Thursday, May 31, 2007

Racist Toothpaste

So, I'm writing now from the Hong Kong Central Library, which has the nicest library bathrooms I have ever seen. Seriously. They're nicer than some fancy restaurant bathrooms I've seen. This is probably the last time I'll have internet access for another couple days. I have to check out at 11. And the train leaves around 3 o'clock, and I'll get in at 3 o'clock the next day.

Hong Kong's been an interesting place to be so far, although I still say it resembles a giant mall. I'll say that the food is very good and the people are fairly nice. This is quite a bit closer to being a first world country than Taiwan. Even if you still can't drink from the tap.
1) I've seen people not finish everything on their plate. That never happened in Taiwan, everyone always finished all their food. Whether you were hungry didn't really factor into it.
2) The people are a bit bigger. There are a lot of people who would be classified as fat in Taiwan, but they're pretty normal sized here.
3) It's clean. No wild dogs, no hawking and spitting in the street, no urination in the street etc.
4) It's expensive. This place is eating a hole in my wallet. Quickly.

I've noticed that of all things to be openly racist, the most racist thing I've seen in Asia is the toothpaste. There's the Darkie toothpaste, Whiteman toothpaste (sometimes I buy this one, I feel some odd kind of feeling of revenge, I'm not entirely sure why.), and today I found Chinky toothpaste. My work here is done.

Alright, I'm off. I might poke around a little more on Hong Kong Island. The last couple days I never left Kowloon. Then I've got to go buy some food for the 24 hr train ride. I expect there's probably food of some kind to be found. But on the off-chance there's not, I want to prepared. I could fast for 24 hrs without any major health risks, but it probably wouldn't be pleasant either. Nor would getting off the train in Beijing be made any better by doing this. When/If I get the chance I'll let you know how I like Beijing. Although don't expect anything terribly profound. I find it difficult to write when I'm being timed.

Oh yeah, and Taiwanese public transit ain't got nothin' on Hong Kong's! I take anything nice I said about Taiwanese mass transit and apply it to Hong Kong's. It's really quite awe-inspiring.

Being a believer in postcolonial theory makes it damn hard to shop for gifts

It's true! Gaudy silk, cheap and touristy, made for the western consumer, a simulacra of culture.

Those 30s Shanghai style things, false nostalgia and exoticism.

The recreation of a nunnery, a selective recreation of the past.

And don't even get me started on the fake folk art.

Taiwan vs Hong Kong

One of my Taiwanese friends once said that she didn't like Hong Kong very much because it was just like Taiwan. There's some truth to that. There are many ways that they are similar. When I walk out my door, I am inevitably sucked into a giant mall.

Hong Kong, or where I'm at, really is a giant upscale mall full of things that I can't really afford. Which is ok as far as it goes, but it only goes so far, you know what I mean. I went to a museum, and a reconstruction of a nunnery. Those were fairly cool.

That said there are some ways in which it's different. Hong Kong is a lot more cosmopolitan and multiethnic. People here don't bat an eye to see foreigners. And also the weather is much better, not so goddamn humid.

I said before that I only knew Hong Kong from the movies. But you probably shouldn't take the movies all that seriously. If I did, I would have come expecting men in black suits shooting the crap out of each other. However, if one took the movies seriously, I would have just come from a place where people live in sculptural urban isolation and make out with watermelons.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm off. I have my visa and bought my 24 hr. train ticket to Beijing. Hopefully my stuff doesn't get stolen.

Monday, May 28, 2007

ha, and just when you thought I'd left the room

I would just like to add for no reason in particular, I'm planning to mail my computer around noon today. Which means, I'll have no internet, no TV, and I've packed all my books. I'm pretty much just going to walk around the house saying "I'm bored I'm bored I'm bored." Although considering that I have to catch a taxi at 4:30 am tomorrow morning, I may just go to bed.

Gone Fishin'

So, it's time to close up shop here for a little while. I'm going to be traveling for about a month. And after that I'm heading back to Babylon, uh, I mean America, or do I? So those of you who have been here for the Taiwan leg of the trip, this is where you guys get off I guess. It was nice knowin' ya!

For everyone else who was here for the Asian American pop culture commentary and sarcasm. Stick around, there's plenty more where that came from. However, since I'm going to be traveling around with inconstant e-mail access, I make no promises about updating. So you may very well have to wait for a month. The sun, I've been assured, will continue to rise.

That said, I will update as much as I can. And when I get back I promise hella pictures.

So tomorrow morning I'm off to Hong Kong. I'll confess most of what I know from Hong Kong is from Wong Kar-wai movies, Infernal Affairs 1 and 2 and the Young and the Dangerous triad movies. I'm pretty sure it's not really like that in real life.

I'll let you know when I get there.

(If you know me in person, and you would like to be on the "Loveless Cynic has reached her next destination in one piece" e-mail list, you can e-mail me and I will add you. I do not promise that these e-mails will be terribly interesting. Although I'll try.)

Just in case you didn't know

Mint caramel candy is the worst kind of candy ever.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


I just saw Spiderman 3. It wasn't as bad as Ilyka Damen's review said it was. However, it was nowhere near as hilarious as the review was either. The movie made me chuckle grudgingly once or twice in a theater full of laughing people. However, the review made laugh out loud in an empty house at least 3 times and I read it twice.

So overall, I recommend the review over the movie. Plus the review is free and much shorter.

In other news, Little Light started posting again about identity and labels in general and her Pinay label in particular. They're both really really good. You should read them. I really like the Pinay one in particular, but I've got a one track mind.

Uh, also the typhoon season just started like right now. It's thundering mightily and pouring down rain, and it was sunny about an hour ago. Who's really glad that she didn't procrastinate about mailing the last box? Me!

Saturday, May 26, 2007


That Sepia Mutiny keeps making me think. They posted an article on what appears to be a conflict between Canadian-born desis and foreign-born desis, in which the word FOB has come into play. Which reminded me of some of my own experience with FOBs and the general perception about FOBs. So South Asians say FOB and East Asians say FOB, chalk up one point for the Indians are Asian guy.

In general, I feel like FOB, as a word, has quite a negative meaning. The most interesting thing about the word, for me at least, is the way it's used. Unlike other slurs, it's primarily an in-group word, rather than an out-group word. So although it is a form of discrimination, it's one that occurs within a community rather that between communities. I also suspect that FOB is chiefly an Asian American word, I've never heard it used outside of the Asian American (East or South) communities. I guess probably in part due to the name (fresh off the boat implies that you had to take a boat to get here).

I think in the past, the part of the FOB was pretty clear. Recent immigrants, funny clothes, accents, bad haircuts, "Third World" behavior etc. It's picking out their overly "ethnic" appearances, and comparing them unfavorably with American-born Asians. Why do we do this? On a certain level, I think because their presence makes us uncomfortable. Making the distinction of FOB vs. American born is attempting to draw a distinction where in the eyes of white people there is none. Telling ourselves " Well I'm not like that."

Furthermore, I feel, at least on my part, there's a certain amount of fascination. What would I have been like if I hadn't been born in America? Could that be me? When we reject FOBs, we make them our Other, our monster. Both a possibility of what we could have been and also what we most certainly are not. And at this point, it's really not about them anymore, it's about us.

On a personal level, I guess I never had the same dislike or aversion to FOBs that some of my peers did. In middle school, most of my friends were recent immigrants, and I actually wished I could be more like them. This is probably because the school was pretty much divided between white kids and immigrant Asian kids who were there because the middle school was the only one that had an ESL program. So it would have been easier to have a "place" if I had been a FOB.

At the same time, I used to get kind of frustrated with them because they didn't want to or weren't able to fight back, and honestly it was pretty much the latter, when people teased them about their names, or teachers would shout loudly and slowly at them. I probably took it harder than they did. I guess maybe I just wanted to see them stand up and fight back.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this honestly, but maybe much as Asian Americans frequently are the other to white America, the FOB, and really just the specter of the FOB, rather than any actual recent immigrant, is our other.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Two things I have accomplished in Taiwan

1) The ability to walk on wet tile in shoes with hardly any traction and not slip or otherwise make an idiot out of myself
2) The ability to balance in crowded buses with shot transmission and not hit people or fall down (and in the MRT sometimes I can stand there without holding onto anything)

An Open Letter to All Asian Actors and Directors Who Come to the US

Go home! Stop making crappy and embarrassing movies! Like Cradle 2 The Grave and The Tuxedo or Miami Vice! They will only give you roles that make you look like a Chinaman. You will always play the bad guy, or the guy who has to die. They will only give you the lead if you can do kung fu, and even if you do play the lead, it is highly probably that the other leading role will be starring Tom Arnold. Or, if you are a lady, you will have to take off all your clothes for the white dude, or do kung fu, or both! And it's equally possible that you will also have to die.

The Asian Diaspora is pretty widespread. There are tons of Asian Americans and Asian Canadians who go back to Asia to become stars. All of them speak English, fluently! (Daniel Wu, Edison Chen, Wang Leehom, Nicholas Xie, the LA Boyz etc.)

The big thing about these Asian stars who want to be crossovers (Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Jay Chou, Chow Yun Fat, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Rain, Utada Hikaru) is that none of them can speak English. And that's the reason given as to why they can't succeed.

There are Asian stars who can speak fluent English because they were born in the West. And y'know, they're never the ones who want to try their luck there. You know why? Because they know better.

Jesus Mary

Holy Mother of God what a day! My final day of work went fine, there was some crying, a few gifts. A demand that I not leave. A suggestion that I was leaving because I was pregnant.

And then I come home and the goddamn door will not open. The old lock finally went and broke and the door was goddamn stuck. So I'm essentially locked out of the house and cannot even open it with a key. And the locksmith's down the street is already closed.

Fortunately, I vaguely know my downstairs neighbor, who has mentioned that he thought the door was not all that great. So I knocked on his door and he was very nice and helped me find a locksmith. Only now the door won't close. So I'm kind of holding the door closed with a chair.

Anyway, the point of this story is that I am stressed out and grumpy. I have a couple ideas, I'll probably post them in a bit. However, my only thought at the moment after reading about Hutto, is that I think I actually want to encourage more global warming. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the human race really doesn't deserve to be alive.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Just so Everyone Knows the Score

The trial of the second defendant in a Queens, N.Y., bias attack has
come to a close, but news outlets are showing some bias of their own
in their reports on the sentencing.

Paul Heavey, 21, got off with five years of probation and 75 hours
of community service for the attack in the Douglaston neighborhood
last August. He and 19-year-old Kevin Brown rammed a car carrying
four Chinese American teens and then beat two of the occupants when
they got out to check the damage, at one point using a metal wheel
lock that victim Reynold Liang had taken up in self-defense. All
throughout, the two shouted racial slurs like "stupid gook" and
statements like "get out of our neighborhood." (In March, Brown was
sentenced to three and a half years in prison for his role.)

As part of his sentence, Heavey was required to make an apology,
which we would guess is a standard, token gesture for a trial like
this. But an overwhelming number of news sources are giving undue
weight to Heavey's words, as you can see in these headlines by New
York-area outlets:

"Student apologizes for racial attack": Newsday
"Student Offers Apology For Queens Hate Crime On Asians": WNBC
"Little Neck man apologizes for Doug hate attack": Times Ledger

These headlines gloss over the lightness of the sentence and seem to
imply that Heavey exonerated himself with his apology, as if that's
all the victims could have hoped for or deserved. And they overlook
that the apology was mandatory. Seriously, how sincere could the
statement have been, under the circumstances? At the very least, it
wasn't "offered," as WNBC put it.

Also, check out this header that a few outlets, including the
globally distributed International Herald Tribune, are carrying:

"College student offers apology for hate crime on Asians"

Again with the offering. And is that his designation, "college
student"? That almost makes you think Heavey was wearing a cardigan
and carrying an armload of books when he decided to attack the teens.

Maybe these news outlets think rehabilitation starts with the

The New York Post, on the other hand, prefers to see Heavey's story
as it is:


So just so we're clear, you can either get 5 years of probation and have to apologize to "the Asian American community" (or do 3.5 years in prison, which is marginally worse), for beating 4 Asian Americans with a wheel lock and calling them "gooks". However, you can go to prison for 8 years for selling Coca Cola's secrets to Pepsi.

God, I demand a do-over.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What is this "The dark skinned Communist Mob?"

About a month ago, I was reading a post on Sepia Mutiny about the May Day protests. Although initially it irritated me, (actually it was a slightly stronger reaction than that, I had to close the window and come back to it later) it did give me some food for thought.
Those rallies were also in response to particularly harsh anti-immigration positions by some members of Congress (positions far less likely to pass with Democrats in charge). However, these demonstrations increasingly pose a problem for me. They are no longer just about immigration (to be fair I wonder if they ever were). They are rallies by the working class against the elite. I worry that conflating these two separate battles will lead to a maelstrom. I worry more that these battles will increasingly become inseparable and that we will start to move toward a culture as in Europe where class and race seem to be inextricably tied and often lead to violence. Our strongest defense against self-immolation as a nation is to fight to de-couple race and class.

The first question that comes to my mind is What, is this going to be race war then or class war? And if so, who is on whose side? And how are the conflation of race and class causing America to destroy itself?

Anyway, I think we've discussed race and class around here before. Abhi makes the point that because these rallies occurred on May Day (International Workers Day) this gave the rallies themselves Communist connotations. As well as, seeming to promote Latin American Nationalism.

Is waving the flag of Mexico and other Central and South American countries on a day traditionally associated with Communism the best way to secure rights for immigrants in this country? Doesn’t it do the cause more harm than good?
I have a couple thoughts on these things. Since, according to my understanding, these were protests having to do with demanding rights and recognition for undocumented immigrants, so there is necessarily a class element to the protest. Undocumented immigrants are employed largely by people who can afford to pay people to do things for them.

The race element is equally unavoidable, since the majority of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico or other parts of Central and South America, or Asia. Racism groups all people of a certain ethnic group together, characterizing them as the same stereotype regardless of class. Furthermore, since most undocumented immigrants come from the same places, there's obviously going to be a measure of solidarity, and perhaps resulting from that, nationalism or national pride.

As for the flag waving, well, what about the Irish flags waved at St. Patrick's Day parades? Those aren't perceived as threatening or communist, or nationalistic. Perhaps this is due to the day, but something tells me, from reading some of the 142 comments over at Sepia Mutiny, that part of the objection is, if you want Americans to accept you, quit flaunting your foreignness. Maybe they'll accept you then. (I have my own cynical doubts about this. Assimilation seems to have done most Asians no good, but I digress.)

What I found especially interesting about the comments was the difference in opinion there seemed to be about illegal immigration. And a rift which does seem to be to some extent class-based. I think that the commenter makes a pretty good point, do doctors from Delhi and migrant workers from Mexico have that much in common besides that they came to America from other places?

And the argument, is made, in the thread that in fact they do, both are subject to exploitation due to racism and/or their tenuous status as immigrants, documented or not.

However, clearly some of the commenters feel that there is a distinct difference between those immigrants who "have a right" to be here, and those who are undocumented. And the ones "who have a right to be here" have the right of it, keep your head down and assimilate, if you don't not only are you stupid, but you're also making other immigrants look bad.

I also found Abhi's comments about the use of socialism, or the trappings of socialism for immigrants' rights to be rather interesting. At least among white activists, there does seem to be a desire to support the underrepresented, as well as a communist-socialist agenda. I'm not a big fan of capitalism myself, I don't know if I'm entirely sold on communism either. (Not for the ideals so much as communism's track record when put into practice.) Is communism the best way to go? Would that really help people of color and the working class of America? And if it doesn't then why does it attract so many ethnic organizers and such to its banner? But at the same time, I don't really believe that capitalism and democracy are really doing that great either.

In any case, immigrants are by no means a united, or uniform group of people. And class does divide them, and their perceptions of America and themselves. I have a friend whose coworker is an Eastern European woman who will rant endlessly about the "Gypsies and how they are ruining Europe because they have too many babies." And according to my friend she has intuited that in America the equivalent to Gypsies are Mexicans, and so she will also rant about what is wrong with America is the Mexicans and how they have too many babies. I asked my friend if her coworker realizes the irony of what she is saying, since she is also an immigrant. And my friend said "No, I think she thinks she's different because she's white, educated, and has only one baby."


I have discovered that half the reason I've been feeling so goddamn crappy is because of the side effects of the medicine the doctor gave me. I have a grumpy old man side to me, which is frequently dragged to the doctor while screaming "I ain't seeing no doctor!" Times like these only encourage him.

Three things

I will miss about Taiwan
1) The food, (dumplings with kimchee in them, dumplings with corn in them, edible seaweed, which is eaten like a snack food, and kind of tastes like popcorn, dou hua, rice whenever I want it, pineapple fried rice, passion fruit sodas, passion fruit flavored green tea, mango juice, handcut noodles, mochi, the abundance of red bean, the abundance of sesame seed paste, che lun bing, taro, bubble tea that's not too sweet, drinkable yogurt that is not a crime against god, uh I could go on for a while)
2) Cheap and plentiful public transportation
3) Cheap but high quality books, oh the books.

I will not miss about Taiwan
1) Fur Elise as played by the garbage truck, also having to wait for the garbage truck at 8:30 at night to throw out the garbage
2) The Jilong Police Department, (I shake my fist at you!)
3) Running out of gas in the middle of the winter and then having to take a cold shower because the gas store is closed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chinese Exclusion Act 2

I should be angry, instead I'm just sort of sad. Because this thing's really going to pass, I think. If we look at history, it'll tell us as much. The economy's bad, jobs are scarce. And rather than blame the corrupt, incompetent government who's responsible, we blame the swarthy folk, who are "taking our jobs" and doing them, I might add, better than us as well. but I don't know, American immigration has become ore and more weighted towards highly educated professionals, and the HB1 Visa, which looks and smells like a guest worker program to me.

Perhaps the whole "not allowed to bring families" part of the "reform" stings, since my family actually was subject to this over one hundred years ago. And it did split up our family. And we were lucky, because we were Japanese, most other people, Chinese and Filipinos particularly, had it even worse. And you know, I'm not a really big believer in America. In fact, most days, I really hate America. But I guess deep down, I never thought we would do something like this again. Well, I'm clearly a sucker. And America has never been very kind to the suckers of the world.

But then the cynical part of me says, well, America was built as a plantation. America has become powerful, not by being dedicated to freedom as we say, but on the backs of those swarthier than they. And perhaps it is only through a hell of a lot of luck that some of the descendants of those swarthier than they have managed to get some goddamned rights.

Maybe we've never left the plantation.

And the whiny American in me says well that's not fair. My grandfathers worked for the MIS (Military Intelligence) translating for the American army, so that the army could kill their cousins better and more efficiently, and all that stuff in the Japanese American History museum tells me that they did this to prove that they were American. They fought, and the boys and men of the 442nd died so that this would be better for us.

But it isn't better, and it's more than a hundred years since they passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and we're at this door again. Begging to keep the right for immigrants to unite with their own fucking families. When the first solider who died in Iraq wasn't even a goddamn citizen.

I'm just waiting for them to institute the quotas again, just watch them do it too.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The bright side

Y'know sometimes you get to the point where there's so much fuckedupness going on that you just don't want to hear any more. So it's good to remember that sometimes there's good news out there.

We have our first transgender prom queen, from Fresno.

And Oakland and San Francisco have decided they will be "cities of refuge" for undocumented immigrants.

That's kinda heartening, isn't it?

Visits to the Doctor

I would say that in America, visits to the doctor are usually characterized by waiting. In the waiting room, in the little room, and then later at the pharmacy for your prescription to be filled. Not so in Taiwan, they are ruthlessly efficient.

You see the doctor at his desk. There's no need to take any clothes off, and therefore, no need for those ridiculous paper smocks. While talking to the doctor, he gestured to someone behind me who came up and probed my ear with the thermometer with no warning, while he continued to talk to me. I initially had the panicky reaction of "Aah I'm being probed!" He proved that I was running a fever, and gestured in triumph, sort of like my fever was a rabbit he had pulled out of a hat.

They gave me three types of pills in little plastic bags, to be taken 4 times a day and 2 types of asthma inhalers. Less than half an hour later and $6 US poorer, I was done.

You know what, fine

if people hate immigrants so fucking much, why don't they just boycott them, just like everything else we protest.

Stop eating food that immigrants harvested, grew, or cooked, stop going to places where immigrants work, stop buying things that immigrants made.

Oh, right, you can't. They're everywhere. Almost like an integral part of our society...or something...

And the next time one of those right wing pundits goes off about "the foreigners" or the "illegals" I'm really going to want to know who made his suit, and who mowed his lawn.

Oh yes, and I move that we rescind Michelle Malkin's Asian card. We can do that, right?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Packing Up

As I put my life in boxes, I feel sort of compelled to sum up my time here. Perhaps in the hope of convincing myself that I have accomplished something. In my online reading, which I've been doing a lot more of, I've packed almost all my books and there are just only so many times you can read Fun Home and W. H. Auden's Collected Poems, I came across a couple things that resonated with my experience here. Like this entry from Sepia Mutiny,

As an ABCD, I want things both ways. In the USA I want to be recognized as fully American; hyphenated American to be sure, but still just as American as any pink-skinned Mayflower descendent. This is especially true when I need consular support or when I am re-entering the country.

But in India, I usually want to pass. I was really proud when a Delhite came up to me on the street and asked me for directions in Hindi. The only time I’ve been amused to hear “You speak English really well” was when it came from an Eastern European tourist at Fatehpur Sikri. [I ruined the illusion by responding “Thanks. I watch a lot of American television” whereupon he recognized the American sense of humor.]

I've also sometimes been a bit unreasonably obsessed with passing here. Sometimes to the point of going to great lengths to avoid talking, or talking very little so they won't hear the accent. For some reason, it's been very important for me at least pass for being local here. Probably, because in America, you've always got to be conscious of what you look like, where you are, and it's a good idea for you to be there. I mean really, this has been the only time when I could be relatively anonymous, well, until I opened my mouth anyway.

I have to admit, I also really dislike the condescension that sometimes comes out when people realize I'm not from here. White people have asked me why I have such a chip on my shoulder about it, probably it bothers me so much because I get that in America anyway, I really don't have to put up with it here too. And having it come from people who look (well sort of) like me, makes it hurt more somehow. I'm not sure why.

he finally discovers that the purpose of his journey was not self-discovery, but self-abandonment; that he may have moved abroad to find himself, but his real achievement was losing himself. For a period of time at least, he belonged not to his mother, his church, his middle-class upbringing, his debutante girlfriend’s idea of the perfect beau, or even black America. Outside of the “fish bowl” better known as Los Angeles he could breathe, try on identities without the fear of judgement, and get to the bottom of his enigmatic black self.
I also related to this, which is from the HNIC Report. It's pretty self explanatory I think. Certainly I've had to define myself in different ways here. I've known for a long time that I wasn't really American. Now I know that I'm not Asian. And I've also known for a long time that I'm an exceptionally inauthentic Asian American, but that's another story for another time, so let's leave that shall we? However, it's probably the first time that I got to be just a person.

I've met quite a few people who were pretty interested in finding the "real" Taiwan. Often rejecting what they saw around them as being not what they were looking for. The unreal Taiwan I guess. (If I was going to give in to my pretentious side, I would use some word like simulacrum or something, but I'll be good.) I don't know. I generally thought what they were looking for an idea that they already had about what their experience should be, and were trying to find something that fit. If you want to find kooky artists you'll find them, if you're looking for seedy brothels you'll find those too. If you're looking for suburban housewives, you'll find those too. Trying to find the "real" Taiwan seems to me to be about as easy as finding the real New York City. Your impressions and experience really say more about you than they do about Taiwan. So what do my impressions add up to? I'm not really sure honestly. It's sort of corny to say that I probably ended up learning more about what I was not than where I was. But at the moment, that's about the long and the short of it.

It's been one of those sort of gloomy, putting up the chairs and counting the day's take kinda days. We'll be at the 7 day mark on Wednesday. So I guess that's appropriate.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Ok, this one is from 紅樓夢, or Dream of the Red Chamber, one of my favorite novels, quite possibly my favorite novel of all time. Lots of apologies, there's a rhyme scheme in this poem that that I just can't do.

Everyone knows that enlightenment is good, if only they could have fame, that would be enough.
Yet those ministers and generals, where are they now? In a lonely grave, disappearing into the grass.
Everyone knows that enlightenment is good, if only they could have silver and gold, that would be enough.
From dawn to dusk, they only worry that they don't have enough, yet by the time they're satisfied, they will have shut their eyes for good.
Everyone knows that enlightenment is good, only they can't forget their beautiful wife.
While you're alive, she says nothing but good, day in and day out, but when you're dead, she's gone with someone else.
Everyone knows that enlightenment is good, only they can't forget their children.
Since the beginning of time, there have been doting parents beyond count, yet a faithful son, I've yet to see.

Depressed Asians

Probably as a result of both API history month and V Tech, we have news stories reporting on an old statistic. That Asian American women 15-24 are the most likely of any ethnicity in that age group to commit suicide. I say this is an old statistic, I've written about it before. However, it is startling statistic nonetheless. I'm at the very very outside of this age group. So maybe this means it hits a little closer to home for me.

The author of the article Angry Asian Man links to seems to want to put the blame to Asian culture. I thought the prof that they quoted was actually a bit better, in that she admitted that they don't really know for sure. Could be Asian culture, could be the pressure of the model minority stereotype, could be genetic, they don't really know.

There are times when I feel like being the invisible minority is not so bad, given the demonization of other ethnic groups. At least they don't say bad things about us, right? But it's times like these when I feel how much invisibility really hurts us. How many young Asian American women know themselves to be at risk? How many of our well intentioned white mental health practitioners know that Asian American women are at risk?

I don't know that I buy that the the self-imposition of the model minority stereotype is what causes young women to want to kill themselves. Could be those family expectations, but I'm inclined to think that those are a different animal entirely. The model minority stereotype is most pernicious, I think, not among Asian Americans, but among other people. That the quiet Asian kid is quiet, not because there's something wrong, but because that's just the way Asians are.

News Flash Asian Americans exist

Well, apparently only for the month of May. The Fighting 44s posted the CNN Defining the Asian American Experience article.

I'm not sure whether it's possible to "define" the Asian American experience. The responses chosen do seem to share some similar sentiments.
1) Asians are invisible.
2) Asians experience racism too.
3) Asian Americans are not foreigners but are in fact American.

None of this should be a news flash, but as the 44s note, rather cynically but accurately, the amount of focus on API History Month, which generally passes without comment, is probably due to V Tech.

It's actually kind of amazing how invisible we still are.

Friday, May 18, 2007

There is no God

Gentle Readers, you may remember that I abjured all faith in the Creator when Jet Li accepted the role of leader of the mummies in The Mummy 3.

But I just might deny his very existence. No god would bring back Fu Manchu. Unless the Devil brought him back in exchange for allowing Yul Kwon to win Survivor.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I can't help but think they have a rather salient point

I sent a couple of my (Asian American guy) friends a survey on Asian American men. Below is their conversation, which they sent to me. Edits have been made for grammar, and also the gratuitous sports talk involving Phoenix and San Antonio has also been removed.

The idea was ripped from Jinxin's Conversations on Gtalk series.

J: Did you take that online survey?

N: Not yet.

N: I will before I sleep.

J: Hahaha, it asks if you a small penis.

N: But seriously, how many of those stupid ass studies do they need to do?

N: It's like every Asian American Studies grad student goes for that shit.

J: It's hella flawed when it's online like that.

N: And depending on who is doing it, it goes one way or another.

N: Asian American academia needs to do some serious quality control before they turn into a huge fucking joke.

Yeah this survey isn't well done at all, and I don't even know anything about making a survey. It just seems poorly constructed to me.

N: Goddamn, some of these questions.

N: Oh My God, he asked the penis question.

J: Hahaha.

J: I told you.

N: I swear to god, half of this messed [up] Asian American identity is retards like this guy perpetuating perpetuating it through his BS studies.

J: Well, true, I totally see what he's trying to get at.

N: I'm gonna hold a workshop for Asian American men someday.

N: It's gonna cost $500 dollars and I promise them it'll change their lives.

N: and all I'm gonna do is tell them to "be cool and do your thing."

J: Haha and give me my 500 bucks?

N: No, I'll ask for it first.

N: I'm gonna send a copy of this conversation to [lovelesscynic].


I once had an intense argument with a friend of mine about the politics of choosing. My friend was of the opinion that one should fight equally for every cause, against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, ablism, lookism etc. And I maintained that, while one can be an ally on every cause, eventually you have to choose what you want to work for. And I still feel this way. And in the end I chose racism, because at least for me, it's important to be able to work to within a movement where I don't have to listen to upper class white straight women tell me what to do (feminism), or rich gay men tell me what to do (gay rights).

Plus there are things like ablism, which are not a part of my personal experience, and attempting to get involved to the point of hijacking the issue seems both dangerous and patronizing. In these situations, I think it's better and more helpful to be an ally

I read this post by Black Amazon and I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Relieved that someone else felt the same way I did about feminism, and also kind of disappointed, since I'd be hoping maybe just the self identified feminists that I had met were like that and "real" feminism was better.

Anyway, Magniloquence is righteous and everything. And said most of what I think, only better and clearer. But I have to say, I've listened to white straight girls complain about the burdens of being beautiful and thin, I've heard rich gay men say that we must all try to make ourselves inconspicuous and maybe the government will give us some civil unions (or possibly some candy.)

And then I think about Vincent Chin and somehow those things don't seem that important to me. So while I try to be an ally for other people's causes, because there are other struggles than mine that are important, and worth fighting for, I still do believe that you have to choose, in the end, where you're going to be.

You can call them pet issues if you want, but who is going to fight for us if we don't fight for ourselves. And if you won't fight for me, why should I fight for you?

All hail

The Great God Insomnia. Patron God of those who drink too much coffee and think too damn much.

Seriously though, this is my last day of informing classes that I will be leaving next week. One of my kids found out from her sister yesterday, and followed me out to the elevator holding my hand. Unfortunately her English level's not high enough for me to really talk to her about it, and I'm not allowed to speak Chinese to them. She's a great kid, I have a feeling I would have liked her even more if we'd been able to communicate better. 但有緣沒有分。

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


So this week I quit going to class in order to continue packing (hooray!) and filing taxes (hooray!) and other exciting things. However, when I was still going to class, my teacher gave me a poem which was written using Chinese characters but specifically meant to be read in Taiwanese (Minnanhua). So some words don't actually follow their original meaning, but are used to convey their phonetic meaning which a speaker of Taiwanese would understand.

Since a lot of words were still connected to their original meaning I could 大概 understand the meaning of the poem. This led to a discussion of sorts about dialects or local languages.

To me, I guess, Taiwanese seems a lot like Hawaiian pidgin. Actually, that's always been the one language I wish I knew. Well, ok, that and Chinese. But anyway, both had been suppressed before, and both are now rather inextricably connected to an emergent sense of local identity. While at the same time, they are incredibly personal. Even Taiwanese people who don't necessarily support the recent government decisions to emphasize teaching Taiwanese in schools have a fondness, and pride for the language itself.

However, since it is a language, or dialect, confined to a specific region, a poem written in that language is limited in its audience. Fewer people have the ability to truly understand what the poet is talking about. But perhaps this makes the identification that much stronger.

Like I said, I don't speak pidgin, but I do, well partially, understand it. Because my cousin speaks it. My mom's family is kamaiina of sorts. But our family are still katonks from the mainland. We did end up living with my grandparents for a month once, and even in a month my sister and I were already picking some stuff up. Part of it was because we were kids, and kids just pick things like that up quicker, and part of it was because a lot of pidgin is based off of the pidgin Japanese that my family uses. Zots from zoris. etc. And then some of it was just made up, my uncle for example is bolohead.

Anyway, like poems in Taiwanese, there has been fiction written in pidgin. Although I don't always enjoy all of it, and something often tells me that I'm missing something, since I don't speak pidgin for real. However, I would say that sometimes local languages are able to convey something that is truly unable to be expressed by the bigger ones. It's really hard to explain, but there it is.

B-side 3

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You know

my first thought when I read this morning that Jerry Falwell had died was "Oh Thank God" then I realized that I don't actually believe in god. Then I realized that it was actually kind of ironic because Jerry Falwell was a reverend.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Food for thought in the morning

Ok, well it's probably not morning for you, dear reader, but it is for me. And I just had some coffee. (The dehydrated kind, I have really sunk so low.) A friend of mine sent me this article.

A Question Of Race Vs. Class
Affirmative Action For the Obama Girls?

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, May 15, 2007; A15

Barack Obama
> doesn't think anyone should cut his two daughters any slack
when they apply to college -- not because of their race, at least. In
the unlikely event that the Obama family goes broke, then maybe.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Obama waded into
the central issue of the affirmative action debate: race vs. class.
Perhaps typically, Obama's remarks were more Socratic than declarative.
He didn't really answer the question, he rephrased it. Maybe the way he
posed it, though, will lead to a discussion that's long overdue.

George Stephanopoulos asked Obama whether his daughters should be able
to benefit from affirmative action when the time comes for them to go to
college. The girls "should probably be treated by any admissions officer
as folks who are pretty advantaged," Obama said.

Stephanopoulos was driving at the question of whether race-based
affirmative action programs are still needed. Another way to frame the
issue is whether race or class is the more important factor in our
society. Are minorities who are raised in middle-class or wealthy homes
still held back by racism? Or should we now focus on socioeconomic
status as the principal barrier keeping people from reaching their

Obama's answer, basically, was yes. To both questions.

Obama has repeatedly gone on record as a supporter of affirmative
action. But "if we have done what needs to be done to ensure that kids
who are qualified to go to college can afford it," he said in the ABC
interview, "affirmative action becomes a diminishing tool for us to
achieve racial equality in this society."

He seemed to side with those who think class predominates when he said,
"I think that we should take into account white kids who have been
disadvantaged and have grown up in poverty and shown themselves to have
what it takes to succeed."

It's hard to disagree with that proposition, especially as economic
inequality worsens in this country. Harvard University (where Obama went
to law school) has taken the lead in guaranteeing that money will not be
an obstacle for qualified low-income students.

But Obama seemed to agree with those who point to the lingering effects
of racism when he noted that "there are a lot of African American kids
who are still struggling, that even those who are in the middle class
may be first-generation as opposed to fifth- or sixth-generation college
attendees, and that we all have an interest in bringing as many people
together to help build this country."

That observation points to circumstances that have to be taken into
account. Diversity, in my view, is very much in the national interest.
But diversity is a process, not a destination. We have to keep working
at it. And since a college degree has become the great divider between
those who make it in this society and those who don't, affirmative
action in college admissions is one of the most powerful tools we have
to increase diversity.

The formal separate-but-equal framework is long gone, but de facto
separation and inequality persist. Minority students are
disproportionately disadvantaged by having to attend substandard primary
and secondary schools. Their parents are less likely to have attended
college and thus may not be familiar with all the things parents have to
do to make their children competitive when it comes time to apply for
college admission. And while racism is not the institutional and legal
straitjacket it was 50 years ago, it persists in subtler yet still
pernicious forms.

Yes, class is important. But race is, too, and while I hope we
eventually get to the point where race is irrelevant, we still have a
long way to go.

As for Obama's assessment of his daughters' privileged status, that's
just a statement of the obvious. With such Type A, high-wattage parents,
those girls probably will have the grades and test scores to get into
any college. And if they don't, they will benefit from a different
affirmative action program -- one that for many generations has ushered
the academically undistinguished scions of prominent families into the
nation's most selective colleges and universities.

Let's not pretend that college admissions has ever been a level playing
field. Obama graduated from Columbia; his wife, Michelle, from
Princeton. This means that at those two Ivy League schools, their
daughters will be "legacy" applicants, just like George W. Bush was at
Yale and legions of Kennedys have been at Harvard. Given the Obamas'
power and fame, admissions officers at the schools they attended -- and
probably at other elite schools, too -- are going to find a way to let
the Obama girls in.

Obama's response does sort of highlight one of those great loopholes in affirmative action. For the record, I generally support affirmative action. However, I think most people, at least those who went to expensive private schools at some point in their education, know that there are many rich people of color use the self identifying part of the app to exploit the system. And certainly my Distinguished Institution was much more concerned with shipping in photogenic bodies of color rather than focusing on giving tuition breaks to the truly disadvantaged. And that's not affirmative action was intended for, and certainly not what it should be used for.

Is Obama correct in saying that his daughters shouldn't get any breaks? I'm not really sure. I mean the writer of the article has a point, with a senator for a dad, and a (former) high powered lawyer for a mom, those two probably won't want for anything. And I agree, I've seen tons of extremely rich kids of color who were pretty much ignorant of their privilege and probably never saw it because money smoothed the way for them. However, I also resist the raising of class over race. Doing so makes this more palatable for white people, because they can avoid talking about race. That said, generally speaking, I generally have more in common with the working class white person than the rich person of color, in terms of everyday worries and the reality I live.

I don't think I'm going to come to any conclusion on this today.

B side 2

I'm not sure why I never posted this one either.
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B sides

So, anyway, I was cleaning out my camera in preparation for my trip. And I'm not sure why I never posted this one. I tend to be somewhat perfectionist about taking pictures. Also my computer is incredibly slow, so it means it if it's not a picture I think is pretty good, it doesn't really go up here. That said, 3 months after the fact, this one looks ok.

This is from Shifen. Took me about 5 hours of waiting for the train to get there.
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Monday, May 14, 2007

Sometimes I think I was born to be a grumpy old man

Y'know, when my new English co-worker, himself a 2nd gen Irish immigrant to England tells me that my heritage is "proud" I have this perverse desire to say "Fucking take that back! My heritage is not proud! My heritage is no prouder than yours!" But I realize that this would only end in me dissing myself.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

One year older and arguably wiser

considering that I recently purchased a combination lock for my future travels and then misset it, so I don't know what the combination is. It's one of those 3 number code affairs. So I've been going through all 999 combinations. I've done this twice so far with no success. However I find the process vaguely soothing, perhaps this is the type of feeling that comes when one makes baskets.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

On Moving

I really hate moving. Which is hilarious since I have moved 3 times in less than 2 years. And before that, I would move twice a year. But it's also an interesting time, you can really feel, in actually physical ways, just how much shit you have accumulated, and how much of it you really don't need. I usually end up moving more stuff to the trash than I pack.

I knew someone once who only had 3 boxes of possessions and she said her goal was to work down to one.

Sometimes moving gives me this slight sense of not being quite real. Since when you move, you are, to some extent erasing the evidence that you lived here, to some extent.

I think before this sort of being in transition used to scare me, because it is, by nature, uncertain. I don't think it scares me anymore. I'm not sure why.

Unexpected Kindness

So unless I have sunk to greater depths and forgotten when my own birthday is, people have been sending me birthday congratulations early. It's tomorrow...right?

One student apparently remembered I told her when my birthday was and her mother showed up yesterday with a giant cake. Which my boss assured me was from the most expensive bakery in town. It was taro flavored, but also full of whipped cream, which is not my favorite type of cake filling. But I shared it with everyone in school, so it was ok.

Have I mentioned that I hate goodbye parties? Or, to be more specific, I hate insincere goodbye parties. I have apparently managed to successfully avoid my boss's and now one of my adult classes. The woman who invited me was certainly sincere, but I'm pretty sure that her husband doesn't particularly like me, and I really don't want to spend a couple hours being patronized by 30 something professionals. I'm not required to put up with people I don't like when I'm on my own dime.

The only one that I did accept was my other adult class. We're not all that close either, but at the end of the day they are really nice people. So that's the only one I'll do.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Words cannot express

how much I hate having insomnia.

I just had a really weird experience

so we have a new student in my class of mostly older students. Her name's Doris, she picked it herself, so I refrained from requesting that she change it. Tonight she told me that she was a boy and that three of the girls in our class were her girlfriends. She stressed that she was only a boy for today, and her name was Tom.

Ok, I haven't really written a whole lot about being queer in Taiwan. People know that it goes on, but people just don't talk about it. So for a teenage kid, a 7th grader, to bring it up, honestly pretty openly and ostentatiously like that, really surprised me.

The other girls in the class, including her "girlfriends" seemed slightly uncomfortable but I think mostly not sure what to make of it. I decided to treat it like nothing unusual was happening. I called her Tom, which was the name that she requested that I call her. Until she informed me later that she was a girl again. Then I went back to Doris.

The only time I really stepped in was when she cornered another girl by the bathroom. One, the other girl's pretty immature, I don't think she really knew what was going on, and she didn't seem entirely comfortable with what was going on.

It's difficult for me to read really. Is she trying something out, making a play for attention, maybe not sure herself? It almost seemed too aggressive and open to be genuine, but I could be wrong. I'll have to wait and see what happens I guess. I asked my TA what she thought about it, and all she said was that she thought it was "weird." Again, it's a pretty taboo subject here, so no one's going to bring it up.

But I can't deny she's got guts.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

You know

it's pretty clear that Americans really don't look for much experience in our Presidents. I mean, in our extremely, extremely weird 2008 presidential candidate field, who is actually qualified on paper? Bill Richardson, who, strangely enough is a second tier candidate, and John McCain. I honestly can't really think of many other people. Anyone with national experience hasn't held office for all that long, John Edwards only served one term. Hillary Clinton served 2, and Obama, like, uh, half? And the current front runner for the Republicans has never even held national office.

Perhaps people vote for president the way they vote for American Idol, for whoever looks the best, or sounds the best at the time, or perhaps in some sick desire to see the whole system collapse, just for the hell of it. So does that mean that Giuliani is Sanjaya of the 2008 Presidential Elections? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Being a Good Ethnic

Within my narrow 範圍, I have been reading a bit about how rap goes too far and may or may not covertly foster crime.

And it got me thinking. The objections to the sexism and misogyny in hip hop made me wonder? Is it the sexism that they are practicing that is really the issue here, or the fact that they are vulgar, or to put it more pretentiously, they're being bad ethnics.

(Quick definition of terms: I generally subscribe to Rey Chow's definition of ethnic in her book The Protestant Ethnic, which if you haven't read, you should go out and read- right now. In her book she dissects the term ethnic, which if we take the technical definition then anyone and everyone has an ethnicity, however, only certain people are considered ethnic. That is, mostly people of color. We don't consider white American speech and clothing to be ethnic. She says it a lot better than me. I'd go into detail, but although the main outline of her argument is burned into my brain from obsessive rereading the details are not. And the book's in America. So for the pop culture definition of ethnic, anyone whose ethnicity could possibly sell a movie about a wedding with ostentatious cultural trappings.)

The talk about "snitching" strikes me as even more indicative of the gap between white progressive thinking and ethnic thinking. White, presumably progressive, Anderson Cooper talking to ethnic Cam'ron about reporting crime to the police, it's pretty clear even from the quotes I read that the two are coming from two different worlds. And once again, ethnic thinking is being held to a white standard and found lacking.

So to bring this together, it got me thinking about what it takes to be a good ethnic. In some ways conservative white thinking is easier to talk about, since they just want to subjugate any and all and then assimilate us, or run us out of town all together (God, my grandfather actually gave money to Pat Robertson. Yeesh. My alleles feel dirty right now.). Liberal or progressive white thinking is a little bit slipperier to grasp. According to this thinking, ethnics are allowed to have our own cultures, but they have to be modified to be palatable, sometimes literally, to white tastes. This often involves ignoring or condemning parts of our cultures which do not fit into the Happy Rainbow Let's All Join Hands and Sing paradigm.

Ironically, many people at the head of ethnic movements, tend to be progressive people of color. Who similarly are committed to working against racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ablism (etc. at least in theory.) However, the key difference between white progressives and their counterparts of color is that, at least in theory, we're less judgmental about the less than politically correct aspects of our communities, however much it ticks us off. And I think most of us recognize that the majority of our ethnic communities tend not to see eye to eye with us on sexism, and homophobia for starters.

Aaanyway, the point I was attempting to make was that in this case, hip hop artists appear to fall into the category of a bad ethnic. Propagating crime, violence, and misogyny, and horrifying older white people with their vulgarity, while delighting other white people with tales of the mean streets of Wherever. Being a professional ethnic can be a minstrel show, and for sure there are hip hop artists, who play up their ethnicity, dramatize and perform it.

However, although hip hop is a white financed business now, that's not to say that all rappers are simply performing for a white audience. I found this which helped me sort some things out for myself. Because, it seems to me that we pay a lot of attention to hip hop's portrayal of women, and we don't pay all that much attention to why. Some people may be following a trend, but I'm inclined to think that for at least some artists, they are expressing the way that they think about the world. Even if I don't agree with their vision necessarily, considering that hip hop is such a far reaching phenomenon, I think it's worth trying to find out or at least ask what factors contributed to them seeing the world that way.

The world's a messy place, and not all ethnic voices fit into a progressive vision of what the world should be like. Instead of telling people what they should be saying, maybe we should figure out why they're saying it first. Then work to change their minds.

Update: Crap I forgot to mention that Magniloquence's analytical lens and Nezua's post about progressive blogs were originally what brought everything together for me. (I've been waiting to try to think of an intelligent comment for Nezua's post, but fuck it, I just really really like it. That's about all I can manage at this point.)

Songs of Resistance

So following my request that they please stop singing, my class responded by singing "Don't sing."

I have more amusing students than I deserve.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Neighbors 2

The neighbors' situation is clearly getting worse. There was more screaming last night, parents and kids, and it sounded like things were getting thrown. I feel like I should do something, but I don't even know where their apartment is. I'm even less sure about the legal or social factors at play here. For example, in Taiwan, legally a woman has to be beaten 7 times and report it to the police before she can file for divorce, hella fucked up, no? So I don't know if the police would do anything if I did call them. When all is said and done, it really sounds kind of scary, and leaves me with a lingering sense of guilt.

Anyway, now I know how Mrs. Skidmore felt when we lived in LA. Except she lived across an American street, which means we were probably a lot louder.

Dammit, they got me!

After studiously avoiding the alumni office of my Illustrious Alma Mater, they've e-mailed me. And just what the hell is a "high spring" issue anyway? It's frickin early May, shouldn't it at least by Late Spring? Or if we're going to pretentious, as they often are, Spring in Decline?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What do you want for dinner?

One of my little kids once said "Rice is good." and it sort of summed up something that I've noticed for a while. We are very loyal to the grains of our culture. When I was attending a Certain Illustrious Institution of Higher Learning, there was no short grain rice to be found in the cafeteria. The only kind of thing they had was that instant Uncle Ben shit, that stuff doesn't even smell right. The first month was the worst. Because I had no rice cooker, and I wasn't confident enough to try to cook rice in a pot. And when my mother sent me a rice cooker, I made a pot and just ate it straight, that's how desperate for rice I was. It doesn't make any logical sense. Our health classes teach us that we can get carbohydrates from many types of food. But during my month or so without the "right kind" of rice, I definitely felt the lack. (And for your information, the "right kind" would be short grain white, long grain won't do it, and brown rice won't do it, although I appreciate both of these kinds from time to time.)

This isn't just an Asian thing. My Caucasian coworkers have frequently said that they eventually want to eat bread or potatoes again. They get sick of rice. And I remember a short story I read, written by a native Hawaiian, who said "Rice is great and all, but I've got to have my poi."

Why do our grains come to represent our culture for us? Because they remind us of home? But why more so than say, meats or vegetables? I'm not really sure. Sometimes they seem to stand in for our culture, hence the term "rice rockets" we mean an Asian car, but if we say rice everyone will know it's an Asian car. But in the end I agree with my student, rice is good.

Ok, I'm going to stop before it gets all Amy Tan up in here.

Being sick interferes with my circuitry

I swear to God (only I abjured him when Jet Li signed onto The Mummy 3) any time I relax I get sick. I guess the solution would be to be stressed out all the time! Because really, I've even been eating my vegetables! Really! Every day!

Well O Life, you win again.

In the meantime, I just have to say that 3-Iron is a damn fine movie. And that Zhang Ziyi can't act, but I've said both of these things before.

I could talk about how I have spent most of my sick time reading large amounts of manga. And the surprising (well, to me at least) homoeroticism contained therein. But I suspect that you would cease to respect me.

Other than that, things are getting packed. Things will hopefully be cleaned. It's warm and sunny today which means my clothing will actually dry. That's the worst part of winters in Taiwan with no dryer. Your clothes take about 3-4 days to dry and even then they're kind of damp.

and finally the West 32nd Trailer.

Jinxin says he's afraid he's going to get disappointed with a poor man's Infernal Affairs. But I don't know when I've been so excited to see an Asian American movie since Better Luck Tomorrow. And I love Better Luck Tomorrow.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thoughts on a Police State

Given recent current events, I've been thinking a bit about police states. I've had the opportunity in the last year and a half, to live in a place where people lived under martial law not so long ago. (Martial law was lifted in 1987.)

I don't know much about the experiences of people under martial law, because people are very reticent to talk about it, or politics in general. I asked someone once, why people don't like to talk about politics here, and they said "Because it shows what kind of person you are." I don't know if this is true for everyone, but I thought it was an interesting viewpoint nonetheless.

All of my students and teachers have all been very reluctant to talk about politics. They will a little, I usually have some idea of their political leanings, however, there's always a sense of restraint and figurative (or sometimes literal) looking over one's shoulder before speaking. You just get the sense that someone might be listening, that something might happen to you. And even to me (a relatively privileged outsider) it feels pretty real. I use an American-centric textbook with my adult class, so there's lots of opportunities for political discussion and such. I don't think the authors allowed for teaching it in a place where discussing politics openly among relative strangers is not an option, or at least not a comfortable one.

I'm not saying people aren't interested in politics, most people I've met clearly have opinions. Some people I've met go to rallies and things with very little trepidation. But at the same time, it seems like a lot of views on politics are understood and not necessarily spoken about. Maybe because, people are never sure what might happen. Or maybe what could happen.

So, anyway, police states. Is America a police state yet? I don't think it is, yet. We may not be as free as we think we are, and quite frankly most of America is too busy watching American Idol to care, but I still think the very American sense of entitlement is still fairly free. The average American is may be having our rights stripped from us, but we're not looking over our shoulders, yet. And when we are deprived of the freedom we feel entitled to we feel indignant. Being deprived of rights has not become the status quo, yet. (For those of you who noticed that I have used the word yet four times in one paragraph, congratulations. You have won the Literature Major Close Reading Prize.)

Disclaimer: My observations are, as always, necessarily limited by my status as a (lower) middle class, college educated, light skinned, Northeast Asian American, English speaking person. (Yes, I realize I lack in the realness department.) For those who feel that I am not telling it like it is, please feel free to let me know. I can only tell it like I see it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

and incidentally

life would be so much simpler if I didn't have to eat, sleep, or do laundry. For serious.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Tale of Two Sisters

I've often thought that horror movies, and movies about ghosts in particular, can be read as the protest of people at the bottom of the social scale. In most haunting movies, the people most likely to become aware of the ghost's presence are women and children. Who are generally on the bottom of the social ladder in terms of rationality and thus easier to ignore by people in authority. That or if this is a secret Indian burial ground type of movie, than this comes from "ignorant superstitions" which are usually ignored by the (let's face it) white protagonists until it is too late. (I could read this as an expression of anxiety about the possible consequences of colonialism, but I would be being slightly silly.)

Ghosts also seem to have something to tell us. Either to reveal a story which was obscured by time, or actively covered up by the wrong doer, or to get revenge. This ghost is often someone who was wronged in life, and whose only recourse for justice now is through supernatural means after death. There are plenty of counter-examples I'm sure, since the horror movie genre is so big, but you have to at least admit that in quite a few of these movies, women or children figure prominently as either the protagonists, or the mediums through which these ghosts communicate. Children, in particular, are seen as having a close relationship to ghosts.

Which in a long and rambling way brings me to my point, which is The Tale of Two Sisters, a Korean movie which was released in the States a couple years ago. I'd link to the trailer, but quite frankly the trailer contains a ton of spoilers, and makes it out to be another The Ring. Not that the Ring doesn't have a few things going for it. (And besides, the story of a single mother, attempting to unravel the curse surrounding an illegitimate child of a psychic, in order to save her child who has a curious, sympathetic connection to said ghost, does reinforce my point I think.)

As does A Tale of Two Sisters, or obviously I wouldn't be connecting the two. A Tale of Two Sisters seems to be about a lot of things. On one level it's about guilt, and the different reactions that people have in connection to it. On another level it's about the gendered nature of illness both physical and mental. It's also the story of an extremely messed up family. Since it's been out for a couple years, I'll probably reveal all key important plot points, so if you don't want me to spoil anything for you don't read any further. You've been warned.

The story is about how ostensibly two, sisters, come back from a stay at a mental institution. They are brought to their extremely beautiful if isolated house in the countryside, by their silent and dour father. Their high-strung step-mother, who Dour Father was stepping out with before their mother's death, also lives in the house.

It's also quite clear that this family is not ok from the get-go. The stepmother resents the presence of the two step-daughters. Su-mi, the older sister is often in direct conflict with her, while Su-yeon, the younger, more passive, sister suffers abuse at her hands. While the father apparently doesn't see anything.

The stepmother is also being given pills, by her husband, and Su-mi just got out of the mental hospital. So it's also an open question as to whether you can believe what they are telling you, or you can believe anything that they are seeing. An early scene where Su-mi sees doubled objects is an early indication that you shouldn't necessarily believe what she's seeing.

Meanwhile, the stepmother and both sister start seeing ghosts. And there's the question of how their mother died, and why the closet in Su-yeon's room seems to bother everyone so much. And there's a clear feeling that past events which occurred in the house are being repeated again, using other people, in particular, women as substitutes. However, is this actually the result of the supernatural, or just sublimated guilt?

A Tale of Two Sisters is particularly difficult to understand, because you never know the full story of about Su-yeon and their mother's death until the last scene of the movie. After seeing the scene, it's pretty clear why revenge of some sort seems warranted. However, you never knew what really happened up until that point it makes the movie far more difficult to understand the first time around.

A Tale of Two Sisters is a pretty good movie in my opinion, however, it does have some weaknesses, the first of which being that it has a lot of Sixth Sense-esque twists. Two or three, depending how you're counting.
1) Su-yeon is dead. Which initially is difficult to the viewer to accept, since the stepmother has been interacting with Su-yeon except that
2) Su-mi has been hallucinating and thinking that she is the stepmother part of the time.
and then possibly
3) the ghosts of Su-yeon and their mother have been haunting the house for real. (this last one is debatable)

What was interesting to me was how the reactions to guilt were clearly gendered. The men spent most of the movie pretending that the event never happened, erasing evidence that it ever occurred, and medicating women when they do something that transgresses the boundaries of sanity.

The women of the movie, however, seem forced to voice and perpetuate the deeds which went on in the house, even as they are being surpressed. Furthermore, the ghosts single out the women to be frightened. The ultimate comeuppance is visited on the evil stepmother rather than the father, who, at least to me seems more responsible.

A Tale of Two Sisters could also be read as a story about Su-mi's psyche. Considering that her personality is split between herself and her stepmother, it's pretty clear that the conflict between the two characters is emblematic of the conflict between guilt and self-hatred, as well as the burden of memory. Su-mi, unlike her father, and her real stepmother (who makes an appearance at the very end) seems compelled to remember, or at least try in some way to bring events out into the open. The film seems sympathetic towards this, although the final results of remembering, Su-mi returns to the mental hospital, are far from optimistic. She may or may not receive redemption in the end. It's really rather hard to say.

The film loses points for a couple of things. There's a childbirth theme, running through all the haunting scenes. At one point, Su-mi dreams about a woman with hair over her face who stands over her in bed, and a small arm comes out from between the woman's legs and grabs at her. And in the final scene of the ghosts appearance, a baby is crying. This part is never explained, at least by the English subtitles, but given the explanation of events in the movie this seems a tad inconsistent.

Also there's a subtext of incest running through the film that seemed unnecessary. The film is extremely complicated, it would be less challenging viewing if it was less so, however, I enjoy this kind of thing.

On the upside, despite the incredibly convoluted plot, the film is really truly beautifully filmed, and it just looks great from an aesthetic point of view. The acting is generally good, particularly from the actresses who played Su-mi and the stepmother. However, in terms of blood and gore, A Tale of Two Sisters is pretty low on that. It's definitely fairly creepy, but it's just not really all that bloody. Well, I liked it, anyway.

Anyone who has come to the end of this, I'll have to think of some sort of prize to give you. I swear that after this, we will return to our regularly scheduled program of short posts. If possible, short posts with some sort of humor. That may asking too much, I'm pretty grumpy these days.

So it's a couple days late

but I've been pretty busy. Anyway, I was surfing the internet and was reminded that it's been fifteen years since Rodney King. For those of you who don't know (or don't remember) I was actually born in Ellay, and I was living there at the time.

My memories of the actual event aren't all that profound. I remember hearing about the video from my mom. And I remember not understanding how a guy could be beaten almost to death by police officers. I really didn't understand how they got let off. I didn't at the time, I still don't really.

Where we lived, we were pretty much away from what was happening. I still went to school. But for about three days half my class wasn't there. (Proof the magnet schools were doing their jobs I guess, even if the school was in Brentwood most of the kids weren't from there.) My class was part of a team teaching thing, and it was actually the only time class A and class B had class together that I can remember.

I remember watching stuff on TV. People looting a Toys R Us that my family went to sometimes. People holding things up in front of their faces before the news cameras and things like that.

I remember a Korean woman crying on TV.

I don't have any adult assessments of the whole story. Or any moral lessons to take from it. There have been a lot of studies and historical research done on it, and how it fits into a larger picture of uprisings in the US in general. I'd like to read them when I'm back in the states. My Hella Whitewashed Institution of Higher Learning didn't really have those types of books, and I was really into the Chinese studies thing at the time anyway. However, it did leave an impression on me, and it's one of those things, when people bring it up, I remember that I was there.