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Showing posts from May, 2009

"Quintessentially Chinese": Kung Fu Panda? Really? Edition

So, if you're a nerd like me, you've probably seen Mirrormask, and if you're even more of a nerd, you'd have noted the conversation Nan was having on the phone as Helena was entering the living room, where she's talking on the phone, and she says, "Something quintessentially French."

The word "quintessentially" repeats a while later, but somehow, the phrase "quintessentially Chinese" popped into my head. And I had no idea what it meant. I googled the phrase, and I got reviews of Kung Fu Panda. Which is apparently quintessentially Chinese. I don't know how quintessentially Chinese something like that can get when its main character is voiced by a white man starring a hero that has a problem with eating. I mean, come the fuck on. All the awesome Chinese heroes available and you guys wrote a fucking panda? And some moron writers have the gumption to ask why "such a quintessentially Chinese movie was made in Hollywood"?

If you …

Love Is Rational: Goodness Edition

I've been having this thought for a while. And it's a line of reasoning that works even if you believe that humans are ultimately self-serving creatures. Heck, it's a line of reasoning that works especially if you believe that humans are ultimately self-serving.

Let's just say that each person always has a choice between two kinds of actions, one which is "good", that is to say, extends a benefit to a fellow human being, and one which is "evil", that is to say, harms a fellow human being.

Aight?

Under what circumstance is it self-serving to do the "evil" action of hurting someone else?

And if it is not self-serving, is it a rational decision?

Let's just say Bob is a greedy-ass fuck. Aight? He'll do anything he can to get what he wants. Does it benefit him more to extend goodwill in his efforts to collect stuff, or does it benefit him to alienate others in his quest?

Now, common sense says that it would probably do Bob a world of good if …

Turning Away From Religion: The Frog Bit

So on some of my identification papers, my religion is listed - Agama: Buddha (Religion: Buddhist)

In secondary school, I was a regular attendant of the Friday meetings of the Buddhist Association at school. Partly because I HAD to be part of some extra-curricular activity, partly because I genuinely did believe I was a Buddhist then, partly because we had a prayer session where we recited pali prayers, followed by a session of singing. Partly also because Chinese culture is somewhat saturated with Buddhistic references, but not what we learnt at those association meetings - our brand of Buddhism was Theravadan, which is the oldest school of Buddhism, and thus rather devoid of all Chinese myth funness.

I was part of this Association from Form 1 until Form 4 and I tended to skip meetings only twice a year.

I was feeling rather lukewarm about the whole idea by the time I hit Form 5, and discovered Wicca. (Which I don't practise either. I'm a horrible heathen like that.) But it was …

"Colourblind"

Lately I've become more uncomfortable with this term.

The way I've always used it is how I imagine many of my Malaysian peers do - a person's skin colour (and attendent racial and cultural baggage) doesn't have an impact on their productivity, potential and personhood.

Part of this is that we can't get away with trying to hide our race - it's on our birth certificates, on our identity cards, our job applications, surveys, and lots of other things. It's something that's there. It doesn't stop us from bonding over similar things, and it doesn't stop us from going over to each other's open houses on cultural holidays. If we're racist, it's just 'cos we're just that genuinely hateful.

So I thought, anyway.

Lately, I've been hearing the idea that these racial / cultural differences are just another schism that keep us apart and we should do away with race altogether.

At first I thought this was a pretty good idea. Give us a few cen…

Star Trekking In Search of More Representation

Anybody with half an ear to pop culture will know why Star Trek's original series was so revolutionary for its time: it had the most racially diverse cast, what with Sulu and Uhura, and then there was Chekov on the bridge during the Cold War.

So when I went out to see the new movie, I kept my eyes peeled to see what the racial representation was like. After the white-washing in Avatar, I needed to see proof that yes, Asians and other PoC are still valuable persons in how we envision the future. I wasn't disappointed. Yes, I was slightly disappointed when Sulu whipped out the sword and it looked vaguely like a katana - he used a fencing foil in TOS, despite the director's suggestion he use a katana, and I really liked the idea better. (Also, my father fenced in school. I sort of wish he'd made me take fencing lessons instead of piano lessons.)

So I like Star Trek for giving me Sulu and Uhura. I like Voyager for giving me Chakotay and Harry Kim. (And have I mentioned that …

I Write White People

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Let me introduce foc_u to you. I'll shamelessly rip stuff from the Redux edition for the next few paragraphs:

"It's where PoC all over speak up about how they feel about their fandoms, science fiction and fantasy, speculative or any other form of imaginative fiction which we love, but don't really see any parallels for ourselves within (because most of them are written by white people, with white characters). Yes, even Firefly, with its Chinese-speaking future, doesn't have a lot of Chinese people. We kind of fall short that way. Even I write white characters, because that's all I'm familiar with within my reading. I never came across a great science fiction story with an Asian character in it. You kidding me? The closest I got was Final Fantasy, and I never even played those games. Closer to home there was wuxia novels (fabulous fantastical martial arts stuff), and I couldn't read those because I can't read Chinese.

When you are a young PoC reading …

Steampunking: What the "Punk" Means To Me Edition

I was thinking about my observations of the local punk scene and that how I understand the punk genre is alienating to me. When I first read the term "gaslamp fantasy" to replace the term "steampunk", it seemed to make enough sense to me in the context of the literary genre.

But the more I looked at examples of steampunk'd work, the less satisfied I became with the term. It seemed dismissive of the amount of effort and thought put into making something which is both functional and beautiful, which is borne from the loving DIY ethic of punk.

If "punk" means anti-establishment, then how does "steampunk" roll? After all, it plays on established aesthetics as a method of visual expression (Steampunk Scholar Gotthammer talks about it here), so where does the rebellion come in?

In my correspondence to Ay-Leen, I said, "Steampunk - leading into gaslamp fantasy - gives us more leeway to explore methods of anti-establishment while playing into esta…

Cultural Appropriation: Preliminary Edition

It's been a few really tough days, with Shatter the Silence, MammothFail and the start of a discussion on cultural appropriation. I'm having trouble parsing it, and so are many other people, thankfully.

My feelings on this issue so far have been the same as my feelings about racist actions: I can't say exactly what about any one incident is racist, but I do feel disrespected, and trodden upon due to my race / nationality / appearance / what-have-i. It's a form of micro-aggression that doesn't scream -ism! in one's face until one thinks about it much later on in light of other systematic micro-aggressions that happen.

Similarly, I wouldn't necessarily see a person who's not from my own cultural group (whether Chinese or Malaysian) using something that can be considered a cultural artefact as being an appropriater - they aren't necessarily being disrespectful to me.

I've very thankfully never come across this feeling very often in the past. Perhaps b…

Here's a Picture of a Wall

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(I kid you not, there is an entire website dedicated to pictures of walls with various kinda of grafitti on it. Some of the graffiti is, certainly, some form of -ist, but the truly wonderful ones are glorious and wonderful and thought-provoking and I'd love to live in a town with such walls.)

This is not my primary reason for resisting the status quo. My primary reason is that the status quo stinks, not just for myself, but for a lot of other people. It's unfair, it's based on stupidity, it runs on selfishness, and it stops at nothing to make sure only a few people are rewarded for existing.

Part of what drew me to feminism, though, is the idea that by breaking the boundaries caused by the -isms we fight, we can transform the status quo. We can make a better world. While the jury's still out on whether the master's tools can be used to dismantle the master's shed, we do recognize that we need to reach out and transform the master's shed.

An act of change can a…

Language Disconnect

I can't speak Chinese, you know.

Which may or may not be a surprise to people who see me. After all, I look pretty fuckin' Chinese. Like, yellow skin, and almond eyes, and brown eyes and black hair and those odd features which couldn't be mistaken for anything other than Asian. And then I open my mouth and some people are surprised at my facility with the English language.

I'm still not entirely sure whose fault it is, but I'm sure I share in it. I've never been able to grasp the mechanics of Chinese grammar. That the Chinese characters have to be memorized, rather than their meanings guessed at based on their root words, has always been a source of frustration for me. That a word's meaning can be changed from one thing to something else completely different (ma - mother; ma - horse; me - WTF?) has been a source of bemusement. I fear to open my mouth in case I say something completely wrong and stupid and it doesn't help that the people I grew up around a…

How Things Have Changed

We've come a long way: it used to be that men were the beings of higher reason, and women were animals. Hundreds of years we were told this, and men carved spaces for themselves in places of power where women were not allowed to reach. If a woman did, she was beaten down by those above, clawed at by those below, and to further punish her, stripped of what little dignity was afforded to her.

And now, when we ask for men to be accountable for their actions, men claim that women are the pretty perfect beings that must be protected, and men simply cannot help their nature to be beasts that would destroy a woman's precious [whatever it is] given half a chance.

If men are so damned dangerous, why are they even allowed to walk the streets? Why sequester women and tell them to take all sorts of precautions in their daily lives that men are never asked to take? Why don't we just make life safer for these precious precious women and just lock men up?

No wait... that would be making too…

If Male = Default...

Inspired by this piece on Pandagon, and previous discussions at the Hathor Legacy.

Judging by the mass media, the language we use, it would seem that male = the default experience. Anybody doing gender analysis in media knows this. Male = default, female = specific. That's where there are flicks, and then there are chick flicks which presumably cater to the very special female audience. And men are not expected to go because they'd have to imagine themselves in the female protagonist's position and that's alienating to men (despite the fact that women have to stretch their imagination and put themselves in male protagonists' shoes all the time).

But if masculinity is so natural, being manly is so natural, being male is so default, then why do some men spend so much time differentiating themselves from women? Why this investment in the gender binary for a sense of identity? Why all these how-to books on masculinity? Why did the Spartans take their sons away from their…

"Instead Of Eating Just ONE Hamburger, You Can Eat - Two!"

That was a quote from Megarace, during a bonus prize sequence in which the prize is.... "an extra pair of arms!"

It did occur to me back then just how awesome having extra appendages would be. For example, Davy Jones of Pirates of the Caribbean does amazing things with his extra appendages:



I won't lie: whereas a lot of my peers that I've spoken to think Davy Jones is awesome because he's just so damn charistmatic, my interest in him is a lot less, uh, prosaic. My BFF and I would look at the fingers of boys of interest, and agree that "he has nice hands". I don't know what she was thinking, but I know what I was thinking, and the piano-playing was just a bonus.

The "tentacle rape" genre is obnoxious most of the time, purely because of the way the female characters are depicted (in that genre and pretty much any other genre in which women are objects without sexual agency, therefore any sexual encounter will inevitably end up with pain for sai…

Steampunking: Fuck You, 29th Century Time-Cops!

So, I've been corresponding with Ay-Leen the Peacemaker about our rather specialized interest of Asian steampunking, wherein I latched onto something that truly draws me in about the steampunk genre: re-writing history.

For all intents and purposes, I could imagine a world in which I have no British colonial residue on my heritage (not that I hate it that much), where Asia isn't exoticized as the place where the girls are either meek dolls or dragon ladies, the men are squinty-eyed villains, or the opium is plentiful. A timeline in which Asia is not some mysterious, untraversed area because we, as in We From the Far East, LIVE THERE!!!

And a place where I could, as blithely as the Japanese do but hopefully with less of the problems, take elements of whatever I want from whatever culture I please, and reshape it and innovate it into my own culture's image, and it would be a hodge-podge that fits beautifully together, with the Hodge on the Podge side and the Podge side on the …

Transplanting: What're Roots For?

Malaysian-Chinese.

You know what that means if you're Malaysian - it means that race doesn't matter, and that nationality comes first before the racial qualifier. In fact, some of us are all for dropping the racial qualifier entirely, because nationhood comes first before our skin colour. This is what I used to like to tell myself - I will not identify with this other culture that comes appended to my skin colour but divorce myself from it in order to identify even more strongly with my nationhood's culture within which I wish to gain more rights and privileges.

(OK, I used less refined language, but the point remains.)

This didn't mean I was ignorant of where my father's family is from, originally. My family that I know of is mostly descended from two sons: one rich, one poor. (Incidentally, I'm from the "poorer" branch, though you wouldn't know that to see us.) I'm fuzzy on the details, but the family hails from Hainan island. We still have som…

Today Is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Each year, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (the “IDAHO”, as it is usually called), will see actions and initiatives take place in many countries and contexts and on many different issues.

All these activities and initiatives are a very strong signal to all, decisions makers, public opinion, civil rights movements, human rights defenders, etc. throughout the world that our fights for our Rights as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, intersex, etc… is vibrant!

The Day provides all different kind of actors with a very powerful opportunity to express their demands and to advocate for their case. Each year also, the IDAHO aims at using the extra public, political and media attention that it provides at all levels to highlight one specific aspect of the struggle for sexual rights.

This year, we chose to highlight the often neglected but important issue of Transphobia.


Here's the appeal for the rights of trans people all over the world in PDF for…

Micro-Activism

Sometimes I get these weird anxious moments, especially when I take in the likes Latoya Peterson and Jessica Valenti and Jill Filipovic, who are only a few years older than I am, and yet have accomplished more than what I've ever dreamt of being able to do. This is not to say I never dreamt of accomplishing as much, but I just never thought of myself as capable of doing so.

It kind of really fucking sucks to feel that way sometimes, to wish I had more of a voice, more of a driving sort of personality, more charisma to draw people to my cause.

Learning that feminism is more than just conferences and rallies, more than Take Back the Night and the Vagina Monologues, more than articles at RHReality Check or Bitch magazine, helped alleviate it somewhat.

After all, it's about the little daily things one does, too - calling out someone on racist / sexist language, or pointing out micro-aggressions. Buying from small bookstores and organic food. Donating to charities and small volunteeri…

Low Expectations

I've been told time and again, when things are at their lowest point, we as humans revert to animalistic urges to want to inflict pain on each other, to clamber on top of each other to reach the highest branches.

No, seriously? 10k+ years of civilization and that's the best you can come up with? We're animals?

This middle-class university-educated introspective egghead biped who lives in a one-bedroom apartment that has heat, hot water, electricity, and the Internet would like to say that "humans are animals" is a horribly, horribly lazy way of considering the state of humanity, and horribly, horribly dismissive of the 10k+ years of civilization we've been through.

I understand that reverting back to the animalistic argument is a form of Occam's Razor, because to believe that it's not our animal selves but how we teach our children, interact with each other in our daily lives, internalize cultural memes, absorb messages from the media blindly - look, I g…

Macho Sue's Appeal

Kit Whitfield has this incredible essay up on the "Macho Sue" character type - similar to the Gary/Mary Stu, except that rather than being an idealized image of the fanfic authour, the Macho Sue is an image of idealized macho hypermasculinity. The essay is unbelievably awesome.

The bit that particularly resonates with me is this:

Macho Sue is nothing if not powerful. He may not always be granted full powers by circumstance (he may, for instance, have a commanding officer, at least at first) - but it's clear that the force of his personality grants to him an authority in the eyes of the audience. He is the hero, he is the one whose decisions will most influence this narrative, and consequently is intended to exercise the greatest power over the reader/viewer's imagination. Hence, to an audience member who has a tendency to value power, it's easy to fall into the trap of judging Macho Sue over-charitably, when the same behaviour, displayed by another, lesser man, or …

A Quote

'Reasonable men adjust themselves to their environment. Unreasonable men attempt to change their environment to suit themselves. Therefore, all progress is the work of unreasonable men.'

—George Bernard Shaw
Obviously Mr. Shaw has never lived life as a woman, much less a woman who is a member of various other marginalized minority groups.

Under such circumstances, changing the environment, not just to suit themselves but to better the lives of everybody else around them, is a perfectly reasonable, logical, and morally defensible thing to do.

It Could All Stand For A Little Improvement

There's a neat review of Star Trekover at Incertus, and this quote is still making me laugh after several days of it being up:

Captain Janeway, of Voyager, never met a timeline she thought was above a little improvement.

Alternate timelines were huge in Voyager, and throughout the seasons I watched, I think I saw the alternate timeline theme no less than three times, if even that low a number. Even the last episode dealt with an alternate timeline, with Janeway going back in time to fix some shit she thought could have gone better.

I'm admittedly utterly fascinated about could-have-beens, even as I'm someone who lives in the present and apologizing for past-fuckups forever isn't my forte. In my head, I'm always re-visiting past scenarios where I think of what I could have said, or should have said, and how it would have played out. My life isn't the only thing that undergoes theoretical re-writings - ANYTHING can: current politics, stuff I see on TV, stuff I read…

Commonwealth

At a summit recently for sales and marketing people in my company, the CEO discussed stuff we would do for customers, and stuff we wouldn't do.

We sell emergency patient care reporting software, and whilst each EMS agency has its different needs, we try to make the software as all-encompassing as possible. We'll do some custom work if it's necessary or not too out of our way, and we tend to release any one fix or patch originally for one customer out to the rest of the customer base as part of the support/maintenance contract. I imagine this is standard issue for most software companies.

What I liked most was that if there's a feature developed for one customer that could be used by other customers, we'll do our best to make it part of the product. It's simply being aware of the user base's needs - the people using the product are in the best position to tell us what should be done to improve it. Hence we have a User Group once a year for all the existing cus…

Star Trekking In Search of a Strong Female Character

So I went to see Star Trek the day it opened. I'm a bit of a Trekkie, yes I am. Not so much of a Trekkie that I can tell you timelines and star systems and all the planets that are in the Federation, nor am I that much of a Trekkie that I get into frequent fights re: Picard Vs. Kirk.

My vote's for neither, anyway. My captain is Janeway. I know, I know, plenty of people think Voyager is an inferior series compared to others, and in many ways, it is. Part of it is because, like so many other series, it is dependent on network whims. I believe another part of it is because a woman was in charge and nobody knew how to freaking write her. As the Hathor Legacy regularly points out: male = default, female = particular. Yeah, whatever.

In a lot of these kinds of shows, women die with alarming regularity. It goes way back when to the two choices a woman has: get married or die. That's generally the ultimate fates that women tend to have.

So I wasn't surprised when in Star Trek, ba…

Punking Out: Why Punk Alienates Me

So, a couple of years back, I was going out to see local bands quite a bit. This is not the odd bit. I love local bands. I think it's very important to support local talent.

No, the weird thing is that I was going out to see punk shows.

I don't really understand the punk culture. Of course, I don't know too much about it, and I had to get a friend to explain it to me, but even explained to me, I still didn't understand it. There was a lot of energy going on at those shows - I liked that. Off-stage, the punk band members tended to be decent people, although I didn't really know how to strike up conversation with them. (Somehow, I managed to strike up conversation with the lead of the Crimson Tides and kept going back to see them, even though I didn't even like their music, just their stage presence. And the band members were really nice too.)

I didn't understand the moshing. I didn't understand the music. I didn't understand the lyrics. At best, it was …

A Few Yuen

So sometime in December, my dad and I went to China, had a grand old time hiking between villages, visited some cities, bought stuff. We travelled with a backpacking travel tour group that's Malaysia-based. Nice people.

One of our stops was in Lang Shuo, and my dad and I were wandering the shopping district streets for something or another. We passed by a girl who cleared a bit of floor between two stalls, laid down a sign, and knelt down, head bowed.

I couldn't read the sign, but I'm pretty sure it was asking for money, giving the reasons why. She didn't look much older than fifteen. She didn't move at all, just knelt down and bowed her head, her hands placed neatly in her lap. She didn't call out to anyone. She didn't try to attract attention. I think her eyes were closed, too.

When we'd passed her by for the second time, I said to my dad, "we should give her something."

My dad said no, and I didn't press it for a bit. Then I asked why, and …

Puppy =! Pregnant Belly

So today I saw a tiny little puppy being walked by its owner and I had to stop and gush over it. She was only 6 pounds! I picked her up to go all woogie-woogie in its face (and also to really convince myself how light she was and that she was really a dog). As I did, I noted the owner pulling on the chain, and in a bit he'd picked the dog from my hands and put her back down on the ground, tossing a biscuit to encourage her to run.

Later, I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn't have done that. It's not my dog, so I shouldn't be picking dogs up and down like that. It sort of reminded me of some people's propensity to exclaim over a pregnant woman's belly and be all like "can I touch it??" (and sometimes they don't even ask. And, well, no, you don't get to touch it without asking first - that belly belongs to the woman, it's not public property! Why the hell should you get to put your hands on someone else's body, just because they're p…

Problems With Marriage: Names Edition

So I was reading this post about how many patriarchal systems, especially here in the West, tend to assume that if a woman is a) with a man, b) clearly in a relationship to said man, and c) somewhat a spouse to the man, she must have taken his last name.

This thing about women changing their last names is, quite frankly, something I never really had much experience with until I came to Canada.

In Malaysia, a woman is called Puan [her name or surname], mostly to denote if she is married. If she is not, "Cik". Some of us use the marriage-neutral terms "cikgu" (teacher) or, for a teacher of religious studies, "uztaza" (which is really just Arabic for teacher, but it sounds so much more Islamic that way *rolls eyes*).

My mother is called Mrs. [husband's surname] by people who know her through my father on an impersonal basis. However, when she is introducing herself, she says, quite firmly, "call me S." For official documents, she chooses "Mad…

R.I.P. Marilyn French

Marilyn French, novelist and staunchly feminist writer, has died, aged 79.

I meant to write Marilyn French fanmail.

My first book by her was Beyond Power. I remember seeing it, and remembering a book by Nietsche of the same name. I bought it from Venus Envy, intrigued by it. I don't remember why, exactly, I picked it up, although I know I'd heard of it before then.

It took me six months to get through the book. I wasn't reading anything else. I wasn't working much that summer, either. I would read a few paragraphs (paragraphs!) and then have to stand up and pace my apartment, piqued, my mind roiling with what I'd learned in those few paragraphs, my frontal lobe parsing the information that had been dealt to me.

I had thought before then that human problems stemmed from an inability to get along, more deeply from greediness. But even then, it couldn't make sense to me. Humans were greedy, yes. But that didn't, in my mind, justify the amount of bloodshed and kill…

What's In A Name? Mis-pronounciasian Edisian*

One of the things which bug me the most about being Malaysian-Chinese is that people mispronounce my name. Shit, I don't even like trying to pronounce my own name, because it varies according to dialect. And some people insist on asking me how to pronounce it, when they can't wrap their tongues around the accents anyway.

It's not really hard to pronounce when you read it - it's two separate syllables, two separate words, each having its own sound. Some people pronounce it in a single word, which makes it sound different and it's just not my name.

So I stick to the English name I use, because it's so much simpler. Then back in Malaysia people can pronounce it according to their dialect. Other Malaysians, no matter what race they are, find it easy to pronounce my name, because they've been around those names all their lives. Yay multi-culturalism. Whenever I've spoken to mainland Chinese here in Canada, I make it a point to learn how to pronounce their name…

Gender Performances

So I was reading tekanji's excellent series on the Gaming Beauty Myth and my mind, as usual, spun off into a tangent, and this time it took me to the idea of gender as a performance.

I know I've encountered this idea somewhere on the feminist blogosphere, but I can't remember exactly where - probably Feministe. I have, however, explained the idea to a photographer friend of mine, and I know he found it a new idea.

The idea is that gender is not necessarily tied to our biological sex - it is something that is socialized in us. When we think "masculine" and "feminine" we imagine specific behaviours, modes of dress, and even ways of thinking, that are categorized into "guys" and "gals".

For example, frilly dresses. Coded feminine. Pants. Coded masculine (until women fought ridicule and normalized pants-wearing for women, at least).

The problem with gender is that it's assumed to be intrinsic. If we don't behave a specific way, there…