Archive for November, 2005

Wednesday November 30, 2005

November 30, 2005 - 1:58 am 3 Comments

It is quite late now – almost 1.20 pm – but I am taking time away from my Spanish paper to reflect on the many things that have passed in the last week.

Going home for Thanksgiving was a true joy. In the warm cocoon of my family, I nestled quite comfortably in the slow time of the ordinary, completely relaxed and free of any concern other than simply what I would do in the next ten minutes. I sight-read a lot of popular piano music, demonstrated the (lack of) improvement that I made on the violin this semester under the tutelage available at Penn, and spent a lot of time conversing with my sister, my mother, and my father. Home is unique to me because it is an insular haven – a completely protected, nurturing space. Considering how close I am to my family, the simple delight of knowing that I will eventually find myself home with those I love the most is enough to carry me through any obstacle. 

On Thanksgiving Day, my family and I worked very hard to reproduce a 100% authentically American meal from a perfectly basked turkey, apple corn-bread stuffing, and mashed potatoes to boiled string beans, cranberry sauce, corn soup, and pumpkin pie. I watched my father perform creative surgery on the turkey, and helped my mother improvise a creative stuffing.

On Black Friday, we went to Tyson’s Corner, not anticipating any purchases, but making some nevertheless. Ah, it must be American consumer culture speaking when I implicitly associate Christmas with the elaborate decorations and holiday-esque ambiance of shopping malls.

On Saturday, we had a delicious northern Chinese cuisine lunch in Maryland, featuring my favorite sesame flat bread and spiced lamb skewers. Afterwards, I had fun going to a derelict Chinese grocery store, where Grace and I proceeded to impersonate people and crack jokes on rather inane topics. For dinner, my mom made her famous dumplings, which I wolfed down with alacrity. Ah! The simple joy of being home!

On Sunday, my family and I geared up to watch a hockey game at the MCI Center – Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres. With stellar tickets courtesy of the Zarzar family, I relished the excitement and speed of pro-hockey, and was amazed by Alexander Ovechkin, top overall pick in the 2004 draft. (I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Capitals management for trading Peter Bondra and Sergei Gonchar. Their absence, in my opinion, is the reason why the Capitals went from being one of the league’s best in power plays to one of the league’s WORST! If the Capitals managed to convert on just one of the many power plays instead of flailing unattractively, then victory would have been assured.) As usual, the Capitals lost (2-3), though this time on a heart-breaking short-handed goal as a result of defensive laziness. Somehow, I never manage to get infuriated by sports games. The man in front of Grace and I had a coronary and squawked a rather interesting combination of indignant obscenities as I contemplated the uselessness of his well-intentioned attempt.

For dinner, we ate at Miao Ji – our favorite Cantonese restaurant from years before which we had not frequented for at least three years. I enjoyed my favorite dish of pi-pa tofu (lightly fried clouds of soft tofu meshed with shredded shrimp sautéed in a delicate sauce consisting of egg whites and assorted vegetables).

[Addendum to the aforementioned events]

Thanksgiving found me in a vegetative state, completely allergic to work of any kind. Prior to my break, I frankly believed I had no interest in soap operas for they catered only to the sentiments of the masses, and failed to meet any of my standards of quality. To my surprise, I lay in bed for hours this past week, watching Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese soap operas with my sister that I consciously understood were on mundane topics extrapolated from reality.

What a disillusionment to discover that I fall prey to the entertainment of the masses!

I profess this not to allay my ego, but to warn myself of future dangers. Though I am far from spiraling into an addition to dramas, the simple fact that I enjoyed them to a small degree…frightens me.

Saturday November 19, 2005

November 19, 2005 - 11:44 pm 4 Comments
Yes, I’m very mad about this issue. I admit that most Asian countries foster some resentment to one another, but it seems that Japan has taken this animosity to a new level. Even worse, many Asian countries glorify westerners at the expense of regional cooperation.


New York Times – November 19, 2005

Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan

TOKYO, Nov. 14 – A young Japanese woman in the comic book “Hating the Korean Wave” exclaims, “It’s not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!” In another passage the book states that “there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of.”

In another comic book, “Introduction to China,” which portrays the Chinese as a depraved people obsessed with cannibalism, a woman of Japanese origin says: “Take the China of today, its principles, thought, literature, art, science, institutions. There’s nothing attractive.”

The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months.

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan’s fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan’s worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan’s longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity, which is akin to Britain’s apartness from the Continent. Much of Japan’s history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea’s rise to challenge Japan’s position as Asia’s economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country’s wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan’s most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

“I wonder why they haven’t grown up at all,” Mr. Nishio said. “They don’t change. I wonder why China and Korea haven’t learned anything.”

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. “Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China,” Mr. Nishio said. “Economically, it’s difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude.”

The reality that South Korea had emerged as a rival hit many Japanese with full force in 2002, when the countries were co-hosts of soccer’s World Cup and South Korea advanced further than Japan. At the same time, the so-called Korean Wave – television dramas, movies and music from South Korea – swept Japan and the rest of Asia, often displacing Japanese pop cultural exports.

The wave, though popular among Japanese women, gave rise to a countermovement, especially on the Internet. Sharin Yamano, the young cartoonist behind “Hating the Korean Wave,” began his strip on his own Web site then.

“The ‘Hate Korea’ feelings have spread explosively since the World Cup,” said Akihide Tange, an editor at Shinyusha, the publisher of the comic book. Still, the number of sales, 360,000 so far, surprised the book’s editors, suggesting that the Hate Korea movement was far larger than they had believed.

“We weren’t expecting there’d be so many,” said Susumu Yamanaka, another editor at Shinyusha. “But when the lid was actually taken off, we found a tremendous number of people feeling this way.”

So far the two books, each running about 300 pages and costing around $10, have drawn little criticism from public officials, intellectuals or the mainstream news media. For example, Japan’s most conservative national daily, Sankei Shimbun, said the Korea book described issues between the countries “extremely rationally, without losing its balance.”

As nationalists and revisionists have come to dominate the public debate in Japan, figures advocating an honest view of history are being silenced, said Yutaka Yoshida, a historian at Hitotsubashi University here. Mr. Yoshida said the growing movement to deny history, like the Rape of Nanjing, was a sort of “religion” for an increasingly insecure nation.

“Lacking confidence, they need a story of healing,” Mr. Yoshida said. “Even if we say that story is different from facts, it doesn’t mean anything to them.”

The Korea book’s cartoonist, who is working on a sequel, has turned down interview requests. The book centers on a Japanese teenager, Kaname, who attains a “correct” understanding of Korea. It begins with a chapter on how South Korea’s soccer team supposedly cheated to advance in the 2002 Word Cup; later chapters show how Kaname realizes that South Korea owes its current success to Japanese colonialism.

“It is Japan who made it possible for Koreans to join the ranks of major nations, not themselves,” Mr. Nishio said of colonial Korea.

But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan’s conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.

That peculiar aesthetic, so entrenched in pop culture that most Japanese are unaware of it, has its roots in the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, when Japanese leaders decided that the best way to stop Western imperialists from reaching here was to emulate them.

In 1885, Fukuzawa – who is revered to this day as the intellectual father of modern Japan and adorns the 10,000 yen bill (the rough equivalent of a $100 bill) – wrote “Leaving Asia,” the essay that many scholars believe provided the intellectual underpinning of Japan’s subsequent invasion and colonization of Asian nations.

Fukuzawa bemoaned the fact that Japan’s neighbors were hopelessly backward.

Writing that “those with bad companions cannot avoid bad reputations,” Fukuzawa said Japan should depart from Asia and “cast our lot with the civilized countries of the West.” He wrote of Japan’s Asian neighbors, “We should deal with them exactly as the Westerners do.”

As those sentiments took root, the Japanese began acquiring Caucasian features in popular drawing. The biggest change occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, when drawings of the war showed Japanese standing taller than Russians, with straight noses and other features that made them look more European than their European enemies.

“The Japanese had to look more handsome than the enemy,” said Mr. Nagayama.

Many of the same influences are at work in the other new comic book, “An Introduction to China,” which depicts the Chinese as obsessed with cannibalism and prostitution, and has sold 180,000 copies.

The book describes China as the “world’s prostitution superpower” and says, without offering evidence, that prostitution accounts for 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. It describes China as a source of disease and depicts Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying, “I hear that most of the epidemics that broke out in Japan on a large scale are from China.”

The book waves away Japan’s worst wartime atrocities in China. It dismisses the Rape of Nanjing, in which historians say 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937-38, as a fabrication of the Chinese government devised to spread anti-Japanese sentiment.

The book also says the Japanese Imperial Army’s Unit 731 – which researched biological warfare and conducted vivisections, amputations and other experiments on thousands of Chinese and other prisoners – was actually formed to defend Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.

“The only attractive thing that China has to offer is Chinese food,” said Ko Bunyu, a Taiwan-born writer who provided the script for the comic book. Mr. Ko, 66, has written more than 50 books on China, some on cannibalism and others arguing that Japanese were the real victims of their wartime atrocities in China. The book’s main author and cartoonist, a Japanese named George Akiyama, declined to be interviewed.

Like many in Taiwan who are virulently anti-China, Mr. Ko is fiercely pro-Japanese and has lived here for four decades. A longtime favorite of the Japanese right, Mr. Ko said anti-Japan demonstrations in China early this year had earned him a wider audience. Sales of his books surged this year, to one million.

“I have to thank China, really,” Mr. Ko said. “But I’m disappointed that the sales of my books could have been more than one or two million if they had continued the demonstrations.”

Saturday November 19, 2005

November 19, 2005 - 1:20 am 4 Comments

Too long since the last update – in addition to being completely impossible to record in volume, I expect to fail to do the events justice.

In list form, the following events have occurred (not in chronological order, but in the order most natural to my memory):

 1.      My family came to visit me and celebrate Lauren’s birthday. We went to the Body Worlds exhibit, a grotesquely fascinating tribute to plastination, a la Gunter von Hagens. Despite the fact that the exhibit professes to be primarily “educational”, in my opinion, its primary intention is to shock and intrigue, rather than teach. The plastinated bodies are flayed in such creative ways, frozen in dramatic positions mocking activities of daily life (“soccer player”, “dancer”, “thinker”, etc.). Perhaps the most appalling, a body of a pregnant woman and her fetus lay reclining in a suggestive position, the centerpiece of the highly controversial display of plastinated fetuses with abnormal birth defects. To me, the human body is a subject of wonder – the amalgamation of something as simple as existence, taken for granted, and the complexity of the mechanical and biological systems necessary to sustain consciousness. Dinner followed at the Striped Bass, a famous Stephen Starr restaurant – the epitome of “ambiance dining”. Delightfully exotic, I had striped bass ceviche as an appetizer, Nova Scotia Halibut for my main course, and peanut butter-chocolate cake for desert. Elaborate, deliberate service (including a box of chocolates given only to the ladies at the end of the meal) constituted the hallmark of the restaurant. As a measure of comparison, the total bill would have paid for a round-trip ticket to Taiwan…in the peak times of the summer. Grace stayed over an extra night, and we had a great time studying!

 2.      My father smashed my HP computer as a result of his itchy fingers. Since he has a proclivity towards “touching” anything of interest, he accidentally collapsed my top shelf, causing my horrifically heavy steel ram-head trophy to hurtle onto my LCD screen…completely shattering it. As a result of this computer loss, I was unable to attend the NYU debate tournament, deciding instead that receiving a computer in time for my Legal Studies paper was more vital. Ironic to think that a debate trophy was the main reason why I did not attend a debate tournament. Now, I have an amazingly nice Toshiba Satellite M45-S269!

 3.      In terms of tests and papers: I had…one finance midterm, one stat midterm, two stat quizzes, one accounting midterm, one Spanish paper, and one legal studies paper. For the most part, I did very well! I’m actually very proud of my legal studies paper – instead of being the typical “ethical analysis” paper, I incorporated quantitative methods to determine whether “bluewashing” was rampant (“bluewashing” occurs when corporations sign onto the UN Global Compact, thus claiming reputational benefits without changing their corporate culture or behavior). Below is a short synopsis of my methodology:

 As a means to investigate the connection between UN Global Compact status and responsible corporate behavior, we performed cross-break analysis of Fortune Global 500 corporations with equities included within the Portfolio 21, AXA Enterprise Socially Responsive Fund, and Citizens Global Equity socially screened mutual funds, using signatory status of the UN Global Compact as a categorical determinant. In addition, for US Compact signatories included in the Global 500, we analyzed their KDL social rankings and inclusion on the 2005 Business Ethics 100 listing.

I’m very proud of this paper – if anyone wants to see a copy, please let me know! Despite more than 3000 manual data entry points and some initial difficulties in figuring out the best way to construct the test, I can proudly say, my legal studies paper triumphed over all obstacles. Legal Studies is seriously my favorite class. These past few weeks, we had two guest speakers come in to talk about China-Asia business ethics issues. Needless to say, I had quite strong opinions on the subject, perhaps to the consternation of the speakers.

 4.      In celebration of Rights Week with a theme of free speech, the ACLU Student Debate I coordinated over the topic of whether hate speech should be tolerated on campus finished with flourish. An attorney from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) moderated a discussion among diverse student panelists, ranging from the Black Republican Caucasus, Penn for Jesus, and College Republicans to Queer-Straight Alliance, Amnesty International, and Wharton Women. Although the audience turnout was not as large as I hoped it would be, overall, I was pleased that the event passed without any major hitches.

 5.      As an intern, I attended the Global Interdependence Center’s 24th Annual Trade and Monetary Conference at the Philadelphia Federal Reserve. Since this year’s event focused on China’s role in an interdependent global economy, I had substantial background in the subject matter. In fact, the trade policy brief that I co-wrote with another intern was included in the program booklet. At the conference, I talked to Jeffrey Williams, the first foreign president of a Chinese domestic bank (Shenzhen Developmental Bank), Minister Zheng Zheguang, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, Ted Chu, Senior Economist of GM, among many others. I proudly boasted a nameplate with a “staff” ribbon, and had a generally good time looking important and useful!      

 6.      Barber of Seville, performed at the Academy of Music, at the heart of Philadelphia’s Arts District. My first opera, cherished thoroughly for its humor, music, and witty antics of the talented performers. I wish I had a voice like that…ah, wishful thinking.

 7.      Harry Potter on IMAX tonight! Since I was the first one into the theatre, I ended up claiming the best seat in the house – in the top-middle, right in the center of the row. Before tonight, I considered Harry Potter movies distinct failures. After tonight, my opinion has changed dramatically. Watch it. Trust me, it’s worth it.  

I’ll be home on Tuesday for Thanksgiving! I’m very much looking forward to coming home – I’ve realized how genuinely tired I feel on campus, as if everyone around me needs something done. When I go home, I am the one being taken care of. That feeling of comfort is irreplaceable. Plus, Grace, you and me, we’re going to have a blast!