Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sometimes, the stereotypes are true...or true enough.

Note: Yes, this post is intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Or tongue-in-chicken-rectum. Or whatever. I bang on about not generalizing, not stereotyping etc. and sometimes it's fun to let off a little steam. That's all it is.


As much as I try to practice what I preach in terms of taking Taiwanese culture as it comes and not forming any silly stereotypes based on it, or viewing it through the lens of stereotypes one might have heard about Taiwan (or Asia) back home, I have to say.

Sometimes, just sometimes - and bear with me here - Asia manages to live up to a stereotype in all sorts of hilarious ways. Don't judge me too hard for saying that. America does the same thing:

Australian friend: Damn...Americans and their guns! What a violent country! (or something like that)
Me: That's not true! You don't know...most Americans don't have guns. They're not as common as you think. It's a sad stereotype that Americans are gun-totin' crazies.
Same Australian friend staying at my family's home: Where should I put my bag?
Me: Upstairs, by the guns*.

*hunting guns, like skeet shooting rifles. We're not talking sawed-offs and semiautomatics here. My dad hunts pheasant and shoots skeet.

So...a few things I've noticed that play right into American stereotypes of Asia:

1.) Weird Ass Drinks

From to asparagus juice to tomato-sour plum "fruit juice" to those terrifying health drinks (one says "Chicken Extract" on the bottle), to this lovely concoction:


I have to say that the old '90s website Crazy Asian Drinks was really ahead of its time. It is absolutely true that they drink some weird stuff over here. Of course, weird to me. Not weird to them. To them its perfectly normal. I'm sure I drink something that many Taiwanese people would think is weird, too.

2.) Old Ladies Who Are All Up In Yo' Bidness

Don't let her fool you. She is going to ask you your age, if you're married, if not why not and if so whether you have kids, if not she'll want to know why not and she'll top it off with a question about your salary and an observation that you are too fat, have a zit or need to do something about your nose.

Then she's going to tell all the other old ladies in your neighborhood.

Yes, she is.

3.) Weird Ass Foods

Literally, sometimes. I mean we've all heard the horror stories of cod sperm sushi and, I dunno, cat meatballs and monkey brains and rat-on-a-stick and fried roaches. Some of that stuff is real (cod sperm sushi, rat-on-a-stick, fried roaches - I can vouch personally for the last one but I did not eat them) and some of it is probably the stuff of urban legend.

But let's talk about butt.

It would not be out of the ordinary at all in Korea to go out to a bar with your Korean students or colleagues, order a bunch of beers and watch as a bowl of snacks that the Koreans ordered appear on the table.

You innocently ask "what is that?"
Your new friend replies: "chicken anuses."

And you just got served. You got served a delicious bowl of anus, to be exact.

Recently I had a discussion with a friend about foods I do and don't eat as a relatively adventurous foreigner (not too adventurous - I draw the line at duck tongues and I tried to eat blood but just don't like it).

Friend: You know what is really good?
Me: What?
Him: Chicken...you know...雞皮鼓
Me: Chicken ass? Really?
Him: So you really call it chicken ass?
Me: Or chicken butt. Still. Why?!
Him: Because it's a super match with beer!
Me: No, my friend, Sichuanese food is a super match with beer. Chicken ass...you do realize that it is in fact the ass of a chicken?
Him: Yes.
Me: Like, with the anus?
Him: Yes.
Me: And so you know what chickens do with that?
Him: Yes.
Me: And what comes out of it?
Him: Ues!
Me: And you still like it?
Him: Yes!
Me: OK...

Point is, it's actually quite a true notion that a lot of what gets eaten in Asia would make many a Westerner's stomach turn. That doesn't mean the stuff is objectively weird (OK, honestly I do think eating chicken anuses, on a bowl or on a stick or whatever...that is weird to me. But it's not weird to my friend. It's not objectively weird as much as I wish it were).

Yes, you can go to one of those 'stuff on sticks' vendors and be all "and this is uterus, and this is pancreas, and this is blood cake, and this is rectum, and this is..." - and that's kind of beautiful, in a way.

3.) Blatant Copyright Infringement and Trademark Theft

I'm no fan of Donald Trump (the Golden Helmeted Noise Warrior) but somehow I doubt he gave his name to this organization:

And yes, I once saw but did not have the money to buy a North Farce jacket in Beijing (I was a starving backpacker) and I used to own a Datong fake iPod Nano (at least it wasn't called an iPod Nanoo or something).

4.) Whatever this photo says about ethnicity and privilege:

Actually I just wanted to post this photo because it's adorable. I don't have that much of a reason otherwise. The look on the kid's face is priceless.

 But...it has caused a few quizzical looks as students have asked about my weekend and I've shown them this photo. I've shown it to a few people and made jokes - sometimes gentle, like "oh yeah, they adopted a foreign baby" to something more sarcastic like "every year thousands of underprivileged American children are adopted by loving Asian parents who give them the chances in life that they never would have had in their home country" for people who will get it and laugh.

The truth: these are friends of mine, the kid is the child of other friends of mine and they thought it would be a fun picture.

But, you know, it's kind of true - we do sort of build up these tropes and life stories, or have them built up for us, and in the West it can be hard to admit that sometimes - sometimes (NOT ALWAYS, I want to make that clear) these trajectories have more to do with ethnicity and race than we'd like to believe. You don't see Asian parents with a cute blue-eyed adopted baby - you see white parents with a cute Asian adopted baby.

Yes, you do see white woman/Asian guy couples (I have a friend in one such marriage) but it's so much more common to see the Asian woman and the white guy (which, you know, it's not a bad thing unless you dive into the creepy end of that pool. I'll acknowledge the creepy end but don't want to leave out the two-people-in-love-who-cares-what-race-they-are side, as well).

We do have the foreign English teachers who make more than the Taiwanese teachers who speak flawless English. We do have foreigners who speak excellent Chinese who might well have to battle prejudice for jobs teaching and translating Chinese simply due to their race. We have that taxi driver I blogged about who said that I should be a "boss" because I'm "American", and we have the factory dormitory vs. the W Hotel when it comes to business trips.

We get non-Asians like me who speak pretty good Chinese, and plenty of locals who assume we don't speak it (but to be fair there are plenty who happily accept that many of us do), and Asian-Americans who locals expect to speak Chinese like a native based solely on how they look.

I'm not sure where it puts us, but it does tell me this: if you believe before you come to Asia that it's a place where you will often get pigeonholed because of your race...well, you're kind of right.

I didn't mean to end that on such a serious note.

5.) Weird costumes and cartoons as marketing ploys:

This guy is promoting "cherry" sports drink which I swear to goodness tastes like tomatoes. I actually thought it was tomato sports drink until someone got me to read the Chinese. "Cherry" or not, I'm sorry, this stuff tastes like tomatoes. Also, guy in a giant drink outfit dancing at a major intersection in Taipei. Yeeeeaaaah.

And this guy - I think he's supposed to be a bacteria or virus of some kind, but he's asking if you've prepared your New Year's gifts well enough yet. So really, I have no idea what the deal is with him.

6.) Really Bad English



blobOfNeurons said...

Crappy English? Or English that cuts through the crap?

(I couldn't resist.)

Anonymous said...

That's cherries not tomatoes, at least it's says so on the bottle...

BTW: the US HAS the highest average % of gunownership in the world, it's not a stereotype if it's true.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

You're right, it does say "cherry"! I have a very bad habit of getting info from context and not reading the Chinese...even when I can read the Chinese.

However, I am going to say. The stuff tastes like tomatoes. They can put "cherry" all they want on the bottle but it tastes like tomatoes. I got a free sample and my first thought was "sweet tomato juice in sports drink form".

It's still a funny picture so I'll leave it up.

I'm not arguing about the gun ownership, but 1.) it doesn't have to be false to be a stereotype and 2.) I'm really talking about the stereotypes that have blossomed from that fact. In China, my students thought "every American owns a gun because there are 250 million Americans and 250 million guns". I have met people - mostly non-American Western travelers - who stereotype *all* Americans as being violent and gun-crazy, as though, as those Chinese kids believed, we all have guns. We don't. I admit that my father has some hunting rifles (which are not what people imagine when discussing guns in America) but where I'm from it's more common NOT to have a gun than to have one. I've never even touched let alone fired a gun.

That's the wrong stereotype...but I fully admitted in the beginning that there is some truth to the "Americans + guns" thing.

fred.reddy said...

Hilarious! I've been lurking here for a bit. When I read the bit about old ladies, I almost dropped my gun! Seriously, even though I speak little Chinese, old ladies are always asking me the most personal questions or at least just asking a lot of questions.

Great post, Jenna!