- Considerations of "Modern life"
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- New York City
- The law
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.
“There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race [cannot]….” – Justice Harlan, 1896, in his famous Plessy v. Ferguson dissent, in which he rejects racial segregation in the Jim Crow south.
I attended this thing hosted by MOCA and AAWW almost three weeks ago, where I basically sat through 20 minutes of Wesley Yang’s very public very pathetic self-flagellation under the pretext of marginalization in America of Asianness, seething with the kind of anger only possible when you’re dealing with, on the one hand, secondary shame on someone else’s behalf, and on the other, a kind of derivative embarrassment caused by another due to the unfortunate association that he’s prescribed by way of his own inferiority complex and existential crisis.
In short, fuck Wesley Yang for being the unfortunate representative that we’ve been assigned, against our will. It is a shame that burns so deep that, after 3 weeks, having remembered not much else about the panel, I managed to encapsulate my rage in the long-winded, poorly constructed run on sentence above.
This is all to say, memory is vague and I can only now recap it in a very general way that doesn’t come anywhere close to the intense recap session post-panel, at Great NY Noodletown.
I grew up in China, and all I knew about America was from movies and sitcoms (Growing Pains dubbed with Chinese represented, as far as I was concerned, a life I was to lead once I cross over that ocean and go to America.). 美国人(American) meant white people with different color eyes and hair than my brown and black. I had the idea that I was going to a place that would vaguely resemble (in reality) a Scandinavian country. When I moved here in 5th grade, I started at an elementary school with all black, Latino, and Asian kids. The Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood startled me (as did the fact that squirrels and pigeons just roamed the streets; as my mother would say, in China, these animals would all be dead, and their existence represents the goodness and humanity of America). I didn’t see any white people until much later. I also didn’t realize the spectrum of ethnicity that exist in the US until I got here.
When we talk about race or racial identity in the US, non-black “minority” groups are a secondary mention or a non-issue, much like how my conception of the US did not include non-whites. Mainstream rhetoric just doesn’t make room for it, so discussions happen in the fringes. I understand the need to fit our narrative in accepted rhetoric like this, and that “are Asians black” is kind of a provocative thought that might make people go hmm, but ultimately, that hmm is followed by confusion. The answer is emphatically, no. However our stories might have converged (both groups have faced discrimination, there have some exchanges between cultural groups), references to those rare occurrences, even in sum, do not amount to a common story. True, we’re both subjects of a racial hierarchy constructed by a white society, but drawing a comparison based on that sad nugget of commonality reduces both groups to nothing more than victims.
I had a lot more to say, especially about the many, many fallacies of Wesley Yang’s pathetic little monologue constructed based on arbitrary statistics that can be construed many different ways, as statistics often can be made to do, but I don’t have the energy to revisit his spiel.
This is not to say that I did not enjoy the program. I appreciate that we’re trying to have a dialogue, especially not just amongst ourselves as Asians but in a wider demographic, but I just think the focus could have been different and, maybe more narrow. Because a survey panel of such varied perspectives need at least like, a day, to be comprehensive.
So I’m not sure what I was expecting when I queued up for the J. Crew sample sale today – what the hell was I doing at a J. Crew sample sale period? [need for sweaters, lured by the promise of cashmere for cheap] But let me tell you, the scene was wholly unsavory. Racks of nubbing cashmere sweaters. Inventory so picked over that I thought I was digging through Salvation Army. No hyperbole. Shoes tied with rubber bands. Even with discounts being only modest, shoppers were walking away with garbage bags worth of said items. Two things that are evident at a sample sale: you can get away with a lot if you slap a “sample sale” at the end; merchandising is money.
All of a sudden bargain shopping is the new thing. But it’s not as smart as people like to make it seem since there is an inevitable sample sale google effect. I am not exempt from the occasional shopper’s fervor caused by a blind zeal for particular brands. Oh, a pair of Herchicovitch pants two sizes too large that looks more awkward than hot, a clunky and utterly unremarkable bag purchase on account of it being Chloe and a bunch of utterly regrettable purchases come to mind. But my god, I love laughing at women snatching up nubby sweaters when you can get better and newer versions for the same price.
I’ve finally settled back into the routine, though I chose to abstain from shenanigans this weekend, which came as a surprise to even myself. During my last week in China, I had a major emo moment with Janelle [via bbm thankgod] re: my experiment with running away from humanity [ok, don’t take it literally, I’m not making a subversive comment on Chinese and Korean people and their exclusion from humanity.]. Yet after a handful of the requisite “I’ve missed you so and tell me all about your trips” mini reunions, I am looking for a break again. So I took the night off to write and watch “Up in the Air” for the 3rd time in as many months [yes, really]. The movie touches me in so many places; I don’t even know where to start.
I’ve been feeling uneasy all week, for a number of reasons, not all of which can be divulged here. But the mixture of jetlag and lingering cold is doing nothing for my insomniac tendencies. Tossing and turning until the wee hours of the morning makes me more neurotic than usual.
The thing is, I’m not sure what I need right now. I guess it’s just a weird time in life? I just paid my deposit for a seat at L-School, which means this blog may soon turn into a giant snoozefest. I had all these grand epiphanies when I was away – a combination of being on my own a lot and having too much time to think and being in a new place always makes me all introspective about where I am and shit [figuratively and literally]. Whenever I visit a city, I get all curious about history on a much more significant way than I would ever think about New York. I don’t ever think about the fact that I am in New York, like how I think about my place in this other city
So, maybe a brief recap?
I’m a champ at frontin’. Between me and my circle of bitchin’ friends, you’d think females have gotten past that pathetic thing called feelings, attachment, and hurtin’ [wanna check into the heartbreak hotel, sorry we’re closed]. Posing is an art, damn. Sometimes even I’m shocked when one of my friends starts a minor breakdown [except for JY, obvs, because let’s be serious, that act only fools fluffy haired music nerds who dangle their legs over the L train platform at Bedford Ave.]. Obviously, we also totally judge those girls who are constant MESSES over their emotional melodrama.
Is there a medium to this? Since I think both extremes are kinda taboo. How does one strike a balance between exploding with emotions left and right and burying all skeletons beneath a pristine cover of charm and wit?
I remember maybe four years ago, this dude that I was dating told me that he didn’t think I’d be phased by anything. Of course, at the time, I was all like, you damn skippy, son. You ain’t shit, now rub my belly. And then of course I was phased when we stopped talkin’ and whatnot. Actually, I was major upset; admitting this years later is the maturation of Jaezeezy.
Earlier this month, I took a short jaunt to NOLA. I’d never been and didn’t know much about it except for Mardi Gras, which is still a vague reconnaissance. Fortunately for me, we stayed in the French Quarters where every night sees a circus-like ambiance of drunken debauchery. I’ve had my share of debauchery in life but something about Bourbon Street nightlife is almost pathetic. It’s like misplaced and feigned enthusiam, but that would be my projection since I can not at all imagine such deliberate lack of self-regard/awareness. It is the 20 year college reunion of every college third tier fraternity/sorority wherein they do the same thing they did as 19 year olds.
Otherwise, the most unsavory aspect of traveling to tourist driven areas would be how often tourism can make caricatures out of a place, which is natural when there is a high concentration of kitsch “embodiment” of a city’s specialty or whatever. If your initial contact (and it is often the case) is with that setting, well, it’s hard to see the charm behind such syndication. I find it a little insulting that people choose to just proliferate and peddle a formula without standard rather than try to find new ways to appeal to visitors and draw them in.
Not that it’s completely without its redeeming qualities, many areas of the city are beautiful.
It goes without saying that visiting the site of Katrina is moving in the way that seeing the aftermath of any tragedy can be. I think this is especially true after having witnessed 9/11. My reaction to any tragedy – all human tragedy after all – has become much more visceral.
Last observation: I’m not sure if it’s because I live in New York and am just accustomed to seeing the kind of poverty that New Yorkers show or have just accepted them as a part of New York’s social fabric or the city is organized in a way that it’s never that outstanding or if New York’s obsession with image extends to every socio-economic class. But every other city, the state of the impoverished is always very jarring. This is true for NOLA, many cities in Europe, Shanghai and Beijing. On the plus side, this manifestation made the tour guide’s pride in NOLA’s low unemployment rate and resilience sound especially optimistic.
I love me some Nicki Minaj, but there is absolutely nothing like building up to be let down.
So, there I was, sitting in Civ Pro and on my phone like the studious Asian that I am, when suddenly, a blinking red light alerted me to a new facebook message from a guy I hadn’t heard from since I was in diapers (high school). Subject: Bestbuy tickets. Ugh, great, more spam. Only to discover, he was transfering some tickets that turned out to be less valuable than he made them out to be. Either way, I was grateful, because my Thursday night had promises of seeing The Roots and the black Dolly Parton (please, next reinvention can’t come soon enough, Nicki). Juxtaposition for the win.
So there I am, after a week of stringent legal academia, in an old purple Prada bustier and a hot pink skirt rolled up to a hem that’s somewhere between indecency and age-appropriate, which is to say, almost slutty if I weren’t such a classy bitch by default, when out walks Nicki Minaj with her frankenstein hair and my gym clothes.
What the fuck.
She had $5 for costume and the best she could do with it was body glitter.
I kid you not, this broad performed in a cropped black hoodie and sweatpants that are only appropriate for a Sunday at home with rollers in her hair. Girl, what kind of blatanat disrespect are you projecting to fans who are supposed to look to you for inspiration and as a role model?
Also, Black Thought is puffy as a mofucka and The Roots played “You got me” which got me more putty than silly. I’m still a G though, respect.
On Sunday, I was breakfasting at Pain au Quotidien and reading the Times (poseurrrrs). In the Style section, some girl wrote in saying her friend and she both bought jeggings and wore them to work, her friend wasn’t reprimanded and she was. In response, I said something like, yeah well they both should’ve been fired but her friend was also probably thin and she was probably fat therefore looked obscene in jeggings. I said fat really loudly and the girls at the next table were fat and eating a basket of bread and…remained silent for the rest of the meal. I don’t know I thought it was really funny.