Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One of these things is not like the other...

Here's something I've been thinking about recently...

 Once upon a time, a few months ago "Linsanity" gripped the nation! What's Linsanity? You all know Jeremy Lin right? That bench warmer who outscored the Lakers one fateful NBA game! At this time I was talking to a friend and he was telling me about Lin and I was thinking that I might blog about him, having East Asian heritage and all that. But then I thought about it more deeply and came to this extremely obvious yet somehow profound conclusion. "Wait a second! Jeremy Lin isn't East Asian, he's American! The guy was born in L.A!" and thus I maintain it would be inappropriate to blog about him on my blog called "Alex's East Asian Studies".

Mr. Lin himself.
 Now some of you might be wondering, "But Alex! That dude is so totally Asian, man! I mean look at him! And that last name! tre Chinois!". Don't let your eyes and rudimentary perception of culture fool you my friends! Jeremy Lin, like many other people who are often branded as "Asian" by the unenlightened (god I must be sounding REALLY pretentious right now) is actually an Asian-American person! "Whatever dude! That's just semantics! I know my Asians!" I hear some of you say. Well listen friends, it might blow your mind to know that there are myriad profound cultural differences between those who were born and live on the Eastern portion of the Asian continent, and those who were born and live in our North America. Yes, there is a BIG cultural difference between my friend George Wong from Toronto and my friend Wei Yi Fan from Szechuan. This difference? That one is East Asian, and one is North American. But of course that's not where the argument ends.

I read this sometime ago. Wanna learn about Asian-American culture? Read it!
 Within the context of North America, Asian-American communities have, historically had (and continue to have) a uniquely North American experience both in negative ways such as having to deal with marginalization, racism, racial profiling etc. and more positive ways, exposure to the many American sub-cultures, multi-ethnic mingling etc., These people have grown up speaking English, hanging out with Americans of other backgrounds and generally developing what could be considered an "American Sensibility". What do I mean by this? Well, at least in my experience, everything from fashion, tastes in media, ideals of beauty, tastes in food and all that stuff tend to differ greatly between my East Asian friends and my Asian-American friends (this is a generalization but bear with me). This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but I still encounter a disturbing number of "non-asians" who can't seem to figure out the extremely obvious differences between these two groups of people and who continue to view Asian-Americans as "foreigners" or "outsiders" despite them being a major part of our urban and rural communities for over 100 years!

Wanna learn about contemporary Asian Americans? Get to know this guy! This guy here is Philip Yu, he's the main man behind the "Angry Asian Man" blog that I've been reading for years! A fine resource on all things Asian-American. I'll put a link to his page at the bottom of this post.
 Anyway! The result of all this "North American exposure" is that Asian-Americans have emerged as a uniquely American sub-culture. They are American, yes, but they continue to have to deal with issues and experiences that are uniquely Asian-American. This often, and sadly, seems to be a result of them being marginalized for essentially looking different than white people, who for some reason often continue to be considered "more American" than say, "Blacks" or Hispanics who have also been part of the American spectrum for untold generations. However, because of these various social hardships (and other more positive elements) Asian-Americans exist as a very diverse group of people (because I'm talking about people with backgrounds from all of Asia here! -see my previous post "Those Asians") who are about as American as cowboys and lite-beer! Asian-Americans are an American people, the experiences that have solidified the Asian-American identity can only have come from living and growing in America. Asian-Americans are totally different than people who live in and grew up in East Asia. So, in-effect calling them Asian is actually WRONG! Not just politically but literally!

So next time you want to ask your classmate or co-worker Paul Yu from the state of Mississippi if he ever learned Kung Fu or studied the Confucian classics, take some time and think for a second. Look at him as a fellow countryman. He may have a different heritage sure, and because of that likely had a different experience in his formative years but ask yourself this: You may think China when you look at Jeremy Lin but do you think Africa when you think Michael Jordan? How much sense does that actually make?

Join me next time when I'll talk about East-Asian Women and bullshit stereotypes!                              
Check out Angry Asian Man here:

 The Korean Zombie does it again! Just watched Fuel TV's latest UFC fight night and it was awesome! There were a lot of new guys I'm not so familiar with, but generally pretty good fights. This is an MMA event I'm talking about just so you know. Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone put on an impressive display of striking against Jeremy Stephens. But for me, and many others, the highlight of the night was the main event, Chan Sung Jung, otherwise known as the Korean Zombie vs. Dustin Poirier. The fight was exciting form start to finish, with Zombie giving Poirier a run for his money for the first two rounds. In the third round Zombie started gassing (running out of energy) after a ridiculously versatile display of submission attempts. This had me pretty worried as he kept dropping his hands making himself vulnerable to Poirier strikes (which were pretty solid). However, come round three, Poirier got caught by an uppercut, then a knee, and then Zombie quickly got him in a darce choke that rendered Poirier unconscious! It was CRAZY! You could here the crowd yelling Zombie! Zombie! Zombie! It was pretty awesome.

Here's the move that won it
 So, sometime ago I promised myself I would get a Korean Zombie T-shirt if he won three fights in a row... fortunately this awesome new shirt came out and I'm thinking I'll totally get it!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hello friends! Just had my birthday party last Saturday and it was good times. We had beer and maki, and bulgogi and all kinds of great stuff. A bunch of my good buddies came and we had a wicked time! I am now 26, so old!!! (just kidding I don't really care). In other news I've started watching Hawaii Five-0, its a show about cops in Hawaii! The show is pretty silly ultimately and is sort of a guilty pleasure for me. It's about a crack team of "super cops" (unofficial terminology). Basically the story is, the governor (I think that's what they call them in the states) of Hawaii hires this ex-navy seal to compile a team of good, trustworthy, able people to wipe out crime on the islands of Hawaii. In return this team is given all the resources of the Hawaiian government and granted partial immunity in going about their business. The team is dubbed Hawaii Five-0 (after the fiftieth state). The show runs on action movie logic. The main cast is frequently solving problems with guns and brawling with little consequence, which is... AWESOME! The result of this formula is that just about every episode is like a self contained action film, with good action I add. It's good fun.

But perhaps the best thing about this show is that its been giving ALOT of work to Asian-American actors (Yeah yeah, I know I wrote that whole article on hyphens). Asian-American actors, it seems, are constantly getting shafted when it comes to big time roles in the movies and television. How many A-list Asian-American actors are there on television and in Hollywood? Your answer would likely be a single digit, its pretty sad considering how long Asian-Americans have been part of the U.S.'s demographic spectrum, but I digress (for now). Anyway the show is good with that, featuring Daniel Dae Kim (from Lost), Grace Park (from Battlestar Galactica and a bunch of Canadian shows, wheeeee!), and Masi Oka (from Heroes). The show also features a bunch of other Asian-American talent with single episode cameos and a few reoccurring characters. Jason Scott Lee (the guy who played Bruce Lee) was in a recent episode I saw and that was pretty nifty.

The cast of Hawaii Five-0
The show also drops a lot of Hawaiian cultural references which I find to be pretty awesome because I've always been interested in Hawaii, and Hawaiian culture. I would assume these references, often in regards to tradition, food, cultures etc. are at least fairly accurate since the show is shot on location with a few actual Hawaiians in the cast and production team. It's apparently also a re-make of a show by the same name which began airing in the late 60's and wrapped in the 70's. While the current series drops a few references here and there, I've been told they're VERY different.             

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Yo, been discovering some nifty Korean hip-hop videos lately. For those of you who don't know, I LOVE KOREAN HIP HOP. So yeah now you know. But my friends, the important thing is that I also LOVE HIP HOP IN GENERAL! See, if you listen to Korean Hip Hop but your one of those Korean culture fanatics (yes they exist), who ONLY listens to Korean hip hop, but shuns American classics like Wu-Tang Clan or Naz or Tribe Called Quest or Slick Rick etc. etc. than your gonna miss tonnes of sick references that Korean rappers make to the tracks that inspired them back in their green days. So yeah... something to think about. But anyway, Korean hip-hop has been going on for over 20 years now and ya know what? It's pretty damn good! (a lot of it anyway). And no I'm not talking about kpop idols who rap in their tracks or whatever. I'm talking about real, underground, muthaf*cka's from the streets! The streets of Seoul, or Incheon or Busan or whatever!

Hands down, my favourite Korean Rappers, Dynamic Duo.
But seriously, there's a lot of hip-hop talent in Korea that deserves to be recognized. I've been listen to Korean hip-hop for a few years now and lately I found these two tracks that I can't stop listening to. One is by YDG, or Yang Dong Geun, if you will. He's actually a famous actor in Korea but he also raps. While having more of a west coast kinda sound (I generally prefer east coast myself) and not being the most prolific rapper in Korea, he certainly has some hilarious rhymes and his beats are always pretty sick in my opinion (I have all is albums in CD form, love the guy). The video is quite minimal and low budget for him, but still has a certain charm. And the other is by a dude named Simon D whose relatively new on the scene but seems to have exploded in a big way. I think he was originally part of Supreme Team, an awesome rap duo. His video is a wonderful allegory of Korean night life, which I have had the awesome pleasure of participating in during my times over there.

Check em out below!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Those Asians

Alright! Time for another essay-ish thingy, cause I like getting my mind out there and where else to do that but my own personal blog!
So last time I talked about how I feel the hyphen to mark cultural identity, specifically in Canada, is being used in a strange kind of way. Well, I would like to take this time to address another word that seems to largely be used oddly and inconsistently here in North America, the word “Asian”. So let’s get started!
So my friends, I ask you. How many times have you described someone you suspected to have an East Asian, or, to a lesser extent, South East Asian background as being “Asian”? We’ve probably all done it several times at least, I know I have. It happens all the time, we do it without thinking about it. How many times have you overheard or taken part in conversation that goes something along the lines of “there’s this Asian guy at work who can totally play the guitar or whatever and blah blah blah”. You hear it all the time and most people probably don’t think there’s too much wrong with it, after all, it’s better than saying “oriental”, which is true, I’d certainly argue. Still, what does it mean to call someone Asian? When you hear the word “Asian” what comes to mind? If your someone living in North America, when you hear the word “Asian” in regards to a person you probably imagine a Chinese, Japanese or Korean person maybe a Vietnamese or Filipino person, but isn’t that kind of funny? (I mean strange funny).
Some might argue, “How is that odd? China’s in Asia so it only stands to reason!” but East Asia and South East Asia make up only a small part of a continent that spans a third of the globe, so how come so many of us seem to associate the word “Asian” exclusively with “East Asian” cues? Interesting no? As anyone with a globe or atlas (or googlemaps) could tell you, Asia is a massive continent which is home to myriad nation-states and cultures. So really, when your friend tells you about that “Asian guy” at work, there is a serious lack of information going on there. What sort of person are we supposed to visualize? A person who looks Chinese? Not necessarily.

Which of these celebrities and/or political figures can be considered Asian? If you answered all of the above, you would be correct.
 It would seem that the inconsistency here lies in what countries most of use associate with being in Asia. For example, I’ve talked to a number of people who seem to be quite unsure of what continent the countries known as “the middle east”, such as Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc. belong to. I’d wager that there are some who believe that the “middle east” is a continent in and of itself. Well its not… its part of Asia. You know Israel? That’s in Asia. You know Saudi Arabia? That’s Asia. Iraq? Asia. Iran? ASIA! The list goes on. What about South Asia? What about India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives? All Asia! Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia! ASIA!!! Did you know a huge chunk of Turkey is in Asia? Did you know the majority of Russia’s landmass is in Asia? Ever heard of Uzbekistan? ASIA! Siberia?! ASIA!!!!!!!! Inner and Outer Mongolia? Kazakhstan, that place where Borat is supposed to come from??? DAMN RIGHT! That’s Asia.
Take a look; those are some diverse countries, which are each home to dozens of different cultures, sub-cultures and ethnicities of people. So isn’t it kind of weird that when people say Asia, the first thing that often comes to mind is Japan, Korea and China, three countries which make up only a very small and very specific part of the larger discursive space known as Asia? Weird. Another funny thing are the times you may hear someone refer to a person of East Asian decent as “Asian” and a person of South Asian decent as “Indian” or “Pakistani” (or the more offensive sounding “Paki”) despite not knowing their actual country of origin. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve noticed this quite a bit in my daily existence. Seems pretty inconsistent no?    

It’s hard for me to expect that people reading this, who use the word “Asian” to demarcate people of East Asian heritage or decent are going to instantly start using terms like “East Asian” or “South Asian” as old habits are hard to break, and the word “Asian” as it is often used does serve as a widely accepted ethnic identifier in our society to the point of being hard-wired into some peoples brains. But in reality it's vague and problematic. I can’t say that terms like “East Asian” and “South Asian”  are perfect either but I would argue that they are at least more correct in being more specific. After all, in this ever-growing global community of ours, how can anyone truly know where anyone came from? It certainly is worth thinking about for sure. 

This of course is to say nothing the term "Asian" as it is applied to Americans and Canadians who come from East Asian backgrounds, which will be the topic of my next essay-ish thingy! (I guess “article” is the word I’m looking for.)

P.S.: If I left out one of your countries in my frantic naming, I apologize.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Didn't blog for a few days because, honestly, I haven't been doing a whole lot, at least not much East Asian related. I have been studying Korean like a fiend though, which has yielded positive results. I'm just trying to increase my vocabulary and master complex sentences, its pretty hard, but I'm actually enjoying it. And its may now! Which is my bday month, so I'm trying to organize a party, but I've been really lazy about it. I'm also trying to read through The Tale of Genji or Genji Monogatari (源氏物語) for all you Kanji readers out there. Its probably the longest book I've ever tried to read and I initially found it kind of boring, but now a days I'm really into it. Heian-Japanese culture is pretty darn interesting, more on that when I actually finish the book. On top of that I've been working out like crazy in preparation for schooling in Korea. I just got my marks back for the term and it averaged out to a "B" so now I can breath a sigh of relief as I'm practically guaranteed to go now WOOOOOH! Yonsei here I come! And finally I made bulgogi the other day and it was REALLY good and actually tasted like bulgogi! I'm proud of myself. Anyway that's all for now, I will eventually get to writing that article that I was gonna do and make another video soon!