Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Shanghai Dreamers": dangerous or thoughtful?

I haven't blogged about being Asian lately.

1. That isn't the only reason I'm writing right now.
2. I don't want this to start looking like a Livejournal, folks.

The Atlantic recently compiled some thoughts and links about Dior's new "Shanghai Dreamers" campaign. In the ads, white Dior models stand amongst groups of Chinese models. "And no, your eyes have not deceived you," writes Jenny Zhang for The Guardian: the Chinese models within each ad are all identical - a mere copy-and-pasted image, repeated dozens of times to produce an eerie composite of clones.

So what does this say? That all Chinese people look alike? That, as Madelenine O'Dea writes for ARTINFO, "the Chinese are a featureless mass, while Dior (and the west) represent individuality"? That Chinese people aren't beautiful? That there are too many of us?

Chinese photographer and ad artist Quentin Shih is on the defense though, brushing off the accusations of racism that have been shot his way. Shih says his art is meant to be a dialogue between 20th century Chinese fashion and Western Haute Couture: "I don't think the Chinese models are in some way demeaning. The Dior model for me is also a 'model' - I mean she stands there only to represent the clothes, not herself and not a western people."

Photographer Quentin Shih in front of his "Stranger in a Glass Box"
photographs. The "Stranger" series was Shih's first photos for Dior.
There are two ways to really look at it then: the first being in line with reactions like those of Zhang's and O'Dea's; the second, as The Atlantic points out, is that the campaign is "'clueless,' not racist." Shih is a Chinese artist whose purpose isn't to make a political or social comment about China's role in the world. In fact, Shih has done photos for Dior before, posing top Chinese model Du Juan in Dior couture and in a glass box for a series called "Stranger in a Glass Box." Shih treads dangerous ground this time around though by including only white models as the representation of glamour. But that's not so much his own personal fault as it is that of the fashion industry as a whole. After all, Shih adds, "I was not lucky enough to shoot a Chinese model wearing Dior - if I did I would have put her in my work."

So who supplied the models? In this case, we should be lashing out at the industry and not the photographer. Sure, the ads are in poor taste when you thoughtfully consider the critiques it has drawn, but this should serve as a jumping off point for a greater conversation about the definition of beauty in popular culture. Who defines it? Why do we adhere to it?

The stereotype created by the beauty industry persists because of the media's biased representation of women. The industry's tendency to feature a single type of look creates a one-dimensional idea of beauty that is idealized as a model of perfection in America. An important aspect about the average woman that the media fails to accurately represent is the rich racial diversity present in society. Caucasian women are portrayed as being a dominant example of beauty, which is an inaccurate illustration of American women as a whole.

A child gets dolled up for a
toddler beauty pageant. Creepy.
Children of diverse races do not see themselves reflected in the mainstream media, creating a belief that a single type of woman, one who mirrors light-skinned Barbie dolls, defines beauty in America. In the Youtube short documentary "Kiri Davis: A Girl Like Me," Jennifer, an eighteen-year-old African-American girl, observes, "When I was younger, I used to have a lot of dolls but most of them were just white dolls with long straight hair that I would comb and I would wish I was just like that Barbie doll."

Though Barbie was originally intended to empower and motivate young girls into pursuing a wide range of professions, the unattainable image of beauty and perfection created an opposite effect. For light-skinned girls, Barbie represented a standard to aspire to, whereas for dark-skinned girls, achieving that look was physically impossible. Despite a slow progression toward representing minority races amongst dolls, the lasting impression left by Barbie is still prevalent in the minds of many.

Beauty, as defined by the industry, is presented as something to be desired, so women continue to chase after the dream in hopes of being seen as “beautiful.” The fault in this one-sided representation is also due to fashion designers, who are boxed into a single look on their runways. Designers and companies are more concerned with the profits they are making rather than the effect they are leaving. Diversity is not as important to the fashion industry because the images of tall, thin models has done its job in selling products for so long that change is not seen as urgent.

But as long as we continue to buy products in order to attain a certain look, the industry will continue to thrive exactly the way it is.

So who should we be aiming our torches and pitchforks at with "Shanghai Dreamers"? Shih, the Dior company or ourselves?

For the full set of "Shanghai Dreamers" ads, view them here at Tom & Lorenzo's blog.

sparknotes summary of summer.

If you could take certain feelings and lock them away in a box, would you? Or would you keep them floating around in hopes that formulating vague plans to confront them in the future will somehow solve everything you're questioning?

I think I've always opted for the latter, believing it was the better option; in reality, it's just as bad as the first. Suppressing things does no one any favors, but neither does making abstract plans.

Long story short: there are more than just those two options, and I think I'm gonna go with one of those other choices this time around.

PS - I lied in my last post. Guess I had another quandary for August.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


A film about fate. Cute, but with
a questionable message.
I was listening to an old This American Life show today titled "Somewhere Out There." Basic question: Is there such thing as fate? Are we all destined to find that one special someone?

The show opens with a catchy math equation that makes you feel like you'll always be "just" a number. Of the hundreds and thousands of people in your city, you may think you've got a whole sea to fish from. But, in reality, your choices are not as big as the ocean might trick you into believing.

It's the premise of so many TV shows and movies: how do you find your "one true love"? And, by that concept, is there just one person out there for everyone? How do we know that at the end of every rom-com, the happy couple doesn't split up? Where's our guarantee that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan stay together in every one of their movies?

Lately, I've been adverse to these messages, finding them trite and unmoving. True love doesn't happen at first sight, and who knows if there is even such a thing as "true" love. Just when you thought you've found it, something happens. People split up, people get divorced. It's possible to fall out of love just as quickly as you fell into it. Also, is there only one person out there for everyone? And if so, how the fuck are you supposed to find that person in your short lifetime? What do you do when it feels like settling? Online dating sites like eHarmony and Match.com tell you that they'll help you find your One True Love, but what if your actual One True Love (you know, the one you're "supposed" to be with) is on a different dating site than you are. Or what if they're not on one at all. These websites are just pulling your best match from the pool of people who are using their services.

But I am, by no means, any sort of expert on this topic, so take my words as a series of over-thought smatterings.

Tangent aside. Back to This American Life: act one presented the story of an American professor who fell in love with a Chinese fiddle player. After hearing their story, you'd think they were destined to be together. My question, though, is how much of that is "fate" and how much of it is just a coincidence? (And do coincidences exist?) There are many reasons why they ended up together, but the one simple answer that we all like to use for situations like these is that of fate/destiny. "If it's meant to be, it'll happen," people have often said to me before. But I wonder: how much of that can we rely on? It almost seems like an excuse for people not to take control of their lives.

Somebody once described a situation to me as "grandma meets the Road Runner." (Ignore the inconsistencies in the universe and bear with me.) Grandma is driving home when suddenly the Road Runner, out of nowhere, crashes into her as he's running from the coyote. Both have different reasons for being on that road and neither of them were looking for the collision. But it happened and that's that, and now the two can proceed with their respective days (granted, granny and her car makes it out alive). Maybe after this, the two will have a long lifetime of interaction; maybe they'll never see each other again. So...is this something we leave up to fate to control for us? You meet a lot of people in your life. How many of them will you continue to know ten years from now? Five years? Or even five months? When do we stop relying on fate as a fallback and stop being passive in our lives and with the people in it?

I'm not sure if I'll ever have concrete answers to any of my questions, but it can't hurt to ponder them.

And that's it for the existential quandaries of the month.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

drift away.

"Drift Away" - Magnetic North

Growing up, I was social but
Never was the type to open up
So my closest friends were never close enough
I suppose to them I was emotionless
My headphones were my constant companions
Around my neck, they were constantly hanging
And late at night when I'm haunted by phantoms
The songs I would jam would subconsciously ban them
And damn, I know it's just lyrics and beats
But lyrics to me are like infinite peace
And peace is what hip hop had brought me
Strumming my pain like it was "Killing Me Softly"
Killing me, but what a way to die
Overdosed on flows, comatose on rhymes
And I wanna drift away
Staying conscious enough just to hit replay

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

nothing to see here.

"We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice." -The Places That Scare You

"Words can change the world." It's a phrase that any writer has most likely found him/herself saying, thinking or writing. If somebody were to ask me why I wanted to be a writer, this might be one of my answers. I honestly do believe that the written word can have a profound effect on others, as evidenced by the letters and journal entries I keep to look back on. Whether it's for the purpose of self-reflection or for sentimentality, I hold onto these words because, without them, I feel incomplete. I have an obsession with knowing who I am and where I come from and, in my mind, I'll find my answer there.

The truth, though, is that I can't. Self-reflection is what I really need and, lately, I've been getting several pushes in the right direction. In the past couple of months, I've learned how to accept when I've fucked up, but I'm still working on how to confront it and deal with the answers that I may not want to hear.

To reconnect to my point of words being an inciting factor: I'm currently going through and re-reading Letters to a Young Poet, and it's created this chasm in my life between what I very recently thought I'd discovered about myself versus reality. To go from hating everything to loving everything to now not knowing what I'm honestly feeling is an incredibly frustrating thing. And to be confronted with having to honestly think about almost every shitty thing I've ever done does nothing to sort out the frustration. But this kind of blunt realization helps a person grow and it's part of that perpetual learning process called "living."

But I digress - Back to Letters: "We must embrace struggle. Every living thing conforms to it. Everything in nature grows and struggles in its own way, establishing its own identity, insisting on it at all cost, against all resistance." This is one of those "life lessons" that is obvious when you hear it, yet few people actually truly accept it and can, in moments of struggle and pain, recognize it when it happens. As someone who has tried to avoid struggles, I can certainly admit that it has done me no favors. Instead, I'm plagued with the knowledge that those who have attempted to find closure have failed because I'm too much of a coward to engage in those conversations. And whether engaging in them now is too late and selfish on my part is something I'm trying to discern.

And, to be honest, I have no idea where I'm going with this post. I have no conclusion, other than I may end up replacing this word vomit with something more profound in the future. Until then, this will do.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

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I was fairly preoccupied in my thoughts about yesterday on my walk home in the evening. In fact, I feel as if I spend most of my free time being absorbed in my thoughts. I make "to do" lists in my head and review conversations and interactions from the day. It's like running on a treadmill 24/7. In short, it's exhausting.

I'm a pretty private person. When tragedy strikes, I don't like to talk about it. When something makes me sad, I keep it to myself. If I'm angry or upset, I can only give you the basic facts of the situation; I don't like to go into detail. This isn't a result of anything aside from the fact that I can be a quiet person. I don't like a spotlight, especially if it's sympathy. Maybe I just don't trust a lot of people to be kind with my feelings. It's partially why I'm more defensive than I should be. Walls don't come down very easily.

But all "tortured artist" thoughts aside, I guess the same goes for good news too. It's hard to find someone to share certain things with because sometimes the context of the situation takes more time to explain than it takes time to just tell the nuts and bolts of the story. And, most often, the people who would understand either aren't around to hear it and I'm not one to babble incessantly to someone who doesn't want/need to listen. So then it becomes easier to keep it to myself, and thus the cycle of introversion continues.

And then I realized how deep of a hole I've truly dug myself into. I'm not sure if it's a good or bad thing: to be so absorbed in my work and in my thoughts. It's been both a positive and negative for me in the past. I've had accusations in the past that I've allowed my work to distract me from personal relationships and problems, but I've also had people praise me for my work ethic and responsibility - a win-lose situation, I suppose.

"Would you rather be alone, but successful, or happy?" someone asked me once, and I still think it's a ridiculous question. Why are the two mutually exclusive? Does success force you to be alone? And does a person's state of happiness rely on other people's actions and presence? There's a happy medium somewhere, and it's about time I try to find it.

Monday, August 9, 2010


If I was a more motivated person, I'd probably accomplish a lot in a day. If I was smarter, I might be able to write better. If I was taller, I'd have less problems. If I spent less time obsessing over my email, I'd be less stressed. If I wore my glasses everyday (like I should), I'd experience more in a day. If I drank less coffee, I might sleep better. If I slept more, I would need to drink less coffee. If I gave a mouse a cookie, he'd probably want milk.

The "what if" game is terrible. Nobody enjoys it, yet we all partake in it. It's common to ponder the woulda, coulda, shouldas and I find myself doing it far too often. One of the biggest flaws of the "what if" game is that it's an unproductive use of thought. You can't ever really know what would've happened had you chosen Path A rather than B. And who's to say you wouldn't be just as miserable/happy/sad/angry as you are right now? You'd probably be playing the "what if" game still.

One of the biggest "what if" games I've played caused me to question my confidence in my ability to make a strong and assertive judgment. "What if I stayed in Sacramento?" I sailed into CSUS and the honors program and, had I stayed, I'd be surrounded by familiar friends and a familiar environment. There were so many benefits, but another one of the "what if" game's flaws is that you never really take the negatives into account. The truth is that if I had stayed, I would've missed an integral part of growing up: the complete separation from those familiar people and familiar surroundings. Not that "growing up" can't occur while staying in your comfort zone, but that's a different process with a different outcome. Unprepared independence, however, hits you hard. It's a struggle. It makes you play the "what if" game far too often and, as a result, cause you to lose appreciation for the glasses-half-full that exist on the table before you. I've always been afraid of losing the present moment and the "what if" game is a surefire way of doing that.

I don't know how short or long my life will last, but when you compare it to the "bigger picture," I know it's much too short to dwell in lost possibilities - just one of the several life lessons I'm learning to remember.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

con te io li rivivrò.

I'm sitting here in an empty apartment surrounded by a few things that should make me very happy, and yet I just spent the past 10 minutes crying my eyes out...for honestly no goddamn reason. I don't even know if the best thing to be doing is blogging because now this is just a Livejournal, but bear with me - I have a point, or as much of a "point" as my blogs normally have.

I'm really at a loss to begin even explaining because it's a bit juvenile and silly. When I was five, I threw the biggest fit on New Year's Eve because I didn't want to say goodbye to 1994. There was no real attachment to the year and I can't even rationalize why it was such a dreadful thing to say goodbye to. I could say that I didn't want to think about things leaving as easily as people left, or that I was terrified of the vague and scary "future," which I suppose you could say that makes me a very mature five-year-old. But in reality, I think "goodbyes"--especially permanent ones--just made me really sad.

I grew out of that mentality quickly as other things took over, and I'll fast forward for your convenience: I left Loretto with the assumed knowledge that I would spend the rest of my life with three of the most amazing friends I was privileged to know. The four of us knew every detail about each other and were convinced our futures would be intertwined. As cheesy and CW-worthy as it all sounds, we were sisters and it was comforting as I prepared to leave Sacramento.

Graduation - evening stage @ Memorial Auditorium, 2007
(Evening included two performances by yours truly that you will probably never hear. Enjoy the mystery.)

Blah blah blah - anyways, opening my mailbox earlier tonight and seeing it full of crap, I was both excited at the prospect of actual (and correctly addressed) mail and annoyed at all of the junk and spam. Coupons for the golf course? No, thanks. KFC promotion? Hm, maybe. Postcard? Yay. Bills? Boo. The final item, a package, inside brought a smile to my face, followed by a slight fear because I knew what was going to come. I would open the journal the four of us have kept since separating and I would be flooded with reminders of the people we once were. The entries are comical, endearing, raw (Cort, one of your entries makes me cry every single time) and, sometimes, terrifying. Unpleasant moments I hoped to never relive were captured on those pages and I cringe at reading some of them. 

The entries stopped in August 2009, a year ago. To me, this says much more than misplacing the journal and forgetting to send it along. The thing about friendships and relationships I've garnered is what I said before - nothing lasts forever. Things fall apart. The wheel turns, etc, etc. Lesson accepted? Yes. But the thing that is striking me the most right now are the final pages of the last entry by one of my friends - words filled with memories that don't include me. Somewhere over the past three years, I stopped making a regular appearance in their lives. I set up camp in southern California, despite my own dislike for the area, and somewhere along the way, I fell off their radars. 

A year ago and before that, this would have bothered me immensely. In fact, it did bother me: knowing that they were still close when I spent the first summer after moving hiding like a recluse. But now, it doesn't bother me at all - and I think that fact is what's the most upsetting. To go from believing you'll "always" have certain people in your life to barely knowing them at all creates this indescribable feeling that can only be compared to my five-year-old tantrum over ice cream.

The question I would normally ask at this point would be, "What's the point in investing in long-term relationships with people when there's always the chance it will fall apart?"--but I know the answer: Because you don't know if it will fall apart, and who's to say that a little distance automatically destroys the bond? On the spinning wheel, you can't stay on the same space forever. To grow up, you need change. Once I was able to reach a point in my college career where I wasn't loathing my environment, I began to accept this more willingly. "Step one: shed a few tears, but don't drown in them," someone said to me once. "Nothing is ever 'that bad.'"

I think I'm grateful for goodbyes now, not because I enjoy being separated from people I love, but because it means our worlds are opening up for bigger and better things. In the future when these goodbyes occur, I'll be sad but it's time to learn to really let optimism in. And whether we embark on those adventures five miles apart from each other or five hundred miles apart, a bond will always be a bond. In another cheesy, CW-worthy lesson for ya: http://www.midnightangel308.com/some_people.htm

edit - 2:12 a.m. (aka "Why aren't you asleep???")
September 5, 2008: 08-09 School Year Goals (as written by the four of us in random order and without identification on Al's bedroom floor)
1. [Withholding this for Cort's sake ;)]
2. I need to make new friends, from classes or clubs or whatever.
3. I need to figure out my major and not be afraid anymore.
4. I need to stop procrastinating and not let stupid drama bug me.
5. I need to declare a major, even if I might change it later.
6. I need to get an internship or job for next summer - preferably one I like!
7. I need to not let the past dictate how this year will unfold.
8. I need to get more sleep. Seriously.
9. I need to let every action and word express who I am, and cultivate who I want to be.
10. I need to stop judging every person on sight/first appearance. I need to give people the benefit of the doubt.
11. I also need to make new friends and join a couple clubs or something.
12. I need to be more independent and not rely on other people to always help me.
13. I need to be more open to whatever comes along in life and not try to predict my life.
14. I need to have more "me" time!
15. I need to remember: I love life. The people, the places, the problems. I love life!
16. [Definitely withholding this one for ALL of our sakes!]

From the trivial to the serious, we "needed" a lot of things, didn't we? I'm amused, and slightly embarrassed, while reading these pages. But like I said before, I do enjoy reliving the awkward. Er, sometimes...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

daughters will love like you do.

Baccalaureate dinner, 2007
My parents have always been strict, yet occasionally easygoing, people. I remember there’d be times when Dad would scold Na and me for being rude: “Mo ly mao,” he would say, and I’d retreat to my room and sulk, scribbling in my fuzzy yellow diary about how mean he was. Thinking back though, I’m grateful for those lessons in manners. Na and I were raised to make eye contact, introduce people, offer help and take care of others. I've adopted my mother’s penchant for selfless compassion, though it's often coupled with my father’s lack of patience. “You’re such a mom,” observers have told me in the past, and I was never sure if that was a good or bad thing.

As we grow up, we’re faced with a dilemma: Do we want to be like our parents? Whether we can help it or not, there are elements of our parents’ personalities that we inevitably acquire over the years. I notice it more and more everyday in myself. But while I see a lot of my parents’ mannerisms in my own actions and reactions, there’s so much of who I am that has been shaped by the environment and the people I’ve surrounded myself with...as well as the desire to not be like them at all. When my temper rises and I'm quick to lash out, I'm reminded of all of the terrible moments of my childhood that caused me to become withdrawn and I feel guilty for asserting any kind of authority over somebody else. I try, more and more, to calmly collect my thoughts and talk things out, but rationality is difficult when emotions get in the way. I guess in those cases, withdrawing and giving yourself a day or two for space and reflection is necessary, aka the opposite of everything I witnessed at home. I admire my mother's patience all these years, but there were times I wondered how she did it. My own patience would wear too thin and, as evidenced in the past, I've allowed myself to get pushed over and taken advantage of.

I've always found it hard to "be myself" because I've never really tried to base my personality and actions off of somebody else. I never had a "hero" growing up; sure, I admired my sister and mother and there were aspects of their personalities I desired, but as I grew older and began to view the world in a very cynical manner, I stopped idolizing people and apathy crept its way into my mind. I don't know how much of an optimist I would consider myself anymore - but, then again, I was never the "sunshine and rainbows" person I wanted to be.

LHS graduation, 2007
I guess I've started doing things, not because others do them, but because I feel like it's what should be done. If someone comes to me with a problem, I think about how I would want it to be handled and then go off of that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Sadly, I've allowed myself to become consumed by responsibility, which is something I feel has taken away a lot in my life. I've always felt that the burden of other people's problems were much easier to bear than my own selfish torment, but in the past few months I've come to the conclusion that life is too short to take my own emo angst too seriously. Nothing is ever so bad that it can't be overcome. With this outlook and approach, a lot has changed and I think my pessimism is slowly making room for a little ray of sun every now and then.