Category Archives: Chinese

From ashy to classy

I have been back in New York for almost a week now, but my mind has been going over the last two months I have spent in China. It is inevitable; between the Olympics, Mitt Romney’s ridiculous campaign platform and the article on China that I have been working on, I have been forced to reflect on my perspective and seek some sort of reconciliation which is at this point elusive.

I have great faith in China’s potential and I am not afraid to say that I am so profoundly proud of the distance it has traveled. Of course, my background is a de facto bias on that front, but at the same time this faith in China’s future in no way detracts from my love for the great US of A.

I complain a lot about Americans, their wanton arrogance, their shameless stupidity and the endless slew of other defects, but ultimately, it is both a privilege and luxury to be American sometimes. There’s a reason why so many before us has come to this country and there are still reasons for the millions who risk much to touch American soil today.

I have written before about the jarring contrast of poverty in other cities around the world. Nowhere is that more evident than Shanghai, where panhandlers languish as untreated and unidentified illnesses leave their limps rotten, swollen or deformed, laid out in front of immaculate office buildings on the mile long stretch of sidewalk that janitors are to mop each morning. They are left ignored as luxury cars pull in and out of the driveways each morning providing dramatic contrast. This is the world in which I contemplated a future.

In my more ideal and romantic moments, I liken my own growth to that of China. From a naive child limited by circumstance, I have become a person who has managed to chart a course in life beyond boundaries that I could not even have previously conceived. I am proud of myself just as I am proud of China’s progress. Do you know how far China has come? Without going so far as the Revolution, let’s just talk about my childhood. The entire Pudong skyline was constructed within a span of a little less than 10 years; it has damn near emerged from the dark ages to the dynamic society it is today. Say what you want about the censorship and uniformity, there are at least organic perspectives in China rather than the recycled drivel that gets shoved down the throat as the cloak of democracy is falling apart at every seam. What’s worse, really? And maybe that’s why I can be so indignant and defiant of these assertions. It has not been an easy climb to endeavor yet so easily dismissed.

This summer, I found myself somewhere between where I started, amongst locals 老百姓 whose struggles are a distant memory, and where I may hope to reach, amongst the successful [mostly] expats I have met whose lifestyles I can’t help but seek. Both are humbling; both push me to go further.

And this is where I am on China: she has come a long way but there is still so much for her to achieve. I hope that she can overcome the setbacks and reach a height that has yet to be conceived. Thus, it is not surprising that there can be so many conflicting takes on China. China itself is grappling with its still present past and its future.

Ode to America

This morning, I felt, for the very first time, a sentimental pang of longing for US of A. If my naturalization was only ceremonial, then this moment of spirited fierte had truly ushered in a new era of citizenship (OR, perhaps, the moment only proved that as an outsider, only having been far removed from the daily systematic prejudices, disenfranchisement, and other such defects and impurities, am I able to identify with and value other American virtues, such as respect for traffic rules, for ex. But, that’s an aside. Another aside, today, my coworker, in one of those very very real, truth in jest moments, said to me, ah, but your case is quite dramatic, because you are nothing. You are not Chinese and you are not American.)

Anyway, so my point was that I felt so American that I took a detour from my morning Americano run from Costa for a Starbucks Iced Coffee. That is major, because I do protest and detest Starbucks in New York, but I was weak and hoped for half and half. Alas, I was to be disappointed on all counts.

And then, tonight, after trekking across 20 blocks in heels (that is nearly 20 street crossings with no guarantees from traffic lights), I came home to this: “That legislation, the Team USA Made in America Act of 2012, was duly introduced into the Senate and referred to committee on July 16.”

This actually happened? like, real senators sat around contemplating Olympic uniforms? Has the US become so utopian in the 2 months I’ve been gone that uniforms are now pressing matters?

On the one hand, it is moving to see the expediency of a political system when it is so moved and so compassionate about a cause. On the other hand, this is what they chose to dedicate that efficiency to?

I am not sure which is more terrifying: the gun toting Americans or the ever growing idiocy, each new layer of which never ceases to surprise with new  delights. This is just as petty as Obama exploiting the American sentiment of resentment against China by harping on Romney’s off shore investments as if it embodies an enemy of the state. Not because the opacity of Romney’s actual position (flip flopper that he is) on anything should not draw ire and that he should not have to answer for his hypocrisies (on so many issues), but to use that fact as a platform is to perpetuate ignorance. It’s wrong. Especially from Obama? Why play into that game, bro?

Source

On doit exiger que je cherche la vérité, mais non que je la trouve.

“Daisey’s fiction was predicated on the notion that China is essentially unknowable, that reporters never go to factory gates, that highways exit to nowhere.” – Evan Osnos

And that is the state of America’s xenophobia. It goes beyond a mea culpa that cripples any interactions with China. The most dangerous aspect of ignorance is the strength of the conviction. It’s a conviction that drove Daisey to contrive a story to corroborate his assumptions. The most disheartening aspect of the story is that so many of us fell for it. It’s like the moment in French class when I realized that Diderot’s Bougainville doesn’t tell us about any “real” exoticisms of the island people, but that it does tell everything about the distorted prejudices of the very French narrator.

I can’t help but draw a parallel between the Daisey story and Steven of “Seeking Asian Female” (or, Single Asian Females’ worst nightmare). Stereotypes do not waver in the face of actual interactions; however unsubstantiated those stereotypes end up being – it could always be written off as an exception. As if reality can always make concessions to fit a picture painted in broad strokes.

It is particularly disheartening, because this kind of noise and theatrics will almost always drown out sincere attempts at dialogue and truth seeking. The sources for that are out there, but Americans love propaganda more than any socialist do. You’d better believe that shit.

CHICKENHEAD

My reaction to the whole Pete Hoekstra fiasco was more aligned with China than with Asians in America. Simply put, it was like, how low can Americans get? They’re too stupid to even properly insult us. This thing is so ridiculous that the only one insulted should be America for allowing this ludicrous production to be on television and for being a place where the “brain” behind this atrocity could deem himself to be a competent candidate.

This is not to say the Chinese government doesn’t have prejudiced assholes, but I think the fact that officials here get elected rather than through party machinery reflects a truly devastating reality – that the political system has so completely dumbed down the agenda that their campaigns can be deduced to drivel that speaks to 5 year olds. And Americans are, as far as is empirically apparent, ok with it.

To say nothing about that.

So, no, actually, Pete Hoekstra has proven himself completely inadequate in trying to humiliate through this so-called caricature. However, I am more than a little indignant and embarrassed that he even found an Asian American willing to even make this commercial. I thought, shit, she must be dumb.

And, today, ladies and gentlemen, it was confirmed that in fact, she IS dumb and she thinks we are all dumb enough to play along with her:

“From what I understand, she feels terrible (and fearful of the fallout) over her participation in this ad. [She] has partnered with a community organization to release a statement with her version of the story.”

Oh, if only everything could be resolved with a press release.

On the flip side of the pillow

Which is predictably, and perhaps fortunately, cooler, there is this:

China to cancel majors that yield less than lucrative careers.

There seems to be a perennial conflict between training productive human beings that may contribute to society in a meaningful (meaning, of course, being measured by cash money) way and training well rounded INDIVIDUALS which takes a holistic view of the multiple facets that comprise a persona.

Why must they be mutually exclusive? There is no continuum, apparently. Or, it’s broken.

Incidentally, these two events seem to reflect the disconnect between the societal values of China and the United States.

love language


An aspect of 2046 that’s always confounded and fascinated me is how Tony Leung spoke Cantonese while Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi spoke Mandarin. Or really just scenes where two parties in a conversation are speaking to each other in essentially different languages. I have always always wondered why or what the point of it is, because I’m sure it’s not just that that’s what the actors’ native dialects are (I am almost certain Tony Leung can manage the few lines of Mandarin his role would’ve required, however feeble the attempt might have been).

I never looked this up, of course, because, actually it never occurred to me that I could do that until just now when I thought about writing this post.

So, but, anyway, yesterday was a friend’s birthday and a guy from our section posted on her wall in Hebrew (birthday girl is Chinese, I assume he said something like happy birthday), and she replied thank you in Chinese. This made me think of this schema of communication which sounds so disjointed. Then it occurs to me that this may not even come up for a non-Chinese speaker, though, the dialects truly are so distinct that I think it should be fairly apparent to anyone watching Wong Kar Wai (assuming you’re not just a fetishist).

But so what if it’s not an issue for anyone else? What if people could really communicate like that? There is no language barriers, everyone just understands every nuance of every other language.

Although, the neutralizing effect of removing language barriers would probably also just remove these nuances. There would also be no native language, which I can’t even imagine. Man, is that how monolingual Americans feel? Native language and only language; ride or die.

So then, why 2046?

Empress CIXI Couture F/W 2011

Well, this is a reinterpretation of Chinese fashun I ain’t neva seen ‘fo. It is not quite literal, but the mix and matched prints are straight from the archives (a real modest archive due to a little tiff called the Cultural Revolution where China basically desecrated its history, culture and any other remnants of goodness it had left) of the Forbidden City. Alternately, it is reinterpretation of costumes from a TVB series about Emperor Qian long and his many many biddieful concubines, mistresses and baby mommas. I love Chinese history and I’m spreading its true salacious character one post at a time. Can Wong Kar Wai direct a 2046 style science fiction period film and use these dresses?

Note: they’re not all straight from the Qing dynasty, but anyone who’s ever watched a Chinese period drama would feel a slight tingle at these images. I sure did.

It’s actually Mary Katrantzou.

Audemars Piguet, with the alligator strap

This little gem dropped in my inbox this morning via some heritage zealot (no i’m just kidding, you are heritage).

It’s not that I take issues with the idea of hipster white girls running all over Williamsburg, Brooklyn wearing Chinese heritage, either. And it’s not that I’m upset that some European or American (I’m sure) decide to reinstated these watches in a foreign market for 10x what it was worth (before the marketing). But equivocating it as heritage just does not sit well with me.

As much as I am averse to American heritage “revival”, it’s mostly for 1. the pseudoness, 2. exploitation and unoriginality, 3. lack of aesthetics in so-called “designs”. But this is cultural. These watches were first launched and produced in 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, a period that my family only remember with bitterness and smug distance. I just don’t see how it could be “heritage” when Chinese people aren’t trying to claim ownership. Furthermore, and maybe I’m overanalyzing the issue here, it almost glorifies this ascetic proletariat lifestyle which is especially heinous when you’re charging SUCH a margin on it. I’m sure the quality is better now than it was 40 years ago when Mao was all anti-capitalist glitz, which makes the crystal backed jawn freaking absurd. I mean, I get that it’s a revival, but whose heritage are you declaring when you say “heritage”? My mother certainly does not look back upon her gear as a teenager with any sort of longing fondness. It was a product of Communist uniformity and an imposition of power, not culture, you feel me? Secondly, and this point is unfortunate, but, Chinese people don’t look at items made on home turf with the same pride as Americans or Europeans whose HERITAGE created luxury do. Like, Chinese people have as much disdain for “Made in China” as any American, and it’s due to China’s status as a manufacturing exporting country. If you think exported goods are poorly made, the factories sell the products, that didn’t make the cut for overseas markets, to the Chinese (at a lower price, sure). And would it only be heritage on a Chinese person? Because, I reassure you, given $325, there is scant chance a Chinese person would buy this watch.

Applying the word heritage to an unknown country/culture whose heritage you clearly know nothing about is just like the faux-relating that get “wannabe” white boys who drop n-bombs beat up. Ya know? You understand my parallel?

Or, at the very least, this is bizarre.

Louis Vuitton

If Marc Jacobs really had the gall and “rebellious” spirit as he once claimed, he would design a collection inspired by the cultural revolution and show it in China. That would be rife with material for vapid fodder on fashion blogs. Luxury proletariat yall, it’s the new old thang.

I just wasted a good chunk of time scouring for IHT Heritage Lux (pretty good) conference tweets and articles rather than reading up on the 4th Amendment and its relevant case laws. Here is a good one (also, Nowness is the greatest). My favorite blogger, Stylebubble, also provides a more informal and personal overview.

Anyway, it occurs to me that this could be a potentially interesting area in the future, for me anyway. I am obsessed with how fashion and luxury companies choose to approach this market of up and coming consumers. This is not to say I have better answers but I can be critical. Though it does occur to me that the demands of a Chinese consumer are exclusive of what brands should aim to do in general, which is to say that the heritage is merely a foundation from which you can more easily launch innovations (because you already have authenticity, credibility, and all that in place). The issue with some luxury houses could be encapsulated with how they approach handbag designs for example. Some brands rely too heavily on a trademark/name where it should be giving you liberty to exploit creative license. You start with a canvas of monogram perhaps to be reimagined, it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to end in a generic form that does nothing but to serve as a vehicle for the trademark. In that scenario, I just think that the focus on it is entirely skewed. It’s presumptuous to think all brands can be revived simply by name. As much as the name can’t be divorced from the product, the name is not the product. Burberry is a good example of this, but maybe I’ve just a bit of crush on Angela Ahrendts. Perfect balance between business acumen and reconnaissance of design and creativity.