Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of Independence....for a While

Yesterday was my birthday (not much happened, I just had dinner with a
friend in a Thai place...very good food, not that expensive...well,
100+ RMB per person, so its not that cheap either for a normal person,
I guess) and tomorrow my father makes his return from the States.
Given the intense scrutiny over alleged extramarital affairs that he
is facing from the entire extended family (I would like to talk about
the details even in this blog), the peace and independence I am
enjoying right now will not return until I leave Shanghai for Japan
almost a month later.

Now, with my father back here, so will my grandmother get here from
Nanjing to watch over him to make sure nothing else happens to
aggravate the existing situation that further ruin the family name (I
wrote about my rather uncaring and angry attitude toward this issue
not that while back on this blog, so I won't talk about this anymore).
I will be put in an incredibly awkward position between the silent
tension between my father and grandmother.

So, yep, end of freedom, a two month long freedom where I had two
major trips (the "Northwestern campaign" to Henan and Shaanxi
provinces for a week or so, the "Southern campaign" to Wuhan,
Guangdong, Macau, Hong Kong, Fujian, and Taiwan for about two weeks)
and wasted too much time staying with my grandmother at Nanjing (ok, I
am not that filial, as I said many times before) and with Japanese
visa process that caused me to wait around at home for more than a
week...that time I could have totally used to fulfill my incredibly
ambitious original travel plans.

Here is my original plan: (1) the "Southern campaign" that,
unbelievably, is actually completely in entirety. (2) the
"Northwestern campaign" was supposed to cover all the way to Xinjiang
after going to Xi'an (where I terminated my trip early to go back to
Nanjing), so this campaign is only half completely. (3) the
"Northeastern campaign" that is supposed to take me to Mongolia, Inner
Mongolia, Harbin, the Russian border at Heihe, and Yanbian Korean
areas (where there seems to be some flooding now). (4) the "Western
campaign" that is supposed to take me to Chongqing, Chengdu, and
possibly Tibetan areas (as policies permit)

Contrasting with my plan is the reality. I have already purchased my
airplane ticket to depart from Shanghai for Tokyo on the 26th of
September, giving me around 25 days for if I want to do anything
further with traveling or anything else. Of course, this is
definitely enough time for me to pull off another epic trip like the
one I just had to the South, but I wonder if my father and/or
grandmother would grant me that sort of opportunity.

Especially considering that my father has multiple conferences to
attend (one as far as the Netherlands) during my last month of stay
here in Shanghai, I can't imagine myself being absent from home, where
my grandmother still resides, for extended periods of time (actually,
I can't even imagine anything overnight...) So the prospect for my
continued traveling looks very slim at the moment. But if I look at
the results of my entire summer so far, the goal of a summer for
active leisure was pretty much achieved.

A trip all the way to Alaska, to Xi'an, and to Taiwan has left me with
more than two thousand pictures in more than 20 photo albums, really
giving those looking at my Facebook that I am practically going
anywhere I want. Isn't that sort of freedom what I was looking for
and received through my own sheer efforts? To be honest, there is no
regret for me this summer, especially considering from a future
perspective that sees me tied down to the office on a full-time basis.

Sure, I will make friends at work, but being constrained with personal
relationships, even at superficial levels, I will no longer have that
"I do entirely what I want no matter how anyone else feel" sort of
attitude that I proudly display on my solo trips. I feel that
occasional sense of loneliness I feel as I continue to wonder unknown
neighborhoods in unknown towns far far away is but a tiny price to pay
for that sort of totally non-constraining freedom.

But now I have to at least say my temporary goodbye to that freedom.
After all, people, include me, live in a society defined by relations
among people, and those relations are the things pushing individuals
ahead in the corporate world. None of us can avoid sacrificing
freedom for those relations, if merely for financial support we all
need to survive. A "necessary evil," I would have to say, but one
that people must make do with and make the best of...

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Small Country's Destiny?

While in Taiwan and since coming back, I have been asked multiple
times what are the most striking differences between the mainland and
the island...and so far I have not been able to put the fundamental
things in anything beyond a few superficial traits. Like I said in
the previous post, Taiwanese people are respectful, polite, attentive
to detail, allowing for a society filled with order. Traditions are
protected and there is an overwhelming sense of peace and mutual trust
within a service-oriented society despite a physical look resembling
some old Chinatowns at certain parts.

However, descriptions like this are definitely satisfying. People of
both sides should expect something of this sort without the need for a
visit to the other side. After all, reading the political and
economic histories as well as the societal and ideological
developments is enough to predict all such differences. Everyone on
the mainland knows that Taiwan is ahead economically, especially when
considering the much more egalitarian distribution of wealth that
allows for higher standard of living even in the most remote rural
parts. And the Taiwanese knows that the mainland has serious social
problems that make a place of deception, confusion, and occasionally,
violence.

Then today I read some works by Japanese authors reacting to China
surpassing Japan as the world's 2nd largest economy. Their attitude
is collectively that of nonchalant yet sorrowful dismay at an event
that knew will occur sooner or later. They called for Japan to know
its place as a small country and no longer fight for ranks and
positions, instead focusing on sustainable developments and improving
the lives of her citizens. British magazine "the Economist" gingerly
criticized the pessimism displayed by the Japanese, who, as they
noted, enthusiastically awaited the day of becoming the world's #1
economic power just two decades ago.

But one point in this pessimist self-evaluation by the Japanese have
really struck me as a defining point for at least the near future: the
concept of a small country understanding its appropriate destined
place in the world. It can be summarized to say that a small country
simply cannot sustainably compete with a large one for an extended
period of time and should simply accept the reality that the large
countries will shape the destiny of the world and the small countries
in the long flow of human history.

While this point may sound rather plain and obvious to people today
living under American superpower and the emergence of the BRICs, the
statement, I assure you, is nothing less than revolutionary in human
understanding of power. Looking back at the past century and half of
human history, too many small nations with limited land, resources,
and population, such as Japan, UK, and Germany, have used superior
technology, work ethics, and institutions to defeat behemoths like
Russia, China, and India, creating the myth that
geographic/demographic size can be overcome through superior
organization and efforts.

But as the British, Japanese, and German Empires expand to become
behemoths themselves, they realized the institutions that made them so
successful in projecting power have become unsuitable for gripping
onto their newly extensive holdings. They felt incapable of utilizing
the extra resource and populations precisely because their successful
institutions are not designed for governing such large geographic
areas.

Instead, their successes have simply awakened the behemoths.
Russians, Chinese, and Indians have easily molded the successful
development policies of the British, the Germans, and the Japanese
with their centuries-long experience on governing multi-ethnic empires
and neutralizing internal divisive forces. As these behemoths
gradually take on the superior principles of the small countries, the
small countries themselves will feel more and more constrained by the
limits on resources in their competitions with their huge neighbors.

In history, those with the greatest technological and institutional
advantages of course lead the world, but in today's globalized world,
where technologies can be transferred and institutions can be
emulated, the advantages in such cannot possibly last for a long time.
And in the case where advantages of any nation are negligible, then
it is safe to say that large states, with more people, more land, and
more resources, will dominate global order and put small states to
irrelevance no matter how economically advanced and wealthy the small
states are.

In the end, the difference between a behemoth like mainland China and
a small island like Taiwan is fundamentally a difference in attitude.
The island understands that it is rich but limited in prospects of
future developments, so it desperately hangs on to any sense of
superiority, even if it is just perceived, in technology and standard
of living as the people understands that Taiwan will never wield as
much influence as the mainland does on a global field.

The same sort of attitude is prevalent elsewhere. In the
English-speaking world, the likes of UK and New Zealand holds the same
attitude toward the US. The Brits and Kiwis say that the States have
unequal distribution of wealth, high crime rate, and a population that
is all in all ignorant and quick to jump to stereotypes and bias.
Most of it is true, and no one can doubt that at least New Zealand has
a much more peaceful and harmonious living conditions that the States
perhaps ever will.

But at the end, it all comes down to who is the driver of human
history: the PRC and the USA are shaping the world in ways that Taiwan
and New Zealand will never be able to. That underlying envy is
definitely something the small countries have to live with yet cannot
be satisfied with...haha, at least when the Taiwanese talk about
global affairs, they can say they are Chinese and talk about what we
Chinese do in the world...the PRC may be poor but it still does
represent all of the Chinese-speaking world in global affairs, and
everyone I talked with in Taiwan know this principle, they just don't
want to admit it...

Hong Kong Soft Power and Cantonese Regionalism

Language unites a civilization. Only with efficient communication can
a group of people bond so much as to consider themselves to belong to
one society and one culture. A common language creates common
languages and diminishes the separating effects of geographic and
transportation barriers. Nowhere is such a principle more aptly
illustrated than here in China, where 20% of humanity have become one
nation through the use of Mandarin Chinese as a prevailing lingua
franca.

Sure, unintelligible local dialects still exists, but as internal
migration pick up pace (and it certainly has with hundreds of millions
of migrant labor moving into large cities), the power of local tongues
has considerably weakened as people from all areas of China begin to
live next to each other in expanding cities. People no longer use
their local tongues because the majority of the people they come
across everyday cannot understand them even if the tongues are used in
the original localities.

Politics have also helped. The deliberate construction of all
dialects except Mandarin as "backward" while portraying Mandarin as
the only "civilized" language, coupled with political moves that allow
for much easier internal migrations, have further weakened the hold of
local dialects, causing many to disappear from everyday use, or become
so toned down so as to share the vocabulary and pronunciation of
Mandarin.

So the local tongues gradually evolve into mutually intelligible
accented versions of standard Mandarin, benign enough to be simply
considered exotic without hampering communication. Yet, one dialect,
mutually unintelligible with Mandarin, has bulked such trend and
showed contemptible pride in its exceptionalism. And that dialect, is
of course, Cantonese. In Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau, I have been
hit with the consciousness that Cantonese is not anywhere close to
dying as other local dialects are.

Most people speak Cantonese on the street, subway announcements are in
both Mandarin and Cantonese, and there are even TV stations devoted to
Cantonese programming. In comparison, Shanghainese (perhaps the
second most influential local dialect here in China) have lost all the
glamor of yesteryear as Shanghai becomes a congregation point for
people from all over China. It is no longer spoken on the street, and
rarely do you hear Shanghainese even on local TV and radio stations.

Sure, politics have helped Cantonese's survival. Hong Kong and Macau,
as a separate jurisdiction under European and now Special
Administrative rule, restricts immigration from other parts of China,
allowing the creation of a homogeneous society made up almost entirely
of Cantonese-speakers that cannot be found anywhere else in China
(Guangzhou, as the largest Cantonese-speaking city, took up a lot of
immigrants, but still maintain a Cantonese flavor due to large native
population base)

And Hong Kong's soft power has made Cantonese even more special. Even
today, Hong Kong tends to be considered one of the hubs for pop
culture in the Chinese speaking world, and its cultural products
(mainly in Cantonese but increasing in Mandarin to attract more
consumers in Taiwan and the mainland) are watched all over China and
beyond. Because of Hong Kong's soft power, Cantonese has long been
the language of "cool" (much in the same way Japanese and Korean also
are today), causing government effort to suppress it as "backward"
largely ineffective.

Even though no one would expect Cantonese to take over the status of
lingua franca from Mandarin, a proudly regionalistic Cantonese still
poses serious threat to national and cultural unity of China as a
whole. The problem is not so much the appeal of Cantonese but the
determination of other local dialects to achieve the same exceptional
status of being condoned as a publicly used language just as Cantonese
have.

In other words, the continued powerful presence of Cantonese is a
strong catalyst for revivalist movement of other local dialects, most
notably Shanghainese here in Shanghai and the greater use of Taiwanese
over in Taiwan. The goal of such revivalist movements is no less to
create exclusive local societies that resists immigration and contact
with other parts of Chinese civilization, thereby creating a local
independent identity amid heightened sense of local cultural
superiority.

For a pan-Sinicist like me, such movements are to be highly feared.
Without cultural homogeneity facilitated by linguistic unity, a
civilization as large as ethnically, geographically, and economically
diverse as China is bound to fall apart, leaving it once again
vulnerable to foreign influences just as we have seen for the past
century and a half and continues to see today in the cultures of
Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Cantonese exceptionalism must be
stopped before its too late.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Country Full of Deception

Just got back to Shanghai after an overnight bus ride from Fuzhou
(where I only walked around for an hour and a half after I landed on a
ship from Matzu Islands in Taiwan)...now with the trip over and not
much else to do before my father returns from the States and my
grandmother getting here from Nanjing, I suppose it is time to write
some reflections on the entire trip (two weeks long...even thought it
was too much...after all, the Taiwanese leg happened rather
spontaneously without much planning).

The main purpose of this entire trip, seen retrospectively, is the
comparison of mainland China with Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Same
language and culture does not mean a similar present, and the result
of 6 decades of different political and economic backgrounds really
show on the outer appearance, social order, and especially, the
characters and attitudes of the people, both to themselves and to each
others, especially in the case of mainlanders vs. the other
Chinese-speakers.

Perhaps the greatest difference anyone should notice is the
freewheeling spirit and the accompanying lawless confusion that is the
perhaps the main trait of the mainland people and society as compared
to the orderliness shown by respect for the law, each other, and
tradition that is fully on display over in Taiwan. Hong Kong and
Macau, both being European-influenced in the past and highly dependent
on Chinese immigration and economic integration today, tend to come in
middle in the two extremes of mainland and Taiwan.

Now, let me iterate an example that fully shows the lawless
free-for-all economy on the mainland. Walking down the street in
Wuhan, China, I was called upon by an innocent-looking middle-aged
woman claiming to be an unemployed temp worker for a major cosmetics
maker. "Free sample giveaway" was the words coming out of her mouth
as I was practically dragged into a nearby office building amid
serious doubt about the legitimacy of what I am about to go through.

It should be noted that I don't usually fall for something like this,
but because a few days ago in Shanghai I was in a similar situation
involving free soft drinks in which I got away with turning in fake
contact information, I figure I had nothing to lose if this one turned
out to be like the one in Shanghai. Of course, the problem is, it
didn't turn out to be as straightforward as getting some soft drinks.
I was rushed up to the second floor of the building where one of the
office spaces was converted into a "beauty salon" (from the outside it
actually reminded me of those massage parlors offering "special
services").

As I entered the "beauty salon" completely devoid of customers, I was
told I will given a free check-up to access the condition of my skin.
Few slabs of various facial cream and rubbing on my face later, a
second person came in saying that the treatment will cost me about 80
RMB...and I just got snapped back to reality, and begin to argue that
I need to leave immediately as I am missing my school registration
(trying to pass off as a poor student), handing them a 100 RMB (I know
I should've just run away at that moment, but I can't leave then with
all the white cream still on my face...)

Telling them to just finish immediately, I anxiously allowed them to
go back to the "free check-up." Few minutes later, the second lady
came back. I was told the treatment has somehow cost that 20 RMB I
should get back in change and that I can get a full bottle of
brand-name facial cream for a low price of 50 RMB...with that she
should her bottle of brand-name facial cream, which turned out to be a
fake L'Oreal (the name spelled wrong on the packaging).

Now I am just absolutely pissed, screaming that I do not want it and I
just want out right now. The store have to turn up the background
music in the salon to cover my screaming...the lady treating me told
me that she will wash off my cream-covered face right now if I pay an
additional 40 RMB for the disposable cleaning pads, which I did out of
spite. After the cleaning I was finally given my sample, fake facial
cream in a package small enough to be the free service item at a
decent hotel.

140 RMB for a little pack of fake cream...well, lesson learned, I
suppose...never go for any "free" stuff on the streets of China and
never answer to anyone telling you anything about any "promotional
item." Never pity anyone who is asking for any sort of help because
they are from an unfortunate economic background. Do not trust anyone
that you meet on the streets to do anything...All in all, trust should
not be in the mind of any person in a public place in China.

It is too bad I didn't tell this story to anyone I met in Taiwan. I
am sure they would suspect something like this goes on here on the
mainland, but I bet they would not ever imagine the sheer scale,
frequency, and skill that deceptive activities such as this occurs.
It is sometimes sad to watch innocent people from an orderly society
like Japan or Taiwan learn about the dark side of society and become
total cynics in places like China or the US....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sitting in an Internet Cafe in Taiwan...Enjoying Freedom...

When I was planning my trip to Taiwan not that long ago (in fact, I didn't seriously think about it til I got to Xiamen, across the Strait from Taiwan....AFTER already on the road for a week in Wuhan, Guangdong Province, plus Hong Kong and Macao...I was kind of suspicions from Chinese border customs regarding why I am leaving the country 3 times in 4 days), going to an Internet cafe was definitely part of the plan...all the blocked sites, especially Facebook and this one (I have been posting via email for the past month and half on the mainland), need to be accessed...

Now here I am, sitting in a loud 24-hour Net Cafe in Tainan City, my first chance in accessing the Internet in Taiwan...there is a dog barking and walking down the hall in the net cafe rather leisurely and I am getting constantly distracted by the sounds of someone playing some gambling machine next door (I suppose the net cafes here also do other entertainment options?)...so yeah, the writing is and will be pretty horrible, but heck, as long as I can actually access this site and post something (anything) I should be happy, right?

Right? Freedom, should I say? Amidst all the commotions and worry about how much money I am gonna spend in this place as I upload all the photos I can to facebook, I am just amazed by the kind of serenity and joy I am feeling in a place so similar to home (speaking Chinese and looking like Japan) yet so different (I am probably one of only few mainlanders not coming here with a highly restricted tour group). I am staying in a rather cheap but very nice hotel (600 New Taiwan Dollar, converted to about 15 USD) in the middle of Tainan City, ironically the first city built by the mainland Chinese immigrants in Taiwan...

Now speaking of those differences, I have to say that the mainland really does have a lot to learn from this place. Unlike Hong Kong and Macao where all the "normal" neighborhoods (as opposed to where the wealthy bankers and casino owners live) look like any run-down Chinatown in the States, even the little towns here in Taiwan (after walking around Jincheng Township in rural Kinmen Island where I first landed on a ferry from Xiamen on the mainland) have an incredible sense of older and history. Not the kind of all-the-old-buildings-remain-the-same kind of history you see in Hong Kong and Macao, but the preservation of local culture and historical buildings in an extremely ordered way that is in such a huge contract to the mainland.

Just as the mainland strives to tear down all disorderly old neighborhoods (slums are what they really are), Taiwan has improved the cleanliness of the very same kind of neighborhoods that the mainland are tearing down to make way for apartment blocks. The sense of order within cleanliness, as well as the preservation of old buildings as free museums for all visitors, have really touched me as the ideal for sustainable balance between modernity and history. After all, no one ever said to be modern means you have to have modern buildings everywhere...just look at Japan, all the apartments look old but once inside, the facilities are extremely and functional (same with the hotel I am staying here in Tainan).

Also, its important to remember that there is greater population density here than on the mainland (well, at least as a whole). But there is a remarkable lack of crowdedness on the street level. For example, on the train from Kaohsiung to Tainan (a local train at the incredibly cheap price of 69 New Taiwan Dollar, or about 2 USD), there were no lines waiting to get on the train and no crowdedness when I do get on the train (as opposed to the incredible things you see on Japanese trains). The phenomenon can easily be explained by the frequency of the trains (one or two running every few minutes, a real luxury considering that Taiwan only has one circular main line...plus, it also has a high-speed line from Kaohsiung to Taipei that can divert extra traffic)

The amble resources allow for lack of the crowds fighting for tickets that you see on the mainland (I mean, sometimes I just don't know what the mainland railways bureaus are thinking...they devote so many trains to certain lines, especially long distance ones, that all the small stations are completely ignored). Here the railways have become just another simple to use transportation method. You go to the ticket booth, buy a cheap ticket, and hop on a train few minutes later...no thinking about buying tickets days and weeks in advance like on the mainland (I guess its suitable to think about train tickets as fixed-price equivalents of airplane tickets on the mainland...availability is never guaranteed)

Even for plane tickets here in Taiwan (with its limited number of domestic routes), since there are so many different private airlines serving the same routes, you can literally walk into an airport and buy the ticket for the next available flight (exactly what I did to get from Kinmen to Kaohsiung, only a wait of two hours at about 1600 New Taiwan Dollars, about 50 USD)...the ability to travel on demand and whenever I want maybe the greatest freedom I feel here (even more than using unblocked Internet, that can be solved with VPN and proxy server on the mainland...I am just too lazy to do it)

Ok, less than twenty minutes left with my Internet session, I guess I can wait for tomorrow night for my photo uploading and all that (who know where I will be though). The conclusion for the day: Taiwan is a great place to travel because of amble resources within a small, limited geographic space with a population full of order...sure, the mainland cannot be Taiwan because of all the different realities (geography, population, etc.) but it is still great to realize that a Chinese-speaking country can be different and somehow better. Well, as the main purpose of my Taiwan trip is to learn about the differences of the mainland and Taiwan, I have to say that two days into Taiwanese territory and its already been a great eye-openers that I will never regret...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing with Logic, Deep Thinking, and "Flair"

Recently, my mother has been worrying that my brother's writing is not
up to par with his classmates and the requirements for getting into
elite colleges. Besides the fact that he is still only in 7th grade,
a period of time that is really premature is judging the readiness for
college-level writing, I suppose the fear is legitimate for a parent
who does not know better. Chinese people can't stress enough about
the importance of writing in American education system (primarily
because Chinese people generally believe in technical stuff, such as
engineering, medicine, and sciences, as the only legitimate education
for preparation for good jobs...and because they generally suck at
English writing) as Chinese kids, even those that have lived most of
their lives in the US, tend to fall apart on the writing section of
the SAT and in English classes both in high school and college.

Having taught writing for so long to high school students in Korea, I
have a general grasp of what are the major concerns of the students
and parents with regard to English writing. They seem rather
convinced that the mentality of Asians are different from native
English speakers (culturally speaking, I suppose, not to mention the
fact that the grammar is quite different) so that even if an Asian kid
spend his/her whole life in the States, he still would have more
trouble with English compared to the white classmates. Often
mentioned examples include the articles ("the" "a") and idioms ("too
cultural" to be understood by Asians, so they say). It is as if the
Asians have injected themselves with a dose of pessimism in that
Asians will never be as good as whites in using "their" language.

Of course, this sort of mentality is not complete bullshit. In
reality, it is true that Asians tend to lean more toward
sciences/economics than humanities when picking majors in college and
they tend to work as professionals in fields that require less writing
than quantitative work. But, is it really because Asians can't write
as well as whites (and other races)? I mean, for an Asian-American
born and bred in the States, there should be no restriction for
him/her to be just as good, if not better, than anyone else in
writing, right? Why do people always go along with the stereotype that
Asians are bunch of science nerds because they can't write for shit?
And we are Asian people satisfied with such perceived mediocrity in
writing, just because its in English?

Reviewing my brother's 7th grade level writing kind of gives me an
answer...yeah, of course, there are some grammatical errors here and
there that detracts from the consistent flow of the writing and
expression of intended meaning, but who doesn't at this stage of life?
7th graders write as if they talk, and no 7th grader can really talk
without rambling on just to get some simple idea across to the
listener. This is not an Asian phenomenon, its just a "premature kid"
phenomenon that is completely uncorrelated with race. The main
problem with the writing lies with substance. My brother's writing
clearly lacks the logic and depth required for analysis of a literary
work. His so-called essay is simply a reiteration of what happened in
the literary work itself while simply putting forward a very
generalized statement as the thesis.

As much as prematurity defines the 7th grader, such lack of thinking
on his part is not acceptable. There should at least be some sort of
conscious effort in displaying his personal opinion on the matter
without resorting some cliche that can easily be supported by some
reprocessed storyline from the literary work itself. And even then,
in the process of reprocessing the storyline, my brother clearly shows
that he cannot even logically arrange the different facts from the
story to make a convincing argument to support the simple thesis.
Without logical order, the writing just seem to go nowhere, meandering
without move toward some sort of analytic climax.

This lack of ability to logically put forward strong opinions, above
anything else, may be the ultimate reason why Asians do not write as
well as other ethnicities. Think about it, in Confucian culture, the
emphasis on social hierarchy with the younger generations obeying the
elders means that the opinions of the younger ones means absolutely
nothing in front the elders. The younger ones don't need to think
independently, they just need to comprehend the opinions of the elders
and execute them as command without hesitation or second thoughts
about their costs and benefits.

In other words, by living in a socially hierarchical society, the
Asians have learned not to think when they are still young, because
having and expressing personal opinions often means conflicts with
elders that they cannot possibly win. Of course, such values are
completely inconsistent with that of America, where children are asked
for opinions on every matter and to argue logically with others to
support their personal opinions. In Asia, the kids are simply told by
the adults that "kids don't shit" and promptly told to shut up, giving
the kids no chance in developing their critical thinking skills.

Learning grammar is easy. Just take a few classes, study hard, and you
will be fine in a few months. But learning to write with substance
takes training. It takes development of an independent and
self-confident mentality that simply does not exist for anyone growing
up in a traditional Asian family where independent thinking is
suppressed in order to preserve the top-down social hierarchy. I have
to say that even as I say all this, I know I would be able to disagree
with my parents on many matters as they would tell me that by
disagreeing with them, I am being "not filial" and "not understand the
way of the world."

So, for all the Asian kids out there trying to improve their writing,
my best advice to you is to stop being influenced by your parents'
dictatorial traditions and learn to think about things not reachable
by your parents' limited way of thinking. Only by completely escaping
your own sense of guilt by disobeying parents' opinions can you truly
become able to opinionate freely on any matter you wish.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My Gaming Philosophy

A week into complete boredom at home with not much to do...the weather
is so hot that I am only going out to resupply food...staying home and
doing laundry, sweeping the floor (believe me, I hate cleaning...there
are dust bunnies everywhere...thats why I prefer carpets to
floors...the dirtiness shows easily on floors), and watering flowers
(plants, to be exact)...Went to the hospital a couple of times cuz my
left ear was plugged...now that my left ear is cleaned out (first time
in years...probably more than a decade), I am just amazed by the
amount of noise I can hear on the street...and how my right ear (which
just got a partial cleaning) feels stuffed and weak on hearing when
compared to my left....I do regret not cleaning both ears at the same
time when I had the chance...

Ok, besides these boring daily happenings, I am really having not much
to do...yesterday was designated a disaster day here in China to
commemorate the victims of gigantic mudslide in Gansu Province (it was
gigantic, a town of more than ten thousand people got mostly washed
away and nearly two thousand died), so EVERY SINGLE TV station had to
halt all entertainment programs and broadcast the twenty-four hour
news service provided by CCTV (the two English channels had their own
news-a-thon in English, thanks to CCTV English news...the only station
spared were the few finance channels...well, the stock market wasn't
resting, I suppose).

While amazed by how the government actually do something like that
(both hijack ALL stations and politicize a man-made "natural"
disaster...yeah, it was kind of discovered that an upstream damming
project intensified the effects and volume of the mudslide...probably
why the government barred all foreign media from entering the disaster
area), I, obviously, was completely bored (probably like anyone else)
with TV for the day...with no good movies left in my father's pirated
DVD collection, I returned to look for the online games that I have
been searching for days...

For a country with the biggest broadband coverage and population, the
broadband speed here needs quite a bit of improvement. Not to mention
that wireless is so slow that downloading anything beyond a few MBs
becomes an affair lasting more than an hour, even the wired version is
limited to about 100kB/sec in download, meaning that something around
100 MB will take around half an hour when it should only take about 10
minutes tops (given good connection). Yet, with the government
cracking down on pirated gaming softwares (used to be able to find my
people at night pushing around little carts selling homemade
copies...not anymore, I have been walking around at night for days in
residential neighborhoods away from security guys), downloads seem to
be the only way.

But, even the downloads are becoming unstable (well, they are
technically illegal too given that none of those sites actually pay
licensing fees), with the cyber-police taking down download links
frequently while fighting an ongoing guerrilla warfare with
enthusiastic and determined gamers across China. In the vast
cyberspace, finding download links are still possible, but getting
quite difficult and tedious, not to mention the fact that many
downloaded softwares contain viruses and spywares, making Internet
cafes (with actually do pay licensing fees...I think) the only
reliable places to play games.

With that overview, here comes my personal gaming experience. I have
never been much of a gamer, never buying gaming software (not because
I can download online, I don't download often either...I just don't
play) and only thinking of games when I have absolutely nothing else
to do. I hate the idea of not being productive and considers gaming
for extended amount of time the least productive thing possible.
Thats perhaps the reason why I played probably less than 200 hours of
games in my whole life (especially since I didn't play much at all
during high school, a time in anyone's life when gaming is most
important)

But, like I said before, now, without a passport, friends in the city,
or any work to be done, productivity is not really on my mind here as
I continue to lounge around at home. Usually when I play a certain
game for a period of time (around 8-10 hours), I just tell myself,
"ok, my craving for games just got satisfied, lets go do something
else)...the problem is that now, my craving is satisfied, but I have
nothing else to do (for now). So I just have to keep playing until I
totally hate the game (usually that means that I can't get past a
certain level, so I give up)...but even then, for my current
situation, does that mean I have to go out and find another game? I
mean, I already established how hard it is to find and download games
around here, so why bother?

Delaying that normal period of disinterest and hate...wow, I think I
am really getting bored here at home...I am not physically suited to
play games....unlike the guys who sit around for two, three days in
Internet cafes, I feel dizzy and want to throw up after around four
hours, no matter how lacking in intensity the game I am playing
is...To force myself mentally to keep playing "because there is
nothing else to do" is just I torturing my own body...I wonder where
did my self-control go...as I go back to playing games, I just have to
say that I really want my work in Japan to start now, right now....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Feasibility of True Autonomy in Tibet

Watching TV last night (not much to do except that nowdays with no
passport and no travel plans), I saw Tibetan singer Alan perform. Now
for those who don't know, she signed with Japanese company Avex
Entertainment (a company that I almost worked for…damn that last round
phone interview) a couple years back, and has made a name for herself
in being distinctively Tibetan in voice yet good-looking and
fashionably dressed in a way Tibetans are traditionally perceived no
to be.

Now, with my theory that Tibetan traditional culture is ultimately
bound to be neutralized, a character like her would be seen as the
inevitable vanguard of such a trend. Now, I don't know how she would
be perceived back home in Tibet (not that favorably I bet, after all,
she gave up traditional culture for money), but as far as Han Chinese
and Japanese people are concerned, she represents a dramatic, and
welcoming, break, from the Shangri-la image that we always seem to
have about Tibet (perhaps her next target should be the U.S. and
India…man, would she be hated by the government-in-exile and Students
for Free Tibet).

As far as I am concerned, those who believe in Tibetan cultural
preservation through political independence are total hypocrites. The
fact that the central government in China has already pumped in so
much cash for economic development means that the people there cannot
go back down to a lower standard of living by reverting to a
traditional isolationist policy. Bhutan, south of Tibet, is
consistently rated one of the happiest countries on Earth, but that is
only possible because Bhutan is not exposed to modern globalized
economy and culture as much as Tibet has. For one, you would never
someone like Alan to walk out of Bhutan.

So, it can be said that, really, whether or not the Chinese government
decide to actively destroy Tibetan traditional culture as Dalai Lama
professes, the traditional culture of Tibet is fundamentally going to
change. The destruction is happening out of economic needs and desire
for integration into global society. As geographical isolation, the
biggest obstacle to globalization in Tibet, is overcame with
increasing transportation and communication methods, more and more
cultural imports will enter Tibet while more and more Tibetans like
Alan will enter the world, giving Tibetan society a more open view of
the outside world.

And it's funny, that with these positive developments, that most in
Free Tibet organizations are still clinging to an idealized concept of
Tibet as a land of carefree utopia slowly being destroyed by the
Chinese. They have to realize that because Tibet is exposed to the
world through China, the Tibetan people increasingly have the same
socio-cultural and economic needs as the Chinese and people in any
developing country. For these people who have never been to Tibet to
politicize such an issue is but a sign of utmost ignorance and
condescension.

But of course, these guys may be the most influential regarding Tibet
in the West (still so today, unfortunately). Over the last half a
century, there have been transformations in both the Tibetan
government-in-exile and Free Tibet movements worldwide, making the
autonomy issue more and more urgent. And recently, the political
status of Tibet has once again become an increasingly discussed topic,
much due to the riots in the Tibetan areas as well as protests by
"Free Tibet" personalities along the routes of the Olympic torch
relay. More importantly, there have been many transformations within
the worldwide "Free Tibet" movement itself that can lead to not also
further dangers but also potential solution for the historical issue
of Tibetan sovereignty.

The most important of such transformations has been a steady increase
in the power and influence of the radical elements of the Free Tibet
movements. Many of the exiled Tibetan youth, especially those in the
Tibetan Youth Congress, has become more and more frustrated over time
by the lack of progress under the leadership of moderates led by the
Dalai Lama. Many in the radical element have come to realize that
Dalai's emphasis on autonomy for Tibet rather than formal
independence, as well as his determination to bring about an
autonomous Tibet solely on nonviolent means and negotiations, will not
bring about any change in Tibet by the Chinese government.

Thus, they began to advocate a tactic combining violence and
intimidation as displayed by assaults on Hans and Muslims in the
Tibetan riots and assaults on the Olympic torch and torchbearers
during the torch relays. Such acts of violence are not only against
the peaceful Buddhist doctrines that forms the core of Tibetan
culture, they will, in long term, also lead to increasing harm to both
innocent Chinese citizens and the Tibetan cause as a whole. While
today the unquestionable ultimate authority of the Dalai Lama prevents
such radicals from leading the Free Tibet movement, the same cannot be
said after the death of Dalai in the near future. Observing the trend
of a weakening moderate element in the Tibetan government-in-exile,
the age of pursuing Tibetan independence through radical terrorism is
very near indeed.

Yet, complete independence is impossible both from the standpoint of
modern-day Tibet and the existing Chinese government. Even as Dalai
himself noted that the material well-being of Tibet requires continued
Chinese rule. Not only does Tibet import almost all of its consumer
goods from China proper, continuous Chinese tourism and economic aids
are necessary for income generation. Such benefits are simply
irreplaceable in an independent Tibet with a hostile Chinese neighbor.
For modern-day Chinese government, in which appealing to patriotism
has become a sign of legitimacy, failure to stop Tibet from declaring
independence may cause enough discontent from a growingly
nationalistic populace to topple the entire government. Thus, despite
the increasing split in opinions produced over time, the "Free Tibet"
groups have long been known for lack of concreteness and practicality
when producing ideas for solving the Tibet problem.

The feasible solution leading to peace and mutual benefit, therefore,
must consider both the increasing fracture of the Tibetan groups as
well as the current socio-economic status of the Tibetan homeland. An
idea of true political autonomy without independence may be able to
direct policy-makers toward probably the only realistic and
enforceable solution to the current situation in Tibet. The
application of "one country, two systems" closely echoing those of
Hong Kong SAR and Macao SAR may be the only possible way to terminate
the tensions and potential conflicts. To be specific, in the newly
established Tibet Special Administrative Region (TSAR), the exiting
Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala and Dalai Lama himself will
return to Lhasa as the new TSAR government.

The currently outlawed Tibetan flag will become the new TSAR flag
while Tibet will have the right to represent itself in international
organizations under the name "Tibet, China" much in the same way Hong
Kong is "Hong Kong, China." The TSAR will have full control over all
affairs except defense and foreign affairs, and it will have right to
issue TSAR passports to its residents. Autonomy under such practices
is perhaps the best and the only way to resolve the lingering
political questions regarding Tibet. On the other hand, certain
conditions need to be met for TSAR to earn its right to exist. To win
favor within the Chinese government, the new government in Lhasa must
act as a bulwark against Tibetan formal independence. To be specific,
the TSAR government must act against the radical elements of its own
leadership and any "Free Tibet" movement that continues to exist after
creation of TSAR.

There should be provisions in the TSAR legal codes sentencing such
individuals and groups for treason, and there should also be laws
granting Chinese military personnel rights to crash any formal
independence movement within TSAR if it becomes too massive to be
properly contained by the TSAR police force and legal authorities.
Furthermore, the existing interests of non-Tibetans need to be
protected by TSAR authorities. Properties owned by non-Tibetans
cannot be taken away by force and there should be no restriction on
travel within and without TSAR for non-Tibetans. Only with such
guarantees can Tibet peacefully transform into a self-governing
society without damaging the interests of the Tibetan people and their
Chinese neighbors.

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Young Can Idols Go?...When Sex Becomes "Cool"

Switched on TV this morning and immediately saw a variety show where a
pre-teen girl was dancing to a song that is supposed to be "sexy" in
nature...and the girl, with what little she got, was trying her best
to look and move in a sexy way. The show is supposed to be a pre-teen
talent show of some sort, but there is really something wrong with
this scene I am looking at. Of course, as I said before that I don't
believe in anybody lecturing anyone on perceived immorality unless
crime can be involved, but having premature girls presented as symbols
of sexiness is a little too much even for me.

What is scary is that these kind of thing is a lot more common than
people would expect. There are Japanese and Korean female music
groups in which the majority of members are below the age of eighteen
(one in particular, ベリーズ工房 from Japan, averaged about 14-years-old at
time of debut) and they are garnering a lot of attention and
popularity precisely because the members are pretty, sexy, cute
(interesting how being good singers is not particularly
emphasized)...in countries where sex for 18 and below is considered
statutory rape under any circumstance, is such commentary for
musicians who are 18 and below acceptable?

I mean, obviously, by commenting on the looks of the young singers,
their majority male (a lot of whom are middle-aged or at least a lot
older than they are) audience is seeing them as sort of sex objects to
lust after, and the managers of these groups have been exploiting the
girls as much as possible to go along with such mentality. Costumes
that shows too much skin are pretty much the norm, and many resorts to
items commonly used in "costume fetish" such as school uniforms and
cheerleader outfits during live performances and in music videos.
Reference to sex is commonplace, and some even explicitly implies so
in lyrics and dance moves.

Yes, it is true that the girls in such groups volunteered to be in
such a situation, but I would have to say that perhaps all of them
have underestimated the cost of becoming famous idols. At the time of
pre-debut training, they would have gone through a lot of degrading
training (news/rumors of dancing naked for "practice" and having sex
with the bosses can be heard all the time) that they couldn't have
possibly imagined as a young teenager without much social experience.
And as such "training" goes on, their forced sense of maturity would
leave them with certain mental scars and give them negative views
about men and society in general.

But probably the worst thing about the phenomenon of underage
musicians using sex as selling point is that they become "bad role
models" for the next generation. Every girl dreams of the spotlight,
fans screaming her name, fame, glory, and money, and by looking at the
young musicians mentioned above, they have seen a feasible way to
attain all that. The more they see, the more they feel that using
reference to sex in music is perfectly acceptable sacrifice for fame
and fortune, with some even seeing men lusting after them as "cool"
and "hip," a boost in self-confidence and an honor. The girl I saw on
TV this morning may as well belong to such a group.

So the answer for these aspiring pop stars is to mature quickly.
Pushing their bodies and more importantly, the mind to "sexiness." To
lose that kiddish innocence is a must, and to experience sex as early
as possible would be good practice for the future...In a society where
hormones in foods are already contributing to early maturation
physically, such mentality really allows the mind to catch up with the
body. And looking at the existing trend, I have to say that the
maturation in body and mind is becoming earlier and earlier as time
progresses forward and the underage pop groups become more and more
popular.

Whenever I looked at kids, I get jealous about their carefree, joyous
lives. Their world seems so exciting, so full of adventure, so
lacking of worries and anger. I would not want to see the kids of
future generations completely deprived of experiencing all that. They
do not need to grow up that quickly. The world of adults may look
cool and colorful on the surface, but the pains the adults need to go
through to reach all that glory is just incomprehensible and
intolerable for a young mind. Premature exposure to all those social
problems can only serve to make the kids troubled adults without hope
and directions for the future.

Of course, as I mentioned in a previous post, I am not a believer of
government control on "morality." And in this case, since there is
consent of parents and kids themselves with regard to performing on
stage, there is no crime either. But I do like to ask that
established underage singers and their managers show some restraint.
They should realize that famous people always become target of
emulation by others. What they do in public, no matter good or bad,
becomes "cool" in eyes of fervent young fans. To make society a safe
and nurturing place for young people still oblivious of the dirty
tricks of society, the young musicians need to carry the social
responsibility of protecting these kids' minds and hearts from
premature corruption.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Smile, Girl! You are Actually Really Cute!

Second day of waiting for my Japanese visa...without my passport, I
can't go anywhere. I can't stay in hotels, go to bars and Internet
cafes, buy long-distance bus tickets, you name it...basically I am
confined mostly to the house, without much to do... Talking about that
with a friend on MSN last night, I was told that I should go chat up
girls in music bars and/or online. Of course, I disagreed. For the
music bar, girls go with friends (making approaches difficult) or go
to hit up foreigners (hate to keep coming back to this topic, but its
true), and plus, when the music is so loud, meeting people is really a
stretch...and as for online, well, who knows what kind of people are
actually there...and how can I even trust anyone on there to say they
are really who they are?

OK, OK, I could just be making excuses to not do anything cuz I don't
like to go to particularly crowded places by myself (now, if I
actually looked like a foreigner, that might not be the case...seen
plenty of fat foreigners getting girls at clubs in Korea, sure the
hell give them a lot of confidence) but probably more importantly, I
won't be here long enough to develop anything, and most of all, I
prefer not dating Chinese girls (at least those in China)...hating on
your own people is not good, of course, but there are two reasons: (1)
Being a developing country where some people just got rich and others
want to emulate, most girls here are going for the foreigner for
money, for American passport, and for learning English. For any such
reason, the relationship will not last.

Well, what if I can go around hitting on girls here without being
discovered that I am Chinese-American? Ignoring the fact that social
norms ere makes meeting strangers difficult in public places of any
sort for normal people, and that being known as American would
increase my chances of getting anything by a hundredfold, I still
would confess that I am not attracted to Chinese girls beyond purely
superficial level. Let it be no doubt that this country has a lot of
good-looking girls (it has a huge population, after all) and with
newly found wealth and openness to foreign influences, the girls are
getting even prettier as they learn to be fashionable dressers.

But some things have not changed. As many foreigners would say, China
is a country where the sense of unity outside of family and close
friends is practically nil. And unlike the Americans who are also so
individualistic, people here are resistant to be open and accepting of
strangers (even at superficial level) unless introduced by friends or
family. Such a mentality explains why karaoke is so much more popular
as release of energy than bars or clubs, where privacy of friends
hanging out can easily be interrupted by strangers. And if happened to
be in public spots like bars or clubs or even on the street or in some
random park somewhere, people will deliberately and ostentatiously
reject the friendliness of strangers with a display of disgust or
displeasure.

That, probably, is what makes meeting strangers so difficult here in
China. Similar cultures means similar mentality in Korea or Japan,
but over there, people at least hide those sense of disgust and
replies politely with smiles. The smile gives the stranger further
opportunity to impress the girl even though he knows the girl is not
interested in the beginning. While here in China, the girls would
simply ignore the strangers and leave immediately, giving the
strangers no chance at continuing. A smile and a bit of patience can
really go a long way in meeting people of the opposite sex.

And you wonder why meeting people online can be so prevalent out here.
It is simply because meeting people in real life is practically
socially impossible. You need the online chat to avoid that initial
sense of disgust and to break the ice, allowing a low-cost,
low-initiative, and definitely easily changed/terminated way for
giving the lonely hearts a bit of solace. Unfortunately, the online
chatting system has become so much a tool for human traffickers and
potential rapists, not to mention the disappointments when meeting
physically, that it is really dangerous to even think about taking the
online relationship offline...

People generally seem a lot prettier and more sociable when they
smile. But when such biological advantage is not used, people need to
resort to convoluted ways such as online chatting. And it is for that
lack of smile that I cannot be attracted to Chinese girls for the
long-term. It is a display of deficiency in character, particularly
showing arrogance while hiding insecurity. True confidence cannot be
built up just by looking pretty and dressing stylishly. And faking
initiative and joy in front of foreigners is just purely disgusting
and self-degrading.

True self-confidence is not one shown to specific people that can give
you benefits but to every stranger. A healthy "harmonious" society
requires its citizens to display enthusiasm for one another, not just
for love or romance, but simply because we all share the society that
we live in. As I said before, treating others in a way that we want
to be treated is the only way for a society of respect to emerge. The
cold shoulders that is so prevalent today can only be exterminated if
people understand it as a social evil to be avoided by all means...

Non-Violent Means for Conflict Resolution

With "war on terrorism" continue its full, violent course while the
likes of Korea and Taiwan continue to be silent battlegrounds of major
world powers, the general atmosphere of peace and cooperation seems
fragile indeed. Sure, major powers speak of nonviolence, but only
insofar as to the American military dominance is maintained (for
everyone except America) and the quagmire that is the "war on terror"
finally sees its light at the end of the tunnel (for the US). But has
anyone actually thought of nonviolence for the sake of nonviolent
resolution of problems, rather than measure for avoiding the huge
costs of war?

In the past, non-violent protest has been successfully utilized by
various social movements to achieve their goals of ending injustices.
The Indian national independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and
the black civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. ended
the British colonial rule and the racial inequality in the U.S.,
respectively. As today's states become armed with more and more
dangerous and lethal weaponry, it is of a great importance for the
non-violent spirits of Mr. Gandhi and Dr. King to be expanded to
application in international affairs among the world's governments,
promoting peaceful diplomacy and avoiding deadly wars in solving
today's major issues.

As military technology become more and more advanced, it has become
less and less feasible for any country to wage war upon one another.
Especially with the advent of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD),
including nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, a combating army
can face massive casualty even if it has obvious tactical advantage
and is on the verge of complete victory. Famous examples include the
repeated use of toxic chemical gases in WWI and the Iran-Iraq War that
affected millions of combatants and civilians.

The traditional concept of tactical advantage (larger number of
well-trained soldiers and more advanced conventional weaponry) is now
obsolete as concentration of large numbers can now be perceived as
target for WMD. Also, with advanced technology, it is more and more
expensive to supply and maintain a sizeable armed force. The high
monetary cost of fighting a war is clearly illustrated by the
increased expenditure of the U.S. military due to its continued
presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The danger of mass casualty and
financial disaster should promote extensive use of non-violence in the
foreign policies of many states, including the major powers of the
world such as United States.

There are many ways that non-violence can be used for states to
achieve their goals in international politics. The use of non-violent
confrontation among governments through the means of diplomacy and
economic sanctions, although producing political tensions and economic
backlashes, has allowed governments to enunciate the political stances
and views without resorting to outright violent force. Such efforts
to use non-violent diplomacy in foreign affairs are exemplified by the
three rounds of Six-Party Talks with regard to the North Korean
nuclear crisis. Despite their inconclusive results, the Talks have
allowed all sides to understand the motivations of others and
temporarily made Washington more ambivalent about use of military
force to force a de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Much as Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the use of non-violence
through diplomacy and negotiations can often allow for the expression
of attitudes and promoting sympathy and understanding by others,
whereas violence can only produce hatred by others for economic and
social disruptions. At the same time, non-violence can also cause
deliberate disruptions if necessary to achieve goals. The deliberate
disruptions include Dr. King's boycotts and sit-ins, Gandhi's hunger
strikes, and in the international arena of today, the UN economic
sanctions on Iraq in the early 1990s. The sanctions on Iraq, by
devastating the oil-exportation-based economy of Iraq, forced Saddam
Hussein to comply with disarmament after his failed invasion of
Kuwait. Although destroying the livelihood for many ordinary Iraqi
civilians, the UN was able to decrease Iraq's ability, both by
military and economical means, to resist UN authority without the
extra carnage on the battlefield.

In the international political arena, it is possible to use purely
non-violent methods to compel other states and achieve various goals.
Even though the concept of non-violence to resolve problems is best
known for their use by Gandhi and King to resist the policies of
national governments, it is also completely feasible as foreign
policies of nation-states. Through use of non-violent diplomacy and
economic sanctions, the international conflicts we face today can be
solved without massive death toll on civilians and soldiers as well as
destruction to economy and society.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

American Celebrities should not Exploit Racism

Race has been a major topic in this blog, with difference between
whites and Asians, between different Asians as well as minorities in
China covered most frequently. But we should not forget that the
U.S., often considered the most tolerant society for foreigners of all
backgrounds, have its own occasion spurts of racial problems. Even as
the movements like by figures like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez
are honored, the underlying reasons for such movements are not
alleviated but often exaggerated (with all the previous improvements
negated) as the downturn of American economy made people much more
wary of foreign incomers and domestic economic inequalities tied to
race.

Few years back, radio personality Don Imus' commentary regarding the
black female basketball players has once again brought to attention
the role of celebrities in the issue of race relations. While Imus
vigorous defend his innocence from using improper words to refer to
the players (by characterizing the comment simply as "accidental
misspeaking"), it is quite doubtful if his commentary contained any
consideration for his own publicity. In fact, the "misspoken words"
may have been deliberately uttered just so he can receive the media
exposure needed for people to recognize and remember him for a long
time.

Furthermore, when the past history of celebrity racism is researched,
it can be seen that the Imus case is unfortunately not at all unique
but is a trivial example in the continuous series of celebrity
publicity stunts involving outrageously racist comments. Not matter
how popular it is for celebrities to exploit ethnic differences for
their own profits and fame, it should be the role of these celebrities
to downplay ethnic strife in order to create a more harmonious and
peaceful society. Exploiting emotions for fame can certainly be
harmful in the long term…

The United States of America has always been a multicultural,
multiethnic country from its colonial days. Over its relatively short
history as a sovereign state, people of every color and all
backgrounds have landed on American soil and made their living. It is
inevitable that ethnic conflicts can suffice over time, resulting in
hatred and mutual insults that are often channeled through the media
by celebrities. However, today, it is extremely common for
celebrities and the media in general to pronounce and exaggerate
ethnic differences for their own benefits. Bring up the racial
differences repeatedly only serves to attract attention and publicity
by shocking the audience into disbelief in the celebrity's
insensibility.

At the same time, it is evident that racial commentaries also reopen
the past wounds of racial intolerance and degradations that are
thankfully no longer prevalent yet still humiliating and memorable for
the descendents of those who suffered under them. For example, in his
"Black Like You," John Strausbaugh admits that blackface, which is the
exaggerating and often inaccurate characterization of African
Americans as comedy, can enrage and mortify Americans of all
backgrounds. However, blackface would not be forgotten because it is
uncomfortable yet is still alive today.

Even though in principle, people despise indirect racism such as
blackface, in reality, none can refrain from enjoying such racism and
giving credit to their creators and performers because it is
inherently human nature for people to see others, in this case, the
people of other ethnicities, to be degraded verbally and physically
for them feel superior about themselves. Because of such attitude,
celebrities such as Dave Chappelle are using racial commentaries in
their popular jokes, allowing the continued existence of detrimental
stereotypes against almost all groups within the American society,
constantly causing tensions and conflicts among different groups as
the stereotypes are spread and carelessly uttered in public. Clearly,
the celebrities are using racial differences for profit and fame
despite their inherently divisive nature.

In contrary, it should definitely be the responsibility of the
celebrities to promote racial tolerance in the society to avoid many
of the ongoing potential conflicts in the American society today. The
suspicion of other races by every racial group in America can
effectively lead to open conflict and social divisions of United
States that can effectively and dramatically damage the political,
social, and economic structures of the country. As John Strausbaugh
implies with the discussion of the influence of blackface, American
society, because of its multinational origins, has no dominant
ethnicity.

Thus, any ethnic conflict that occurs in the United States can be
devastating and long-lasting. As the only group of people capable of
holding attention of the general public, celebrities must use their
unique position to prevent escalation of any kind of potential ethnic
conflict. Besides, it should be in the interest of the celebrities
themselves to maintain domestic peace in the United States, because,
after all, in times of widespread domestic violence and turmoil,
people would not have the mood or the spirit to seek entertainment
from them, leading to financial disasters on their part. All in all,
it should be the duty and personal interest of the celebrities to
ensure that there are very little conflicts among different
ethnicities in the country.

The commentary of Don Imus and many similar events of the past show
the inherently exploitative nature of the celebrities when dealing
with the issue of racial differences in the United States.
Considering that these celebrities generally have very high regard
from the American people and the success of the entertainment industry
depends upon the continuous stability of the society and prevention of
any kind of domestic conflicts that can change the peaceful status
quo, celebrities should change their exploitation of ethnic
differences and begin to soothe the divisive quality of the American
ethnic mosaic for both personal and societal benefits.

"Coolness" vs "Loyalty" in China

The fact that Chinese people treat foreigners better than their own
should not be news. Even a 50-year-old grandma at the service counter
of a dilapidated state-owned store cracks a rare smile at the white
guy walking in. And with that fact known to all, it seems that there
began a simultaneous movement by the entire population to look and act
as foreign as possible (of course, the "good" foreign, i.e.
Euro-American and Japanese/Korean, especially Korean, about which I
wrote a published letter:
http://paper.sznews.com/szdaily/20100802/ca2935227.htm), often without
knowing what they are actually doing (perfect example I encountered a
few days ago: a middle aged grandma walking around with a black
T-shirt that says "I *heart* BOTOX).

Everyone seems to be getting English/Western-sounding names (I wrote
about this in a published letter:
http://www.shanghaidaily.com/article/print.asp?id=443855) and using
half-assed English in their daily
conversations...English/Japanese/Korean usage on any ad, product
label, or restaurant sign seems to be a quick way to greater
popularity and profit (not to mention the greater perceived "style"
and "hipness").

Sounds like an old topic...but no one has really considered this
"xenophilia" in China from the perspective of a recent emigrant's
point of view. The view of what "foreign" means to someone who spent
most of his/her life in China compared to a Chinese who lived mostly
abroad is two totally different things. And for the emigrant like me,
striking a compromise between understanding (and even joining) the
relentless liking for anything foreign and proposing a cautionary
stance regarding the rationality behind the xenophilia (mainly by
speaking about the negatives of foreign lands and societies) is quite
important if we, the emigrants, wants to be seen both as Chinese and
worldly without being considered lacking knowledge of China, arrogant,
and even traitorous to the "Chinese cause"...

But, the problem is that, by merely speaking about foreign lands in
anyway inconsistent of the common Chinese perception of them would
result in negative consequences for the emigrant. If the expressed
views are much more favorable than perceived, then the emigrant
becomes "a Twinkie completely ignorant of Chinese culture" but if the
views are less favorable than perceived, then the emigrant is just
arrogantly looking down upon those who never been outside the country
(in China, probably many go travel abroad but the vast majority would
never really "live" abroad...and even if they do for short periods of
time, e.g. study abroad, they would still live amongst other Chinese
people rather than integrate with the mainstream society) by
exaggerating the negatives.

Now, lets assess what it means to be an Chinese emigrant in China
(here, we are talking about to more developed countries, i.e. the
"good"foreign lands mentioned above...not merchants and expats in
developing countries). The status of these developed countries as
major exporters of pop culture (US, Japan, South Korea, especially)
have made anything from those places "cool" (as I noted in a previous
post), including the Chinese immigrants who live in those countries.
Especially, many American-born/raised Chinese dominated the
Chinese-language pop music industry (Wang Leehom, Pan Weibo, Vanness
Wu, to name a few...of course, this is not entirely a Chinese
phenomenon: Korean/Japanese-American pop musicians also tend to be
prominent over on this side of the Pacific).

From a more personal standpoint, I, a normal-looking, normally dressed
guy, would never be recognized as Chinese-American until I mention
that I have an American passport and practically spent most of my life
abroad. But once the people I talk to find out about this, the change
in attitude can sometimes be quite dramatic. Beyond a bit of surprise
came a lot of respect: all the sudden it seems that different
treatment is bestowed upon me as if I upgraded from economy to
business class on an airplane (okay, probably not that dramatic of a
change, but you get the point).

As I said in multiple occasions, I am really saddened by seeing such
xenophilia. Yes, its true that China is lacking in good pop cultural
products, lacking in "style" and "coolness" (the government has been
killing off any sort of unorthodox creativity for six decades, under
such circumstances, its impossible for the Chinese to be creative
enough to create anything with style...with all our creative genes
killed off, in pop culture, China is a baby compared to the Americans,
Japanese, and South Koreans) and the youth here needs foreign pop
culture to fill the void, but they really do need to see foreign lands
in perspectives that is not completely dependent on what is presented
as fashionable and cool.

Any country and society has its negatives. And often great wealth
comes in pairs with great poverty. Yet, just being told about these
problems will not get most youth in China to have a more balanced view
of any foreign country. They must see the foreign countries with
their own eyes and experience them as long-time residents rather than
a leisurely traveler. Although China's increased economic power
cannot bring China a better pop culture, but it does give her citizens
greater opportunities for seeing the foreign lands whose cultures they
so crave. Maybe in the process, they can also bring back some ideas
that can finally get the Chinese creative gene back to work again...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

An Ideal Partner in Life

Just finished watching a Korean romance comedy (yes, yes, I speak many
times about not liking Korean dramas cuz the romance is all the
same...this one is kind of in the mold too, i.e. guy is stupid, girl
is pretty, another handsome, all-around-better guy comes along,
parents want the other guy, first guy breaks up with the girl for her
sake, but girl comes back to the first guy at the end...happily ever
after), but what made the film sort of different from many others is
the stark contrast posed by the two main male characters in question.

One handsome and one ugly (of course, thats usually the case), but in
this case, the handsome one is also the one that seems to be more
caring and have a warmer heart. Only in later part of the story do
the viewers come to know the truth. After the female main character
was raped by her high school coach, she started having mental problems
and went into a mental institution, where the first male character was
also housed at the time. The guy stood by her during her mood swings
and violence, earning her trust and love.

Yet, as both of them returned to normal life as college students, the
childishness of the guy became the main focus of the film. An amateur
K-1 boxer who constantly lose to competitors, his aloofness,
stupidity, and lack of social grace were at times comical yet still
draws the ire of both her and her parents. The audience is constantly
wondering why a beauty and top college swimmer like her would date a
guy like him (until she reveals the story of the past)

The naiveté and idealism of the first guy betrays his lack of
understanding for all that represents romance, whereas the second
showed maturity and ability to car about others from the very
beginning. For anyone without the background, the choice is
completely obvious, but the shared experience she had with the first
guy, while long in the past, have bonded them beyond what is
considered logical or romantic for most people.

People commonly say that the best partner in life is not the one who
got the looks but the one who cares about you and loves you til death,
someone you can trust with your life and depend upon on the most
extreme of difficulties. But the people may have been too practical
in using such an analysis...your partner is definitely your best
friend, someone in which you can hit and curse one day but forget all
of that the next day.

Sure, the main female character can tell all her problems to the
second guy and he would be much more likely to calm her down and help
her resolve all those issues strictly out of love, but even then, it
seems like she would much rather tell those problems to the first guy
than the much better problem-solver...the emotions associated with
friendship during times of crisis is not something that can be
logically framed.

Well, a story is story. Most of us probably will never see a
situation in which such two choices can be presented under so
distorted and unusual the background and circumstances. Life is just
too good for most of us, in which practical things like money,
security, and "ability to care" must become the central criteria for
partner selection. But think about the possibility of something
unforeseen happening (cancer, car accident, etc.), who would you
rather have?

One who will help you resolve all the problems, care about you, and
give you the financial support you need to get through, or just
someone who you can feel happy chatting with, receiving a text message
from, or just thinking about during your darkest days...I know I
rather die with a person who truly gives me joy rather than live
forever with the guilt of receiving unrequested love and support from
a perfect person...

NGOs Valuable in Developing World

The days are still quite hot here in Shanghai (even thought the
temperature have been down quite a bit…walking around yesterday in
Chongming Island, I didn't sweat nearly as much as I expected). Now,
speaking of the walk yesterday, I trekked about 5 hours into the rural
parts of the island, away from any public buses or major roads (I was
actually lost…didn't know the geographic scale of things…expected the
island to be much smaller), and found out that the difference between
the parts near the major roads and the true countryside is quite
glaring.

While high rise apartments are built near major roads to accommodate
increased number of mainland Shanghainese who move to the Island to
get away from the city, the same amount of luxury is not shown at all
in the villages. Sure, the houses are much nicer than the ones in
really poor parts of China, but in terms of the simple interior décor
(no AC, wooden chairs, traditional kitchens, few electronics), it can
be said that the rapid development of the local economy has really
passed them by.

In China, as in many other developing countries, investment resources
are allotted by government. And for a massive country like China,
even in the most developed parts like Shanghai, the allocation cannot
be even. And given the poor communications (again, lack of
investments in roads and public transport), the trickle down effect on
the nearby villages is really infinitesimal. What begs the question:
is there anything else that can quickly help develop remote parts when
the government just doesn't have the energy to pay attention to every
single section of the country?

While still few compared to the West, many NGOs are filling that
niche. Using resources donated from domestic and foreign sources, the
NGOs are helping the remote parts help themselves develop. Using
extensive practical assistance and little economic investment, the
NGOs are allowing the rural parts of the country to move forward
without direct support from the government. The experience I had
working with a group out in rural Yunnan Province (cool weather over
there right now, really want to go) two years back really drive this
point regarding the increased role of NGOs in development.

"There is still strong discrimination against them from the other
people," Tiffany, the coordinator of our work camp went on as she
explained the current condition at Xiao Shui Tang village, a leprosy
colony in Yunnan province in China and the main destination of Spring
2008 Reach Out China trip. Tiffany is working with Joy in Action
(JIA), a local NGO working with so-called leprosy recovery village
throughout southern China.

Having sponsorship from major foundations in Japan, Korea, and Hong
Kong, JIA has been a leading force in providing modern amenities for
the hundreds of impoverished and isolated leprosy colonies through
recruitment of groups after groups of volunteers, both from local
Chinese universities as well as many places abroad. The recent
developments in China and the rest of the developing world have again
and again proven the success and the necessity of determined NGOs such
as JIA in providing support and help in many neglected locations and
communities. The NGOs have proven their irreplaceable value as a
provider of progress in many situations where governments have no
strength or authority.

In many instances, the NGOs provide the necessary services otherwise
not possible if left under the supervision of the government or the
discretion of corporate interests. The activities the NGOs are
engaged often have the quality of low socio-economic returns and low
publicity value, causing their works to be shunned by the other
sectors of the society. Helping the residents of isolate and faraway
leprosy recovery villages tackling the social stigma attached with
contraction of the disease brings almost no immediate or long-term
benefits to the general society.

Yet, as JIA and its volunteers interacted with the villagers, helped
them with their daily necessities, and worked on projects such as road
improvement and English teaching, the benefits reaped by the village
itself is clear and plentiful. Through hard work, JIA has
dramatically changed the economic and materialistic conditions of the
villages while minimizing the related cost to the society. The
projects completed with the assistance of the volunteers have not only
allowed better communication and transportation between the villages
and the outside world as a whole but also promoted better agricultural
production in the rural areas with improvements in the related
infrastructure.

The biggest impact the NGOs can bring to such impoverished and
far-flung regions is often psychological. The presence of the NGOs
can help the locals shake off their long-entrenched sense of neglect
by the society and reinvigorate them with a sense of renewed hope for
a better future. During the work camp, we have come to see a true
sense of appreciation and gratitude of the villages through a series
of home visits. The villagers almost always expressed happiness that
college students from as far away as America cares for them and are
willing to travel to the isolate village just to visit, help, and talk
to them.

As we the volunteers continue to emotionally bond with the villagers
in the course of a week, they are more and more willing to accept us
as part of their families and share with us both the happiness and
sorrow of their daily lives. As groups after groups of volunteers
entered the villages with guidance of JIA, the residents have come to
see the emotional support from the volunteers as a welcoming sign from
civilization and an added color to their otherwise bland and lonely
agricultural lives. Thus, it is with the utmost sincerity that they
express their thanks toward us as we were leaving the village, thanks
that we accepted with heartfelt joy.

In absence of government and private businesses, the NGOs and their
volunteers are carrying out many meaningful, albeit small and
seemingly insignificant, projects in many faraway corners of the
developing world. As projects are completed and the assisted
rejoiced, true long-lasting friendships blossomed between the
volunteers and villagers as well as among different volunteers. Some
have even become more than just friendships. Most of us come from
relatively well-to-do backgrounds, but it was certainly not until we
were placed in the impoverished village did we find the most genuine
camaraderie and the most joy in action. That, I feel, is the true
power of the NGOs.

The Inefficiency of Corporation-provided Healthcare

The recent healthcare reform launched by President Obama in the U.S.,
I believe, have not gone as far as it can possibly (and, in my
opinion, necessarily) could go (even though it is already facing tough
resistance from many). Rather than just providing a government
alternative to insurance package offered by private companies,
shouldn't there be something else other than just the supply side that
need to be looked at?

To be specific: what about how the best insurance option is chosen and
purchased? Considering that a large number of people in the US get
there insurance from their employers (i.e. they don't choose the
insurance, their bosses do), maybe it would be wise to change that
structure much more so that the employees receive the greatest
benefits while bypassing the step where the bosses weighs the economic
costs to their companies.

Of course, the merit of companies providing their employees heath
insurances has the benefit of attracting more capable workers.
However, covering the insurance costs brings up the costs of operating
the company, thus necessitates the companies to find more ways to cut
other costs while increasing the revenue.

If law can dictate that healthcare provision be left entirely to the
government and the individual employees (like what they do up in
Scandinavia), the corporate costs incurred by healthcare provision can
be reduced, simultaneously reducing unnecessary inefficiencies to the
economy that ultimately hurts the both the employees and the
consumers.

Companies providing healthcare for the employees are disadvantageous
to the employees themselves in the long run. To cover the costs of
the insurance, the companies must cut other benefits of the employees
to keep the overall costs of production constant. The companies must
take into account the costs of the insurance when compensating for the
works of the employees, thereby cutting their salaries by the
insurance cost.

At the same time, the companies can decrease the vacation of the
employees to increase production, using the extra revenue to cover the
insurance costs. While such a trade-off between healthcare and salary
or healthcare and vacation seems harmless, for the many manufacturing
firms and their blue-collar workers, the occurrence of a deadly
accident might as well be a time for lay off for the remaining
employees as their insurance costs skyrocket afterwards.

Also, when choosing the insurance, the companies will simply choose
one for all the employees that will have the most overall benefits
with the least overall costs. Such arrangement is inefficient in that
the individual employees cannot select the ones most suitable for
them. The employees do not benefit from company provision of
healthcare due to accident and individuality issues.

Furthermore, the company-provided healthcare can damage consumer
benefits by raising the price of goods and services. As the companies
need to earn more revenue to cover the costs of the employee
insurance, the most convenient method is to increase the price of
products. Considering that if all companies are required to provide
employees with insurance, it is very possible that the insurance
provision will be followed by rapid inflation.

Simultaneously, if the companies are to cut employee salaries to make
up for insurance cost, the decrease in consumption and thus demand for
products coupled with the inflation can easily send the economy into
recession. In time of recession, the companies are still forced to
provide insurance for the workers, necessitating their employee lay
off and salary decrease to cover the loss of revenue.

Such moves by the companies will only send the economy deeper into
depression through a vicious cycle. Company provision of healthcare
can only generate inflation and make the economy more vulnerable to
economic downturns.

All in all, healthcare provision by companies is much less
economically efficient than provision by government or individual.
With government provision, the people can spend more of their income
on consumer goods rather than insurance, boosting the economy while
not hurting the incomes of the insurance companies.

With individual provision, the people can choose the insurance
policies most suitable for them, preventing some insurance companies
from gaining unfair advantage on the market by having the patronage of
large corporations. Comparatively, provision of healthcare by
companies can only lead to employees' dissatisfaction with their job
benefits and gives the economy less flexibility in the long run.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Personal Triple Dilemma...

Just a personal update: just bored at home after coming back home from
Nanjing yesterday...I received a notice from the company in Japan this
morning saying that the documentation I need to start visa application
is ready and have been mailed to me here in Shanghai and the mail
would reach me in 2 to 3 days via EMS...oh great, what a timing...long
enough for to be bored waiting for it at home, but too short for me to
go on the road again if I want to start the visa application
ASAP...sure, there are plenty of places I can go around Shanghai for 2
to 3 days, but considering the hot weather here in the city and its
actually cooler near the water here, I doubt that I would actually
want to go anywhere geographically close to the city amidst the
sweltering heat...

Yet, blowing constantly in front of AC at home isn't the solution
either. Not to mention that I am already running low on food reserves
here (already eating cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner...they
are running out too), I think I am actually getting sick from
AC...feeling cold one moment and feeling like breaking into a sweat
the next...uggh, so much for the cool comfort of home. Yet, its rainy
and humid outside as usual, with the rain only making the sauna feel
even worse and not reducing the temperature at all. The heat returns
in full force almost immediately as the rain clouds retreat.

Oh yeah, forgot one thing: I am not even sure whether I can actually
apply for a Japanese visa from here. After all, I don't live in China
permanently and only has a "temporary resident registration" to show
that I actually belong here. If the guys at the Japanese Consulate
don't buy my argument that I DO live here because my father does, I
probably have to ship all the documents back to the US and rely on my
mother for another shipment to the LA Consulate (and I know perfectly
how unreliable and delay-prone this procedure would be)...and worse
comes to worst, I may even have to personally go back to the US to
apply for this damn visa to Japan.

So here it is: (1) to wait for the documents from Japan so I apply for
visa ASAP or get on the road immediately and worry about the visa app
later...(2) uggh, I feel kind of sick from the AC and (3) Can I even
get a visa in Shanghai?

Sounds fun. While I worry about all these, the only thing accompanying
me would be a TV (well, at least the weekend programs may be
good...relatively speaking of course) and writing would go that well
anyways since all the newspapers are off for the weekend (well, at
least the English ones in China, I think...whats the point in working
weekends when all the expats, the main target, don't read anything
with an official government-propaganda-sounding tinge?) Which brings
me to think that I should really go explore the city a bit more while
I still have the time...

Two things comes to mind: one is to wonder around the outskirts of the
city. I haven't been to most of the outlying districts of the city,
plus I really would like to see Chongming Island (even though its kind
of far and quite a hassle to get there with only ferry as a viable
transportation method...but then again, seems like the ferries are
quite frequent and the ports are close to subway...hmmm....would make
an interesting day trip)

The second is a total exploration of Shanghai nightlife...a much more
difficult and costly proposition. First, going to a club by yourself
is not the safest thing to do in China (as I mentioned before,
everything can be a brothel in China, and a club is certainly the
prime spot considering that everyone who goes there have some money to
spare...I certainly witnessed that quite a bit in some bars I went
to...the number of old Filipino prostitutes were quite amazing to
behold).

Wanting to go to a bar or club here just made me realize how detached
I am to popular culture in China. I often criticize China for not
being able to develop an influential pop culture because of strict
government controls on media (TV and radio, as well as
newspapers/magazines that spread celebrity gossip) but on the flip
side, come to think of it, am I placing too much emphasis on these
media outlets?

After all, we all witness the power of Internet as an entertainment
source (primary one, to be exact) here in China, able to spread any
gossip to millions of young people in matter of hours. Are they
similar physical entities capable of such things? I have mentioned
bars and clubs, but those are totally Western concepts that are
considered luxurious and are in fact, quite expensive for most young
people...so whats outside of the entertainment methods I can think of?

Yeah, to be sure, the rich young people spend their parents' money on
hip nightlife spots like bars and clubs, but what about the common
people? Unfortunately, I don't think I can ever really find out...I
tried hard when I was interning in Shanghai over the winter break, but
seems like my coworkers were the types that keep to themselves. We
only had one outing to an expensive bar and restaurant...and it seems
like they don't do much in terms of nightlife because most live with
their parents (housing is expensive, after all...)

So should I conclude that young people most meet strangers through the
Internet and that good friends go primarily to karaoke for fun? I
suppose that would be a widely accepted notion. But just as I feel
Izakayas in Japan are designed for mature people who are no longer
energetic enough for other activities, I feel like I am missing
something...I am missing the things that people of my age (not quite
rich, but full of energy) would do for fun...

Yeah, I guess I can't find out for sure...I really have been outside
China for too long...I didn't have enough common language with Chinese
students at Yale (and those guys can't represent the average Chinese
youngster anyways...the average would be more frivolous and flippant
than those Yalies are) and I really feel a cultural barrier when I am
here...maybe its a self-fulfilling prophecy...I don't know...but
either way, I lack the kind of friends who can truly be considered
exclusively Chinese but are still youthful enough to be just like
me...

What I am really looking for is an image of myself if I was never
given the opportunity to go abroad...well, I guess it would be
possible that I would have completely different character (I think
more mature, if I can ever be...the Chinese education system really
does kill creativity in people, and brain-washed with political
naiveté, of course) that this desire I have would be completely
baseless...but who knows, no one can predict the alternative reality
with 100% reality....