Thursday, March 29, 2007

Class breakdown

One of my friends once told me a brilliant way of conceptualizing class and gift giving. She said her aunt came up with it, but I partially forgot it. I attempted to explain it to an adult class of mine, and while they didn't really understand it, I think, they did help me remember the missing piece.

Poor people- poor people often give gifts to family and friends. Since they lack financial security, the opportunity to give gifts is fairly rare. Furthermore, giving gifts is a statement of financial security and empowerment. You feel rich, giving gifts to people when you are poor.

Middle class people- middle class people will sometimes give gifts. Christmas, birthdays, or out of politeness. However, they often confine other more altruistic giving to more indirect means, such as charities. Giving spontaneously is perhaps seen as slightly odd in a middle class setting, and possibly it would make people uncomfortable.

Rich people rarely give to their friends and families, except of course Christmas, birthdays etc. After all, most of your social circle isn't really hurting, so the opportunity to give doesn't really arise. If your friend wants it they probably have already bought it.

I think I've still forgotten most parts of this, it's not nearly as good as when she told it to me. If they

An open letter to Mako

You are, for better or for worse, one of the most famous Japanese American actors. Yessiree, Korean Americans have John Cho and Sung Kang, Jacqueline Kim, Sandra Oh, Chinese Americans have...Edison Chen...(actually he's Canadian) Perry Shen, and Bai Ling, Lucy Liu (I'd rather have Edison). South Asians have Kal Penn, Filipinos have Dante Basco (aka, that kid who played Rufio in Hook) and we have you and Pat Morita, and Gedde Watanabe. Rock on.

I still remember one of my friends in high school trying to convince me to see Pearl Harbor with her. "No, Mako is in it."
"Oh, no he's really good."
"Let me guess, he plays the Japanese gardener."
"How did you know?"
"Oh, just a feeling."

I have to admit I was actually kind of relieved when you died, because you would stop embarrassing us with appearances in movies like Pearl Harbor, and any Asian American major motion picture known to God.

However I have recently learned that before your passing you did voicework on the new Teenage Ninja Turtles movie that was released recently. I thought you would stop embarrassing us once you died.

I was wrong.

P. S. I thought you were ok in The Wash.

Everything I know about life I learned from Su Shi 蘇軾

So my last post was all about doubting one's life and accomplishments and the next day my teacher gave me this to read.

Here below is my crappy attempt at translation. My apologies to 蘇東坡.
The guest said:...Isn't this the place where Mengde (曹操)wrote a poem, as he was being cornered by Zhou Lang (周瑜) ? Forced to abandon Jingzhou, retreating down the river, fleeing east, the pursuing fleet covered 1000 li, and their flags darkened the sky, yet he could still sit by the river, raise his glass, and write this poem. What an uncommon man,yet where is he now?

You and I are like fishermen and woodcutters on a small island. We keep company with fish and shrimp, elk, and deer. Our boat is like a single leaf, we drink from gourd winecups. Between heaven and earth, we are the smallest of insects. We are the smallest of millet grains in the midst of the sea.

My life is brief. I envy the endless river. I want to grasp the flying immortal, and travel with him. I want to hold the moon until until the very end. I know that I will not achieve my ambitions quickly or easily, so I pour my feelings into the autumn wind.

Su said: You speak of the water and the moon. Water flows away, but it never vanishes. The moon waxes and wanes, but it is never extinguished. If you believe everything changes, and look at the world in this way, than nothing in the world lasts for more than an instant. If you believe that nothing changes and look at the world, then both you and it are limitless. So why do you envy it? On heaven and earth, every thing has a creator. If you have nothing, and cannot even grasp the smallest thing, look at the wind on the river, and the moon in the midst of the mountains. Your ears can hear the sound of the wind, your eyes can see the color of the moonlight. You can enjoy them as long as you wish. This is what the creator has treasured since the beginning of time, and that which both you and I can enjoy together.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Is it just me or

do other people not know what the hell they're doing? Seriously, I have no real plans for the future anymore. Is this a general state of affairs or does it go away eventually?

Monday, March 26, 2007

CSI Season 2

Recently one of my coworkers lent me the second season of CSI. I've watched CSI before, when I was in college. Usually my two friends and I would end up wanting to throw things at the TV by the end of the hour.

I don't watch much TV and I never really have. However, I do think that CSI is interesting, for a number of reasons. It is/was a pretty popular show, and by watching it you can figure out how many people get their ideas about all kinds of things. For example, the BDSM episode, in which a sex worker is accidentally killed by a client, seem like they were sort of poorly researched, although I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than I can speak to this, but the first thing I was thinking when I watched it was, isn't there usually a safe word of some kind?

Not to mention the dreaded Asian episode. Every show seems to feel the need to have one every couple seasons. This one involves Mark Dascasos wearing shoepolish makeup and spouting stereotypical "Buddhist" sayings. It amused me however, that despite the lines being written in broken English, that both Asian actors' pronounciation makes it pretty clear that both of them are native speakers of English, no matter how hard they try. If in fact they were trying hard.

Interestingly, most of the episodes also center around white women in danger. Most of the people who are killed or harmed on the show are young blonde women under the age of 35.

These things aside, it seems to me that CSI is really about the triumph of science and technology over base human nature. The mysteries of sex, violence, and other lower emotions can be analyzed and explained by test tubes and scans.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Whitewashed bananas

A friend of mine and I had a conversation about two schoolmates of ours. Both of them are Asian American. At some point, Person number 1 ended up jokingly referring to person number 2 as a "banana." Person number 2 reacted pretty badly to this and was quite offended.

This led to a conversation about "bananas" or "twinkies" or what have you. I myself have also been guilty of calling people bananas, and thereby seriously offending them. In talking to this friend of mine, I realized that I could easily be identified as a banana. I'm an Asian American who doesn't speak my "native tongue."

It made me realize that actually, not being able to speak an Asian language makes bananas (myself included) more insecure than our bilingual compatriots. Being able to speak your mother tongue lends you authenticity, both to white people, and also to your family or your community. It seems to me that being in possession of two languages anchors your identity more concretely in both spheres, country of ancestry and country of birth, and thus you are, as another acquaintance of mine said recently, a true transnational.

As an Asian American, in possession of an Asian appearance, there are some parts of your "culture" that remain inaccessible to you if you don't speak another language. It is also pretty central to the performance of your ethnic identity. If I was home right now, I would totally dig out Rey Chow's The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and quote it, but alas it's at home in America.

That said, I think most languageless bananas feel more insecure in their identity, I would hazard a guess, than those who are bilingual. And therefore feel the need to present or perform their identity more aggressively (that would be me) or to deny it entirely or even feel resentful or ashamed about it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Pondering

So I made the mistake of giving some of my adult students my screen name. This means that one of them has talked to me every day since he added me. Perhaps I'm being antisocial and mean, however, when I'm at home this means that I'm not working. And I suspect he wants to free English practice. I'm not required to be charitable when I'm not on the clock.

Last night, he also decided to give me tips on how to find friends in Taiwan. I want to say that it was a language problem. However, he also said it in Chinese, and it sounded about as patronizing. I don't think he meant to be patronizing, but I tend to react badly to that sort of thing. It brings out my inner snarky-kid-in-the-back-of-the-class. I don't like being told what to do. Also, his advice wasn't really all that that good.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Blargh

Maybe I do have a freakin' parasite, I'm just tired all the time. It could be that the rain has gotten me down. It could be that the weather just shifts between 80-45 within a couple days. Maybe I'm not eating enough iron?

Yesterday some police came into my house unannounced and scared the living daylights out of me. I guess it kind of drove home how, y'know, I live alone, keep little company, have few friends the whole deal.

On the brighter side of things, I got to talk to a bunch of people I haven't heard from in a while. That made me feel pretty good. Eventually I'll find the wherewithal to post some deeper thoughts here. It's not that urgent anyway, most people who read this have busy lives and other things to do.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The "What Kind of Asian Are You?" quiz

I'm pretty sure I've seen an older version of this. But I think it's been updated to fit the times.

There's some kind of horrendous music on the site, but you can turn it off if you scroll to the bottom.

Some things that I don't remember from the last time I saw this, (or perhaps it's just senility setting in prematurely.) which I also thought were kind of funny.

For
Asian American:
You are confused about your cultural identity and express this frustration through spoken word performances at your college
You read A. magazine and think it's great

The Gangsta Fob
Your hair looks silly, but no one will tell you because you'll shoot them
No one tells you your rice ride looks cheap because you'll shoot them

Recently I''ve been having some thoughts on the whole Asian American identity thing. I haven't really had a racial identity crisis in a while, so it's been kind of interesting. I'll probably say more about it later.

Also Magniloquence (who should update more) linked to this. It is hella awesome.

And now to the post office! Because mailing packages and paying bills is most exciting.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Giuliani

You know Guiliani is looking like a serious presidential candidate, despite his numerous fuckups. I have two songs in my music collection which insult Giuliani back in the day when he was just the Mayor of New York.

My My Metrocard- Le Tigre "Oh fuck Giuliani/ he's such a fucking jerk. /Shut down all the strip bars/workfare does not work."

Twice Inna Lifetime- Black Star "Mayor Rudolf can screw off/ he's too soft to stop us/ you and your coppers should see some foot doctors."

Surely there must be other artists who similarly despise Giuliani. I wonder if there are enough songs to make a CD in his honor if he does win the Republican nomination.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

An Open Letter to my Neighbors

New Year is over. Stop lighting firecrackers off already. It's been a month.

p.s. and your karaoke singing, while not overtly offensive is also not entirely welcome.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hooray for nicknames

My students have started calling me "Koala." It bears a slight resemblance to my real name. Children have started giving me stupid nicknames. It's really time to get out of here.

An Open Letter to my Asian Brothers

Stop embarrassing yourselves on TV! Seriously though, I'd kind of been avoiding this whole Kenneth Eng thing, but poplicks.com had a Fox News video and I couldn't help myself. If you don't know about Kenneth Eng yet,
Poplicks has excellent coverage here and here.

I'm not really going to even touch Kenneth Eng's articles. There's a reason that no one is defending him or his views. After seeing the video of his interview on Fox, my first thought was "Oh great. A wonderful representative of Asian Americans. At least he speaks English fluently, that gives him one up on William Hung." However, his nerdery, obsession with dragons, inability to make eye contact, and antisocial behavior seem to play into some of the worst Asian American male stereotypes.

Throughout the interview, the interviewer kept asking him why he was so angry. Mr. Eng talked a lot about dragons and his views on how dragons related to evolution. At the same time, I'm pretty sure that Kenneth Eng, like William Hung, is going to get much more air time than Jin or John Cho.

At the same time, it seems to me that he sort of taps into a cultural fear that William Hung also played into. They're like caricatures of what people always thought we were, but that we desperately tried to prove we aren't. At the same time, guys like these prove that these stereotypes do exist. There's nothing much we can do about our buffoons and bigots, they will probably continue to make asses of themselves. Just another round of one step forward, five steps back.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"For the greater good"

I read this on a forum somewhere. Someone was asking whether or not it would be justify to kill someone or commit torture in order to save a large number of people. Their examples, I believe, were if a serial killer were loose in the city and the police decided to frame a bum in order to relieve social tension and prevent a riot (and presumably loss of life and property), or if a kid saw some terrorists, would you torture them to get the information and save lives.

According to the way I think both of these examples are somewhat flawed because in both cases it's really impossible to determine the outcome of either of these situations. Who can really predict if the city will riot or not? Information obtained during torture is similarly unreliable. Will it save lives, or will you just be stuck with a charge of crimes against humanity and nothing to show for it. (This would be if my country even acknowledged the Geneva Conventions, and y'know international law, but I digress.)

That said, there are other situations in which a similar question might be asked. If there was someone who was carrying a deadly disease in the general population, would you kill them in order to eradicate the disease and save lives?

This is sort of a high school question, and in some ways I really hate these kinds of questions, because they have this "do or die" switch built in. In real life, choices are rarely this clear cut simply because life is fundamentally unpredictable. However it made me think, and I'll take intellectual stimulation where I can find it.

The needs of many over the needs of the few is a dangerous one. I've heard it used to justify the atomic bombing of Japan. We would have spent a longer time conquering Japan and therefore more people would have died etc. so bombing civilians without warning was justified. When they talk about more people, are they talking about American lives, Japanese lives, or both? And from their (American) perspective, which lives are more important?

The question I always end up asking in these situations is the needs of which many and the needs of which few? People in this day and age are impossible to separate from the various markers society assigns to them. It's easier to bomb a city full of women, children, and old people, if they are not OUR women, children, and old people. It's easier to scapegoat a person if they are disenfranchised by our society, poor, homeless, "crazy," or young.

These factors go through the minds of decisionmakers and they go through the mind of the public. I had a conversation recently with FireflyNightLight in which both of us noted that it's easier to feel an empathetic connection with someone if you feel that they are somehow "like" you. It's human nature on some level I think. However, I do think that this response on our part makes it impossible to simply divide people up into the many and the few.

The few that people choose to sacrifice will probably always look the least like "us." Whoever "we" happen to be at any given time. Were those few to look more like "us" the choice to sacrifice them would be unthinkable.

So what conclusions have I come to exactly? That it's impossible to define the many and the few in a way which transcends societal markers? That human nature is fundamentally bad. Maybe I've been reading too much 荀子. Have I been chasing my tail this whole time? Damn, this really is like high school.

Brain functioning

Brain once again able to function. Ah, so nice. Now, if only I can stay healthy for a while. Maybe eat more vegetables or something.

So you remember I had this random theory of utter geekery about the similarity of ancient Chinese poets and contemporary musicians, rappers etc?

Well, let's put this to the test shall we? I have an excellent candidate. Qu Yuan 屈原, arguably the first Chinese poet of note. He was originally a court official who was exiled and eventually threw himself into a river and drowned. Before he did, he wrote a series of exceptionally long dense poems with lots of mythological references, apparently these are veiled metaphors to his country's political situation.

Suggestions?

Monday, March 05, 2007

What is wrong with me?

As a result of still kind of having some kind of stomach bug, I've been eating some pretty plain stuff. However, I've managed to become addicted to and devour a bag of Lychee/Coconut jellies, you know the ones that come in little plastic cartons and have warnings about them getting stuck in your windpipe? I ate an entire bag tonight. They are curiously soothing to the stomach.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thinking

Hooray for not being responsible. Today I went to Taibei and bought two books and didn't do any homework. I think my Chinese is finally good enough to read some of the books I've enjoyed as translations. So I bought Republic of Wine by Mo Yan. The translation's quite decent, if you enjoy "the cannibalism as a metaphor for social commentary" school of Chinese literature, I highly recommend it. The other one I bought was Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian. We'll see if I actually get around to reading them before I have to ship them back.

I really need to cut down on my social anxiety though. I think I must be coming across as an idiot. The very polite salesman who attempted to sell me a $7900 backpack leads me to conclude this.

A note, when trying to sell someone something, if they ask you if there are any other models, do not tell them that this is the only option. Particularly if they can walk next door and find something $2000 cheaper. (A conspicuous lack of options makes me suspicious.)

When I actually do buy a backpack, I sure as hell ain't going back there.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Family History

In a conversation I had with a friend, I mentioned that, although it's really corny, when I run into difficult stuff here I think about my great grandparents and what they had to do when they came to America. And then generally whatever I'm going through doesn't seem so bad. My friend expressed some surprise that my family's been in America for so long. And it's true, the majority of Asian immigration to the US occurred post-World War II.

It's actually kind of weird since I have an almost textbook family history in some ways. I'm not entirely sure when my great grandparents (all 8 of them) came to the US, but it had to be before 1907 for the guys since that's when the Gentlemen's Agreement eliminated Japanese immigration to the US. Apparently my great grandfather's brother was caught in Japan at the time the agreement was passed and was unable to return.

Two of my great grandfathers started out in Seattle, one of them settled there for a while before moving down to LA where he supposedly founded a grocery store empire in the greater Los Angeles area and became seriously wealthy. The other one worked his way down the coast and out to Hawaii where supposedly there was an uncle waiting for him. When he got there, his uncle had disappeared and no one knew where to find him. Finally, one other set of great great grandparents came over as a couple and eventually settled in one of three somewhat "utopian" Japanese farming communities, the most famous of which was the Yamato Colony.

It actually surprised me but in a couple conversations I've had with people, the camps have come up. And although there's usually some amusing confusion about my grandparents being "in camps", people generally really surprised that my family was interned. I guess for me it's not really that unusual. I mean, my family is Japanese American, most of us were interned. But I guess most people have never met someone whose family was interned. Whatever.

The grocery empire was totally lost because of internment. They had to sell everything and lost a lot of money, and they never really recovered. Had my family held on to their stores, I'm sure our family would look a lot different, maybe I wouldn't have even been born, I don't know.

When I think about it, my great grandparents were pretty amazing. Most of them came to America at the age of 16 either to work or to marry some cousin who was 10 or so years older than them, and not speaking English. They lived in a country that was hostile to them and denied them citizenship. They worked dangerous and low paying jobs which Americans were not willing to do. Most of them never returned to Japan, which meant that they never saw their families again, and probably only occasionally heard from them.

My great grandparents took some pretty big chances. They were most likely motivated by inheritance disputes, poverty, shiftlessness, or just plain lack of options. However, it is good to remember them sometimes when I start feeling too sorry for myself.

Hooray for Surface Mail

I'm packing my first box of stuff to ship back home tonight. Rarely has packing ever put me in such a cheerful mood. The first survey of my home leads me to believe that I have actually accumulated few possessions which should make the whole process a lot easier.

I generally end up packing things in a hurry late at night and usually spend a lot of time carrying things and wondering why I have so much stuff anyway. Hopefully surface mail is significantly cheaper than airmail. I mailed some gifts to people today and holy jesus crap that was expensive! The good news is that the women at the post office are always incredibly nice and helpful.

Fortunately it looks like I will be able to acquire free boxes from my place of employment. Hooray for free boxes!