Friday, July 30, 2010

How Patient should People be with their Newly Elected Leaders?

Going to be in Japan soon, I can't really ignore what's happening in
modern Japanese politics. Probably one defining feature is the
people's lack of interest combined with their fleeting support for
each incoming prime minister. With each new leader comes a sudden
surge of high expectations for reform and dramatic positive
changes…only to have that fervent support turn into disappointment and
open criticism of the leadership only few months later when little
changes are seen.

Of course, no country can be as extreme as Japan where prime minister
changes every few months for the last five, six years. But the point
about people having unrealistically high expectations for their
leaders is ever-present in all democratic countries, and the current
trend in the United States may be a good example as well.

While not anti-Obama in anyway myself, I am deeply concerned by the
deep emotional involvement his supporters have displayed in the course
of the presidential campaign. Listening to his every important speech
with the same devotion and undoubting acceptance as the audiences of
cult leaders and televangelists, the supporters of Mr. Obama has
increasingly portrayed their candidate as a Messiah who is the One to
save the country from certain destruction.

While there are many merits in the Obama platform, it can only be said
that the high expectations of such magnitude can only bring
disappointments to the same supporters when he fails to fulfill all of
his Promises as he begins work in the Oval Office. And, unfortunately
for him, those disappointments are beginning to show just as the oil
spill and the lingering wars in the Middle East are catching people's

Columns and opinion articles in various newspapers, even ones
initially supportive of Obama, are beginning to switch sides, some
with unbelievable speed and ferocity against Obama. A good measure is
campus newspapers of American universities, which are generally
left-wing, whether the school is private or public.

Even when I was still at Yale, a certain sarcastic letter against
Obama written by Mr. Michael Zink and Ms. Elizabeth Moore began a
flurry of anti-Obama writings. As time went on, more and more columns
appeared; each with less sarcasm and more genuine complaints compared
to the previous ones.

The honesty both displayed in these columns could be considered strong
signs of fearless courage in a campus where vast majority of
inhabitants are relentless Obama supporters who will do everything to
fend off assaults against their beloved leader. But at the same time,
the decision of the YDN to publish them shows that the campus'
attitude really is swinging to the other side. (We say that the pages
of Yale's only daily newspaper is a bastion of free expressions...but
really, the YDN only publishes things that are going to get a lot of
support or a lot of opposition)

In fact, some views put forth by Mr. Zink and Ms. Moore as well as
subsequent anti-Obama writings may be considered as extremist, but
their efforts to cool down the unfounded Obama mania on the Yale
campus and in many segments of the American populace have been highly

When people say "most Americans are stupid," they are quite correct.
Most Americans blindly follow the opinions put forth by their favorite
newspapers or magazines, refusing to see the issues from any other
point of view. And now that both the left-wing and the right-wing
(who hated Obama to begin with and now are definitely on the "I told
you so" track in terms of talking to their readers) are showing
skepticisms toward Obama's ability to lead the country, maybe his
tenure in the Oval Office would not last beyond 2012.

Is the World Really more “united” through Sports Competitions?

The successful organization of the World Cup in South Africa should
indeed be congratulated. Once again (after that controversial Games
of the XXIX Olympiad held at Beijing from 8th to the 24th of August
2008), the international sports community has shown the insight and
wisdom in steadfastly resisting widespread criticism regarding the
choice of a seemingly unfit host nation.

The fierce, spectacular, yet friendly competitions as well as the
nearly flawless, despite some minor flaws, executions of the events
have shown both the courage of the South African government to defy
widely held negative opinions and proved once and for all that the
choice of the host nation was not one to be regretted by the future

However, accompanying such tremendous success is an equally gigantic
problem that has become gradually more prominent. Such is the problem
of individual nations using international sports competition such as
the World Cup and the Olympics and the success of their own athletes
in these games to appeal to excessively fervent nationalist pride.

Much as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did in their entire
histories of Olympic participation, sports has been manipulated by the
individual national governments to make covert political statements of
national, if not racial, superiority with strong support from an
excessively proud general populace. Such facts really makes the
message of "No to Racism" so frequently shown at the World Cup quite a
hypocritical statement.

Thus, a simple and straightforward sports competition has been
repeatedly turned into indirect political showdowns among the major
powers of the world, whether they are Nazi Germany and Soviet Union of
the past or China and the United States of today when it comes to the
Olympics. With the raging political competition in the background,
the superficial unity, sportsmanship, and friendship the athletes and
fans show in the sports arenas are absolutely meaningless.

The few major sports powers, whether deliberately or not, have
diverted the public's attention from amazing athletic feats to figures
to demonstrate the power of the collective: the national medal count
in the Olympics and final rankings in the World Cup. Thereby, it is
necessary to reform the sports ranking system in order to suppress the
unnecessarily and dangerously divisive "sports nationalism."

First, to dampen the enthusiasm of the top countries for medal
competition, it is definitely needed for other countries to be
recognized for their accomplishments, even if smaller and less
spectacular, in the games. Recently, young Chinese author Zhang Yiyi
has brilliantly came up with the idea of recognition for 4th to 7th
places of each competition, namely in the form of iron, aluminum, tin,
and lead medals, respectively.

The idea of extra medals should be utilized for the very reason of
appreciating the participation of smaller countries who have made
generous investments in their sports industries yet unfortunately does
not have the financial and human resources to compete with the world's
major sporting powers. The extra medals awarded will continue to
encourage sports investment worldwide with the hope that greater
global participation would unseat dominance of one or a few countries
in any particular sport.

Second, the needs to be a standardization of the method in which
ranking is calculated to prevent further bickering between those who
value high rankings in individual competitions such as the World Cup
and those who argue that international ranking of the teams based on
performances in multiple competitions are more important.

As a compromising gesture, the following method should be used by all
countries and the IOC to measure national achievement. Each rank
awarded should have a distinct value corresponding to the level of
achievement attained by its recipient. For instance, first place may
have a value of 7, second 6, and third 5. Then, rank can be replaced
with a tally of the standardized point values.

It is even better if the point value system can be undertaken along
with Mr. Zhang's idea of extra medals, with fourth, fifth, sixth, and
seventh receiving point values of 4, 3, 2, and 1, respectively. As
both ideas are executed, it is guaranteed that the perceived large gap
between the few major sporting powers and other participating
countries can be dramatically decreased, again leading to less
dominance of few countries.

Modern sports games were created with the noble ideal of bring
together people from different parts of world and generating equality
among the Earth's human residents. But with the games repeatedly
hijacked, without sound opposition, by certain countries to display
their own might at the expense of others, reform is necessary to
reverse the trend.

Countries with weak athletic traditions should not only be encouraged
to develop their sports industries and widely participate in the games
but also be rewarded in the games at the expense of the major sporting
powers. Only with creation of a more equitable competitive
atmosphere, where the threat of elite dominance and athletic
politicization are minimal, can the world go a step closer to truly
achieving the original ideals of the forefathers of modern sports.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is Illegal really Immoral? Is the Underground Economy really a Threat to Our Capitalist Economy?

Just getting back from a 5-day solo trip through Xi'an and Zhengzhou
to see the famous Terracotta Soldiers and Shaolin Temple, I am sitting
in my living room in Shanghai downloading a game on Three Kingdoms
(got a bit hooked when I was playing it in an Internet cafe in Xi'an)
while thinking about how lucky I was to get bus and train tickets off
scalpers that made my journey such a go-when-I-feel-like-it style that
is my only enjoyable way to travel.

At least here in China, the underground economy is everywhere. The
brothels fronting as foot massage, karaoke, and dance clubs that I
talked about in the last post, of course, are the most obvious
example, but probably the only thing in this country that cannot have
underground involvement is airplane tickets. Being known as the
"world's factory floor" gives you the advantage of generating not only
illegal services (brothels, taxis, scalping tickets, you name it, but
these exist not just in China but all developing countries, and to a
certain extent, developed ones) but also illegal manufactured goods
(cellphones, T-shirts, shoes, bags...the counterfeits are often just
as good as the real ones because the real ones and the fakes are
actually made in the same factories with the same equipments...oh, the
power of brand names...)

Western economists (and many Chinese ones) argue that China needs to
shift more to the services sector to develop in a more sustainable
way, but I really wonder whether the statistics they use can come even
close to estimating the size and value of the underground economies
here, both in the services and manufacturing sectors. "Companies" (of
course, not properly registered) often depends on a network of
underground factories, scalpers (often in the form of the most
innocent looking grandmas approaching you with a smile), and hawkers
(shouting out everything from "tour buses," "dance performances,"
"brand name goods"...yeah, I've been victims of all of these at some
point or the other during my travels in China) just for their survival
on razer-thin profits (or none, just cover salary and other costs to
get by)

But, "illegal" here does not conjure up that same sense of danger, of
extortion, of adrenaline rush (well, for some people who are too
sheltered in everyday life) out in the West. In fact, "illegal"
services can and are often better than the legal ones in all possible
ways to gain more customers. Cellphone is the perfect example. The
fake copycats often packs in more memory, more functions, and more
style than the originals that they copied, and are often able to
generate trends of using illegally made yet stylish cellphones that
carried the "cellphone companies" much beyond simply copying brand
name cellphones.

And of course, for the much much cheaper pricing that the copycats
offer, people are willing to take a risk (although you do hear of
exploding cellphones once in a while...) with illegal services and
goods. If the services are not too bad (I remember getting dropped
off at the side of a 8-lane freeway once, but I probably would still
take illegal buses in the future) and the goods are not too shoddily
made (cellphones that don't explode are good enough, I suppose...well,
increased cancer risks should be considered too, i suppose) people are
willing to go for the illegal stuff again in the future...why? As they
say in economics, this is classic market segmentation. When the price
of the legal stuff can only be so low, something need to be created to
capture the market below that.

So, it seems that illegal provision of certain goods and services can
be considered part of the bigger economy, here in China and many other
places...(of course, I am not saying the illegal ones are all safe,
after all, if bad things happen, "the companies" can just
disappear...the problem of their not being registered) but what about
in the case where money is circulated but no goods or services are
provided? I am talking about begging...which in China is (and have
always been) quite a normal and ever-present phenomenon. In fact,
reading martial arts novels, the so-called "gang of beggars" was often
one of the biggest NGOs (to use a modern world) throughout history.
It takes care of the poor and attacks the rich (besides just
begging...which explains why they know martial arts).

The modern beggars are not quite as elaborate and sophisticatedly
organized as the ones in the martial arts novels, but small gangs of
them still do exist (or rumored to exist). The gang leaders teach
young ones skills in begging (look poor, appear sick to gain sympathy,
making up stories, etc) in turn for cuts in their proceeds and (maybe)
"fair" distribution of all incomes among members by skills and
seniority. Some are said to kidnap young children, break their legs
(disabled kids get a lot of money), and put them on the streets of a
city far from their hometowns so that their parents can never find
them again...

Just as when you realize that the illegal services/goods you buy are
not anywhere close to what you desired (if they work at the
game I just downloaded, missing files...took me an hour but I got
nothing), handing money to the beggars is probably as close as you are
going to get with getting nothing in return by paying cash...yeah,
some get a temporary peace of the mind or the feeling of having helped
the unfortunate (really temporary...I know that feeling
start doubting yourself about fifteen seconds after giving away the
money). In fact, I once gave money (about 10 big give ever
to a beggar) to a cute Chinese girl (late teens, looked like) who was
crying in front of a subway station because she lost her wallet and
can't get home...and decided to observe her for a while after giving
money (from a safe distance), and she simply continued to be there
even though I gave her much more than she needed....its sad to see
that girls like her can go so low as to use their good looks to get
money like that...

ok, I am feeling some stomach pain from drinking a bottle of fake
tea...looks like the underground economy hurt me once again...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Isn't It Great Living in a Country where Every Building can Turn out to be a Brothel?

Yep, if China could be considered a "morally righteous" country (like
what the govt is trying the best to do...see last post), the "foot
message," karaoke bars, and even "restaurants" better be controlled
somehow...the pink lights streaming out of these places are really
quite amazing...wait til nightfall, the country where porn is banned
becomes a prime destination for sex tourism (I have heard quite a bit
about sex tourism to China organized by Korean and Japanese

Yes, you heard sites are completely banned
fact, if you try to access any porn sites (foreign ones, of
course..anyone who try to register a domestic porn site is bound to be
arrested...yes, there have been cases of that..and you think Internet
is anonymous when you don't use your real name and identity...the
cyber police is quite powerful and can track a lot of things down..its
all prep for the cyber war, i.e. the war of the future) and actually
manage to get in, you find that your Internet access almost
immediately crawls to a stop and all the sudden, some sort of
restriction is placed on your Internet bandwidth...

Now, in contrast, look at the Japanese economy, where pornography is a
legitimate business (only country in Asia for that, as far as I know).
If you look at a typical Japanese porn site, credit cards can be used
to buy minutes to watch videos (in fact, the company I will work for
in Tokyo is quite involved in such payment systems), and any Japanese
bookstore has an "adults only" section where videos and erotic books
are sold...and I tell, even though Japanese porn is known for having
mosaic on genitals (there's law on that), that's probably the greatest
social freedom you will find in Japan (reading/watching porn is
definitely not a stigma there)

Changing the topic slightly, I want to look a bit into the content of
the porn. Japanese porn is really big on "black guys" as a category
(for obvious reasons, if you don't know, think certain physical
attribute) and Western porn is big on Asian girls as a category
(again, physical attribute).

Of course, the physical attribute thing is understandable, but
obviously, not all (actually, probably not many) blacks/Asians fit the
imagination of the porn makers/watchers, so as I have noted in
previous posts about race, are we again creating racial stereotypes

Now speaking of these artificially created imaginative foreign
exoticism, the Chinese have certainly inherited that same spirit.
Imaginations about Japanese girls (from watching too much Japanese
porn), white girls (same reason as before), other Asians (Vietnamese,
Koreans, you name it, if its not Chinese, seems like the Chinese are
into them...), and fascinations about getting
physical attributes run wild among guys who watch porn (I wonder what
Chinese girls think about when they watch porn...or do they watch porn
as much as guys?...should do some research on this topic)

So, considering we Chinese are so into foreigners, I wonder why they
are not so wild about their own countrymen who happen to look kind of
(actually, quite) foreign: Uyghurs...tendency to riot and being
traditional Muslims (I have no problem with the religion, but Muslims
are socially conservative) aside, I actually think they are really
good-looking people...

Am I the only one who think this way in this country? Otherwise why is
there so few Han Chinese who try to go after Uyghurs? (fear of death
is not a good reason for being docile is really much
more powerful than fear...think Romeo and Juliet...)

If anything, I think we should at least have more Uyghur models in
this country (if not more Uyghurs working in those underground
brothels...of course, being Muslims, they can't possibly do that
without threat of getting stoned back home and cause more sore between
Uyghurs and Hans...) so that they (the Uyghurs) at least don't feel as
isolated and marginalized as they are seen to be in the Western press
and by many Han Chinese...

A good example is the singing competition I saw the other day...from
twelve competitors, the only Uyghur guy was mercilessly slashed off
the show from the very beginning...I really felt a certain degree of
racism in the words of the judge (lacking passion, clarity of
language, etc...what do you expect from a Uyghur guy singing in
Mandarin?!) Is this marginalization or what?

So, conclusion for this rant: sex is sign of freedom (Japan has a lot,
and China has a lot in the underground economy...but nothing when the
hands of the govt can reach) and Chinese should have more fascination
about Uyghurs to make them not feel isolated in their own country
(fortunately or unfortunately)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wireless Internet is the Most Important Technology to the Petroleum Industry

Today, there is an apparently growing trend of establishing wireless
Internet connections in populated areas to benefit large numbers of
users simultaneously with little cost. Most notably, many coffee
shops and college campuses have already taken a lead in installing a
network for customers, students, and faculty members, allowing for
immediate rapid Internet access from all corners of their large
coverage areas.

In fact, the technology is probably most important not when used by
some dude in a coffee shop sending emails, but in major industries
that cannot be access physically and thus requires remote
communication for control and smooth operations. The best example
that comes to mind is oil and gas fields far away from population
centers, such as those in the northern slopes of Alaska (that I so
regret not being able to visit in my Alaska trip)

Rapidly sharing information is necessary for the safety and efficiency
of the oil and gas industry in the future. Instant communication
between the teams on the field and the headquarters is needed to
ensure no accidents occur with exploration and to guide production
with the latest instructions. By giving Internet access to remote
areas where oil and gas are located, the wireless network can vastly
improve explorations and operations of the fields by quickly and
accurately transmitting urgent information and instructions.

In the process of exploration of new oil and gas reserves in
previously untouched areas, geological information about the area must
be relayed quickly to the exploration team and the progress of
drilling must be known by the headquarters. Only with a steady
exchange of such information can the headquarters accurately present
the underground structure of the explored areas and issue necessary
warnings of potential dangers in the process of drilling to make sure
the exploration personnel complete their tasks without putting their
lives at risk.

Similarly, the headquarter needs to relay the information about oil
and gas market prices and consequent quotas of production to the
various production units on the fields. By adjusting the production
as soon as possible by providing the market information in an instant,
the company can better manage its assets and become more efficient

Wireless Internet network is the most effective telecommunications
technology to achieve the instant sharing of information necessitated
by the oil and gas industry. It can relay information most
comprehensively while incurring the least cost in the process compared
to its benefits. Internet allows all kinds of documents, including
graphs and tables, to be sent to the most remote places covered the
wireless network. However, mediums of equal or more coverage, such as
satellite-based mobile phone and GPS devices, can only convey certain
types of information such as location but not others, such as
graphical analysis and geographical maps.

Since Internet can transmit the same types of information transmitted
by phone and GPS and more with similar speed, it is by far the most
comprehensive method of communication between long distances. At the
same time, installation of the Internet services can be done with
existing infrastructure of electricity and telephone wires. While
possibly more costly and time taking than satellite phones and GPS
devices, its extra benefits in terms of pictorial information can
offset its extra cost of installation in the long run.

With the increasing prevalence of wireless Internet technology at the
turn of the 21st century, it is certainly beneficial for the oil and
gas industry to keep up with the development. While the benefits of
the Internet in transmitting necessary information will not decline,
the cost of wireless network will inevitably decrease over time as the
wireless technology become more widespread and the components
necessary to construct wireless devices and establish the networks
become irreversibly cheaper in the future. At least for the next five
years, a wireless Internet network is definitely the most important
telecommunications technology to promote the safety and efficiency of
the oil and natural gas industry.

the Role of Filial Piety in Modern Society

My grandfather recently passed, dying after struggling with three
different cancers for over 30 years...he was quite a remarkable man,
having fought in World War II, Chinese Civil War, and the Korean War,
starting his military career as a 17-year-old anti-Japanese guerrilla
fighter and ending it as a colonel leading his artillery regiment in
the North Korean battlefields. After suffering various wounds that
made continuation of his military impossible, he became a high ranking
administrative official, becoming the dean and headmaster of various
major academic institutions...he certainly was the pride of my
extended family.

With that said, obviously his passing is a big deal around here. That
is especially true for me, his oldest grandson and legitimate heir (of
what, I still am not sure...his legacy of military and administrative
success, I suppose?)...and then here comes the biggest irony of all:
while he was breathing his last breath on the hospital bed, surrounded
by his other family members, I, who is more important to be there
compared to anyone else, was "mysteriously absent" and busy applying
for US citizenship over in San Diego (obviously, we can't tell that to
someone who almost died under American hands in Korea, so he got the
lame and watery "your grandson has some errands he needs to run"
explanation as he died...not exactly satisfying in your last moment)

Yes, I should and I do feel bad about this whole situation, but I am
sort of criticized (not out in the open to preserve family unity but
pretty sure people are talking) for being rather cold-hearted and
careless...well, I guess I should concede that I have been sort of
that (and still is) but really, I think I am at least a bit righteous
in believing that the same standards under similar circumstances these
family members would apply to themselves, their peers, or even my
peers who grew up in China should be much less applicable for a person
of my life experience and different background.

It is as they always say about Chinese kids who grew up in the US and
other Western countries: these guys are independent (thats the word
they use when they are nice, they use "selfish" when they are angry)
and are always decisively choosing what they want to do without much
consideration of their families (of course, like any other sweeping
generalizations about people, such characterization is but a simple
stereotype and I can certainly find enough examples of
Chinese-Americans who are oppose of these...but I suppose the comment
applies to myself rather well...)

I really get angry when I hear about these sort of things in the
context of things like my grandfather passing. What should I do to
show that I am not selfish and I love my family? Cry in front of his
grave for a few days?! Wear black and not eat meet for a month?! Put
everything I do on hold for a long long time so that I can show love
for my grandfather? Yeah, historically, people quit their jobs and
watched over their father's or grandfather's grave for a year (there
is actually a tradition like that in China)

Of course from an economic sense people can't be expected to do
something like that anymore, but still, right now I am being pressured
to stay for two weeks with my grandmother because "I have nothing
better to do anyways"...right, as if I am really excited to stay with
my grandmother and listen to her tell stories about grandpa for that
long (all the while suffering the non-verbal criticism from the other
family members...looks like I am really giving all Chinese kids who
grew up in America a bad name around here...) I really don't think I
can tolerate more than three days, a notion that my parents sure
aren't finding to be amusing in any way...

To make matters worse, recently my mother seems to be suspecting my
father of adultery with a cousin of his (yeah, sounds real legit,
right?) and expects me to openly criticize the cousin while covertly
try to pull father back into the "embrace of the family"...this is
coming from a family who whose four immediate members have practically
always lived in three different places (sometimes three different
countries) for the past four years...

Given such a reality, my mother's "family unity above anything else"
mentality is quite ridiculous (ok, there sort of is an economic
explanation: she doesn't want to live in the US anymore after my
brother goes off to college, but she won't be able to find a job in
China then, so she needs my father to stay a loyal financier for her
retirement life)...

As for me, it certainly sucks that the family unity is broken, but I
really don't care what my grandmother's sad stories are and who my
father sleeps with, thats their personal private businesses and they
are better kept to themselves. Intrusions from immediate family
members, even with "family love and compassion" (my mother started
using this term recently, sounds incredibly stupid coming from a
mutually agreed long-distance family) will only serve to draw out the
defensive mechanisms in others and worsen the situations at hand.

But no matter how many times I explain, my mother seems to not
understand this concept of "picking at the scab of a deep wound"...for
her traditional mind, any lack of transparency within a family is
considered unacceptable and the transparency needs to be aggressively
enforced through verbal coercion and what not...she seems to forget
that being a part of a family does not make the individual less of an
individual in anyway. Humans are social animals, but are also private
animals with needs for personal space even in intimate environments.

And growing up in the Western society, where privacy and personal
space are much more valued, has made we, the Chinese Americans, more
unlikely to intrude on the affairs and feelings of family members for
fear of evoking undesirable emotional responses. At times, some
people and their affairs should be left alone for they themselves to
sort out. Sure, the family is here to help if they would like the
family to do so, but the family has no right to encroach the personal
space of an individual just because he or she is a family member and
seems un-family-like in some behaviors.

But, as some people ask me, would living in a country like Japan,
where traditional Confucian values like filial piety seems to be much
more protected than anti-"feudal" communist China, makes a Chinese kid
more filial over time?

The answer is a definite no. The reason is two-fold. First,
capitalism is fundamentally incompatible with such Confucian thought
because Confucianism developed in times of war and instability when
normal economic transactions and communications/migration of human
beings cannot be conducted without great difficulty. The modern
capitalist society in peace and development does not need the
protective nature of united family, instead, it often requires
entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking as well as hard work and
distant social networking, actions in which perhaps the first and
biggest sacrifice is the family. The family can only be hindrances to
economic success, and the low marriage rate and birthrate in Japan is
a genuine attestation to just how insignificant family is in a modern

And second, for the young immigrant in a foreign country, the
functional value of the family declines to practically zero. As we
understand in the Confucian viewpoint, the older members of the family
pass down knowledge and experience that helps the younger ones survive
in society. Yet, in a foreign society (and in societies where rapid
development completely transforms society economically and
socio-culturally, such as China), the youth often has better grip of
the reality and the deep knowledge of the elders becomes completely
useless as they cannot adapt their experiences to changed

Yet, even as the elders' knowledge become incompatible with reality,
they seem to not realize (or refuse to realize) that their decades of
life experiences can be useless to their immediate descendants. They
choose to continue lecturing their sons and grandsons on things that
the youth like us definitely have better understandings of, inciting
rebelliousness of the youth in front their condescending elders...

Basically, the different generations have to understand the
fundamental differences in their different worlds, and allow each to
live within his or her own without unnecessary intrusions on the
others. Even if the family members are of the same generations, their
differing experiences means that excessive communications can often be
counter-productive as they are really not on the same page with regard
to many, family is not bound by communication or passing
down of knowledge but simply blood relations and mutual benefits. The
best way to care about your family members is simply let to have their
independent ways as much as they wish.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What does it take to Get Good Service Around Here?!

When I tell people how USA and China are similar, the first thing that
comes to my mind is how in both countries, "people treat each other
like shit." While crude sounding, for anyone who has been in any
contact with over the counter customer services (I am not just talking
about pharmacies but also things like small shops, post offices,
buses, or anything else that requires direct verbal interaction
between the customer and the worker on the spot) can tell you, the
rudeness frequently encountered is quite similar in both countries.
Probably beyond even that, just ask for directions on the road, people
who are asked the questions are frequently ignored or simply given
something highly ambiguous in an extremely impatient manner.

Now, imagine you didn't actually speak English or Chinese, how pissed
off would you get when you are given the cold shoulder as you try to
get around places as a complete stranger (yet, it is kind of
surprising to note that the USA and China are 2nd and 4th in the world
when ranked by number of foreign tourists received annually...)

Many argue that this is the case because both the Chinese and the
Americans are incredibly proud and self-righteous countries, believing
themselves to be at the center of the world. Yet, traveling in Japan
and South Korea, I would have to say that these two countries, known
for their racist ethnocentrism (much more than the multiracial China
or USA...especially in Korea, probably the greatest admiration that I
would ever expect to get from a Korean is that "you act/look like a
Korean" how much the Koreans believe they are the most superior
people in the world) have the best services I have encountered in any
foreign countries, and especially in Korea, where I spoke very little
of the language, I was actually quite impressed how being a Chinese
guy (who are often considered the poor barbarians) can actually get
passable services there.

Instead, I feel that the bad services in US and China perhaps have
much more to do with the character of the American and Chinese people.
Going back to the point about people treating each other like shit,
if you look at Japan and Korea, people are always nice and polite to
each other (not just strangers but also people who you are familiar
with). They always bow and say nice things to others when they meet,
with nice smiles to display happiness.

Sounds quite Utopian, right? think otherwise....A close Japanese
friend of mine I met in Sydney told me that the thing she liked the
least about Japan is all the superficial manners. People are forced
to hide their feelings of sadness or anger or displeasure whenever
they meet others, just so that they can seem nice and polite...its
quite a social pressure that force people to repress bad memories and

In comparison to the Japanese and Korean society that encourages such
restriction of social freedom, the Chinese, being a communist
revolutionary bunch, inherited (at least somewhat in a non-formal
setting) the American culture of straight talking and behaviors.
Chinese people, unless their East Asian neighbors, do not hide their
feelings when talking to others, preferring clear expressions of
hatred and dislike even in the public (thus, you get the idea that the
Chinese and Americans treat each other like shit). And also like
Americans, they tend to clearly express what they like, unless the
Koreans and Japanese who are forced by their social customs to declare
everything t be likable...

Now, what does that have to do with excellent customer services? Well,
if the customers are straight-talking people who treat each other like
shit, they sure wouldn't pretend to be incredibly nice to the customer
service personnel...and for anyone who has done customer service (I
did it in a hospital gift shop), you really can be that nice when the
customers you are dealing with are not it is really a
problem of both sides, customers with bad attitudes create customer
service agents who are not nice, and vice versa....then a negative
feedback happens with customers getting pissed with customer services
with bad attitudes, causing them to treat customer services even
worse, and making customer services even worse in attitude. And this
certainly is the case in both China and the US.

So, basically, it is a choice between social freedom to straight
anything and openly show hate and love (China and US) and excellent
customer service (Korea and Japan)...

As much as I like to be treated nicely when I go to shops, post
office, etc., if being treated nicely means sacrificing those social
freedoms to say whatever the heck we want out in the open, I rather
tolerate the bad services...

Can We get some Real Entertainment in the Chinese Media? And Seriously, who Gave the CCP the Right to Define what is Moral in China?

Watching Chinese TV at home in Shanghai, I am surprised (not really)
by how the same hosts, same singers, and the same comedians makes same
appearances in concerts and "galas" that practically have not I started watching TV in China....(just an
explanation, "gala" is a comprehensive TV event that incorporates all
sorts of entertainment, i.e. comedy, dancing, singing, acrobatics,
magic, etc. in a short time, generally around two to four
hours....yes, it has roots in communist thought as a form of mass
entertainment for the common people because they can see all this in a
short time for free...and its a form of mass employment for little
known entertainers as each of these galas generally involve more than
ten thousand people in performance, logistics, and preparations)

To be fair, there has been reforms in Chinese media: the provincial TV
stations have evolved to more than local rebroadcast stations of China
Central TV (CCTV), the main propaganda station located in Beijing.
Both the local stations and CCTV have been keen to gain more viewer
interest by creating new programs that appeals to different viewer

Well, I do believe that Chinese people are generally some of the most
creative people in the world (just look at all the cute and highly
functional modifications that they can make to their illegally
produced electronic goods) but when it comes to "creating new
programs," the stations simply resorted to completely copying foreign
program formats (just saw the Chinese version of "Family Feud"...the
price money was less than 1500 USD) and showing foreign dramas and
movies (Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, American...). News of
celebrities and pop culture are mostly foreign (other East Asian ones)

Some argue that Chinese culture plus lack of experience makes it
impossible for the Chinese to produce any worthwhile entertainment
program, but seriously, considering that we are importing so much from
other immediate neighbors who we share a lot of cultural background
with, shouldn't we blame the lack of creativity in China on concrete
institutions rather than some abstract "emotional or cultural
differences of the Chinese people"?

And really, by institutions, I do mean the censorship system that is
so prevalent...last time, I did note that the Internet is so censored
because the CCP wants to reshape the public opinions of the netizens,
and I am pretty sure that they use the same strategy with
TV...However, they seem to forget that while the Chinese Internet is
dominated by blogs and forums (text-based stuff), the TV is highly
visual and flowery in many aspects by design. Sure, news programs can
be as monotonous as an Internet forum, but for the average TV watcher,
they perhaps spend less than 10% of the total time on watching news
(at least thats how its supposed to isn't exactly using the
TV's best advantage).

And then there is the "moral aspect" of censorship...Somehow, the CCP
thinks it has some sort of mandate to guide the Chinese people toward
"ethical" way of other words, it thinks that it has the
right to define what is immoral and unethical in this society.
Evidently, the elderly CCP leadership and the youth (who most despise
the pretentious TV programs) have quite different understandings of
what is considered "immoral"...often, what is considered frivolous fun
on the part of the youth is deemed serious violation and harm to the
people's moral integrity by the CCP elders.

And with their narrow views of what is moral, even the popular
copycats of foreign programs are blocked off after short, successful
runs (and at the same time, once again dashing the youth's hope that
Chinese TV can be any good)...In response, the youth head of to the
Internet and the pirated DVDs to watch the latest foreign dramas,
movies, pop music, making them popular despite lack of initial
exposure on TV.

At the same time, the government's "high moral standards" have stifled
any productive use of the innovative energy to create truly
interesting TV programs in China. The ideas and works of many
producers who have succeeded in any other country cannot get the
approval of CCP cadres in the still state-owned (i.e. all of them) TV
stations...their ideas die, and so do them and their ambitions for
improving Chinese TV.

As a result, we have a cycle in which Chinese domestic TV gets worse
--> youth follows foreign programs/music and celebrities/singers -->
then Chinese government import a bunch of foreign copycats and
broadcast news about foreign celebrities/singers to get the youth to
pay more attention to TV --> the youth become more interested in
foreign stuff --> the government crack down on foreign copycats for
"moral violations" (TV gets worse again) --> the youth goes back to
the Internet to get scoop on foreign stuff and so on as the cycle
repeats itself.

The only way for Chinese TV to truly escape mediocrity and for China
to truly become a cultural power (as Korean Wave of dramas and pop
music have made South Korea one), the CCP must stop regulating the
content of the entertainment programs. I don't care if the government
censor political stuff on TV and Internet, but if they continue to
"approve" (or "disapprove") cultural programs in TV based on their
1960s world view, then Chinese youth will continue to focus
exclusively on foreign lands for entertainment.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rejecting (True) Religion: Abandoning the Unnecessary

People tend to assume that when Chinese people are atheist, they are
not really anti-religion, they are just brainwashed by the government
to do. And when they immigrate to the West and become devotedly
religious, it is because they are enjoying the freedom that they did
not have back at home.

Now, at the risk of sounding purely anti-Chinese (and making this blog
way too China-focused after the last post), I would have to say that
Chinese people (in China) are not religious because they have no idea
what religion entail and simply thinks religion is some foreign idea
that is incompatible with Chinese thought.

In some ways, this belief is true. When Westerners label Confucianism
and Daoism to be "religion," they seemed to have completely ignored
their roles within Chinese (and East Asian) society and history. They
have been unifying philosophical ideas that allowed for social
integrity and political stability.

On the other hand, true religions (such as Christianity, Islam, etc.)
have always focused on allowing suffering people to find solace in the
words of the God. However, at times, it has also shown itself to be
the most violent and destructive force on Earth, sending millions to
graves amid wars over difference in beliefs. Being a double-edged
sword, it inspires philanthropy and discrimination, tolerance and
terrorism, kind hearts and vocal protests.

All the admiration these real religions tend to receives for creating
unity and peace can only be overshadowed by its tendency to divide
peoples and split countries. Through philosophical analysis of the
human nature, it can be seen that it is utterly unnecessary for humans
to survive and prosper without the influences of religion, which can
only be seen as "necessary evil" by its dominance on the human
mentality and psyche.

Now, according to the CCP (following the classic words of Karl Marx),
religion is "the opiate of the masses," a valuable tool of the
bourgeoisie to keep the proletariat content with their gloomy
situation despite unending exploitation. By praying to God, the
workers at the bottom of the society can find comfort and alleviate
the pain and suffering they endure from the ruthlessness of those
controlling the means of production. Religion should take away the
fear and the anxiety people feel at times of stress and ambiguity,
providing the soothing solace of hope and certainty.

However, as Marxists and other philosophers note, religion only
changes the outer appearance and perceptions without altering their
actually nature. Simply praising God cannot stop the proletariat from
being exploited, nor can it change failure into success. It is
aversion of horrible reality and unproductive avoidance of stress much
in the same way as students taking alcohol and drugs before a major
exam. Practitioners of various religion attempts to vigorously hide
such fact by repeatedly emphasizing the omnipotence of God and the
sacredness of the religion's texts and places.

In fact, religion, through its essentially deceptive nature, has acted
as a counterproductive force to human development for centuries.
Being a conservative force, it always prevented the utilization of new
scientific knowledge and technological progress for decades and
thereby hampered the rise in the standard of living. Especially in
the field of medicine, where religion continue to stress the healing
power of praying to God, modern medical procedures are often
questioned and criticized for "tampering with God's creation," causing
many believers to suffering in pain and eventually die from denying
needed treatments.

Some religions argued for a minimalist world where human material
possessions are limited to a minimum, essentially opposing the very
force of materialistic desire that drives the modern market economy
forward. Without the framework of the market economy, there can be
little spontaneous innovation and competition, preventing the coming
of the inventions that allow the human civilization to move into new

At the same time, religion has become a force of violence throughout
the human history, leading to death of millions over trivial
differences in interpretations of holy texts and words of prophets.
The willingness of human beings to launch "holy wars" again one
another clearly violated the call for peace and unity that are
inherent in all religions. The prime example of such is the war
fought by Catholic France and Anglican England, between the Catholic
and Lutheran German kingdoms, between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan,
and most famous of all, Christian Europe and Muslim Middle East.

Every single one of such wars involved massive killing without any
resolution of religious differences in the end. The militant
fundamentalist movement that is the justification of terrorism is the
modern-day equivalent of such wars. People simply cannot give in to
the fact that violence cannot make others abandon their religious
beliefs and submit to the will of other Gods that they think is
heretic or pagan. People do not abandon their religions at the threat
of death.

So then, what exactly is religion? It is more than just comforting
thoughts for the present but also a promising prospectus of the
future. The unchanging nature of religion over generations allows it
to define cultures and customs that last for centuries. It is the
cultural perception of the world, its future, and all the processes
make up our living space.

But, simultaneously, it also reflects a personal connection with the
world. One's religious beliefs must be coherent with one's experience
with and understanding of the world around them. Missionary
activities that attempt to "sell" a religion to nonbelievers are
ineffective in that it cannot change overnight the people's view on
the world built up from their and their ancestors' past experiences.

Those converted from missionary activities can only be truly faithful
in that religion if they interpret the religion according their own
cultural practices. The cultural deviations among the believers lead
to starkly different sects among each of the world's major religions,
resulting in intra-religion clashes such as Catholics vs. Protestants
and Sunnis vs. Shiites.

Considering all this, is religion really necessary? The simple answer
is no. The prime effect of religion, its provision of comfortable
certainty, can be achieved in many other ways or not even necessary in
many situations. Often, it is necessary for people to give up an
idealistically optimistic view of their surroundings perpetuated by
their religious views. The understanding of rationality and knowledge
should be the guiding light of people rather than the "voice of God."

The choices one should make in life should follow reason rather than
any religious texts. Only by then can human beings take definite
steps toward understanding the physical world that they inhabit.
While most people turn to God at times of enormous stress and
desperation, the feeling of urgent anxiety can also be alleviated
through productive work to overcome the disadvantageous situations.
Over-reliance on prayers and religious texts delays or prevents the
actual resolution of problems causing stress and anxiety.

Many believers have argued the importance of religion in defining the
morality of the human beings. Morality is essentially people's own
opinion of the right and wrong. While it is true that religious texts
do tell their believers the limits of proper conducts, there are
definitely other ways to define moral behavior and restrain

Ultimately, in the modern world where legality is necessary for any
proceedings, the secular law should and can completely replace
religious texts in the source of morality. If a legal code defines an
act as criminal, it must be immoral at the same time. Of course, it
is true that many laws of today are difficult and sometimes impossible
to enforce, such as anti-smuggling and anti-illegal immigrations laws.

However, such laws still exist because they define the boundaries of
moral behavior in the country. Also, morality does not need religious
or legal documents to be upheld; some moral behaviors, such as no
stealing, are foundation of a stable society, without them, the
society will simply descend into anarchy and the human civilization
will quickly collapse from lack of order and security.

So, looking at the above aspects of religion, it can be said that if
religion was to disappear today, there should not be much change in
the everyday lives of human beings. The modern-day economy, with its
competitiveness and materialism, is in direct opposition to basic
framework of many major religions in the world. And the modern-day
society, especially the youth, have leaped over the moral boundaries
set by religious texts with promiscuity and other "overly social"

Furthermore, in today's world, less and less people are willing enough
to continue following the complicated religious practices and
procedures of their ancestors, instead, especially in cases of
Christmas and Thanksgiving, simply assigns commercial values to
formerly religious events, diluting their original meaning set forth
by religious texts. All in all, religion, having served as mental
support for generations, is no longer necessary in the lives of
modern-day human beings and should become a part of the historical

Wait, even Blogspot is Blocked in China?!

OK, I finally got to Shanghai after about two and a half days spent in
airports and planes...and probably most annoying aspect of being here,
besides the insanely hot weather (95 degrees and 95% humidity) is
probably the fact that most sites Americans tend to access (a lot of
news sites, Facebook, Youtube, blog sites including Blogspot...yes, I
can only post via email now) are completely gone here...while, of
course this is not news, but the sites and softwares that allow for
proxy access to bypass the so-called Great Firewall of China have
themselves been banned, showing the increased sophistication of
Internet monitoring in this country.

Now, we all know certain sites are blocked for political reasons (news
sites and blog sites with their "anti-Chinese" writings) and others
for economic protections (Facebook and Youtube blocked so their
Chinese counterparts can practically have monopolies of their domestic
markets), but considering that both the Chinese netizens and the CCP
understand that neither the political reasons (you can't really block
all anti-Chinese commentaries on all Western sites...and a lot of
those comments get onto approved Chinese blogs and other sites) nor
the economic reasons (Chinese people at home and abroad tend to use
Chinese SNS and other sites over English ones anyways...even without
blocking the corresponding non-Chinese ones) really justifies the
censorship, is there some other story going on underneath?

Let's say that the 400 million Chinese netizens of today are really
quite an international bunch. Sure, they are somewhat brainwashed with
excessively nationalistic (and by that, I mean pro-PRC...modern
Chinese somehow can't distinguish between China as a nation and PRC as
a political entity...its quite sad), but they know exactly whats going
on around the world. They have understandings of foreign cultures and
people hundreds of times greater than their parents and grandparents.
...and most of all, they are highly cynical about the socio-political
problems of modern China and they know many countries are better than
CHina in many other ways...

Yet, somehow, these netizens, in real life the white collar
professionals and college students who represent the current and
future backbones of the Chinese economy and political support for the
CCP, are not a bit seems willing to go out of the way to do anything
remotely close to what their counterparts did back in 1989....

That lack of visible agitation today compared to 1989 (none of
socio-political problems have been solved in the 21 years since that
event...and probably all the problems that were topics of protest got
much worse today...) is largely thanks to the change in methodology
and focus in censorship...and partial blockage of the Internet has
been very much an important part of the change.

To put the change in very simple words, it could be said that it is a
transformation from "creating your (CCP's) own version of truth" to
"guiding the people to the CCP's viewpoint through limited access to
the real truth."

To be specific, by allowing people to see the CCP version and the
"foreign" version of the same story side by side, the CCP is greatly
adding to its own credibility as (somewhat) transparent. Especially
in the case when the two stories differ somewhat, the CCP gives the
netizens an image in which it admits its own problems (by showing that
it still somewhat does censor and distort the truth) but at the same
time makes effort to right the wrongs of being an overbearing,
domineering control-freak that it was in the not so distant past.

So, in short, it is a "confidence-building exercise" the CCP is
undertaking with regard to its relations with the so-often skeptical
netizen community. By earning their trust, the CCP is getting the
netizens to have more confidence in the CCP and PRC in its political
and economic policies...and increasingly, in the case the CCP differs
from the foreigners in certain sotries and opinions, get the Chinese
netizens to follow the CCP version as the "truthful" (well, this would
be a long shot but as a new younger group of netizens come into being
under this new censorship policy of the CCP, increasingly possible).

Time is on the side of the CCP. As the Chinese influence grows in the
world, the foreign media is increasingly more likely to be hostile
against China (they have to tap the increased fear and ignorance of
the average guy outside of China...who is unlikely and unwilling to
know anything about China except it is "communist," "taking over the
world," and *insert racial slur here*)...thus, the CCP stories and
foreign stories are likely to diverge more and more with the foreign
stories sounding more and more like attacks on the being of the
Chinese state and people rather than justifiable criticisms of PRC's
certain actions. This situation will lead the Chinese netizens to
realize that the stories from CCP-sponsored media, while distorted,
are still more truthful than the foreign ones.

This, combined with the increasing willingness of the CCP media to
report on negative news from China (even the ones directly related to
the CCP) due to its increased confidence in being able to solve the
said problems, will increasingly lead the Chinese netizens away from
the foreign media and genuinely toward the domestic CCP-controlled

With such a trend, the day will come that transformation within the
netizen community happens so much (combined with increased economic
developments of China that makes foreign perceived wealth unenviable
within the relatively wealthy netizens) as to make censorship
completely unnecessary. And when the CCP lifts all censorship of
"anti-China" sites that day, none of the Chinese netizens will believe
a word those websites are stating....when that day arrives, the
influence of the foreigners in China will hit a possibly
non-reversible low.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Writing Ambitions

I like to take up the pen when I am bored (like right now, as I sit through another few hours in San Diego airport), it makes me fill productive, well, at least my random thoughts are not wasted, haha...motivation to write indeed)

For any writer, the ultimate goal is always the same: to publish your works and allow others to know you by the views you express in your words...yet, it seems like the number of aspiring writers is just so great in number, that published newspapers/magazines that accept open submissions seems infinitesimal in comparison.

Sure, most of these writers are jokes: their images of their own writings are so great that they generally refuse to even proofread their own works after the initial rush to get the words down on paper. For anyone else who read their works, their often expressed self-confidence is the hallmark of their ludicrousness in proclaiming themselves to be "writers."

I am a typical example of this bunch. My writing, especially when expressed in random thoughts (like here on this blog) is just a written analogy of guerrilla warfare. Once the topic is decided, such perspectives and ideas emerge immediately and they do all make their ways into the writing...yet, there seems to be absolutely no logical sequence in the ordering of the often ephemeral ideas.

Like the guerrilla gunman, the idea "hits" the topic once or twice in a highly superficial fashion, then immediately "runs" out of my mind and writing. The "hits" are numerous, but the deepening of the ideas through the "hits"? Practically nonexistent.

And lack in confidence when writing was not I. Even back in high school, I used to submit papers to highly reputed and academic magazines like Foreign Affairs and actually hoped my pieces would be published (yeah, wishful thinking). When I received replies saying my pieces weren't good enough, I totally believed the kind words coded into the seems, I believed, I was "not that far away" from the real academics who publish in there.

As I grow up, I know better. Looking back at the writings of those days, they really were truly horrible (about 5 years later, I guess?) and the so-called "academic articles" probably sounded more like rants than this blog does...

Now, I tend to focus on the smaller, more compact issues, forcing myself to focus on one or a few certain perspective when writing. Also, I have been sending pieces to less renowned pieces, notably, English editions of Chinese/Japanese/Korean papers where I can discuss Asian regional issues that common Americans likely do not care about.

But, maybe, my reason for writing has been changing all along. As I said in the first post, the blog serves as a spot for me to put down ideas I can use for more formal, publishable pieces, but the more I write, the more I feel that simply the joy of typing my mind into words is much more overwhelming than any pieces I have published recently.

(well, lets just say, publishing pieces have not been smooth since leaving Yale...Yale newspaper has certain obligation to publish Yale student pieces, but the real world, with its commercialized media, is not that generous and relenting)

I am still searching for a fixed location where I can perhaps periodically publish my thoughts on various different issues (in nice words, it would be my "column"), and I do see the possibility a lot more in East Asia, where views of a culturally understanding "Westerner" should be valuable to some degree.

But perhaps more interesting to note these days is that, people see writing as the effect, rather than the cause, for fame. Famous people from other fields, some completely unrelated and inexperienced in writing (athletics and acting, for instance) choose to use their own names as free advertisements to sell their “books,” often filled with ideas that are not only shallow and lacking analysis or logic in anyway, but also of such low quality as not deserving of any worthy audience.

So…writing, as an art and a profession, is being used. Used for famous people with no writing backgrounds to spill out their vulgar ideas for the commoners to emulate…while any legitimate writers should not stand for that, they can also not doing anything to absolve the situation.

People judge a book by its cover, that’s the truth. If they know who wrote the book and have a rough idea of the writer’s philosophy, why would he or she bother to analyze ten thousand words of ambiguous ideas by someone with little renown? If the audience like the little-know book, maybe the words of mouth will gain the little-known writer some small town fame, but if even slight dislike was felt, the writer is done for.

The celebrities, with the fame gained from other fields, are immune to such effects. If they write well, it will be top headline news proclaiming discovery of literary talent in an already multi-talented genius. If the book sucks, oh well, the celebrity is no writer. What do you expect?

Yet, even the crappy book by the celebrity can bring more enjoyment to the people. The commoners yearn to feel social intimacy with their idols, to discovery their inner commoner amidst the glory of fame. The books allow for that. Yes, the celebrity, despite his/her busy schedule, can be like any other human: set aside time, sit down, and write…it is just exciting to think about: the celebrity doing what WE do!

3:30am in San Diego airport. I wonder, what are the celebrities doing right now? haha

Isn't Air Travel just Fun? haha

In case you didn't realize, that was pure sarcasm coming from someone who is now in his 19th hour being stuck at San Diego airport on his way to China (yes, he never left). Just to give a quick summary of the situation:

I was originally scheduled to leave San Diego yesterday (the 16th) at 10am for Salt Lake City, transfer to Tokyo, then onto Shanghai, arriving 9:20pm on the 17th...then, flight from San Diego to Salt Lake City was delayed nearly two hours, meaning that I cannot connect to the Tokyo flight from SLC.

The ticket representative thus rebooked me for San Diego to Detroit (at 11pm, a 12-hour wait...) from then onto Shanghai, a direct flight arriving 7pm on the 18th...

THEN, after a murderous 12-hour wait in the airport, San Diego to Detroit flight got cancelled, leaving me to reschedule once more: this time leaving from San Diego to Minneapolis to Tokyo to Shanghai, leaving here at 7am (another 6 hour wait at and arriving at 9:20pm on the 18th (so, exactly 24 hours later than the first, original schedule)

Meanwhile, somehow my bags went straight onto the original delayed San Diego to Salt Lake City flight, from where it was transferred to Detroit (because they can't catch the missed connection to Tokyo) and actually managed to get onto the direct flight to Shanghai that I would have been on too if the San Diego-Detroit flight was not cancelled...

Thankfully, I don't have much in terms of urgent matters over in Shanghai (besides worried parents of course, but been updating them on the situation through emails) so I can chill and be bored at San Diego airport for as long as I want...but, the major schedule screw-up of this time did remind of the last time I was in a similar situation and actually had something urgent to deal with in my final destination:

Back in the spring of 2009, I was doing a solo trip through New Zealand before my final exam week at Univ of Sydney (where I was studying abroad). My flight to Sydney from Queenstown (via Auckland) was supposed to get to Sydney two days before my first morning exam. Thinking everything was under control, I walked to the Queenstown airport at the end of a great trip...everything went to hell from there...

Day 1: original scheduled morning flight from Queenstown to Auckland was cancelled...immediately rebooked for afternoon flight, which also got cancelled...then attempted to rebook night flight...was told that ALL flights out of Queenstown airport FOR THE NEXT THREE DAYS are cancelled due to intense fog (no, it wasn't that "intense"...I guess safety first, yeah?)

shell-shocked, I desperately asked around for ideas, was told that Christchurch airport (half a day by bus away) was still open and had flights to Auckland...immediately book Christchurch to Auckland ticket and get bus ticket from Queenstown to Christchurch in the morning. Stay up all night in hostel worrying (at least I met that Braizilian dude I mentioned in a previous post)

Day 2: hop on bus early morning, got to airport by afternoon...finds out that flight to Auckland DELAYED...forced to rebook Auckland to Sydney flight once the time the Christchurch flight landed in Auckland, it was 1am on Day 3(=the day of my first final exam)

Day 3: my tired body lands in Auckland, sleepiness completely goes away when heard that Auckland to Sydney also delayed (!!!)...pray to God I actually make the test in time...get on flight to Sydney, and arrive at Sydney airport at 6:30am (30 minutes before exam begins)

Mad rush through immigration (the Aussie border guys seem to totally believe my "I am gonna miss my exam in 30 minutes" story, let me off the hook easily)...mad dash to taxi, and taxi slows to a crawl in the traffic...good thing Univ of Sydney not far from airport...

Arrives at school front gate 6:57am (3 minutes!!!) mad dash to classroom (ok, even though I fortunately didn't have any checked luggage during the process, still had big backpack with all my travel stuff...clothes, souvenirs, etc...) Arrive just in time to the classroom as the students make the procession to enter...(sigh of relief)

Of course, I did pretty badly on the test (I was supposed to study those two days before the test...instead I studied the entire Air New Zealand customer service system...) but the moral of the story: clear and simple, air travel is one of the least reliable, untimely thing ever (more than bus or rail, in my experience) and because its so consistently bad, people have become passive to all its faults.

Sitting here in San Diego airport lobby at 2am, its clear how passive people are. No one is arguing about a cancelled flight (the Detroit flight was cancelled because of the airport's "night curfew" at 11:30pm, not mechanical problems) and everyone is just sleeping as if everything is normal (well, as normal as you'd expect at a red-eye condition in the airport...)

Maybe this is an American thing. Americans, so used to traveling by plane in long-distances, have seen many many ordeals of delays, cancellations, and rebookings so that they are not only knowledgeable of these sort of things but highly tolerant of them. The only alternative they have to waiting for the plane would be to drive across the country.

Maybe alluding back to the failure of public transportation here in America, a similar situation would unfold quite differently in China, where the railroad provides a much cheaper, albeit more time-consuming way (but quite comfortable too, with soft bunk beds with fluffy sheets and pillows) for long-distance travel.

People in China, thus, expect higher standard of service at airports (because of higher costs they paid compared to trains) and delays/cancellations are absolutely not tolerated (again, because Chinese trains generally very punctual)...

Their impatience with the complications of air travel means that Chinese people will quickly display anger at any sign of deviation from the original flight schedule.

In fact, as a personal experience, I was once on a flight from Beijing to Shanghai that was delayed by a mere hour. the 200-some passengers immediately a verbal barrage against the airline service personnel (to the point the female attendants were on the verge of crying) the end, the airline was forced to give around a $100 compensation per person for the delay (a major financial setback for the airlines, considering the original ticket price would be 200-300 dollars one way)

I do not approve the violent behavior of these Chinese passengers, but it is perfectly understandable how they can use "we have alternative means of travel" as leverage against the airlines providing bad service.

Because no such viable alternative means of long-distance travel exist in the US (American trains have bunk beds but trains are slower and much more expensive than flying...thats still weird to me), airlines in America practically have monopoly over long- (and some mid-) distance travel.

The result is airlines being completely unapologetic in times of bad service and passengers who are unable to keep those bad services in check. Such passivity of the passengers can only be reduced significantly when US (and countries with similar area sizes, such as Canada and Australia) develop viable commercial competition to the airlines through investing in long-distance public transportation such as trains.

Universities should Suppress Excess Alcohol

As I mentioned previously, I became a US citizen not long ago, and the celebrations of my fellow citizens at the ceremony, waving their American flags, were quite a sight to behold.

And when I was looking at the waving of the flags, a flashback just randomly popped into my head of a major controversy at Yale.

Three Yale students, all of whom international, were caught burning an American flag on private property (i.e., they torched a flag that was hanging on the roof of some random house). The discussion of xenophobia and patriotism suddenly spiked because of the incident, and many, students and school officials alike, questioned the motives of the three students and the suitability of their continuing their studies at Yale.

But, really, what happened was just three drunken guys letting out some air. The excess alcohol in their bodies just prevented them from controlling their urge to openly express their “rational” anti-American sentiments.

Of course, it should not be surprising or condemnable for the three students to possess any kind of anti-American sentiments in the first place. Having an emphasis on diversity of student backgrounds, Yale inevitably harbors many so-called dissenting opinions in its student body. The administration, the faculty, and all qualified students should definitely tolerate such feelings running contrary to the sense of patriotism cherished by many on campus.

After all, it is my firm belief that Yale is an international research institution which happens to be located in the United States, and its primary goal is to serve the world at large, not narrowly the interests of America. Besides, it should be duly noted that anti-American feelings are in existence in the world in great abundance and intensity, with millions of people having the urge to burn an American flag at least one point in their lives.

(Unless the desecration of the American flags has become a social norm, such as the streets of Iraq, the anti-American people of the world simply kept their feelings private and hidden, keeping the disrespect done to American flags to a minimum outside of war zones)

In my mind, the most significant point out of this whole incident was the fact that three drunken students broke such an established social norm flagrantly and without thinking about the consequences. It really shows the power of alcohol has on the mind and raises an important question: should there be a stricter control on alcohol consumption on the Yale campus and other college campuses?

If three drunken students with harbored anti-American feelings can burn an American flag on a private property, they can also inflict bodily harm on American students they deem to be xenophobic, or even worse, get into a fight with a group of drunken American students harboring strong hawkish nationalism. The occurrence of the latter incidents could have lead to a complete and uncompromising schism within the Yale student body, potentially erupt a violent conflict that will push Yale to a position of national embarrassment and significant loss of prestige.

All the possible disastrous effects described above can result simply from excessive imbibition of alcohol. Thus, the wisdom of the “hands-off policy” with regard use drinking among its students, practiced at Yale and most American universities, comes into doubt. The schools’ purposeful ignoring of the many uncontrolled, alcohol-filled parties that take place every weekend has given the irresponsible students an opportunity to temporarily abandon gentlemen- and lady-like conducts appropriate for their status as students of higher education.

Sure, in the past (or at least in Yale history), a little of high quality alcohol products such as champagne and wine are served as companion to lively and entertaining discussions of politics and philosophy. Now, entertainment is the act of losing self-control from binging of cheap and dangerously concentrated stuff like grain alcohol. College students across America are drinking not to enjoy drinking but drinking to enjoy getting drunk.

And as they continue their unrestrained imbibition, they not only harm themselves physically through alcohol poisoning, but also mentally by losing control of their own behavior, engaging themselves in acts of sexual misconduct, violence, or in the case of the three Yale students, something considered publicly offensive.

While all high school students expect the existence of drinking parties in all colleges, many certainly cannot imagine the prevalence and abundance of these parties. At a glance, the conducts of the drunken partying students at Yale can be in no way associated with their extraordinary achievements, countless honors, and mature/self-controlled sense of independence that got them into college in the first place.

So, perhaps, without dampening too much of the lively atmosphere, universities should have a certain responsibility to take a more active and suppressive role in restricting the heavy drinking scene among its student population in order to prevent the numerous mindless conducts due to the drunkenness.

While the three Yale students should not be punished for their act of burning the flag itself, they should be punished for their heavy drinking that led to the irresponsible behavior. Only by decisively cracking down on the excessive use of alcohol can the universities truly maintain their reputations of quality as academic institutions and safety as social environments.

Is Using English Really that Important?

Recently, there has been a big fuss about a Japanese company adopting English as its official language. Rakuten (which happens to be the company I will work for starting October) has decided to abolish all use of Japanese within the company by 2012, and all employees who do not learn English by then will be fired.

Sounds rough...especially considering the senile board members are all Japanese (the CEO is Harvard grad so speaks English but what about others?) AND all business or casual communications within the company (water cooler talks and random chats over lunch included) will be conducted in English (even the ones between two Japanese employees).

Now, there are praises for Rakuten's "ambition" and criticisms that the move is completely unnecessary because the company is not that global (yet, at least), but no one seems to be considering this radical proposal from a socio-cultural perspective.

Yes, we all know that English is language of global communication and no language can replace English's global status for the foreseeable future, but by forcing people to converse English in a social environment where English is not required, aren't we glorifying English to a point that it is no longer just a convenient tool for easy communication?

Let me say that I am all for cultural exchanges among different countries (and of course those exchanges will necessarily be conducted in English), but using English within a particular culture with clear distinctions from an English-based Western one?

Isn't that just an obvious sign of lack of confidence in your own culture?

After all, with every language comes certain cultural thinkings that make the language colorful and vivid in expressions and allow the language to display emotions (humor, disgust, sarcasm...). If we are simply using English as a tool of business communication, we keep it simply, straightforward, and completely devoid of the cultural factors that makes English a language rich in content and style.

But we are killing the cultural richness of English precisely because it is completely unnecessary in business communications. In fact, jokes (which are generally cultural-based) in English, even used to sooth the tense mood of a formal business setting, may just serve to confuse the non-native speaker without adding anything productive to the business transactions at hand.

But by coercing people to have even their trivial small talks in English, somehow a message is conveyed that we not only have to talk, but think and act like the native English speakers... if that is possible in a Japanese company, whose employees probably have, eh, minimal contact with native English speakers outside of their workplaces. Sure, there are native English speakers within the company (I guess I sort of count in that category as well), but considering our small numbers in comparison to the Japanese employees, if anyone is going to be culturally changed, it will be us, the non-Japanese, who becomes more and more Japanese as we work and live with Japanese society.

So the result, in the best way I can imagine, would be fluent English communication with all the wrong cultural nuances. Having lived in non-English-speaking countries for so long, I know that English cannot clearly represent some of these "foreign" cultural concepts (especially with regard to East Asia), so the exclusive use of English in a supposedly non-English setting, really, can only lead to really obvious cultural awkwardness, even if the English that is being spoken and written are completely fluent, grammatically correct, and without any foreign accent.

Many in the business world tend to argue that, since the triumph of Western capitalism has been clearly established with the defeat of communism, all (non-isolated) people of the world have been converging into a single, entrepreneurial, individualistic, freedom-seeking character.

Use of these classic Euro-American-centric buzzwords aside, anyone who has lived for a substantial period outside of the traditional Western sphere can tell you the statement above is complete bullshit, even if the countries resided are closely following Western political and economic values.

Japan is a classic example. The country has been under direct American tutelage for half a century, importing everything from democracy to Hollywood films. Sure, a democratic, developed nation with high standard of living has been established, but the political and economic structures of Japan has diverged so much from those of America despite common principles.

And, most importantly, the Americans have never managed to get the Japanese to speak English in their daily lives!

And all this really has to do with the deep Confucian roots Japanese society have developed over thousands of years. A young man growing up in Japan may dress like Americans, behave like Americans, and even speak English, but underneath all that, the fundamental mindset that defines the perspective of the world is completely different when raised in societies with different backgrounds.

Now, some would further argue that those differences in mindsets are becoming smaller because youth in all countries speak some English and learned American culture through English-language programs imported from America.

From personal experiences trying to communicate with young people (using English) in Korea and Mexico, I can confidently say that the enormous cultural power that the Americans perceive that they possess have penetrated not nearly as deep as the Americans themselves have hoped.

After all, hearing English from me, the Korean and Mexican twenty-somethings just froze and stared at me fearfully as they desperately searched for (and never found) the English words to utter back to me in reply. All the sudden, the Yankees cap and Levi's jeans they are wearing became completely meaningless...

And that is the power of language: a culture creates a language to communicate common experience, and the resulting language becomes the exclusive representation of its parent culture. After centuries and even millennium of symbiotic development, the language and the culture become one and inseparable.

So, it is easy to say, forcing taking away the language from the culture is like taking a baby away from its mother. Neither the language or the culture will be destroyed, but enormous confusions will ensue in the language that will not only baffle its native users but also, in the process, reduce their confidence in their own culture for failing to protect the language.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Capital Punishment Benefits Society

In the document code he created in 1760 BC, King Hammurabi of Babylon used the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” philosophy as a central principle of punishment for all crimes. While often resulting in disfigurement or death penalty for the offenders, the Code of Hammurabi, as the document came to be known, ensured stability and domestic harmony within the ever-growing Babylonian Empire, bringing the ancient Mesopotamian civilization to its zenith.

However, such a legal tradition is coming under attack in the modern society, where there is a growing trend of perceiving the concept of capital punishment as immoral or even barbarian. Mounting evidence, on the other hand, suggests that capital punishment can significantly increase the welfare of the society as its increased implementation can bring about many economic and psychological benefits to the populace.

One of the most severe problems our country faces today is the ever-growing cost of law enforcement. A large portion of the increase comes from the increasing expenses required to feed, house, and rehabilitate the enormous prison population. According to Abel Martinez at the University of Texas, the average cost of supporting one prisoner costs $22000 while expansion of the prison system to alleviate overcrowding costs $54000 per bed. Significant amount of taxpayer money can be saved by using death penalty in situations where long prison sentences are given today.

At the same time, there is no guarantee that the prisoners who go through rehabilitation and reeducation programs in the prisons are completely benign and no longer poses danger to the society upon their release. In fact, many crimes in our society today are the acts of repeat offenders who commit same or similar crimes on new victims with each release from their prison sentences. Use of capital punishment can dramatically decrease or completely eliminate the economic damages incurred by such largely preventable repeat offenses if potentially dangerous repeat offenders can be identified and subjected to execution.

Other benefits of capital punishment cannot be put in monetary terms. Much positive psychological effect can be generated if capital punishment is used much more widely than it is today. Providing a stronger perceived sense of authority to the law enforcement agencies, the greater utilization of death penalty will undoubted inhibit potential criminals from committing violent and socially damaging crimes.

In the gang culture of today’s inner city America, committing atrocious crimes, most often in the form of gruesome murders, is considered actions required for group membership and a sign of “toughness.” Many other criminals, especially repeat offenders, violate the law because they have no place in society and incapacity to adjust to the normal life outside of their familiar prisons.

Fear of receiving death penalty will deter both groups from committing crimes, or at least decrease the intensity and magnitude of the crimes committed. And the fear of death penalty by criminals translates to the society and the general populace having less fear of becoming victims to violent crimes. In other words, the threat of death in prison can reduce the threat of death outside the prisons.

Of course, much reform is needed to correct the faults that exist in our legal code today. The use of capital punishment today is not proper and certainly not enough to unleash the full benefits as stated above. First, the concept of death row must be completely destroyed. Making criminals subject to capital punishment languish for decades, if not their entire lifetimes, in the death row before execution makes the whole purpose of death penalty disappear while spending taxpayer money nonetheless. The enforcement of capital punishment should be swift and timely, preferably immediately after it is sentenced in court and not appealed.

Using the same logic, it should be argued that any prison sentence beyond 25 years is absolutely pointless. After all, even if the prisoner is jailed as a young man, by the time he is released, he is too old to potentially make enough positive contributions to society to offset the cost of living expenses and reeducation in prison. Thus, the reforms should either reduce his sentence and transform some of the prison sentences as other forms of punishment, such as community service or hard manual labor, or subject him directly to the death penalty if the crime is too severe for such a compromise.

Secondly, there should be a mechanism to increase punishment for repeated offense. An easy method is to establish a system in which the sentence of the criminal is increased with each additional time he commits the same or similar crime and is imprisoned. Eventually, after multiple offenses, he should be subjected to execution as the agencies determine that he has no hope for successful rehabilitation and return to normal life.

The greater use of capital punishment will save much taxpayer money. The saved money should be reinvested in such projects as research and development for more humane, painless, and quick methods for capital punishment and, more importantly, education and job training for potentially dangerous segments of the society. Only success in real life can truly decrease criminal tendencies within people and it is our hope that one day, there is no longer any violent crimes to necessitate the existence of capital punishment.

Are Hostels Really that Dangerous?

When people ask me where I stay during my many solo trips (yes, I take them a lot), I plainly tell them, "Hostels." I immediately receive facial expressions of absolute horror in return. Asked why, "don't you have to share some crappy, bunk-bed-filled rooms with complete strangers who might steal all your stuff and kill you in your sleep?"

Sometimes I am absolutely amazed by the utter ignorance people display when they decide to open their mouths. Yes, you do have to share rooms with strangers in a hostels, and yes, sometimes you do have roommates with questionable backgrounds (such as newly freed inmates), but considering the purpose of a cheap hostel is completely the same as an luxury hotel, I don't understand how can people ever imagine a hostel to be something analogous in appearance to a prison cell...

Granted, I have many friends who have never stayed in a hostel and probably never will (for example, the "Yalies who will never leave the comfortable confines of upper-middle class society" mentioned in a previous post: ) and I would like to go into a bit of hostel dynamics for the benefits of these people who thinks they are above the "horrors" of hostels.

After staying in dozens of hostels in half a dozen countries, I am beginning to figure out the demographics of a regular hostel: about 20-30% solo travelers (like me) who is going for hostels' cheap cost (20-30 bucks a night) and ability to meet people (I practically friended on facebook every person I have ever met in a hostel). These guys generally stay two, three nights in each hostel, tops.

40% so-called "long-time" residents. These guys are working temporary jobs or still looking for jobs. They moved to the city/town where the hostel is located and would like to settle down in the said city/town, but their unstable income flow means that they really can't go for even a half-year apartment contract. So these guys generally "live" in each hostel for about two, three months at a time.

The remainder are group travelers who are just trying to save money. These guys often stay in the private rooms within the hostel premises (most hostels actually have them, generally for 2-3 people and around 40 bucks a night). They tend to keep to themselves because they already have enough company and don't need to mingle with other people in the hostel.

The three groups share a couple of characteristics: one is that THEY ARE ALL JUST MINDING THEIR BUSINESSES. No, no one in the hostel is there for crimes. The hostel is just a place to rest up for more traveling/working/job-searching. In fact, hostels always ask for copies of passport profile pages so they can keep track of the guests' identities. Its really hard for random people off the streets to stay in a hostel.

The second is that, unlike most hotels, where most guests are business or family travelers who do not talk to other guests, hostel guests are from all sorts of backgrounds/places and are collectively the most open, outgoing people I have ever met anywhere. Most participate in hostel community events (whether it be gaming, drinking, or just talking in the common room) and are happy to trade their world travel stories.

Just to give a few examples of the people I have met: (1) In Queenstown, New Zealand: a Brazilian guy who works as a chef in a local ski resort on his way to Argentina (who last time I checked, was in Malaysia on his way to Bali), (2) In Vancouver, Canada: a German guy who just went from Toronto to Arkansas to Vancouver on a week-long Greyhound trip, (3) In Denali, Alaska: a Japanese young music-producer who gave up admission to prestigious Waseda Univ to study in a community college in LA (aspire to work in Hollywood)...the list goes on and on.

Meeting these people, more than any sights I have seen, have been the most memorable moments of all my trips. Often, because of them, I forgot about all the loneliness of solo trips and gave me the courage and the motivation to go on more of these adventures.

And as these people congregate and communicate in hostels, the political and cultural boundaries of the world are gradually being erased...After hearing the stories of all these different peoples, I think sacrificing a bit of privacy and comfort is totally worth it. so I encourage all of you reading this post to go stay in a hostel and tell me whether the experience was "scary" or truly enjoyable.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So You think Asians are all the same...

“You Asians all do…”

For any Asian in America, hearing something like this from a non-Asian is about as common as it gets. Somehow, the non-Asians seems absolutely convinced that a quarter of humanity with diverse cultures can be lump-summed into one single term while the French and Russians are people of incredible difference that calling them “Europeans” collectively would be considered offensive.

To my accusation, most reply that Asians “look the same,” “act the same,” and “seem to share a lot in common with each other” (they were quite serious when they said these to me, not a slight tinge of sarcasm). To which I would say, “could you enlighten me how the French and the Germans look and act incredibly differently and does not share much with each other?”

Obviously, I am not saying only non-Asians are guilty of such cultural insensitivities (Asians say “white/black/”Mexican” people all do…” all the time) but it seems, unlike any other generalizations, people tend to not feel any sort of shame or embarrassment when they generalize the behavior and appearance of all Asians…the non-Asians generalize in the open (on the media), believing such to be a perfectly normal thing to do. Why is that?

Sure, the Americans’ general lack of willingness to teach/learn about any culture outside of Western European ones seem to be the primary reasons for the generalizations, but that still does not explain how they try their best to not call all Hispanics “Mexicans” while calling all Asians “Chinese” seem to be a funny joke.

So, are we, the Asians in America, by doing what we do and perpetuating the stereotypes/generalizations against us and making them a sort of devious social norm?

The answer, unfortunately, is partly yes. As I have mentioned in the previous post about how Asians are less "manly," many Asians are of very shy and introverted nature. This sort of character have prevented them from aggressively explaining the Asians' differences to non-Asians, and by silence, we have pretty much given an ok to the non-Asians to generalize us.

In contrast, every time anything remotely racial is said in public about Hispanics or blacks, they resort to protests and aggressive, often violent, verbal/physical counterattacks, making the social cost of generalizing them prohibitively expensive and potentially dangerous for anyone daring to do so.

I would just like to point out that in reality, the Asian community is much much more fragmented than the white one, at least here in America. While white people of different origins tend to intermarry quite a bit (so everyone becomes 1/8 Welsh, 1/8 Hungarian, 1/4 French, and a 1/2 Russian or something like that), intermarriage among different Asian groups rarely happens...and when they do happen, its quite a big deal, especially to parents and grandparents of the marrying couple.

A major reason is that many Asian countries are historically mono-ethnic and secluded themselves from migrations of other Asians, leading to extraordinary levels of ethnocentrism and lack of knowledge with regard to even their closest Asian neighbors.

Unfortunately, the wealthiest and most recognized Asians among non-Asians, namely the Koreans and the Japanese, both tend to see themselves as above other Asians and refuse to "reduce the purity of Korean/Japanese blood" through intermarriage.

Yet, feelings of ethnic superiority is not the only problem. Even people of same ethnic backgrounds refuse to intermarry due to political or economic differences. The best example that would come to mind is how people from Hong Kong and Taiwan refuse to recognize themselves as Chinese and thinks mainland Chinese are inferior, but since that example has been so overused and made sensitive, I would like to look at a couple of others.

As someone with significant Mongolian heritage (from my mother's side), I really have never thought about interacting with with people from Mongolia. To be honest, since Inner (southern part) Mongolia is part of China (meaning all the Mongolian Chinese like me are Sinicized) and Outer (northern) Mongolia became a client state of the USSR (people there are culturally Russified) so the two groups of Mongolians share very little in modern culture. Lack of physical exchange (I never been to Outer Mongolia and many Outer Mongolians rather go to Russia than China) deepens cultural divergence and prevents intermarriage.

The other group is ethnic Koreans born and bred in China (Chaoxianzu/Joseonjok/조선족/朝鮮族). Many of these people have been to South Korea (and many of them work for Korean companies in China) and know about modern South Korea very well. Yet, the fact that they hold Chinese political stance on many issues cause friction with South Koreans, leading to their ill treatment in South Korea (unlike Koreans from Japan or the USA, who tend to support South Korea in all issues). Thus, many Chaoxianzu has increasingly tend to regard them as distinct cultural group only ethnically linked to North and South Koreans.

It is perhaps unrealistic to expect non-Asians (or even some Asians) to understand the complex ethnic/political/cultural relations of Asia (in fact, most non-Asians' understanding of Asian politics is still in the Cold War era, i.e. other Asians don't like the Chinese cuz the Chinese are bunch of f-ing commies") but at least recognize that they are ignoring some very important issues when they generalized all 2 billion of us as "Asians."