When the “shlubby arrested adolescent” does not get the girl

schlubby

In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s senseless rampage in Southern California on May 23, 2014 there have been many debates that made me thoughtful.   One of the most poignant issues that was raised is an age old debate between feminists and (for the lack of a better word) ‘traditionalists’. In her article, In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen, Ann Hornaday argues “movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire.” She used movies such as Neighbors as an example of the type of film that promotes unrealistic expectations that young men may have in regards to women and courtship. Judd Apatow, the director of Neighbors, and Seth Rogen, who stars in the film, both reacted to her article negatively. They believed that Hornaday was accusing them of inspiring this hideous, misogynistic crime when in fact she was making a comment about how media has a powerful influence to shape what people desire. I made a similar point in my unicorn chasing post. In my post, I argued that women are conditioned by the media to seek out the perfect man who will complete them, even though some of us know that we are merely chasing a mystical creature that does not exist. This tragic incident reminded me that men are also subjected to unrealistic expectations created by the media. Many bromance films, a genre Rogen and Apatow are affiliated with, paint a picture that college life should be filled with sex, fun and pleasure and that the “shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl”. Like romantic comedies, bromance films perpetuate traditional gender roles and set unrealistic expectations in love, romance and sex. Though Rogen and Apatow are not responsible for what had happened, they are a part of the racket that makes a profit by selling these fantasies. The problem is that the media is selling us these fantasies, and many of us do not have the awareness to refrain from buying into them.

Elliot Rodger represents a segment of society that has been fed with unrealistic expectations but not equipped to deal with the changing circumstances of society. Feminism has pushed for women’s role to change, but the fundamental structure of society has remained more or less intact.   Women are no longer expected to be mere housewives and mothers- we can now have a career of our own. Some might argue that we are expected to juggle motherhood and career.   Though women’s perception of themselves has changed and as girls are prepped for their changing role, men are subconsciously resistant to change because as boys, they are taught to hang on to their traditional gender role.

“Men want the sense of power more than they want the sense of freedom.  They want the feeling that comes to them as providers for women more than they want the feeling that comes to them as free men.  They want someone dependent on them more than they want a comrade.” Susan Faludi, Feminism for them? 

This quote captures the essence of how many men subconsciously view themselves.  Men as providers is the traditional gender role and it manifest itself in our popular media such as magazines, films and TV shows.  Men of course know the rhetoric of feminism, and understand how to behave in an appropriate and respectful manner in public.  However, many men derive power from being in the dominant position as provider to a woman and whether they are conscious of not, many of them still hold on to their traditional role, and act accordingly without realizing it.  There is a tension between the changes brought forth by feminism and how many men perceive themselves.  This is especially evident in the context of dating:  As a woman, I am supposed to be submissive and at the same time, engaging;  be naughty but also play hard to get. I am also supposed to  ignore my own desires because I should allow a man to dominate me.  This tension is confusing because it seems like society picks and chooses the benefits feminism brought forth in a way that benefits men.  Men are only providers when it’s convenient for them.  In the past, when I asked for emotional support from a boyfriend, I was labelled as ‘needy’ and ’emotional’.  Feminism started a public dialogue  about sex and remove the taboo associated with it (especially in urban, educated, westernized areas).   In addition, feminism pushed to make birth control and abortion available to us, which has also reduced the chances of unwanted pregnancies.   While this makes it easier for men to have sex with women, when a woman can have sex without the fear of pregnancy she isn’t beholden to a man in the same way.  This threatens men’s dominant position as a provider for women, which could make many men uncomfortable.  As a result, many women who embrace their sexuality are either reduced to mere sex objects or are slut- shamed.

Going back to Elliot Rodger, I can’t help but to think that his unspeakable crime reflects how sick our society is.  There are a lot of reasons our society is dysfunctional, and I believe one of the main culprit for our sickness is our popular media.   Elliot Rodger had a delusional view of himself and women, and our media and culture play a large part of how his views were shaped.  He decided that he needed to kill women because he perceived himself as having no power over them, and was therefore made to feel inadequate as a man.  The media portrayal of gender roles is incredibly damaging to the collective psyche and we need to have a conversation about how these portrayals are undoing the hard work of many feminists who are fighting for gender equality.  Feminism has paved the way for women to be more visible in the public sphere, to free us from the confinement of our kitchen, to enable us to engage with the world in a more meaningful way outside of our homes. However, there is still a long way to go.  As a feminist, I am not merely concerned the well-being and the rights of women, I am also very concerned about marginalized, alienated individuals such as Elliot Rodger.   How do we, not just as feminists, but also as responsible citizens of the world, teach both men and women to be more critical of our wants and needs, rather than to be lazy and succumb to the poison the media feeds us?  Feminists have given women a choice; should men also have the right to choose to deviate from their traditional gender role?  I believe that until men can view their role differently, women’s role will never change completely, there will always be confusion, conflict and inequality between the genders.  The Elliot Rodger incident is tragic, and yet this also brought important issues back into the public eye.   How do we, as informed and critical individuals, make our popular media more accountable and responsible as participants in the larger conversation about gender?  How do feminists help men embrace alternative identities for themselves?  Wes actually started the conversation in Thanks a Gay Day post.  However, I think he forgot to thank feminists, who fought along the LGBT movement to bring equality between gender and sexual orientations.

 

Advertisements

M’goi

There are people outside of Hong Kong who think that Hong Kong is a part of China like it is actually a part of China.  For instance, I have a friend who posted a picture of the awe-inspiring skyline of Hong Kong Island, and above it the status read: “I am in China!”  I also have friends asking me on Messenger, “How’s life in China?” Sure, geo-politically, Hong Kong is indeed part of China.  Culturally, however, many Hong Kongers proudly identify themselves as non-Chinese.  Ever since the takeover, the Hong Kongers have been desperately trying to maintain their identity by fighting to keep Cantonese in the public arena.  Many Hong Kongers are resentful of the Mainland Chinese speaking Mandarin and trying to impose on them.  In previous posts, Wes and I had discussions about how Big Beijing try to assimilate an area by reducing the local language to a mere dialect.  Today, I experienced a Hong Konger’s passive aggressive attempt to maintain his cultural and linguistic identify in a rather perverse, but in some ways, charming, manner.

It was pouring rain after Thomas and I had lunch at this crazy spicy noodle place in Sham Shui Po. Since I didn’t have an umbrella, I decided to buy one at the Circle K at the end of the block.  I walked into the little cramped store, and there was a young man working at the counter.

In Mandarin, I asked, “Do you sell umbrellas?” I learned very quickly when I first started to work in Sham Shui Po that people’s English ability is limited in this neighbourhood.  In fact, many looked relieved when I switched from English to Mandrain.   As a result, I automatically speak Mandrain when I conduct my daily business during the work hours.

The young man working at the counter looked to be in his early 20’s.  He  looked at me as I was speaking to him, and he nodded his head ever so lightly.

“How much is it?”

He mumbled something in Cantonese under his breath.  I shook my head and gave him a quizzical look.  He looked up and without looking at me, repeated what he had said previously in an annoyed, louder tone, as if my presence was bothering him.  I’ve had this experience with other Hong Kongers; they seem to believe that by speaking louder, this imperial language speaking fool would instantly understand what was said.

At that moment, Thomas came up closer to me.  He is a tall, good looking white guy.

“How much is it?”  I said, in English this time.

The clerk noted Thomas’ presence.  “The big one is $49 and the small one is $42.” He spoke back to me in English, his tone audibly calmer and more pleasant.

“May I see them?”

He turned around and bent down to reach the cupboard  to fetch the umbrellas.  He then put them down on the counter for me to inspect.

“I will take this one.” I said as I pointed to the small umbrella.

As I was groping around my bag for my wallet, the clerk carefully cut off the tag on the umbrella for me.  Then I gave him some money and he gave me the change.

“Thanks” I said as I picked up the umbrella from the counter, and walked out the store with Thomas behind me.

I opened my brand new Circle K umbrella as I stepped out into the rain.

“Did that just happen?” Thomas asked.

I laughed.  “Yup, it sure did.”

My lazy unwillingness to learn Cantonese had made me appear to be a Mainlander speaking the imperialistic language imposing on the local population.   Next time, I better greet the store clerk with, “M’goi.” Then I can speak whichever language I want without coming across as an imperialistic fool.

Press Freedom or Tourist-free Trains?

In Taiwan since March 18th, 2014, student protesters have been occupying the main hall in the Legislative Yuan in Taipei.   They are protesting against the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), which is a part of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).   The CCSTA is a reciprocal trade agreement between China and Taiwan, which opens various Taiwanese sectors of the service industry to China.   This is an extremely controversial pact as it is seen as a threat to Taiwan’s political and economic autonomy.   President Ma, along with the Kuomintang (KMT) are seen as evil doers selling Taiwan to China.   The student protesters who are backed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), are demanding the KMT to not implement the agreement until it was considered in the legislature and reviewed clause-by-clause in public hearings, with consultations with academics, NGOs, and the representatives of the sectors that stood to be affected by the pact. Hong Kongers have been showing their support for Taiwan in various forms:

support

It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that Hong Kongers are supporting the Taiwanese people, but there is an element of ridiculousness and triviality to their complaints.  For instance, a Hong Kong based blogger, badcanto, who writes for Dictionary of Politically Incorrect Hong Kong Cantonese, posted an item about Hong Kong tourists in Taiwan.  Hong Kongers are encouraging Taiwanese people to be strong, and not to become a ‘Second Hong Kong”, which I totally agree with, but I do find this statement amusing: ” In Hong Kong, I’ve to wait for four trains before getting on one.  However, in Taiwan, even during rush hour, I can still breathe.  I feel very grateful.”  Basically, what this tourist is implying is that if the Taiwanese don’t hold their ground and fight this trading pact, the country is going to be overrun by Mainland Chinese, which seems like the only thing this individual was concerned about.  He didn’t mention any other consequences other than crowded public transportation… like, what about the the loss of freedom of speech and free press?    In Hong Kong, three journalists have been attacked in the recent weeks.  On February 26, a notable journalist Kevin Lau, former editor-in-chief for Ming Pao, was stabbed as he was getting out of his car.   On March 20th, two more journalists were attacked in Tsim Sha Tsui.  These attacks have been regarded as a threat to free press in Hong Kong, which I believe should be a far more concerning issue for the Taiwanese people to think about than the prospect of too many tourists from a particular country. While it seems that the majority of the people in Hong Kong may support the student protesters in Taiwan, the view of mainstream media is a little vague (perhaps a sign of shrinking press freedom and its subsequent self-censorship).  The South China Morning Post has an article today titled, “‘This isn’t the democracy we want’: Some Chinese dismayed by Taiwan students’ occupation of legislature”.   While the author agrees that most Hong Kongers support the Taiwanese people, she had chosen some provoking images to represent the student protesters.  In one picture, the students are seen drinking beer, and in another, two gay men kissing. Instead of openly being critical of the movement, the author had chosen a passive-aggressive tactic to discredit the whole event.    Why don’t you just tell us what you really think, SCMP?

What is troubling is how Hong Kongers aid the media in trivializing the student protests in Taiwan, whether they intend to or not.  While Hong Kongers are supportive of the Taiwanese, and urging them not to end up losing control over their country as they had, the Hong Kongers show their support by focusing on petty issues, such as having the public transport system overrun by Mainland Chinese tourists.   Hong Kongers are not articulating their issue and their demands to each other and in the media.  There have been emotionally charged protests taking place that are targeting Mainland Chinese tourists and shouting at them in public places to go back to China.   These anti-Mainland sentiments are ineffective in enabling Hong Kong to be more autonomous, and they end up making Hong Kongers look ethnocentric, which hardly generates as much international sympathy as would protests about press freedom.  The rhetoric of bigotry is harmful because the purpose and the demands of the political activity can be easily discredited.   I hope Taiwanese people take a cue from what’s been happening in Hong Kong and employ a different tactic.  They should articulate their demands as they have been doing, hold their ground, and do not let emotions and bigotry get in the way of the issue at hand, because if they do the press controlled and influenced by Beijing will be ready to pounce.  Go Taiwan!

Look, a unicorn!

Wes invited me to explain why some Asian women prefer white men.   Unlike him, I am unable to rationalize my preferences.  I like what I like, and that’s that.  I am not dismissing that biology plays a factor in making me behave the way I do while choosing a mate, but I am not going to pretend to understand the chemical reactions in my body, or analyze  my preferences based on that.  However, I can take a crack at explaining my behaviour and preferences not from a biological point of view, but from a cultural one.

In his post, Wes pointed that though attractive neotenous East Asian women can satisfy his  limbic system, being with them does not always translate to his happiness.  His yellow fever places him at a great disadvantage because what his wants physically is not always well-matched for what he craves culturally, intellectually or emotionally.  He seems to imply that I have a counterpart affliction, since I have a history of dating exclusively Caucasian males.  However, I would argue that my affliction is less biological and more cultural, and like Wes’s yellow fever, satisfies one part of me while leaving another part greatly dissatisfied.

Wes stated that neoteny is what physically motivates him, but my argument is that I am motivated by more than just my biology- my behaviour is also very much affected by cultural norms and the way the media defines love.  I do have physical preferences when it comes to men, but I think the scope is wider- I do not let height, hair colour or other physical characteristics become the primary deciding factor when choosing a mate.  What I mostly look for (and I do this subconsciously), is the starry-eyed, sweep-me-off-the-feet kind of magic.   I am a unicorn hunter.

It seems ludicrous that as an educated and liberated woman, I would buy into the media portrayal of love.  Hollywood romantic comedies among other types of formulaic media poison show young people that when we  find the one person who truly loves us, our flaws will be understood and we will be redeemed.  I stopped consuming these barf-inducing films and TV shows at a relatively young age because rationally, I knew what they want us to believe in is not real.   However, the propaganda had already been deeply ingrained in my psyche; I was already, and still am, conditioned to want the magic, to find a man who will understand and redeem me.  The media is selling a fantasy, that true love will always prevail and cure all that ails us.  The reality is, a partnership is so much more practical than we are led to believe.  Romantic comedies are never about people choosing mates from a pool of people, and choosing the one we think is the best based on what is available.  They don’t make a movie about a woman evaluating potential mates based on practical factors such education and income, because these are relevant  when assessing someone’s ability to provide a certain kind of lifestyle we aspire to, whether that’s raising a family or living the double-income-no-kids lifestyle .  In fact, assessing a potential mate’s financial ability is considered superficial, and is frowned upon in romantic comedies.   According to the movies, we are supposed to wait for Cupid to strike to tell us when to fall in love with the right guy at the right moment.   The point is, the reality of choosing a mate is not magical or romantic, and it will not sell box office tickets or diamond rings.   I am fully aware of this, and though I am an independent and capable woman, I am not above it; I still succumb to the fantasy.  I am chasing after an idea, a mystical creature.  I do this even though it makes me greatly unhappy.  Even though I know that unicorns are not real, and don’t make me happy at the end of the day, I keep hoping that maybe this time things will be different.  Maybe this time, it will last.

Are we biologically and culturally programmed to do things that leave us dissatisfied?  I like to think that as humans, we have more autonomy, and we can control our own happiness.  Biology and culture influence our wants, but at the end of the day, it is up to us how we choose to be happy.

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.

The Golden Standard of Beauty

“You got fatter lately!” My facial technician, a sweet woman in her late 20’s, said with a warm smile on her face.

“Oh you know, the holiday season is always hard. I haven’t stopped eating since December.” Averting her eyes, I replied under my breath. Doesn’t she realize that she is pointing out the obvious?

I am in Taiwan for Chinese New Years spending time with my family. Unlike when I am in Hong Kong, when here, I am treated like a local and subjected to the cultural customs. Compared to Hong Kongers, Taiwanese people are warmer. For instance, the servers in Taipei are always friendly and helpful with recommendations. In Hong Kong servers ignore you, then scowl and throw the food with a huff. There are similarities between the two cultures of course- Taiwanese people are just as nosy, and perhaps as unfiltered as Hong Kongers. The only difference is, I don’t understand Cantonese so even if they are calling me fat, it doesn’t matter. Here in Taiwan, these comments, as well intended as they are, assault my western brain.

After my facial, my mom and I went to the hair salon (yeah yeah I am being pampered, I know). Mom was sitting next to me, both of us in salon chairs, the hair washer behind my mother and my stylist behind me. I posed a question “why do people in Taiwan comment on each other’s weight as a form of greeting?”

“Oh I think they are just gossiping.” My hairstylist said as she trimmed my hair. “They don’t have anything to think about so they scrutinize your body.”

“Don’t they think about the other’s feelings? Aren’t afraid to hurt the person’s feelings?”

“Well they don’t think so much maybe. They aren’t always malicious, they don’t mean badly.” Mom quipped.

“It sure does to my ears. It is none of their business what my body looks like. I don’t go and say they look older or uglier since I saw them last.”

“I don’t know why people do this. My client told me last week ‘hmm it looks like you have not exercised in while.'”
My stylist said.

“Haha, at least he was being polite.” My mom laughed.

I looked at my stylist, a beautiful, young and skinny Taiwanese woman, and I can’t help but to wonder what is wrong with people.

The golden standard to beauty is thinness. And there is a whole society of people that enforce this standard. I know Wes has something to say about this topic too so I will let him pick up the thread from here while I go stuff my face with fatty food in time for Chinese New Years celebration.