Saturday, June 30, 2007

Stories from the Train

I have tons of stories from the train and from the bus. I should probably learn to drive at some point, but really if I drove everywhere, I would miss out on some awesome stories. One of the stories I didn't tell about China was the people in my train compartment on my way from Wuhan to Shanghai.

There were these two guys who were together, and a less warm and friendly lady. (She was from Shanghai, as it turned out, it figures). Anyway, one of the guys was extremely friendly to me, he helped me put my backpack up on the luggage rack and smiled at me all the time. I can't quite put my finger on why exactly, but I kind of thought the two guys might be together together. (My gaydar is pretty good, as far as such a thing exists. And I just got the sense that he was a comrade, in a manner of speaking.)

Anyway, at the end of the train ride, the woman suddenly turned really helpful and was trying to help both me and the two guys figure out where we had to go. And we ended up all riding the subway together. The lady tried her best to help me, but she really clearly didn't know where she was going. But I went along with it anyway, to save her some face. Although she actually dropped me off in some place that wasn't anywhere near where I was supposed to be, as an amused taxi driver later informed me.

I just really remember that guy more than anything else. Something about him felt kind of fatherly, but also kind of motherly at the same time. However I remember feeling that, if I had a gay dad, I'd want one like that.

I was really extremely fortunate to have met so many kind people in my travels.

A Nunnery

There's a Tang dynasty style nunnery, which is apparently actually being used, in the middle on Hong Kong. It's free to visit, so I did, so here's a picture from it. It's really quite a beautiful place.
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Hong Kong skyline

Well we're going to start from the beginning and when we come to the end we're going to stop. This is Hong Kong.
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There has been a request from the audience that I talk about what happened in Japan. Since the audience around these here parts are pretty small, I try to do audience requests when they come up. So here goes.

This sounds kind of silly to say, but it was really different from China. As someone I met in Japan said, if you're Chinese you're always a native son. But that's really not true in Japan. In Japan, you're just a foreigner, whether your ancestors are from there or not. So I didn't really feel that sense of coming home, except when I did. It's kind of hard to explain, things were made to fit me. I wasn't all that short for the first time ever. I was short, even in Taiwan. The food sometimes made me feel at home. The taste of things, things that I remembered from childhood. And all the pachinko parlors, stuff like that. And of all the countries I've been in, Japanese men are by far the hottest I've seen. Particularly in Kyoto, but, ahem, I digress. But there really wasn't any sense of kinship or brotherhood, for lack of a better word. I wasn't really expecting it. But, still.

Overall though, it was a different place. I might be half Chinese at this point. At least my viewpoint anyway. I always think about the cheapest way to do something. Which involved many visits to convenience stores when I wanted to eat. It's really cheap to eat at 7-11 or Lawsons.

I saw a ton of temples and stuff in Kyoto. Kyoto really is a beautiful place, very clean, and kind of laid back. Tokyo was a giant city, I didn't mind it. I can do big cities these days, but it's hard to navigate one if you're not a local. But 各有千秋 as they say in Chinese. Also, if I go back to Japan, I really want to know some Japanese, I felt like kind of a jerk not speaking the language and everything. So that might be my next project. I would like to go back some time and explore Japan a bit more, China too.

The only thing is, Japan is a very quiet place, at least in public places. Even if you're surrounded by people, it's almost like you're alone.

I hung out with this pretty cool Japanese guy in the hostel in Kyoto and this girl from Hong Kong. And we spoke Chinese (Mandarin), which was funny since Chinese isn't any of our first languages.

There are of course lots of other stories about Japan, I'm just having trouble processing all this stuff, plus having some reverse culture shock. I certainly met some interesting people and saw some interesting things. I'll write about them in more detail later.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Jena Six Petition

There's a petition you can sign for the Jena Six. You should do it.

If you haven't been following the Jena case, here's a good set of links.

Well for better or for worse

I'm back.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I haven:t been around for a while

and this keyboard for serious has no key for the apostrophe, so y:all will just have to make do with a colon. I realize that I never did write much about Shanghai. I:m in Japan at the moment, and I even made it from the Osaka airport to Kyoto in one piece, hooray for me.

So here:s what I:ll say about Shanghai. A friend of mine once said, either about Hong Kong or Shanghai, that what made the city an experience for him wasn]t the things he saw but the people he met there. I would say that pretty much sums up my experience of Shanghai.

On a further note, Shanghai is the only place in China where marble was used for public toilets. However, it:s also the only place I:ve ever had to pay to use a public toilet.

So now I]m in Japan, long time readers of the site will know that I have hella heavy issues with Japan.

Someone I met in Shanghai said that Japan was a place where you can just sit somewhere and watch people walk by and be endlessly entertained. I would wholeheartedly agree with that assertion.

Well enough borrowing the words of other people, I:m about out of time. Catch you later.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Two things I love about Chinese people

1. Let's be honest people, many of us check ourselves out in reflective surfaces. Most Americans do this furtively. Chinese people just cut to the chase and openly do this without shame.

2. Many Chinese people, particularly middleaged, unglamorous men, will sing along to songs in public openly and without shame.

$&^@& (in which the Loveless Cynic explains things)

Well I'm blocked from commenting and the Unapologetic Mexican again. So a word of clarification:
FOB= Fresh Off the Boat, a word, used, as far as I am aware, exclusively by the East Asian American and Desi communities to refer to recent immigrants, particularly those who exhibit "overly ethnic" behavior or a relative absence of assimilation into mainstream American society.

Thank you Kenji Wu

(Wo zhidao dui you shenme bu dui)
I know what's wrong with saying "right."
I know the general's orders aren't always right.
I know right and wrong
are something I can distinguish myself.
Please be quiet.
Please be quiet.
I know what's wrong with saying "right."
I know a foreign moon is not rounder than mine.
I know that "Yo Yo Yo" is not my language.
Please be quiet.
Please be quiet.
The general wants to be cool.
He's covered in "bling bling".
He studies western ideas.
He's forgotten his own last name.
He's all like "Check out"
He wants everyone to "get down."
I'm a foot soldier.
I only follow orders.
In your world, you say "ABCD"
On my turf, please speak Chinese.

From "The General's Orders" Kenji Wu Kequn

I knew I needed to satisfy my Mandarin pop addiction with someone other than Jay.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The FOB part 2

So I've talked about FOBs a little bit before. And the aversion Asian Americans have for them. However, I think recently, they've become a bit more acceptable. My friend has a sister who had a crush on some guy who was a FOB, and so her sister (who's second gen/third gen, it's kind of complicated) wanted to become more FOB-like in order to pursue him.

Having lived in Asia for a couple of years, I have definitely found myself becoming more FOB-like. I listen to Mandarin pop and I like it, which usually invokes some kind of distain, well, from some of my white friends anyway. I will probably hang my clothes out on a line to dry if housing codes will let me. Those housing codes strike me as somewhat classist, but hey.

Like I said before, the FOB can be the dark mirror of assimilation. The FOB can become the specter of nonconformity, and also the impossibility of assimilation. No matter how assimilated you are, it is impossible to thoroughly blend in. However, I think for many Asian Americans the FOB can come to represent Asia. Although many Asian American kids these days, particularly the wealthy ones, are able to go back to Asia, to go back "home" many of us have never been. I had never been to Asia before I moved to Taiwan, so for us the FOB can come to represent that kind of society. And I think these days, as there are more and more Asian Americans and more and more cultural exchange back and forth, FOBism, or Asian culture, is starting to become ok. Something kids are interested in.

I think for some of us, the FOB tends to also represent authenticity. Many of us, when we're growing up, particularly those of us who do not speak our "mother tongue" pick up pretty quickly that we are not the "real deal." Our FOB cousins, friends, or classmates, are pretty clearly "the real deal." And so I think there's kind of fascination, besides the revulsion or discomfort that comes with interacting with FOBs.

I find the fact that people are becoming not necessarily Asian or American, but transnational somewhat exciting. I think I've noted in previous rants, (I'd link, but the browser I'm on won't let me) that there are a lot of Asian Americans who go back to Asia to become singers and actors, rather than trying to cut it in the States, because they know that they can't cut it. So there's also the movement of Asian Americans returning "home" back to Asia. I find this all quite interesting.

Another Editorial Note

So, apparently the Great Firewall of China has cracked, I can now read The Unapologetic Mexican, and I can look at my own blog. Don't know how long this will last, but I'm kind of excited.

Stories on the Bus

So, I spent a good amount of time riding the bus in Beijing. Mostly because I am cheap, and I can read Chinese, and it makes it fairly easy to get places. One thing I've noticed in China, is the way they employ people to do things that are normally automated in America. For example on most buses, there are two people working on the bus. One is the driver, and all he does is drive. There's another person in the middle of the bus usually, who you buy your ticket from. In this way, sometimes it's more convenient, because you don't necessarily have to have exact change. And also they watch everyone who comes in to make sure that they're buying a ticket. And this also means the driver doesn't have to split their attention, to dealing with the people getting on and off the bus, as well as driving. Also the person in the middle of the bus will also announce the stops as they're called, and tell the driver when to close the back doors, making sure that everyone has a chance to get off. In some ways, I feel that perhaps this is a more efficient system, since humans are more adaptable and flexible then machines.

I've also been impressed, considering that their job is a more intense and in your face version of working at the DMV, how professional and cheerful the people working on the bus are. Not the driver, but the ticket seller. Honestly, I think job security is pretty good in China, because there are plenty of places I've been so far where people aren't really doing their jobs and they don't particularly care that they're not doing their jobs. However, these guys work damn hard, and they're usually pretty competent and cheerful.

Anyway, the day before yesterday, my friend and I were leaving Beijing for Wuhan. Where I am right now. And the bus was packed. Our hostel was near the Beijing Train Station and we needed to go to Beijing West, so I suspect there were a lot of people transferring. Anyway, the bus was packed, literally packed, and the station attendent was climbing all over rails and practically hanging from the ceiling in order to get people their tickets and their change. I could barely reach him, and someone actually took my money and handed it to him, and I ended up doing the same thing for another woman. It was actually pretty cool.

Also, I was the only one on the bus with a backpack on. As my bio says, I'm short, and the backpack is about as big as me. The ticket seller was trying to get as many people as possible to put their bags on this sort of table near him, to conserve space and also let people who needed to get off get through, Usually you have to go to the back to exit the bus, however, when it's packed full of people that's well near impossible.

Anyway, he tried to get me to take my backpack off, but I didn't think I could do it on the bus, so I ended up having to rest it sort of on the ledge just so that I wasn't taking up the space of two people. Everyone around me tried to help me, and finally when I did get it on the ledge, uh, the ledge kind of made the backpack higher than I was so I was sort of hanging off. Anyway, everyone around me laughed, but in a good kind of way. I guess when you're in an uncomfortable situation together, everyone would just rather laugh.

However, I have to say for me, it was a pretty unique experience.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Things I did Today Part 2

So I'm in Beijing for a bit longer than I anticipated due to the fact that we couldn't get train tickets at a convenient time. On the upside, it's been pretty awesome. We went to an antique market today, we took two buses and a long walk to get there, and then when we were leaving found that there was a direct bus that took about twenty minutes that stopped opposite our hostel which was pretty funny, in kind of a smack yourself on the forehead kind of way.

The market, Panjiayuan, was pretty awesome. Essentially a giant square full of stuff, cheap and expensive, new and old, to buy. I've never really bargained before but I did manage to talk a couple people down from their original prices. Although the other favorite thing is to continue to lump more and more things together with a discount. It's kind of hard to get out of that. However that said, I bought a ton of stuff, mostly small things and jewelry, for $30-40 RMB or less, there were a couple exceptions that were above that, but there were a bunch of exceptions that were below that (to the tune of $5 or $20) so all in all I think I came out ok.

There were tons of things to look at that I'm probably going to never buy. Giant chest of drawers, and old boxes and other things. I'm trying not to weigh myself down. Also, I don't really need to buy more stuff overseas and ship it home. It's still pretty interesting nonetheless. And there was stuff that I bought there, that I don't think I've ever seen anything else. So I'm happy, in a consumer kind of way, but still pretty happy.

An Editorial Note

I will not be able to respond to comments because apparently China just blocked Blogger. Which means, strangely enough, I can post to my own blog, but I can't read my own blogs, and therefore cannot post comments on my own blog. So I'm reading your comments via e-mail, but I won't be able to respond to them until I'm in Japan.

The Management

Friday, June 08, 2007

A conversation

So I met this kid from Norway, and we got into a conversation in which he said that racism in America didn't exist. Later he also told me that I wasn't looking at things logically and wasn't respecting his experiences. I would add that most of this was after he told me that my experiences with racism in America weren't logical, but I'm going to be charitable and say that might have been a language barrier thing

But the funniest part was this
Kid: I think we should stop talking about this racist thing, I mean, racism thing. Because when you talk about it, you're really angry. You said before that you were an angry person and now I see what you mean.
Me (inwardly): Hahahaha.

In other news, I was unable to find an ATM that worked for about three days. I finally found one that worked. Chairman Mao(on the $100 yuan bill, and in fact, on every other bill) has never looked so good to me.

Can America please be consistent?

If immigrants are no more than a means to an end to us, cheap labor and guest workers, can we at least drop all the bullshit about "Give me your tired, your poor, your masses yearning to breathe free" please?

What are immigrants to us anyway? Future American citizens or cogs in a machine?

What infuriates me is how we can talk out of both sides of our mouths, saying how we are The Great Bringer of The Light of DEMOCRACY. We are no better than any country we denigrate ideologically. We are no better than China, we are no better than Russia, we are no better than North Korea, we sure as hell are not better than Israel. If we're the country of the straight talkers than just call it like it is, and cut the crap about this freedom and liberty. And give the statue back to the French.

Be consistent, people.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Dammit, Great Firewall of China, I can't access feedburner, which means I can't read the Unapologetic Mexican, or XicanoPwr, and now I can't even read the Anti-Essentialist Conundrum, which I swear to God, I could read before.



It's kind of interesting to see all the touristy trinkets and cheap souvenirs, because it kind of shows you how a country markets itself to other people, as well as how other people who come to the country want to see it. So naturally in China, there are tons of cheap jade bracelets, and silks of various colors, you get the idea.

But the other thing that caught my attention is what seems to be a smaller market in a kind of Communist chic. Mao watches, green canvas bags with the red Communist star on it as well as Mao's head, hats with the red star on them etc. I suspect that the Communist paraphernalia is for the backpacking crowd, for I have seen many an unkempt white dude with a backpack sporting one of those canvas bags. Which is kind of interesting. It's pretty natural that there's a certain type of backpacker would eschew the sort of more obviously touristy souvenirs, what I find amusing is that the market has adapted to sell this type of customer their own, distinct but no less cheap or ubiquitous type of souvenir.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I want to be a Chinese security guard

because as far as I can tell, their job largely consists of sitting in an air conditioned room and flirting with their female coworkers.

But then again, I'm too much of a workaholic to do that.

Damn you, body!

I've had two asthma attacks in the past two days. Mostly because I've been climbing lots of stairs and many temples have lots of stairs. It's left me wheezing and short of breath like an old woman.

Also in the midst of my asthma attack today, a man attempted to take advantage of the fact that I couldn't really move to try to get me to sign up for a tour. I almost reached into his ribcage and pulled out his heart. Only I couldn't, because of the asthma.

That said, I saw the Summer Palace today. Product of Dowager Empress Cixi's naval embezzling. I liked Beihai Park better.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Is the past a foreign country?

There's the famous quote about how the past is a foreign country and lots of interesting studies have been done about how we exoticize the past, and selectively remember it and manipulate it to suit our present day needs.

When I was in the Forbidden City yesterday, it was kind of hard to shake that feeling. Everything was newly painted and brightly colored, and to me, it was really difficult to believe that the whole thing was as old as I knew it to be. Today I went to Beihai Park, which is possibly my favorite place so far. But then yesterday, the Temple of Heaven was my favorite place, so I should probably wait to judge things. Parts of Beihai Park have been restored, but a lot of it is still old, and for me it was much easier to see the presence of history there. It was much easier to imagine that someone once lived there. For me, the Forbidden City really didn't give me that impression at all.

Possibly this also has something to do with what goes on there. Beihai Park is a hang out of many retired people who were using it for eating, dancing, playing musical instruments, and sleeping on park benches. So the space was really being used for what it was intended to be used for, relaxation and a good time, and also hanging out. No one really hangs out at the Forbidden City.

At the same time, I wonder if I'm kind of exoticizing everything, wanting to see dirt and grime as some evidence that this place is ancient. To "feel" the weight of history.

I actually came into Beihai Park through the back door, so it was a very small rather unimpressive path that gradually got bigger and bigger and opened into a courtyard which opened into a bigger square and another bigger square and then finally I came out of the front door, and realized that "Damn, this place is huge!" I actually think it's even more beautiful than the Forbidden City, I hope I still like it as much when they finish restoring everything.

So how about those Asians?

Man Asians sure are getting a lot of press coverage these days. In weird ways. I'm sure everyone has already heard about the two Stanford "students" already. Considering that they're both Asian American, it is kind of interesting to speculate about why they did what they did and how being Asian affects that. Particularly with Azia Kim, there might be all that family expectation which caused her to do it.

Azia Kim was similarly described as a "quiet Asian kid" much like other recent Asian American newsmakers. Whereas Elizabeth Okazaki was described as being loud and a nuisance, bringing herself to other people's attention. (Honestly she sounds like she needs some mental help.) And when people were asked about her, their comments really did reflect back the vibe of a quiet but forgettable Asian girl. There didn't seem to be much more in the comments than that she was a fairly nice girl and rather smart. The only thing missing is that her name isn't Grace Lee and as far as I know she doesn't play the violin. But does that have anything to do with anything? It's intriguing to think that it does. And the good old model minority myth is something us middle class Asians always like to pound our chests about. But at the same time I don't want to go there, because I'm just not sure if there is a connection.

I don't know what to think about this, honestly. Does their being Asian have anything to do with it? Does it have any influence on their behavior whatsoever? With Kim's story, I would argue that perhaps it does, at least some of the people who let her live in the building seemed to just sort of see her as the stereotype of the "quiet Asian girl" and let's be honest, how many people can tell them apart. But that's more of an effect on the people around her. Not so much on the girl, even if she (may or may not have) consciously exploited it. There are ways in which being invisible can have it's advantages. I know this myself from personal experience. (Actually Chang Rae Lee talks about this phenomenon in his book Native Speaker, but I'm nerding out here).

Anyway, does their ethnicity have anything to do with anything? It seems slightly less clear to me than Seung Hui Cho's ethnicity influencing his behavior (that would be a resounding NO, although I would argue that class may have played a role in the whole thing). Azia Kim did move into the Okada Asian American dorm. To me that says something, I'm not sure exactly what though.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Things I Did Today

So I'm in Beijing. Mostly in one piece. The train ride was pretty painless, except for the not showering for about 36 hours and the horrible train food. I got to talk to a lady in the car, who was fairly nice, despite her rants about Mexicans, gay men, and Canadians. All of which I felt compelled to object to.

I got in, the taxi driver attempted to get me to settle on a fixed price of $90 which I eventually refused, mostly on a hunch rather than anything else. And the more low key cab driver I hailed, ended up charging me $16. So hooray for me for avoiding being cheated?

My impressions of Beijing so far are fairly good. The traffic isn't as bad as I thought. And the people are surprisingly friendly. I've had several conversations today, pretending to be Taiwanese. I think I might have to change my story though, I had a rather extended conversation with a student I met in the Temple of Heaven, where I think my story started to wear a little thin. However, I didn't particularly want to come clean because he already told me he hated Japanese people.

Anyway, I went to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven today. And walked to both of them. I've been on an island for too long. I'm used to everything being close and convenient. By the time I'm halfway to a place I feel like I should be there already. The Forbidden City was surprisingly easy to get into and rather painless. Admittedly I was there at 8:30 in the morning when it opened which probably helped. I thought I was kind of jaded about Chinese art, I mean I've seen the National Palace Museum in Taiwan and countless others, so I wasn't really sure if the pieces in the Forbidden City were going to be anything new. Well, apparently the KMT took a lot of stuff when they went to Taiwan, but they sure left a hell of a lot. And most of that stuff was heavy and rather spectacular. There were things I think I had never seen before and probably will never see again. Actual Qing dynasty armor, sculptures made out of jewels, incredible carvings. It's pretty eye popping. And the building itself is also pretty spectacular, although it just got renovated, so sometimes it felt a little bit too new. Also, for my misanthropic self, there were too many people. The Imperial Gardens were probably some of my favorites because they had the capacity to contain a lot of people.

Beijing is incredibly dusty, but thankfully less hot, and I sweat less. Which is generally good. Just things are a long ways away and I can't use my ATM card. I got a tip about that from this Norwegian kid I met. I'll give it a try and hopefully it will work this time.

The Temple of Heaven was pretty cool. I mentioned about I got into a conversation with a student. Which was kind of interesting, although I was nervous because I felt bad about lying. (I'm a terrible liar.) Some of the sights inside were kind of a rip off, but the park itself was really nice. Very peaceful. You almost forget there's a giant city outside of it.

Anyway, that's all for now. Strangely enough the food here is much easier on my stomach than the food in Hong Kong. Perhaps it 's 1st world food I'm going to have trouble adjusting to?

Over and out