Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Village Voice - 11.7.2006 - Yellow Fever

I just stumbled onto this article by Vickie Chang from The Village Voice, dating back to late 2006, and, upon further inspection, was left highly impressed. It breaks down in fairly adequate detail (actually, to a highly satisfactory degree, given its mass-media limitations: I suspect that I would only consider a lengthy, if not outright doctoral, dissertation on the topic acceptable) the forms and root causes of Asian sexual and social objectification. The author, presumably a Chinese-American woman, seems to draw motivation and social rationale largely from personal experience, but does not ignore the ubiquitous nature of objectification: she touches, again to a reasonably contenting degree, on the complex interaction of other emasculative and exotificative threads, including those drawn tautly around Asian males and the gay Asian community.

Chang's article - again, presumably - for the reasons of (1) length constraints and (2) lack of personal experience, does have a limited (albeit wide-ranging) scope: she seems to rein in her criticisms to focus on a primarily White Other, not problematizing the behavior of any other ethnicities (self-problematic: I myself nearly wrote 'minorities', rather than 'ethnicities', before rebuking myself for thinking that Whites form the Majority; they do not, in a global sense). Of course, I understand to at least some degree (or assume I do): to discuss White stereotypes of Asians is largely an enterprise of digressing on the well-worn tropes of Imperialism/Colonialism that are well-established (if not outright cliche) in the world of Ethnic Studies, and to do so calls down on the author little scorn.

To discuss Black objectification of Asians (note: I saw recently - I don't recall where - Asians referred to as Yellow in the same way Black and White are used. Is this OK? Is there a memo I missed?) is to navigate entirely different waters, including the hypermasculization-/oversexualization-objectification (albeit largely predicated upon the action of Whites) of the Black male and female. Not to mention Latino/Native American/other ethnic populations whose interactions with Asians are more limited, and less likely to operate on easily-streamlined paths (for this reason, I strangely and broadly accept the limiting of discussion of Asian objectification to White and Black. Is this an oversight on my own part?). I have few qualms, however, about this: it is, given what the piece itself is likely intended to do (to wit: stimulate discussion, rather than serve as proxy for independently conducted discussion and thought), well within the author's perquisites to limit her discussion in such a fashion.

More potentially problematic is that the author overlooks the Asian lesbian community, instead focusing on the gay Asian population. Why is this more problematic? Well, I have two issues: one personal, one academic. By the former, I mean simply that, again, writings on the emasculating objectification of Asian males is unsurprising and fairly commonplace: another well-established theme of ethnic critiques, as widely known as the Sambo/Stepin Fetchit problem amongst Black ethnic commentators. I would have much rather learned more about the (at least relatively) unexplored topic of Asian lesbian fetishization. As for the latter, academic, critique, I feel that focusing on the emasculation of Asian gay males while simultaneously ignoring the (whatever) of Asian lesbians (a thought: should Lesbian and Gay be capitalized? Is there another memo?) may be treading close to expected - in a more sinister manner - and patronizing views.

Specifically, gay Asian men are often stereotyped (and desirable) as emasculated and ladylike "Bottoms", perhaps stemming from (or driving onwards) the popular ladyboy/hermaphroditic/transvestite fetishes of the Southeast Asian sex markets. Gay Asian women, on the other hand, are simply marginalized or often unspoken-of in broad discursive contexts (caveat: by "broad," I simply mean, that which I personally have read). Of course, this may have an innocuous and acceptable root: the author, interested in critiquing and broadening discussion on these topics may have constrained herself to stereotypes easily-accessible to a wide audience.

In any case, these minor qualms aside, I am quite satisfied with the article. Any coverage of Asian issues in mainstream or White-owned/-run publications without a disparaging sly wink or nod by an editor (or, even worse, a non-Asian author) is encouraging, especially in the White- and Hipster-voice skewed Village Voice. Even if it is two years old.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thoughts in an airport

I sit in the Incheon International Airport, a scant 9 weeks after my arrival in 韩国 AKA Ko Rea. It's been a halcyon, whirlwind penultimate week; with an ever-dwindling number of students, final meals to be shared, goodbyes to be said (most poignant: my bidding farewell to the bustling and cheap fried chicken stand near work...), and hella packing what to do up, I remained in constant (or at least, consistent) movement over the past four or five days.

I'm sure I'll later confront more directly my break-down of the summer, and those musings will comprise the cornerstone of another update; but, for the moment, I'm content to sit, satiated by the ever-passing moment. Let me paint a picture for those of you not embroiled, at the moment, in the unique, ubiquitous milieu of the international airport.

To my right: a dark sky gives way to rushing clouds. As piscine white scales slink by, the sun peeks coyly out from behind them, vacillating between hiding herself and teasing us with portents of glad weather.

In Korea, I've found her character to be that of a scintillating ingenue: in the last week, our relationship has been a tempestuous (though yet short of actually abusive) and attractive one. Three days of joyful, walk-about weather (we went running through the park Thursday afternoon; we'll always have that) gave way to a final Friday of fat, loud raindrops drumming in a cavalcade of tiny , frantic impacts against the windows of my building and the drenched Seoul streets outside. But she relented from her tantrum (my boss, at lunch yesterday: "I think Seoul is crying, that you are leaving"), coming out to bid me farewell today; I appreciate it.

Baby blue planes striped with white and emblazoned with the Korea Airlines symbol dot the runway, taxiing lazily into the gate. Below, airline workers bustle about, unhurried but efficient. From their pace and bearing, I imagine their conversation to be laconic, comfortable. Familiar.

I'm at my Gate. A line of passengers ebbs before me; from the demographics represented therein, I assume (is that ever safe?) that it is a midwest-bound flight. Obvious G.I.'s (a safe assumption, judging by the "JAMES" "ARMY" velcro-patch firmly attached to backpack) mingle with what looks like a college students' basketball team - ridiculous, in gym shorts, t-shirt, and tourist-issue rice paddy hat (he will never wear it in the States; it will lie in the corner of his dorm room, wind up as a frat house cast-off story, or in his basement) - and Korean mothers and fathers placating their hyperactive children. A White woman walks by me, bumblebee-yellow neck pillow already affixed: after the sartorial standards of Korea, it is hard to forget (but I will, I shall, forgive) the sight of loose sweatpants, threadbare ragged hems dragging under thin sandals, a loosely-worn hoodie bulging over a t-shirt one or two sizes too large.

The line empties. Two last basketball girls wait for their friend; she ambles out of the bathroom, gathering up her baggage. Her t-shirt (she looks like an M; it is an L; I notice these things now. Good or bad or what?) reads, in starkly white-on-black, off-centred, comedic (think Comic-Sans sans-cliche) typography: POLLY'S KITCHEN
an epitome of expatriated, exported culture(?). (I mean the t-shirt, and not the girl)

One last White woman jogs up, gulping for breath. An Asian man follows her, headphones askew and bouncing.

All is quiet on this front.

Then! Suddenly, out of nowhere, it seems, a rush. More out-of-breath travelers - the dilatory crowd - bolts up: a mother and her son, a tall Black man, and a few others. The procrastinators empty in, and again serenity takes her place in line. The people-mover scrolls by, travelers bound for other gates and destinations (Dubai? Mumbai? The Bay?) scanning past, as the waiting area lies dormant, deserted: floor lined with thin strips of cheap laminated-looking dark wood, cush L-back leather seats, and a sprinkling of early travelers either accustomed to caution or unaccustomed to traveling.

The Korean Job is over; now the Beijing Journey.

Post Scriptum, Visions of Seoul redux: A young girl in the airport passes, carting a small wheeled carry-on. Her shirt: AMERICANPIE AND FITCH. Clever parody or simply plagiarism? You decide.

Post Scriptum, Part Second: [excerpted from gchat]
Me: ...the 30-something woman with a young child sitting next to me is taking like 10 pictures of herself Myspace-style

P: hahahahahhahaa
are you in airport
how long until boarding

Me: like an hour

[a few minutes later]

Me: ....she's still taking photos

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In the news: What the heck??

"As the police gathered the mounds of bikes, they also found cocaine, crack cocaine, about 15 pounds of marijuana and a stolen bronze sculpture of a centaur and a snake in battle." (New York Times, archived online)

I would love to see that sculpture.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In the New York Times

"What Is the Real China?

"Jason G. L. Chu, a second-generation Chinese-American, has spent the last two summers studying Mandarin in Beijing. He currently works in Seoul, South Korea.

"As a second-generation Chinese-American growing up with a dearth of cultural familiarity, my first exposure to Beijing came as one of the perennially rotating crowd of language immersion students. Amidst the framework of our effective — if rigid — curriculum of cultural and linguistic recital, the official China came vividly into view...."

New York Times, August 4, 2008; online archive, pgs. 2-3)