Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014

Umbrella Revolution Wall 2014
Admiralty, Umbrella Revolution 2014

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Japanese in Memphis

Don't even try to eat it. Why did I bother? I'd been reading the book Yoshi's Feast to Keohi and my attempt to enliven his reading experience ended with Keohi vomiting his eel on the ground. He loved the eel. But the eel must have been bad.

At least we got a refund of $10.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Multiculturalism--outside of the US: Framing the Discussion

The biggest issue with this above discussion is how it is now framed in the media, and even among your average person in standard discussion. And the problem is this: people don't know how to discuss it because they are frankly, ignorant. And I will say this, most are WILLFULLY so because you don't have to read the paper everyday to understand a few basic facts, and you don't have to be a historian to take into the account the factors that have led to the polarization of this issue, in particular, on the European continent, but let's not forget China (shall we say Tibet? shall we say Africa?) and of course, the U.S..There has been now, for in the range of hundreds of years, an accumulation of the planet's wealth and natural resources by what is now a small majority of people who happen to be of lighter skin tone and pigmentation. That is the sad cold truth, and it's time to own up to the facts.

All Empires and peoples have their day of power and omnipotence and this has been going on now for quite some time. Helloooo colonialism. Hellllooo slavery. Hellloooo genocide! It's been the era of this particular group's ascendancy and dominance for awhile. But it wasn't always that way. EVERY group has had its day in the sun and all groups have risen and fallen accordingly. It's called history. It's called society. It's called, well...LIFE. And this above description, is just what is going on now. So don't get all hotheaded if you are from this above group. Just accept and deal. Every culture or ethnicity or Empire, or a good many, have been in this position of power, at least regionally. The Japanese Empire, the Incas Empire, the Egyptian Empire etc... you know...this is not really anything to feel defensive about. These are just the facts. (I say this knowing that I may have some readers of European extraction who might feel hotheaded about this...chill...)

The reason I find this multicultural issue so frustrating and why I have found it INCREASINGLY frustrating to even HEAR a single PERSON talk to me about this, particularly in Hong Kong, is that I am living in a former colony (and let's face it, now current 'colony' of China) and the vast majority of the people, don't seem to get how colonialism works. Oh, I should add, this is not simply those of Euro extraction, because frankly, the issue is one of hegemony and consolidation of power and the Han Chinese are pretty good at it...

There is a failure, a miserable failure on the part of a vast majority of people, to examine the historical realities that have led to immigration (such as recent and current wars), the failure to understand the widespread exploitation by the part of wealthier Western countries in the plunder and exploitation of natural resources and labor of poorer nations (this includes the collusion of both the governments of such poor countries and multinational companies such as...well, shall we say name your favorite oil company?), and the failure for people to think out of their ethnocentric boxes.

Many things are bringing me to this post, but what really has led me to this is the following fact below:

Right now, as a result of a racist Christian fundamentalist who massacred his own country people, people are screaming that this is the fault of multiculturalism!

Oh my god.

How simplistic and dumb can you be?

WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? REFRAME the discussion, folks. Get a life. This is about capitalism, hegemonic structures, the uncontrolled rapacity of multinational corporations, white supremacy, racism for NO justifiable reason, and serious mental health issues!

The next thing you'll hear is the guy was UNDER STRESS and gee, if he was a RACIST, it was because, golly, it is just STRESSFUL to have BLACK HAIRED people AROUND in his country.

Oh for crying out loud.

THIS IS THE FAULT OF NARROW MINDED THINKERS TO LOOK AT HISTORY AND TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for their FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS. And this is the fault of people who do not take a GOOD HARD LOOK at their outrageous lifestyles. Look at the planet. Look at the imbalance of wealth. Stop blaming immigrants for everything and do not blame immigrants for one's own racism and discriminatory thinking.

You want to drive your gas guzzling car? You want your huge homes and swimming pools? You want your caviar flown in from Russia and you want acres of land when an average person in the world is fighting to get a roof over his or her head? You want your cheap goods manufactured by 12 year old girls? You want your floor cleaned? You want your washing machine with digital parts and your natural products mined from a province that is now an environmental disaster? You want your gourmet dog food?

You want all of this and you want the black haired people to stop "invading your country"?

Get a brain. Get a calculator. Read a few books. (Sorry to say this, but can this please include MARX--can anyone recommend an ABRIDGED EDITION of the Marx-Engels reader? And no, I'm not a cadre from over the border--sigh) Meet a person from a different economic, social, or racial group. Get a damn life.

And please, do not talk to me about your strong feelings about how immigration is not working out in your particular country. What is not working out is this: dominance by a single group of people. Capitalism. The failure of the education system to teach ideas of humanity, brotherhood/sisterhood. What is missing: Compassion. Solidarity. What is not working out is this: The embrace of ideas of unity that stretch beyond the confines of national boundaries (nationhood is a new thing--okay? Only several hundred years tops---but maybe this is a failure of the education system to teach this basic historical FACT!). The ruthlessness of religious structures failing to understand the needs of their people, particularly women and children. That is not what is working out in this life.

Immigration, is not the problem, sorry.

Humanity is...and I am reminded for those who think they are above the fray, those, who posit, well, I can see how it is a drag for everyone (immigrants etc...) but my life is okay. How can your life be okay when society is not okay if you are a sentient human being? How can you think you are okay when people around you are hating, exploiting, and making others miserable? No, sorry, you are not okay, if you say that.
Because we are all in this together, this grand sorry experiment in life, and you're not okay because a lot of other people aren't. Who wants to live in a society of hatred and vitriol and misunderstanding?

That's not's not what we should accept.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Briefly: The American Project

I've been doing a lot of reading for what appears to be a rather narrow field of study, as my dissertation focuses on the aesthetics, genre and form of the Asian American Novel from 2000-2010. There have been a myriad of developments in this genre, most of which to the average reader, are probably not that relevant to one's life, nor of particular interest, but such reading has had its effects on my ever changing opinion about the nation I claim as home, and the nation, that I think, in my sensibility I embody, no doubt to its fullest degree.

(This last fact of my being, affirmed on a rather regular basis from my expatriate English spouse who left his own country with a vengeance some years ago, and as a result, repeatedly iterated to me he has no desire to ever participate in another colonial Empire, new or dying, which made life in the U.S. rather difficult, to say the least. China, of course, is another Empire, but more on the complications of squaring our current bi-national household existence in another expanding ruthless Empire later...) :)

But, all that aside, slogging through a great deal of rather arcane, if not dry literary criticism, has led me to think about various aspects of the possibilities and limits of the American national identity, and the American Project, so to speak, of the individual, betterment, society, democracy, and freedom/liberty--these terms defined here in a spiritual, almost esoteric sense. It is this idea of liberty that has enchanted us--Americans and many non-Americans, in its utterance and with it comes this amazement, this belief that there is actually a nation that in its public relations campaign, seems to subscribe to this idea. Unbelievable. Remarkable.

The American Dream.

And due to this wild figment of imagination, and the sorrows that exist as a result of this ever timeless pursuit, all sorts of creative enterprises and efforts spring economically, socially, politically, and artistically--ranging from...oh, let's say, in more recent 20th century times, the birth of MTV and the personal computer to jazz and bilingual education to the Tea Party and Christian mega-churches. (I'm in Memphis, right now. There are many mega-churches here. One features a bastardized Statue of Liberty in front of it, which my son puts out whenever we pass, is actually incorrect in its design as it does not have the torch and the book in the proper place. Lady Liberty co-opted by a group of evangelizing fanatical Baptists...such is America...)

That this Dream is as diverse as the population, is the central reason America is unable to coalesce, and that this Dream is so powerful, is the central reason that America continues to engage in its central project which can be perceived of as a Nietzchean experiment gone awry. We aspire to be a nation of Supermen, (again in the existential sense) but this Ayn Rand reality is a hegemonic nightmare for the majority of its citizens. We can't ALL be on top. Every year I come back, I am amazed by the number of brand-new SUV vehicles on the road. I mean, come on, how many people can AFFORD on their SALARY to buy a 50,000USD car! And keep it running with insurance and gas and every other car repair cost! Are you kidding me? Who can afford a 40 inch flat screen TV? Realistically, few households, but so many people have them here. Because, we are worthless without these goods. We don't have these, and we are not Americans. We are nothing. We don't count because we're not living the Dream.

We cannot sustain this level of consumption--we consume too much gas, we have an obesity problem when much of the world is starving, we bomb for liberty (yes, I saw a car with the sticker FREEDOM THE OLD FASHIONED WAY with a military plane in the middle--talk about a reductive phrase, well, so much for bumper sticker politics) and yet--in defense of a vast number of people here--Americans have a refreshing honesty and creativity that is a vital part of the national character.

I say this with a categorical defiance because in my years of travel and expatriate life, for the most part, it is the Americans who really have less of a boundary when it comes to ethnicity and diversity. (Again, we've had some back and forth about this in my own household, and I am in a biracial, binational household, also about the issue of the waning American Left...Stephen claims that being privy to all types of rants as a white male that no white male would dare broach with me has left him to conclude, more or less, that everyone is biased. I see the point, but I tell him what's even weirder to me is that overseas I get the rants from people just because I speak English! As if speaking English means I will participate in fascist bigoted ideology! More on that later...) People come on and prove me wrong. But since I've been overseas I've heard more Western people rant about immigration invasions and everything else to their home countries who uhm...yeah, don't tell anyone, but even engage in miscegenation. Go figure. How messed up is that? Before anyone goes and gets all huffy about this, I'm not ignorant to how social structures are constantly shaken by an influx of new people, but this is also part of modern life. We're in a period of migration across continents and in an age of border crossings across many ideas and geographic places.

But back to more the anyway, the reason I say all of this is that
Americans have little choice but to deal with diversity, for quite a while. They HAVE to deal. Americans are USED to it. And there are LAWS against being a racist. And LAWSUITS. We went through the civil rights movement. Bigotry is part of American life, but as a Western woman of Asian descent, there aren't many places I can say are much better, frankly. Being a person of color in the US, however, it's always good to have a little mental breathing space or insanity sets in...but I think that's in most countries when you are not part of the hegemonic structure. And like most sentient people of color too, one develops a certain distance about the State.

To continue--anyway, there are many Americans who don't like and there are draconian immigration laws now sweeping the country, but they will roll back. They have to and will. There are more people who don't like these laws than do and ultimately, they are not fiscally practical...which is what will be the deciding factor. Let's face it, entire state economies would collapse without new immigrant labor. Americans are about money as much as they are about freedom.

We are, for the most part, an open society. We have to be. We're too big not to be, unless we adopt some Mainland China tactics. Machine guns and porn and terrible immigration attitudes--it's all here. But so is an idea of civil rights and some basic consumer protection and there are the plethora of people who still sustain the idea that our diversity is what makes us a strong country. There are many here who are logical, who see the benefit of a dynamic and compelling society that may be diverse and fractured, but in its idealized form can yield something completely unique in this world.

Americans can be parochial, often are unable to see beyond their own state lines or borders, but this is not entirely due to their own devices given their news media limitations and the inured psychosis that results from being force fed ideas of the benefits of their specific type of freedom or democracy from their television or education system that sicken an individual or a system. The definitions of this liberty are narrow, deliberately construed as easy, posited to the general public as the solution for all. It's simply not the case, but it's often hard for Americans to see this because of a few things--to do so requires going against what is perceived to be the very idea of the American project (to spread liberty) and what support system is in place for this type of thinking? The newspapers are censored, often self-censored, and who wants to go against the grain? Also, the American standard of living, for the majority of the people, is much higher than elsewhere in the world. So the average American would think--okay, overall, it's better here. So everyone should just get on board and be an American.

When brutally compared to many countries--it is far more pluralistic in its ideology. This is its promise: You must become part of the American project (which in short is capitalistic and consumer driven in its negatives, but there are other positives which have to do with the idea of the individual and the expression of self and the power of group dynamics to fashion a better ideal) but once you are on board, we will do what we can to understand and lead you to live out your difference. It cuts in multiple ways, but the bottom line is, you join as an American first, and you can wear your identity as a hyphen (or not, though again, most people of color don't have much choice--they remain hyphenated). Most countries don't allow you to join in social or other ways, so you can keep your identity (national and ethnic) which does have its sanctuary, but then you're not part of the national project in the same way.

All this stuff is nothing new. These are musings of one type of expatriate (4th generation Korean American in Asia, random I know), but the other day, I was cruising along, barreling down the road in mom's hybrid SUV (still, a gas guzzler, but more on that family conversation later) to the library for a few research hours and I got this kind of surge of energy. It comes from being in a familiar environment, but it also came to me in this odd way, I suddenly felt reinvigorated. I started to laugh. It was this wave of feeling that I have only experienced when faced with an open desert before me in the Southwest, or on a wide ocean in Hawaii, or on an endless stretch of open Midwestern plain, but here I was in the Memphis streets with ugly signs for fast food chains and it came to me. It was not entirely about belonging (which in more watery fond memories occurred when strolling down a wintry street in Seoul or looking out on a rocky shoreline on the Korean coast) It was about agency. Or the illusion of agency. To suddenly be sentient and aware of one's movements. And potentially to connect this to a larger idea. To believe in something wider, some kind of possibility of the human society and democratic project, a belief in what one might do in this brief life, to be a participant in a way that went beyond my immediate concerns of my dissertation and child, and the usual ways we volunteer to better our community. And this brief moment of epiphany or a sublime state had, I realize, a stake in what I perceive to be, even from afar, the project as espoused in that strange shaky rhetoric of the Dream....

Self-invented. Entirely personal. Individualistic. Incorporating in its genesis and scope, however, a belief in what a society might espouse to be as a process of becoming rather than an end point. The caveat: knowing that it will not come to fruition, for the self, or the larger group and yet not letting such knowledge quell a belief, but rather, shape it for a pragmatic way forward...

OKAY hours later...but thinking about this, so I should add this is only one entry here, and not fully developed. Will have to think about this more--the details of the American Project, it's significance and potential reach.

A complicated contradictory country.

Some thoughts, 2011...from an American in Memphis

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Learning Gender Terms

Keohi has a little pal here, 5 year old Kaylie, a little girl. There's a big difference between 4 and 5. This was today's conversation I overheard.

Keohi: Okay, so that's my husband!
Kaylie: What husband?
Keohi: My husband! This is a husband, okay?
Kaylie: You can't have a husband. You're a boy.
Keohi: I have a husband. My dad.
Kaylie: Your Dad is your husband? What? He's not your husband.
Keohi: Yes.
Kaylie: Weeellll, okay. Your dad is not your husband.
Keohi: Weeellll, okay.

A few day's ago the car conversation was this:

Kaylie: And I had nail polish.
Keohi: I had nail polish too! I did pink nail polish!
Kaylie: You can't do nail polish. That's for girls.
Steph: Keohi and I did nail polish together.
Keohi: Pink.
Kaylie: Pink is for girls.
Keohi: My dad likes pink.
Kaylie: Huh?
Steph: Yeah, Keohi and his daddy like pink.

Interestingly enough, Kaylie didn't really seem bothered by any of the content, nor really surprised and just kind of rolled with it. At 5, you're still open to whatever is presented to you. But the window shuts pretty quickly after that, is my guess. I guess the key is how to keep the window of possibility and potential wide open. How is it that we come to think in narrow constricted terms? How does that gentle nudge that helps to define who we are one way or another, push us both to understanding and creativity? How does tolerance work?

Keohi, Kang Rhee, Martial Arts and Me

Keohi took his second Pa Sa Ryu (a style of Korean martial arts similar to Karate/Tae Kwan Do/Tang Soo Do) class yesterday. He's in the Little Dragons class. He went to my dad's maternal cousin's dojang Kang Rhee. Kang Rhee ( is my one claim to pop star fame as he was the guy that taught Elvis Presley karate--and to that end, received a Cadillac, guitar, a weekend in Las Vegas, from the King, and even now, his studio is visited from Elvis fans from around the world. I remember Tetsuo actually came to Memphis from Japan to study with him. Tetsuo also worked as an Elvis impersonator on the weekends in the Mississippi casinos. He sang at my Dad’s birthday one year. He was a pretty good Elvis.

Elvis Presley had a profound effect on Memphis and like many small cities or towns, it’s people’s proximity to certain celebs that govern perceptions that others have. In Memphis there are probably different ways to calibrate your social register rankings, but Elvis is probably one of them. But it’s not easy. My now retired dentist was once asked to be the Graceland dentist. He declined the offer. Apparently, you had to be on call all the time. Who wanted to get called to do a teethcleaning in the middle of the night? Even if it was Elvis’ teeth?

Anyway, Kang Rhee made a big impact on my own life. I studied with him rather seriously in 1994 and would best describe my existence then as about 75% karate. I was obsessed, and then later taught it when I was back in college. Now I’d probably kill myself doing a kick, but back then it was way of thinking and not a bad one at that. I learned a great deal from him, and from people who studied under him. I consider it an honor that I had the privilege to be in his dojang for the brief time that I was there. I had many good martial arts instructors, but he was one of my best and most influential.

Kang Rhee has his own myths here in Memphis. Legend has it that when he first arrived in Memphis in the early 1960s, all he knew were the words “Follow me” and that people did. He built a big school here and was one of the first to bring martial arts to the U.S.—he did demonstrations in Madison Square Garden and was on the karate circuit with Bruce Lee and counts among his comrades the real old-timers, the first of those to bring their art form from Asia to the States.

Frankly, I’m not a sports fan, but the one sport I would be pleased to have Keohi learn, if not love, would be the martial arts, so I was happy to see him run and kick and punch. To do it well requires grace and coordination and an execution of movement that is like dance. It has been years since I was in a studio and watched anyone and there was Kang Rhee, at age 70, still demonstrating with strength and agility the technique of a man decades younger. Amazing. You can have all of the science and stem cells and research, but the truth is a life based around movement, repetition of physical motion, a sensible diet and routine patterns is the key to longevity, and probably piece of mind. I’d say that’s how Kang Rhee lives and I would also say that I have met only a handful of other people who live the same way. But truly, a master can only be judged by his students and there was too, a young man who did a great demonstration of a form. Kang Rhee is a good teacher.

My own off and on journey with martial arts began at the age of 10 when my mother dragged me to a judo class after neighborhood chicken fights left me crying. I was rather small, and this was Iowa, and guess what, kids picked on other kids and at the time, I was not always, but sometimes a victim of this in the neighborhood. Mom being from the ole pineapple plantation in Waihawa was probably not keen on seeing me be a wimp.

A few days later I found myself in the presence of Dr. Hahn and Paul, his son, and his son’s friend, David. Two little 10 year old boys and myself. For about a month I went once or twice a week and learned to flip and fall correctly (actually, I still knoll the roll and a few good blocks from that time—not necessarily the same ones used for Pa Say Ryu) and it completely changed my sense of self-worth.

When the school bully decided to pick a fight on a kid in front of the drinking fountain, shrimpy yours truly stepped in gallantly to defend the honor and socked the bully right back. I was a head shorter. Kids were yelling. We had to have the fight broken up by the school librarian and my 5th grade teacher. Hauled into the office, ole Robby the bully started to cry that I was beating him up. I was just freaked out that my mom would be called so said nothing, just sat there watching Robby cry and cry. In retrospect, it must have looked pretty funny to the teachers. Here I am this dinky tiny Asian girl with glasses who sits in the front row and never gets chosen for sports teams and has her head buried in a book so much that they once asked my mother to test my hearing because I blotted out the entire classroom when my nose was in the book. And there, accusing me, the guy that was briefly, a friend in school that played in the younger grades kickball with everyone, but who was slowly turning into the Alpha A boy on the football field, kickball field and every other outdoor arena of that elementary school. A boy ruling with all of the power that young boys can muster. He led teasing and pushing. He was tough and mean, goodlooking and not so bright to be threatening, and not so dumb to be dismissed. The All American Boy. My guess is that the teachers probably had a lot more fondness for Robby than they did me, given where I was in school (rural Iowa) and what Robby represented (American boyhood!) and what I did (Weird immigrant!). But there are always surprises in life. Needless to say, I wasn’t picked on in school after that point at all. I had changed my way of being. It wasn’t about being able to punch someone, it was just feeling a little more confident. But as a result of knowing the life of a victim, I am extremely weary of the dynamics that surround children’s behavior. Punching Robby was a serious turning point in my life. A difficult, but important lesson. And probably for him, too.

Children are the products of their environment. And as such, are perfectly capable of being cruel, merciless, and ruthless. This may be a result of abuse that they themselves experience, but those kids on the receiving end don’t know this and ultimately, it’s something to watch out for. I’ve always hated people who blather on about how innocent children are. What that tells me is that they’ve never experienced life on the receiving end of a bully. Those Lord of the Flies moments in life forever change your ideas of humanity. It doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive or understand, but what you also realize is the level of inhumanity that a child can inflict on another can be quite extraordinary. Some people who are bullied in turn bully others, but hopefully, some turn out quite the opposite.

Keohi may or may not face such challenges as a biracial boy, at least in Hong Kong. But I know that the culture of boys is difficult and based a lot on physicality – strength and dexterity, and to a lesser degree, potentially beauty (unlike girls, but that can be a whole other source of misery in and of itself I know). Hopefully the martial arts will help him along in life. It helped me.