These complaints often did not sound like us: we had such a narrow channel in which to describe what happened to us, what it meant, and what it did. This translation became a means by which we used the institutional language to resist the ways it sought to silence us.”
Sara Ahmed, Complaint! (2021)
When I looked for more information about complaint on the internet, one of the first things that pops up on my page is language teaching clips on how to make a complaint. I watched several clips and found the structure of the language is something interesting. You have to be polite yet firm on what you need, you should not state it directly but rather use specific form of sentences. It is almost like making a complaint has their own grammar!
Complain = to tell someone that something is wrong or not satisfactory, and that you are annoyed about it
Complaint = a statement that something is wrong or not satisfactory/report of a problem
In the beginning of the class when I knew that we were dealing under the topic of “Complaintivism”, the first thing that came into my mind was rather the act of murmuring, expressing the unpleasant feeling which might fall into the meaning of “complain” than “complaint”.
I somehow had some difficulties distinct between these two English words, and couldn’t help but feel a negative vibe out of it. As I mentioned couple of times in the class that I have negative connotation from the word especially when translated from Thai word “บ่น (Bon)” and “ร้องทุกข์ (Rongtook)”
The word “บ่น” in Thai or complain, according to Thai Royal Academy dictionary means babbling or reprimanding over and over again. While “ร้องทุกข์” Complaint means stating suffering to ask for help which is pretty much the same as in English.
Maybe it was because of loss in translation, again when I heard the term “Complaintivism” one of the first feelings that came into my mind is the feeling of being oppressed. Being a Thai person, I grew up in such a hierarchical society. The young ones should not complain and follow what elders or people in higher positions suggest. To point out something, it might be taken as a mumbling sound. The definition, babbling or reprimanding over and over again definitely define the annoyance of the act right away.
To look at how the young protesters in Thailand that have been fighting with the political regime, they did state their problems, dissatisfaction, suffering and point out what is wrong, then it is supposed to be counted as a complaint. However; the right-wing supporters who mostly are in the older generation ridicule these young ones as those who only complain but never take action, acting like a child crying for their toys.
Complain/Complaint/บ่น Bon/ร้องทุกข์ Rongtook these words that share the same and totally different meanings. Until now I still cannot quite distinct it, or maybe I can say I see it entangled with each other and hard to define even before the class. Perhaps it might be worth seeing the uses of it instead, and in this way, we might find the route of being suppressed eventually.
One day, late evening around 17:00 almost 18:00, me and my friend, who is Vietnamese-German, headed to the new Taiwanese restaurant that just opened not so far from Herderplatz. We decided to take the route near Bauhaus University Library, where we had to walk down the stairs behind the library. With the design of the building, we couldn’t see right away that there was a group of probably 6-7 teenagers, all male and white, standing drinking and smoking nearby.
The moment we both noticed each other, my friend and I unintentionally stopped and looked at each other. Something made us feel insecure, and a short moment later, we continued our walk. Their eyes opened wide, their mouth turned its shape to smile…or more like smirk, looked like they saw their prey.
They started making noises mocking us, saying words in German that I don’t understand. We tried to pretend that we don’t hear a thing, and keep moving on, but the stairs are quite long. They shouted “Konnichiwa” repeatedly, and my friend decided to walk back and confront them. They didn’t seem to regret or realize what they did. They still made fun of my friend. We were too tired and outnumbered so we left with their voices shouting…woo…woo…behind.
When I went back home, I did not know what to do so I expressed my frustration via an info-graphic post about Asian racism and racial slur with an angry caption mentioning “I wish someone can educate those teenagers near Bauhaus Uni Library”. Another friend of mine contacted me, if I want to make a complaint feel free to do so. I told him I want to but I can’t see where it would lead to, I can’t see how the solution would come when I don’t even know those kids.
Then I just realized, do I just fall to another trap of institutional complaint? In this case, I am not scared of how it might affect my position since they are probably in the same social role as me (even though they definitely have white privileges as their weapons) like in some examples from Sara Ahmed. It is more of the red tape that hasn’t existed yet that threatened me indirectly and stopped me from making the complaint as well as unpromising result, so I rather make my own complaint through instagram story.
It is quite surprising for me how I thought I would be able to handle myself and get away with a proper complaint. I am still figuring it out, are there any more reasons behind it? Am I trying to avoid something?
This video work I intended to use the style of news scoop in Thai news shows from the 90’s-early 2000’s that they often have short time for a report on people’s problems.
Most of the time, there are problems with infrastructures such as road cracks, lights out, floods, etc. These problems cannot be solved by themselves. Therefore, before social media time they use TV to expose the troubles in hope of speeding up the process. And lots of time it works! So I experimented with the format to complain about the struggles I have faced in Weimar. Let’s see if it will work or not!
I woke up in Germany time, and found out that in Thailand there was a film critic page criticizing a 3D animation that I worked on the script as propaganda for the Royal family in Thailand.
The animation is based on the story of a boy and his friend who went back to the past to learn about Thai history. Thai history that they have learned is mainly the glory stories of how each Thai king saved the country. During the process we worked intensely with historians and we had to follow the information they gave to us. It was the first time I got to work with the Minister of education and the first lady in person.
This project is planned to be broadcasted in one Educational TV Channel that is funded by the Royal non-profit organization, but when the pandemic hit, they decided to show the cartoon on the main national television for children to learn from home.
The post has been shared to the anti-royalist group, with 2.4 million members, it is on the top 30 of largest Facebook groups in the world. Some of the comments called it as the romanticization of the past, low-class propaganda art, worse than Nazi art, and comparing this work as North Korean media strategy. People in the group started to dig for more information and found some connection between the animation company owner and the government.
The work that I thought no one would be interested in seeing, stabs me in the back. I am shattered by the comments, but at the same time I truly believe that it is a great lesson I have to learn. Though I know myself that I am not on the side that people said the animation is, but I can’t make any argument back to them rather than I was in need of a job at that time.
I am not looking for an excuse space. Without these complaints, I would probably never think about the consequences of the work. Isn’t this how the complaint works? I have learned my lesson. However, I am not sure the bigger establishment such as the animation company or the government who funded this project would feel the same way or not.
At the same time, once in a while I can still see posts on social media attacking the cartoon going on. I have carried this burden of feeling guilty, and I don’t know when the complaint stops. Strangely enough, I started to get used to those lashing because somehow, I realized the person who they are attacking is not mainly me but something bigger than that. Something that makes them feel it would be a threat to the kids that is why they have to make a complaint about this animation.
A year ago, when I just moved to Weimar, I was introduced to a telegram group called “Weimar-Sharing is Caring”. The group functions as a platform for people to share their giveaways with some certain regulations written on.
“ Sharing is Caring (SiC) – Weimar
Hier könnt ihr Erfahrungen, Veranstaltungen, Informationen, heiße Tips, Lebensmittel, Dinge und ähnliches solidarisch und geldfrei teilen.
-> Gerne Weitersagen
Diese Gruppe versteht sich explizit als politischer Ort. Rechte Inhalte werden nicht geduldet. Solidarische Aufrufe gegen rechte Hetze und für eine solidarische Gesellschaft sind explizit erlaubt.
“Für eine besser Übersicht:
Du bietest/suchst –> wer Interesse hat/helfen kann, schreibt dir PN –> du löscht deine Nachricht, wenn es sich erledigt hat.
Achtet bitte auf eure Sprache: Diskriminierendes Verhalten wird nicht toleriert!
Unangemessene Kommentare werden gelöscht.
Belästigungen fremder Personen durch Privatnachrichten die nicht dem Sinn dieser Gruppe entsprechen, werden nicht geduldet. Bei Vorkommnissen wendet euch an die Admins.”
From time to time I like to scroll through posts, looking for free treasures. However, oftentimes we can also see demonstrations promoting photos, discussions about harassment, reports on what is going on in Weimar.
One day, there was a person shared this message into the group…
“hallo liebe Leute, ich möchte Hermes verklagen, aber ich weiss nicht wie. Man darf nicht bei Hermes seine Pakete abholen in case du hast kein deutsches Passport, und das ist unmenschlich. Ich fühle mich irgendwie diskriminiert. Wenn jemand mir helfen kann, werde mich total freuen:) danke im voraus”
One thing led to another,
“Kennst du jemanden mit Pass oder Ausweis? Wenn ja, gib diesem einfach die Vollmacht, dass er dein Paket abholen kann. Dann reicht deine Unterschrift auf dem Postzettel. Klingt dämlich, funktioniert aber.”
“Mein Paket spielt überhaupt keine Rolle, mein Problem ist so ein ekelhaftes Paragraph. Die meisten Ausländer, die Sie auf der Straße sehen, haben keinen Pass. Im Leben haben wir genug Probleme ( wir können unsere eigene Wohnung nicht selber suchen, wir dürfen weder einen Mietvertrag noch Arbeitsverträge abschließen) Wenn es nicht Rassismus ist, was ist’s überhaupt”
“Bitte per PN weiter…”
“oh wow, wenn es um rassismus erfahrungen geht ist das thema plötzlich belästigend und darf bitte schön woanders weiter diskutiert werden… sharing ist >caring< sollte auch ein ort für so eine diskussion sein, nicht wahr? arman, ich kenne mich leider nicht damit aus aber falls du irgendeine andere form von unterstützung brauchst, sag gerne bescheid.”
“Es gibt eine Anti Diskriminierung Organisation für Thüringen und die Bauhaus Universität hat auch eine Anti Diskriminierung Stelle”
“Also in dem Sinne. Lasst uns was zum verschenken suchen” “Finde auch, dass genau solche Fragen hier auch hingehören. Die Gruppe lautet nicht “zu verschenken – Weimar” sondern SiC! Zu der Frage, was ich bis jetzt gelesen habe, gilt leider der Aufenthaltstitel nur mit dem Pass zusammen. Häufig wird es vermutlich trotzdem so anerkannt und es ist auch eine dumme Lösung, weil kein Mensch will seinen Pass mit sich die ganze Zeit herum schleppen. Insbesondere, weil es so ein wichtiges Dokument ist und man den nicht verlieren will. Trotzdem rein rechtlich hat man da, was ich bisher gelesen habe (bin auch nur Leihe), leider keine Handhabe und Hermes darf es so hinschreiben und durchsetzen. Was natürlich nicht heißt, dass das nicht trotzdem kacke von denen ist.
Some parts of the conversation from the Sharing is Caring group
The person feels discriminated by the policy from Hermes company, they chose to share their thoughts and experience in order to find the way out. People started to join in the conversation, some supported them in the work against the corporation, some see that Sharing is Caring is only for sharing free objects and the discussion should happen somewhere else. Though some recommended the place to file a complaint, but somehow this suggestion doesn’t seem to be so effective since they believe it would lead to nowhere.
Can Sharing is Caring be the space for filing our concerns? Why people chose to write it down on Sharing is Caring instead of going to the office? And what should the space for complaining be?
If we look to the regulations of the group,
“Diese Gruppe versteht sich explizit als politischer Ort. Rechte Inhalte werden nicht geduldet. Solidarische Aufrufe gegen rechte Hetze und für eine solidarische Gesellschaft sind explizit erlaubt.”
The group positioning itself as political place and a solidary society is explicitly allowed. Then in this case, the report on Hermes should be permitted. I believe that, the group which not created under any institution can work the problems much faster. We can have a direct communication with the people who are facing the same circumstances or even on the opposite side, and that is what most complainers expect, for them to be heard.
“To hear complaints, you have to dismantle the barriers that stop us from hearing complaints, and by barriers, I am referring to institutional barriers, the walls, the doors that render so much of what is said, what is done, invisible and inaudible. If you have to dismantle barriers to hear complaints, hearing complaints can make you more aware of those barriers. In other words, hearing complaints can also be how you learn how complaints are not heard.”
Sara Ahmed, Complaint! (2021)
Perhaps if we changed the group name into “virtual complain office”, then the argument wouldn’t happen, but would people still feel comfortable to share their concerns? I believe in reality we need more spaces like Sharing is Caring, a place outside of institutions that ones can share their problems and be heard by the community with care.