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 #91: What’s Too Polite

There’s politeness, and then there’s Asian (I’m thinking Chinese, Japanese and Korean, at least) politeness.

Polite in America is when you apologize for cutting your friend’s visit short because you need to make dinner and finish laundry before the week begins. Ke qi in China is when you demand that your friend stay for dinner and apologize that you didn’t have enough time to prepare anything fancy, just a handful of dishes and a frozen dessert you saved for emergencies like this. But if your friend’s a legit Asian, she’ll also be ke qi and insist on leaving because she needs to go cook dinner for her family. If she’s single she’ll make some other excuse, like needing to do her own laundry. But a true ke qi host will refuse to let her leave without at least a light meal, so you’ll compromise and let her bounce before dessert. Then you will might also be slightly annoyed that she did not praise your cooking as much as she could’ve when you gave her the last few free hours of your weekend. BUT you’ll also have earned the feeling of superiority and sleep soundly, knowing you were the most ke qi that day.

With a lot of my Asian-American friends, we’ve hit that sweet spot. We’re pretty considerate and flexible, but call each other (or ourselves) out when we find ourselves going overboard. When I hang out with friends who have grown up in Asia or go back to visit my cousins, I definitely feel like the least ke qi and sometimes just stop trying. People will literally hurt each other to get dibs on paying a restaurant bill, at which point, I just let them. Conversely, when I hang with less polite people, I try to tone down the consideration because at best, no one notices and I end up getting the short end of the stick. At worst, people think it’s weird and lose respect for me.

Factor that into new dating relationships, and it gets confusing. My default is to toss away all semblance of ke qi and be sassy and carefree, while of course still being a decently nice person (by American standards). Sometimes I’ll go out of my way to do some nice things for someone I like, and I’ll later wonder if I fucked it up. Spent too much time and energy, too early on. It’s hard not to keep score at the beginning–who initiated what, who took longer to text, who travelled longer to see the other person. I also have to remind myself that ke qi is too often translated to “trying too hard” in the American dating scene. I can try my hardest to ignore the numbers (which is what leads me to spend six hours helping a relative stranger buy his bed, or lending an freshly-cut ex $300 to bail out his car) but there is definitely a point where you stop and start waiting for the time/energy/resources to be returned in some form.

But I know I’m okay with having the “losing score” as long as I genuinely want to do those things.

Asian Girl Problem #86: Plight of the Asian Dude

My friend got an OKC message that makes me burst into laughter whenever I think about it, because the only other option would be to cry.

“I am of Asian descent, but do not be alarmed.” Shot in foot successful. Half of me wants to help the guy, should I ever meet him, and the other half wants to run in the other direction. Which is probably why in dating, the sexy get sexier and the losers get more lost.

Despite my complaints, I love the idea of interracial dating. Same-race hetero couples might go under my radar, but I always notice interracial (and queer*) couples, and they make me happy about where things are heading.

But to date an Asian guy is almost more revolutionary, after growing up in area of only white and black people and now living in a city with somewhat of a “White male seeking Asian female” reputation. Asian guys are up against some dismal stereotypes, many culturally-ingrained and requiring constant dedication to override. Some get jacked, some take swag classes, some lead with their money, some do none of these things…The ones I know who have their “masculine” energy on lock are often taken, by girls of all colors.

How can one not be more sympathetic to Asian males’ attempts at dominance? Because whether consciously done or not, they’re active “fuck you”s to the status quo. I know race is just one factor of a person’s identity, but you’d think that as we second and third generation immigrants are reaching adulthood, wielding more cultural, financial and political power,  the numbers would budge more when it comes to dating. Alas, sexual power is the last and ever-distant frontier.

*I wish I could offer some perspectives from non-hetero relationships, and I might try in a later post. Also, this post took me days of stewing and rewriting because it’s been impossible to organize all the conflicting thoughts I have on the matter. Indicative.

Asian Girl Problem #11: Ode to Costco

Garden of glutton, church of excess. I’ve heard from some friends that Asians love Costco. Other than the debatable “deals” and samples, I don’t see why, so maybe there is no underlying reason for us as a whole. Those I know who stock the majority of their homes with Costco are either too busy to shop regularly or have to entertain guests every week (i.e. ministers). I’ve always been embarrassed that my parents go several times a week. If you ask them why, they’ll obviiously say it’s to buy staples at sensible prices. In actuality, they go for the samples. And sometimes the “cultural experience,” as my dad calls it.

Because their neighborhood is too poor for country clubs, too secular for churches and too large for a town hall. The area is a mix of industrial factories and storage units and tech companies, devoid of any art or culture. The demographic is beautifully diverse, but it also makes it hard to find common ground with strangers. Costco really does become the place to see and be seen, run into neighbors and stay in touch. My parents don’t watch American movies or television, but there’s a bit of theater in every Costco visit, where they learn about upcoming holidays, ogle people eating hot dogs and churros, and share a communal experience with the town.

Of course, it’s the samples that get them there. When I live at home I almost always tag along, and I go enough to have observed several types of responses to samples. First, you’ve got people who don’t even acknowledge the food, and seem to have been placed in the crowds by some cruel act of god. They’ll curse and barrel their carts through the store like they’re too important and busy to deal with the tomfoolery. I probably wouldn’t get along with these people. I mean, it’s fine to pass them up, but to not even look at what’s being offered–these people need to stop and smell the free fajitas.

Then there are the majority of us who will look and maybe try a couple samples depending on our mood. We might be eating some nachos with one hand and spilling chowder on our shirts, but we cool. Then on the other end of the spectrum are the freeloaders who go in hungry, take as many samples as they can hold and put some in their purse. Their kids have obviously not had lunch either. And they get a little too excited, bouncing around the store and shouting at family members to cut them in line. Speaking of excited, my favorite type of uber-excited sampler is the Costco virgin who finally realizes what they’re missing out on. It’s like they’ve just stepped foot in the real America where there is such a thing as a free meal.

My mother falls into her own category–she’s a sample hoarder but rarely eats anything herself, passing them to my dad instead. Looking at our cart, you’d think we were health freaks. Instead of econo lasagnas and chocolate muffins, we roll out with a paltry cart of organic greens, eggs and soymilk. Our stomachs, however, are filled with dino nuggets and spinach dip.

As much as I grumble about it, as much as I bitch that my parents take me to Costco instead of on ski trips and fancy dinners, I love this place. I like seeing my parents in their element. I never go without them, except on the few occasions with friends, which have taken place solely in the alcohol aisle. Maybe it will change when I become the parent, but I’ll still force my kids to come with me. Costco alone is a nightmare–everything’s too big and loud and five pounds of any food is enough to kill your appetite. But Costco together is a guilty pleasure I anticipate every time I come home.