Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How I learned to stop worrying and love karaoke (@ Peril Magazine)

If you haven't read it already, I have another post up at Peril (an online Asian-Australian arts and culture magazine). It's about my journey toward becoming a karaoke enthusiast.

And a weird world it was, where my preconceived notions about what music males were meant to like were to be severely challenged. One time I was invited by a Chinese friend, who also brought along a posse of guys who I knew from the basketball court; they were Vietnamese dudes from Springvale, they had fringes that hung dangerously low over their eyes, and I was nervous around them because I figured they must have been in some kind of gang. But as soon as they arrived at karaoke and started selecting only songs by Celine Dion and Mariah Carey, I realised they clearly weren’t as scary as I had first thought.

Full post here.

"Warriors of Goja"

All of a sudden, The X Factor and Australia's Got Talent seem even more boring than before. Might need more Punjabi contestants.

Friday, November 25, 2011

White people tell black people how they should react to racism in football

Racism in football is not new, and not as bad as it used to be, but it still manages to find ways to raise its ugly head. With Chelsea captain John Terry under scrutiny for apparently calling QPR's Anton Ferdinand something that rhymes with "plucking whack stunt", and Liverpool's Luis Suarez recently in hot water for repeatedly calling Man U's Patrice Evra "negrito" during a game, racism is a hot topic right now. And that's not to mention the regular incidents of crowd racism that plague the game, particularly in continental Europe. In but two such incidents this year, Djibril Cisse, a French striker plying his trade in Greece, was subjected to monkey chants and then attacked by opposing fans in a February derby match; while legendary Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos repeatedly had bananas thrown at him on the pitch in the Russian league.

So in these delicate times, FIFA President Sepp Blatter hardly covered himself in glory when he suggested that players who are racially abused by other players on the pitch should be able to resolve it with a simple handshake after the game. Combined with the way FIFA comes down on clubs whose supporters are responsible for racist behaviour - either ignoring it completely or giving them a light slap on the wrist - it all adds up to a administrative body that is completely out of touch.

Man U's Rio Ferdinand (brother of the aforementioned Anton), who is not normally known for saying anything particularly intelligent, tweeted in response:

"I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism.....it seems it was just on mute for a while."


"Just for clarity if a player abuses a referee, does a shake of the hand after the game wipe the slate clean??"

While Arsenal's young combative midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong tweeted the cruder but funnier:

"If Blatter Ever Come to Arsenal am Gna Frimpong Him"

Following this uproar, Blatter released a statement saying he was misunderstood, and attaching to it a photo of him hugging a black man for good measure. (The particular man is a prominent South African politician, the awesomely-named Tokyo Sexwale.) It is the photographic equivalent of the classic response to accusations of racism - telling everyone that you have black friends. Because everyone knows that if you have even one black friend, you are automatically deemed free from racial prejudice.

Meanwhile, former Uruguayan international and now coach of Brighton, Gus Poyet (below), stuck up for his under-fire countryman Suarez.
"I believe Luis Suarez, it's simple. I played football for seven years in Spain and was called everything because I was from South America. I never went out crying like a baby, like Patrice Evra, saying that someone said something to me."
Now, I don't really know what nasty names white Spanish people call white South Americans, but I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that they are probably not quite as nasty as what white people call black people. And they probably don't have quite the same historical context to them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"The Slap" and racebending, part 2

I wrote recently about the acclaimed Australian mini-series The Slap and its rewriting of the ethnicity of a major character from the Christos Tsiolkas novel it was based on. Not a huge deal, perhaps, as it was seemingly done to accommodate the availability of the wonderful black British actress Sophie Okonedo. Thus, the Indian character Aisha in the book became the Mauritian character Aisha in the series. My point in the previous post was that it was a shame that Asians, and South Asians in particular, are majorly unrepresented on Australian TV, and here was an explicitly Indian main character in a hotly anticipated series, and now she's no longer Indian.

Now, I was happy to let that go. But for all it's excellence as a series (and it is very good indeed), the more I realise the makers of The Slap need a slap themselves for the way they are treating the story's Asian characters.

Aside from the character of Aisha herself, there is the Eurasian man she ends up having a dalliance with.

To quote the book:

She had noticed him immediately. She assumed every woman at the conference had, for he was almost ridiculously handsome, Eurasian, with a delicate snub nose, a gym-trim body and the most pale-white skin she'd ever seen. At first she had thought he might be Spanish, but the surname on his name tag was unmistakably Chinese, Xing. Art Xing. It sounded like the name of one of the bands that Hector enjoyed listening to.
At the first dinner, after their shared laugh, she had asked him where he was from.
“I’m Canadian.”
“Obviously,” she snapped amiably, rolling her eyes and pointing to the red and white maple-leaf insignia at the end of his tag. “But what’s your ethnic background?”
“I used to think that was a very Canadian question. But I’m discovering you Australians are exactly like us.” He was smirking, his eyes teasing her. She found she had to force herself to look straight back at him. Her impulse was to look down at her empty plate. She felt absurd, but his beauty did make her swoon. Oh grow up, Aisha scolded herself, you’re not some teenage twit and a Beatles concert, you’re a forty-something mother of two.
“My father is third-generation Chinese from Toronto. My mother is Czech.”

So, how is this ravishingly sexy half-Chinese man represented in the TV series?

Well, for a start he's not Chinese anymore. In the series his name has been changed to Art Ramirez and he appears to a Hispanic American of some kind. His ethnicity is not mentioned.

Speaking of Asians, another Asian character from the book has been completely omitted from the series - Van the Vietnamese DVD pirate, who is the business partner of Kelly, Harry's mistress.

Am I making a big deal about nothing? Perhaps, perhaps not. The ethnicities of Aisha and Art are not essential components of the story, in comparison to the Greek and Anglo characters whose culture plays a very real part of how the story unfolds. Likewise, the presence of Van the DVD guy is not integral.

But given that the novel version of The Slap won so many plaudits for exploring the way ethnicity and culture interweave in modern Australian society, it seems extremely odd that the directors seem hell-bent on minimizing the role of Asians in the TV version. Especially given that one of the directors, Tony Ayres, is half-Chinese himself. You'd expect better from him, surely.

Representation on television is important. I don't want to watch wall-to-wall Asians, but I do expect that when I watch a story with Asian characters, they won't be modified to be anything other than Asian.
Particularly for Asian men. If Asians have little visibility on Australian television, then Asian men are harder to spot, and sexy roles for Asian men are downright invisible. So it is saddening that while the directors are happy to show a naked Asian prostitute in one episode, they think nothing of changing the sexy Asian guy to a sexy Latino guy.

So for the time being, if you want to see an Asian man on Australian TV, you'll have to be content with watching Asian tourists getting detained on Border Security.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Surely someone's singing wasn't that bad...

Bats and poles used in karaoke brawl
Baseball bats and metal poles were used in a brawl outside a karaoke bar early this morning with six men taken to hospital for treatment.
Police received reports of a large fight in front of the bar in Railway Parade North, Glen Waverley around 3am when it's believed 10 men attacked a large group of patrons leaving the premises.
Acting Sergeant Alex Goodman said the attackers fled quickly and that police were unable to determine whether the attack was gang related or what the motive might have been.
"This is a particularly disturbing and brutal attack carried out in the main street in Glen Waverley. This group were all wearing hoodies and had their faces covered at the time," acting Sergeant Goodman said.

WTF Asian people? Ok so I don't know for a fact yet that the assailants were Asian, but I'd bet a small sum of money on it. The victims were certainly Asian.

Come on people, this is messed up. How is possible that the words "karaoke" and "disturbing and brutal attack" can be used in the same article? (Well actually...)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Comparing Asian-Australians and Asian-Americans (@ Peril Magazine)

So I have another post up at Peril, this one is about the similarities and differences between Asians in Australia and the US. Byron Wong of the Asian-American blog BigWowo helped me with a few details.

Because the Asian-Australian community is on the whole a little younger than that of Asian-Americans, we arguably remain more “Asian”, since there are fewer of the older generation who were born in Australia or grew up here. In addition to this, Australia takes in proportionally far more international students than the US; our nation of 22 million has around 280,000 international students, whereas the US has 670,000 international students but in a population of 308 million. This means that Asian international students have a considerably greater cultural and numerical impact on Australia than they do in the US. Through them, Australian-raised Asians find another avenue of connecting with Asian culture, and they seem to keep us a bit more “fobby” than Asian-Americans.

Full post here.

Weird spammer names

I'm sure, like me, you get your share of spam entering your mailbox. One thing that I've found increasingly amusing is the names of the spammers - clearly not their real names - which appear to be randomly generated. Some of them come across as pretty regular names, while some of them are names that could possibly be real, but seem to be just too awesome for anyone to have in real life, other than the hero of a 70s blaxploitation flick. Examples:

Houston Justice
Odis Youngblood
Preston Hawk
Ulysses Paige
Wendell Sylvester

Others, again, could possibly real but seem just kinda odd:
Roosevelt Mims
Alsatia Entartre
Tonia Yazzie
Ethyl Kathyrn

My favourites are those that look like odd juxtapositions of Spanish first names and English surnames, to make combinations that seem very unusual in real life (but might be reasonable in a future Hispanicized USA). Examples are:

Salvatore Burton
Ramon Light
German Sims
Maricela McNeal
Juan Stroud

Alphonse Grady
Lucio Hargrove

Raymundo Lane
Marcos Whitman
Graciela Morrow
Refugio Stuart
Porfirio Levine
Luz Hanks
Jorge Head
Marcelo Barry
Moises McCain
Carlo Ayers

Even weirder are the ones that combine Asian first names with European surnames, such as:

Yong Ladner

Mao Evelina
Sung Graham

But my all-time favourite is one that is not just awesome, but seems to represent a future peaceful and unified Middle East. I present to you:

Muhammad Goldstein

That name is just so awesome that I was almost tempted to buy whatever cock-enlarging product he was trying to sell me.

On the topic of spammers, this clip from The Onion from a couple of years back is not only hilarious, but manages to capture the language of the spam industry perfectly.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Your normal is weird (@ Peril Magazine)

I've got another post up at Peril, the Asian-Australian online magazine. It's about culture and mis-communication.

Take for example, the distinctive “head wobble” common in South Asia. It signifies that one is listening and agreeing with the person speaking to them; yet viewed through a Western lens, it may be interpreted as a sign of indecision or wishy-washiness. There does exist a stereotype in the West about South Asians being less than trustworthy, and I wonder if this most desi of gestures contributes to that. Or for another example, eye contact. It’s frequently lauded as essential for effective communication, and some sort of guarantee of truth-telling. (“Look me in the eye and say that.”) Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, looking someone directly in the eye can range from mildly inappropriate to downright confrontational, depending on the situation. Many Asian cultures, placing a high emphasis on hierarchy and proper deference to ones elders and social betters, frown on eye contact in many contexts.
So what does this mean for someone who’s absorbed this Asian value trying to make their way in the world, or at least in an Australia that holds very Western or Anglo norms of body language? How does one gain the trust of your boss, or impress a potential mate, or convince the police that you didn’t commit that crime, when your head keeps wobbling around or you don’t look them in the eye?

Check out the full post here.

Still more Awesome Asian Ads - Thailand

Thai commercials. Still better than any other country's.

More: here, here and here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


So a friend of mine and I were lunching at a cheap-but-effective Indian eatery recently. When it came time for the waitress to take our orders, she offered the standard array of spiciness options that you are frequently faced with in Indian restaurants: Would you like mild, hot or medium?

My friend plumped for “medium”, while I asked for “mild” instead. Interestingly, my dish (mild shahi paneer) turned out to be spicier than his dish (medium eggplant masala), which was not particularly spicy at all. We speculated on the reasons for this... had they just got the order wrong? Or had they decided to have mercy on a poor white guy who didn’t know what he was getting himself into? (He is white, while I am, well, 50% less white than he.)
Now I am quite partial to spicy food, yet I regard asking for anything other than the “mild” option to be fraught with risk. Because I’ve had allegedly “medium” things before that were hotter than the breath of Satan and threatened to burn a hole in my stomach; yet other restaurants serve “medium” dishes that would have any self-respecting Indian labeling it as being tasteless and asking to pass the extra chilli.

So as there is no universal measure of spiciness that every restaurant adheres to, how does one adjudge the right level to ask for?

I figure you can make an educated guess from the clientele of the restaurant. A place which mostly caters to a middle-class white crowd will probably have a completely different idea of "hot" than a place that caters to fresh-off-the-boat Indian students. So when they ask how hot you would like it, you might need to look around to decide whether "hot" means "hot for Indians" or "hot for white people", because the two things are quite different indeed.

(Cross-posted at Brown Pundits)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mindy Kaling on "The Daily Show"

I was somewhat oblivious to Mindy Kaling until I saw this interview from last week. Now, I can officially declare that she is totes cool. Nice back-and-forth between her and Jon Stewart.

Note: You probably can't watch this if you are in Australia, due to Comedy Central's deal with the devil (the Fox corporation). I'm able to watch this from Australia, but I have magical powers.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Asian Menace

Randomly encountered this, from The Chaser's War on Everything from a few years back. Amusing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

From around the interwebs...

Cool things I've read recently when I should have been studying:

Bali is Paradise Lost for middle-class white people (at The Punch)
This is a brilliant f*cking article, taking the piss out of a not-so-brilliant travel article. (See also this excellent response: It's Bali, Not Paris.)
Now it’s all sell, sell, sell as Webb so brutally discovered. It’s as if Asians – or the Balinese in this case – seem to think that they can exploit innocent western travelers by slowly and steadfastly chipping away at the integrity of white cultural traditions like bargain hunting and getting-away-from-it-all.
What was once a beautiful cultural experience for westerners has been consumed by the voracious greed of the locals who have the audacity to try and make a quick buck at the expense of package tourists. Now you can’t even enjoy a $3 cocktail in peace without some grabby little Balinese person trying to get you to help them put food on their family’s table.

Tiny martyr for Chinese freedom (at The Drum)
Analyzes the social context surrounding the infamous hit-and-run incident in Foshan where a toddler was hit twice by trucks, and drivers and onlookers did nothing to help.
The Chinese people have been forced by almost 60 years of communist rule into survival mode, trusting only themselves and their chosen circle. They have re-erected their metaphoric family compound walls against an arbitrary state and a ferociously competitive economy. With minimal security and trust, there is minimal capacity to take a leap of altruism.

“I Really Want You To Do My Vice-America President.”
Jon Huntsman claims he’s fluent in Chinese. Is he?
 (at Slate)
Interesting article about the way we tend to overstate the ability of English speakers who have learned another language, especially in comparison to non-English speakers who learn English.
Considering Huntsman’s moderate Chinese speaking ability, the better question may be why American media have been so eager to gush praise upon a skill it cannot evaluate. NPR says that Huntsman’s appearance on the Colbert Report (where he asked Colbert to “do my vice-America president”) “did win some points for fluency”; Colbert pronounced it “terrifying.” New York magazine calls the seven-second clip of Huntsman at the Faith and Freedom Conference “a brief but impressive reminder of his fluency in two languages, or two more than Sarah Palin.”

GOP Nominee For KY-GOV Slams Dem For Participating In Hindu ‘Idolatry’ (at TMG)
Democratic Governor of Kentucky Steve Beshear catches heat for hanging out with Indians and not lecturing them about how Jesus is more awesome than Vishnu.
“He’s there participating with Hindu priests, participating in a religious ceremony,” Williams said. “They can say what they want to. He’s sitting down there with his legs crossed, participating in Hindu prayers with a dot on his forehead with incense burning around him. I don’t know what the man was thinking.”
Williams further told reports: “If I’m a Christian, I don’t participate in Jewish prayers. I’m glad they do that. I don’t participate in Hindu prayers. I don’t participate in Muslim prayers. I don’t do that. To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.”