culture

All posts tagged culture

It's been a long week for us, and it continues in fashion. Xstine's dad is in town, and we are obliged to keep him and her newly MBA-minted lil sister occupied with the diverse exotic that is the Cali americana. It was quite a challenge to balance their distaste for American prices with their desire for American products, but such contradictory stances are common in the Asian tourist.

In fact, after a night of supping them with fresh caught Half Moon Bay crab, we went late into the nite trying to explain to Xstine's sister the intricacies of Western sarcasm, which for us is a both a style of humor, and also a social tool to introduce potentially socially inappropriate subjects by being literal and rhetorical at the same time. If that sounds confusing, then you must not be American. See? Admittedly that bit of sarcasm comes across poorly on the internet, but it is almost culturally absent from Asia. Her sister's stories of improprieties towards her by us residents often underlined cultural misunderstanding more than actual insult.

I found it funny that while we still could not convince her that the ABC she was dating wasn't necessarily wrong to respond to her comments about Taiwanese girls trying to hook a citizenship through ABCs here with a sarcastic "well what are your intentions then," she hammered in a day's end irony by stating she didn't like the guy anyways, and dated him just to learn English. The Chinese tend to speak very directly about their feelings, or not at all. Rarely do they use jokes as a way to accomodate dissidents. We experienced that once with a Romanian friend as well, whom we didn't know it was inappropriate to rib poke with more risque ribaldry. Perhaps as an ABC myself, I see nothing wrong with what he said, nor find it rude not to want to divulge details about how much I earn, what my parents do, etc. on a girl I may stereotype as golddigful. Unlike FOBs, I won't introduce what my parents do before introducing myself.

How whimsical is other peoples' etiquette!

We'll be busy with Dungeons & Dragons Online and my new remastered Aeon Flux DVD set until the typhoon passes.

On a crazy whim, we drove out towards Taizhong, but ended up giving up halfway and exploring XinZhu instead. The photos tell all.

When I stayed in XinZhu years ago, I was sequestered in the Jiao Tung university dorm rooms trying to surf Chinese MTV without running into the many barely scrambled softporn channels they came on late at night. I was disappointed that I didn't get to see the real city much. But this time we really scoured it up and down.

We hit up downtown first, which was an explosion of shops, restaurants, and street vendors, and I was on a holy quest for Green Apple Green Tea Conjac Drink. It is the most delicious beverage mankind has ever invented, with the exception of Surge soda. Xstine's mom, by then, was pretty familiar with me, and very chatty. I remember when I first met her, ceremoniously at the opening of an elevator door, her first reaction to me was a shocked "ah yo!" and then a brisk turn and disappearance off-stage. For those who don't know Mandarin, "ah yo!" translates to "oh yo!" with a Scottish accent and a startled face.

But once we were off on our merry trip, and after I had made fun of her for expecting all her daughters' boyfriends to be "tall dark and handsome" in contrast to my "short light and boyish," we were good friends. It is really strange to me, the expectations asians have for their children. On one hand, her mother is keenly aware that "tall dark and handsome" still landed her in a turbulent marriage, on the other hand, she preaches it almost automatically to her daughters. Find a handsome man. Tall. Owns a house. Doctor or lawyer. Tall. Handsome too. You have to wonder how a man so tall, handsome, rich, and perfect is going to show fidelity in marriage, no? She admits to me, true, but like Xstine's dad, what other monologue can you supply her?

What fascinates me is that asians deeply believe in fate. Their word for getting what you deserve is "huo gai," translating literally to "life-meant." In other words, your suffering was meant for all along. When you study in school, your major determines your career. Your career determines your wealth. You wealth determines happiness. Is it any surprise then that asians LOVE gambling? Your ability to win is predetermined. Your ruin is predetermined. There is no personal responsibility! All you need to do is work hard, and Old Man Heaven will reward you with a lot already chosen for your life. Sadly, a life of working hard and penny-pinching often leaves the people unprepared for a change in world paradigms, or an estate tax at the end. Women are housewives, men are wageslaves, neither can reconcile nor empathize.

I talked about this in length before, having noticed it as an immutable aspect of the Japanese culture, this concept of blind sacrifice. If there is a lesson to learn, it is that Americans have this one advantage. We are not the smartest, not the hardest working, not the best behaved. But as long as we idolize individuality and the ability to adapt, we will be what Darwin terms "fittest." It's sobering, but I think important to recognize that strength while we still have it. When Josie Wales is forgotten for the Naruto spirit, we'll be in trouble indeed.

Photo albums for DanShui and YieLiu are up, which are pictures we took when traveling with Xstine's dad. He lives in a very tasteful sky-rise apartment in DanShui, which appeared to me to be an area with a higher income or living standard in certain areas. Outside the clusterfuck of Taipei, I guess there are many places like this.

The meeting with Xstine's parents was an interesting experience. Generally speaking, I've always been very comfortable with other people's parents. I give credit to my parents, who traditionalism meant weekly formalities greeting meeting seeing every who's who's who remotely distantly related to any friends and family. While I never learned the Chinese names for the brother of an uncle of a friend's mother, I did gain an acute understanding of Chinese etiquette and the concept of "filial piety" that the Chinese term "xiaoshuen." The term is more dreaded among Chinese scions than you could imagine.

What I noticed first off the plane was that her dad gave me a more familiar handshake, a lengthy one. Our custom here leans towards a firm and brisk shake, rather than a a long grasp, so I can say that was the only facet of the meeting that threw me off. He was an experienced and worldy business man, however, and after the initial reservation grew very warm when talking about things he was proud of, and things he disliked. I was appreciative that he was so observant of way the Asian civilization had changed, customs had mutated, and while one could hardly expect him (or my parents for that matter) to be happy about Xstine and I living together without declaring marriage intent, he was very aware of it being a superior method for marriage retainment. Last week's Economist showed how the divorce rate decreased as marriages happened later and couple lived longer before making the big step. Social disapproval of this important courtship period has contributed to a society more conservative than the American society, and yet with an similar percentage of divorces.

Other than that, we talked mostly about China, Taiwan, and stocks (of which he was earned an understanding of which most of Taiwan, being mere speculative gamblers, do not have). Like my Uncle William, I've realized that worldy business men have a more balanced view to preach despite what they practice. It is a tremendous step away from the world view of my Grampa's generation, where all white men are to be feared and China will be a rising dragon to dominate the world because of its 10,000 year history, and into a more courageous light that accept there is much to learn from gaijins.

I'd like to reference Kishore Mahbubani's excellent book Can Asian's Think? that offers clarity in the debate to rectify the Eastern and Western perspectives. His argument for the East to accept responsibility for its lagging development vis a vis its Western counterparts, and not blame the West for tangible but exaggerated and irrelevant past transgressions, seems to glimmer brighter and brighter behind each successive generation. He hopes, as I do, that a day when the East embraces, not contrapositions but its idealogical differences, will a synergy between formed, for it and us, for me and them. In short, I can see where Xstine gets her lovable skepticism for anachrononisms anonymous.

Next stop on this photo tour is Taipei. I've commented as many as the photos as I could.

Taipei, the city itself at least, is very modern. Too modern in some ways. But in almost every corner of the city you will find the ubiquitous night-markets, or "yie-shi." These act not only as one of the primary forms of entertainment for people, but a functional place to get cheap goods as well. Many food carts will sell you a dinner's worth of noodles, buns, fried meats, or red-bean dessert for a measly buck or two, and you can get a satay kabob or fish balls for just $0.25. I didn't find the living costs overall to be that much different than the U.S. when adjusted for income, but snacks like these were undoubtably in their own caste of bargaindom.

Before I went, Bob warned me. There are "no hot chicks" he said, and those words gave me drive to prove him wrong. I can say that for Taipei at least, he was dead right. My theory, I later elucidated to him, was that the food there was so toxic, and the student's life preparing for their brutal exams was so stressful, and the air was so corrosive, that every girl there was obliged to wear layers of make-up capable of combatting bio-terrorism. Add to that their penchant for superficially copying the gaudy dress style of their Japanese counterparts, and you had a patentable formula for bad taste, bad fashion, bad looks. I'll post up pics of Xi Men Ding later, but where the college students were, things got a bit better, and I attribute that to college life being a relative cakewalk. Relative to high school I mean. Xstine's still has agonizing nightmares of cramming 12 hours a day for entrance exams.

But what really surprised me were the guys. Donning ambigusexually teased "Jap-rock" mullets and carrying women's coach bags to match the ever-fashionable and ever-present Verizon guy glasses, they were a force powerful enough to reinforce the emasculate male stereotype for asian dudes across the globe. Taizhong, which is a major city in central Taiwan, had much beefier guys with denim and T's, buzzcuts and attitude, and generally looked much better. Taipei, however, was damned.

But enough with criticisms. There will time for more later… hahaha… I've got to say that Taipei changed alot since I last went, eight years ago. The stores brim with service, to the point that I became uncomfortable when forced for sake of sanity to ignore greetings and hello-come-try-our-snacks' every five minutes. Every storekeeper was a veritable rainbow under the constant Formosan rain. And the people themselves, when face-to-face and not driving like assholes, are incredible friendly. Many many times did they eavesdrop on our distress and help point the way to the next attraction our confused expressions graciously accepted. American like to think we are a friendly people. I think we are too busy thinking we are, and altogether not in constant surveillance for silly lost tourists.

Most memorably, I had bowl after bowl of beef noodle soup, a Taiwanese delicacy. I plan to write a who's who book of best beef noodle soup places in Taiwan, and will be the emminent beefnoodologist of greater Pacifica. Even with the sly heat sabotaging every "gloomy" day and wrecking the crust of Axe deodorant I was swathed in, I had no fear plunging into the perils of beefy gluttony. Here, for just $3, was the soul of Taipei, and it was addicting.

Well, this is my last nite in the safe clutches in white america. Tomorrow we fly to Taiwan laden with expensive gifts to court Xstine's parents and talk about the scary M-word. I haven't been back to Taiwan in a long time, and it has always been my impression about Taiwan and Mainland that in some ways I loved it more than the people there did, and that lessened my love for them. I guess that only makes sense in my mind. Truthfully, I've slowly lost much of the infatuation I had with the history, land, language, culture, and traditions there, finding such irrational appreciation unreciprocated by the "real" Chinese. Instead, they love fast food and pop stars today. I hate both.

For the long plane trip there, however, the M-word will be Metroid Prime Hunters, which I picked up yesterday and had a blast with. Until my hand cramped from using the stylus to aim. And until some guy online owned me 7-0. Otherwise, the combat is intense, fast, and the characters are very interesting to use. Best of all, wi-fi runs like a greased pig. The only hiccups are the short solo missions, and the annoying friend-code player matching if you want to play anything besides vanilla deathmatch.

But the real reason I'm looking forward to this trip will be being able to travel around Taiwan with Xstine's expertise. I never got the feeling I saw much of the real Taiwan outside the tourist traps. We even got a new Cybershot T7 to document the trip, so pictures to follow!

P.S.
Name: 1+1>2
FCode: 4080-8945-5244

Picked up Advance Wars DS from Fry's, got re-ddicted enough to this sterling series to let Xstine order a navy DS Lite from LikSang. The compromise involved letting her get a bunch of retarded toys like a pixelated Mario mouse and Naruto keychains. At least now we won't have to fight over the DS when she wants to train her Nintendog. I'm going to buy a chihuahua when we get the money, call it Walker, give him a ten-gallon hat, and instead of "sit" and "liedown" his tricks will be "roundhouse" and "give me AIDS." He'll be able to kick so hard his foot will break the speed of light to travel back in time to kill Toto in the make-up trailer.

We also have been watching Bleach, in an attempt to fill the vacancy Naruto fillers have literally bored into our ghostless shells. One thing that stands out in every anime series we watch, Naruto, Bleach, Berzerk, DBZ, etc. and Japanese video game we play is the omnipresent brainwashing that goes on. There is always a reluctant hero character who world-saving ability is almost exclusively defined as the ability to preservere. In every one of these, the hero merely needs to reach down deeper and harder and things will be ok. His teammates are usually skilled combatants that are surprised by his ability to persist, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for him.

What a contrast to American comics, where teamwork is a rare and precious thing, where individuals struggle to find their roles and the values they are willing to sacrifice. Or in solo comic characters we find that they don't have a supporting cast, and often have to hide or justify their powers.

The more I watch, the more shocking it is to see how much conformity and brute force willpower are stressed as values to uphold. Perhaps U.S. sailors on aircraft carriers felt the same, seeing kamikaze pilots plow into our daunting seaborne fortresses with the Emperor's name on their lips. I guess the opposite of that is the American myth of the lone hero, ever present in our comics, movies, novels. Our caped crusaders and soldiers sacrifice themselves for each other, not for the Cause. Is that a weakness? Time will tell, as we fight more and more wars we know nothing care nothing about.

He's rippin', he's trippin', he's… bomberman? WTF? This is what the little guy turned into after climbing into the lowered cadillac of American machismoism, the graffiti'd wasteland of the Xbox 360 Live?

Still, I miss the blank stare of the original, a gaze that hid a lust for ultraviolence into a cute, pop-iconic package of ultimate destruction. I'll still own any fool in this game, steroids or not.

Domo arigato, ya fucked up roboto.

Nerd par excellence Sirlin, the man who can never stop telling us about the life lessons he learned form being a pro Street Fighter 2 player, and the creator of a site about game design, always gets on my nerves. But usually, he's got a seed of truth sequestered in his geekspeak, and this rant about WoW is, for the most part, summary of why we quit.

Let's not talk about the lowest depths of hell each soul logs in to delight in on the PvP servers, the torture and abject disregard for life and decency of the weaker player. Honor system… what a fuckin' euphemism for wholesale slaughter. Let's talk about why it exists. It exists because Blizzard has set an example for arbitrary rules. This is ok, this is not, that is not, that is ok. Sirlin is exactly right in that their abuse of their own ToS has left a culture that respects no boundaries, except those profitted from and still under the radar.

In a sense, this form of control has yielded Blizzard a co-conspiring consumer, complacently paying away and assuming fault when their flawful system offers yet another exploit. Xstine and I dealt with this since beta, and we learned that there is no which way about it. It's completely at Blizzard's behest.

Which brings me to this picture. And ones like it.

Having lately read Dogs and Demons, I felt that, despite the book's failings, it is essentially correct. The Japanese society too is held in a thrall of social control so cleverly surreptitious that it permeates every level of the ladder. When asked at a job interview what he would do to improve the company, one applicant responded immediately by saying "Goodday" and being polite to all.

Like World of Warcraft, arbitrary rules have become culture. The Tea Ceremony, once a simple and spontaneously hallowed ceremony, was turned into a veritable manufacturing process post-WWII. And taking the way it is today as "tradition," no one is able to deviate from a cultural paint-by-numbers given to the people by the state. Same goes for flower arrangement, today an ugly cyborg completely devoid of the awe of nature it once had.

And just like WoW, there is a need for an outlet. When I looked around Gadgetzan, I saw Nanking. In Japan, where everyday every hour every moment you are stapling your life and hopes to your work or your study, tossing away personal achievement in their world of kamikaze sacrifice, your identity warps. In WoW you see unbridled violence, often the dishonorable repeat killing of the same person by the same hunting party to the point where the person logs out, resolving to do the same when he is empowered one day. I was shocked at the things I did in-game, having considered myself a chivalrous gamer. In Japan, violence and perversion is enacted in hentai, love motels, the streets of Shinjuku, the noise scene.

It's funny that we embrace Japan in the West as "hardcore." We think of them as extreme, pushing the limits for all cultures. We don't see a school system that abandons all but the highest scoring, condemning unsatisfactory detritus to a shameful future. The "world's most advanced educational system" in which you study more and make less progress? In Japan, talent is defined differently than America: it is the ability to get along with others. The ability to conform. Women in particular are disposable, becoming housewives, eschewing the path their education suggested. We don't see a workforce that has words describing "death by work exhaustion." We see their lone company of creativity, Nintendo, and then ignore the lack of imagination that led to a befuddling collapse in economy.

We've confused their outlet with their strength.

At the entrance to Onyxia, my first raid, I realized what stupidity it was to have waited for two hours for forty idiots to assemble and be wiped within an hour. I realized that moment that WoW was headed in a direction that would never recognize the feats of one person outside its unspoken rulesets. I realized that if my raid had survived, I wouldn't have been any more satisfied, as Blizzard would continue to heap more hitpoints on more lowpoly models for bigger and bigger player mobocracies to attempt an extraction of fame. I realized that anime's lure was addictively drawn glistening eyes and intricate robots, and permutations thereof, which after a certain volume, began to insult my intelligence. I have not yet regretted leaving Azeroth, for it lies in the hands of confused, fate-wrought masses, much like Japan.

Pat Morita aka Mr. Miyagi passed away. He probably did for karate what Bruce Lee did for kung fu. And that is to say, lead dumb fat Americans to be better at it than the asians. But hey, that's the asian's perogative to be prideful to the point of self-damaging. Every time I hear the phrase "sleeping Dragon" to describe China I just laugh at what is actually a drugged up Chimera flopping mid-air on borrowed time, borrowed money.

I was reading some criticism about Richard Duncan's excellent book The Dollar Crisis, and some guy comments that Duncan is wrong, Chinese banks do NOT use the national surplus as criteria for credit expansion. So I did a little research. That's right, they do not. BUT! Criteria for credit expansion is set by the STATE, and the commies can tell their banks to do whatever they want, and I'm sure the state uses the surplus as a sign of more credit. To say chinese banks are more cognizant of the problems that led to Japan's downfall is probably right. To say chinese banks are therefore less corrupt and in a better position is WRONGWRONGWRONGWRONGWRONG.

But I'm ok. I just recieved my Everbank papers and have dumped significant funds into the Marketsafe S&P and Gold Bullion certificates. Everbank, btw, has been excellent so far, with customer service easy to reach and a personal letter from the CEO who's vision and distrust of the Federal Reserve matches mine. They are an excellent hedging solution, the only bad thing I can see is the bewilderingly pisspoor webpage design.

Phoenix Wright awaits. BTW, if you bought an XBox 360, be aware that it can scratch up your games. I also just met a guy last nite who's friend was the one that posted the shots of 360 crashes. Rumors abound on how high failure rate is (he claimed 15% but that's hard to believe), but no one should be surprised since this happens with nearly every hardware launch. I would have gotten one myself probably if Joanna Dark didn't look like a rap-rocker now.