Asian Girl Problem #115: White Fever

If I was white, I would go live in China right now and ca$h in that ivory skin. I’d learn some Chinese, memorize a folk song or two and become famous, then marry the most eligible bachelor out there.

We talk about yellow fever a lot. The subtle suspicions about Asian women being docile and domestic and petite, everywhere. Or Asian men being loyal and hardworking and—wait, never mind—if anyone knows a case of the fever (I mean straight up ignorant fetishization) for Asian men, let me know because I’ve yet to see it.

Yellow fever disgusts me because it’s rooted in the sexual subordination of an already weaker minority. White fever disgusts me in a different way. It doesn’t pertain to only one gender, or one area of prejudice. It’s much bigger; it’s a deification of everything from the Western hemisphere.

The obsession with pale skin, blond hair, blue eyes, height, and other features Hitler would be proud of.
The money and power associated with the country someone’s from, even if s/he earns minimum wage.
The automatic assumption s/he is more cultured, worldly and intelligent.
The instant validity someone white brings to the table, whether you’re engaging in business or politics or entertainment.
The deep desire and pressure to earn their respect and appreciation, no matter what it costs.

This last one is especially gut-wrenching because I see it everywhere in ways large and small.

I see it at the salon in China when my aunt proudly tells my hairdresser that I’m from America, something I usually keep to myself. I don’t need people to know. I don’t need them to see me in a different light, suddenly more serious and reverent, but also more distant. Wanting to ask questions, but scared at the same time. I don’t need him to “treat me well” by spending over two damn hours just blow-drying my hair. I’m not even white, but I ignite the fever by association.

You see it in European/American male ex-pats who go to Asia intending to stay for a year to teach English, and get trapped by cheap living, easy women and constant ego-massage by everyone from their bosses to kids to police.

I see it in a girl on Craigslist who applies to be my housemate, who spent the past few years in China and is still “homesick” for it, wandering around in Chinatown bars to make herself feel better. Everyone was so nice and treated her special there, she said. Back home in America, she feels like a nobody.

You see it in how the government immediately shuts down the country right before the APEC summit so foreigners can enjoy decent air. How millions are poured into banquets and gifts for visitors, while their own people are forced to stay at home for two weeks so they don’t increase pollution. How the government cancelled school, weddings, milk deliveries, taxis—basically put off educating, feeding, acknowledging civilians—to make a good impression on the rest of the world.

It’s can be a good thing, looking up to another country, especially one that’s much farther along in human rights. It’s no doubt beneficial for the country to be seen in a positive light, under blue skies. Even the ex-pat who goes home telling his buddies about the primo pu$$y is probably doing the economy a favor.

But sometimes I’d wonder how a person can begin to wish they were someone else. How they can accommodate others to the point where their own self-respect is compromised. How they willingly give over more power and validity to someone who speaks or looks English. Then you get a whole bunch of people who act this way. And they try to earn affection through sheer adulation, which anyone over six years old can tell you doesn’t work—the more you do it, the less you’re respected.

Most Chinese people are proud. They have a lot to boast about, and they do it a lot. But ultimately, the government’s like, shut up for a minute. We’re going to put your collective feet in your mouths to make the rest of the world recognize us. But actually, the rest of the world is laughing at China, not with it. That’s the part that I hate. And I don’t know what I’m getting at anymore but I’m pretty sure this is all connected to the root of this evil.

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Asian Girl Problem #100: Irony in China

Happy 100th post! That’s a lot of problems. But a lack of finding more problems ain’t one. My word doc overfloweth with ideas for the future, and I will be posting more often in May! To come: being assertive in relationships, Burning Man, and the pliable definition of “queer.”

On to irony. When our generation was at the height of its hipster power in China, there was more than one occasion when I Googled “hipsters in china” just curious to see what was out there. Answer: not much Now there are all kinds of amazing articles like these:

(all linked to sources)

It was a month of cold and hot tea and dim sum meals, of many seniors being open with us, sharing their outfits and telling us their stories, from the feet up.

I’ve never been aware of irony in China, as a countercultural statement or otherwise. This photo is from the Accidental Chinese Hipsters tumblr, which is quite an oxymoron if you require all “bad” hipster fashion to stem from a conscious smugness. My biggest impression of fashion there is that it’s not as hung up on culture or history–more variety is accepted in people from all walks. I might see someone wear a 90s tracksuit one day and a fur vest with knockoff Uggs the next, making me suspect that fashion isn’t fiercely tied to identity as it is to practicality, availability, and daily mood. Is there even a word for irony in Chinese? If so, it was probably coined after the internet.

This article I read today about Ai Wei Wei pointed me back to irony in true counterculture.

But just as Ai promotes the very real weight of his social causes, he also, tongue in cheek, undermines his own position as an artistic poseur.

If there is a thread holding his works together, it is his mixture of bold confrontation, intellectual playfulness, droll humour, and experimentation of form. Beauty is second to social critique.

My two battered cents is that I like reading and thinking about Ai’s art more than looking at it. But more importantly, the article reminded me of how Ai’s personality is so witty, mischievous, yet grounded. In videos and interviews, I see him deliver withering insults and genius insights with a deadpan style. He reminds me of my dad’s side of the family, and numerous other funny people I’ve met in China. If Irony=Humor x Pain x Weird, maybe Chinese culture is the perfect breeding ground for it, even if there isn’t a specific word for it.

Asian Girl Problem #64: Big in China

I was working on this post a couple days ago–before my car got trashed and laptop got stolen. Left me in a daze, but things are swiftly getting back to normal. Fix the car, dust off the glass from my things, get some sleep, and no one would know the difference. I might not have a laptop for a while, but I’ll be posting from various other computers. And making a huge dent in my reading list!

Here are a couple trends I spotted everywhere in China when I went back to visit early this year. Holiday shopping guides and lists are in full swing right now, and I just want to say, if you’re feeling generous–please don’t get me any of these things.

With more money comes more eating, and with more eating comes more dieting. The juice and smoothie trend has hit China hard, and I’ve seen it in all sorts of infomercials and cooking shows. I’ve enjoyed many a juice and smoothie in my day, but the Chinese have adapted them in some quirky ways to fit their culture, like chunky smoothies made from pre-boiled fruits. I don’t know how they get those down.

For those more realistic and unwilling to give up their fried foods, air fryers are another must-have appliance. Riding on the coattails of KFC’s popularity, their main use is in making air-fried wings and making informercial supermodels really happy.

Wine is huge. Anyone who has class or wants to appear as such has diehard opinions on their favorite kind. Those with money have gone out to France and Napa to invest in their own vineyards. It’s a little like the emperor’s new clothes, but maybe that’s just because I don’t like wine.

When it comes to the trendiest cuisine, Thai seems to be the surprising winner. Hip young people like my cousin are in love with the spices and freshness. Japanese and Korean restaurants are usually higher end and reserved for special occasions, but Thai-inspired dishes and recipes are all over the place, and less daunting for home chefs.

My food trend predictions for the next year: veganism, cocktails, popcorn.

Asian Girl Problem #45: How I Feel When I Read Articles on Chinese Women by White Men

I never expected I’d find an online magazine that consistently holds my interest every day without fail, but Aeon Magazine has done that. This morning, I read today’s article in bed, as usual. A piece on the mistresses of powerful men in China.

Unlike most of Aeon’s articles, this one’s a quick read. It doesn’t back itself up with much research, relying on a handful of interviews with “mistresses,” and briefly skims the surface on the current socioeconomic and gender conditions that contribute to the increasingly publicized cases of ernai.

I’m a sucker for slice of life stories, especially when they try to help foreigners (including myself here) understand China. But aside from this, I didn’t feel like I learned anything from this article. There was barely anything about Chinese history or government or culture that added depth to the conversation. The author could’ve been talking about any country when he explains the roles of these women, the power/wealth imbalance, and their lifestyles.

And as for the lighthearted tone he takes at the end, while implying that this topic is losing its taboo and becoming prevalent among young women, every personal experience I’ve had proves otherwise. The Confucian teachings of honor and modesty and fidelity run deep in Chinese culture, and it is not ok to wave your ernai status around. As the article implies, slut shaming is huge. These aren’t geisha. And I didn’t appreciate the implication that these mistresses seem to be taking over major cities in droves, airing their dirty laundry, or that having mistresses is suddenly a novel trend.

So since it was barely informative about Chinese culture, the male/female dynamics in this article stood out to me most. They were the parts I couldn’t shake all day. The things that I think all women experience to some degree on a regular basis.

– First, the article is written by a man. An upstanding man who’s probably more familiar with China than me, but still. With so many sex work related documentaries and articles created by men, it’s hard not to see it as another form of exploitation of these women.

– “A study by the Crisis Management Centre at Renmin University in Beijing, published this January, showed that 95 per cent of corrupt officials had illicit affairs, usually paid for, and 60 per cent of them had kept a mistress.” I hate vague stats like this. What time period are we talking about? Who’s considered a “corrupt official”? How do you conduct such a study?

– “An enormous amount of off-book money sloshes around Chinese business and officialdom, and some of it runs into handbags.” The article constantly focuses on the material items these girls receive. The author makes no attempt at distinguishing them from one another, and their sole interest and gain seems to be in looking stylish. It just shows that he didn’t or couldn’t get to know them past the point of their physical appearance.

– “Shanshan got bored and decided to improve her scant English by finding a ‘language-exchange partner’ online, which is how she and I became friends this spring.” Ha! Ha.

– “In their private pictures, the girls look all of 14, while the men play alongside them in childish games or make faces at the camera.” I spend a lot of time thinking about how much better it’d be if each of these men went home and hung out with their actual kids.

– “it’s true that Chinese culture has rarely paid even lip service to ideas of male fidelity.” No, they’ve paid more lip service than any other culture I know.

– “True, they live off dirty money: the cash conjured up by their lovers is frequently drained from the public treasury, or extorted in bribes from others. But so do hotels, luxury goods stores, estate agents, and the millions of others in China and the West happy to profit from the consumption habits of China’s elite.” We’re talking about selling a body versus selling a house, not about where the money’s from. Did this guy forget his thesis?

Am I sensitive to the topic, or were these huge weaknesses of this article?

Asian Girl Problem #30: Commie Kitch

Communism is still alive in many ways for my people, but in the best ways–that is, often at the butt of jokes. Chinese people might seem cold or angry at first, but I love their dark yet stupid humor. They’re good at laughing at themselves and their misfortune, which has always been quite abundant in history. The delivery might be brash, but sometimes it’s like dealing with a doberman. You gotta stare them down a second to show you aren’t afraid, and then the laughs will roll in.

In the last ten years, Mao and his aphorisms and other Cultural Revolution memorabilia have seen a resurgence. Except now they’re made cheaply and sold in gag gift stores, juxtaposed with English translations, and show up on panties or condoms–neither of which probably even existed in the 60s. You get images of Oba Mao, which the government tries lamely to prevent. What’s the political transgression there? I don’t think anyone knows. Possibly they were bummed they didn’t come up with it first, because this joke’s definitely got legs.

I bought a pocket watch just like this one year at a night market. If you inspect it closely you’ll see it’s made of $2 plastic, but the ingenious way Mao’s arm waves as each second goes by is worth at least the $15 I paid for it. Before I could decide which friend of mine to give it to–I wasn’t sure if anyone would appreciate it–my grandpa had laid eyes on it and decided to take it for himself. It’d been forever since he’d had a pocket watch, and this brought him back. He’d been a high-standing member of the Communist party, but also had a wicked sense of humor, so I think it ended up in the right hands.

 

Back in my parents’ youth, fashion was limited to choosing between two shirts (blue/army green), what color thread you used to hem your skirt, or which Mao pin you were going to wear. Clothing was sparse, but every household had buckets of these flimsy, aluminum pins which show busts of the chairman at different points in his life. A few years ago, my mother did a sweep of my grandparents’ apartment, and collected a tin of these to bring back to America. She’s waiting for them to become super valuable so she can sell them and buy lottery tickets.

Just some of the ways we carry him in our hearts.