Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Learning from Wikipedia

Wikipedia is a great and splendid thing. Today I was looking up "Tagalog" since I recently came across this video of Cebuano prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and I wanted to know more about this language that's been so heavily influenced by other languages.

As usual, I couldn't help myself from clicking on link after link, and I learned some interesting stuff along the way.

1. The Philippines is home to the largest Eurasian population, with over 2.5 million of us. The United States trails in at a distance second with around 700,00, and, to my surprise, nay, shock, China is ranked third with over 660,000. That means China has more Eurasians than Japan as well as Thailand and Singapore. I find this highly suspect, although I assume Hong Kong is included in China's figure, and, perhaps more significantly, they're including the numbers of part-European minority ethnicities of China. Incidentally, the Philippines is also home to the world's second-largest population of Americans (behind only the U.S. itself). Sudden fascination with the Philippines; I'm not sure why.
2. Furthermore, an American sitcom that ran in the late '60s to early '70s by the name of "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" featured a half-Korean, half-white protagonist. The character was played by a Eurasian actress by the name of Nancy Hsueh, but after a year was written out of the script because the portrayal of the character's relationship with a white man spelled an interracial relationship on television, which was apparently too controversial and, in fact, offended some people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

I was in a cab on the way home, thinking how I really ought to just break down and buy a bike, when I started thinking about why it is in Chengdu I've only ever been driven by one female cabbie whereas in Suzhou and Shanghai they were commonplace. Is it something about that Shanghai/Jiangsu culture of "soft men" that allows women to more easily enter traditionally male-dominated professions? Or is it simply more demand for more jobs that sends everybody--men and women--scrambling for more work?

On the other hand, female bus drivers are commonplace in both Chengdu and Suzhou--in fact, I feel like there might even be more female bus drivers than male. In Los Angeles, this might also have been true, but I never encountered a female cabbie there or elsewhere in the States, though, granted, I rarely encountered cabs, period.

It would be interesting to know what the comparison is like in other cities--thinking back, of all the cabs I remember taking in cities like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing, Wuhan, Hong Kong ... all the cabbies were men, but I took very few cabs in each of those cities.

Another Former Angeleno Weighs in on L.A.'s Car Crunch

Seeing some good stuff from some of the e-mail lists I'm on lately. This one sounds like a good plan. The Wilshire Rapid Bus line is one of the most used, so why not expand capacity?

No cars on Wilshire

An above-ground rail line to the ocean, along with bike lanes and a few buses, would ease L.A. traffic immeasurably.

Michael Balter
July 22, 2007

Forget the "subway to the sea." It is a dramatic and radical idea to relieve traffic congestion on the Westside, but extending the Wilshire Boulevard Purple Line from its current terminus at Western Avenue to Santa Monica probably won't happen.

An even more dramatic and radical idea -- and one that wouldn't cost $5 billion and take at least 10 years to complete -- would be to turn Wilshire Boulevard into a car-free, rapid-transit, bicycle-friendly transportation artery. How?

First, ban all automobiles from the entire 15-mile length of the boulevard. Second, beginning at its Western Avenue station, bring the Metro Rail to street level and run it to and from the sea on two sets of rails in the center of Wilshire, which has four or more lanes down its entire length and is thus wide enough to accommodate the route. Third, create bus lanes running east and west for riders who want to make more frequent stops, leaving express service to the Metro Rail. Fourth, install protected bicycle lanes in each direction at the edges of the boulevard and provide inexpensive, self-service rent-a-bike stations every 300 yards (as in Paris) so riders can pick up a bike anywhere on Wilshire and drop it off where they like.

There are some practical problems. Overpasses or underpasses might have to be built at key intersections to channel cross traffic. Side-street access to some parking structures would have to be created. And the possible mini-congestion caused by cars forced to turn around on smaller streets that dead-end at Wilshire would have to be handled. Still, compared with the estimated cost of building a subway -- more than $300 million a mile -- solving these problems would be inexpensive. And because a lot of the Metro Rail infrastructure already exists, the price tag of bringing it above ground and extending it to the sea would be at the low end of the $30 million to $70 million a mile currently estimated for street-level light rail.

The remaking of Wilshire Boulevard should not take place in a vacuum. The Exposition Line from downtown to Santa Monica must be built, Olympic and Pico boulevards should be turned into one-way streets, and every major street should be fitted with bike lanes.

In "Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals," social critic Paul Goodman proposed banning all private cars from Manhattan, a proposal far more ambitious than keeping them off one thoroughfare in Los Angeles. He even suggested that a candidate for mayor run on such a platform. "The candidate would lose on the first try," Goodman wrote, "because he would be considered radical and irresponsibly adventurous; but he would win the second time around, when people had had the chance to think the matter through and see that it made sense."

Freeing Wilshire Boulevard of cars makes perfect sense.

Michael Balter, a former Angeleno, is a Paris-based journalist.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Linked Article for the Day

Are Immigrants and Refugees People of Color?

Color Lines by Rinku Sen

"I spend a lot of time with immigrants and refugees from the global south who are not only unfamiliar with the term, “people of color,” but quite hostile to it. Last summer, while I was training immigrant and refugee advocates on racial justice principles, a Somali woman and a Vietnamese man told me that they didn’t relate to the label, and indeed, didn’t think their struggles had anything to do with race. They were Somali and Vietnamese, and they were immigrants. They were disinclined to spend much time figuring out the racial dimensions of anti-immigrant rhetoric or how to make common cause with U.S.-born people of color, especially Blacks and Latinos. I gave the group a little lecture about how identities change through a combination of what happens to you (the external) and how you react to those events (the internal). It can be hard to accept, but a new context demands a new identity–being Indian became far more important to my family here than it was in India, where language, region, religion and caste mattered more. The American context demands an understanding of the country’s racial history and hierarchy. Luckily, the human spirit is flexible enough to hold existing identities while adding elements that help us adapt."

"Oh yeah, sorry"

Last night I went out of my apartment for the first time all week save for food runs and plain old runs. I started at the 麻糖/Hemp House, where there was a hip-hop DJ show, which turned out to be pretty dry. However, I did run into one of the owners of beloved French bar 巴黎咖啡/Cafe Panam(e), who asked if I wanted to check out a bar that was opening that night with him.

The grand opening of 巴黎魔术/Paris Magic Bar had been minimally hyped and sounded from the descriptions like some sort of hokey weird gimmicky thing (alcohol + magic shows = ???), so I had skipped the show. We arrived there around 1 a.m., when most people had already left. When I started having some serious trouble understanding the French-accented slurring that was coming out of my friend's mouth, I realized he was pretty drunk; then, when a few what-appeared-to-be Northerners swaggered in, they greeted him (I guess as the owner of a bar, you're pretty high-profile), and he came back to me and said, "Hey, Chinese people talking to me in perfect English--American or Canadian, I do not distinguish accents--more fluent than mine!"

I looked at him and said, "Maybe they're not Chinese."

He looked at me and said, "Oh yeah. Sorry."

A few beers later, upon my raised-glass-toasting gesture, he says, "Hey, you're becoming Chinese."

"Dude, I am Chinese," I said.

He looked at me again. "Oh yeah. Sorry." Pause. "I'm Polish!"

At any rate, the bar was actually a cozy little spot, and it's right smack in the middle of what can only be described as a dance-club emporium featuring the ever-popular BABI II as well as Sugar and TaTa, which attract clubgoers into the whee hours of the morning, so I could see it becoming a nice chilling spot for those who are too tired to keep shaking their booties. Unfortunately, the bar owner/magician is no spring chicken, and by 4 a.m. on his first night in business he was already passing out on the couches. I hope he pays his employees well.

Food for Thought

From a New Mexico Rail Advocacy group, http://www.nmrails. org/chew. html

Thirteen advantages to rail travel:
1 A modern small automobile with two passengers generates almost 25
times the air pollution, per passenger mile, as a four car commuter
train at 35% capacity.
2 Two sets of commuter rail tracks will handle the passenger traffic
of at least six lanes of highway.
3 The tracks for a commuter train already exist here; those for a
light rail system can be laid within existing infrastructure,
preserving open space and minimizing land and business condemnation.
4 A new light-rail line costs about a third of a new highway or loop
road, and recent developments in track-laying technology can shave
60% to 70% off that cost.
5 Trains are faster, quieter, and smoother than buses. In addition,
they avoid traffic jams and most accident scenes.
6 Modern commuter and light-rail trains are built to run forward or
backward, eliminating the need for huge turnaround loops.
7 Rail deaths and injuries are almost nothing compared to those in
8 Rail cars and locomotives have been known to last up to 100 years
with decent maintenance.
9 Railroad tracks are cheaper and easier to maintain than roads and
10 There is no rubber tire disposal problem with trains (a much
bigger issue than many people realize).
11 Most skeptical commuters who try trains are converted within a
trip or two.
12 Commuter and light rail lines have triggered a boom, revitalizing
rundown neighborhoods and buildings in areas where they have been
located. Land values in older communities are rising, a dent is being
made in suburban sprawl and even some long-abandoned hazardous waste
sites are slated for clean-up, having become more attractive to
housing, retail, and office developers.
13 Railroad transit is a big part of the "intermodal" -- or many
modes of transportation- -thinking that has become more popular
nationally and worldwide every year--not to mention mandated by
federal law since 1991.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Another Good One

Home-Front Ecology
What our grandparents can teach us about saving the world

By Mike Davis

How the (World War II) effort forced conservation on Americans, who even in the 1940s, were well on their way to becoming the consumer-based society we know of today. Community gardens on the White House lawn, hitchhiking free-for-alls, and bikes and even horse-drawn buggies were all promoted as good for the "effort."

Friday, July 20, 2007

China Increases Car Production by 30 Percent, Surpasses Germany

China is now the world's third-largest automobile producer:

"China’s rise represents the most dramatic change in the world auto industry, with production there more than quintupling in the last decade. Sales within China surpassed the 3 million mark in 2005, with nearly 9 million passenger cars on the country’s roads. While this is still a comparatively small fleet, it is likely to grow rapidly in coming years, and China is expected to become a major exporter within the next four years."

See full article here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good Reading

Since I'm supposed to be editing for our next issue, and I've spent approximately 7.6 hours reading other stuff online instead, I figure I might as well share some of the fruits of the time I misappropriated.

  1. A Taste of Racism in the Chinese Food Scare. SFGate.com's Jeff Yang dissects Stateside reactions to ongoing bickering in the food-import biz. We could all just try the 100-mile diet, but then who would we be afraid of? (The intersection of food and ethnic classification has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and I've been doing some writing on it for both LOUDmouth and a submission to a travel anthology.)
  2. For my Los Angeles-based friends, carless (are there any of you?) and otherwise, two pieces advocating non-car modes of transportation in downtown L.A. and beyond: Extending the Red Line Will Be Good for Los Angeles (of course it will--at least better than everybody buying yet another SUV) and Downtown Should Bring Back the Streetcar.
  3. And finally, to add to my rant on Wei Hui and Annie Wang (I'd link it but no thanks to the GFW, I have no clue what the URL is), here's another annoyed person. Bai Ling Eradicates 100 Years of Feminist Struggle With "Shanghai Baby" (and manages to show a damn lot of marble-like, and I don't mean the stone, nipples while doing so).
  4. And while I'm at it, Wikipedia's glorious accessible-from-the-Mainland period appears to be coming to an end. Well, I guess we'll just have to go here. (Explanation in English here.)

Well. That makes this post the clear winner in the most links-to-words-ratio contest. Yesssss. Blog cool factor up 10 points.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I just outfitted my browser with the "Gladder" add-on. It is the sweetest thing. For those of you using Firefox in China, I highly recommend it. It's the "Great Firewall Ladder" and its purpose is to automatically redirect you via proxy sites when you're trying to browse any blocked site. No more "Page Cannot Be Found" messages for me!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Boxes

As a foreigner living in China, one of the first questions you hear from people you've just met--Chinese and other foreigners--tends to be "Where are you from?"

And this isn't that secret-code-where-are-you-from question that many Asian Americans, mixed Americans (and probably plenty of other non-white folks in predominantly white countries, too) hear that really means "What are you?" or "What's your ethnic makeup?" The asker here is usually genuinely asking where you, yourself, is from.

And for some reason I have trouble answering that question. I always have. When I went off to East L.A. for college, I had trouble answering that question with "Malibu" for fear of the judgment. My standard answer eventually became "I grew up in the Valley but went to high school on the Westside." Not that the vagueness really hid much, or that saying one is from "the Valley" is really much less embarrassing than saying one is from "Malibu" when you're going to a school many of the students affectionately (or not-so, as the case may be) refer to as "Ghetto State." If it came out that the asker was actually inquiring into my ethnic background, I didn't have so much of a problem answering that.

Now, when people ask me, I'm able to simply say, "The States" or "L.A." without having to further specify, save for relatively rare occasions when I run into people who have lived or been to L.A. before. But now I'm finding it hard to answer that question for another reason. Most of the foreigners here, I sense, view me as simply another white foreigner. On the other hand, my dark hair and eyes seems to give many Chinese people the sense that I am not American. Lately, I've taken to answering the question with another question: "What do you think?" or simply, "Guess."

Rarely do people guess 美国人 (American). Oftentimes I hear French or German for whatever reason--but I've also heard things like Middle Eastern, Korean, Arabian--and sometimes people have even asked, "Are you Chinese or foreign?" or have said that I "look Chinese." But that's rare. The confusion, it seems, can sometimes be boiled down to a prevailing notion that Americans all have blond hair.

Once they're done guessing, I usually tell them I'm American ... and then quickly follow it up with "... but my mother's Chinese. I'm mixed." It's become automatic, this need to inform. Surely it's acceptance-seeking in this land where my ability to speak the language is still severely limited. My vaguely quasi-Asian appearances are the only thing I have to go on. Still, this seems to be a satisfying answer to many people, explaining both my "foreign" appearance and my dark features. The other week the guy at the bun shop down the street was like, "Yeah! I knew it!" when I said that. I didn't realize that the revelation of my ethnicity would make somebody so happy.

Other foreigners, on the other hand, when they find out I am half-Chinese tend to respond with disbelief. "You really don't look like it," I've been told. "Your parents are Chinese?" somebody asked me the other day, after I told him that I was ABC, "too." (He had brought up the term first, when we were talking about another ABC here, who, this person claimed, "didn't count as a foreigner.") His response suggested I didn't know what "ABC" meant.

Which puts me in the position of racial spy, meaning I'm privy to plenty of -ist remarks from white foreigners about Chinese people.

This is in sharp contrast, actually, to those encounters I had in college, when I was regularly asked "what I was" because to many of my schoolmates (the white population was under 10 percent), though I seemed ethnically ambiguous, I didn't look white, apparently.

At any rate, this semi-rant was inspired by an interview I just ran across with one of the candidates on America's Next Top Model, or whatever it's called. I only ever saw episodes from the first season of that show, but I do still have a soft spot for U.S. pop culture and read up on it from time to time (I did also recently buy and proceed to obsessively watch all three seasons of Project Runway). Apparently there was a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian model named April Wilkner on the second season of ANTM, and that was who the interview was with.

In it, she says, "Well, first, I just want to say that I’m very proud of my Japanese heritage, and I had no issue with being seen as half Japanese. My problem was that a lot of people were trying to put me in this box of being 100% Asian, and neglect the other half of who I am, and that’s what I kind of didn’t like. They were trying to put me in this box, and I just wanted to be myself, and that means all sides of me. I guess maybe they had a problem with me wanting to be myself, rather than just to fit into that little category they wanted to create for me, which was ‘The Asian Girl.' I am Asian, half-Asian."

I'm feeling I'm in a reverse situation. Nobody's ever called me Asian, meaning that just as April feels identifying as 'The Asian Girl' denies aspects of her identity, identifying myself as simply "American" (which here seems to equate with "Caucasian") seems to deny the Chineseness.

I've always felt it sort of odd to just throw that out, though (I'm from L.A.--but I'm half-Chinese ?) as if it's not relevant to the actual question, and/or it shouldn't be relevant to anything and/or it's a thinly disguised attempt at grabbing some ethnic cred, but ...

Traditionally, if you ask in Chinese about somebody's hometown, they'll often answer with their father's. This is a point I'm not extremely clear on, but I read about it somewhere, and it seemed to explain why on more than one occasion I've asked somebody where their hometown is they'll tell me a city; I'll later mention it, and they'll say, no, I never lived there, or something equally confusing. So maybe I'm not that far off by bringing up my mother's hometown.

二零零八 / 2008

While "èr líng líng bā" in China is essentially synonymous with "Beijing Olympics," I think it must have fairly different connotations in the States, where there'll be a new president for the first time in eight years--to the relief of not just a few folks both in and outside the U.S. (In the three years I've been outside the States and socializing with Chinese and other foreigners, mostly from Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, I can't say I've met a single non-American who's had something nice to say about Bush. Then again, I can't even recall meeting many Americans who had nice things to say about Bush, either, but I guess I have a stilted vantage point.)

Whoever it is, at least I'll no longer be on the receiving end of comments about Bush, or "Xiao Bu Shi" as he's known in Chinese, which if pronounced with the wrong tones, could mean "Little Not."

But with this realization came the realization that I don't really know anything about any of the candidates. Incidentally, I still haven't decided whether or not I'll vote.

In fact, I've only heard about Clinton and Obama, and I can't say I know much about them beyond the superficialities of their identities. Incidentally, I can't name even one Republican candidate.

It's much easier to avoid the barrage of reporting on all this business when you're not in the thick of it. And much easier to shrug off the alleged responsibility or civic duty to vote, and be an informed voter at that. But I don't know that simply because I'm living outside the States that it matters less. There is, of course, the possibility I'll return within the next four years. On top of that, whoever represents the U.S. as its president, unfortunately, is perceived by the international audience as speaking for us all.

So out of a sense of curiosity and some obligation, I took this Presidential Candidate Selector quiz to see who it thought I should vote for. Here are my results:

1. Theoretical Ideal Candidate (100%)
2. Dennis Kucinich (75%) Information link
3. Barack Obama (73%) Information link
4. Alan Augustson (69%) Information link
5. Hillary Clinton (68%) Information link
6. Joseph Biden (68%) Information link
7. Wesley Clark (64%) Information link
8. John Edwards (62%) Information link
9. Christopher Dodd (61%) Information link
10. Al Gore (58%) Information link
11. Michael Bloomberg (57%) Information link
12. Bill Richardson (55%) Information link
13. Kent McManigal (50%) Information link
14. Mike Gravel (49%) Information link
15. Ron Paul (45%) Information link
16. Elaine Brown (43%) Information link
17. Rudolph Giuliani (35%) Information link
18. Mike Huckabee (30%) Information link
19. Mitt Romney (30%) Information link
20. Chuck Hagel (30%) Information link
21. John McCain (28%) Information link
22. Sam Brownback (23%) Information link
23. Newt Gingrich (19%) Information link
24. Tom Tancredo (16%) Information link
25. Jim Gilmore (15%) Information link
26. Tommy Thompson (15%) Information link
27. Duncan Hunter (13%) Information link
28. Fred Thompson (11%) Information link

That doesn't look all that promising. I guess it's about time to read up on these guys (and gals).

Thursday, July 5, 2007

on thinness, or what somebody else wants me to be

biTCH no. 8961

There’s 黑哇 standing by his van. I wave out cheerily as I pass by. I just finished my last day of class, and I’m on my way home.

he shouts out. 哦,小真。你长胖了!

I reply, genuinely surprised. I look down and pat my stomach. I’ve been running recently, though it’s true, not nearly as much as I had been last summer. But I didn’t think I was becoming noticeably fatter.


I scoff. The truth is, it’s been years since I’ve eaten KFC or McDonald’s (well, other than a handful of times I ate McDonald’s ice cream).

But I laugh it off and carry on my way, commending myself for my assimilation. It was only just over two years ago, after I’d been here a year, when one of my male acquaintances had said to me (in awkward English over MSN), “Every time I see you, you are getting fatter and fatter,” and I had gone into a rage.

He was preparing to go to the UK to study within a few months, and I told him he’d better read up on the culture of English-speaking people before he went so he wouldn’t make any such social faux pas while he was there.

“But I consider you as my friend,” he said. “That’s why I thought I could say that.”

Not really. I can’t think of any friend I’d want to hear that from, unless—and this is a big unless—I had specifically asked them. I can’t imagine any of my friends in the States offering up that commentary, unsolicited.

I could, however, imagine my mom saying that. Because she has. More than once. (And, in fact, the only time she told me I was “nice and thin” was after I’d been snorting cocaine on a daily basis for a couple of months and eating once every three days.)

Today, the more I thought about how I’ve changed, and how describing people here as “fat” seems more like how I would perceive somebody saying they’re tall or short than it is like saying they’re unhealthy and/or unattractive, the more I became annoyed. Until hadn’t just shrugged it off, and it became a big part of my day.

The difference this time was rather than being angry and annoyed with the weight-evaluator, I was angry and annoyed at myself. For not having gone running as much as I “should” have been. For eating a lot when I’m not even hungry sometimes. For always wanting to eat dessert. And then for being annoyed that I care. And then for having dated those guys—there was more than one! In fact, every one except one or two—who at some point or another expressed their desire, some more directly than others, for me to lose weight. It doesn’t help that I have a penchant for dating skinny skinny boys. Hyrum: “You have a big ass,” he’d said after we’d been together almost a year. Nghi, squeezing my back: “You know, Jen, you’d be really hot if you lost this.” Cui Zhong Ku: “You’re very strong.” Mike: “You should lose weight.” Xiao Fei: “You should play some sports.”

Fuck that! And fuck that feeling that I now have to carry around with me all day. And even when I try to go run, I’m just going to think about it and get pissed off. Because, like, that’s not even the reason I started running, really! The only thing that truly motivates me to run is the thought of my parents in their 50s with already rapidly declining health, and the fear that I’ll become that if I don’t start establishing exercise habits now, in my mid-20s, for the first time in my life.

I have body issues. I have body issues. I have body issues. I am the average American woman. This shit is deep. And lame. And I guess I haven’t progressed in my assimilation, in fact, ‘cause I’m still getting worked up over being called “.

Some larger women are viewed as sexy. They’re called “curvy” or “voluptuous,” and in order to qualify for that category of sexy/desirable, they have massive breasts. I, apparently, have a robust midsection, but no breasts. Such an utter lack of breasts that Chloe likes to grope my chest in admiration and wonder, and asked me if it’s OK if she refers men who complain about her small breasts to me.

“Sure, no problem. I’ll kick ‘em in the nuts,” I say.

I didn’t get a petite “Asian” body. I just got little “Asian” boobs.

My pants just keep getting tighter, and I haven’t been on a date in over a year.

And most of all, it’s fucked up that I have to get so worked up over this that I have to write about it and be tempted to call up my friends to bitch about it, but no, I’m going to hash this out on my own ‘cause what’s anybody gonna say that could make me feel better now anyway? “You’re not fat!” Well that’ll just seem like a big fat, try-to-appease white lie now. “Why does it matter, anyway?” Yeah, I’m glad you with your set of cock’n’balls can so easily be so consciously developed as to think that, but for the rest of us, thanks for the complete absence of any practical help whatsoever.

And what's perhaps most fucked up is that all of this body-image and weight and desirability gets equated with self-worth. That, for me, is the underlying issue here.

On Racialicious there is a posting of this two-part documentary, produced by Asian American students at Columbia University on body image in the Asian American community. Some of the comments are interesting, but, in a word, depressing. All of it.

I am not conforming to any of these standards, and for some reason that's bothering me. Something about being here and not seeing myself as a completely Caucasian person (like there's some sort of exemption made because everyone knows white people are bigger), but being too big to not be.

Time for ice cream! Jesus.