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China Dolls vs. the Tinted Tangerine

25 Jul

China, and most of Asia for that matter, has an obsession with white skin. Whitening shit is in EVERYTHING. Face creams, body wash, toners–you name it, it’ll make you whiter.

It’s a historical trend:

But it’s also gotten completely out of hand:

Her eyes are the headlights

When I first got to Asia I was blown away by this. Especially since the level of white they’re striving for is the kind of pale I associate with sickness and hospital visits. Of course, I wanted to know why. The theory I’ve heard kicked around most often sounds something like this:

In the days of yore, white skin (in Asian societies) meant that you didn’t need to work outside. Read: You had money, status, and power. White skin=high class. And since, generally, high class is equal to or greater than beauty, it came to be that sickly pale bitches equalled beautiful bitches.

It makes sense. Whether or not it’s true is probably something someone with a degree in economics should sort out. But it got me thinking.

You know those tinted tangerines that seem to float around our culture? Those girls (and guys) who have spent way too much time tanning and are unaware that they looked like a slightly burnt orange?

Oompa Loompa gone wrong

Well I wonder if this Caucasian♥dark pattern follows the Asian♥light principle. Because, traditionally speaking, we whiteys tend to be cold-climate folks. The only way you got to have dark skin in the good-old-days was if you had enough money to take you to warmer climes.

So, is our formula inversely proportionate to the Asian one? When someone makes fun of how pale my skin is (and it’s bad), are they really just raging against my inability to balance the equation: dark skin=beautiful?

Maybe. I know that I, for one, am hitting the tanning booth this week.

How Wude

2 Jun

Jiang Zemin, ex-president of the PRC

“Chinese people are so rude.”

At home, abroad, on the internet, in my own house, I have heard that phrase like a mantra, again and again. It resonated with me the last time I was in Canada and heard it repeated by an Aunt and Uncle who were citing an incident that took place in a grocery store. From what I could gather, a group of Chinese people were taking up a whole aisle in the store and wouldn’t get out of the way to let others pass.

“Chinese people are so rude,” the story ended.

And I wondered at it because, I’ll be honest, from this Canadian’s point of view, Chinese people are outlandishly rude. Picking noses in public, screeching into cell phones on public transit, letting kids defecate in the street (and sometimes indoor garbage cans), littering both indoors and out, hocking loogies out bus windows–the list goes on. The language itself isn’t even that polite. “What would you like?” literally translates as 你要什么?–“You want what?” Could you imagine walking into a shop at home and having the clerk ask you, “Hi. What do you want?” It would be a little rude, no?

Yeah, it really does happen

And yet…and yet.

We were in a well-known Turkish restaurant here in Guangzhou the other day. I turned to the waitress and politely asked her if I could have more water. When I turned back around, my flatmate and good friend–a lovely Cantonese girl named Lum Lum–was looking at me strangely.

“Why did you just change your voice like that?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” I was a little confused.

“You raised your voice almost an octave. You talked to her like she was a little child. Why did you do that?” She was completely baffled.

This led to a conversation in which Nathan (my other flatmate, really good friend, and Lum Lum’s significant other) tried to explain to her that I was not speaking to her like a child, and that raising the tone of your voice whilst at the same time softening it was actually a sign of politeness in our culture*.

Who does that?

She was not convinced.

“Yeah but, don’t you think she can hear you turn around and talk to us in a completely different voice as soon as you finish talking to her? Don’t you think it’s a little rude to speak to her differently than you’re speaking to everyone else?”

Well how about that. Here I was having a Chinese person stare at me in utter confusion because someone who she had come to see as a polite, well-adjusted person had just acted blatantly rude to someone in the service industry. She was flummoxed.

In the end she begrudgingly agreed that it must be a cultural thing (thank God Nathan was there to back me up), but to this day she continues to remain highly suspicious of the whole voice-change concept.

This is not an isolated incident.

Time and again my students will attempt to understand the layers of politeness that are built into our language**. More often than not they need constant reassurance that, no, saying “please” this many times does not sound fake and, no, you’re not insulting someone’s intelligence by asking them a question in such a roundabout way. And China stares at us in awe for a host of other things: the flaming that occurs on blogs and the horridness that gets printed in our tabloids (and occasionally “respectable” newspapers) being just two examples.

So, are Chinese people really so rude? And, for that matter, are Canadians (I only speak for my own nationality here) actually all that polite?

Well, yes and no. Lum Lum herself gets super choked at people who cut her off when driving or goes off on people talking too loudly in restaurants. And I know lots of Canadians who scratch their nuts in public or grope the waitress’s ass. But at a certain point we have to remember that people are just people–rude people are rude people and polite people are polite people no matter what flag flies over their head. Yes, there is an underlying aspect of culture to a lot of it, and that’s where understanding is needed. If someone is being rude to you, feel free to tell them to piss off, but don’t go about blaming the entire nation for it.

Grow up and go have a conversation with one of these people you keep bitching about. Trust me, most of their cultures are more than willing to welcome you in and share anything you would want to know. Can the same be said of ours?

Actually, yeah, it is in this case

That's what I thought

*Seriously, try it out yourself. When you’re trying to be very polite, your tone of voice changes.

**For example:
What’s the time?
Excuse me, do you have the time?
Would you mind telling me the time?
Could you please tell me the time?
Sorry to interrupt but I was hoping that you’d be able to tell me the time.

The number of ways to be polite in English is actually staggering.

A Public Service Announcement

31 May

I haven’t been paying attention to my blog for almost a month now as there have been other things taking up my time: organizing the 150GB worth of music on my portable hard drive, editing two years’ worth of pictures, and crying myself softly to sleep over the Conservative majority that swept through Canada earlier this month. So things have been a little busy.

And with that, I’d like to bring you some public service announcements. We’ve been joking lately about all the ones we remembered from our childhood while at the same time realizing that if we still remembered them, they must have lodged in our little kiddie brains and probably did us some good.

I’m going to show you two that had zero effect on me:

Drugs Drugs Drugs

And my ultimate favourite: Don’t You Put It in Your Mouth

This all came to a head while I was reading a post by one of the bloggers/writers/awesome-people I follow, Peter Nowak. He posted a NEW public service announcement featuring–I shit you not–Pete the Porno Puppet and Ron-freakin’-Jeremy. Enjoy your childhood in a much creepier way:

Stephen Harper is a C*nt

1 Apr

And I’m shocked by how many people don’t seem to know it. I mean, seriously, look at this guy:

Oh yes, it's real.

It would seem that in an effort to avoid looking like he’s holding a puppy, Harper has decided to hold a kitten. This is like when I’m walking my dog and I tell her that it’s time to go home, but she tries to be tricksy by pretending that she’s sniffing at the ground like she’s gonna take a piss and then slowly beginning to walk in a different direction from home hoping that I won’t notice.

Trust me, dog, you’re not pulling a fast one on me.

Trust me, Stephen Harper, even a kitten can’t hide what a spunkdervish you are. Even your sweaters failed. But damn were they funny. And they give your opposition some great material:

Let’s start with a point that’s close to home for me.

Stephen Harper hates women.

Why? Well I don’t know why. But scrapping universal daycare; cancelling the court challenges program (because who really cares if we violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?); removing abortion from Canada’s G8 maternal health funding (“67,000 women die every year? Pfft, I eat more Cheerios for breakfast”); and revoking women’s right to vote all make a pretty clear statement on how Harper feels about the ladies.

Okay, maybe not that part about taking away voting rights. The first three are bad enough anyway.

Next, Harper hates the environment.

I don’t even want to talk about what happened in Copenhagen. It makes me want to throw up. He basically gave Kyoto the finger and not only has Canada NOT reduced our greenhouse gas emissions since then, they’ve actually risen by 26%. Our role in Copenhagen was so thoroughly disgusting that it prompted Ben Wikler of Avaaz.org to award Canada with the Fossil of the Year Award and this scathing comment:

“Fossil of the Year goes to CANADA, for bringing a totally unacceptable position into Copenhagen and refusing to strengthen it one bit. Canada’s 2020 target is among the worst in the industrialized world, and leaked cabinet documents revealed that the governments is contemplating a cap-and-trade plan so weak that it would put even that target out of reach.”

Which leads to my last point: Harper and his government have made Canada the laughing stock of the democratic world.

Ramesh Thakur through the Australian:
“Edmund Burke noted that all that was necessary for evil to triumph was for good men to do nothing. At a time when Arabs risk life and limb for political freedoms, Canadians seem largely apathetic about the erosion of their democracy.”

George Monbiot of the Guardian (UK):
“This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party.”

Even Obama knows what’s up:

Trust me, you don't want to see.

I should probably say that I do make a distinction between Harper the Politician and Harper the Person. I’m sure that Harper the Person is very nice. He probably really does love kittens and sweater vests. Maybe he even hugs a tree sometimes. And he had to be good with the ladies somehow because, seriously, his wife is HOT:

How did he do THAT?

It’s Harper the Politician I hate. Harper the Prime Minister. Harper the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. It’s the Harper who has made me hang my head when facing the rest of the world on environmental issues, who made me even more afraid as a woman in Canada (especially if I get raped–thanks asshole), and who has turned our democracy into a joke with his suspensions of Parliament, concealment of information, and outright lies, prompting a majority of MPs to vote that they believed the government was in contempt of Parliament (the first time in Canadian history) and ultimately leading to the federal election on May 2nd.

There are literally 100 reasons not to vote for Harper’s Conservative Party. But the number one reason for me was, is, always has been and always will be one thing:

Stephen Harper is a cunt.

The Vote Toss

29 Mar

But I'm voting Green.

I’m not particularly politically inclined. Or, at least, I never used to be. I remember turning 18 and telling my dad that I wasn’t going to vote. He promptly proceeded to haul my ass to the voting booth, forcing me to exercise my democratic right to bitch. What does that mean? It means that if you don’t vote, you don’t get to bitch. You had the option of making your voice count, but you didn’t, so tough luck asshole, I’m not interested in your whining.

Seriously.

To this day I have no patience for people who don’t vote, especially now that I’ve been living in a country where people aren’t given the option.

Still, I didn’t exactly know much about what I was voting for. I didn’t mind the Liberals, didn’t know much about the NDP, and tended to strongly dislike the Conservatives, but I liked most of what the Green Party had to say, so I usually voted Green. I even voted Green in the 2006 federal elections when most people I knew blasted my decision to “waste [my] vote” by not voting Liberal to keep the Conservatives out.

And so began a battle I have been fighting ever since, namely, the defence of my belief that you should vote for who you truly want to be in power. Anything less and—similar to not voting at all—you don’t have a right to bitch. Almost everyone I know, including my closest friends and family, told me how stupid I was. Did I really think that Green could possibly win? Why was I wasting my vote on a non-starter when I could be putting my vote to good use by keeping the Conservatives out? THEY were going to vote Liberal. At least THEIR vote would count for something.

Lot of good that did.

We now have another election coming, and I continue to stand by my convictions. And so I answer the question so many asked me over five years ago: Do I really think that Elizabeth May is going to be the next prime minister? Not bloody likely. But having a couple of Green MPs couldn’t hurt. And like that proverbial snowball, once people start to believe that Green is a true option, more and more people will make their honest choice at the polls.

Because seriously, if every person that sat there and harped on me for “throwing away [my] vote” actually voted the way they wanted, things would look a lot different in Canada.

In fact, they might even begin to look like Germany. Germany, who on Sunday showed a 24.2% result in Baden-Württemberg and a 15.4% in Rhineland-Palatinate for Green. As Spiegel Online International put it:

“…the country’s political landscape experienced a profound shift over the weekend. Germany is no longer a country firmly in the hands of the SPD [Social Democrats] and the CDU [Christian Democrats]. As of Sunday, the Greens have crashed the party. And before long, they might be sending out the invitations as well.”

This announcement came on top of my best friend—and loudest adversary in the vote-tossing debate—posting a blog entry in which he not only did a complete 180 of opinion, but actually denounced people who voted “for the lesser of two evils”! I added that exclamation mark because he hates them.

(Note: I love my best friend very much and he’s already laughed at the hypocrisy of his blog post after I did my best to scream at him over gmail chat. He’s one of the smartest people I know. He was bound to get there in the end.)

And so I’ve realized that things are changing. People are changing. They are opening their eyes and coming to the conclusion that this f*cking sucks. What we’ve been doing doesn’t work and when things don’t work, you need to stop what you’re doing and bloody well fix them. And if fixing them doesn’t work (as it obviously hasn’t), then it’s time to try something new.

Even if you are one.

I’m not saying that Green is the answer, but using your vote to represent your voice is a bloody good start. Vote Liberal, vote Conservative, vote Green, vote NDP, vote Independant, vote Bloc Québécois if you absolutely must, but just vote.

May 2nd my Canadian friends, May 2nd.
Get off your rat’s ass and vote.

You have to listen to Banksy.

UPDATE: The lovely Jo Jorgenson directed me over to an SFU site dedicated to elections info. Part of it discusses voter turnout and why our numbers seem to be dropping. It also touches on two of my other pet issues: education in Canada and whether or not it properly prepares students to become citizens of our country (i.e. teaching them about the different parties and what it means to vote); and whether we should make voting compulsory like Brazil and Australia. In regards to the second issue, an Ekos poll done in September 2009 found that 49% of Canadians support compulsory voting. I’d love to know who those 49% are. I’m one of them. You?

Why I’m Not Married

5 Mar

HA! I bet you thought you were gonna learn something interesting about me, didn’t you? Nope, I’m just gonna talk statistics again.

Kidding!

But seriously. I’m 25. I wouldn’t classify myself as physically beautiful, but I’m most certainly cute. I believe myself to be an internally beautiful person. I’ve got lots of love, I accept people for who they are as much as I can, my hobby is laughing, I’m almost dysfunctionally non-confrontational, I enjoy the bedroom, and I like to think of myself as quite intelligent (shut up Nathan). I’ve got some bloody good qualities.

Given, I’ve got some pretty crap ones, too. I’m a procrastinator, I’m terrible at dealing with money, I turn into a bit of an argumentative bitch when I’m too drunk, I occasionally drink too much, I suck at keeping my room clean, I can be incredibly intolerant towards people I love, and I’m quite vindictive and petty when the situation warrants. Sometimes even if it doesn’t.

In the end though, I’m not such a bad person (shut up Nathan). I think (hope) that my good qualities outweigh (or at least slightly nullify) my bad qualities.

Yet–I’ve been single for almost 10 years.

Yup, you read that right: 10. Not a typo.

I’ve been “involved” with people, and there have even been some people that I’ve truly cared about or had emotional investments in. But I haven’t had a “boyfriend” in 10 years.

So, what’s the deal?

Now before the feminists rip my head off and turn it into a march banner, let me just state that I haven’t been unhappy. In fact, I’ve been quite the opposite. One of the reasons I’ve been single for this long is that I haven’t needed someone else. I’m perfectly happy the way I am, and unless you’re going to up my level of happiness, why the hell would I change this state of affairs?

But it does make me stop and question myself from time to time. Really–because 10 years is a pretty freakin’ long time.

And this is where Tracy McMillan and her article in the Huffington Post come in. Aptly and/or stingly entitled “Why You’re Not Married”, McMillan presented the piece as an over-the-top, true-but-not-totally-true, brutal thump of honesty. The reaction was a little extreme (as I’m sure McMillan meant it to be), prompting an interview with the writer herself.

In the interview, McMillan points out that her article was meant to be satire, but I almost feel robbed by this assertion. Screw that! Her piece was brilliant, brutal, and bang-bloody-on. I almost peed myself laughing it was so funny.

Check it out. And I will tell you: one of the points most definitely explains my singledom.

What about you?

Amy Chua: A memoir, not a how-to

4 Mar

Amy Chau with daughters Louisa (Lulu) and Sophia

For those who haven’t been keeping up with the Amy Chua controversy, I’d suggest turning to any woman around you who looks like a mother, mentioning either that Chinese mothers are superior, or that Yale professor who published the essay about parenting, and watching said woman explode. It’d be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

If you really don’t know what it’s all about, I’ll explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up: Amy Chua wrote a book called The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Ta da!

Okay, not quite, I know.

Amy Chua wrote a memoir. That memoir had an excerpt published. Now people are losing their minds. Although, I must admit, quite a few are keeping them. Just in the wrong places. One blogger who hadn’t even read the book yet decided to make some serious assumptions by creating a parallel between herself and Chua’s children. The tone of the post quickly reveals that the author hadn’t even read an interview with Chua or her children, never mind the actual book she was blasting. However, I need to get off my horse on that one as my first/gut reaction wasn’t much different. I just showed restraint in blogging. I believe this is where the word “neener” gets repeated once or twice.

Growing up and moving on.

All right, let’s start by not forgetting that Chua was already an internationally acclaimed author by the time she printed this, her third book. Her first, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, was praised by both the Economist and the Guardian in 2003. This woman can write. I may not agree with all her ideas–and others would agree with me–but she is talented, gutsy, and, you know, a professor. I’ve only got Wikipedia to back me up. She’s got a piece of paper with the word “Harvard” on it. Actually, she’s got two pieces of paper with that word.

She even goes as far as to use the term “Confucian filial piety” in her writing, which just about blew my mind. Now, for those who are not familiar with Chinese, there is a word–孝顺 (xiàoshùn)–for which the closest English translation is “filial piety”. This is a word that is pervasive in the Chinese language and, by parallel, Chinese culture. I know it intimately as it comes up again and again when teaching English to Chinese students, and the confusion I see after explaining to them that there isn’t a regular-usage word for that in English is frustratingly repetitive.

Wikipedia gives a pretty good definition of filial piety:

“In somewhat general terms, filial piety means to be good to one’s parents; to take care of one’s parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one’s parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one’s job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not be rebellious; show love, respect and support; display courtesy; ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; wisely advise one’s parents, including dissuading them from moral unrighteousness; display sorrow for their sickness and death; and carry out sacrifices after their death.”

If anyone can give me a one-word adjective that explains all of that, and which we use in our daily conversations, I’ll bake them a cookie.

But moving back to Chua. When I first heard about the book (and before reading it), I was outraged. Here was this woman, basically abusing her kids as they grew up, ripping away their childhood, and claiming that it was in THEIR interest? How dare she! The outrage, the injustice! The opinions of a 25-year-old, childless Westerner were not only offended, they were accusatory. How dare she.

And yet, they were opinions fuelled by media bias, my own misgivings about Chinese parenting (don’t even start on me unless you’ve lived here), and the media. Oh wait, did I say the media twice? Let’s leave my horror at Chinese parenting aside for the moment as, a) I’m just as horrified by Western parents, and b) I’m childless and therefore not technically allowed to comment on parenting skills without sounding like a complete idiot. So that leaves me with the overstressed point of The Media. Because, let’s face it, the media lost its shit when the Wall Street Journal published its article, controversially entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”. Just imagine the explosion my poor expat mind had over that one.

And that’s exactly what happened to everyone else. The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt. The excerpt was a selection made, as claimed by Chua herself, without prior approval and with the mind to cause upheaval. As Chua states:

“The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”

Some people even seem to have failed to read the subtitle:

“This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

Does that really sound like a how-to-book on raising the perfect child?

I’ll admit some parts of the book scare me. The no-drink, no-bathroom, no-food piano/violin practices. The lack of fun. The screaming. The abusive nature of some of the criticisms towards her children. But this book reads as a coming of age story, not for the kids, but for the mother herself. Hell, even the kids support her. Sophia (the eldest) went so far as to publish an open letter to her mother in the New York Post, and both kids spoke with the Guardian about how much they appreciate and support their mum.

And let’s face it folks: her kids are successful. And happy. And balanced. Well, so it seems. We should probably check back in a few years, but for now, they seem to be sailing just fine. Chua has a very good point when she says that children are happy when they succeed, when they excel, and when they have confidence in their ability to face and overcome adversity. I may not agree with some of her methods, but her results and her motivations are hard to argue with.

More importantly, and the thing that people keep forgetting, is that this book is a memoir. Chua in no way claims that the “Chinese mother” is any better than the “Western mother” (both of which are terms Chua admits she’s loosely defined). This isn’t an “I’m right, you’re wrong, be like me” manifesto. This is the story of a woman who changed, a woman who saw her life crumbling around her, got the crap scared out of her, questioned everything she had done, and then went ahead and did one of the most Western things possible–she exposed herself and all her flaws to the world.

Personally, I thinks she’s bloody brave. She made a lot of mistakes, like everyone does, but was willing to look at herself and question whether or not she was the one that needed to change. In doing so, she became an even bigger role model for her children.

I prefer my mom, but I think Amy Chua did okay.