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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

I’ll be posting momentarily about my adventures in Shanghai and the World Expo. But after being in China for several days, I’d like to share a few things I’ve noticed that’s different from the US:

  1. Drivers here are absolutely terrifying. They change lanes constantly, even though it feels like they’re driving in the middle of the road for most of the time. They don’t seem to heed much attention to traffic lights and sometimes will freely drive on the opposite side of the road. If you’re not driving on the highway and in the city, pedestrians jaywalk as if it’s their job and you have to pay twice as much attention to motorcycles and bicycles. Is the stereotype that Asians are horrible drivers really embedded in our genes?
  2. On the topic of cars/drivers: Chinese people seriously dislike seat belts. They have a special metal piece that mocks their seat belt to put in the buckle, because the car will beep otherwise. Do they not realize that the car manufacturers put that annoying “seat belt unbuckled alarm” feature there for their safety?
  3. All the women here are obsessed about weight and height. Everywhere I go, the first comment is always about my weight (apparently I’ve lost some weight, which is their way of telling me I was super fat before) and my height (apparently I’ve gotten taller, but I’m pretty sure the older generation is just shrinking). My cousins talk about my weight all the time, pocking my waist and grabbing my chubbytummy fat.  The irony? Everyone here is so damn thin, I don’t think they can even get fat.
  4. Everyone is weirded out by the fact that I don’t like to wear socks with my sandals. They keep asking me if I’m too cold.
  5. Of the kitchens I’ve seen so far, it appears customary to put the fridge and freezer in a separate pantry room. This seems completely unintuitive to me. I open my fridge like 12 billion times when I’m cooking…
  6. At dinner parties, which are all held in private rooms in restaurants, toasting is essential. Like vectors, direction matters: if couple A toast couple B, couple B must later in the party toast couple A. I am completely overwhelmed by all the toasting and all the nice words that people say to me. I have no idea how to respond with the exception of smiling and drinking lots of wine. I’m pretty sure they all think I’m rude, because I never say anything nice back.
  7. I’ve always known this, but oh my god the food is so fucking good. Street food or fancy restaurant food. I haven’t experienced hunger since my plane landed.
  8. Clothes, bags, and shoes, especially nice ones, are really not that much cheaper in China anymore.
  9. Being with family is one of the best feelings in the world. I love them fully and dearly, even though I could never express it in Chinese. It makes me realize just how lonely it gets in the US.
  10. This country is full of optimism, drive, and motivation. Everyone is working to make China the next world leader, and the energy among the people is infectious. Yes, there are tons of obstacles still: government corruption, air pollution, and media censorship. But the Chinese people are stronger and working harder than ever, and that in itself is something worth of my pride.
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Desperate Housewives

(I was gonna tweet about it, but I ran out of characters.)

When it comes to TV shows, I’ll be the first to admit that my guilty pleasure, after I finished watching all of Sex and the City of course, is Desperate Housewives. You have to admit that the first season was at least somewhat clever. But now, I only watch the show for the one or two lines that are actually funny. Also, Eva Longoria is pleasant to look at, even though she can only act one emotion: bitchy/annoyed. Every thing else in the show (the random killing of characters, the contrived and nonsensical plot “twists,” and the predictable catty fights and resolutions between the housewives) has definitely worn its welcome.

Today I’ve decided to finally call it quits. It first started with a few racists episodes about the Chinese housekeeper in the Solis household. Then there was the whole segment where Lynette was trying to decide whether or not to keep the baby, which made me feel like it was treading sensitive political territories. But this week’s episode was the last straw. It was by far the most unoriginal and desperate one ever and I felt like I was actively killing braincells by just watching it. Plus, I was offended by their portrayal of a “fat” Teri Hatcher. Sure, she has no chin. But aside from that, I’d say she looks pretty healthy! See for yourselves:

Mark my words. My days watching anti-feminist, politically-incorrect television is over. Goodbye women of Wysteria Lane. I hope your producers will stop trying to milk you for all you got.

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On being Chinese

When I first entered MIT, I had my mind set to be different. I had reached a rebellious stage in my life and decided that other Chinese students are so dull. So predictable. So stereotypical. I didn’t want to be just another fob attending a tech school, majoring in economics, business, or biology. No, I was going to be better than the crowd. I was going to be An American.

So I associated myself, for the first time in my life, with a new crowd. The westerners’ crowd. And despite the fact that MIT is full of Asians, I somehow managed to make relatively few Asian friends. I have always been proud of being Chinese, and I defend my country passionately during political debates. I share my culture and its food with my non-Chinese friends. But aside from that, I was essentially becoming a Mei Guo Ren (American). And I was proud of it.

Tonight, however, I remembered what it means to be Chinese again. It should come to no surprise that this revelation is happening while I am in Vancouver (where I spent 4 years of my younger life.) I had the chance to meet up with my old Asian friends, and it was incredibly refreshing.  There is something Qing Qie (familiar, close, comforting) about being with the people who grew up with similar values, culture, and language. I am ashamed and appalled at how immature I have been, ignoring my roots and believing that I was “better” than my people.

To my (rather few) Asian readers: have you ever experienced anything similar? Can you see being a “born-again-Chinese” in your near future?

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I cleaned up my facebook profile today.

Yesterday, I was listening to a communications guy during the SEAS orientation speak. He gave us general advice for grad school and the importance of explaining your research to the general public. Then he made a comment about how we should all go home and clean up our internet personas because employees will check, and they will judge. “You need to display yourself as a professional,” he told us.

And so I listened. And I am cleaning up. But very begrudgingly. Why should I have to remove any picture of myself with alcohol in it? These social networking sites are a very narrow window into your personal life, if one at all. Drinking is not an uncommon activity, so why should I be ashamed of it? I have written about things on my twitter feed and on this very blog that would be deemed as “unprofessional.” I am all about the TMI. What if I one day decided to reveal more personal information, such as a mental health issues or which party I voted for (not that I can vote…I’m not a citizen). Will an employee feel more hesitant about hiring me because we flash in political views or because I hypothetically had a turbulent psychological history?

I do believe in some boundaries, of course. Albums worth of pictures showing you puking over a toilet from overdrinking is obviously unwise. As is personally attacking people on your blog or expressing excessive violent fantasies. But these boundaries are also known as common sense. In general, I avoid posting anything that could offend people personally. For example, one of my TAs early on in college got into a lot of trouble for something he wrote on his facebook profile. He had listed being TA as his current job and under the description wrote that he “answers dumb questions from annoying undergraduates.” I mean…that’s just insensitve!

I recently had a long discussion and almost argument with my parents about sharing personal information with others. I am very open my history and personal life. But my parents strongly believe that “keeping quiet cannot hurt.” And I do agree. No one HAS to know that I think mussels look like vaginas. But if I were to find those facts relevant, insightful, or simply amusing, I want to share them without losing potential employees. After all, the internet is where I don’t have to worry about keeping a “professional image.” It’s everyone playground for humor, anecdotes, and rants. And I sort of want to keep it that way, especially since I love reading about other people’s TMI.

How do you feel?

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Growing nerdom

It could be just the fact that I’m at MIT, but I am noticing a significant increase in nerds in media. Consider TV shows such as The IT Crowd, The Big Bang Theory, Beauty and the Geek, and Numb3rs. These shows have, to everyone’s surprise, grown widely popular. We all love to laugh at the socially dysfunctional theoretical physicist or the painfully naïve tech guy. Are nerds and geeks the new trend? Perhaps everyone harbors a little nerd inside, creating a soft spot for those awkward characters who just don’t quite fit in.

Taking a step back, however, I would argue that the trend hasn’t necessarily moved towards nerds, geeks, and techies, but towards socially unfit characters in general. Consider TV shows such as The Office and Arrested Development and movies such as Superbad, Napoleon Dynamite, and The 40-year-old-Virgin. It appears that people are just not as interested in those beautiful and popular high school kids. As much as I wish everyone would laugh at my science-based sexual innuendos, I think it’s not that we’re all a little nerdy inside, but that we’re all, in some ways, cultural misfits. No one is as charismatic as they wish they were and there’s nothing better than embracing the relatable characters and having a good laugh over it.

What do you think? Has awkward become the new cool?

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