Monday, March 21, 2011


"I’d just like to say that your site is absolutely amazing. As an Asian American, I never really thought about any of these things until recently, as I’m writing a blog about Asian American identity for my writing class, I stumble upon a LOT of blogs concerning Asian American issues. I am leaving a comment on this post, but I read your education for the masses posts, and it has shed light on so many things and really opened my eyes. Bravo on a great great blog, I am kicking myself for not discovering this earlier!"
Link to my comment

"I've been aware that this has been happening, too. It actually reminds me of the issue that I've heard about designer handbags. Apparently designer handbags are assembled in China, but they're sold for so much more after they're exported and re-imported to China, but what happens is sometimes the manufacturing factories produce more than they're required to, and sell the extras for much cheaper, so what ends up happening is people “in-the-know” can buy designer bags that are a lot cheaper than retail from these factories. I don’t personally know how it works exactly, but I feel like maybe Apple assembly factories can start doing something like that? I suspect the parts for Apple products are also from China, so wouldn’t it make sense for them to have some overstock without telling Apple and sneaking some extras to be sold at a discounted price? Maybe I’m thinking about this wrong, but I think it’s ridiculous that the iPad 2 is more expensive in the country it actually is manufactured in."
Link to my comment

"After reading your post... I feel like my experience at the Expo could have been significantly improved if I wasn't so jaded and had high hopes of actually going to see nicer Pavilions. Maybe if I adopted your attitude, I would have been pleasantly surprised instead of being extremely irritated and annoyed. I wanted to visit the US Pavilion most of all, but I think the reason so many people wanted to visit it because it was the all mighty US... many people told me that the US Pavilion in fact wasn't really that great. And I actually heard that you could get into the China Pavilion by showing your US Passports! So had you guys had your passports, you could have gotten in. I can't be sure if it's true, but that's what I was told when I came back to the US and talked to other people who visited the Expo."
Link to my comment

"Awesome letter. I don't think expulsion would have made her learn anything, either. I also don't agree with the way that people are dealing with her racism through hate--death threats are a bit much considering that's what we're trying to combat. It makes us look bad when we deal with hate with more hate. Although personally, I do not agree with (and am extremely offended by) the way Alexandra describes the "hordes of Asians" and the fact that they need to use "American manners", I have to say that I do understand her frustration at people who talk on cellphones in the library... I also am annoyed when I am trying to study and people are loudly chatting on their cellphone, but they are not always Asian and they DO NOT ever say "ching chong ling long ting tong" and they are NOT calling every person in their phonebook about the tsunamis, which is a completely different matter. This girl... if I were her parents, I would be deeply ashamed that my parenting has led to such ignorance."

Link to my comment

Friday, March 11, 2011

Royal Treatment

When I first arrived in Beijing in the summer of 2010, I had nowhere to stay other than a hotel. My mother, being the very over-protective and concerned parent she was, decided to call some of her connections and got me a place at the Xinjiang Hotel, which to my knowledge is a 4-star hotel. Usually I am very apprehensive about my mother's suggestions (she believes that lime green colored sweaters are fashionable), but when I did some research about this hotel, I felt more at ease. After I had my share of experiences in sketchier hotels, I believed that Xinjiang Hotel was going to be a breath of fresh air--finally a passable clean hotel to stay in where I did not constantly worry about cleanliness of the sheets on the bed and the toilet in the bathroom. One of the previous hotels I stayed at in Hang Zhou had a pack of condoms displayed on the nightstand (which I figured was because that place was a very popular place for prostitution and sketchy night clubs).

Before I arrived in Beijing, my mother told me to personally contact her friend in order for me to set up my reservation at this hotel. This was the hotel my mother always stays in when she is in Beijing. When I called Mr. Chen and he said to me "just call when you arrive and I will arrange it for you." Naturally, to me, this meant that I would be meeting him when I got to the hotel so he can arrange a reservation for me.

I traveled to Beijing from Shanghai by train. During the 11 hour trip, all the while sitting straight up, I listened to the same 100 songs saved onto my Blackberry on repeat and read a book. Once I finally got to Beijing, I was picked up by another one of my mother's friends (my mother has many friends). It was raining and the cab ride to the hotel was dreary. When I stepped out of the cab, however, and looked at the Xinjiang Hotel in all its glory, I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. This, I could definitely get used to.
Figure 1: The lobby

I was infinitely more excited because, call me spoiled, but I was more used to staying in a place like this versus a hole-in-the-wall, dirty hostel or motel. And to add the cherry on top, I was going to be able to stay at this hotel for free because of my mother's friend, Mr. Chen.

As I step into the lobby, I immediately go to the front desk and ask for Mr. Chen. The young girl behind the counter was confused and did not know what I was talking about, but after I made a call to Mr. Chen, I was told to go out the back door of the lobby and go to the building behind the hotel. At this point, I was fairly confused but did what I was told and trekked out into the pouring rain towards the shoddy little building hidden behind the bigger building of the hotel.

Once I arrived inside the smaller building, I saw a reception desk and a designated waiting area. The girl at the reception desk was helping someone else, and I noticed it was a Uyghur person. Uyghurs are an ethnic minority in China, and reside mostly in the Xinjiang Province. Once the Uyghur person left to his room, I went to the desk and asked about my room. I was then given the key to a room on the 3rd floor of this shoddy building. Once I got into the room, I was shocked. This was a low-grade Motel 6 type of hotel and the internet connection cost 30RMB an hour. My mother's friend who picked me up from the train station told me  "be careful. The Uyghur people are sometimes notorious for their drunken debauchery, and may be rowdy at night. Don't open the door if someone knocks."

This scared the living daylights out of me. I could not understand why I was forced to stay in this shoddy building when, about 100 yards away, was a 4-star hotel. I could not help but go back to the reception area to ask the question burning in my mind.
Me: "Why do I have to stay here? Why can't I stay in the other hotel?"
Receptionist: "Oh, that building is for foreigners. Only native Chinese people can stay in this building."

Wait, what? Was this lady seriously trying to tell me that the 4-star hotel is reserved for foreigners and this shoddy little poor-man's Motel 6 was for native Chinese? I was even more confused than ever.

After I returned the room (there was no way I was going to stay there another minute), I decided to call a cab and crash with my friend who had an amazing apartment by Tiananmen Square.

And the new question that was burned into my mind was: Why is it that Chinese people treat foreigners better than they treat each other? What is it about foreigners that they are not allowed to stay in the shoddy back building of the 4-star hotel?

Monday, March 7, 2011

BOY am I lucky to be alive!

One of my majors in college is East Asian Languages and Cultures. My focus area is, funnily enough, China. I mostly study Chinese civilization, culture, literature and language. I have been taking Chinese language classes ever since my second year in school. It is amazing the people you meet in college classrooms. I have heard stories of people meeting their future wife in a college classroom.

Unfortunately for me, I have yet to meet my future husband in any of my classes. The people that I have met, though, are very interesting. Some I become friends with, and some I just... stand back and go "huh..." and try not to probe any further.

This story begins very innocently. We had a test in my Advanced Chinese III class. This class was not to be taken lightly; the professor's tests were very hard. Our class was very small, around 6 people, one of the smallest classes I have ever been in. Being in close proximity inside the classroom provided us a great opportunity to get to know each other extremely well. That night, 4 of us decided to study together.

It was around dinner time and we were still studying so we decided to order some delivery Thai food. When the food arrived, one of my study buddies went to get the food while the other went to buy some coffee. That left me alone with another study buddy.

This study buddy, the one I was left alone with, was very opinionated. His views on politics and religion were the complete opposite of my views and discussions about such matters in class made me an expert in self-control not to lash out and tell him how wrong he was. However, we were still friendly because I saw past our differences and respected his opinions.

He began the conversation by saying: "I'm writing a report on the One-Child Policy in China right now for my International Relations class"

Me: "Oh, really? That's really interesting! I'm actually a child of the One-Child Policy I think, because I was born in China and I'm an only child."

Him: "Wow, you are really lucky your parents kept you!"

Uh... what? Excuse me? Huh?!  I was completely taken aback and speechless. This is what it feels like when you get hit by a ton of bricks. All I could muster up was a huge laugh, because that was completely offensive and ridiculous at the same time to the point of hilarity. So this is what it feels like to have a stereotype applied to you. Or a generalization, at that.

Because you see, the Chinese are a mostly patrilineal society, meaning that the descent follows the males in a family. Heirs are males, and boys were once considered more precious than girls. Boys were called "big happiness" while girls were called "small happiness". The One-Child Policy in China states that every Han Chinese family is only allowed to give birth to one child; because of the bias towards boys, many people abandoned, aborted, or killed baby girls while the policy is in effect. This practice, however, has faded for the most part, although it is not too uncommon to hear about it once in a while. But what my study buddy said that night really had me thinking--is this what happens when you are seen as a generalization or stereotype? Just because I am a girl and my parents are Chinese does not mean that I was lucky that my parents kept me.

Just because I am Chinese does not mean that all Chinese people kill their daughters. I really did not know if I was supposed to laugh or punch my study buddy... because holy insensitive.

To this day, I still chuckle whenever I think about this story, but the big underlying problem worries me--do Americans think the same way my study buddy does? I would not know.

But regardless of what he says, I am actually very lucky to be alive. Anyways.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hey! That's out of line!

Last summer, my travels in China started in Shanghai. And unless you lived under a rock last year, you would know that the World Expo was held in Shanghai at the time. Things like the World Expo were like a once-in-a-lifetime experience to me, because when will I ever have an opportunity to ever browse the World Expo again? Take a few days and just browse, with no work-related stresses, or kids to take care of. Needless to say, I was extremely excited. On top of that, I really missed home and the closest I could get to being back in the United States was to go to its pavilion. Pathetic, I know.
Figure 1: The closest I came to being back home in China

I had put off going because of the weather. Summers in Shanghai are absolutely brutal. The humidity feels like you're breathing underwater and combined with the heat, it really is a deadly combination. My phone literally broke because it got "wet" when I left it out for too long. It is just that humid.

In addition, the issue that scared me the most was the amount of people that were going to be there. Although I understand that it was inevitable that I would have to wait more than 2 hours in line for each pavilion, the thought that all these native Chinese people, mixed with foreigners and ambiguous Chinese-Americans terrified me. I have already seen what the subways in China were like, I could not imagine what it would be like to wait in line with people who absolutely have no sense of "lining up". This came from personal experience, as people would shamelessly cut me in line while while I waited to replenish my subway card.

When I could no longer put off going, I trekked to the World Expo with my cousin.

The first time I went, it was at night and the World Expo was just about closing. We managed, however, to get into the Hong Kong pavilion, which was not that long of a wait.
Figure 2: Cousin and I playing around in the Hong Kong Pavilion

Things did not look so bad and I was quickly regaining confidence. Maybe the World Expo was not as bad as I thought.

The next day, we arrived at the World Expo bright and early. The morning commute was relatively easy. Everything seemed nice and dandy until I saw the line to the Saudi Arabia Pavilion. Words were taken out of my mouth. I was absolutely dumbfounded. Speechless. I have never seen THIS MANY PEOPLE IN ONE PLACE before. It was, excuse my language, a clusterfuck of people, ALL pushing their way forward, squeezing into every tiny little space. No sense of personal space was present, although I understand how personal space was not peoples' main concern in the present situation. Organized being relative, of course, as there were barricades, but that was about it.
Figure 3: Clusterfuck of people. The lady in the funny hat has her serious face on and her fist ready to punch her way to the front of the line.

Deciding not to go see the Saudi Arabia Pavilion, cousin and I decided to press forward and visit the Japan Pavilion. the Japan Pavilion was supposed to be a 4 hour wait. So cousin and I prepared for the long haul.

Figure 4: "It requires around 6 hours to wait in line"

Waiting in line, something I've been familiar with all my life, was an entirely different and new experience when I was in China. The more experienced line-waiters had fold up stools, stockpile of food, sun umbrellas, and fans. All I had was my purse and a water bottle. And thus begins our story.

I am sure you all have experienced the role of spot-holder, where one stands in line to hold a spot for your friends. Like on Black Friday, I usually switch with my mom as spot-holder, I wait in the long line while she goes to try on clothes, and vice versa. The spot-holders in the Japan Pavilion were on steroids. One person would hold the spot of an entire group of people, it was ridiculous. It was a wonder the wait was 4 hours, based on the sheer amount of people who would "cut in line", meeting their spot-holders.

And the fact that mortified me the most? The waiting foreigners, arms folded, glaring at these Chinese people cutting in line, shaking their heads.

It was incredibly embarrassing for me--I wanted to so bad go up to those people and just tell them to not judge all Chinese people because we are not all like that. And to not group me with them because I would never do something that rude. I grew up in the US, after all.

And all this really just begs the question: what kinds of examples are Chinese setting towards the view of Chinese people by foreigners? And how do I fit myself within this classification?

6 hours later... tired, hungry, hot, sweaty, and extremely annoyed, we finally saw the Japan Pavilion. And it wasn't that great.