Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oriental Scent, Occidental Sense

So, I was at the Body Shop and I saw a couple of scents I'd never seen before: Moroccon Rose and Japanese Lily.

What with all this talk about Orientalism and being a Person of Colour and whatnot, I just realized how American-centric (occasionally, Euro-centric, but mostly Western-centric) thought patterns appear to be in the corners of the interwebz that I peer in. Ideas of how feminism is outdated because most societies "in the West" aren't patriarchal anymore (cue the ORLY owl), discussions on how Obama is representative of a post-racial world, even the black/white dichotomy that dominates conversations of race - these are very American-centric issues.

And I thought... would I ever see a scent called "American"... "Begonia"? For example. I mean, I've heard "English garden" before, but that's kind of an aesthetic, not really a scent. Why the romanticizing of these countries? These brands will be exported to the rest of the world, presumably.

I wonder what a Japanese person thinks when they go to a Body Shop and picks up "Japanese Lily". I've been to Morocco. Maybe it was the wrong time of year, but I don't know if there's such a thing as quintessential as a "Moroccan rose". (A google search gives me nothing but products. Not even a botanical specie in sight! There are two general species of Japanese Lily, though! Never let it be said I don't give you trivia.)

More than that, I wonder what an American begonia body scrub would smell like.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Body Issues: Fatty Fat Fat Edition

When I got home to Malaysia last December, the first thing Mum said was, "oh my God you're so fat now."

(Which might help explain my better relationship with my dad.)

The last time she'd seen me, I was rather svelte, a size 4 from Suzy Shier.

When I got home, I was a size 10.

There are reasons for this. When she last saw me, I was coming down from a high where I was walking to my university, dancing during rehearsals, and ... not eating that much for the amount of activity I was doing. I was very active: I frequently missed the bus and had to walk to university; I modeled, I... got out a lot for someone who doesn't like getting out a lot.

Before I last went home though? I was not getting out much. I was hosting NaNoWriMo (I'm the Halifax ML). I was starting a new full-time job. In between, I was stage-managing and acting in a play. It meant a lot of pizza nights, and a lot of meals at the food court downstairs.

The weight thing was inevitable. (However, the job thing, finishing NaNo for the sixth time in a row, and the play going well? Not inevitable. Very pleased at the success.)

That's not what bugged me. You know what bugged me? The fat-shaming.

A ton has been written about fat-shaming. Kate Harding writes a ton on the subject. Melissa McEwan frequently discusses it as well. I've written about it too.

But basically, when I went home, I was feeling fine. I was putting on weight and I definitely noticed it, but I sucked it up and decided to go home, and go hiking with my dad a lot. I was sure that with the amount of movement I got to do at home, I'd lose weight. My house back home has stairs. I tend to pace a lot, especially when thinking, and I would run up and down the stairs. I was sure I could fit back into my regular clothes when I got back to Canada, and if not, I could buy more clothes in Malaysia to fit me, for cheaper.

I didn't lose much weight. It's entirely possible I put on more. You know what else I got?

Issues. Hardcore. As in, while before I was happily moseying through life, suddenly? I didn't feel like going out anymore. I didn't feel like dressing nice. I went down to Singapore for a week to model, and I felt like crap before I even got there. I mustered it anyway and got a couple of decent pictures, but no good nudes like before. I felt like this all the way back to Halifax.

And one morning at my awesome new job, I got an email from my dad asking me very innocently, how's my weight? And I just broke down.

This comes from a person who is 5'2" and has an average-body type, who generally does not have issues with her body and who generally eats what she wants, goes where she wants, does what she wants.

But there is something about the culture at large which is so devastatingly limiting when it comes to our own bodies, particularly women's bodies which apparently exist for male consumption.

I have friends who wear the hijab out of choice when mainstream Western ideas decry it as sexist and oppressive.

I know more people in the West who feel the constant pressure of mainstream Western ideals to conform to specific body standards.

"Fatty fat fat" shaming is still a form of limitation on people. It's horrid precisely because it's so subtle and so acceptable.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins Remix: Greed Edition

What's wrong with having more than one needs?

No, really.

Or even, wanting more than what is given?

Wanting our fair share is pretty natural, especially in our current world where we place so much status on having, and having recognition, having authourity, having representation is so fraught with debates - who deserves the spotlight? Who deserves the credit?

Really, the only justification I can think of to cite greed (the desire for more) as an ill is because if you're a person in power and you have a people who want as much as you have, then you have to share what you have.

(Because obviously wealth, power, and awesome shiny stuff is finite, like love and rights, so if you've got some, you've got to hoard it the best you can, or else, if someone else gets a bit, you will inevitably feel some kickback.)

I mean, crap, there's a lot in the world to share. Right? And... what we don't have enough of, we just build more. We can do that, last I checked. It just takes a bit of hard work, a bit of un-learning and re-learning, it takes a bit of awareness.

And it just takes a bit of expecting more.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Review: Tariq Ali's Islam Quintet

I just finished A Sultan in Palermo last week. Which means I am totally up to date on all of Tariq Ali's excellent Islam Quintet books.

I read the Book of Saladin when I was home in Malaysia, partly because I was bored, partly because it was right there on my brother's table, and partly because I'd seen a Malay translation. I was deeply impressed by the Book of Saladin, and I jumped at the first chance I had to buy the rest of the books. What can I say? Outside the Lines was having a massive sale since they were moving.

The first thing I noted about the stories? How real Tariq Ali made the characters. Each of them had a story. Each of them had a past, and most of them have futures (except for the majority of the unfortunate characters in Shadow of a Pomegranate Tree), which do not necessarily require some dramatic out-of-this-world revelation... it's all part of life for them. Men and women, all of them have good sides to them, and all have bad sides, and sometimes one outweighs the other, but overall, it's the kind of characterization I hope to be able to give my characters.

And the characters! He doesn't necessarily pass the Bechdel Test, but the female characters, although products of their time, are such strong persons. They bear their harem imprisonment differently, deal with the same things differently. But he has such great female characters! The Stone Woman, the third book, is narrated, first person perspective, by a female character (the narrative occasionally shifts to other male characters, for the purpose of plot). Each of them are sensitively drawn. In the Book of Saladin, his narrator asks the question, "why do we shut half of our civilization out?" in response to a conversation had with the Sultan's favourite wife, Halima (a force to be reckoned with).

Also, some of his privileged female characters have sexual autonomy, agency, and they make sexual choices. He makes it very clear the difference between enthusiastic participation and coercion, and the characters who're deeply attracted to each other joyfully romp about in bed. It's nice to see strong female participation in sex.

The next beautiful thing is how well he blends fact with fiction - the Islam Quintet is set in the time period when the Islamic civilization first started its clashes with the West, and it deals with how the various characters grapple with the clash. Some convert to suit the conquerors. Some struggle to retain their Arabic identity despite the fractures among Arabs. Others aggressively fight against the invaders. All of them are wonderfully portraited (I want to say portrayed, but not really) - I could feel the dilemmas.

And he blends narrative with philosophy so well. It's hard to do that without sounding preachy, but because of his excellent blend of different characters, the discussions, topics of which range from philosophical, historical, social issues, become integral to the plot of developing the character's story and being part of the historical fragment of history to which they belong. So much good stuff.

My most favourite thing about his writing? The style. It's gorgeous. It's emotive, evocative, philosophical - I read the first few pages of the Stone Woman out loud to myself. It was amazing. It feels like an English translation of my favourite Arabic poets (mostly Sufi) and I admit, I thought his books were originally written in Arabic. (Well, I can't find proof they were, so...) How rhythmic his language is!

Now, what I don't like? Well, I would have liked it if his books didn't have the pattern of ending with a bloody massacre. All but one end with a horrible massacre of an entire household. Why? I mean, I know horrible shit like that happened during the period, but was it necessary? I know stories have to end somehow, but still. Extra pathos? I felt it, but still.

Also, while I know rape is horribly chronic within all civilizations, couldn't he have at least gone with one book within which one of the characters doesn't get raped? Not that the rape(s) detracts from the story at all and in fact, add to the horrible foreboding one gets reading the novels, but still.

Lastly, and this is less polemical, I felt the last book, Sultan in Palermo, was significantly poorer in quality than the others. Firstly, the pacing. Maybe I was reading it too fast, but it went by awfully fast. It doesn't make sense, because I took about the same amount of time reading the Stone Woman and I didn't have this issue. Secondly, it was really disjointed. I can't explain why, but it felt like a patchwork hurriedly put together.

Either way, this is still a series I'd recommend to anybody looking for a good historical fiction, or just damned good writing in general. I certainly don't generally read historical fiction, but this was well worth it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Star Trekking In Search of Scifi/Fantasy Divides

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were discussing steampunk and the steampunk movement in Japan, and he said, "most Japanese steampunk movies are just regular movies in a steampunk setting anyway." He pointed out that Star Wars is a science-fantasy, a fantasy set in space, and said, all scifi are just regular stories with added science, even Star Trek.

My first instinct was to argue but it did make me think.

There are just some stories which can't be told in another genre. I could be wrong in this, but, to state a few examples:

Howl's Moving Castle is predicated on Howl's living between two worlds - our Earth (where he has a nephew who has a computer) and the fantasy world, where he spends most of his time. There's a weird spell going on with a John Donne poem. In the movie, his curse is inextricably tied to Calcifer's. Neither of these stories would have worked realistically in a science fiction story, not without a huge stretch of imagination.

Gaiman's Mirrormask, book or movie, could never have been told in anything else but fantasy, nor his Sandman.

Tron, which kinda is a fantasy, what with the weird religion and all, probably wouldn't have worked without the technological component.

Miles Vorkosigan's adventures could probably work as a fantasy series, but it would be sorely lacking the same panache.

Stargate SG-1 would definitely have been significantly less cool without the science, though. I mean, shit, Samantha Carter the astrophysicist. What would have been her counterpart? A wizardess. Not even half as cool.

But Star Trek? Hmmmm...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kant's Categorical Imperative

So, I used to hate Kant.

Somewhere in my Intro to Philosophy textbook, is scribbled "Kant is a cunt" (those days I didn't know what 'cunt' meant, only that it's a bad word. Well, it still is for me, but bad in a good way) and "KANT U SUCK" and "YOU IDIOT!" and various other sputtered criticisms of his text.

I have my textbook in front of me now, reading my reactions to some of his words:

"... when a wretched man, strong in soul and more angered at his fate than faint-hearted or cast down, longs for death and still preserves his life without loving it- not fron inclination or fear but from duty; then indeed his maxim has a moral content."

I thought it was bullshit then, and it's still bullshit now. A choice to live or die is not in itself a question of morality - it's a question of personal liberty. Certainly, if a person's choice to die affects others deeply, causing grief and mourning, the action takes on a certain light, but I'm one for choosing how we die as to how we live, so I'm still not buying this.

"Rational beings, on the other hand, are called persons because their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves - that is, as something which ought not to be used merely as a means..."

I have trouble with this. Firstly, it doesn't include the mentally unstable. Secondly, he offers no real working definition of what being "rational" means. Thirdly, it kinda says, being rational by nature entitles one to be a person, to not be used as a means. As opposed to, being a person entitles one the right to not be used as a means, whether or not they are rational. Children are often irrational - we still call them persons and accord to them the rights accorded to all human beings.

And then he started talking about kingdoms. Now, this talk would all have made more sense if I'd known from the beginning that Kant was writing this as a way to justify his religion without the necessary theology. He writes:

"A rational being belongs to the kingdom of ends as a member ... A rational being must always regard himself as making laws in a kingdom of ends which is possible through freedo of the will - whether it be as member or as head. The position of the latter he can aintain, not in virtue of the maxim of his will alone, but only if he is a completely independent being, without needs and with an unlimited power adequate to his will. ... ... Duty does not apply to the head in a kingdom of ends, but it does apply to every member and to all members in equal measure."

This made me mad, because to me, the head of a kingdom is every bit a member of the kingdom. To no one else does duty apply more, and more harshly, more heavily, than upon the head. Spider-man didn't exist during Kant's time, or else Kant would have been aware that with power comes responsibility. It is precisely because of jelly-spined statements like this that kings and heads of state have run roughshed over peoples, and people who have actual power feel they are entitled to rule over others without any attendant sacrifices.

So, back to Kant's Imperatives.

A hypothetical imperative is this: it should be done, because it's good for something else.

A categorical imperative is this: it should be done, because it's a good thing in itself.

Look. Just. *sigh*

OK, I guess I still hate him.

Anyways. Lately I find myself saying stuff in the vein of, "this consequence is a categorical good." Particularly in relation to stuff like this: Don't say sexist things, because it encourages a sexist world, and by not indulging in sexist bullshit, we cut out more sexist bullshit in the world, and the world becomes a little less sexist, and that's a categorical good. That's a consequence that in itself, is a good thing, because, well, the world sucks a little less.

So, I was under the impression that I got this idea from Kant, but I guess I didn't, because for Kant, this would be a hypothetical imperative.

Anyways, my point is that I've been using "categorical good" as a phrase in my every-other-day lexicon for a while now, and wanted to talk about where I got the idea and what it means.

There are a lot of categorical goods in the world worth using the hypothetical imperative for.

Sorry, DWM.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Quintessentially Chinese: Money, Money, Money Edition

We Asians, particularly those of smokey-yellow skin, are apparently businesspeople to the core. This is our stereotype. My friend Tariq Kamal wrote, "the Chinese vote for whoever is good for business." Many Malaysian-Chinese families I know are apolitical, unruffled by the prospect of moving to other shores if it means a better life. It would explain the scores of Chinese I meet here who come for the paper degree in order to secure good jobs for their future.

The stereotype implies that there is no artistry in the Chinese, no passion, only a focus on wealth management. Our racist stereotype for Singaporeans (predominantly Chinese) is that they're materialistic, kiasu (always wanting to one-up another, snobby). In the Malay Dilemma, good Dr. Mahathir used evolutionary psych (and we know we're in trouble when a politician uses evo psych but this made sense to me) to point out the difference between the Chinese and Malay work ethics: the Chinese had to work hard in order to survive, because a ton of really awful shit goes down in China every so often, apparently, so when they came to Malaya, they brought their work ethic, and thrived as a result; on the other hand, the Malays didn't really have much else to do but plant the paddy fields and watch the rice grow, apparently, so when the Chinese came, the Malays were outclassed.

I'd lol but this has been a bit of a sticking point for me for a while not, because it is not entirely true that the Chinese have no artistry. I mean, did you guys see the freaking Beijing Olympics? Let me assure you that that is not the only Great Chinese Show on this good green earth of such resplendence. Of course, it's not too difficult to pull it off because China has got a ton of bodies to spare.

But anyways, back to the stereotype. I was telling Ay-Leen the Peacemaker the other day about a little skit I had in mind, wherein our two characters would have a confrontation, pull guns on each other, and finish by saying, "of course, we both know... killing each other would be bad for business."

It's funny because it's true. Killing each other is bad for business. Can't get anything done if we're dead.

I laughed and I said to her, "the's so stereotypically Asian".

And then it kinda stopped being funny anymore. Although within the context of the skit, it would have been awesome and hilarious. So it got me thinking.

Chinese in certain quarters are called "Jews of the East", purely due to the money-grubbiness of our yellow hands, because we certainly aren't being persecuted leftrightcenter (OK, so the Japanese went to Chinese shores and the Rape of Nanking happened and Chinese were persecuted in Malaya and that shit was horrible and evil but on the whole it's been mostly Chinese hating on each other) -- and still, in the end, I'm not sure what the problem is.

Sooooooooo, we like monies. What's wrong with that? Lots of people like monies. Monies does useful things, you know, like, fund our hobbies or enable us to go to school without taking out student loans (yes, privilege, natch!) or retire comfortably or support our children when they go to school.

Sooooooooo, we're workaholics? Well, I'm not sure why this is our fault. If we didn't work, we would die. Way back when? Literally. Vita activa, my friends, is for some, not all, but still, very much for some.

Sooooooooo, we're hardworking and industrious and - this is a problem? I mean, if you fucking made us take leave and promised us we're still have a job we'd probably take that leave, you know. This is a baseline because many of us don't have a choice!

And this doesn't even only apply to Chinese - it can apply to so many other people in the world. Some people... just like working. I don't know, maybe we should just quit having expectations on Having It All, and just focus on Having What We Want.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

R.I.P. David Eddings

David Eddings died a few weeks ago.

This was hard on me. June 6. His wife had died a couple of years earlier. He was 77. They wrote amazing stories together (and I was pleased when he acknowledged her role in his writing). David & Leigh Eddings, the books would say. A power couple.

So when he died, I took it kind of hard.

It is hard to quantify just how much the Eddingses have affected my life and informed my writing. Especially when I consider that I've only read the iconic Belgariad, the Mallorean, Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara the Sorceress (and I got it backward, I started with Lady Polgara's story, then Belgarath's, before reading the rest in the proper fashion) and the Redemption of Althalus.

Was he a formula writer? Oh yes.

Were his characters sometimes silly caricatures? Oh yes.

Did he use some of the most awful cliches ever? Hell yeah.

But he did all of that on purpose, and I love him for it. He just wanted to write a good story, that would entertain generations to come. He was inspired by Tolkien (who he called "Papa Tolkien", so I guess I'll say "Grandpa Tolkien") and started with a map and just busted on scene with this amazing epic.

And the characters never stayed away from me. There was typical white-boy Garion who was frequently confused but always, always driven by a sense of goodness and affection for his friends and family. There was impetuous Princess Ce'Nedra, from money grubbing Tolnedra who shocked Garion's prudish sensibilities and didn't give him, her Destined True Love, an inch. She raised a fucking army! Not only that, but she stole a whole fucking army from her dad! Wise but with a nasty explosive (literally lol) temper was Lady Polgara, and her father the alcoholic wizard Belgarath who was the most famous man on the planet but never acted that way were the most well-balanced mentor figures for Garion - and myself.

And there were PoC! Ce'Nedra herself is one, and not just because she's a Dryad - her culture was clearly modeled after the Romans so she's probably Mediterranean. The Ulgos, like Jews and Muslims in their devotion. Sadi, the eunuch, was definitely Middle-Eastern (though one could argue he was also South-Asian). Zakath had to be Asian. The Malloreans had to be -they hailed from the Far East and Garion et al were shocked at their level of civilization. Zakath was so urbane and non-chalant about it. I loved it. Although I sometimes imagine Zakath as a kind of Moor. Either way he's probably hot.

One of the things I loved about the stories is the amount of agency that female characters got. Eddings never portrayed a rape scene because there were plenty of other ways to menace his female characters, and they dealt with all that with great equanamity. Polgara was the only woman with talent, but the other women held their own even without magic: Ce'Nedra, Velvet, Vella. In the Mallorean we had the wonderful villainess Zandrama who was really quite the threat and never once did Eddings use sexuality as a bad thing. Even characters living in strictly patriarchal societies showed a strength of character.

Sexuality was held up as a good in the Eddingses world, which I think is a wonderful reflection of their marriage. When Garion sighs to Belgarath that he and Ce'Nedra have yet to produce an heir, Belgarath demands, "what have you been doing, boy?" Whilst adventuring in Mallorea, Ce'Nedra is feeling pecky and wants to pick a fight, but instead opts to have sex with Garion. Velvet and Silk have nookie. With hilarious results!

"She had that snake in her bosom!"
"... And tell me, Prince Kheldar. Exactly what were you doing in Magravine Liselle's bosom?"

I wanted to die so bad. But although Del Rey told Eddings, "fantasy is the prissiest genre" and Eddings notes that "Tolkien's women ended at the neck", Eddings brilliantly brought sexuality in as a natural part of life, without hypersexualizing the characters or tiltillating the readers. With the exception of the Nadrak women, but hell, that was part of their culture, and off-stage, Vella was just another strong woman whose assets weren't just her appearance and ability to dance. Althalus regularly admires Dweia's arms. Her arms, for chrissakes. Relg the zealot had to overcome his asinine distaste for sexual activities since he was, in fact, a sexual being and was just denying himself, and by doing so, he found happiness with Taiba.

Eddings dealt with a whole range of peoples - from Emperors to peasants - and made them just... other people. He brought a human face to so many of his characters: each of them had something they did which had nothing to do with their role in the story. Zakath had his pet cat. Which kept on having kittens. (And his pet cat made friends with Sadi's pet snake, which was lovingly described.)

The Eddingses dealt with war, poverty, grief. One of the most poignant moments in the Belgariad is when a young mute boy who wants nothing more than to play his flute does so when he thinks he's done fighting, and he is killed by an enemy soldier. Another hard moment is Ce'Nedra offering bread to two starving peasants, and they swear to serve her to the very end, and she realizes that she's just fed the two men so they would join her and they might die. The Eddingses didn't shy from this, didn't spare the reader from these ethical questions. Ce'Nedra's been possessed and has gone delusional - what do they do? The city of Mal Zeth is facing a plague and they have to escape - what do they do? A woman in Karanda is birthing a demon baby, her body distended beyond belief, and Polgara takes care of it - what do they do? Ce'Nedra and Garion are particularly upset, since they're on a search for their own son.

Those were hard questions and they taught me that life is never so simple. Even if Eddings thinks he was trying to simplify life and present a world where one knew when things were aright and when evil was afoot, he was also bring the complexity of being human to his readers, and that was amazing.

I was suffering from depression when I first read his books. They alleviated the pain because they were simply, truly funny. Belgarath and Polgara, having gone through so much damn life, had aphorisms and advice for just about every occasion. And sometimes, they just said nothing, and it was the appropriate response. The characters faced all kinds of pain - loss, grief, anger, rejection, and the various ways they dealt with the pain, the differing amounts of time before they found resolution, or how they sometimes never found resolution.

Sometimes the characters were just plain petty. And this, too, was shown to be just another part of growing up and living, and it either passes into maturity, or it results in bickering that they just have to resolve themselves.

And above all, despite Eddings' pessimism, his characters were good and kind and giving and didn't go around imposing their idelogy on people but showed the way towards better living. They were affectionate with each other and learnt that it was good to be honest about their love. Even Book 2's villainess, Salmissra, welcomes Sadi home in Book 10 and tells him how much she truly missed him, in a completely non-sexual but sincere manner.

The Eddingses gave me worlds I could believe in, people I could emulate, thoughts I could carry with me to help me through those tumultuous days of angsty adolescence and even my half-angry adulthood.

I can't quantify how much I was shaped by their writing in those days. But I know they did, and they did it profoundly, and I can only feel gratitude.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Steampunking: Wildean Dreams

While participants of the steampunk subculture generally call themselves steampunks, I find myself calling myself a "steampunker".

I have a saying which goes, "It is not enough to do, one must be. It is not enough to be, one must become."

This was drawn from an Oscar Wilde quote from the second The Critic as Artist dialogue in which he expounds a kind of blend between critical theory and philosophy:

"... the contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming - that is what the critical spirit can give us."

By the critical spirit, he meant the ability to judge something by various standards, rather than accept something at face value. He was writing about art, obviously, aesthetic art. But I took it to heart, and applied it to more than just art - I applied it to that great Work In Progress that is the Self. To always improve one's self, to always become something, preferrably something better that one's self.

For example, not just do generous things. Be generous. Not just be generous, because it implies hitting some certain(ly low) bar of generosity, but to become generous, wherever I do. I could always do more, be more, become more.

It ties in nicely with a revelation Garion has in the final book of the Mallorean, where he realizes the difference between Dark and Light: "Dark crouched in perceived perfection, while Light was always progressing forward, informed by a vision of perfection." (I may be getting this quote a little bit wrong, but that's the main gist of it. Yes, I'm a nerd.)

It is the same with my feminist philosophy - feminism moves forward, informed by a vision of equality, happiness and liberty. Its anti-thesis and great enemy, Patriarchy (or kyriarchy), crouches in what it thinks is a form of perfection, never moving. There's nothing wrong with this, but if you freeze your muscles in one place too long, it begins to atrophy, and pain sets in. It's not healthy.

Everything can be and should be subject to revision if it is not up to par. Like Captain Janeway, I am always looking for better ways to do things, revising my opinion if necessary, strengthening my stances, educating myself. Because it is through the process of education that one gains the knowledge to properly inform choices.

Certainly, Wilde is a poor choice to draw inspiration from for my feminism - he was white, he was male, he was pretty damned rich, intelligent, well-educated. He passed as straight for a while, and his marriage actually sounds kind of pleasant, since his wife was also well-educated and they remained friends even though his various affairs, his trial and after.

But he had some damned fine advice and observations we could do well to apply: the need for an artist's distance from art, in order to fully critique it and make it better. This was the man who said, "shallowness is the supreme vice". While he was oddly devoid of malice, oblivious to envy, (both if which led to his "downfall", if indeed it is a downfall at all, because he was never broken, and his last quote showed that brilliant wit that characterized his writing career), he was deeply moral, deeply concerned with -- beauty. Not just having it, but truly enjoying it, appreciating it, feeling it. In a paper I wrote three years back on his philosophy:
The uncontemplative person allows things to happen and does not care,taking the world as it is. Wilde’s philosophy, however, encourages the use of thought to challenge, transgress and reject acceptable notions of morality. These challenges, combined with aesthetic ideas, would inform society on paths to progress on by presenting it with ideals to work towards. These ideals, however, cannot be presented if the critical faculty is left idle. Thus, without the exercise of the critical faculty in contemplation, beauty loses its effect, experiences become mere consumption for the appetite and any ethical action becomes meaningless because it is form without deliberation.
Yeah, I was pretty deep back in the day.

What does this to do with being a steampunker?

Part of my steampunking involves a step back from what I'm doing, eyeballing the past with a critical eye, seeing what I like, and what I don't like, in the past, in the present, and the possible future, and re-arrange things, improve stuff, add in and take out elements.

Part of my steampunking involves going against the culture that tries to tell me I am worth little, that my actions will mean nothing, that my thoughts are easily dismissed. The culture that tells me that hatred and power combined is a strong force to be reckoned with and I should bow down of face erasure.

Part of my steampunking involves becoming a better person so I can help transform the world into a place where goodness and beauty reside.

To do all this, it is necessary to maintain the critical faculty, to be able to first see the world as it is, own it, and then transform it.

To do can be merely superficial (although I do not hold it against others for merely doing. Sometimes we just do the best we can!). To be can lead to stasis (although some people are just perfect the way they are, bastards!). To become is... like doing and being at the same time, always in a kind of motion, hopefully, ideally, towards progress.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

Generally, most of us identify with a parent of the same sex. Or so the narrative is supposed to go.

Anyways, this post is about my father. Or rather, my relationship with my father. It has always generally been good, except for that period from early adolescence until college where I expected more freedom than I generally got. Sometimes, he's a fucking grouch, but that's to be expected.

My father taught me how to cook and sweep the floor (yes, there is a specific way of doing so in order to maximise cleaning efficiency). He taught me how to be a responsible person and I can't remember the number of times he's close to bopped my head for not paying attention to my surroundings, the things that need to be done around the house, and my general chores. He took me out to volunteer at various society meets.

Even during our most trying years, my dad and I maintained some positive activities. We went to Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra performances together. They were spaced out every few months, and I made a big deal and dressed well. We sat together, and sometimes we talked.

My father always expected more from me, than I felt capable of giving. Once, I failed Math. It was awful and I tried explaining to him that everyone else failed it too, and he said, "you shouldn't judge yourself by how others are judging themselves." Which was his (and my Mum's, too, admittedly) way of saying, "don't compare yourself to other people's low standards, expect more from yourself."

I did shittily in school and continued to do shittily in school until I got to college where the medium of instruction was English. We had our fights. My brother and I admit that there's no one in the world who could make us feel like complete shite the way my dad does - it's excruciatingly humiliating: the mode of questioning, the sneering tone, the way his eyes narrow in severe disapproval.

And yes, again, sometimes, it's just him being a fucking grouch.

But he taught me some really important things, and more importantly, was a prime role model for what he taught me:

Pursue your dreams and stick to them. My father saw the opportunity to explore two of his favourite things: "food" and "science". He went on to work in the food technology industries. It's possible that if he hadn't seen that Universiti Malaya was offering it, he would have stayed in his course of teaching Science. Out of his class, he's one of the few who actually stayed in the business.

Be honest. He was so scrupulously honest. Except when it came to a few things, and those were deeply private and personal.

Offer help wherever you can. My dad never hesitated to offer to buy stuff from Nestle House with his staff discount for his friends. Whenever he went out of town, he asked his relatives if they wanted anything. My mother sometimes resented this habit of his (she's a 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' sort of person) but it made an impression on me. Not only that, but he also offered free accomodation where he could. Friends visiting from overseas knew that they had a place to stay in our house. They repaid him by offering us a place to stay when we visited. We saved a lot on hotel costs, and we had, I daresay, a better time that way, because that's the kind of human connection which is terribly important.

Love nature. Dad was, and I think still is, part of the Malaysian Nature Society, and we went hiking a lot. I never went on some of those extended treks, but the most memorable trek I went with him was to Mount Irau, when I was 15. Whenever I go home, we hike at Gasing Hill. His instructions for his funeral are simple: he wants to be cremated and his ashes scattered along the Gasing Hill trails. I figure that that's not too difficult, and would save me a trip up to Penang every so often.

My dad can get loud and he's very funny. His humour's not the kind which depends on malice or mean-spiritedness. On the Irau trip, he was in charge of getting people to congregate in the main meeting hall. They didn't have a bell, so he banged a big spoon onto a big pot and shouted "EVERYBODY COME TO THE MAIN HAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!" And he had been put in charge of announcements, and said, in a very authouritatively comic fashion, "I HAVE BEEN MADE THE TOWN CRIER. THAT MEANS, IF YOU DON'T LISTEN, I MAKE YOU CRY. OKAY?"

It was kind of embarrassing. I avoided the hall when he decided to read Poe's Raven like it was hip-hop. (Incidentally, my dad was the first one who read Annabel Lee to me, and although he didn't know what a meter is, or a foot, he knew it was rhythmic and beat the rhythm for me to hear, to explain why it sounded so beautiful to read. I took that book he read from and found other works in it. I discovered Shakespeare through him, indirectly. He also introduced Khalil Gibran to me. Go figure.) But he loves to make people laugh.

My dad's not very good at the whole emotions thing. He's better than most, but when I first told him about my depression, the first thing he did was get me pamphlets on depression, stuff which I'd already known. Would've been more helpful if he'd read them himself. We had many long upsetting discussions about this, especially after I'd left home and my brother moved home, because he just didn't get it, being perfectly sanguine himself despite coming from a family with a hideous history of depression. I don't know how it skipped over him, but he is annoyingly perpetually cheerful in his own way. I sort of inherited that from him, but really, it's just a useful coping mechanism.

My dad's not too keen on competitive sports, but he was a fencer in high school. When the Commonwealth Games played in Malaysia in 1998, he brought out his foils and taught me some basics. That was pretty fucking awesome. While watching one of the fencers having difficulties with her game, and she went off to the side in what looked like meditation, my dad told me, "sometimes, you have to do that. Just don't focus on the pain of failure and try to recognize why it happened." Well, maybe not in those words, but close.

It would be rather impossible for me to catalog everything about my father (though I certainly try), but that's not really the point. I'm twenty-four years old now, and certainly, my father may not be the best father ever (nor am I the best daughter ever, could just be a compatibility issue), but for every good father like mine, there are a few deadbeat ones, and possibly twenty average ones, and by average I mean, passes the baseline for fatherhood and could do better.

Everybody deserves a father like mine, who recognizes their children as agents of their own will who will act and behave their own ways, with their own passions. Who doesn't say "no" but asks "are you sure?" and who supports their kids, with the simple condition of, "do your chores."

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Broad Brushstroke

"Don't paint us all with the same brush."
"You're over-generalizing. We're not all like that."
"Don't judge the individual for what the group does."
"Well, I make sure not to do X so this doesn't apply to me and I resent your implication that it does."

You've seen this sentiment before, right? Right? It doesn't matter what it's about - when feminists are talking about men's participation within patriarchal systems. When PoC are talking about white collusion in oppressive institutions. When LGBTQ folks point out that het folks often practise het privilege in ignorance.

Certainly, there's a problem with over-generalization. It's not very nuanced. It's not very forgiving of people who belong to the one group that's being criticized.

But hell's bells, ya'll - why do you need the disclaimer of "this doesn't apply to all people within the group"? What possible benefit could you get from seeing that little clause which lets you know you've got a Get Out of Jail Free card?

Whenever I see someone with the sentiment of, "you're painting with a very broad brushstroke and accusing people who aren't guilty of the same thing," the sequence of thoughts appears in my mind:

- Are you part of this group?
- If not, why are you mad? This is not about you.
- If so, do you participate in the activities that other members of the group perform that hurt other groups?
- If not, why are you mad? This is not about you.
- Are you mad because you feel you're being personally accused? This is not about you.
- Why are you so mad at being accused? You are part of this group which perpetuates these harmful actions. Again, this is not about you, but the group that you just so happen to belong to.

In the end, it all boils down to the feeling that not being painted with the damning brushstroke is more important than acknowledging the pain that is being doled out. Because, I don't know, you want to keep that squeaky clean image you have of yourself, more than you care about other people's pain?

The sentiment that comes across is this: it's more important that people keep in mind that you are not one of those people who hurt others, or else the discussion is missing something utterly important - when in fact, the discussion is not about you, yours, your special circumstances or what makes you different, and insisting that we acknowldge this from the first-off is disingenuous at best, arrogant at worst.

Because when you ask for the Exception Card, you may mean well but what you're doing is insisting that you are acknowldged first before you acknowledge the issue at hand, and if you come into a space where the issue at hand is Not About You, you're just derailing.

As Renee of Womanist Musings says so eloquently, "If it ain't about you, don't make it about you."

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Quote, and Anger Revisited

In light of my post on Anger, I wish to quote Renee of Womanist Musings:
In a post awhile ago I used the term “dumb” to refer to those that did not acknowledge their homophobia. When a commenter rightfully pointed out that my language was ableist, my initial reaction was to become angry. I do believe I remarked to the unhusband, “geesh no one can even speak anymore.” As soon as those words came out of my mouth, I realized that I had engaged in an act of privilege. The instant you feel anger, that is a cue that an issue needs to be examined. Anger does not result in a vacuum; in instances like this it is often the manifestation of a desire to maintain a privilege. In that moment I knew that I had been ableist and I felt regret.
This, I believe, is the usefulness of controlling these emotions and being able to think about them rationally. If one gets angry, it's a great and useful opportunity to step back and ask, "why does this create such a visceral reaction in me? What do I gain from this anger? Am I being productive in engaging?"

Anger is useful because it is a cue that something is up, something is going on, that we do not like, and we should stop to look at it, rather than plow on and ignore it, because it might be a problem that we should address - in this case, our privilege.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Turning Away From Religion: The Fig Tree

Okay, that fucking fig tree thing.

Why is that even a story in the Bible?

No, seriously, what fucking point does it prove? Don't piss Jesus off or he will smite your ass into barrenness on the off-day that you just so happen to not have what he wants when he's feeling peckish?

I think Jesus was a nifty man and all evidence that proves his existance also proves that he was worthy of following.

But, the guys who edited the Bible and all - why would they pick this story? It makes no sense. It's fanciful. Jesus was being a careless asshole.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lateisha Green

I am aware of Lateisha Green.

I know she is a transgender WoC. To be specific, she is a black WoC, which identifies her difference from Angie Zapata - Lateisha Green is - was, though it makes me weep to correct myself - darker-skinned.

But unlike the Zapata case, the media hasn't been following this case.

The trial of Dwight Delee has been moved to mid-July, when it was originally slated for June 11.

However, still not a peep from the media on the case. Not even close to the amount of coverage for Angie Zapata, which, in itself, was still not enough. And now there is even less attention.

This is not right.

I don't really have much else to say, except that I am aware of Lateisha Green, that she existed, that she died, and that the public at large seems not to notice. I am trying to keep an eye out on newbits on her.

Lateisha Green deserves all the recognition she can get, not because she was black, not because she was transgender, not because she was killed, but because she is part of an overall pattern of us all ignoring the lives of black, transgendered people who are murdered in the dark, without even a whisper of remembrance.

It needs to stop.

h/t Feministe

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins Remix: Anger Edition

So it takes quite a bit to actually get me really pissed off. Like, rage-inducing sort of pissed off. I don't think I was like this when I was younger and I can't remember the last time I went into a blind rage.

But there have been times when I do get impatient, and angry, and mad, and someone has always been there to tell me, "don't get mad, let it go, this isn't worth your energy."

Since then, I've picked my battles wisely, and Wrath, like the other deadly sins, has helped me.

It is anger which drives me to seek solutions and better ways of progressing. It is anger which demands that I do not settle for a world which is less-than, that I do not settle for anything less than I ask. It is the anger in me which I will credit the incredible lack of bullshit in my life, because anger lends me the strength to simpy cut that shit out.

There are plenty of reasons why wrath is a vice - with it, people get violent, taking out their frustrations on others. Wrath at a wounded ego is behind many of the actions which lead to hurting others. Wrath is a tool of the patriarchy - cower in the face of the Patriarch's wrath because he will almost certainly kill you then, and don't do anything to provoke it. That's pointless, stupid, and evil.

That is not the kind of anger I'm talking about.

There are things worth getting angry about, to give us that adrenaline rush, that little push, towards taking a great stride and making a stand to make the world a slightly better place.

I am angry everytime I read a news piece concerning the violation of human rights. I am angry everytime I read an article which condemns others for being who they are without hurting anybody else. I am angry everytime I think about the hurt that keeps going on and on in the world, and sometimes, I am angry because I know I am helpless to do anything.

It's a kind of anger that leads to a contempt for the horrible things we see on a daily basis and yet are unable to do anything, which leads us to write letters to the editor, make changes in our lives, lobby government buildings, talk to people about our grievances on the off-chance someone understands and knows what to do in response.

Not everyone can get a hold of their anger and channel it into something productive, but it's a worthwhile thing to at least attempt. In an age where resignation and despair are used to break our spirits, anger is the brief flash that we can use to straighten our backs, even just for a while.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Malaysiana: Pet Peeve #1 Edition

One of the sentiments I see very often in discussions of race with Malaysians is this: race isn't important. Talking about our racial problems will not help the situation. We are a multi-racial society and should thus learn how to learn multi-racially.

Part of this thought comes from my friend's post on Malay vs. Chinese counter-oppressions. In it, another very smart LiveJournaler pointed out that the article was simplistic, that "we should be talking about something else, or else not just about this."

Part of this thought comes from the Farish Noor interview in the original article, wherein Farish Noor says,
"I want to see a Malaysia that is luas, that is limitless in its abundance, wealth and potential. Not a Malaysia where ethnic communities plant their flags, saying "This is my patch, that patch is yours." It would be a Malaysia where one can walk freely and with confidence in the knowledge that this is our shared land and we are all the richer because we share it together."
Some people may find it a bit of a mental stretch to see how an article which calls for inclusivity produces a reaction which discusses the exclusivity and racial tensions whivh divide our people.

I don't, because although the solution is obvious from the start for anybody who so much as looks at the problem, not everybody is actually seeing the problem for what it is. Some of us see the problem very differently. And a few of us don't even see a problem, shrugging their shoulders resignatedly, that it's part of life, everyone is different and everyone is greedy.

My friend's article is just a very small portion of the much larger conversation that I believe is absolutely necessary to have: in order to find a solution, we have to find out what is wrong. And there are a lot of things which are wrong in Malaysia wrt our racial politics, and even how we approach the problem.

One of the problems is that we don't like to talk about our problems. We don't. I don't know what it is we do in lieu of it, but in my experience, we quietly put some band-aids over it and carry on with life, under the impression that eventually it will blow over and the people perpetuating the problem will eventually die and... things will be peachy? (I have tried to do this with my BFF. Eventually she clued in to the fact that my acting like an idiot during our serious conversations was my way of derailing. I didn't realize it. I'm not entirely sure I've broken the habit.)

Another part of this problem is that talking about race inevitably gets ugly.

But we do need to talk about it. We need to talk about the power dynamics at hand, and we need to talk about the racist things we do to each other, whether on a macro or micro level. We need to confront the fact that although we may not feel it, our racial group may be hurting another racial group wholesale, and we might just inadvertantly be supporting it without our knowledge.

And we need to acknowledge and own the damage we do to each other. We need to recognize it is being done, every day. We need to see how it happens and the hurt it creates and we need to accept that it creates hurt, not defensively say, "well, it wasn't me, it was just an individual, not the whole group" - fuck that. It may not have been me that abused Farish Noor, but it was a Malaysian-Chinese, and I am part of that group. For all I know another Malaysian-Chinese is, right at this moment, hurting someone in another group, and I must admit that this, too, reflects on the part of the identity I wish to claim, and I need to call them out on it.

It is only when I am made aware of the damages done by the group I claim solidarity with (i.e. Chinese) that I can understand why I am confronted with walls that prevent me from finding solidarity with a much larger group (i.e. Malaysians as a whole comprised of many different races).

I am not going to find solidarity by throwing flowers around, saying, "ignore the racial tensions! Forget the past! Let's move on!"

NO. When a faction of the Malay racial group threatens MY racial group with a repeat of May 13, that is a problem we need to address. We need to ask why it happened, why it could happen again. We cannot just forget about it. We can put it behind us, but we mustn't forget, because forgetting it means we learnt nothing from it, and thus learned no skills with which to prevent it happening again.

And NO, because these things we are talking about, the little cruelties which are the thousand tiny paper cuts we kill others with, whether institutionalized or individual - they hurt other people. And for every Farish Noor out there who grows up with the self-confidence and self-assurance needed to get over the awful racism they faced as a child, there is probably someone (or many more) who doesn't have that fortitude to "get over it". And why the hell should they? There is nothing to be gained from passing over their pain, not recognizing it and not addressing it. Not only is nothing gained, but it is not fair.

I am not saying that we should be living in a state of guilt over what other people have done (good fucking god why am I saying this, oh right because in the whole white privilege discussion this came up half a dozen fucking times because people think "owning the damage your group has done" means "feel sorry! Wallow in the guilt for the crimes of the past!") but we need to recognize our own complicity in giving these people a pass, whether it's "they're just individuals" or "what do you expect, they're ignorant" - these are not excuses for what they have done, these are, all the more, reasons to talk about the problem.

Perhaps I put words in other people's mouths. I myself have never been a victim of such harsh racism in my life. Maybe it is easy to get over racism relatively unscathed. Maybe I'm over-blowing the whole thing.

But from my standpoint, not many Malaysians have nuanced ideas of the problems we have, not even a start to understanding the racial tensions - why they're there, how they are perpetuated, what keeps them there - to even begin working together towards a long-lasting solution that would truly tie tightly the knots of affection we need.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Language Disconnect: Dialect Woes Edition

This is in response to bossymarmalade's submission to the 2nd Asian Women Blog Carnival.

She wrote this in particular:
For a long time, when we talked about Indian things, I would call them by my words and she, who can speak Hindi and Gujarati, would "correct" me. "Oh, you mean ____!"

"I guess so," I'd say, embarrassed by my country bookie mangling of proper Hindi.
This totally reminds me of my own language woes whenever I try, at home. In particular, last Christmas, when I was in the same car with an aunt.

I'd pointed out to her, "if you look there's eu tchar kwai."

She gave me a long puzzled look, and then exclaimed, "eu tcha' kwei!"

YES, the slight vowel differences matter! Because "yau tchar kwai" is Cantonese, and "eu tcha' kwei" is Hokkien, and because I'm familiar (somewhat) with both, I inadvertantly mixed the two together.

It's gotten to the point where I've started giving ESL students some slack. In my Teaching ESL certificate course, we were taught a game called "Computer". Basically, if a student had trouble saying a work, or mis-pronounced a word, we'd simply repeat it, and they'd imitate it, and we'd repeat it, until they were comfortable with their pronunciation (keep in mind, THEY decide when).

I hated that game. If I can hear them and understand what they're saying? Fuck it if they have an accent. It's okay for them to have an accent! People have accents! It reflects where they come from! Do we play it when British people talk around us? No!

All that matters is that they're understood, even if it takes us a couple of moments to get it. I tutored a Chinese student in Canadian Lit (she took the course because she wanted to understand English better) and she had difficulty with poetry. Of course she would! And it's not because she didn't understand English - it was because the cultural cues were vastly different from what she was used to.

When she spoke, she had a thick accent. I had to pay attention. Paying attention, ya'll, is not something I'm very good at sometimes! Especially when it comes to pure auditory stimuli (hence why I turn on closed-captioning and subtitles on TV and DVDs).

I'm not mad at my aunt for my feelings of utter inferiority, but being in that situation more and more makes me even more mad at the standards held against ESL students who're studying a language that's known for stealing from other languages' vocabularies and having several ways of pronouncing one word.

Anyways, back to my dialect woes - this is one of my big problems in learning Chinese, because I would very much like to learn a dialect, not the pu-thong-hwa. Something like Hokkien, or Cantonese, or Hainanese, because these are specific to my heritage.

But mostly? I'd like to just be understood when I try to speak Chinese.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cultural Appropriation / I Write: A Quick List of Goals Edition

I found this on Ambling Along the Aqueduct a few weeks back, when first exploring the idea of cultural appropriation, since I could find no real primers on the topic. It's a list of goals that an informed writer should have when undertaking the task of writing a culture that's, well, different from theirs:

Within western fiction written by whites, there is always the problem of writing about other cultures. I don't mean writing about people not of one's own race, although that sort of diversity poses its own problems.

I mean, writing about other people's cultures and not falling into the many, many traps that await the unwary writer. These problems are especially acute in science fiction and fantasy, where most writers trade in describing places distant in time and space. Some of the goals of the informed writer should include:
  • Not sucking
  • Not including incorrect information
  • Not reducing incredibly complex cultural formations to bite-sized, simplified versions that have no resemblance to the original except that they include whatever Westerners find sensationalistic
  • Not sucking
  • Not being racist
  • Not exacerbating colonial power structures any more than is inherently unavoidable in the process of a privileged person making money off of a non-dominant culture
  • Not making your characters into marionettes that wander around reciting a westernized understanding of their cultural values (e.g. a Chinese character who enjoys proclaiming, "I care a lot about family and duty, more than I do about my own individual identity!")
  • Not lazily playing into historically damaging stereotypes, such as portraying African women as not caring about their children
  • Generally not reducing the other culture (or its people) to a westernized caricature
  • Not sucking
At the moment, I'm working on an outline for a new novel that features an entire cast of people whose skin colours are varying shades of brown, which is an element I've never written before. (It kinda has to happen, since the continent I made is right on the equator. Doesn't make sense to have fair-skinned people anywhere else besides the floating island kingdom overhead where everyone lives indoors.) Not only that, but I'm also drawing on my experiences of hiking in Malaysian forests and mountains for some of the scenes, and it's also the first tropical map I've ever drawn.

But as always, I fear, you know, that I may accidentally exoticise. I already have tapirs in the story, who serve as steeds for travellers that travel up to the highlands to deliver sacrifices. I mentioned this in my LJ, and a friend immediately gushed, "I love that idea! So great to include exotic animals in your story!"

Which is nice and all, but... tapirs... aren't... exotic. Not in my worldview. They're endangered. And they're really fucking cute. But I guess that the only way I'll know if I accidentally exoticise them too much is when I write them and someone points it out, even as I'm going to portray them as perfectly normal animals living on this fictional continent that are endangered in real life.

I told another friend living in Malaysia, and he laughed, "wah, so Malaysiana, your story" and... I felt... small. I don't even know why. I felt like I was appropriating Malay culture. Should I even be writing brown-skinned people?

I'm going to write it anyway and see what happens. Maybe it'll suck and I'll be back at Square One. Maybe it'll be half-decent and I'll get a few beta-readers who're sensitive to these sorts of things and get them to critique it.

But really, the best I'm hoping for at this point is not sucking, wholesale.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Quintessentially Chinese": Hubris Edition

In ciderpress' submission to the Asian Women Blog Carnival, she wrote:
There are so many white people who feel like it's their natural right to take whatever they want and make it "theirs" and take out of the soul of it and steal away the cool, exotic shape without any understanding or love, decide who belong is their us-group and shut others out, while a significant proportion of 2nd/3rd/4th gen Asians living in the west want to deny any part of them that isn't "Western/American/British"... ie, specifically coded white. (The amount of cultural cringe that many of us feel when we see FOBs/1st gen -- are we so alienated from parts of our own identity that we feel embarrassed by something different and yet so much the same?)
I highlight the bit what I was planning on responding to. I was going to write a few lines at her post, just to let her know that my answer was "yes".

... But then I had to explain myself that I felt this, even in Malaysia, unable to relate to my own peers, that I felt driven to a Western country, wherein if I was accused of being ang-mo again, I had an excuse, and I tried to erase that part of me that was Chinese, even in Malaysia, because I didn't feel Chinese, I wanted to be just Malaysian, and I failed at that too, and so I went to a white country where I could indulge my inner banana and that still didn't matter because I craved my own culture anyway.

And it's just feels so stupid now, all that effort of trying to "not be Chinese," because I am, or at least, I want to be, and I feel like I can't because I'm twice-fobby.

It's difficult to write this post because I have trouble parsing my pain and sadness and regret and it's stupid but I'm crying because I do want to reclaim my culture and I do want to take back all the times I suffered the cultural cringe and I want to revel in the times I sat out late at night eating roti canai and be the same as everybody else.

And now it feels like I worked so hard scraping out anything Chinese in me that when I go home, hearing the staccato Mandarin and swooping Cantonese and round Hokkien dialects, I try to look inside me and think that I did too damned good a job and when people ask me, "what kind of Chinese are you anyway?" it gets stupid and awkward.

I wasn't even living in the West when I tried to erase my heritage. It seemed I had to go all the way around the planet (literally, lawl) to realize just how much I wanted it anyway. And yet, somehow I can't think of a way to reconcile being me and being immersed in that culture which made me feel stifled.

Difficult situation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Asian Women Blog Carnival #3: Call for Submissions

The [completely optional] theme for the 3rd Asian Women Blog Carnival is:

Intersections between Culture and Sexism

For many of us, "white feminism" tends to be our introduction towards recognizing sexism, racism, and other kinds of -isms that are relevant to our lives. But because we come from varying cultures, what others may call sexism, we call a cultural trait (the hijab is a prime example). Occasionally, we may have encountered sexism in our own cultures, but we never thought about it that way until after coming into contact with other cultures.

Here are some questions you may want to tackle for this carnival:

- How does sexism manifest in your cultural context?

- Do you find resistance from peers towards naming an incident sexist due to cultural factors?

- What do you think of the notion some non-Asian feminists have that imply you might be too immersed in your own culture to recognize sexism?

- From your own cultural perspective, do you think sometimes, North American mainstream (white) feminists are so immersed in their own culture they don't recognize the sexist overtones in NA culture?

- How do you think your own culture has affected your experiences and views on sexism?

- Have you encountered sexism from people on account of your race and/or culture? (Which may or may not be influenced by racism)

Cultural comparisons and critiques, from East and West, are very welcome. Don't think that your submission should be limited only to the above questions. You may have considered a question I haven't. Or you could write about something else entirely.

I also would like to state that anyone who identifies as an Asian woman is welcome to submit. This space is trans-friendly. Allies of Asian women (including but not limited to Asian men) are also welcome to submit, so long as submissions are within the context of Asian women.

Contributions do not have to be limited to essays or anything academic - personal anecdata, re-myths, fiction, any form of non-fiction prose, and poetry are also welcome!

The deadline for submissions is Saturday, August 15 (with a grace period of 24 hours afterwards). Just post a URL here, or e-mail me at jhameia.goh@gmail.com. Have at it, ladies!

Also, hosts are still needed for future carnivals! Get in touch with ciderpress if you're interested! ^^

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Steampunking: Politics Edition, A Response to Dru Pagliasotti

I read Ms. Pagliasotti's essay a while back, upon the recommendation of Ay-Leen the Peacemaker, and meant to make a response sooner, but decided to hold off until I had more to respond to. And I have, which I found in the innocuous description of LJ community steamfashion (which, in itself, is a fabulous community for inspiration when putting together a steampunk wardrobe). The last large paragraph within the profile is as follows:

The "punk" in steampunk is a reference to cyberpunk, because when steampunk first formed it was comprised essentially of cyberpunk (that is, dystopian high tech sci-fi) stories set during the Victorian period. The word punk is a very old English term that originally meant a prostitute, but which by the 20th century had evolved into a term meaning an outsider, a street person, or a ruffian (it's fairly clear why the punk rock subculture used this word to describe itself). There is clearly no link between the people of a steampunk setting and members of the punk subculture (simply because the environment that produced our modern "punks" did not exist during the steam age). For all practical purposes, the "punk" in steampunk is a cute turn of phrase used because it sounds interesting and exciting, without any deeper meaning than that.
Ignoring completely how disingenuous it is, half of it is, simply, plainly, inaccurate. It is true that steampunk grew out of cyberpunk, it is true that the etymological root of the word stems from being an outlier, but to say that there's no link between steampunk and the main punk subculture?

There is one. I'll grant you that it's a pretty weak link and there's not much that's political about this link, but it's there, and to say that its weak links thus strip all political messages from the steampunk genre is to ignore what the original punk subculture was trying to do in the first place. The punk subculture broke off into several factions - the two most relevant ones to steampunk would be the cyberpunk genre and the goth subculture. Stephen H. Segal wrote in Fantasy Magazine, "A lot of kids in today’s steampunk music & style scene used to identify with the goth aesthetic."

The next claim I want to tackle is the idea that the environments which created the punk culture did not exist in the Victorian Age. My first reaction was "wth? Have you people no sense of history?"

Going back to the very basics of the punk subculture, punk arose from a sense of anarchy, individuality, anti-conformity. This was during the 60's (punks eschewed the colourful happiness of the hippies) and even today, punks exhibit the same can-do (though the term is a lot more chirpier), anti-establishment attitudes, with varying attitudes and motivations.

Why would anti-establishment, anarchist attitudes exist? Because the systems in place are oppressive.

Now let's have a look at the Age of Victoriana - the boom of the Industrial Revolution leading to a working class mass that was oppressed (just what punk is fighting), the sexual repression which found its outlets underground (just like punk!), a rising middle-class bourgeoisie that became dissatisfied with being only ignored by the status quo (many punks come from middle-class / working class backgrounds), the imperialism and Age of Empire beyond England's fair borders (hmmm, wasn't America trying to do something funny during the 60's?).

So, when I hear stuff like "we use it because it's cute but it has no deeper meaning", I raise an eyebrow and all sorts of tags appear in my head: shallow, superficial, the opening to cultural appropriation, easy to please, easily misled, meaningless.

Between "steampunk" and "gaslamp fantasist", I think the latter sounds a hella lot cooler.

We are responsible for the labels we use, what attendant meanings we give them, what we do with these labels. Partly for identification. Partly for solidarity with others who use the same term. Partly because words have power.

Ms. Pagliasotti writes, "Does steampunk really need to take a political position?"

As a feminist, and a woman of colour, in fair North America, within media or on the street, my personal being is fair game for the political statement telling me that white male supremacy has the right to erase me at any time.

In an environment when the personal is political, because the very simple personal desire for autonomy and agency is a powerful political position unto itself, a person who wishes to buy into the aesthetics of an age where imperialists imposed themselves over their own working-class and several other countries beyond their own borders must, at least, question why they are doing so, and what they hope to gain out of it.

And honestly, I think it's fine if all they want are the pretty clothes and the genteel manners. I want those too. But I expect more than just pretty clothes, genteel manners, and nostalgia for the past. The age of Victoriana had a great deal to offer us politically, if we dare.

As an Asian from a colonized country (Malaya), living in yet another colonized country (Canada), thinking with a colonized mind, and working within a fandom that's very much a white colonial space where I am a colonial minority, I don't get the privilege of ignoring the politics of steampunk.

Which is fine and all, because I believe the politics of steampunk, informed by everything we know today, could help us shape a future that is a lot prettier than the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Free Speech: Transphobia Edition [TRIGGER WARNING]

This is what happens when you give the right to free speech to hateful people:

Talk show: KRXQ, Sacramento, Rob, Arnie & Dawn in the Morning

Williams and States took turns referring to gender dysphoric children as "idiots" and "freaks," who were just out "for attention" and had "a mental disorder that just needs to somehow be gotten out of them," either by verbal abuse on the part of the parents, or even shock therapy.

"Allowing transgenders to exist, pretty soon it becomes normal to fall in love with the animals."

States bragged that if his own son were to ever dare put on a pair of high heels, States would beat his son with one of his own shoes. He urged parents whose own little boys expressed a desire to wear a dress to verbally abuse and degrade them as a viable response.

"Because you know what? Boys don't wear high heel shoes. And in my house, they definitely don't wear high heels. I'm going to go, 'You know what? You're a little idiot! You little dumbass!'"

"I look forward to when [the transgender children] go out into society and society beats them down. And they wind up in therapy."

"I'm not open-minded once I look into sumpin'. I have every right to call you a freak and judge you on that. It makes me sick. 'Mommy, I'm a girl trapped in a boy's body, I want to wear a dwess.'"

"You're actually defending allowing people to become freaks? A boy who wants to wear a dress is a freak. A nut."

""transgenders [sic] did not exist four decades ago."

"If the kid ever gets to be eighteen, and says 'I still feel like a woman!' you say, 'Get out! Go be a freak! And understand, SON, that society will never accept you because we still have some moral judgment."

h/t Feministe

Free speech is a right. Hatred is not. I bet that now, as advertisers are pulling their slots, the shock jocks are saying something to the effect of, "it was just a joke!"

In the aftermath of two young boys killing themselves for being teast and taunted for being gay (when they may not actually have been), this is a shameful use of the free speech right.

The horrible thing is that these people believe their views are marginal because they have to share speaking space with those who call for a kinder, more compassionate view of life.

The horrible thing is that these people think they're right and it's perfectly okay to abuse young children for not subscribing to strict gender behaviours.

The horrible thing is that trans-people and others who do not conform are being abused, misused, discriminated against, ignored, killed, everywhere.

And that spewing out hatred is just a joke.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins Remix: Sloth Edition

So I'm sometime pretty fucking lazy.

Part of it is just that, I'm just really fucking lazy. Part of it is I have trouble disciplining myself. Another part of it is occasionally I get a shot of depression and holy crap does it make shit hard to do.

But I grew up in Malaysia, where even if the grocery store is just like, a fifteen minute walk, we need to take the car to make it a five minute drive. *raises eyebrow* Where the work days are... pretty much twelve-hour days (my brother, now in the rat race, leave the house at 7am and is rarely home before 9pm). Where if you're enjoying yourself, you become the target of envy and ribbing, as opposed to someone taking a good deserved break. Where if you're not an old person, or a young person, your ass better be working or you'll run the risk of being called a shiftless lazy bum.

I grew up with this shit. I grew up expecting life to be a flurry of activity day-in-day-out and people are supposed to fall in love with someone we meet at work or through friends because we won't have time to go dating, and people are supposed to have families and work towards supporting those families, kids' educations, parents' retirements, our own retirements.

That is exhausting to think of, yo. And I mean, productivity is good and all, but still.

Like with other Deadly Sins, this one's a sin because it's a form of social control: keep people busy enough and they won't have time to think about themselves. They won't have time for thoughtfulness which may lead to critical thinking which may lead to questioning "hey! what the fuck is wrong with this world and why are they instituting all these damned rules which limit who and what I can be?"

Just look at Brooke Farm: the participants meant to get away in order to be self-sustaining, so they could have all the time in life to think. Instead, they found that the toil meant they were too exhausted for thinking at the end of the day.

The vita contemplativa is not for everyone, true. But neither is the vita activa. Some people are better suited for constant, tireless productivity through labour, and some others are better suited for a slower pace in life.

So I came to Nova Scotia. Where a forty-minute bus drive can be a pretty normal thing, walking everywhere is generally acceptable. And people go home at 5pm and don't work weekends unless it's retail.

And you know what, I fucking love it. I love taking the long moseying walks around the Public Gardens and I love hiking Crystal Crescent and I love going downtown to listen to bands play and I love seeing people out in Victoria Park during summer doing nothing but lay on the grass in the sun.

I loved university because in between classes I could take naps, in the afternoon. I don't understand the 9-5 workday because it seems to me more people are most productive in the mornings and evenings, not the afternoons. We need that break. I took a lot of breaks. I napped a lot in Residence. I napped in the school's "meditation and prayer room" (there was a couch there, and it was primarily for Muslim students to pray at, although there were also texts of other religions there). I napped in the drama society office (we had a couch).

I sometimes also napped in class.

I usually woke up from these naps energized. In my Honours seminar, I napped for the first half (4.30 to 5) and was wide awake and contributing and occasionally commandeering the conversation for the second half (5 to 6.30).

Naps are important. Taking breaks from everyday life is important. Some people blaze through life tirelessly and are role models for that. But most of us aren't really like that.

In a world where we're told to work hard without stopping for a good three decades, sloth is what we need to remind us to slow down, smell the flowers, and just enjoy the good green earth we live on. Otherwise we forget, lose touch, let go of our sense of ourselves and each other.

We in developed countries live in places where cube farms are common, rushing from place to place is the norm, catching that next commuter bus/train is vital or else, and if we're a wee bit late we get yelled at.

At some point, it's gotta stop. Because that shit is brutal on the psyche.

So stop.

Have a nap.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Racism: Malaysia Vs. Indonesia

I said something racist the other day. I sat at a table of white people and two PoC (one Middle-Eastern, one Asian) and the subject of David Carradine's death came up. Somehow the newsbit read out had him hanging himself in Indonesia.

I said, "Indonesia? Anybody would hang themselves in Indonesia. Sorry, I'm just being racist."

Everybody laughed*. My Asian friend pointedly reminded me, "There's only two of us here who can say that."

And when I said I was being racist, by God I meant I was being racist. We Malaysians can be a fucking racist lot. Just ask Tiara. We're racist towards Bangladeshis who come to our shores looking for work. We're racist towards Filipino/as working as our maids. We're racist towards Indonesians who are our current source for cheap-ass labour.

My mother hires Indonesian maids to help her out at her shop. Cripes does she ever have a shitty attitude towards them sometimes - as if they should be beholden towards her for giving them a job which isn't household drudgery. She's by no means the worse employer I know of - I've seen the parents of friends scream at their maids for not doing something right / on time / a while ago. One of Mum's maids bought her sister a cellphone - her sister was immediately accused of being a thief by her employer. (Mum was puzzled by this. "Why," she wondered out loud, "would people treat their maids so badly?")

Holy shit are we ever racist. "Indonesians are lazy," we say, "liars", "thieves," only for our shit labour!

It really drove home, however, just how fucking racist we are when I read this article.
KLANG: Stray puppies are ending up as meals for foreign construction workers keen on reducing their food bills.

Indonesian construction worker Wagang Saring said the high prices of food and the need to send as much money to families back home had forced him and his friends to eat pooches.


Animal welfare activist Sabrina Yeap said dog eating was gaining momentum among foreign workers because there was no law against it. “It is not illegal and so no action can be taken against those who do so,” she added.

Yeap, who manages the canine sanctuary Furry Friends Farm, said it was time the Government banned dog eating as it involved inhumane killing methods.

I ranted about this a long while back, but I revisited it when I said what I said the other night.

So give me a moment to parse this:

- Indonesian workers are hired because they're cheap labour.

- We oh-so-classy Malaysians don't like them.

- We pay them peanuts. That they can't feed themselves unless they don't send home money, which is their main reason for coming to Malaysia in the first place.

- So they eat dogs. Which takes our stray dog problem off our hands.

- We point our fingers at them, "look! They eat dogs! How cruel!"

All the while forgetting our own cruelty towards them for treating them like cheap automatons there to do our shit labour.

I'm not sure what's worse: how badly we treat them, or that we care about dogs more than how we treat our fellow human beings. It's so systematic, so part of our daily lives, that we no more notice than we do other unjust things in life.

I know there are some arguments in certain quarters how minorities can't be racist towards other minorities, but that argument doesn't hold in this case here, because the power dynamics involved are clear: Malaysians have the upper hand, and still treat our Indonesian neighbours badly.

*I'm no good with this hipster irony thing, because I'll fully own my racism and do my utmost to work it off my system.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Pro-Choice: Common Ground Edition

I don't like the idea of abortion. Honestly, who does, anyway. I'm staunchly pro-choice on the matter. Could be that part of it is my upbringing - I'm privileged enough that if I'd gotten pregnant when younger, my mother would probably have found some doctor to perform an abortion, hush hush.

I had a... disagreement with a friend the other day on the matter. She's fine with it being legal. She's not fine with it being "paid out of taxpayer pockets" (as is the case here in fine old Nova Scotia, apparently). Her position sort of boils down to "if you have sex and get pregnant, pay for it. If you have sex and can't pay for an abortion, don't have sex."

Technically pro-choice. Principles-wise? Not much. It doesn't allow for choices. It basically shuts down sex as a privilege, not a natural need.

I once had a discussion with a pro-life friend about it. She seriously believes that abortion is murder. Which is fine, if there's something we moderates can't agree on, it's definitely that "where does life start" question. But she also believes that "BC should be handed out like candy" and comprehensive sex education starting at home are key to the abortion issue, because people are probably going to have sex anyway. That sexual activity shouldn't be stigmatized to the point where people are scared to ask for information.

Technically pro-life. Principles-wise? We're on the same page.

There's a lot of common ground between those who identify as "pro-life" and "pro-choice". Just because we disagree on one issue regarding abortion doesn't mean anything. That's a deeply personal issue that, due to circumstances bigger than individual women, is politically fraught.

The problem?

On a higher level where policies are made which will affect women's lives are anti-choice people who will gladly make abortion illegal and completely ignore the need for comprehensive sex education, access to various birth control methods, freedom of sexual information, childcare options, and a radical change in the way we see sex.

And not enough public pro-life people vocally, loudly, strongly, calling for those things which would bring abortion rates down.

There lies the rub.

We do have common ground. It just doesn't happen to be about abortion.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins Remix: Envy Edition

I remember the last time I was jealous, it was because I felt inferior and I was scared of losing what I had.

But from what I've seen, envy's different. The last time I was envious, I simply didn't have what it was I coveted from the other person, and I decided to work my ass off to get it.

I think that's the qualitative difference between jealousy and envy. Jealousy's destructive, because it gnaws inside and tells us we're worth less. Envy is the desire for more, to want more, to have more, to be more.

Channelled positively, I think envy could be a great driving force for change. When we see others having something special we want for ourselves, we'll work harder to have it. Certainly, envy has been in the past channelled negatively to more destructive ends, but as I said, these are tools which can push us towards good, so long as we are aware of what we're doing. (To be honest, most anything we do should be accompanied with a good dose of self-awareness. But that's another post for another day.)

I'm envious of people who do some things so smoothly, like it's no effort. I want to be like them. If I work hard enough? Perhaps I shall be! I'm talking about a kind of envy that hangs out with hope, in order to motivate us towards reaching for ever more, ever higher, ever better goals.

Those who do not envy, well, great for them, too. But there are some of us who aren't content with what we have, and we can either get self-destructive in jealousy, or we can take our envy into our hands and use it to drive us out of the sad state which breeds our malcontent.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

China Censors History

There is something to be said about the Chinese government's hypocrisy, demanding some sort of recognition from the Japanese for war crimes committed during WW II (Japan does not acknowledge the Rape of Nanking, for example) while at the same time pointedly censoring any discussion of key points in its own history.

The Wired.com reports that Chinese authourities have "instituted censoring measures to block access to several internet sites and services in anticipation of Thursday’s 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest and massacre."

Twitter, LJ, MSN Spaces, Flickr, Hotmail - all manner of internet spaces wherein the Chinese could communicate, are anticipated to be blocked in a shameful silencing of the people. In a space of two billion people, where it's conceivable that only a slender minority actually have access to the World Wide Web, the Chinese people are being denied the chance to speak about an incident that shook so many people to the core back in 1989, an incident where innocent young persons were gunned down for calling the government out.

To be an activist is dangerous. To speak out is to live on the edge. To have a voice that speaks against tumultuous issues is to live in fear that somewhere, someone with the power to take you out and kill you brutally simply because they don't agree with you.

Sometimes, I find it's pointless for that first Chinese emperor to have united all the Chinese states together. He probably meant well and it probably did stop the infighting between the feudal states, but how does it matter when people still live in fear of their own leaders?

People's Republic of China, my ass.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sex and Disablism

amandaw of three rivers fog has put out a call for submissions of stories by disabled people about sex. Contributions are preferrably anonymous to encourage more contributions, although video and audio contributions are welcome. She writes:
'I am working on a post about ableism in “liberated” sexual culture (including feminism, but not limited to it). And I really think there is no better way to illustrate this than with real words, real experience.

Do you have, or have you had, a disability (or, if you do not identify as disabled, do you have a condition which results in some sort of mental or physical impairment)? If so: Tell me about your experience in the bedroom.

Spread the word.

Cross-posted to the Redux Edition

Seven Deadly Sins Remix: Pride Edition

"Only the nobility have ancestors. Most people only have grandparents!" - Pridefly, Ash Girl by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

"Pride comes before a fall", sez the old adage. It's better to be low-born and humble, than high-born and proud.

It's about half right. If you're considered low-born and humble for it, chances are you don't have anything to be proud of in your whacked world where class difference between the commoner and nobility class actually makes a difference - we tried that and the French Revolution happened.

Unless in excess, I see no reason for pride to be a deadly sin. I can see how it can be used as a deadly form of social control, though. If you want to keep a person down, tell them they have nothing to be proud of. That they shouldn't see their accomplishments as worth much. This can effectively prevent a person from asserting themselves, because part of what fuels our self-assurance in this world is our pride and joy tha comes from achieving, from doing stuff we're good at, from being ourselves.

If we can't be proud of these things, then our happiness would derive more from outside factors, often dependent on other people. So we stop making ourselves happy and dedicate ourselves to making other people happy, just to prop ourselves up.

Take away the pride one has in something specific they do, and you have a person who believes their unique talent is nothing more than a gift that isn't really theirs. They can never truly own their talent, because they can't take pride in it. And when they don't believe they own their talent, they become easily manipulated into doing stuff with their talent that they might not want to, if only to avoid the criticism that they are selfish with their skill which could be used for XYZ purposes.

We need to have pride. We need to know, from ourselves for ourselves, that pride in our skills, our accomplishments, our doings, our virtues, our selves, is an okay thing. Pride can help us uplift ourselves, that we can serve those we love so much better, because we are sure in ourselves and our capability to do things. Pride breeds in children the self-confidence they need to grow up happy, healthy mature adults, secure in their place in the world, that they will own it, serve it, change it as it needs.

For those packed with privilege, pride isn't really necessary at all. They've got all the cushion they need against the world, after all. But there's pride, and there's obnoxious arrogance, and whilst one can lead to the other, it doesn't have to.

So take some time out, and think about stuff you know you've done that was good, and be proud of yourself. You deserve that short reprieve from the rest of the world that's busy telling you how much you suck.