Ain’t nothing logical about yellow fever…it’s BIO-logical.

My yellow fever wasn’t a choice.  I was born this way.

But I didn’t start out this way.  I used to date white women, be attracted to white women.  So far as I knew, I didn’t have any real racial sexual preference.  But 5 years ago I started dating an Asian-American woman, then I moved to Hong Kong.  By the end of the first year here, I found myself very rarely attracted to non-East Asian women.  So how did this happen?  And why do I say I was born this way when I didn’t manifest any yellow fever symptoms until my 30s?

My sexual orientation hasn’t changed since moving to Hong Kong.  What has changed is my environment.  As a straight man, I’ve always been attracted to neoteny.  East Asians have more of it than anyone else, and now I’m surrounded by East Asians.

Neoteny is “the retention by adults of traits previously seen only in the young.”  Neoteny has been a major driving force in human evolution, so much so that it’s fair to say that humans are basically neotenized chimps.  The list of neotenic traits in humans includes, “flattened face, broadened face,large brain, hairless body, hairless face, small nose, reduction of brow ridge, small teeth, small upper jaw, small lower jaw, thinness of skull bones, limbs proportionately short compared to torso length, longer leg than arm length, larger eyes, and upright stance.”  This list can describe the difference between humans and chimps, the difference between women and men, or the difference between East Asians and other humans.  East Asians are hyper-human, East Asian women (and Betty Boop) are hyper-feminine, and it’s all about neoteny.  chimps100px-Betty_Boop_patent_fig2

Who we find attractive is conditioned by who (and what images) we are surrounded by; this is known as the contrast effect.  The contrast effect is likely responsible for the high divorce rate among secondary school teachers and college professors.  Kanazawa and Still hypothesize that male college professors have a high divorce rate (and tend to stay unmarried) because they are subconsciously affected by being surrounded by women at the peak of their fertility.  Heterosexual men are programmed to choose the most fertile and otherwise high-quality mate they can find, and when their environment consists of a disproportionate number of young women, they will subconsciously downgrade the attractiveness of older women.  (This is why it’s probably a good idea for men to reduce their exposure to media images of impossibly attractive women.)  I think a similar phenomenon occurs with white men in Asia, which explains why so many of us become less attracted to white women when we move here.  It’s not that living in Asia has caused me to be unattracted to all white women, but there is something about being surrounded by women with that neotenous East Asian bone structure that makes the average white woman’s face appear more masculine to me than it did when I lived in the US.   What this means is that for the most part, the white women I’m attracted to are out of my league, but the Asian women I’m attracted to are closer to the mean, and therefore more likely to like me back.

So far as I can tell, my yellow fever primarily affects my limbic system (the more primitive, or “reptilian brain”), leaving my neocortex relatively unscathed.  In other words, it strongly influences who I find sexually attractive, but not who I find intellectually, culturally or emotionally appealing (when we say men are thinking with their penises, we really mean they are thinking with their limbic systems, rather than their cortexes).  The limbic system has a powerful impact on motivation, but it’s not subject to a great deal of conscious introspection.

This is all terribly unfortunate for me, and that’s the illogical part.  My genes programmed me to maximize my inclusive fitness, not to maximize my happiness.  I’d almost surely be happier with a partner who is more similar to me, something a gay friend of mine finds hilariously ironic.  But alas, I was never attracted to men, and now I’m not attracted to white women unless they’re way too hot for me.  Though I find neoteny physically attractive, I’m not a big fan of it as a cultural phenomenon, and cultural neoteny is much more prevalent in East Asia than elsewhere.  I don’t know if biological neoteny plays a role in Japan’s Kawaii culture, or East Asian adult’s disproportionate love of Disney and Hello Kitty, but it’s possible there may be some gene/culture coevolution going on here.  I guess I should learn to embrace the cultural cuteness of East Asia.  In China, even the bears are cute.  Maybe that’s why Hong Kong is so safe?

The Korean says that those of us who suffer from yellow fever are just racist, and he says the same thing about Asian women who are predominantly/exclusively attracted to white men.  It’s arguments like his that made me hesitant to post this; I certainly don’t want to be labelled a racist, or worse, a pedophile.  So let me be clear, I’m not into the infantilized China doll look.  I’m not into girls.  I’m into women.  I just prefer certain facial features that are indicators of youth (which is a proxy for fertility).  What it feels like is an infatuation with a particular facial bone structure.

If I could choose who I was attracted to, I might make a different choice, or at least a more inclusive one.  But this is the curse of the 21st century 30-something straight male (it’s just particularly acute for culturally Western men in Asia with yellow fever).  We’re surrounded by media images that make us less happy, if only slightly and subconsciously, with the women we’re with.  I guess we should just grow up, and stay away from the likes of Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, or Zhang Ziyi.

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The one saving grace of yellow fever is that many Asian women who I think are beautiful do seem to like me back, and some of them are culturally and intellectually appealing to me as well.  Since I’m not an Asian woman, I’m not going to try to explain why some Asian women prefer white men, but my fellow blogger here is quite qualified to comment on that phenomenon, since she’s one of the data points in it, just as I am in the yellow fever dataset.  I’ll leave that to her.

It all started on Valentine’s Day in Bahrain…

Valentine’s Day is an overly commercialized holiday like many other Hallmark holidays.  However, like many women, I secretly like it.  I don’t make a big fuss over it; I don’t demand gifts, flowers or expensive dinners, but I am always delighted when a partner does something sweet for me.  I have to admit, I like to be reminded that I am loved.  Today, I still secretly like Valentine’s Day, but since 2011, Valentine’s Day has never been the same.

The aroma of lamb and herbs was intoxicating as G pulled 4 pieces of perfectly seasoned lamb chops out of the oven in our new flat in Bahrain.

It was Valentine’s Day 2011, our second one together.  The first year we we were in Dubai and he had organized a treasure hunt.  He had written little notes and rolled them up around single stems of roses and I had to look for roses throughout the flat in order to find the clues that will lead to my gift.  I was happy to find  a homemade, heart-shaped blueberry pie at this end of this game.  This year, he made a lovely dinner.  As he was carefully placing the lamb chops next to the steamed vegetables that he had prepared earlier, he looked pleased with himself.  I dimmed the lights and took a flame to the  the  multi-coloured, multi-faceted Turkish mosaic candle holders.  There were four of them, each with its own unique patterns and colours.  When they were all lit, the light illuminated the dinner table in a warm, welcoming glow.  As G put the food down on the table, it looked as palatable as something from a fancy French restaurant.

We had been in Bahrain for about four months.  We spent the first month in a sterile serviced apartment, and  the following three trying to get settled.  When G found us a suitable two-bedroom flat in Adilya, a trendy neighbourhood in Manama, we moved in, and slowly started to carve a home out of the space.  We felt like we were just about getting our bearings on this Valentine’s Day.  We opened a bottle of red wine, and toasted to our new life in Bahrain.  I cut into the lamb chop and put a succulent piece of meat into my mouth.

“Wow.  This is amazing.” I said with my mouth half full, while my hands were busy cutting another piece of meat.

A loud vibration and buzzing brazenly interrupted our romantic dinner.  I reached for my phone to prevent it from sliding off the dinner table.  “Sorry.”  I grabbed it and glanced at the glowing screen.

“I got a text from the boss. ” I was working as a librarian at a university at the time.  I tapped on my phone and read the message out loud.  “‘Happy Valentine’s Day.  Make sure you stay inside tonight and be safe.  They are protesting out there.'”

I had barely finished reading the text message before I was gripped by excitement. “A protest?” I exclaimed, my eyes blazing.  In my mind, I was thinking about all the wonderful “protests”, or rather, “community gatherings” from my former life in Vancouver, British Columbia.  These were events that brought forth an issue, but mostly, they were excuses for people to gather in a public space, such as in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery, to become extremely intoxicated while they commiserated about the unfairness/inequality of  [insert first world problem here].   These were almost borderline community events, usually not family friendly, and the police and their German Shepherds usually had a presence.  They hung around their parked cruisers on the side of the road, watching the crowd and looking a little bored.  “I think we should totally go out after dinner to check out the protest!”

After we ate our dinner and put away our dishes, we walked out into the cool night in Adilya, hand in hand.  We walked on the main road littered with shawarma stands and carpet shops.  People were going about their business.   A car with Saudi plates hooted its horn in front of the convenience shop.   A  South Asian man came running out to assist the fat, entitled Arab sitting in his massive SUV with tinted windows.  Nothing seemed to be amiss.  I didn’t know where the protest was taking place.  “Maybe we should walk by the palace to see if there’s anything going on there.  If they were going to protest, they would be going to the King’s house, right?”

We walked by the palace, and everything was quiet.  “Nothing to see here.”  Disappointed, we walked home.

The following day, I went to work, and told my boss that I went out but saw nothing.  She said that I would have had to go to another part of town.  The day was uneventful.  There was very little talk about the protest, until a couple of weeks later, when I started to hear that the police were shooting at the protesters using bird pellets and ‘rubber bullets’.  Then people started to die from their wounds.   A month later, there was a security lock down, the Saudis came with their tanks crossing the causeway, and there were helicopters looming over our heads day and night.  The whole city was shut down for about two weeks.  G and I went to the grocery store the day everybody was sent home.  The place was mayhem, people were panicking and buying everything in sight.  The shelves were emptying as we walked the aisles.  There was uncertainty and fear in the air.  People were acting as if a disaster was about to strike, frantically stocking up on water, canned food and other food supplies.  G and I managed to snatch the last package of chicken, some other food items and a couple of large bottles of water.   We basically camped out inside our flat for a few days without taking a step out of the building.   Two weeks later, I returned to work.   The students weren’t allowed to return to campus for several weeks after.  When they finally returned, there was a witch hunt.  They were looking for students who were politically active, who were at the protest, those who blogged, those who dared to speak up.  One day the security forces came and hauled a dozen students away.  Many students were arrested, many more were suspended or expelled from the university.

Valentine’s Day 2011 was the beginning of all of this nightmare.   It is a Valentine’s Day I will never forget.  Each year on this day, I think of Bahrain, and hope that one day, there will be peace in the country.

Abandoned

“I want to go to the old city centre.” It was the third day of the Chinese New Year.  I was in Taichung with my parents and we had been celebrating the arrival of the wooden horse by eating an obscene amount of food.  We’d also been spending time with grandma, and the extended family from my mother’s clan.  They are a rowdy bunch and demand constant attention.   Dealing with family for an extended amount of time is always mentally draining, and on top of that, I had not been sleeping well.  The room I was sleeping in was infested with mosquitoes and I slapped myself awake multiple times throughout the night while trying to kill a buzzing insect above my head.  By the third day, I was showing signs of tear and wear, and my dad, being an empathetic human being, asked me what I wanted to do on the third day. “Why do you want to go there?” Mom made a face, “there’s nothing there.  All the shops are closed and nothing to do.” “Exactly, I want to go and take pictures of abandoned buildings.” We parked Dad’s old dark green Benz from the late 90’s next to an abandoned department store. Abandoned department store The building still looked every inch a department store, but it had been neglected,  the light fixtures were falling off and everything was covered in dust.  There was such a contrast between the festive mood elsewhere during the holidays and this forlorn building. Looking into the windows lacking dressings and shoppers, I was thinking perhaps 15 years ago,  all the dressings were screaming in loud red and gold, enticing excited shoppers with their wallets bulging with red pocket money.  Now it was standing there, empty, abandoned, and not serving its function as a place of merry consumerism. Both my parents are from well established families in Taichung.  In the 60’s, Taiwan was not open for trading with other nations.  However, in Taichung City, there were lots of shops that specialized in imported goods from Japan and America, brought in to Taiwan by the American military.  Back then,  Taichung was a prosperous city, teething with energy.  In addition to import shops, there were an array of restaurants. “Look.” Dad pointed at an empty store front. “I used to eat dumpling there when I was younger.   When we first moved to Taiwan, you kicked and screamed and refused to go inside because you thought the place was dirty.  You were standing outside while we ate, and your aunt had to convince you to come inside.” He laughed as he retold the story. I was 6 when I moved to Taiwan.  Even as a small child, I remember the busy streets of the city centre.  However, as I walked around with my parents on the third day of new years more  in the year 2014, the streets were deserted and many of the buildings were abandoned.  We walked by the Second Market, which was a very famous market in Taichung.  Even today, there were many signs for shops, but I imagine most were no longer there.  One of the signs brought back waves of memories.  It was a sign for a shoe shop that was called “Cinderella”, and the sign was written in Chinese characters.  It was still placed prominently at one of the entrances of the market.  I am not sure if the shoe store was still there, but I remember distinctively looking up and seeing that sign as a child when I was forced to go to the market with mom.  I could see my childish self, a 6 or 7 year old girl, dressed in delicate floral Japanese dress, pouting, and following behind her mother meekly with her head down.  I was cringing and  watching the dirty red tiled floor carefully, trying not to step on puddles.  Every so often, her mother would yell, “hurry up!” in Japanese. The former glory of the city  had dissipated.  On any given street, 6 out of 10 buildings have been abandoned, and the others were struggling to not crumble. street scene “Ha, this is the movie theater I used to go to.” Mom stopped in front of a fading cinema with old movie posters still inside the display. “Grandpa knew the owner of this place so I used to go there, whose house was right behind the theater.  After my friend and I have a snack we used walk through  the backdoor and go directly into the cinema.” “Free movies?  Very nice.” Snapping a picture, I noted the movie poster of the last film they were showing.  It was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.   This means that the cinema had been abandoned since 2001.  12 years ago. “Yes, free movies.” in a nostalgic tone, she said, “this cinema specialized in foreign films too.” 20140204-183840.jpg “Maybe we could walk by Grandpa’s old clinic?” Dad suggested after we passed the cinema. “Yeah sure.” Grandpa's clinic Grandpa was a prominent obstetrician who delivered many baby boomers in Taichung.  After he died, the clinic was boarded up.  However, Grandpa’s name still lives on a plaque on green tiled wall.  Chang Obstetrics Hospital.  Head Doctor, Chang Yao Dong Medical Doctor graduate of Tokyo University.   A place where many people’s lives had started, was now abandoned, like so many other places in the city. In the car on the way home, I was reflective.  “Dad, why was the city abandoned?” “Well, you know the city centre is very old, and as the city grew, it became very crowded.” Dad explained as he steered the car.  “There was lots of land outside of the city, so they started to develop it in the recent years, especially near the big Eslite bookshop that you like.” “Back then, those were all rice paddies.” Mom chimed in, “People who owned property way out in the middle of nowhere are now rich.” “But why didn’t they just renovate it?  Fix it up?” “People in Taiwan want to live in high rises with modern facilities like elevators and underground parking lots and not have to park their cars out on the street.  They want to shop in grocery stores and not in the wet market.”  He sounded a little melancholy as he drove us back to my grandmother’s house, which was located at the edges of the old city centre. On the way home, we drove by a large, burnt out building.  It was despondent, tattered, and yet it still occupied a space, silently protesting;   traces of its former glory echoing in its hollowness.    I like to imagine what the building was like in its heyday, when it was serving its purpose.  Was it a night club?  A multi-purpose building with many restaurants and shops?  I also like to imagine what happened before it was burnt down and abandoned.  Was it a careless accident? 20140204-183820.jpg “Well, I like the old city centre.” I said, seeing myself as a little person pouting in the dirty market, my mother wearing her school uniform watching a foreign film, and my dad as a teenager eating dumplings at the same place where his daughter refused to go in 20 years later.  The ghost of our former selves will always live on in this abandoned city, and even though either my parents nor I live in Taichung anymore, every time we visit, the past will always come out to say hello.

Zombie Week

In HK, the Chinese New Year holiday is over, but in the Mainland it continues for at least the rest of the week. This means that my nice quiet island is still overrun with Mainland Zombies, even though its residents have returned to work. The main pedestrian arteries are clogged with peripherally challenged, personal spatially unaware MZs whose interaction with the world is mediated through the lenses and screens of their smartphones, unless of course one hand is occupied running into feet with a trolley while the other is busy poking faces with a rain-or-shine umbrella, necessitating pocketing of the phone/camera and frequent abrupt stops to take it out. The way they move really is classically zombiesque: a la the kind that spontaneously form a slow-moving herd, each member with eyes averted, facing every direction except the direction the MZ is tottering in (not to be mistaken for the fast, purposive kind Will Smith or Brad Pitt have had to contend with in recent years).

This week, if I’m gonna get to the ferry pier on time and not decapitate any MZs (oddly, this remains illegal in HK, despite widespread public support), I need to leave about 5 minutes earlier than usual. Also, if I’m going to sit anywhere visible from the main road, particularly with a dog, I’m gonna be in a lot of photos. (I saw a white man with a dog apparently makes for an incredible story back in the Mainland, and it requires photographic corroboration.) As I sit and eat my breakfast, periodically projecting my WTF-face onto touch screens, all I really want is some sign of embarrassment for their disturbance and objectification of my daily routine, some expressive evidence of fully-functional mirror neurons, some acknowledgement of our shared humanity. I think I’d have about the same luck with actual zombies.