Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Do I Have an Asian Fetish? (Part 3)

This is just pic, but ads like this are EVERYWHERE on the Internet. You've probably seen them. They are apparently pretty popular. I think they're pretty creepy. 
So yes, I don't think I have an Asian fetish. I do admit I may have had one at one point, before I actually dated anyone, but then I was an ignorant 14-year-old and this is certainly not the case anymore. I've also never clicked on any ads that resemble the one above.

But Alex, how can this be!? You've had seven official girlfriends (that is, women I have dated and we referred to each other as girlfriend and boyfriend on a consistent basis) and six of them have been Asian! Fetish alert!!! 

Hold your horses there, friend! In order to illustrate why I do not have an Asian fetish I shall explain the context in which I met these women and how they came to be my girlfriends. 

First off, I'm what you could call a passive dater, as in I don't go hunting for a girlfriend if I'm single. I generally feel that if I keep doing whatever it is I do and keep meeting people, inevitably I will meet someone who I find attractive and endearing and who reciprocates those feelings. So far this method has not failed me. I feel that if someone has a fetish relating to a certain kind of person, they would be inclined to aggressively seek out the object of their desire (e.g., blind dating, speed dating, online dating etc.). This has never really been the case for me. I've never at any point felt that I absolutely NEEDED to date an Asian person, nor have I dismissed a prospective partner on the grounds of her not being Asian. Never at any point have I said anything remotely like "I'm gonna head down to the local language-exchange club and see if I can pick up some Japanese honeys!" (There are people who do things like this--I've met them. They're often creepy. Wong makes a brief reference to them at the beginning of her article.) 

So here we go . . . 

My first girlfriend I met at a Canada Day gathering when I was 16. She was a friend of a friend and happened to be Chinese-Canadian. I realized my attraction to her when I found out we shared a love of alt rock and punk music and a similar sense of humor and worldview. We dated for two months.

My second girlfriend was European-Canadian with an Estonian background and I met her at a Halloween party. We shared interests similar to those of my first girlfriend and dated for two months.     

My third girlfriend was Vietnamese-Chinese-Canadian. We met through a friend whom I made by total fluke when my MSN list became accidentally merged with a friend of mine's, when I was 17. Originally she had a crush on my friend and I played matchmaker. It didn't work out between them, and then I realized that she was pretty, quirky, driven, had an eclectic taste in music and movies, and was really down-to-earth. After hanging out together a few times and talking for hours and days about random things, I eventually asked her if she was interested in making it official, and she was. We dated for almost three years. 

My fourth girlfriend was Korean, an exchange student who came to Canada to improve her English. I met her when I was 21, through another Korean (male) student I met randomly on the street who wanted to practise English with me. I became good friends with the random guy and he introduced me to his classmates; my future girlfriend was among them. At first I was not attracted to her but she lived very close to me; I gradually found myself in more and more situations when she and I would be alone together conversing about random things. We talked a lot about stuff, realized we had a number of things in common, and eventually got closer and closer and started dating. We dated for around two years. 

My fifth girlfriend was a former student of mine whom I tutored in English when I was 23 (don't worry, we were the same age). I was paired with her through the agency I worked for; she was a Korean international student getting ready to study at a local college. I always thought she was pretty and spunky, and when she told me in no uncertain terms that she liked me, I saw no reason to back off. We dated for about two and a half weeks.

My sixth girlfriend I met through a Japanese friend I met while working for a short-lived international student community magazine when I was 24. My friend set us up as language-exchange partners, as I was (and still am) learning the Korean language for my major. My friend had asked me if I needed a partner and I was like, "Yeah, sure, why not? I got time." When we met, I thought she was cute and found that she was really fluent in English, but I didn't really know what her personality was like--which is really where most of the attraction comes from. After a month of spending hours alone together exchanging conversation and info about ourselves, I realized that she was smart, worldly, well-read, caring, driven, and intellectually curious, on top of being fashionable and physically attractive. We dated for around a year and a half, though most of it was long-distance. 

And finally, my seventh girlfriend was Taiwanese. We met through my roommate while we were studying in Korea when I was 26. Initially I wasn't sure if I wanted to date her, but when I hung out with her she proved to be outgoing, down-to-earth, funny, and sweet and could hold her liquor very well (I thought that was cool). She and her friends also made it fairly obvious that she liked me. We dated for two months.

So what is the purpose of this long-winded account? What I'm trying to illustrate is that it was never the "Asian-ness" of these women that initially attracted me. I had no preconceptions when I met them, mostly because it was entirely by chance, and it wasn't until quite some time after I met them--until I really got to know them--that I realized they had the traits I was looking for in a member of the opposite sex. I often found (and continue to find) myself in situations where I must interact with many ethnically and culturally East Asian people, as a result of my interests (Asian stuff), my major (East Asian studies), and my profession (tutoring) . . . not that I'm complaining. You could say I've become fairly entrenched in the local East Asian and Asian-Canadian community during my short time on this earth, which is one of the reasons I decided to start this blog in the first place. Within these communities where I spend much of my time, occasionally I come across women who exhibit the traits I find attractive, and I have no qualms about dating them if they too feel so inclined.

Still, though, you may be thinking, "Surely there must be some libidinous reason why you have placed yourself in a situation in which you come in contact with many East Asian people on a near-regular basis, you creepy man, you! Pray, what might that be!?" 

Find out in the exciting conclusion!   

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do I Have an Asian Fetish? (Part 2)

I don't actually believe this. I just thought this was a funny pic.
So you might be thinking, "So what? I like Asian girls. BIG DEAL! Some people like Latinas, some like Russian women, some like black girls. Why am I being persecuted for my preference!?" Well, my friend, in my opinion your preference might be perfectly legitimate; however, I believe it is the reason for that preference that decides its legitimacy. Maybe you have an attraction to certain physical attributes that you have found to be more prevalent among East Asian women. Fine--I don't really see that as being a particularly harmful reason to gravitate. Unfortunately, in my experience this is not the end of the story for a lot of men interested in Asian women. 

Too often have I heard statements from non-Asian men drawn to East Asian women such as "Asian women are so cute and polite," or "Asian girls are so romantic and loyal and will never cheat on you!" or "I've heard that Asian girls are freaks in the sack!" or "Asian girls are so exotic!" And of course the worst, in my opinion . . . drum roll please . . . 

"[Insert ethnicity here-->] _______ girls are just too stubborn and headstrong. I've heard that Asian women are way more feminine [and submissive--this is often omitted but it's implied] and that's what I'm looking for!" I feel it is seriously disturbing that some men feel this way.

Yes, as in Wong's article, these are some things that non-Asian (though not specifically white) males have ACTUALLY said to me, word for word. I also strongly suspect that many people assume it is for these reasons that people do have preferences for East Asian women. It is evidently true in some cases, and in my experience these cases are uncomfortably common. This is very bad, because if you are thinking this way you are subscribing to the belief that ethnicity constitutes personality, behaviour, and mannerisms. You are stereotyping and you are being RACIST, whether you mean to be or not--textbook racist, in fact! (The belief that ethnicity constitutes or is directly linked to behaviour is one of the dictionary definitions of the term racism. Seriously, look it up!)

This is where I believe many "Asian fetishes" stem from. The fetishist believes that Asian women embody certain "ideal" traits that are inherent in Asian women and that said fetishist finds appealing. The fetishist thus views procurement of an Asian partner as a goal or ideal. This may be dumbing things down a bit, but I would certainly argue that this is a fairly good example of chasing something for the wrong reasons.

So there you have it, my definition of an "Asian fetish." Now comes the second question. Do I have an Asian fetish? Surprisingly, I would argue no.

Find out why in Part 3!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Do I Have an Asian Fetish? (Part 1)

 "I launched, a mock mail order bride website that targeted Asiaphiles with images like the above. Now, 13 years later, I find myself dating the descendants of the same men I once loathed." 
-- Kristina Wong 

The Internet is so full of interesting things, like this short article I read just the other day by writer and performer  

The following is my commentary on the article, so I hope you actually read it : )

Kristina Wong's style is pretty in-your-face, which I like, unabashedly calling out those insecure white creepers who search high and low for their Asian female prey. I sort of feel that she might be over-assuming some things, but then again, these were things that were ACTUALLY said to her, so basically I dig it. My first reaction on reading this article was, "Man, those nine things ARE whack!" But then I started thinking more deeply and I was suddenly struck by a horrible thought: "Egads! Is she talking about me!?" Now if you know me personally, you will know that the great majority of my ex-girlfriends and women I have swooned over in the past have been at least ethnically East Asian, save four (or five). Think of it as a 5:12 ratio--I know, pretty severe, right? I know, I know--big surprise, the white guy with the East Asian studies blog likes Asian women--I bet you never saw it coming! So yes, it would appear that Ms. Wong is indirectly addressing me. And of course this got me thinking and reflecting on my past relationships with these aforementioned women and how I came to meet them. I started asking the only logical question: "DO I have an Asian fetish?"

It's something I had denied for years. When people asked me why I primarily dated East Asian women, I usually just shrugged and said something like "I guess I just know a lot of East Asian people." But reading this article got me thinking, is it really that simple? I mean, you saw the ratio--the proof is in the pudding. Can I really deny at this point that I have a thing for Asian women? And the answer is no, clearly not. For me to deny the fact that I "gravitate" (as Wong puts it) towards women of East Asian ethnicity would be pretty ridiculous at this point. Still, the question stands, is this gravitation the result of a fetish or something more complicated and less tangible? Come join me on a journey of self-discovery!

First things first. To know whether or not I have a fetish we need to clearly define what a fetish actually is. Now to be honest, I'm not 100% sure how Wong defines an Asian fetish, but I think it's safe to say that the popular perception of a fetish is something primarily sexual in nature--like feet or S&M or some such thing. Therefore, in this case to fetishize is to sexualize. While this is partially true, it's only one piece of the puzzle. It's dictionary time!
So according to Merriam-Webster and, a fetish is . . .

a : an object (as a small stone carving of an animal) believed to have magical power to protect or aid its owner; broadlya material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence
b : an object of irrational reverence or obsessive devotion
c : an object or bodily part whose real or fantasied presence is psychologically necessary for sexual gratification and that is an object of fixation to the extent that it may interfere with complete sexual expression

Hmmm . . . curious. Notice how the word object is used in every entry. I feel this is not a coincidence. In other words, it would seem that to fetishize something would be to objectify it. Actually I would agree with this, but I feel I should explain a bit more.    

Objectification in this case (or in any case, I guess) is to, as comedian and performance artist Reggie Watts puts it, "reduce a concept to an object" and in doing so give it a set of features that one perceives as being commonplace in relation to that object. For example, feet (which are actually objects) have certain features that are commonplace for feet. Foot fetishists like feet, they know what feet are all about, they may perceive some feet to be more preferable than others, but generally speaking they know what to expect, as most people have five toes on each foot, heels, soles, etc.

This is all fine and dandy for something as simple as feet but it starts getting problematic when a concept as complicated as a person gets reduced in a similar way--in this case a woman of East Asian ethnicity. To elaborate, if we are to accept these definitions, then to have an "Asian fetish" would mean that one would need to first have a number of preconceived notions of what constitutes an Asian woman as an "object." These notions would naturally include ideas of appearance and possibly dress, which I see no major problems with--most people wear clothes, most people have four limbs, a head, and a torso, fair enough (unless your ideas go beyond these basic necessities). However, where it gets problematic is when these notions include things like behavior, mannerisms, personality, habits, and culture. And here is where I believe most people have a problem with the idea of an Asian fetish.

(Check out Part 2!) 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Japanese video-game franchises I would like to see rebooted - Bushido Blade

All right, so this one is kind of a flight of fancy because this will likely never happen for a number of reasons, but I also find it curious that no other studio has tried a similar project since. I am, of course, talking about the original PlayStation franchise Bushido Blade!

I think it's safe to say that everyone loves a good sword fight. Many film and literary genres revolve around them. What would our best samurai, pirate, musketeer, knight, and fantasy stories be without them? Boring, is what! Well, obviously I'm a fan of sword fights, and when I first got to play Bushido Blade for the original PlayStation, I was a happy camper. Bushido Blade has often been referred to as a fighting game, but I feel this to be inaccurate. Fighting games, such as Street Fighter or Tekken, have health bars, and the object is to drain your opponent's by landing combos and special techniques without allowing yours to be drained. Bushido Blade was not such a game. Just as you couldn't simply refer to the UFC Undisputed franchise as merely a fighting game because it is more of an MMA simulator, Bushido Blade was more of a "sword-fight simulator."

Kanuki catches Red Shadow with a thrust in the original Bushido Blade. 
Yes, indeed, in Bushido Blade if you made one wrong move, it could spell your defeat. A duel could be won with a single well-placed blow, like an actual sword fight! For some ridiculous reason a lot of people didn't like that about the game initially and preferred more conventional fighting games (fools!). However, Bushido Blade earned a dedicated audience and was able to hatch a sequel. The first game came out in 1997 and was fairly well received, if I remember correctly. I believe the story revolved around the leader of some clan going mad or turning evil and pitting the clan members against each other. As one of the clan members your goal was to slay your former allies and eventually the clan leader in the form of the end boss, who could also be killed in one hit if you were careful. It was basically just an excuse to have sword fights! There was also a degree of honour involved, in that the characters would introduce themselves at the beginning of each duel with an animation during which they were totally vulnerable to your attacks. If you wanted to see your chosen character's true ending cut-scene you could not attack them while they were doing this. I think there may have been some other stipulations as well, but these were only present in the original game and I played its sequel much more avidly. Another interesting detail is that, with the exception of three fights, the duels took place on one giant map instead of separate levels; if you so desired you could run to any spot on the map at any time, with your opponent chasing you. This was scrapped in the second game. At one point you also had to fight "Kaze," a cowboy who wielded a gun!

The following year Bushido Blade 2 came out, featuring a much larger roster of characters. This time the story was expanded to include many more characters and followed a feud between the clan from the first game, the Narukagami, and the Shainto. In this instalment, instead of just fighting clan members you had to fight a group of ninjas, one at a time, until you faced a clan member as a boss in each map. You started with three initial characters, and after choosing one the game would take you through their story. On certain levels the characters would stumble across fellow members of their clan who would offer to take over that particular fight for them, and thus the player would control these "sub-characters" for that level, unlocking them if they were victorious. The game culminated in a boss battle with the head of the clan. The Shainto leader was invulnerable accept for a spot on his back that was really easy to find and exploit. The Narukagami's boss was much more annoying, as he could teleport. There were also the obligatory gun characters, although this time there were two, Kaze, the cowboy from the first game, and Tsubame, a scantily clad woman wielding an M16. These two characters could be unlocked by succeeding in a time attack in which one had to kill 100 ninjas within a specified time in the game's "slash" mode (or whatever it was called). Pretty wild!

A duel ends poorly for Jo of the Shainto.              
So the game worked as such: After choosing a character the player had to choose a weapon; these included a broadsword, a short sword, a distinctive pole-arm (depending on which side you chose), a katana, a notachi (sort of like a really big katana but not really), and a sledgehammer(?), which was featured only in the first game. Certain characters specialized in certain weapons and would have special moves available to them depending on the chosen weapon. Some characters were slow and powerful, others were fast and precise but could be rocked by a larger opponent, etc., etc. Each character had three stances and could chain attacks together, which would differ based on the stance. Each character also had a distinctive throwing weapon; some were lethal and some were just for stunning to leave an opponent open to attack. You could throw dirt at your enemy as well, if it was a map that had dirt to throw, which would cause the enemy to drop their guard. You could also take part in tests of strength where the characters would lock swords and push against each other, the loser falling over and becoming vulnerable. As I previously mentioned, one blow could end the fight; however, it would also be possible to take a glancing blow that would knock you down or stun you and in some cases render one of your arms useless. Some levels also had pitfalls that would spell demise for anyone who missed their footing.

One player chopping down a bamboo shoot in the bamboo grove map during a multiplayer duel. 
All these elements made for some AWESOME multiplier action, and my friends and I would spend hours going at it. Even these days we occasionally load the game on an emulator, as it still holds up! It's a lot of fun and is easy to learn but hard to master. So why would I want this to be rebooted? Because not only is it an awesome and fairly simple concept but the original games were hampered by the original PlayStation's technology. The maps were pretty simple, you could only fight one on one, and the environments were pretty sparse; the story mode was basically the multiplayer mode with CPU-controlled opponents with fairly basic AI. However! Imagine the possibilities with today's technology! Dynamic weather conditions, sprawling maps, larger-scale duels, maps with usable objects, better AI, more advanced physics engines, HD graphics and character models, more weapons, more moves, more modes, more characters, customization--the possibilities are endless! Sadly the original developer of Bushido Blade had a falling out with its publisher, Squaresoft (now Squarenix), and the development team disbanded years ago, so the likelihood of a new Bushido Blade entry is practically nil. However, it's a fairly straightforward concept and I'm honestly kind of surprised no one has ever tried to recreate the experience, even in the indie sphere. Don't people like sword fights anymore? I know I do!                         

So What Are YOU?

Hey all!

Sometime ago I wrote a post about how you can ask people's ethnicity without looking like a foolish git, here ->

Interestingly enough, I just read an article on by a certain Meher Ahmad about the same topic, here ->

Seems we share more or less the same view on the matter, though she adds a point that asking about someone's ethnicity "without looking like an asshole" is also about timing, as in it shouldn't be the first thing you ask right after introducing yourself. Well, I couldn't agree more, and for basically the same reasons she states in the article (read it, it's short). She also states that asking where one's parents come from is inappropriate, and I also agree with this, because you're just making too many assumptions with that one. I feel it may be be similar to asking "Where does your family originate," which I offered in my post. But then again, the word originate, I feel, specifies ancient origins rather than referring to anyone presently living in the country where said person lives. For example, if someone asked me that question I couldn't say "Canada" because it simply wouldn't be true. For the record, my family originates partly from the British Isles and partially from Eastern Europe--Belarus and Czechoslovakia, to be exact (as far as we know). Regardless, one of the methods she suggests is not asking at all, because the person will likely at some point reveal their ethnicity if you talk to them long enough. I have found this to be quite true in many cases. Just remember it's okay to be curious, but to assume makes an ASS out of U and ME.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Japanese video-game franchises I would like to see rebooted - Tenchu

I do like me some video games, and as the new console generation is gearing up for release with some promising titles and features on the way, I'd like to take an opportunity to look back on some of my favorite Japanese video game IPs that I would like to see rebooted in this new generation. Back in the days of PS2 Japanese IPs were everywhere, with a good number of triple-A titles coming out of some of Japan's top publishers. However, in the latest console generation it seems that Japan's presence has lessened to some degree, especially with companies like Square Enix releasing North American-produced games such as Deus Ex (which was awesome) and the fall from grace of the Final Fantasy series following the delay and final release of the lacklustre Final Fantasy XIII. What happened, Japan? Some of my friends suggest that many Japanese game developers are stuck in the past, relying on game mechanics and storytelling elements that haven't seen real innovation in years. I don't know if I agree with that, but certainly the market has shifted, and that's pretty darn interesting. Still, there are Japanese games that I remember fondly that I could totally see being redone in our current console cycle to brilliant effect, so in no particular order, here we go!

The third and, in my opinion, best entry in the series. 
I remember talking to a friend of mine some years ago when the first reboot of Ninja Gaiden came out for the original Xbox. I was kind of curious about the game 'cause it had ninjas in it and looked cool. When I asked about it, my friend told me, "In that game you can do anything you've ever wanted to do as a ninja." My immediate thought was, "really? More so than Tenchu?!" 

Stick to the roofs. Screen capture from Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven.
The original Tenchu: Stealth Assassins came out for the original PlayStation back in 1998, the same year as a little game called Metal Gear Solid, and the two games are credited with having revolutionized stealth mechanics in action games. Tenchu had you playing as either the ninja Rikimaru or the kunoichi (female ninja) Ayame. Each character's levels were the same, with a few changing story elements and different bosses depending on who you played as. The name of the game was stealth, as the player was judged on each level based on how many times they got detected, how many stealth kills were achieved, etc. Available to the player was a wealth of items that could be used to great effect, such as bombs, mines, disguises, poison rice, and of course the grappling hook, with more items unlockable based on the player's performance. The player was encouraged to stick to the shadows and get the drop on their adversaries, as fighting them head-on proved both ineffective and taxing (if more than two enemies ganged up on you, staying and fighting would likely be fatal). Creeping through the shadows and using ninja tools made it feel like you were a real ninja (insofar as we imagine ninjas in pop culture) and that was pretty neat! When I first got a PlayStation, I didn't have a memory card, so I played through the first Tenchu game in one sitting. It took hours! (but I was 13 years old and didn't go to parties.)  

Rikimaru gets the drop on an unlucky spear-wielding guard in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
After a prequel, Tenchu: Birth of Assassins, in 2000, which garnered mixed reviews from fans, the series was handed over from its original developers, Aquire, to K2. It reached its pinnacle in 2003 with Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, its PS2 debut and official sequel to the first game, which overcame the shortcomings of the prequel and tightened up the things that made the first two games work, improving on the mechanics and story exponentially. It was generally considered to be a success by fans of the series and reviewers alike. I remember playing it over and over, and when my original copy got broken through some mishap, I asked for another copy as a birthday present instead of a newer game. Unfortunately the next release marked the beginning of the decline of the series. Tenchu: Deadly Shadows was the next instalment, which took place between the first and third instalments, and Rikimaru was axed as a playable character. Instead players filled the role of female lead Ayame and a female newcomer named Rin. While not a bad game that did attempt to add to the mechanics a bit, it felt like a much smaller project overall, with much less effort put into the story and level design, and it just wasn't as satisfying to play for those reasons. It simply felt like an inferior product. However, it was still playable and did keep me coming back, so it wasn't a failure per se.  

I am not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the best gameplay innovations in Tenchu Z. If only the game had been as good as previous entries. 
However, the final straw that really hampered the series was the release of Tenchu Z in 2006. As a loyal fan of the series I gave Tenchu Z a try and there were things I liked about it. Several gameplay innovations were added that were pretty cool! You could stash bodies more easily, you could chain-kill, there were more items and in-depth character customization, you could play online and have a literal squad of ninjas tear through the level, killing everyone in their path (stealthily, of course), and finally--my favourite thing--you could stealth-kill targets through paper screens! (It's the little things that count.) However, despite all the welcome added mechanics the game was INCOMPLETE! Levels were recycled; the narrative was disjointed and nonsensical; there didn't seem to be any reason to do anything. Considering that the previous entries in the series were so full of narrative and character development, this was quite a disappointment to fans, and to top it off the game received dismal to mediocre reviews for the reasons I just stated.

Ayame as seen in Tenchu: Fatal Shadows. While not as good as Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, it's still a decent entry into the series and expands upon the narrative. It managed to keep me invested. 
Things seemed bleak for the franchise until in 2008 the IP was handed back to Aquire and Tenchu: Shadow Assassins was released for the Nintendo Wii and PSP. The game received generally positive reviews and marked a return to form, featuring Ayame and Rikimaru as the main protagonists. I'm ashamed to say, though, that I haven't played this apparently formidable entry into the series, as I have neither a Wii nor a PSP, but it seemed to me that by the time of its release, many people had forgotten how awesome Tenchu once was. How sad. 

Currently the latest entry in the series. 
So why do I want to see this series rebooted? Because think of the possibilities! We've seen some pretty awesome stealth games as of late, some of which have been reboots, such as the recent Splinter Cell games and the latest entry in the Hitman series, and there have also been entirely new IPs such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and Assassin's Creed, and of course the indie hit Mark of the Ninja! We've seen what can be done with this genre. I think a truly next-gen, true-to-form Tenchu game with its feudal Japanese setting, array of ninja gadgets and abilities, and unique story and characters, redone with contemporary graphics, physics engines, and gameplay innovations, could truly be a thing of beauty. I can't think of too many games with ninjas in them in which stealth is actually encouraged, oddly enough, and in my opinion, for that reason Tenchu is and has always been the quintessential ninja IP. I would love to see it brought into the next generation (by Aquire, hopefully).                                       

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How embarrassing! Only, not really . . .

Well, imagine my surprise when the video I spent hours ranting about in the last post turned out to be staged!

*Waw waw waaaaaaaaw*

Well, don't I feel silly. I guess I got "trolled," so to speak. Well, whatever, I'm man enough to know when I've been played. So yes, a little bit embarrassing, to say the least. HOWEVER, I'm going to leave my post up, because honestly that whole video business was sort of the final straw that unleashed a torrent of rage from yours truly about shit that actually DOES happen and that DOES piss me the hell right off. So fine, the rant kind of loses a lot of the initial effect, but you know what? It's still relevant! So up she stays. Here's the article about the video being fake: 

Still, the whole thing sounds a little odd to me. A horror short? Really? Seriously!? Well, whatever, who am I to judge? It's kind of a relief to know that this didn't really happen, but the whole business did stir up some interesting and disturbing issues, such as how many Korean and non-Korean netizens alike were calling out the victim for being . . . well, I dunno . . . a woman!? Shit, drunk girl gets harassed and assaulted by two guys and people blame the girl!? For what, being drunk?! So girls can't drink because guys might f*ck with them!? What kind of messed-up world are we living in!? (This is a rhetorical question. I already know the answer.)  

This brings up some juicy issues I would just love to post about in the near future!

Anyway, despite the video's being fake, it's still a known fact that people act up and do stupid shit in other countries because they feel as if "It's not my home. I don't have to respect anyone here! I'm gonna be an asshole!" I've witnessed this firsthand a number of times during my time in Asia and it really does make me furious, for the reasons I stated in the rant. So there you have it. Not taking back anything I said, except maybe the part about the dudes being human garbage . . . since they didn't really do what it was I thought they did. Whatever. Think of the rant as an allegory or what-have-you. But yes, this video does bring to light myriad social issues that must be considered by all of us. Perhaps in that respect it may have done some good? I feel like that's worth thinking about.               

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trouble in Korea: Mad as Hell. . . (contains profanity)

Before I continue with this angry post I feel a disclaimer is warranted.

I consider myself a thinking man, an academic in some respects, an intellectual in others. Maybe it's presumptuous of me or even pretentious, but even though I tend to use a colloquial tone with this blog I generally try to refrain from using profanity and make a point of not discussing topics I am not well versed in. Still, the following event has shaken me so much that I decided it was right to use profanity to express my utter disdain for the actions committed. I'm sorry if my crass tone offends, but I am extremely angry that the following events occurred, especially since they hit so close to home. So you have been warned. And now, without further ado . . .    

I just came back from a year-long stay in Korea two weeks ago, and this pisses me right the f*ck off.

I couldn't even think of a picture to put with this. Today I read an article from the Washington Post that I found via Angry Asian Man, about a video made by two pieces of human garbage who happen to be in Korea and which has Korean netizens up in arms. The trash in question, two "Western guys," apparently began harassing a random Korean woman in a club. In the video the two piles of sentient refuse happen upon a woman who appears to be intoxicated to some degree. So what do these scum do? They harass her, of course! They begin commenting about her body, grabbing her by the hair, sticking their fingers in her nose and then her mouth, and when she finally gets them off her and walks off, they hurl insults at her and tell her to "go get plastic surgery like every other little Korean girl." There is a link to this article below. Read it and get angry as hell, and then continue reading this rant if you wish.

The article is very succinct and explains most of the problems I have with this incident, but I feel I should elaborate . . .

Now listen, friends, it's no secret that I am big on Korea. I study Korean history, language, and culture; I've been to Korea on three separate occasions and have spent almost a year and a half of my life there in total, and I have plans to go back in the near future. I have piles of Korean friends both in Canada and in Korea; I have been involved in two very serious and heavily invested relationships with Korean women whom I've loved and admired deeply and still continue to have good relations with; I've spent time with Korean families in both urban and rural Korea; and I'm seriously considering forming my future career around the country in some way. So yes, there is some bias here. However, I have to stress that this kind of shit pisses me off on a whole lot of levels beyond just being invested in Korea and its people.

As a Western man who has spent lengthy periods of time in Korea and who has had the opportunity to interact with Koreans both young and old in myriad settings, I know there exists a prejudice against Westerners, especially males. My former girlfriend and I experienced this stigma firsthand when we started dating. Her family and friends were worried that I was taking advantage of her and that I would be unfaithful or mistreat her, or was just after her for what was perceived as easy sex. It took six months in a long-distance relationship in which I remained faithful to her and eventually went to be with her in Korea for her parents to change their minds about me. Do I find this troubling? Sure, but I understand where the stigma comes from because I've done my homework. Westerners in Korea have had a bad rep for hundreds of years for myriad reasons, some justifiable and some not so much. However, the current attitude likely stems from the Korean War, during which foreign soldiers poured into the country to assist in the war effort.

Now as most of us know, many (but not all) military men aren't exactly paragons of what is popularly considered upstanding behavior, especially when they go abroad. These soldiers in Korea were no different; they were notorious (and continue to be) for dabbling in drinking, gambling, fighting, and of course prostitution. On top of that, some soldiers, perhaps through some feeling of entitlement or just plain misconduct, would harass and in some cases rape local women because, well, they could. And in many cases they could get away with it too, because they were military and could not be tried by local authorities. Some of the more "humane" of these soldiers would get into intimate relationships with local women, impregnating them in some cases, and then leave the country never to return (not in every case, mind you, but it did happen quite a bit in those days). There are quite a few such stories from Korea's past, and while this is a part of the PAST, many of these ideas about Western men in Korea continue to exist. Why? Because they're being perpetuated by dipshits like the two f*cktards in the article.

Now, I know stereotypes suck and are problematic and should not be taken as fact, but the sad fact is that a lot of people  recognize them. We humans have this nasty tendency to group people and things together, to categorize things. Yeah, it's dumb, but we do it anyway for some ridiculous reason. Let me put this bluntly: when people of one ethnicity go to a country where the people are not primarily of that ethnicity and do some dumbass shit that gets them in trouble, it reflects on EVERY MEMBER OF THEIR ETHNICITY IN THAT COUNTRY, WHETHER THEY ACKNOWLEDGE IT OR NOT. People who have had limited experience with things generally tend to judge similar things based on that limited experience. I'm not saying it's right, but sadly it's fairly understandable. Regardless, when people like the two shit-stains who harassed that woman do things like that (and yes, this sort of thing happens frequently in Korea and elsewhere), it affects me on a personal level. It affects Koreans who would associate with me on a personal level. It affects Korean women who associate with Western people on a personal level. This is because people will judge me and the aforementioned people based on these actions and what they imply.

And so when this sort of thing happens, I don't just get pissed off, I TAKE IT PERSONALLY. That's right, assholes. If I walk down the street in Korea with a girl, whether she be a friend or my girlfriend, someone will judge me and her based on what you did. I and people like me who love a country for what it is, who respect and love a culture because it captures our passion and imagination, who are in Korea and other countries because WE WANT TO BE THERE -- it is WE, my friends, WHO GET JUDGED FOR YOUR BULLSHIT. You shit on us with your actions. And so, on behalf of all the global citizens like me who are at the very least capable of respecting other countries aside from their own, who wish to understand other cultures and study them and live among them, who view the world with an open mind, who get hampered by stereotypes and wish to see them eradicated, I extend to you, and others who don't know the meaning of respect and global responsibility, a giant collective middle finger. In no uncertain terms, f*ck you.

Yes, I have passionately acknowledged on this blog before that people shouldn't buy into stereotypes, but people also need to be self-aware. After all, it takes two to tango. (Please don't misconstrue this as my casting the sole responsibility for stereotypes on those who get stereotyped -- that is not what I'm saying.)

Now here's the other part of this whole thing that pisses me off. This kind of thing doesn't happen only in Korea. It happens everywhere and it highlights bigger social problems that exist between men and women. I have heard and experienced firsthand cases of men ignoring a woman's personal space and disrespecting her free agency with all manner of inappropriate actions and suggestive behaviour while thinking it's totally fine. Yeah, this personally affects me too, because I would love to live in a world where a woman I have not previously met doesn't get defensive if I strike up a conversation with her in a casual setting such as a pub or a party. I would love not to have to worry about my female friends when they go home late at night. I would love for it not to be necessary for my girlfriend to call me when she's walking down the street at night because she feels uneasy. I would love to live in a world where women can do whatever the hell they want (within reason) without having to worry about assholes crashing their party -- and I'm sure most women would like that too. So on behalf of men who treat women with respect, who both love and cherish their relationships with womankind, whether they be platonic or otherwise and . . . you know what, f*ck it . . . on behalf of all the women in my life and those I have yet to meet, I would like to extend a second middle finger to all those who would mistreat them. SCREW YOU! (And that means a second "up yours" to the two shits I flipped off the first time.)

That is all. Rant over.

Join me next time for a post that is full of my usual optimism and mirth! Next one will be happier, I promise.      

You Are the Apple of My Eye

Saw this 2011-released gem of Taiwanese cinema yesterday and it's probably one of the best movies I've seen in a long time in its genre. It was originally recommended by a Taiwanese girl I had come to know while living in Korea, and after watching it I asked if it's possible to love a movie for being really solid but hate it for all the feelings and memories it makes you relive. I suppose the answer is yes, because You Are the Apple of My Eye ( 那些年,我們一起追的女孩) is one such movie.

The two main leads, Ko Chen-tung (the guy) and Michelle Chen (the girl), in You Are the Apple of My Eye
So, personal stuff aside, this here is your coming-of-age/romance "dramedy" (a mix of comedy and drama) set in the mid to late '90s that highlights the lives of seven characters: five guys, two girls. Four of the five guys are in love with one of the girls, the studious one, and the fifth guy, the main character, a free-spirited slacker, is less than interested in her and thinks she's stuck-up. His ill will is reciprocated because she thinks he's a no-good slacker who judges people while not doing anything significant himself. Long story short, they get thrown into a situation where they have to spend long hours alone together and realize they are kinda into each other.

A playful paper fight! Don't you remember doing this with your first love? I actually do, surprisingly.
Sounds fairly derivative, I know, but the film does not end the way you'd think, and the pacing, direction, and writing are so solid and quirky that it's really hard to get bored. I have this OCD-like habit of checking the run times of movies I'm watching just to see how much time is left (even if I actually like the movie) but I barely did it for this film. All of the characters, both main and supporting, have funny personality quirks, and despite the fantastic nature of some of the scenes, the story felt quite real to me. It's also a neat little slice of (albeit heavily sensationalized) Taiwanese school life (both high school and university).

I feel it appropriate to put a SPOILER ALERT here.

Oh, look! Ko Chen-tung won a golden horse for his performance! Did I mention it was a critical darling and one of the highest-grossing Taiwanese films ever?
As a generally romantic person, I found the film overall affecting. The main romance is your standard romantic comedy sort of romance, only with a much more (sort of) realistic twist at the end, in that it doesn't really pan out the way you want it to. The two "lovers" are great for each other but, due to circumstances, they never actually formally date each other for the duration of the film. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I've been in a number -- not a super-high number, mind you -- of relationships in which I was totally in love with the person I was dating, only to have it not really pan out in the long run after a year (or three), for myriad reasons but largely due to circumstances such as long-distance issues or bad timing. So this part of the film really resonated with me and I came to identify with the male lead at the end, when he said something to the effect of "In the end, when you see the apple of your eye walking down the aisle with another man, you can't help but feel happy for her." Speaking as someone who has maintained a positive relationship with nearly every woman I've been close to, I'd say that's pretty darn true (although none of them has actually gotten married yet). And so, while watching this film I was reminded of all the precious little moments I've had with my various past girlfriends (I'm currently single) in which I felt we were going to be young and together forever. Then, after the breakup, I would wonder what the hell happened -- until I applied hindsight and realized that things may not have been quite as perfect as I remembered . . . I'm getting way too carried away with this. Anyway, this is the sort of stuff this movie made me think about. Let's call it romantic nostalgia.

In the end it's kind of frustrating that the two leads don't end up together and makes you ask the age-old question "Why do people insist on making romance so damned complicated!?" But hey, that happens in real life all the time. Just 'cause two people seem to be made for each other and would doubtless be happy together forever doesn't mean they're gonna end up dating. And the film would not have been as affecting otherwise. Despite the fact that I've more or less spoiled the film for you, there are still numerous moments that make it worth watching, even if you know what's coming. There's a bit of humour, a bit of magic realism, and a whole lotta love. After all, it's not always about where you end up; it's how you get there that's most engaging.

Bottom line: If you like good movies and do not discriminate against romantic films, watch this movie. It's fun, charming, and sweet and you'll be glad you watched it.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Be like whisky, my friend . . .

So Bruce Lee stars in a Chinese Johnnie Walker ad shot in Hong Kong . . . what?!

Half CG and half body double makes for a spitting image of Bruce.
Seems Johnnie Walker's Chinese advertising team decided they needed to summon the unrivalled and almighty power of Bruce Lee to sell some bottles. They're either desperate or geniuses! This ad is pretty neat and features a partially CG'd Bruce Lee talking about how awesome the whisky is. According to sources, the makers of the footage even collaborated with Lee's daughter to make sure all the mannerisms were as they should be and that no disrespect was given to his memory. I'm still not sure how respectful it is to use the late Bruce Lee's image to sell whisky, but Johnnie Walker is pretty good, and Bruce Lee killed Chuck Norris and is my top choice for people I would like to meet if I had a time machine. So regardless of your stance on it, it's at least kind of neat to watch for hardcore Lee fans like myself. Only problem is he's speaking Mandarin, and EVERYONE knows Bruce Lee was raised in Hong Kong and as such was a proud Cantonese speaker! Preposterous!

Check the video here!     

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sector 7

Watched Korea's very first 3-D film, Sector 7 (7광구, or Chil Gwanggu) the other day and, despite negative reviews, I thought it was pretty fun, especially towards the end. This film came out back when I was in Korea in 2011. I was intrigued by the trailers, which I didn't understand, of course -- the image of Ahn Sung-gee fighting a sea monster with a flamethrower resonated with me. For some reason my interest continued despite bad reviews from both friends and professional reviewers. I also figured that it was somewhat monumental as Korea's first entry into the 3-D film scene. So, the consensus? Let's just say I can understand where the bad reviews come from. 

The pacing is a bit erratic, the characters are stock, the CG effects look like CG effects, and if the plot was a cheese it would be Swiss. Still, if you're a fan of the monster movie genre there is some meat here for you. The film is relatively short for a Korean film (they usually clock in at around two hours) and the first half is pretty darn slow, dealing mainly with light character development. The story revolves around an oil-drilling crew working on an offshore oil rig that has a dark secret. Scientists on the rig have found some weird aquatic life form that is in itself a power source, similar to oil. The scientists capture one and get it into their heads that they will "make their monster grow," because bigger life form equals bigger power source, right!? Well, long story short, it escapes and starts killing folks on the rig and -- *SPOILERS* -- almost everyone dies, leaving the main character to face off against the monster with a number of weapons and weaponized objects. The ending battle is actually quite epic and really redeems the movie in my opinion. The bottom line is, if you have one hour and forty minutes to kill or need a movie for your popcorn and don't mind if it's in Korean, you could do a lot worse than Sector 7. Just remember to check your brain at the door. It's nowhere near as good as The Host but good for a bit of fun, and the ending battle really is pretty neat -- I was genuinely invested.                       

Monday, July 8, 2013

In the "Pamyu" of Her Hand

Being a former Japanophile, I've always been able to understand where certain people's acute interest in that country stem from. Whether it be through tradition (samurai, ninja, geisha, 'n' things), popular media (anime, movies, music, manga, 'n' stuff), or products (fashion, branding, food products, 'n' junk), elements of Japan and Japanese culture continue to capture the imaginations of a great many people, both Japanese and non-Japanese alike. That being said, I have always found something very endearing about that which I have labelled "Japanese insanity" or "Japanese sensory pandemonium," which I use to describe . . . well . . .  this . . .

For the uninitiated, "this" is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a Japanese pop star who was introduced to me by two Japanese students I met while studying in South Korea, and then again, in more depth, by another friend from California, whom I also met over there. I am aware that she has been famous for over a year now and that I'm relatively late in discovering her and that she's been making waves all over the interweb. I really am at a loss as to how I missed this "Harajuku icon," as she's been called. Her music in nonsensical, repetitive, and about things like candy, monsters, ninjas, and . . . pon pon? Her wardrobe would make Lady Gaga and Nicky Minaj jealous, and her demeanour is equal parts cute and insane. To top it off, her videos are so bizarre they could be considered some kind of surreal performance art . . . and I LOVE IT.

Charming, ain't she?

"Japanese sensory pandemonium," or JSP, is hard to define but I know it when I see it, and Kyary is it. It denotes an endearing quality that is not really present in any other country's media (that I have yet experienced, anyway) and is created by a combination of visual and auditory cues that seem to be able to exist only in Japan and nowhere else. When people speak of Japan as being "more unique" than any other culture (a statement I find extremely problematic -- and yes, people do actually say this), I imagine that this maybe is what they are referring to, at least as far as contemporary culture is concerned. Some of my favourite examples of JSP (Google these if you're interested) are the Polysics; Funky Forest: The First Contact; Harajuku fashion; FLCL; and the "superflat" art style. There are numerous other examples but I'll leave you to discover those for yourself.

The DVD box art for Dokidoki Wakuwaku Pamyu Pamyu Revolution Land 2012 in Kirakira Budokan

After falling in love with Kyary (not creepy idol-worship love -- more a sort of admiration), I sought out her music and eventually came across one of her concert videos titled . . . *inhales* . . . Dokidoki Wakuwaku Pamyu Pamyu Revolution Land 2012 in Kirakira Budokan! Though I was initially underwhelmed by the set pieces, the hour-long concert features three wardrobe changes, giant teddy bears, insanely dressed backup dancers, and a good song lineup (for those who actually like her music). It also contains one of the best star entrances I have ever seen, in which Kyary shoots up through a trapdoor in the stage floor quite unexpectedly, shrieking in a pitch on par with most Japanese maid café workers (look it up). Surprisingly the whole concert held my attention, and it was rife with innocent fun! The show seemed almost geared towards children, especially when she dressed up as a purple fairy and started flying around the stage while singing, but the audience was made up of myriad age groups. By the time it was over I felt . . . well . . . happy! The whole thing was so silly and innocent and overall uplifting that I felt great after watching it! Thanks, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu (and your production team)!

Cover art for her "Invader" single
But the question still stands: what am I doing watching and listening to this stuff, anyway?! Taken out of context, Kyary's style would otherwise be nauseatingly cute, annoyingly repetitive, uncomfortably childlike, and full of eye-melting pastel colours! So why am I so drawn to this? Well, because I feel that there's a certain degree of self-awareness present here. Based on the ludicrousness of her videos, interviews with her production team, and a number of Japanese fans of her music whom I've talked to, I've surmised the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and her fans are entirely aware how crazy and bizarre her performances are. Yes, folks, despite popular belief, Japanese people are not all insane and this is just normal entertainment for them. In most cases Japanese audiences find this stuff to be just as crazy as we do, but they just seem to enjoy it for what it is rather than spending time dissecting it or being weirded out by it. Watch Japanese comedy to understand what I'm talking about. To them it seems to be a spectacle -- so crazy it's fun -- and I can identify with that. In fact, one of the most endearing things about Japanese media for me is that it seems to be so whimsical and made to just absorb without question. Perhaps it's charming just because it's Japanese; but who knows, maybe it's just a guilty pleasure for me. Then again, can millions of fans be wrong? I get the feeling this is not the last you'll hear on the subject of Japanese media on my blog. Still, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is a lot of fun. Check it out!

Here's the video for "Invader":


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Itaewon Freedom

During my various trips to Korea I usually attempted to avoid Itaewon, Seoul's famous foreign quarter, missing it entirely during my first trip. The reason for this was that Itaewon had initially been described to me as essentially a place where foreigners who don't like Korean stuff hang out. It was my belief that, as I had come all that way to Korea, it was primarily "Korean stuff" that I wanted to experience (this is, of course, despite the fact that Itaewon is a place that could really only exist in Korea). Thus did I live in relation to Itaewon, as a satellite orbiting its respective centre of mass -- passing it often but rarely making any direct contact with it.

Itaewon in the winter (pic stolen from Time Travel)

Itaewon is a district in downtown Seoul that came into existence as the cultural entity known today because it was in close proximity to an American military base. Initially it was built up to attract local GIs as a den of debauchery featuring Western-themed restaurants, bars, clubs, and other, far less "wholesome" business ventures, if you get my drift. Though the Itaewon of today still has its military presence to some degree, it has diversified into a bustling multicultural smorgasbord of restaurants, pubs, clubs, and shops and is also the largest haven for Korea's mostly underground gay community. As my hometown of Toronto is known for much of the same stuff (minus the concentrated military presence), I have nicknamed it "T-Town."

And it was mostly this that kept me out of the place. Why go to Itaewon when I can experience a similar scene in the place I inevitably have to go back to? Sure enough, my first interactions with the place when I did eventually go there revealed expensive food prices, alpha-male GIs aggressively and sleazily trying to hit on both local and foreign women, drunken and belligerent North Americans yelling at each other and getting into fistfights, and frustrated and occasionally pretentious Korean hipsters doing their utmost to not be a tool of Korean collectivist culture. While I can relate to the last one a bit, the others are basically things I've always disliked about the nightlife in my own country and which tend to be toned down quite a bit in Korean night culture, which I find preferable. In other words, Itaewon initially didn't leave much of an impression on me as a place I would actively seek out for any particular reason. Especially with Sinchon, Hongdae, Jongno, and Gangnam to choose from, all decidedly more "Korean" than Itaewon could ever be (I thought). That is, until I spent a bit more time in Itaewon with people who actually knew and loved the place, and thus began discovering a number of unique and endearing things about it.

All That Jazz in Itaewon
One opinion that many of my local Korean friends held was that Itaewon is awesome. At first I took this as their being innately interested in that which was foreign or different, something that captures the imaginations of many people around the world. These friends of mine described Itaewon as a great place to eat, relax, and check out live music and clubs with a more relaxed and less pretentious feeling than, say, Gangnam, for example.

The signboard for All That Jazz
Well, the other week I finally started to see what they were getting at when I was taken by one of my Korean friends to All That Jazz, Itaewon's most famous jazz club, where I saw Korean acid-fusion jazz group Kumapark play live. I hadn't previously heard of these guys, but after watching their performance it was a wonder to me how they'd managed to go unnoticed (by me) for so long. Simply awesome! After that we had massive burgers at some burger restaurant that I can't remember the name of, which, though pricey, managed to bring back memories of some of the best burgers I've had in Toronto. After finishing our dinner we went to Hip Hop Club U.N., which was playing hip hop exclusively -- a nice change from the usual, dare I say monotonous, dance music that plays in most Korean clubs. It was pretty sick.

The burger that was eaten, called the Ambulance Burger, featuring a fried egg, two hash-brown patties, bacon, and MEAT!
After this fine evening I began to reflect on all my Itaewon experiences, and I came to the conclusion that Itaewon does offer some pretty unique experiences that can't really be found anywhere else in Korea, and it should be visited at least once by anyone who travels to the place. Looking back, Itaewon had always been pretty good to me. Tasty Turkish and Thai food; eating the only burrito I was ever fully satisfied with in Korea, with Simon and Martina from, whom I met randomly in a pub and found out they were super-nice people; meeting EE at the Cakeshop; drinking GOOD beer; and now listening to great jazz, eating great burgers, and dancing to great hip hop! Seems like Itaewon freedom ain't no myth!

So I guess what I'm saying is that if you're one of those people who thought as I did, perhaps you may want to try giving Itaewon another chance. It has a lot going for it. Now watch this video -- it's hilarious.