Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How East meets West, West East

When you say you understand the West, don’t speak to me in the tired platitudes of freedom or individualism. I cannot stand them; they stick in my mouth like cotton balls. They are tasteless and they choke all discussion, leaving nothing but sputtering and agonizing gestures that the offending words should be taken back.

Ask me: where are the communities of the West? And who struggled to forge them? And the families? The histories that bind them?

And when you come bogging on about the East, don’t begin with your blunted generalizations about relationships and duty and society and histories of 5,000 years. They are just glass panes you look through. They are ultimately the keepers of your own reflection. Through them you see whatever you want, or nothing at all.

Start with the individuals. Start with the iconoclasts. Start with the ones who stand outside, few as they are.

Understanding any people is understanding their struggle, especially the struggle with themselves.

posted by ferret at 1:10 am  

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Words: Mondegreen and Flange



(in orange)

posted by ferret at 4:59 pm  

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shanghai as a Pressure Cooker

The lid is attached just so to the slot at the top of the SWFC, holding the entire thing in place. Condensation collects in the dome of the sky and drops down suddenly in torrents, only to evaporate again. The process repeats and repeats ad infinitum.

I like to think that we are all grains of white rice flailing around in it – growing larger, more saturated and clumping together. We are full, gushing with starchy energy, burning quickly for whoever could find a use for us. We accommodate all flavors.

We’re happy this way. Although we know well how we’ve been bleached, made uniform, stripped of our husks and the hearty way we once faced the world.

posted by ferret at 11:07 pm  

Friday, August 13, 2010

5000 years? Really?

I’m really uncomfortable with the non sequitur often batted about to justify a foreigner’s frustration when coming into conflict with Chinese culture – that it’s 5,000 years old.

I suppose the thinking is that Chinese culture is radically different, and the reason for its difference is that China is the longest surviving culture in the world. (Whatever that means.)  However, I fail to see how the length of time that a culture has had to develop is in any way indicative of its depth or its difficulty to be understood. There are plenty of people all around the world who find subcultures based around musical genres less than 50 years old such as hiphop and drum and bass absolutely inscrutable. Of course, it’s also important to note the reciprocal difficulties that many Chinese encounter with American culture, a somewhat radical off-shoot of European culture with a little over 200 years of history. (To be fair, this has gotten easier for many Chinese in recent years due to the constant inundation with American culture during their education.)

I would argue that the difficulty in understanding any culture has very little to do with how long the culture has been around per se. The difficulty in assimilation and understanding is a relative relationship having to do with the proximity that two cultures have in terms of their thought processes, values, etc. This could be related to the physical or temporal proximity of the cultures being compared (ex. China and the West), but it doesn’t have to be.

When people say something like “Don’t feel bad that you’re frustrated. China’s culture is over 5,000 years old!,” I’d like to think they are saying:

“China and the West have been developing as cultures relatively independently of each other for several thousand years. No wonder you feel frustrated!”

However, most of the time the statement is not used to alleviate or explain someone’s frustration, rather, it is used to diffuse argument and act as a conclusion, blocking further discussion. A foreigner might say, “Why do the Chinese have this social practice? I don’t understand.” And they’ll get back, “Take your time. You’ll get it. Chinese culture is over 5,000 years old.”

Although on the surface, the questioner seems to be reassured by their interlocutor that it’s just a matter of time. But what they have actually done is refused to justify or try to explain their values, thinking that at some level no explanation is possible or even worse, that the foreigner couldn’t understand, even if they tried.

Put simply, the idea is:

“Chinese culture is 5,000 years old. It is very complex. You couldn’t possibly understand.”

Really? I beg to differ.

posted by ferret at 8:15 pm  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Words, words, words

There are times when I tire of words

When these connections are just cobwebs

Made from the dust and decay of spirits long dead

And I feel I’m just a fool who clumps them into heaps

Thinking I’ll weave them into clothes to hide

My naked flesh from the world.


Sometimes I’m overly brazen,

And I weave and weave and weave…

But the clothes are quickly ripped and worn.

So I patch them and patch them and patch them…

Until I look like a ragamuffin begging for change.


But that’s how it is.

Don’t be fooled by what lies behind appearances,

Inside poets are paupers, too.

posted by ferret at 11:59 am  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

False Start #47

Do you want to know what loneliness is? It is an obsession. It is the thing that you know you should turn your eyes from, but you can’t look away. It is a naked woman prancing through the streets flooded with pedestrians, and you are the one driving a tractor trailer behind her, staring idly when you should be watching your mirrors and the road ahead.

Loneliness is that naked woman running through the streets too fast for you to catch her. The more you try the faster she goes, wearing you out, folding your concentration, diverting your attentions.


Sometimes I think I’ve fallen in love with loneliness. I do not work to end the sight of her. The chase I make across the city late at night or in the brightness of the morning is the same. I love that amber sigh I feel when I meet her gaze, that shining promise in the distance.

posted by ferret at 2:43 pm  

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Joining the Exhibition

[Ferret and Bu-Ran-Don are walking through a lackluster exhibit on bugs at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. They watch a video of a beetle being eaten alive by a swarm of ants, and as it becomes more gruesome they walk away. Bu-Ran-Don continues to mill around, but Ferret spaces out by a fake stone column, thinking about the sudden severity of life and death. He is standing very still. A Chinese Girl sees him and meets his gaze. She studies him strangely, and he continues to look back at her, but gets bored and suddenly shifts his gaze. The Chinese Girl jumps back:]

Chinese Girl

哦, 吓死我啦!

Oh, you scared me to death!

[Ferret smiles, and the Chinese Girl walks away. Ferret walks over to Bu-Ran-Don laughing to himself.]






I think a girl just thought I was part of the museum.


Haha, awesome. Wait ’till we get to the part about evolution. Then we’ll really be able to mess with people.

posted by ferret at 1:29 am  

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