Wednesday, December 9, 2009


There's a very visible and popular figure with a gorgeous and exotic wife. However, because of his popularity, he is continually surrounded by and getting attention from beautiful women, and eventually he succumbs to the temptation, indulging his appetite for cheap thrills at relatively low-class establishments such as clubs and bars.

Sounds like Tiger Woods. But it could also be the hotshot foreign manager at the Shanghai office. Or the energetic foreign teacher at the university. Or the highly-regarded consultant who is brought to China several times a year for his expert opinions.

The fact is, if you're tired of eating at home and want to try a different dish, China is certainly an easy place to do it. You don't have to be a rich superstar- with the exception of first-tier cities where foreigners are old news, just being from a different country is enough to make many girls' eyes sparkle. Throw in the fact that Chinese girls are so gosh-darn beautiful and alluring, and you've got a recipe for easy creepin'.

Inside of every man is a dog, a dog with three things on his mind (and pardon the French that follows for the sake of alliteration): fighting, fucking, and feeding. These are primal masculine urges and they're very strong. But we're not dogs, we're men. The dog is a part of us, but there's something more inside that should overwhelm the dog. That's the gentleman, the lover, the father, the one who cares about others' feelings and realizes that short-term selfish satisfaction is callous and unrewarding.

I see so many wonderful girls in China who are treated so carelessly by their husbands/boyfriends. Now I know there are plenty of skanks and bitches in China, but I am continually amazed by Chinese woman's patience and devotion to their men, even if there is little reciprocation. A good woman should be treasured, and that means saying no to all the cheesecake walking around, even if that cheesecake practically throws itself at you. When I discuss relationships with my students, invariably the girls say that the trait they value most in a partner is honesty. A good woman shouldn't be dogged; her devotion should be returned. My wife is a masterpiece and everything that I want in a woman, and even though sometimes the dog inside snarls and barks, I'm not letting him off the leash.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It Will All End One Day

I'm a huge fan of apocalypse movies and Tina and I were like giddy schoolchildren as we scurried over to the local cinema for Roland Emmerich's 2012. In all honesty though, it wasn't as much fun as I had hoped, though it was a dazzling eye-candy-fest of devastation.

With all the doomsday fears swirling around from crackpots and legitimate sources alike, I've been doing a lot more thinking about the "end of the world." And you know what, it's really not that bad. Now before you think I'm a lunatic, gimme a minute to explain.

Everything is going to end one day. That's the truth. Whether it's simply our death or the actual end of the world, life as you and I know it is finite. But that is actually a tremendous relief. Think about it: no matter what happens in life, it will all end someday.

Is your life grand and fabulous? Well savor and enjoy it, because it will all end one day. Is your life a crap stew? Well no one can promise that it will get better, but at least it will all end one day. Are you nervous about your career trajectory and stalling on important decisions? Well get on the ball, because it will all end one day. Anything unrelenting is torture, even life. But don't sweat it. It will all end one day.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chinese Homemade Tattoos

Anyone who has been in China has certainly seen them, but perhaps hasn't noticed them unless they're really big or hideous. Since becoming an ink-ophile, my tattoo radar has gotten really sharp and I see them all over the place, particularly on middle-aged guys' forearms. I don't want to generalize but the majority of dudes sporting this particular style of ink seem a bit blue-collar, though I have seen all types flossing their style, from dads to taxi drivers to hairstylists to street vendors.

The thing that strikes me about this unusual phenomenon is the prevalence of homemade tattoos. I imagine that most of these guys and girls got their tattoos during their wild tempestuous youth, flying high on a cloud of rebellion (not-so-subtle sarcasm alert). More than likely it was out of boredom, and a buddy had a needle, a pen, and a cigarette lighter and mumbled, "I'll get one if you get one first." Viola, a memento of one's impulsive childhood.

Another thing is the choice of subject matter. I see quite a few hand-poked dragons and flowers, but I've also come across a lot of Chinese characters, probably the bearer's name or zodiac sign, and today I saw a man with a small foot on his left arm. Say wha?

Guy Pearce in Memento, an excellent do-it-yourself tattoo tutorial.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Very Rock n' Roll Wedding Photos

After eight months of marriage and two wedding parties, Tina and I finally got around to making formal wedding photos :-). We enlisted the service of a photographer buddy and skipped across the bay to Gu Lang Yu Island, a picturesque garden island just off the coast. However, Tina and I are not really into traditions and we wanted to make our wedding photos unique, not the pleasantly bland flowers-and-satin variety you usually find adorning Chinese living rooms. We took some garden shots but the best ones came in a half-constructed villa. We took hundreds of photos, but here is just a small sample. We think the last two photos on this post are the money shots.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Summer's Last Hurrah

For the combined National Day/Mid-Autumn Day holiday, my university gave me 9 days off so Tina, Morty and I dashed over to a nearby island called Dong Shan, about a three hour bus ride from Xiamen. Now living in Xiamen, the ocean is an everyday occurrence and Xiamen is one of the top tourist cities in China so it's very clean and beautiful compared to most other Chinese cities of similar size, so just visiting the ocean isn't enough to get us excited, but the seaside we saw at Dong Shan was absolutely breathtaking. It was Tina's first time seeing waves this big, and it was also her first experience camping. I got a bit of sunburn but it was all worth it. Peep the pics.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Romantic Tattoo Date

Last week I went to get some new ink.  It's hard to make an official tally since my entire right arm is pretty much covered but by my estimation, this is my 20th distinct tattoo.  It's the word "fear" in prickly, unfriendly characters.  I chose this word for a number of reasons: Proverbs 1:7 reads "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."  That's the good fear.  The bad fear is the fear that paralyzes the world every day, especially China.  Chinese society is mortified by the fear of death, of sickness, of poverty, of loneliness, in a way that starves passion, joy, and creativity and has left an entire population largely soulless and vacant.  Now I'm not saying that Western society is any better but I do believe that China's fear is beyond natural preservation instinct and is a serious infection that leaves most people weakened and aimless.  I also chose the word fear because I have fears as well, and just as this tattoo is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life, so will my fears, and I'm just going to have to make peace and live with them.  I am somewhat cautious but I can also be reckless as well, and sometimes this is to compensate for my tendency to over-examine every possible outcome of a situation.  I went skydiving once while I was in college, and since then I've realized that sometimes you just gotta jump, just roll with it, and usually whatever worries us is not as bad as we think it will be, and can actually be fun sometimes.  The slogan "No Fear" is bull crap; the reality is "Recognize and Overpower Your Fear."  This tattoo will remind me to do that.

Tina came to the tattoo shop to cheer me on, and she brought our new chihuahua Morty.  She had been thinking about getting another tattoo for a while (she has a copy of the scorpion on my arm on her ass just below her bikini line but it's so small, it hardly counts as a tattoo) and after I was done, she announced that she wanted to gets hers done that day too.  I was a bit surprised but after confirming that this was really what she wanted, I supported her and helped her choose a design.

We had been talking about a phoenix for her shoulder for a while now.  She has a small scar on her shoulder bone that she's been wanting to cover up, and we decided on a colorful yet simply flash that would hide the scar and drape gracefully down over her shoulder blade.

The stencil was applied, and it was go time.  Her first tattoo experience had not been pleasant, and this was a decent-sized endeavor, and she definitely let everyone in the shop know how uncomfortable she felt.  There were a few tears involved, but I'm proud of her for sticking it out and getting it done in one sitting.  I've been tattooed everywhere on my torso except my chest and ribs, and I'll say that the shoulder bone is the most painful place so far, so she deserves some props.  And as you can see, the results are great.

She was mad hot before but this takes sexy to a whole new level :-).  She's totally in love with it too, and today she was talking about some flowers she'd like to add to it :-P.  I tell ya man, it gets under your skin.  Sometimes I regret having so much ink scattered all over me like a shotgun blast, especially when I see the prevalence of tattooed thugs on music videos and films, but I've made my choice and I'm gonna represent for the good guys.  Even though it was a painful day for both of us, it was a memory that we will have no trouble recollecting.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Heavy Metal on Chinese TV

I was channel surfing today when I came across a Chinese music station.  I live in Xiamen so we don't have the plethora of programming that Shanghai or Guangzhou enjoys, and this station was not a local broadcast, but it's content was surprising nonetheless.  I almost choked on my beer as I watched a music video by Swedish heavy metal heavyweights Soilwork.  And immediately following was a video from Leave's Eyes, another currently hot European metal export.  Western music videos are by no means uncommon on Chinese TV but watching back to back videos from bands that fall into "melodic death metal" and "gothic metal" categories, as opposed to Backstreets Boys or Michael Jackson, was quite a treat. 

It got me wistfully wishing for a surging interest in Western heavy metal bands, which would make yours truly quite the happy camper.  My personal tastes lean more towards the death metal/hardcore/scorched earth styles of metal and I know that China is too upbeat for those styles to take root, but bands like Soilwork and Leave's Eyes, while maintaining respectable levels of brutality, are more melodic and uplifting in their sound and message so as not to alienate mainstream audiences.  After all, Japan is metal-crazy, though their particular flavors lack the venom and hatred that characterizes most Western metal acts, and I find this preferable actually.  Japan's intense social pressures makes heavy metal the perfect antidote to go ape-nuts and release the pressure of the daily grind, which is much healthier than snarling about disemboweling clergy members and other such topical gems you find in Western heavy metal albums.  China lacks the disenfranchised youth of the West and while social pressures are certainly substantial, I feel that China's entertainment constitution is too weak (i.e., meek) to stomach thundering riffs and wild-haired metal war gods bellowing anthems of the apocalypse.

Yet there is still hope.  The youth are becoming more exposed to greater varieties of Western music and the same prejudices about metal that exist in the West are absent here in China.  I remember seeing one Chinese program about Chinese pop music that featured intro graphics accompanied by a Rammstein ditty.  And there is also a growing fascination with the "bad boy" image and mystique while is brazen exemplified in heavy metal music.

I'm not expecting China to embrace heavy metal as the West has- in fact, I would be even more pleased if Chinese metal acts gained at least some airplay and popularity.  I know that most large cities in China are host to an abundance of local metal acts (of which I have never had the chance to's been more than four years since my last metal concert...*sniff*) but these bands are severely underground.  I know that S.H.E. and Elva won't get knocked off the top of the charts any time soon but a mouthful of metal helps to offset the continuous taste of bubble gum pop we're all forced in ingest here.

One interesting note: with the recent trend in tongue-in-cheek gothic/punk fashion sweeping the stores comes a tidal wave of heavy metal T-shirts.  At my university, I often see Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Slipknot and others proudly brandished, though the wearer has no idea who his attire represents.  And curiously is the proliferation of the Affliction logo.  Affliction is an old school death metal band with a far smaller following than the other bands I just mentioned but for some reason, I see their name almost daily, on T-shirts, bags, even halter tops.  Go figure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Getting Harder These Days to Hold My Head High as an American....

Pound for pound, I think America is the best place in the world to live.  And while I have found a more personally satisfying life overseas in China, I still believe that American ideals and practicality afford the best opportunities for success and fulfillment when properly understood and applied.  My decision to live outside of American has nothing to do with American philosophies of government, laws, and citizen responsibility.

I am very proud of America's abundant freedoms, particularly the freedom of speech.  Yet I am increasingly embarrassed by my arrogant and often ignorant countrymen and women who brandish this freedom as an excuse and in fact a reason to carry out actions that are in essence utterly selfish.  Being in a country such as China has made me more aware of the importance of social responsibility and courtesy, which it seems that Americans are too quick to ignore.  Yes the Constitution guarantees virtually unlimited freedom in a lawful context but this does not give the freedom-bearer license to exercise these freedoms in aggressive ways intending to intimidate and antagonize others in the society.  I find a massive body of Americans are looking for every opportunity to get in someone's face and bellow "I'm free, dammit, I can do whatever I want!  Whatcha gonna do bitch?  Just try, JUST TRY to take my freedoms away, see what happens!"  What purpose does this flagrance serve?

Many Americans cling to their freedoms and the right to defend them as a statement of machismo in a country where "true" machismo is suppressed by law, i.e., men being the sole owners of their property and not having to pay taxes on it to the government, duels, wars fought on home soil, etc.  How are you going to prove you are a man?  Why, carry guns to town hall meetings.  Or come armed with incendiary placards and bumper sticker slogans and hurl them red-faced at the local congressman whom you have no intention of listening to, no matter what he says.  Arrogant, selfish Americans applaud their friends and neighbors who go to town hall meetings with the intention to disrupt rather than converse.  "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"  Yeah well that's nice, so where does that get us?  Do blind statements of outrage help the situation at all?  The Boston Tea Party was a one-night-only show, and this is hardly equivalent to King George's taxation sledgehammer.  New predicaments call for new tactics.  This juvenile one-upmanship of who can have the rowdiest town hall meeting is patently useless as far as pushing the people's agenda into the spotlight.

It's fine to be angry- anger is a powerful motivator.  But the opposition to America's government has become a barrel full of monkeys.  Damn fools exercising their inalienable rights in a way that helps no one but makes them feel better as they thump their chest and demand to be heard.  Have something to say first, prissy self-indulgent bitch.  High decibel vocal cords and your cherry-red mug don't do anyone any good.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

In Defense of The Old Foreign Dudes with the Hot Young Asian Girls - Cut 'Em Some Slack...

Disclaimer: just for the record, I am not an old white guy with a hot young Chinese girl on my arm.  I am, however, a young white guy with a hot young Chinese wife on my arm, but I am certainly not rich and we are making our home in China, so she is not a golddigger or after my passport.  She loves me for who I am and I love her for who she is.  And in fact, she's one a half years older than I am (though she still has the body of a teenager- cha-ching).  I just want to take a moment to offer my perspective on a tired but never-ending topic.  I hope I don't offend or come across as culturally insensitive.  If you really have an issue with what I say, please leave me a comment and I'd be happy to clarify and/or correct my opinion.

Go to any Asian metropolis and you'll see them: middle-aged or decidedly old foreign guys, usually white, not particularly attractive, and actually often the opposite, looking very proud of himself as he walks arm in arm with a beautiful perky twenty-something Asian girl wearing the latest fashions and looking proud of herself as well.  These couples receive a fair share of condescending glances from foreigners and locals alike, and can usually be translated as follows:

Younger Foreign Guys: she's too hot for him, she should be with someone closer to her own age, like me.
Older Foreign Guys: Damn, I'm gonna have to get me one of those or Damn, she's prettier than mine.  Lucky bastard.
Younger Foreign Women: Ew, gross.
Older Foreign Women: Enjoy your sugar daddy while you've got him sweetie, cause as soon as you get your first wrinkle, he'll move on and leave you high and dry.
Local Men: 1. If she's pretty but not drop-dead gorgeous: She's not beautiful, why do the foreigners always choose the ugly girls? 2. If she is drop-dead gorgeous: She's just a KTV girl.
Local Women: This girl has no shame.

It's easy to hate on the old white guy/young Asian girl couple.  He's a pedophilic refugee from his home country who came to China for the easy buck and easy bang, and he seduces a naive kitten with promises of travel and luxurious hotels and restaurants just to get her into bed to satisfy his cravings for young flesh.  She's either an empty-headed girl with ridiculous fantasies about getting swept off her feet by Prince Charming and she throws herself into the arms and bed of anyone who can sweet-talk her into believing that the exotic notions she's concocted about the West are actually true or she's a desperate shameless girl who will do anyting for the promise of designer bags and a chance to live abroad.  While these notions are sometimes (maybe often) true, I think these couples get an unfair beating in society's gossip circles.

In browsing expat discussions forums, this topic frequently rears its flame-throwing head and the responses are usually very similar.  The older dudes get bashed for being losers who were unable to find true love back home so they come to Asia to plow more fertile and willing soil.  But I think that's an unfair accusation.  Okay, say Joe Schmoe has been unlucky in love back home.  He comes to Asia and finds that girls half his age are willing to be his romantic partner in exchange for security and the promise of a better life, which he is easily able to provide.  Why shouldn't he accept?  She is able to give him what he is looking for: affection, companionship, energetic sex, a helper in and out of the house.  Is he wrong for wanting these things?  These are instinctive male desires, so why should he abstain just to maintain a more moral (i.e., does not alienate his Western counterparts) social position?  If someone moves to Farmland USA and builds a beautiful mansion because the land is cheaper, do we scorn him for not striving for the unaffordable penthouse in Manhattan?  Maybe some guys can't get a quality girl back home, but I think every man who is willing to wholeheartedly love someone deserves a woman who loves him back, regardless of nationality or ethnicity.  And if it's easier for him to find such a girl in Asia, then so be it.

But now many people will counter: they don't really love each other.  He just wants a girl to make him feel young again, she wants someone to take care of her.  Okay, maybe that's not love.  But not everyone has the same needs in life.  Of course everyone is looking for their soulmate, but he or she doesn't have to come from the same culture in order for their souls to connect in an emotional and spiritual plane.  I can testify that there is a different bond between two intercultual lovers but it can still be just as strong as one between people from the same culture.  And generally, Chinese girls have the mindset that they love someone who is faithful, honest, and a good provider for them.  This is why they are so attached to their parents.  Is this love?  Of course.  Maybe not in the traditional Western perspective but there is still a powerful attraction that can go much deeper than just satisfaction of basic biological and psychological needs.  Some couples don't bother with the deeper layers, because they get what they want from the other person and that's that.  But there are many couples who truly have a love connection, one that perhaps people who aren't in intercultural relationships can't quite understand, but I assure you it's genuine.

So that's my long-winded two cents.  Yeah I still get a creepy vibe when I see Little Miss Doe Eyes hand in hand with Mr. Magoo, but it's not our place to be hostile or crass.  Could she do better?  Of course.  Is he just a horny bastard with lots of money?  Perhaps.    But he's not a child molester and she's not a sex crime victim.  They both know what they're doing, and they both have their reasons.  I just know one thing: nobody likes being alone.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Homestyle Wedding Party and The Death and Rebirth of the Sun

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I took a day-long train ride to her hometown in Hubei province to have a wedding party for her family.  We had already had a wedding dinner at our home in Xiamen in February but that was for our friends that live here.  Her parents had gone back to their hometown after living in Xiamen for many years, so we followed them back a couple of months later so that we could have a traditional wedding celebration there.

Tina's hometown is a small town out in the countryside, a clone of the countless small towns you pass by on those long boring train rides and never give a second thought about.  It was freakishly hot, so we were too tired to do anything but eat, sleep, and hang out with visitors.  One positive note is that extreme heat usually results in people spending a lot of time in bed together with little or no clothing, which is always fun :-).  All in all, it was a pretty boring week, but it was nice to see a new part of China and Tina's family, and also to take a break from summer teaching.

The wedding party was pretty low-key, just a lunchtime gathering of about 80 people, mostly family and close friends.  I was wearing the red and black silk suit that I wore for the first party, and Tina was looking angelic in a Western-style white wedding gown.  The beer flowed like wine, people were happy, hongbao was flung hither and yon, and later everyone crashed or played mah jong.  It was a fun experience but I'm definitely wedding-ed out.  Two is enough :-P.

On the way back, we got to watch the solar eclipse through our train window.  There was only a thin veil of cloud cover so the sun was clear enough to view.  We bought a piece of tinted glass so we spared our retinas from the glare.  I'd seen a total lunar eclipse back in America but I'd never seen a solar eclipse.  It was wild watching a black disc slowly eat the sun.  The best part was when there was just a shy sliver of light left, like a glowing eyelash.  Then- it was gone, and nighttime fell in a few seconds.  There was definitely a surreal vibe, kind of an ominous blackness like the anticipation before a catastrophic storm.  It lasted for a couple of minutes, then the sun made its encore appearance and life returned to normal.  It was a great way to end a unique week.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

China Tattoo Advice Part 2: Choosing a Tattoo ARTIST

The word "tattoo artist" generally applies to anyone who creates tattoos. And if you're familiar with the tattoo process, the tattoo artist doesn't actually draw the tattoo by hand (unless he's got mad skillz); he or she will use a stencil (a pre-drawn pattern) and will apply the pattern to your skin using some transferring liquid. The process is exactly the same as those temporary tattoos that kids like to wear, except in the case of an actual tattoo, the stencil is only a line drawing without any color. This makes the tattoo artist more of a "tracer" and "colorer" than an actual artist, but there is a tremendous amount of artistic skill that is necessary to pull off a good tattoo.

The technique of tattooing is very different than drawing on paper with a pen. The machine is bulky and vibrating, and skin is not totally smooth and flat. So the technical skill of a tattoo artist must be above and beyond a skilled drawer. But where the artistic element comes is is in the improvisation. As I said before, a tattoo design is pre-applied to the skin in a stencil, but this is only a rough idea. Stencils are sometimes crooked or jagged where they should be smooth and straight, and a good tattoo artist will be able the visualize the tattoo outside of the stencil and work towards the finished product, rather than follow the details of the stencil.

As you can probably guess, this is where the difficulty comes in with finding a good tattoo artist in China. There are many tattoo artists with decent technical skills but who lack creative vision. In China, tehcnical ability is equivalent to capability; i.e., if you can execute all of the steps in a waltz correctly, you must be a good dancer. This is only half-true; Chinese culture by and large does not take into account the soul of the person performing the action if that action is not inherent to Chinese culture (Chinese calligraphy is a notable exception to this); that is to say, whether or not the person executing the dance steps with robotic precision actually feels the dance in their spirit, and more often than not, the answer is no. The same goes for tattooing. Yes, maybe the tattoo artist can stay in the lines and color-by-numbers, but there are numerous instances during a tattoo that require the artist to improvise, and the only source for this improvisation comes from the art that lives inside him, and unfortunately I've come across many tattoo artists that are good at the tattoo part but the artist is AWOL. If the stencil becomes smudged or he needs to add a little bit of flair that isn't in the original design but will certainly enhance the tattoo, many tattoo artists will find themselves floundering. I've brought crude drawings to tattoo parlors of designs that would be too big to draw on paper with the expectation that the tattoo artist could envision the design like I did and simply draw the pattern into my skin, but many times I've been met with nervous downcast eyes. My initial thought is "Are you serious? You really can't see what I'm imagining here?" But then I remember where I am and what the cultural emphasis is on. Chinese mindset: if you provide a workable pattern, I will happily fit my work into it, but if you ask me to improvise, I can't promise anything.

Of course, it's a great relief to find someone who is artistic as well as technical. China abounds with excellent artists, however most of them are holed up in smoky studios with oil and brushes. But when one ventures into the world of tattoos, it's a golden combination. It merges Chinese dedication to perfect replication as well as the creative soul that adds flourish and character to the final result. So the moral of the story is: find a tattoo artist that is an artist foremost. If he has his original artwork hanging on the walls of his parlor, that's a good sign. If he gives you a quizzical look when you ask him if he could add a little bit here or there when there is no pre-drawn stencil, that's bad. Just make sure that your artist knows how to color outside the lines (though only in a metaphorical sense).

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Few Thoughts Concerning Michael Bay

With mega-robot destruction sweeping the world cinemas and the countless critics tooting horns of lofty opinions, I'd like to share my take on the second-most prominent celebrity named Michael currently carpet-bombing the news.

In every sense of the word, Michael Bay is the People's Director. He knows what the average moviegoer wants (bouncing boobs, bombs, bright lights, fast cars, thundering soundtrack). My grandfather once referred to Bay and his posse as "a wrecking crew." That's what Michael Bay does- he wrecks things in ever-so-beautiful and poetic hues of glorious devastation, because this is what people generally want when they go to the movies. Movies are the world's waking dreams, and we want to watch on screen what we generally can't have in real life.

Now it's easy to just blow things up and have busty babes running around in slow motion, but I will contend that Michael Bay delivers such normally low-class entertainment elements with flair and bravado that no other Hollywood director can match. Bay's films are masterpieces of color and light. Many directors have their own particular tones and hues that they favor, and Bay opts to go with the disco club palette. If it's dark, it's really dark, but if it's light, it's really bright, but never glaring. Every camera angle is dramatic, every frame is excellently composed. I wouldn't call his action sequences gritty but they don't seem like watery CGI cotton candy either (see X-Men Origins: Wolverine). I guess the best word would be "visceral." It's as close to 3-D as you can get without being 3-D.

Of course it's well known that Bay favors effects over story and characterization, but most of the time (though not always), his story and characters are enjoyable, if implausible. Bay's dialogue is always peppered with up-to-date slang and contemporary humor (though the racist depiction of black people in Revenge of the Fallen's Twins was a bit heavy-handed). His films have an MTV hipness infused in them that irks critics but resonates with young people and with which I identify. But he never feels like he's reaching either. The jabs and jokes flow like wine but never feel like they're forcing the social relevance with pop-culture references, as many children's cartoons do.

Perhaps what I admire most about Bay's style is the tightness of his ship. Every detail is meticulous but never pretentious. The editing, the sound effects, the sets, everything is well-executed and solid without being overly flashy. Bay knows he's delivering a fluffy cream pie rather than a hearty meal, but damn if he doesn't make that cream pie as beautiful and sugary as possible. He makes the best-tasting cinematic junk food out there and if I'm not mistaken, he's the most profitable director active today in proportion to the number of movies that he's made.

Michael Bay is McDonald's. I've been going to McDonald's since I was a wee tot, and while I only go every so often, when I do, it's a treat, and I enjoy a cheeseburger now just as much as I did when I was five years old. The critics can say what they want, but when you have a winning recipe, it doesn't matter whether it's healthy or not.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Save a Balloon, Pop a Collar

A terrifying trend has swept through China’s youth. It began several years ago but it is now gaining popularity with frightening speed:

Please, please China, cool it with the collar-popping. It wasn’t cool in the West, and it’s not cool here. I know you’re trying to look like all those superstars and make the girls’ eyes sparkle, but trust me, the girls don’t dig it. The tool-ishness of China’s male youth is reaching epidemic proportions, and the hordes of flash-in-the-pan pop-and-locking pre-pubescent Usher-wannabe divas prancing around on TV every night are the problem. So I beg you, China, please, save the children. Poppeth not thine collar, for a douchebag it thou dost make.

Please refer to this informative excerpt from Urban Dictionary:

Popped Collar:

The style a Douche wears his collar, nonetheless it is a douche who may be attracted to other men and most certainly has a small penis.
Guy 1: That kid is wearing a polo with a popped collar.
Guy 2: DOUCHE!

Monday, June 8, 2009

China Tattoo Advice Part 1: All About the Ink

In the four years that I’ve been in China, I’ve spent more than 80 hours under the tattoo needle. I’ve been inked by more than a dozen artists in 10 tattoo shops in three different cities and spent about 10000 RMB. And this isn’t counting my earlier tattoo experiences back in the US. So with all this time and money and pain spent on skin decorations, one would expect my epidermis to be a veritable gallery of intricate masterworks.

Hardly the case.

My ink designs are already simple by choice, but my skin is a testament to the varying levels of quality and skill among tattoo artists, their techniques, and the ink that they use. None of my tattoos look terrible but some look great while others definitely need some retouching and even repairs. Even a simple tattoo can turn out crappy because of poor placement, low-grade ink, slight trembles in the artist’s hands, etc. Now I’ve always wanted my own personal ink array to lean more towards the prison yard aesthetic school (i.e., a lot of relatively simple and uncolored tattoos) rather than sport a few pristine masterpieces. I dunno, I just like the gritty, slap-dash, sailor-esque tattoos that display competence and skill but looked like they were actually gauged into the skin with a needle rather than painted on with delicate brushes. And since I sought out this tattoo style, I figured it wouldn’t make too much of a difference if I chose a less pricey (hence less skilled) tattoo artist.

Well, yes and no.

Besides one red drop of blood, all of my tattoos are black ink, and sometimes within a few months, several tattoos of mine have faded in certain areas, creating an uneven palette of light and dark patches on the same tattoo. I am very meticulous about tattoo aftercare so the primary blame rests with the ink used. Simple fact is that better ink costs more. If you pay a cheap price for a tattoo, you’ll get cheap ink. The good news is that retouching the tattoo isn’t too time-consuming since most of the color is already applied- the artists just needs to go over your skin once more and it will probably stay sufficiently dark, even if the cheap ink is used a second time.

Of course it’s always best to do things right the first time, so ask your tattoo artist if he has different grades of ink and use the higher grade, especially if your tattoo is composed of a lot of dark colors. Splotchiness on solid masses of color just doesn’t look good. And if you find that your tattoo retains its color long after it’s healed, give your repeat business to that artist, unless his technique sucks of course. The truth is that all tattoos fade eventually and usually have to get retouched at some point, but it’s nice having a tattoo that will hold together for years instead of months before the obligatory tune-up.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yao Ming Gets Ozzy Tattoo

It started with Dennis Rodman.

It gained popularity with Allen Iverson.

Now it seems that tattoos in the NBA have become the standard rather than the exception. Some teams, such as Cleveland Cavaliers or Denver Nuggets, are so heavily inked that sometimes the games can look more like pick-up skirmishes in the prison yard rather than megastars dueling it out on primetime TV. I’m all for public exposure and acceptance of tattoos, but the gangsta-inclined tattoo trend in the NBA has reached almost ludicrous proportions. It seems that the only demographic maintaining virgin skin are foreign-born ballers, most of whom are from Eastern European countries, as well as a few highly visible Chinese athletes. Well, the needle-thin curtain has come down.

Yao Ming has gotten a tattoo.

He addressed the topic of his indelible artwork the other night on ESPN: “I know that tattoos have long been a controversial subject in most of the world and especially in my native China, but my decision to receive a tattoo was purely a personal one and not as a result of the desire to rebel against my culture.”

Perhaps even more surprising than Yao’s decision to get inked is his choice of subject matter: a scowling portrait of Ozzy Osbourne. Yao confessed to being a long-time Black Sabbath fan and admitted that the famed Sabbath doom-and-gloom rocker “Iron Man” gets him “pumped up in the locker room before each game.” Ozzy was the “natural choice” since he has “inspired [Yao] to be the best I can be ever since I got my first [Sabbath] CD from a small CD shop in Shanghai fifteen years ago.”

Yao’s tattoo was inscribed during the last week of the NBA regular season during a foray down Sunset Strip during an off-day before meeting the Lakers the following evening. He confessed his decision to get that tattoo was “maybe a little” inspired by a dare from fellow teammate Tracy McGrady, who reportedly called Yao a “chicken” for having no tattoos, presumably an assumption about Yao’s tolerance for pain. To silence McGrady’s jests, Yao marched into the Pirate Whore Tattoo Parlor and was promptly inked with the dove-decapitating frontman’s likeness.

Asked for comment, Milwaukee Bucks forward and fellow Chinese compatriot Yi Jian Lian offered Yao his “congratulations on providing yet another example of China conforming to Western aesthetic standards.”

-The Associated Prezz

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where are China's Criminal Gangs?

One of my hobbies is researching gangs, usually prison and street gangs. I don't know, maybe it's because of our mutual love of tattoos :-P. But gangs really are a fascinating and horrifying subject, one that is increasing in visibility and veracity every day. Numerous Western documentaries illuminate the international gang culture (Ross Kemp on Gangs, History Channel's Gangland, etc.) but I am always struck by the conspicuous absence of Chinese criminal gangs. And the reason is that China's mainland has a relatively low gang problem and what gangs that do exist hardly make for riveting television.

In theory, China should be swarming with organized and unorganized crime. There is a massive population of young and middle-aged men with little or no education and skills with little prospects for marriage and a prosperous future. Every Western country with similar social demographics has a huge gang problem, and modernized countries like Japan and regions such as Hong Kong have a long embedded history of gang traditions.

But mainland China does not. Of course, there are hordes of surly-faced youth prowling the streets looking for trouble, but this hardly qualifies as a "gang" threat and is usually just a collection of rebellious punks with nothing to do. You don't have cliques lethally guarding their territory, tagging empty walls with gang signs, tattooing themselves with their local area codes, and slinging rock on the street corners. In China, most gangs are underground and rarely visible, and are usually involved such un-glamorous black market affairs such as smuggling, kidnapping, and extortion. No drive-bys, no shootouts with the cops, no prison feuds and other such activities usually associated with gang life.

Of course, most people's perceptions of gang culture have been magnified and glorified by music and the media. Although I spent my childhood in inner city New York, it was a far cry from Compton or El Salvador. And that's not to say that there aren't Chinese gangs outside of China. Every major American city has well-established and vicious Chinese street gangs. They simply lack a significant counterpart in their home country.

Why? There are numerous reasons, and I can only speculate, but I believe there are two substantial factors keeping gang culture from thriving in China. The first is a hesitancy to embrace the life of an outcast, which is what being a gangster means. You're accepted into the brotherhood of your gang but you are scorned by the rest of society, and for a Chinese person, this is a paralyzing thought, even when promised safety and security by a gang. The second factor is the lack of disenfranchised men in urban areas. Sure, there are millions of migrant workers, but they don't stay in the city and roam the streets at night. They do the work, then they go back to their homes in the countryside. It is usually the girls who permanently leave the countryside and relocate to the cities but for the men, it's much harder to survive in the city without an education or specialized skills. And because China is such a large country with massive rural areas, it is hard to centralize enough of such men to create the friction and frustration that spawns gang cultures. And then there's the Chinese mindset of communal property. In the West, we are very keen on personal ownership of territory, even if its just our block. But in China, people don't have this same sense of ownership of a place where they have invested their lives. They have their homes, but it's not their "territory." Most Chinese just want to live in peace, and they do. The territorial Western mentality is just fuel for the gang fire waiting to ignite.

So that's my analysis. I could be totally wrong but I think that China won't have a serious gang problem for a long time, if ever. And this is one reason why I say that China is one of the safest countries on earth.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Most Excellent Philippines Honeymoon Adventure

My university is a private university and so they don't always follow the same rules as the public system. One instance of this is a full-week May holiday instead of skimpy three-day weekends spread out over the spring (jealous much?). So what is a sun-loving laowai to do besides whisk his beaming new bride to a land of volcanoes, beaches, and traffic?

My aunt and uncle live in the Philippines, as do some of my parents' close friends, so we got the mad hook-up (places to crash, glorious food, private drivers). We were there for a total of six days, and it was jam packed. We took a carriage ride around Manila's old Spanish quarter, rode horses up an active volcano, slept in a cozy cottage overlooking the sea, and went scuba diving. The diving was righteous and I think I've got the fever.

The only bummer was the lack of sunshine. It was unusually overcast almost the entire week and rained often. But this wasn't too bad because it kept the bugs and the crowds away, and was actually very refreshing. But we had no major glitches, didn't get ripped-off or robbed or lost, and only had slight allergies when we first arrived. It was Tina's first trip out of China and I'm glad she had such a blast. And it was uber-cheap to fly and shop there, even by Chinese standards. Tina had quite the blowout at SM Mall, the capitalistic Parthenon of the Philippines.

A few observations about the Philippines: it was very different from what I was expecting. I've been to China's Hainan island and I guess I was expecting something similar, but the Philippines was far more Western than I imagined. In fact, it was too Western. I grew up in what most would call the ghetto in New York City and parts of Manila felt just like the delapidated parts of Queens. The graffiti, blaring party music, and gangster-clad youngsters running around made me wonder if I was even in Asia. It looked, sounded, and smelled like the Latino quarter of any major American city. I love Latin culture though and I enjoyed the ostentacious colors and decorations and the laid-back party vibe of the whole country.

The people looked very Hispanic as well, especially the women. I've known many Filipinas and having heard the legends, I was expecting to be surrounded by throngs of gorgeous senoritas but honestly, I was unimpressed. Having been in China for four years (and married to a lovely example :-), my standards for beauty have been raised quite high and I saw only a handful of Filipinas that I would consider beautiful, and if they were on the streets here in China, they would barely get a passing glance. I can't speak to their characters or personalities, but as far as appearance goes, Chinese girls outdo them in figure, poise, grace, make-up, and fashion no question. I was quite proud of all the envious stares directed my way as we made our way through the shops and beaches :-).

Compared to the Philippines, China is cleaner, more organized, and a bit bland, but I find it more fascinating and exotic because of its cultural distance from the West. The Philippines felt too familiar and this diminished its enchantment, but not its fun factor. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Putting Down Roots

Tina and I bought a home last week. It's actually a half-finished concrete shell in a half-finished high-rise, but it's got a view of the sea, it's a little bit outside of Xiamen proper so the air is cleaner, and best of all, it was less than half of the price for homes inside Xiamen island. We've put down our 20% down payment and we're going to be on a 10 year mortgage plan, and with my new resolution to start paying off my student loan debt, this means that I'll have to cool it on the tattoos for awhile :-).

Tina was relieved and excited that we actually purchased a home, although it will probably be another year before we can move into it. Her family was pleased too, because it is a demonstration of my commitment to her and our marriage (I guess a diamond ring isn't enough for some folks :-P). Most of the down payment money was hers though, so my display of commitment wasn't so much a monetary gesture as it was a symbolic contract to make a home and build a life with their daughter. And since I'm the breadwinner of the family, my monetary gesture of commitment will be to feed the forthcoming mortgage monster :-). And honestly, I'm pumped. I've always had an enthusiasm for interior design (go ahead, laugh sucka) and having a place that we can shape together however we want is exciting.

But of course the biggest consequence of this purchase is a decision to put my roots down in China. Most people assume that a foreigner doing his thing in China will eventually go back to his hometown, and if he happens to get married in China, he will inevitably whisk his beaming bride to the Land of Opportunity. This was never my intention, and I'm glad that I have an anchor here (besides Tina). Of course, making a home in China can have its challenges. For example, the banks were hesitant to give Tina and I a loan because she's married to a foreigner, and the banks assume (with some justification) that Chinese people who marry foreigners are likely to leave China for their spouse's country and leave the bank holding the bag on the loan. And there is also distance from one's family. My father has been battling terminal cancer for the last 5 years, and although his spirits are high and his faith keeps him strong, I still feel bad being on the other side of the world while he and my family struggle. But they are supportive of me and my life here in China, and my folks are a little bit Sino-philic (my dad even speaks a bit of Mandarin), and they're ecstatic to have a Chinese daughter-in-law, so it makes the distance easier to digest.

So the verdict is that China is going to have to deal with this skinny tattooed laowai for a long time to come, but we're friends so it's cool. One great thing about our new home's suburban location is the lack of foreigners. I think I could really monopolize the market on English and Tina would like to establish some sort of Latin dance studio. Oh the possibilities....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Laowai Rock Star Complex

If you are foreign, male, young to middle-aged, and not hideously ugly, then you will notice several things that will occur to and around you in China. These things will become apparent within mere days of your arrival in China. *Disclaimer: I don't know how it works being a foreign woman in China, so I can't comment on that.*

- People will look at you. A lot. Especially if you are under the age of 35 and are wearing tasteful clothes. Depending on where you are in China, older people will look at you with a semi-confused, somewhat vacant stare. Young people will examine you meticulously. Boys will analyze your fashion sense and athleticism, sometimes whispering an observation about you to their pals and then laughing loudly. Girls will look initially surprised to see you, then will smile self-consciously but will not break eye contact. When you pass, they will whisper and giggle behind your back.
- You will become an object of gossip at your place of employment, especially if you work as a foreign teacher. If you are single, you will be continually quizzed about what kind of girl you like, and the more brazen young women will try their hand at flirting with you. If you are attached or married, you will be continually quizzed about your significant other, such as how you met her, where she comes from, whether or not she can speak English, etc. You will probably still encounter flirting even if it is common knowledge that you are not available.
- People will ask to take photos with you, sometimes on the street and with people you've never met. More often than not, these offers will be made by teenagers, both boys and girls.
- When you walk into a restaurant, you will be greeted by the customary throng of hostesses, but you will notice that the hostess will pay close attention to you, often setting your place and pouring your tea first. If you request where to find the restroom, they will often escort you.
- In a club or bar, random people will come up and want to drink with you. The people who do this can often speak a little English, but even if they can't they will still be very happy to share a drink with you.
- You will be asked to participate in special events- school functions, opening ceremonies, possibly even television programs. You will also be solicited for photo sessions for promotions and advertisements.
- You will have an abundance of women's attention and offers of affection.
- You will be treated as an honored guest at meals and parties.
- People will go out of their way to accommodate and assist you.

Now, all this sounds wonderful, and it is. But I've noticed, in my own life and in those of my fellow expats, a tendency to assume that our status as foreigners opens every door. It's easy to assume that everyone wants to be our friend, that everyone has time to help us with our issues, that every woman is fair game, that every duty we perform will be met with a smile and a nod. But I have noticed a fair amount of irritation among Chinese people at the arrogant foreigners who swagger around like kings and speak contemptuously of this land they feel they possess. This sense of entitlement can grow into pride and pomp, looking down on China as simply a place to exploit for easy money, cheap labor, and carnal pleasures. I think it is important for expats in China to remember that we are all guests and we are not entitled to anything except fair treatment and hospitality. As the concept of the "exotic foreigner" loses its mystique, I think an attitude of respect and diligence will outweigh the diminishing awe of a "mysterious traveler from a land far, far away."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gasp, A Foreigner! **BLAHHRRG**

The other day I was walking on the street on the way to the ferry and a little elementary school student was walking towards me. She looked about 6 or 7 years old. Just as she was about to pass me, she looked up, saw me, and promptly vomited on the sidewalk next to me. I hope it was because she had some bad porridge for breakfast.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Are Asian Language Tattoos Disrespectful?

Google "Asian tattoo" and you'll get a slew of sites boasting about and bemoaning the Western trend of Asian language tattoos, primarily Chinese and Japanese. Those against Asian language tattoos usually argue on the points of frequent mistranslation, but I've come across numerous articles declaring that getting a tattoo in a language whose country and culture the wearer usually knows nothing about can be disrespectful and offensive.

My opinion on this matter is both valid and not valid. I have five Chinese language tattoos (one being my wife's name on my ring finger, the other four are on my back- see the small photo on the right). However, these tattoos were applied in China by a Chinese person and I have spent considerable time in China which has allowed me more than just a tourist's familiarity. I have never encountered any contempt or ridicule from Chinese people because of my cultural ink- quite the opposite actually. And when I have visited America, I didn't display my Chinese ink in public, so I didn't receive any negative reactions there either. Yet I've heard about many instances where someone's Asian language tattoo was criticized, embarrassing mistranslations and gibberish aside, simply for cheapening another culture, one far older than America's.

This argument sometimes holds water, but can't be applied to every instance. The most important aspects of choosing a tattoo are meaning, appearance, and placement. Asian languages, particularly Chinese and Japanese, are very concise and aesthetically pleasing. For many people, it simply looks better and saves space (and money and pain) to have a phrase tattooed in one of these languages rather than in English. However, if someone is getting an Asian language tattoo to "connect" to Eastern cultures, this is very superficial and somewhat insulting.

The most common Chinese tattoos that I've come across are ”力“ (strength), “爱” (love),“龙” (dragon), and “美” (beautiful). In the Chinese language, a character is rarely isolated and is usually contextualized by other characters, so just having one character emblazoned on your skin is cute and fashionable but doesn't hold the same meaning as it would if it were displayed in China. However, the Western wearer isn't looking to appropriate Chinese semantics- they want the Western meaning with an Eastern flair, and I believe this is okay, even if it is a bit trite. Imagine a Chinese person with the English word "cool" or "lovely" tattooed on them, and you get the idea.

A closer view of my Chinese tattoos

Besides the single character on my finger for my wife's name (it would have been too crowded to have her family name in there too :-P), the four words on my back are made up of two characters each. And while they don't form a coherent phrase, there is a sequential meaning, and it's one that Chinese people understand when I explain the placement. My first character is “和平” (peace), followed by three words: “尊敬” (respect), “仁慈” (kindness),and “牺牲” (sacrifice). These three elements are what lead to peace. Of course this makes no sense initially but when I explain it to people, they immediately understand. I admit that being in China was a big reason why I wanted to get Chinese tattoos, but in a way I realized I was showing respect rather than disrespect by getting tattoos with very personal meanings in a language that represents a country I have spent time getting to know. A foreign language tattoo can be a sort of homage, and unless there is a deep or personal meaning, it is just cheap and superficial.

Beckham's Chinese cursive script tattoo. Chinese people say it's accurate and well-done. It's a proverb about fate.