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.