japan

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It took a while to put together this photojournal of our trip, but here it is, written in photos and comments:

PART 1 – Taipei

PART 2 – Tainan

I learned something very deep about the Taiwanese people during this trip, something that I always suspected in the back of my mind, but when I realized it became pervasive everywhere I looked there.

The Taiwanese are some of the most resourceful people I've met. That is not to say they are practical, logical, or expedient. That is also not to say they can't be wasteful, or excessive. No, they manage to be all of those, and yet still resourceful, with an aplomb that is sometimes both embarassing, and yet charming for ABCs like me (american born chinese).

They are able to find a use in anything, to coop the last iota of utility, intention, even style, taste, or sentiment. You will see a populace obsessed with name brand goods stack them unceremoniously on their body, judging fashion not by the gestalt but by the individual articles of clothing, no matter how gaudily they're assembled. You will see the disembodied head of a beautifully painted mannequin decorate a stack of lumber as if lipstick on the pig did the trick… and yet for them it does.

Many Taiwanese households are utterly infested with items that they insist are useful, be they pens unused in years, disintegrating beta max tapes, or some toy or bowl or cardboard box that hasn't entirely rotted away. They are magpies, they are infinitely matter-of-fact about things. They are democratic to a fault.

As I left the island, I was struck by how little vandalism I saw. Sure, there was plenty of other crime, but it seemed suspiciously lacking in vandalism. I don't think even the scoundrels can stand to see something have its value defaced for no good reason. To the Taiwanese, it simply doesn't make sense. I admire that communal sense of survivorship. And while not creative in the ways I'd boast that Americans are, they can appropriate anything to their lives without fear of disdain. For all the stress and political turmoil on the island, they can, more than almost any in the world, carve a comfortable niche for themselves in a place the Portuguese named Formosa, meaning "beautiful." And if I lived in a place so beautiful, I think I too wouldn't have a care in the world for modern pretenses.

Curiously, that beauty is literally worldwide… the antipode to Taiwan (should you cross through the center of the earth to the other side) is a little Spanish-founded city in Argentina, also called Formosa.

————– Original message ———————-
From: "noisewar"
>
> Dear Prof. Chen and co.,
>
> I have been a longtime reader of your site, and it has been the greatest
> influence on my interest in macroeconomics. Your analysis is exceptional,
> and very entertaining, timely, and readable.
>
> I had a question about your views of future Japanese policies. Since it is
> of the website's opinion that the propping of the high Dollar comes from a
> collaborative effort, do you think that after their recession, the
> Japanese are still as eager to depreciate the yen? In other words, is the
> U.S. in danger of being at the mercy of a new Japan switching from exports
> to services, or will the old relationship resume? Or perhaps could China
> take over that role? Who is going to prop the dollar now?
>
> Thanks you sirs, and I commend you again on an impressive site!
>

Dear Noisewar:

Sorry to be late for the reply. I must confess that I am a lazy viewer of
e-mails. As for Japan, yes, Japan has no choice but to prop up the dollar. As has
been said in article 1 and many other places, the first phase of propping up
dollar has been done with Japan's super low interest rate that has started in 1995;
it ushered in the now infamous yen carry trades and pushed the dollar high
until 1998.

In the dollar debacle of 2003 to 2004, yen carry trade played not much
role since FED has lowered interest rates to around 1% (Japan was 0% at that
time), so Japanese government spent 400 billion dollars to prop up dollar. After
that phase, it has been the turn of FED to prop up dollar by raising interest
rate and reinduced yen carry trades. The danger of constantly propping up dollar
is now vividly shown as yen carry trade unwound, and the global stock markets
were hit one by one in a chain reaction.

Japan is the closest ally of USA, and cannot afford to see USA goes down the drain. The situation of dollar is now very touchy. If FED wants to lower the interest rate from whatever reason, it must ask Japan to prepare for another dollar buying frenzy, otherwise dollar will suffer a total collapse and the current globalization scheme will come to its end. I must remind you that my view of the globalization is totally different from tranditional economic theory. Actually I do not care very much about the modern economics because I think it only applies to an isolated economic entity and worked well in pre-globalization era, but has
failed miserably since globalization took hold.

With best regard.

Chih Kwan

As your dutiful reporter of the asian masculinity-pedophilia complex, I must share with you one of the most disturbing things I've seen. English lessons, teaching subtextual phrases like "take anything you want," performed in spandex; may include random close-ups of sports bras. Doesn't any director in Japan just crack and say "Dammit guys! Just once let's do a piece without rape fantasy in it!" Thank god they never got their hands on Sesame Street. Their penchant for sesame and violating tentacles would have left Oscar lecherous and the Count breathless.

Just in time for the Oscars, we watched Little Miss Sunshine over the weekend. It is a real desert american comedy, and I loved the spot on commentary on underage beauty pageants. It tickled me to no end that people dress their girls up as whores, but when they actually act as such, some indefinite line is crossed, and they are suddenly morally conflicted. Moreover, it shows that the american ideal for beauty has girls dressing up, increasing age, whereas in Japan, they dress down, with sailor skirts and high-pitched childlike squeals.

Trying to understand why this difference exists, I think it comes down to values. Americans prize the confidant power of the femme fatale, and the Japanese prize the innocence of a lolita. I attribute American men as more self-confident, and asian men as one of two extremes: passive, or excessively male dominant. Often both. I read in the Economist recently a study that showed sexual satisfaction between couples is correlated to equal social status. It was no surprise then that Japan had one of the lowest ratings among developed nations.

The San Jose dating scene that I've seen has been indicative of cultural difference. Is it an accident that white guys and asian girls are far more common than the other way around? It would follow that if american women have the same tastes as american men (power, confidence, independence), but asian couples have a great divide what they value (master and submissive), the combination of aggressive american women and passive asian man would suffer.

Of course, when I say american, that encapsulates asian-americans, so the issue is hardly that simple. The latter is very diverse depending on which generation they are, how much cultural tradition they've absorbed, etc.

There is something grotesquely addicting about watching Elebits, the upcoming Wii game. It seems to simultaneously satisfy the repressed anxieties of the Japanese schoolboy in us, and the magnifying glass execution fantasy we had with carpenter ants. Then it takes that bubbling cauldron of elementary sadism to the next level by laying down a track of level progression borrowed straight from Katamari Damacy, a sort of empowerment over physics over time. Watch for yourself, it gets very interesting a third into it, and I think I've been convinced to make this my first Wii title.

Details for the upcoming Nintendo Wii were finally released, and it's been quite a doozy. Any gamer should be able to use his pants as a substrate for ludological pregnancy about now. Yes, I really do feel as if I've been knocked up in a good way, because it's been so long that the industry has catered its adolescent demographied garbage to the lowest common denominator, the bedazzled consumer whore. Nintendo has put its words down in the edifice of the casual market, and its booming, Lovecraftian voice not only prophesizes a paradigm shift, but delivers, to the doom of this stagnant market.

Let's recap:

– US Release November 19th, $250 w/ Wii Sports included.

– Japan Release December 2nd, $220 w/o Wii Sports.

– 30 Launch titles by year's end.

– New gameplay trailer just astounding! Watch it!

– Built-in Opera browser, image surfing/editing tools, weather/news channel, and more. Link here.

Mii avatar creation system. Awesome. Here and here.

– 24/7 connection for the Wii to stream in game updates and community stuff daily.

– Virtual Console featuring downloadable NES, SNES, Genesis, Megadrive, Toshiba MSX, and Turbo-GFX 16 games, $5-$10, 60 games by year's end, 10 more added each month after.

As tasteless as it is, this is my favorite reaction from the public…

It's been a hectic week here as we fumble over ourselves to entertain Xstine's two sisters. We're trying to strategically hit a representative sample of restaurants and locales for them, so I haven't been able to post much. However, I wanted to share something utterly insane… a PS2 game called Giant Babe. And how. Considering their other titles include winners like Maids Uniforms and Machine Guns, I expect their echelon of game design to revolutionize the world.

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.

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.