Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Korea with Pops

So yes! I'm in Korea now! Pretty random eh?

I was so busy with stuff that I didn't update my blog in quite some time and as such many things have happened! Remember how I was supposed to go to Yonsei university in South Korea? Well I'm there now. Yeah... kind of wish there was more build up to that, but that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Before anyone asks, Korea is awesome! Having lots of fun as usual but also lots of work.

In other news I can't stop listening to this song. . .

So if you actually read my blog regularly you may know that I'm not crazy about K-pop, I don't hate it, I'm just not a "fan" (as in short-form for 'fanatic'). The reason is because I think of K-pop groups as being more like "products" rather than legitimate artists. What makes artists legit? Heart and soul brothers and sisters! I feel that for music to be "art" it should come from somewhere special, like past experiences or real emotions. However, much (but not all) K-pop groups undergo intense training, promotion, and yes, often cosmetic surgery to look and act a certain way while singing songs often written by writers hired by their respective promotion companies. What you often get is a really squeaky clean, yet not entirely unique entertainment "product" or "brand name". Just like American pop stars!

Don't get me wrong, these folks are often talented and work REALLY hard, but their music is mostly manufactured, at least in my mind, and thus I find it hard to treat it with any more seriousness than I feel it deserves. Idolizing k-pop stars to me is like worshipping my cellphone (I am aware people actually do this sort of thing). Nevertheless, even I must, at times, grudgingly accept that some of these ditties are pretty darn catchy! And so I present Sistar's Alone, for your consumption. This came out a few months back but I discovered it last week as I awoke from a night of drinking in Masan to hear it blaring out of my friend's cellphone at 8am in the morning as he used it for his alarm clock. Gotta admit, just hearing that part made me wanna hear the whole song, and honestly, it's not bad at all!              

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 5: Easiness

 Alright. . . the time has come to debunk the final and possibly most prominent stereotype (aside from submissiveness) surrounding East Asian women. This is a stereotype that exists and I have addressed it many times in conversations with both non-East Asian men and women as well as women from East Asia who persistently ask me "How come people think we're easy?". The last time I answered this question was a few months ago when I was talking to a young Japanese female acquaintance of mine. She had attended a Japanese-English language exchange club here in Toronto and decided not to return after several men who regularly attended the group, who were not Japanese, whom she described as "creepy" attempted to get her phone number or ask her to "hang out" afterwards.

Stereotype: "East Asian Women are Easy." 

What she had noticed was that at this group, she was not the only Japanese female present and also not the only one being obviously hit on by groups of creepy men. At that point a question formed in her mind along the lines of 'why was there so many creepy Canadian guys at this club, and why were they all trying to hit on Japanese girls specifically?' This friend of mine had enough experience with Canadians to know the difference between a "normal" or at least "well adjusted" Canadian man and a "creepy" Canadian man and the amount of creepiness at that club was palpable to her. She asked me, "These guys seem like they might have trouble getting a girlfriend in Canada because they seem really awkward, do they just come to that conversation club because they think it's easier to pick up Japanese girls?" My answer was a complicated one.

Firstly, I explained to her that everyone has preferences in what they look for in mates and honestly ethnicity can define one's preference. There are men and women out there who feel that they can only date within a certain ethnicity based on ideas that can range from misguided to perfectly legitimate. However, I also had to admit that, yes, sadly quite a few men do think that picking up foreign women, and even more tragically, especially East Asian women is easier than picking up locals. Naturally her second question was "why is this?" and that brings us to the meat of the argument.

Where does it come from?


 Earlier in the 20th century, especially around and right after World War II East Asia was not doing so hot. China was being rocked by civil war and communist revolution, Korea was entering into a devastating civil war with the help of the Russians and Americans and Japan was in dire straights after suffering two atomic bombs and American MP's policing the state. It was a bad time. Obviously quite a few people wanted out of these situations and many did get out, emigrating to places like the United States or Canada, but it wasn't easy for many others who didn't have the money, so they needed to find other ways. Let's think about it this way. . . If your a woman living in a place that lacks economic and social stability to the point where your not sure exactly what your next job will be or where your next meal is coming from, and you see an American G.I. who seems to be quite established, has passable good-looks (or not), and seems at least something close to a gentleman what are you gonna do? Try to get with him obviously, because he might be your ticket out of there! And this is what happened. Quite a few Americans and Canadians who ended up serving in places like Japan, Korea and even China around these times of East-Asian turmoil, ended up coming home with East-Asian wives who were perfectly happy getting away from their turbulent and often very conservative, native countries. This also happened in the Vietnam war. I'm not saying that there wasn't love involved in these relationships, but you must admit, it was likely that a number of these woman initially had escape in mind, because honestly, why not?

Yes, this is a real movie, I actually like the tagline though!
I imagine that this is where the stereotype started, because this tended to happen fairly often with the soldiers who would serve in these countries. I believe that this pattern led to quite a few people assuming that going to Asia and getting a wife or a girlfriend was a pretty easy thing to do if you were a foreigner at this time, and thing is, it probably was. In those days, simply put, East Asia seemed to be losing and North America seemed to be where the winners were and thus, a much more desirable place to be. The thing is, if you understand the nature of the situation it's not difficult to see why this happened. For example, think about it, where do mail-order brides come from? Poor countries that are rife with political and economic instability. It's a no-brainier. Unfortunately this old idea seems to have bled into the present day. Let's see some other reasons why people might think that East Asian women are easy in modern times.


Alright I can't lie, I have seen this happen so many times and I get it, this is probably the reason why people think this stereotype is valid. Here in Toronto as well as in Korea, where I've spent a total of four months, I've seen many cases of attractive, dynamic and evidently fashionable East Asian women who would probably have no problem picking up an attractive, smooth local, either on dates or speaking intimately with non-east Asian guys who (sigh*) appear to look really nerdy or even skeezy, fashionably challenged and seem to have ZERO social skills. However, I've also seen contrary scenarios so let's dive in.

I recall when I was working in Toronto's st. Lawrence market as a cheese sampler and I was approached by a certain couple. The woman was Japanese and quite attractive and had an impeccable fashion sense. I began to chat with her as she asked me about the cheeses I was sampling and I happened to ask where she was from. After she told me she was from Japan I told her that I was pretty interested in Japan and that I had taken Kendo for a few years. She thought that was pretty cool and started telling about her home city and music and stuff that she was into. I remember she was pretty spunky and talked excitedly and confidently about a number of interesting topics. After sometime her boyfriend or possibly husband arrived at the table. He was quite skinny, dressed in an unbuttoned and over-sized dress shirt and baggy jeans and sneakers with wire-framed glasses. He was wearing a T-shirt with two sumo wrestlers painted in a traditional Japanese style. He sort of shuffled around awkwardly as he approached my table. After speaking with the woman I greeted him and asked him where he got his t-shirt. He seemed caught off guard by my speaking to him and hesitated for a second. Then he said in an shaky, kind of squeaky voice "Um... Japan". He looked really nerdy and super awkward and was even avoiding eye contact. After that they started bantering about the cheese and his wise cracks were really quite terrible and unfunny while the woman seemed to awkwardly laughed at them. After the couple left two thoughts entered my mind, "How did that happen?" and "Would she have dated him if he had been Japanese?" I'm thinking. . . probably not. Much to the chagrin of many East Asian males that I've talked to who really don't understand it, this is actually a fairly common occurrence, at least in my observation.

So what dose this mean? Am I acknowledging the validity of my most hated East Asian female stereotype? Hell no! I simply desire to explain why this happens.

 The first case I can think of is that most East Asian countries are mono-cultural meaning that they consist mainly of a single culture, i.e. Japanese, Chinese, Korean (in the case of China this could be easily contested but bare with me). However, East Asian countries get tonnes of imported cultural stuff, like movies for example. These western images (and other elements), much like East Asian ones here in North America, capture the imaginations of certain East Asian people and so a certain curiosity is implanted into their minds, something along the lines of "wouldn't it be, like totally neat to date someone from that country?" after some time this may even become an ideal or goal, and then suddenly they happen to meet a foreigner! Sure he might not look like a young Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise but he certainly is a foreigner and unique and foreign! Oooh how interesting! The young, attractive and single Ms. Takeyasu thinks to herself. The foreigner being a hetero sexual, basically open-minded male sees the attractive Ms. Take and shows an interest. Maybe the foreigner is a super awkward nerdy guy with no life back home in Minnesota or wherever he comes from but the beautiful Take, who has never been to Minnesota, has no way of knowing this. All she sees is a passable, interesting foreigner who is interesting on the grounds that he is foreign. "Why not!?" Says Take and romance ensues. General curiosity also plays a major role here and I think it maybe safe to say that women tend to be generally a bit more open minded then men in a lot of instances.

The second case is as follows. Imagine your a female exchange student who has come over here from South Korea to learn English. You have all these wonderful plans and ideas for when you arrive in Toronto. You tell yourself your going to make tonnes of Canadian friends and speak English all day long. Oh how wondrous! However, upon arriving in Canada you find that most people don't really cares too much about where you came from and no one wants to talk to you because you have an accent and your "culturally different" and they're afraid they can't understand you both linguistically and culturally. So naturally you feel lonely and isolated and that SUCKS. Then you go to a party with a bunch of your other international student friends and there you meet a somewhat awkward local dude who isn't really your ideal type but actually seems to be genuinely interested in you and your culture. WOW a Canadian friend! So you talk to him, hang out a bit and possibly get a little attached. Eventually he says, "Hey Young-Hee, I love chilling with you and yeah you're great. wanna like date and stuff?" and you're all like "wow! A Canadian boyfriend? Never in my wildest dreams! I'll be able to speak English EVERYDAY!" and the rest is history.

The third case is that. . . Wow what a surprise!? You mean people who look nerdy and awkward might actually be genuinely nice and sweet and interesting and just happen to have East Asian girlfriends who genuinely love them!? IMPOSSIBLE! Yes that my friends, that actually can and does happen . . . fairly often.

What I'm trying to imply here is that, East Asian Women and the people who date them, whether they be also East Asian or not, do so for myriad reasons. It's not like nerdy North American guys are kryptonite for East Asian women or anything like that. I've seen just as many handsome East Asian girl/Non-East Asian Guy couples as I have not so typically "handsome" ones. Also this happens with any ethnicity! At some point you will inevitably see a hot, confident looking woman with a nerdy, awkward guy, it happens. The truth of the matter is, when you see couples on the street, you don't know them and you don't know why they are dating. So honestly, who really cares anyway?

The cases I presented are actually real scenarios I have seen play out with East Asian female friends and students so yeah. I mean I don't deny that there are people out there who are interested in dating East-Asians expressly because of their ethnicity and vice-versa but being a foreigner can make you more attractive to certain people depending on where you are. Some people just have fantasies of becoming intimate with that which is different or unusual the prospect of which can really be enticing to a lot of people.

The Truth

There are tonnes of reasons why people date other people. No matter where you go in the world, you will find couples that appear to look like "odd couples" with an attractive man or woman with a not so attractive mate. The whole point though is that looks, in themselves are often not enough of a basis for a functional relationship and are not universal. This means that what looks undesirable to you might be just fine for someone else. East Asian women, as a group, if you must view them as such, are diverse and many. I've met East Asian women who I could have easily described as "easy" and others who I could have described as having near impenetrable shields that rise to the deflect any sort of flirtatious behaviour. At the end of the day it really just depends on the person. And yes, in case your wondering, this should not be news to you.                              




Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 4: Exoticness

Good morrow, friends! I've just finished an exam on Chinese culture, which is why I haven't been updating recently, and holy jazz, do I have a lot of things to say about China! But first things first. I promised you guys that I would unravel some stereotypes, and by George, that's what I'm gonna do!

Today's stereotype will be examined a little differently because it's a lot more obvious where it comes from, but, without further ado -- exoticness!

Stereotype: "East Asian women are exotic."

Cambodian dancers in traditional garb.
I have to admit, this is a stereotype I hear less and less frequently nowadays, but it does crop up from time to time and I've always found it problematic. At the same time, people can get away with it very easily, and I'll explain why. The thing is, this stereotype, unlike the previous two, can actually be undeniably true. However, it depends greatly on whom your talking about, relative to your culture, where you live, etc.

First, let's look at the meaning of exotic and what it entails.

The following definitions I pulled from 

ex·ot·ic /ɪgˈzɒtɪk/

1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants.
2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle.
3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature: exotic weapons.
4. of, pertaining to, or involving stripteasing: the exotic clubs where strippers are featured.

All right, we have quite a few meanings here, but I'd certainly assume that when people describe an East Asian woman as being "exotic," they are probably referring to one of the first two . . . unless they're talking about a stripper, apparently (ahem*), but anyway . . .

So the question is, what does it mean to be exotic? Well, you have to be foreign -- i.e., not native and from abroad and yet not acclimatized. Aha! So right off the bat we can exclude Asian-Americans/Canadians from this label. Why? Because they are Americans and Canadians! (Check out my article on differences between East Asians and Asian-Americans here: In other words, someone who grew up in your hometown cannot be exotic. This can extend to immigrants as well. If someone has immigrated to wherever it is you live from, say, Tibet, and has lived in your city for a while, maybe 10 years or so, and speaks near-perfect English and maybe runs a business, then this person is what you could call acclimatized and therefore cannot be considered exotic. So yes, George Takei, for example, cannot be considered exotic . . . unless you're talking about the third definition! (har har)

The annoying thing about this word is that it could be correctly associated with women in East Asia, but only if you have little experience with East Asia and only in relation to culture, because lack of familiarity with a culture is really what dictates whether something is exotic to you or not. In certain contexts, using exotic in this way might be all right, but the problem I have with the term is the way I hear people using it in everyday life.
Actress Khulan Chuluun in her role as Borte (wife of Temujin, a.k.a. Genghis Kahn) in the 2007 film Mongol -- a character that a friend of mine, who interestingly enough is an East Asian Canadian, described to me as "looking exotic."
In my experience, when someone describes another as being exotic, it's not so much that they are exotic but that they look exotic to the speaker. For example, in my travels I've had acquaintances indicate a man or woman who might have really dark skin or who looked "really Asian" (not my words) or some such thing to that effect, and tell me that that person "looks exotic." I really don't know what to say to that. I grew up in what the UN considers to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world (Toronto). I continue to live alongside people from all sorts of backgrounds, to the point where I feel that no one can really look exotic to me, at least insofar as ethnicity alone is concerned, and for me that's really the problem. When people say someone looks exotic, it's totally a "racial" thing. That brings me to my next gripe.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the term exotic is that it denotes a kind of cross-cultural ignorance that, in my opinion, way too many people have. My problem is that you call something exotic if you're not familiar with it -- in other words, if you're ignorant about it. It reminds me of the old days of "the Orient" in which Asia was this strange and, yes, "exotic" land. You may as well call me Buddha, because like him, I agree that ignorance is the root of all evil. I wish to stamp out my own ignorance (as much as possible -- I mean, I will die someday and as such cannot be expected to learn everything) by reading and learning about all kinds of interesting things (not just East Asia). 

We live in the information age, my friends; if you have a question or are curious about something, look it up! Get familiar with the world! It's a crazy huge place with all kinds of cool stuff! That's why I blog the way I do about cultures different than my own. The thing is, like it or not (and let's face it, you might as well like it unless you want to be miserable for a long time), multiculturalism is now a fact of the 21st century. Even in small burgs you might easily encounter folks whose ancestors came from somewhere else, so I feel that people should make more of an effort to get along and learn about each other's backgrounds and whatnot. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I feel that someday the word exotic will be seen only on strip-club posters and unique salons. As the famous Chinese strategist Guo Jia said in the Red Cliff films (in which he was played by Gum Sing Mo, a.k.a. Takeshi Kaneshiro), "To learn a trifle about everything gives life more colour."            

The Truth! 

In my opinion, I don't see too much wrong with calling an East Asian woman exotic, provided she's not from your culture and you have little or no experience with hers. For unfamiliarity is pretty much what exoticness is all about. However, the idea that all ethnically East Asian women are inherently exotic -- which is what some people I've encountered actually seem to think -- is wrong. It certainly isn't the reason why I date East Asian women, or any other woman for that matter.

Next Post: The final and ugliest stereotype: "East Asian women are easy."                    
"George Takei is an exotic weapon," says Alex.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 3: Submissiveness

Stereotype: "East Asian women are submissive."  
Hello again, and welcome back to my in-depth study on East Asian female stereotypes. I'll try to make an effort to get this out faster, as I would like to wrap this up at some point . . . but I digress. Today we look at what is in my opinion one of the most irksome, annoying stereotypes that East Asian women must put up with -- submissiveness. You may be wondering, "Why this one specifically?" Allow me to enlighten you. As far as submissiveness goes as a character trait for anyone, fictional or existing, I CAN'T STAND IT!

No sir, ol' Alex can't abide submissiveness, especially in his womenfolk. Now it may sound like I'm discriminating a bit, and well, quite honestly I probably am, but here's the thing: I was raised in a household in which the only immediate female, my mum, had graduated with two degrees and worked a demanding government job while pretty much keeping everything in order at home, keeping on top of bill payments, budgeting, and pretty much had the final say on every major decision that went on in our household, all the while being one of two major financial contributors. My mum always did what she thought was best, and Dad and I pretty much determined it was, given that what she thought was best for us WAS best for us, because, well . . . my mum's pretty damn smart. So why am I telling you this tale of my childhood? Because as little Alex grew and matured, he could not shake the notion that Mum exemplified all women, i.e., women are supposed to be smart, strong, self-motivated, and confident. That is the feminine ideal that I imagine. So again, why am I telling you this? Well, if you remember back in the first part (assuming you read it), you will recall that I admitted that most of my past girlfriends -- of which there are six -- have been either ethnically East Asian or totally East Asian (i.e., ethnically and culturally). See what I'm getting at here? Here's an equation:

Alex finds submissiveness to be an unattractive trait in the opposite sex + the majority of Alex's girlfriends having been "East Asian" women = not all East Asian women are submissive; otherwise Alex would not have dated them in the first place.


This stereotype is old and outdated, and I shall tell y'all why. 

Where does it come from?


Some time ago, in the era known as "the old days," women and perhaps especially women from East Asia were expected to be submissive. Why? Because it was a social norm. Of course, it was a social norm EVERYWHERE . . .  and still is in some cultures. However, because of the nature of this article, we shall look at East Asia.

As some of you may know, throughout East Asian history this thing called Confucianism was quite popular. What is Confucianism? It's basically a philosophy that started in China thousands of years ago. It revolves around creating harmony in society by living an exemplary lifestyle so that others may be inspired by your awesome and wholesome good nature and likewise be exemplary. Confucianism also emphasized the importance of structure, namely hierarchical structure, where servant would serve master willingly (provided he was good-natured and all that). The goal of Confucianism was to become a "perfect gentleman" through study and knowledge and peaceful, orderly living. This worked out pretty well . . . for men. For women? Well, turned out the Confucian emphasis on structure extended to the family as well, and women fell more into the servant category, especially in the more rigid neo-Confucianism that surfaced in East Asia in the 1600s A.D.

Yes sir, in the perfect neo-Confucian society, women were relegated to doing all that stuff that some fools refer to as "women's work," consisting of cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and being a "good wife" and all that stuff, as it would have been considered improper and inharmonious for men to do those same tasks. Confucianism also dictated that a good wife must follow and indeed "submit" to the will of her husband and, after his death, her son. Very misogynistic, no? (However, an often overlooked principle of Confucianism was that it required authority figures to exercise benevolence and that husbands were expected to treat their wives with this same benevolence and good nature.)

So, yes, this is where it all came from, and this continued to be the norm for thousands of years in the most well-known East Asian cultures. Woman submits to man. It was pretty much the same story in just about every other country, if you know anything about history, but yes, East Asia had it big time. However, you don't see too many modern Confucians . . . I wonder why?


South Korea's South Gate in Seoul in 1900 (above) and again as it is now (pic taken from
If you're a believer in modernization theory you could argue that East Asia "modernized" considerably more recently than the West. Want an example? Just over a hundred years ago -- around the time when Canada's industrial revolution had already gotten underway -- Korea, currently one of the world's most prolific exporters of electronics and cars, was essentially a medieval, agriculturally based country in which people walked around in traditional garments and soldiers used swords, spears, and bows and arrows (they had guns, but even those were pretty archaic). Pretty mind-blowing, eh?

As anyone who studies history can tell you, as countries "modernize," ideas often change, often becoming slowly but surely more progressive. This is what has happened in places like Korea, China, and Japan, but because of the relatively recent time and speed of their "modernization" there exist many older folks who still retain a lot of the old values and mannerisms. I would argue that this is one of the sources of the submissive stereotype. I've even had older East Asian women tell me, possibly in jest, that I should get a girlfriend from their respectable country 'cause she'll be submissive and therefore a good wife. Somehow I feel that the women of my generation and younger would not agree. The problem is that stereotypes often outlive the truth of the matter by eons and are not updated to match the ever-changing reality of the situation.
Movies and Anime 

"Don't you have a hungry husband somewhere?"
This is gonna be a short one, I promise. So, for anime it's pretty much the same deal as the previous part (read it to see what I'm saying). For movies there's a bit more to add: a lot of East Asian films that get famous in North America happen to be period pieces. In other words, they take place a long time ago and portray realities that are just that -- from a long time ago. These are not to be confused with the modern-day reality. So, yeah, that's all I've got to say about that.

The Truth!

If you live in just about any major city in the world, you have probably either gone to school, worked, partied, or at least come into contact with East Asian women at some point. For those of you who have, I must ask . . . Have you ever seen or talked to an East Asian or ethnically East Asian woman you could describe as being submissive? I know I haven't . . . and if you're lucky enough to know me on Facebook (heh heh...), you'll have noticed I have tonnes of East Asian women on my friends list, nearly all of whom I have come in direct contact with at one point or another (I generally don't add people I've never met in person). Suffice to say it's a pretty large number.

The whole submissive Asian thing dates back to times of antiquity and has all but died out in both East Asia and just about everywhere else. Let me tell you -- no, WARN you -- if you're expecting to enter into a relationship with an East Asian woman who will cater to your every whim, you've got another think coming, buddy! Trust me, I'm telling you for your own good. There are, of course, individuals who are submissive, but there are people like that everywhere, and they should probably start being more assertive.

It is true that as far as women's rights are concerned, East Asian countries still have quite a way to go (although, one could argue, we all do). But still, many strides have been made, and continue to be made every day, improving the social status of women in these countries. Modern-day, especially young, East Asian women are pretty darn similar to women here in North America. Many of them aspire to work and hold jobs even after marriage and children and to continue to pursue their own goals, education, and ambitions. If they didn't? I wouldn't date 'em!

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 2: Cuteness

Stereotype: "Asian girls are cute."   

This Korean girl is doing her best aegyo face on a talk show.
I'm sure that some of you may be familiar with this stereotype and maybe even heard someone say it out loud! I've heard this one from members of both genders, from both East Asians and non-East Asians alike. I would argue that it may be more benign than some of the other stereotypes I will examine in this multipart article, but I argue that it is a gross generalization. Let's dissect!

Where does it come from?

If I had to guess where this generalization came from, I feel I could easily pinpoint a few places -- namely pop music, anime, movies (particularly romcoms) and television dramas. See, a lot of what Westerners see of East Asian culture depends heavily on what they're into, but most likely it probably comes from one of those aforementioned sources. I shall explain these in more detail.

These are the members of the Japanese electro-pop girl group Perfume. It certainly seems that this photo was taken with cuteness in mind. Most of their videos are pretty cute too. I have to admit, I actually do like their music!
Pop Music

In East Asian music industries, there are myriad bands, groups, soloists, etc., etc. but none are more prolific and seemingly exportable than pop music, naturally. A lot of what constitutes pop music in East Asia is manufactured boy and girl groups. You know the story. A talent/record company scouts a few talented or at least good-looking young people and throws them into a group together to entertain other young people and make tonnes of money before they get too old and are forced to either become legitimate artists or pursue employment elsewhere. Well, yes, this is the driving force of East Asian commercial music, and as such it's what most Westerners see or at least hear about when East Asian media or music is discussed in our news, magazines or blogs. What does this have to do with cuteness? Well, the female exponents of these groups come primarily in two flavours, sexy/sassy or cute. Can you guess which is more popular? Hard to say really, but the point is that a lot of the images we get in the Americas of Asian pop culture come from pop music. Thus we associate these images of cute singers with everyday East Asian folks, kind of the way everyday East Asian folks associate A-list Hollywood actors with everyday North American folks . . . Hmmm . . . could it be that we're not so different after all? . . . Next medium!

These two female characters are from an old anime, To Heart, that I used to watch in high school, back when I was a super-nerd. Notice how they are drawn with big, childlike eyes to make them look cuter? These two characters also have really high voices as well. Even if you don't find this sort of thing cute, they were certainly designed to be.

Anime, anime, anime . . . oh, how I love you and hate you all at the same time. You have such tremendous creativity, delightful concepts and amazing variety, yet you can also be so gosh darn derivative, and I can't help but feel you are responsible for so much of the cultural misconceptions that East Asian women have to deal with on a near daily basis. This section is more relevant to Japanese women specifically, as anime is primarily a Japanese medium, but it can and often is extended to East Asian women generally by those who remain unenlightened. How does this happen? Women in anime, especially characters who act as love interests, are routinely portrayed as ultimately dependent, clumsy and childlike, even if at first portrayed as being assertive and headstrong. Often a tough, assertive, headstrong woman may appear as a supporting character, but only rarely as a love interest. Why does this happen? There are many reasons, but there are three that stick out.

The first is that much anime, especially modern anime, is by and large written by awkward, nerdy males for awkward, nerdy males. Let's call them otaku. Yes, this is a generalization and there are numerous exceptions, but bear with me. Ask anyone in Japan about male otaku and one of the characteristics you'll likely hear repeated is "They are afraid of real women." See where I'm going with this? The real Japanese women I've met and tutored have been complicated independent thinkers with goals and prospects, many of which do not rely solely on getting married to a man. Women in anime? Not so much.  (Note: I don't hate otaku -- I used to be one, after all.)

Long story short, a lot of female characters in anime geared towards males are given cute, childlike characteristics to make them less intimidating and more dependent than real Japanese women actually are. The male protagonists often portrayed in these anime? They range from badass heroes to . . . you guessed it . . . awkward, nerdy males who have never had a girlfriend because of their awkward nerdiness! This is done so that watching anime gives these male otaku -- the majority of the fan base for this kind of stuff -- a feeling of escaping into a world where, instead of being marginalized by popular society as antisocial misfits who lack the confidence to ask out a real woman, characters with similar traits as the viewer become independent and sexually appealing men. These men are charged with caring for an innocent, childlike, frail female companion with a voice that would make a chipmunk blush, whose only purpose in life is to find more effective ways of expressing her love to her formerly socially unacceptable boyfriend. Ah, the male otaku's romantic paradise!

The second and third reason that women and girls are so gosh darn cute in anime is because (a) anime is a visual medium and, like most visual media, it portrays things in an exaggerated and melodramatic way, e.g., characteristics perceived as feminine become super-exaggerated. And (b) cute things just seem to be really damn popular in East Asian cultures. Visit an East Asian supermarket and go to the snack food aisle -- you'll see what I mean.    

So how does this help North Americans get the wrong idea about Asian women? The stages are as follows:

1. Believe it or not, a lot of North American non-ethnically East Asian males and females watch this sort of anime.

2. Anime is from Japan.

3. Japan is in East Asia.

4. Many non-ethnically East Asian people in North America who are not familiar with East Asian cultures have a nasty habit of grouping these cultures together with little regard for their major differences.

5. Some of the more delusional viewers of this stuff get the erroneous idea that these animated female characters represent the reality of women in Japan and, by extension, East Asia.

6. Watchers of such anime tell peers that East Asian women are supposed to be "like, totally feminine and cute and stuff!" and voila! You have a stereotype!

Believe me, this is something that actually happens. When I was in high school, I was a believer of this myth. Oh, how I've learned. The crazy thing is that up into university I continue to talk to and overhear men and woman alike, of all sorts of different ethnicities, both enforcing and disputing this myth as it pertains to anime. So, yeah, it is actually a thing. Okay, so enough about anime . . . which I don't totally hate, by the way!

Movies and Television Dramas

"Vicky" Zhao Wei in the role that made her famous in the well-known 1998 drama Princess Returning Pearl, a name that probably makes WAY more sense in Chinese. Zhao Wei became famous for having big eyes and looking really cute! Awww. She has since proven herself to be a talented and well-rounded actress . . . and I'm in love with her . . . sigh* 
East Asian movies and television dramas are similar to anime in the way they portray women, only to a much lesser extent. Naturally the fact that real actors are portraying the characters means that the features and mannerisms of female characters tend to be less overdone. But still, in a lot of mainstream East Asian films, desirable East Asian women are often portrayed as being cute and "feminine," often more so than their Western counterparts. When non-East Asians watch these movies and see these characters, again they take them at face value, gaining the expectation that this is how East Asian woman act in real life! -- failing, of course, to realize that even in their own countries, films portray a largely exaggerated view of life. It doesn't help that East Asian films, especially in the mainstream, often tend to be more melodramatic than their Hollywood counterparts. East Asian romcoms (romantic comedies) especially tend to be the worst offenders, portraying idealized romantic archetypes such as the beautiful and cute "feminine" woman and the handsome and sensitive yet "masculine" man. The thing is, though, that these archetypes are also present in American romcoms, so this really should come as no surprise! In my experience it's often East Asian kung fu or action films and romcoms that get the most exposure outside of East Asia. Which of course leads to stereotypes. Don't get me wrong, I like me some East Asian romcoms -- I am, after all, a romantic at heart -- but you must also realize that they do not portray perfect representations of the reality of East Asian females.

The Truth!

Retired female MMA fighter and former champion Megumi Fuji working the mat with a training partner, applying a triangle choke. She's fought in 27 professional fights and has won 25 of them, 19 by submission and 1 by TKO, and 15 of her victories never left the first round. Isn't she adorable?! 
There are actually two truths present here: the truth as it exists for East Asian women and the truth as it exists for women born elsewhere with East Asian backgrounds. The important thing to realize, which I have talked about before on this blog, is that Asian Americans, for example, are totally culturally different from East Asian people. Where you grow up, the people you grow up with and the ideas that are instilled in you as you mature are key elements in what defines your culture. So if you think Sharon Liu, born in Windsor, Ontario, who sits beside you in your philosophy tutorial, can fulfill your fantasy of being your "sweet and pure pearl of the East," then you are sorely mistaken. This is of course not to say that if you happen to meet a girl from East Asia, she can fulfill your misguided fantasy either.

Now it is true that cuteness, or acting cute, is a phenomenon in East Asia that tends to stand out more in its pop culture than in other countries. In Korea they call it aegyo, in Japan kawai-i (there's a name in Chinese for it too but I don't know what it is), and it comprises a kind of exaggerated cuteness that pop stars, actors and TV personalities use from time to time. It is also supposedly popular among bar hostesses in these countries, whose job it is to sit with and entertain men as they drink at hostess bars (their job does not include sex and there are male exponents called hosts who act much the same way with female customers). They do this to seem more appealing and youthful to their customers, many of whom are middle-aged or even older -- it's kind of like a fantasy for them. The thing is, though, that it is not exclusive to females and is also not considered normal behavior for people in East Asia. In fact I've been told straight up that if a person acts like that in real life, his or her peers will find it unbearably annoying and/or weird. So, yes, sorry if I ruined anyone's fantasies, but ya'll need to know the truth!

Take it from ol' Alex. I've dated women from both sides of the Pacific, and the only thing I've learned is that once you get past the language barrier it's all pretty darn similar. East Asian women are about as cute as anyone else, and the idea that they are somehow "cuter" than people from other cultures or ethnicities just ain't a fact. It may well be an opinion that you or someone you know has, but a fact it is not. The thing is, if you like or even love someone, they will probably be cute to you regardless. Language barriers can play a big role too in one's perception of cuteness. Some people instinctively treat ESL students like children because their limited English ability makes them sound childlike and cute! However, that student might be working towards an electrical engineering degree back home in Taiwan, so you never really know.

With my last girlfriend from Korea, for example, I used to think it was adorable when she would get her countable and uncountable nouns mixed up, saying, "We should buy some ice creams [meaning ice cream bars] 'cause it's a hot day!" "How cute!" I would say, giggling like a schoolgirl. Likewise she thought it was precious whenever I screwed up my Korean, like when I wanted to say the word now (jigeum) but accidentally said a little (jogeum). "Ha ha! So cute!" she would say. Know when she wasn't cute? When she would talk about budgeting our money or when she was pissed off or depressed . . . you know, like everyone else. The point I'm trying to get across here is that anyone can be cute -- men, women, East Asians, Americans, adults, children -- it don't matter.

In my next post, The Secrets of East Asian Women, Part 3: Submissiveness          

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 1

Greetings, my pupils. Make yourselves comfortable as I, Professor Alexander, impart to you the knowledge that has been revealed to me in my many travels to the Orient and dealings with its diverse peoples. For the Orient holds many secrets and many more treasures, and of these, none is more tempting to the intrepid young gentleman than the tantalizing, sumptuous, and bountiful peaches of the East! But of course, it is of no fruit that I speak, nay! For what I speak of are the delicate, beautiful, and ever modest pearls of Asia with their dark, flowing locks, almond eyes, and skin as soft as lotus petals . . . ARGH! I can't do this anymore.

So yes, if you have a soul and half a brain, that should have made you laugh, cry, groan in agony, or feel really uncomfortable. If your reaction was awe and wonder followed by your uttering, "Yes! Tell me more, Professor Alexander!" then you need to get with the times!

 I've been waiting for a long time to write this article but never really knew how to approach it in a concise way. It's something that has always bothered me immensely and now I finally feel that I can explain it eloquently.

As an East Asian studies specialist, when asked about my major and upon answering, I am often posed a follow-up question along the lines of "So do you like Asian girls too?" This question annoys me no end because, regardless of the speaker's intent, it feels as though the person asking the question is implying that the reason I pay more than $10,000 in annual course fees and spend long hours studying East Asian societies, culture, and language is because I'm looking for a girlfriend. However, at the same time, my answer is almost always yes . . . but not for the reasons many might think.

I like East Asian women because I am a heterosexual male and am not (at least consciously) racist. Throughout my time on this earth I have had amorous feelings towards and relationships with women of different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, including, but not limited to, women who could be described in the following ways: white, black, East Asian, Latin American, and South Asian (sometimes and problematically referred to as "brown"). This is because growing up in a bustling cosmopolitan city like Toronto and having friends from numerous backgrounds has made me realize that culture and ethnicity are two separate entities entirely, and when it comes to dating, the latter plays a much smaller role . . . unless you're racist.  
However, I also must admit that most of my past girlfriends have been East Asian or have come from East Asian backgrounds. Does this mean I suffer from the dreaded "yellow fever"? This is a term that describes an indiscriminate infatuation for all East Asian members of the opposite sex, and I find it to be overtly negative and deeply insulting to ethnic East Asians everywhere. I would argue no. I just know a lot of ethnic East Asian people, so I meet a lot more women from this ethnicity than others. It often seems to me that the problem here is that many of my peers expect me to have some sort of ulterior motive in my selection of East Asian girlfriends, apparently based on grossly outdated stereotypes that I shall unravel here in part 2 of this article!    

See, the thing I find to be most irksome about people's curiosity concerning my dating of ethnic East Asian women is the questions that often follow my yes answer. These often consist of one of the following: "Because they're cute?" "Because they're submissive?" "Because they're exotic?" And the worst and most cringe-worthy, "Because they're easy?" . . . Seriously, I mean, really? REALLY? Good god, people. The thing that blows my mind is that I have received such questions from people of varying ethnicities and cultures, including East Asians as well as people my age . . . in the 21st century, no less! Staggering, is it not?

All right, so if you don't know why this irks me so and why I can confidently say I don't date ethnic East Asian women solely because of their ethnicity, it is because these stereotypes -- which are thought to distinguish East Asian women from women of other ethnicities -- are in modern times untrue. Whereas some stereotypes may have an air of truth to them, these ones are old and outdated and currently do not exist, inside or outside of Asia. I shall look at every stereotype I've listed and explain my theories of how such misconceptions came to be, why they are no longer valid, and what we should do about it. This is going to be a multi-part article because I have LOADS to say on this subject. So check back tomorrow for the next part, and Viva La Woman!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Restaurant Review: Don Don Izakaya

Izakaya seem to be popping up all over Toronto these days, waxing nostalgic of the sushi trend that rocked the city a decade or so ago. I've always thought of izakaya as "restaurants that serve Japanese food that isn't sushi or ramen." Yes, my friends, despite popular North American belief, people in Japan do not eat sushi three times a day every day, because, like here, good sushi is really expensive in Japan.                         

Yesterday a good friend of mine, who had grown up in Japan and travels there regularly, treated me and my best bud to a dinner at Don Don Izakaya, in Toronto, located at 130 Dundas Street West. I had heard mixed reviews about it since it opened a few months back but had never had the opportunity to try it out myself. Yesterday I finally got my wish. 

Stole this pic from Toronto Life... please don't sue me.
The mood lighting is actually way better than this, my cellphone is just crappy.

Coming into the restaurant was pretty nifty. It has a funky interior lined with bamboo, and customers have the option of sitting at the bar or at thick wooden tables -- think picnic tables only more comfy and stylish. The whole design is sort of a hybrid of traditional and modern Japanese motifs that reminds me of the traditional-style Korean pubs I often visited in Seoul -- only Japanese, of course. When you walk through the door the maitre d' hits a taiko drum twice and says something in Japanese (probably along the lines of "We got a customer!") and the other waiters chime back with the classic restaurant welcome "Irashimase!" -- meaning welcome. The taiko drum was kind of fun, as the name of the restaurant is "Don Don," which is Japanese onomatopoeia for the sound of a taiko drum. Betcha didn't know that! . . . or mabye you did. Anyway . . .

My best friend and I started with 710 ml bottles of Kirin, which is a malt beer from Japan and, to date, my favourite beer from that country. The friend who was treating us had Asahi Premium Dark, which I actually didn't know existed (I consider myself pretty worldly when it comes to beer, especially darks). The beer was tasty as usual.

The first thing I ordered was "Wasabi Tako" -- tako being Japanese for octopus. It was essentially raw octopus mixed with wasabi. Think wasabi peas except with squishy, wet raw octopus instead of processed peas. I loved it!

Next we had seared mackerel, which was REALLY good, followed by "Japanese-style" fried chicken (my friend's words, not mine), which was subsequently followed by assorted fried things that consisted of shrimp, pork, and sea cucumber, with ketchup on the side. 

Following that we had these black rolled things that were filled with pureed fish -- to die for; a miso-based soup with noodles, beef and mixed vegetables -- not the most exciting thing but still tasty; and finally grilled white fish with garlic butter -- really damn tasty! This was all served with a side of brown rice. Yummy tummy! Sadly it didn't dawn on me to take pics of everything we ordered 'cause I only decided to blog about the place halfway into our meal and all I had was my outdated cellphone for pics. However, here are some washed-out-looking photos of some of the food we got. 

The desserts were quite interesting, featuring a pudding that is apparently very popular in Japan, according to my friend (white plate, right), sesame ice cream (black bowl, bottom), and a green tea mousse with red bean and a dab of whipped cream (top). All of these were most flavourful and I was surprised just how much you could taste the sesame in the ice cream.

So, the verdict? Good! All the dishes were tasty, flavourful, and creative. The prices are not exactly cheap but are still quite affordable if you work and are not a poor student like me -- ranging from about $3 to $11 a dish (pretty standard for izakaya fare in Toronto -- think tapas). The staff were super-friendly and consisted entirely of Japanese young men and women (probably here on working holidays) for that extra authentic feel that us Western folks crave so much (this is supposed to be a joke).

Also of note is that the head chef and owner is Chef Daisuke, who owned and ran Sakura Kaiseki, which used to be at Church and Wellesley. It was also an izakaya but of a much higher quality and steeper price, at which I was fortunate enough to eat four times before it closed. The dishes at Don Don show flourishes of Chef Daisuke's expertise and creativity but seem to have been simplified to enable the many staff working there to recreate them quickly. Even so, I found the food to be delicious and up to Daisuke standard! Overall, a very enjoyable experience!

Oh . . . and the washrooms were spiffing!

Here's their website:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

If anyone is heading over or in Montreal, I recommend checking out the Samurai exhibit currently on at the museum of archaeology in old montreal.

The exhibit showcases a collection of Samurai armor, blades and myriad other accessories and artifacts collected by Montrealer Professor Richard Béliveau's private collection. And what a collection it is!

Monsieur Béliveau with his collection.
 All the pieces on display are in beautiful condition and are coupled with all sorts of interesting information about Samurai studies, daily lives, and the periods of time in which they were prolific. The exhibit makes for an accessible and comprehensive introduction to what Samurai's were all about while showing off some genuinely amazing artifacts. Definitely worth a look if your into the subject matter... and lets face it, who doesn't find Samurai interesting?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Well, my friends, it is now July, which means I only have about a month and a half before I take off to Korea for a year. Wow. I haven't updated for a bit as I took off to Montreal for a vacation with a couple of friends of mine, and when I take a vacation, I take a vacation from EVERYTHING -- Facebook, blogging, whatever. Anyway, I hope to write another article about some serious stuff, like that "Misguided Perceptions of Asian Women" article I totally wanna write, which will likely be my next post. But currently I lack the energy necessary for such a venture, so in the meantime, here's more pictures of Korean things!

The following pics are from 2008 when I visited the Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. This palace apparently served as a sort of pleasure palace for the king of Joseon (Korea's longest and final dynasty). The king would come to Changdeokgung to chill out in the gardens and take it easy. It was also a place where scholar-officials, or yang ban, would study and write the civil service exams that could guarantee them a job in government. I thought it was quite beautiful and took a lot of pics. In my opinion these were the best of them.

This here is a line of stones leading up to the throne room, where the king would sit around and do kingly stuff. There is an identical row to the left and it seemed that they lined the path the king would walk to get to the throne-room structure. I'm unable to read Chinese characters but I seem to remember it was explained to me that they were elements meant to protect the king from all sorts of nasty things, such as disease and fatal accidents, etc. etc. Though some of the castle needed to be reconstructed over the turbulent years of Korea's modern history, I believe that these particular stones have been sitting there for a very long time -- hundreds of years likely.

 Here we have a structure that I don't really know the purpose of. It's connected to the main palace by gates and "bridges." The colours displayed here are common in traditional Korean architecture. I wish I could say more, but it was 4 years ago, and even then I don't think I was actually told what it was.  Still, looks nice!

Here's some more bits of the palace. Here you can see a chimney running up the wall of one of the structures. This is one of the chimneys used to ventilate the ondol floor of this building. Ondol floors are heated floors and are a uniquely Korean invention that would be used in the wintertime to heat floors in Joseon times. A fire would be lit in a special furnace located at the base of the structure, and through an elaborate system the floor would be heated by this fire. The smoke would be ventilated via this chimney. For rooms where the king himself would reside, the chimneys were placed much farther away so as to ensure the structures would not get blackened by soot.

Here is a signboard for one of the structures. Some of you may be wondering why it is in Chinese characters instead of the Korean hangul scriptThis is because Koreans traditionally used Chinese characters for their writing. It wasn't until the 1500s that the hangul alphabet was created by "Seijong the Great" -- a king known in Korean history for his benevolence and ingenuity -- so that commoners could have a writing system by which to communicate. Chinese characters continued to be used by the upper classes until quite recently, and in certain newspapers Chinese characters, or hanja, can still be seen occasionally. Also notice the detailing of the structure. Beautiful, no?

These small figurines can be seen on countless traditional Korean buildings. They serve as protective spirits against misfortune and things like that. They can be seen on palace buildings, temples and various other buildings. This motif is popular throughout much of East Asia and can be seen on Chinese and Japanese structures as well.

This is one of the pleasure gardens previously mentioned. Here we see a manmade pond. The structures behind are supposedly pleasure pavilions where the king, queen and officials would've relaxed and enjoyed food, music, and possibly theater. On the other side of the pond is a gazebo of sorts that is suspended over the water -- perhaps a place to relax and contemplate. I was so fond of this picture that I printed it out and mounted it on my wall.

This final shot is an exam study hall for scholar-officials in training. Each room would house a scholar who would study hard to memorize key sections of the Confucian classics, which he would then transcribe or recite for the test. Notice the screens at the upper right. These could be manipulated to keep sunlight from shining into a scholar's eyes while he was studying. Things haven't really changed much, have they?

So, that's all for now! 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Traditional Korean Wedding as I've Seen It

The following pics are from a dramatized traditional Korean wedding ceremony at the folk village I visited in 2008. Check it out! I have to add that my descriptions of what is happening here are very vague, because there was little English commentary aside from my friends' explanations, and they had only general knowledge of the significance of the rituals. Either that or I just can't remember what was being said, as it was 4 years ago. Anyway. . .

This here is the groom, wearing his scholarly yang ban robes. I believe his clothes are traditional "groom clothes"; however, because they resemble the clothes of a scholar-official, this guy would have been of the upper class (I assume). Notice how he carries a blue cloth in front of his face. Again, I'm not totally sure why, but based on what I've seen in dramas and Korean films, I think this is sort of like the veil we have in traditional North American weddings. Except it's on the groom. Interesting! This could have something to do with Korea's Confucian roots.

The groom sits in front of a table and presents . . . uh . . . whatever that is. I'll be honest, I really don't know what that thing is, but it's likely some sort of symbolic offering to the bride's parents or ancestors, as Confucian values dictate.

 After presenting the offering, the groom bows to whomever is receiving it.

Enter the bride. Here we have a traditional Korean bride in an elaborate and beautiful costume. I wish I could explain in detail all the intricacies of her dress and accessories and what they mean, but I can't . . . sorry. That's another reason I'm going to go study in Korea -- to learn stuff like this! Still. quite aesthetically pleasing, no?

Here we have a long shot of the bride apparently applying something to her hands while the groom waits patiently. Between them is the fellow who is marrying them.

After the ceremony, the wedding procession is led to the groom's family's residence, where the bride will officially join the groom's family as a wife, daughter-in-law, etc. The groom rides atop a horse and the bride is carried in a palanquin alongside, accompanied by a procession of musicians, dancers and servants.

So, yes, that is my horribly vague description of a traditional Korean wedding. I also left out a bunch of intermediate steps, mostly because I didn't have pics of them. However, the real objective here was to show these pics, which I thought were pretty good. Thanks for taking a look!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The following pictures were all taken during a tour of a folk village I went on with a friend of mine in 2008. It was a REALLY humid day, I remember, but we still had a good time. This particular folk village was located near Seoul and has had many films and television costume dramas shot in it.

I think this building was a re-creation of a minor scholar official's house (not 100% sure) in Joseon Korea. The folk village was home to many structures that were re-creations of traditional buildings. I thought this pic offered a nice contrast of colour between the trees, the roof and the man with the cart. Makes me forget how humid it was!

This thing worked sort of like a giant mortar and pestle. It appears to have been used to pound millet, wheat, or even rice. Since Korea was not traditionally a bread-eating culture, I suppose wheat wouldn't be as likely. I thought the texture of the wood and the coordinated colours really came out nicely in this pic. This was a feature of the "farmer's house" at the folk village.

Here's a side view of the traditional farmer's house that was previously mentioned. I thought this was one of the most interesting structures on account of the thatched roof and various traditional farm implements all over the place. Again I really like the soft colours of the structure.

Yet another feature of the farmer's house. Here we have ears of corn tied up and drying in the sun. For some reason, it initially surprised me to find out that Koreans had been eating corn for centuries and that it was part of their traditional diet. Until then I had always thought of corn as a specifically "Western" food, although in hindsight I can't think why. To the left of the corn there is a seated man, somewhat obscured by a rolled up mat of some sort. He was an actor playing the role of the farmer. Mostly he just sat there doing farmer stuff. As I had already spent time with modern Korean farmers at that point, I found his portrayal to be quite realistic.

This goat was in a pen behind the farmer's house. He just stuck his head up as I was turning around and I got this shot. What more can I say? It's a good shot of a goat, hee hee.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This here is another pic I took back in 2008. It's the side of a pile of stones covered in a rope mesh. The whole idea is to write a wish that you want to come true on a piece of paper and tie it to the rock. If all goes well it will come true! That one sticking out there is my wish... but I honestly can't remember what I wrote. Anyway I thought it made for an interesting shot. I liked this one so much that I actually printed and framed it. This particular stone was located in a folk village I visited.