears!
She also told me: “Friendship is a two-way street”. What had I done that was so serious to be recorded?
A few months earlier, I received an email circulated at work that there would be a surprise birthday party thrown for Foxglove by her close friend during lunch time at work. It was approved that there would be a male stripper performing.
I attended with curiosity as I’d never seen one before. There was no such occupation in Vietnam. A female manager told other eagerly awaiting managers: “I hope he is black!” before the white stripper arrived.
I wondered why Foxglove followed the stripper instructions in some degrading scenes at her birthday party, and didn’t object to being harassed or humiliated while a crowd of hundred male and female colleagues watched and laughed.
The Harassment and Discrimination Support Officer asked my supervisor to consider that the five women had indeed bullied me by ostracising me at the morning tea but my supervisor wouldn’t budge. I ended up asking to move to another section.
I cringe at recalling the very story!
All I wanted was friends to feel less lonely.
I was made an innocent criminal,
Yet my email then made my words equivocal.