Shanghai Dating Culture

I had a friend who spent some months in Shanghai in 2006 and he always talked about Shanghai girls. He had stories about girls at clubs, how desperate they seemed to “try a white guy,” how even, when he was at a bar minding his own business, a Chinese man asked him to have sex with the man’s girlfriend, because she was curious. I asked him why he never went back since 2006.

“I’m too paranoid. What if one of those girls gave birth to a kid? She could probably sue me or something.”

His story seemed fantastic, mythical, Mad Men-like. Now that I am in Shanghai, it makes sense. I feel like I died and went to white man’s heaven.

At the pharmacies, often the only medicine they bother translating into English is “Viagra”

Dating was actually illegal in China up until the 1990s, since citizens and especially young people could be punished for any premarital sexual relations by being expelled from school or losing their job. As movies like Feng Xiaogang’s If You Are The One shows us, much of dating culture grew at the same time as internet culture, and dating now would seem almost impossible without it.

As dating culture is still relatively new in China, there are tons of television programs on how to do it, and how to spot a bad boy. Most dating shows seem inherently sexist, though what dating show isn’t?

Almost every show that I see introduces a man, his job qualifications and background, and then tries to find a match among twenty or so different women, who stand and look really pretty. So the assumption seems to be that the man’s job, personality and education are all necessary information, while the women only need a rad body to apply. It’s a strange reversal from the Red Guard women, who were instructed by Mao to dress exactly the same as men to offset gender discrimination.

Some Chinese folks told me that there are shows where the gender roles are reversed, but I never see one.

An example, Take Me Out:

 

Dating may be especially attractive to middle or lower-class foreigners, since, according to some, the poorest white guy is often valued higher than a rich Chinese guy. Women who prefer foreigners (let’s just say white guys, because I don’t see many girls hand-in-hand with western people of color) do so for many reasons, often to get away from the tyranny of their own families, the one-party national politics, or the Asian standards of beauty, which values very light skin, round eyes, small faces, and under 27-year-old bodies. Westerners don’t seem to care as much about these beauty standards, and even actresses that seem incredibly beautiful to western men, like Gong Li or Tang Wei, are actually seen in China as kind of ugly.

“I mean, who would be attracted to her?! Her cheeks are too fat!”

Growing up as a mixed Filipino/white male, the constant hypervisualization of white men with Asian woman can get a bit aggravating. As in almost any “global” city in Asia, the ‘white guy holding hands with the Asian woman’ is so eye-rollingly typical that you could sit at any downtown walkway and make a drinking game out of it. In America, when a white guy and an Asian/American woman get together, it is often seen as a symbol of progress. In China, it is a symbol of globalization.

There are a lot of biases against white male/Asian female relationships, and as a product of one myself, I often wonder if there is some default feeling I should fall back on. Should I look on with confusion and then hatred for the imperialism that brought about my own upbringing, like some Asian American men? Or should I cheer on for those mixed couples, and join in ending biases against White male/Asian female relationships? I have to admit, I’m kind of lost on that one.

I get some unsolicited advice from a friend:

“You’re only angry because, at the bottom of it, your darker skin-tone does not give you the same privileges. You should dye your hair blonde or brown, it would make your skin look lighter.”

So I make an appointment to get my hair dyed.

“It’s not that I have yellow fever, I just really like your culture.”

Despite the impression it makes, this white male/Asian female stuff is rare, and probably would not be even noticeable, if it wasn’t for the hand-holding part. Couples in China rarely hold each other’s hands as they walk around, and even couples in the U.S. don’t seem to hold hands all the time. But these white male/Chinese female couples always, always seem to be holding hands.

Is it to announce that you possess another person, like a reward or a trophy? Then who is possessing whom? Or is it like wearing the other person as a decoration, an exotic artifact that you’ve got hooked around you, making you “one of the natives” like that douchebag in Avatar? Then who is decorating whom? Or is it to help the other person in a strange land, or make them feel like there is no shame, no hiding in this mixed relationship? Then who is helping whom?

And to put more weight on the issue, Shanghai men are stereotyped in China as kind but servile, who always “listen to their women.” Sound familiar?

But all this is a bit exaggerated. Most women of Shanghai don’t seem to have a man around with them at all. Instead, they have very little dogs. They keep them on leashes and marvel at their cuteness. They have so many of these pets, that that the City of Shanghai had to declare a “one-dog policy” to keep the population under control.

Not exactly an atypical hairstyle.

When I go to dye my hair, the hairdresser gives me color options, and says “whatever you do, don’t choose red. It’s the only color that might actually make your skin look darker, not lighter. Chinese girls will not like that.”

“Screw that,” I think, and choose red.

China Train Rides

Sometimes, travel is an ecstasy that sucks you from a casual, intellectual distance, and plunges you into a feeling, sensory, instinctive delight. I feel this most when I am in transport.

Hard Sleeper Class Train

I always push for longer layovers, because I so enjoy the public space of the airport. In Laos I chose to take a 33 hour bus rather than a one-hour plane, just to see the countryside. The slow take-off trains in India, the high-speed rails in Japan, the karaoke rooms on Korean trains, all of these bring me close to that feeling of ecstasy.

I’ve enjoyed the ecstasy of travel on 30-hour boat rides, 33 hour bus rides, but there is nothing quite like going to sleep with the clanking of rails, and a train whistle blaring into a starry night.

And then there’s the delights of the train stations. Like getting to watch this guy help his daughter take a dump in a public trashcan.

A long, frothy dump went into that trashcan

On the 33 hour ride to Shanghai, I practice my Chinese, and as usual, touch on political ground.

“Where are you going?”

—I am going to Shanghai to meet my girlfriend.

“Where is she from?”

—She is from Taiwan.

::smiling:: “But Taiwan is owned by China!”

Ever when I switch in Mandarin from “Taiwan country” to “Taiwan province,” Chinese still seem to insist on acting as voice boxes for the party-line.

In the U.S. it’s the opposite. We often don’t know how much we really own, or have previously owned (Puerto Rico, Guam, Solomon Islands, the Philippines).

The older people seem to roll their eyes at the man. They are of China’s lost generation, who once looked to Mao like a God, followed his call to destroy the old way of life and betray their own parents and teachers. After the market reforms of the late 80s, these former Red Guards have seen the hypocrisy of the party, and refuse to even engage with the partyline anymore.

But the younger Chinese seem ever more committed to the nationalist project. It is strange, to see such nationalism and blind energy coming from the young, while the older and middle-aged tend to quietly pass over politics, or just chuckle at the PRC’s propoganda.

Of course middle aged Chinese men will, from time to time, get you drunk.

Censorship plays a key role in shaping this discourse. The dispute over Taiwan and Tibet continues to displace any notion that China encourages free-thinking. Copies of most travel guides, including Lonely Planet, are confiscated by Chinese officials, since they have separate country-guides for China and Taiwan.

Censorship, for all its lack of freedoms, is quite an effective strategy. As I talk to the locals on the trains, especially the younger crowd, I am constantly faced with a lack of adequate information.

For example, Tibet has been closed to foreigners due to protests and media censorship. Yet young Chinese often ask why I am not going to Tibet.

 —Foreigners cannot go into Tibet now. It’s closed.

“No. They can. It is part of China, just go.”

—They won’t let me.

“They will! I can go!”

—Because you are Chinese!

At the point of boiling anger, I realize that thanks to the censorship laws, I have absolutely no proof whatsoever to back-up what I’m saying. I can’t simply look it up on Wikipedia. I can’t refer them to newspaper sites that hold this information. If can’t even refer them to the Chinese friends I’ve made, who are far more politically aware, since they entrusted their opinions to me in secrecy. I can only act like the misinformed foreigner, who must have missed out on something that for the locals is blatantly obvious.

High-school and middle-school students traveling by rail, just to travel. Incredible!

As another young man tells me that Taiwan is owned by China, with that ‘how could you not know that?’ smile, I wonder if I should feel pity for those living in such a censored society. Or should I feel anger that the censorship has been so effective?

I see the sincerity in his eyes. He really wants to help me understand a new fact, something that I must have gotten wrong. He wants to save me from my Western misunderstandings. The proud, ignorant American, raised in nationalist schools, going to state-controlled museums, watching Hollywood movies that naively praise the U.S. military.

As we pull into Wuhan, the same young man tells me: “I’ve never been to Taiwan. Perhaps very beautiful. They use the old Chinese script.”

—But the new script is more practical, I say, repeating the same party line.

Every character of the new simple script was, according to state narrative, approved by Chairman Mao. It is the people’s script.

“But the old script is must more beautiful,” he says. “I wish we still used it. Taiwan still uses it, so I want to go there.”

Chengdu, June 29th

Chengdu is known for Pandas. Ok, let’s get that over with asap, because really, who gives a shit?

Unlike Britain and the U.S., Chinese official discourse does not tend to universalize everything about being Chinese. Being Chinese is not universal, is not “common humanity,” like Americans and Europeans seem to think about themselves. This sometimes leaves room for questionable rhetoric:

 “Pandas care for their young, and try to protect them, just like Chinese women care for their children.”

Implicit meaning:

Not like those damn Japanese!

In Tianfu Square

In Chengdu people really assume I’m Chinese, perhaps because we are close to the Chinese minorities in the Southwest, who I do kind of resemble. My terrible Chinese language skills probably sounds like a broken Southwestern dialect. There are so many dialects, it’s typical to not understand each other.

Even foreigners seem to assume I’m a local. When I take a picture of a smiling Buddha, which is forbidden, one of the white foreigners yells at her partner: “See! Chinese do take pictures in temples. It’s not taboo!”

I tell another traveler about this, a guy from Estonia.

“But you not like these Chinese men. They are just like women. You just put makeup on them, turn them around, screw them from behind. Feels like a woman.”

–I just told you I’m part Asian.

“Right. So you would be needing lots of make-up.”

Two rivers circle Chengdu.

At the hostel, I meet a Chinese guy going to study in East LA; his friend is going to Brown. I tell him I went to the University of Nevada.

“What is that? A Chinese school?”

People’s Park

The hostel is full of foreign travelers, most of them eco-tourists.

“China would be wonderful it if weren’t for all the Chinese people. Rude, intolerant people can ruin a country.”

I don’t refer to myself as a backpacker—first of all, those packs just look stupid, don’t fit on airplane bins well, are heavy to lug around, and make young people look like they’re going camping. Camping in the wilderness is not the same as exploring a city. People are there to engage with, share things with, respect, and learn from–not to gawk at like they were an exotic bird or famous waterfall. Not all backpackers act this way, but well, some definitely do.

On a backpacker’s budget, perhaps, but not a backpacker.

Old school dating profiles

“I tried learning Chinese,” one of them says, “but then I could understand their hate speech towards me. Now I would rather not know what they are saying.”

How prejudice these foreign visitors are, I think to myself throughout the night, as I try to sleep in the dorm. I can’t, because the Chinese men in my room stay up shouting into their cellphones. There are rooms outside for that, and they don’t seem to care that I’m trying to sleep.

How prejudice these foreign visitors are I repeat like a lullaby.

PRC Memorial for the 1949 Civil War

On Chengdu’s “Bar Street,” bar girls feign crying to try and get customers inside. They ball into their hands dramatically, playing the part of the distressed young woman who just needs a man to come save them (preferably intoxicated and rich). Very performative.

Most bars cater to only one type of beer. There are all Budweiser bars, all Coors bars—different levels of hell.

What does it take to find an all TsingTao bar?

When I finally relent and order a Coors, it’s warm. There’s a reason American beers are always served cold. It’s called taste repression.

Chengdu is the home to Sichuan style cooking

I run into a middle-aged Chinese man at the bar. My favorite type of people to run into while traveling, perhaps, are middle-aged men who like to drink. Their uninhibited attitude towards things around them is always revealing. For example:

“When you really want to cheat on your wife, the best way is to just screw a girl you don’t care about. Then no love, no problem. Watch out for love, that is the worst. If you feel like you love the new girl, wait 6 months before you screw her again. Then you go home and you love your wife, no problems.”

—Do you love your wife?

“Of course I love her! Why ask me that?”

And later on:

“You see all these guys in this bar? They all losers. You know who the women really want? They want to screw us. The men with confidence. “

Silly man! I mistakenly think, only to notice that he is touching each waitress, whispering in their ears in the meantime. Damn it, that’s right. Silly men often have a lot of power.

“You don’t even need to spend a dollar. China not about your money, but about who you know. And I am friends with everyone. Government officials love me, so I can do anything. I get what I want. Welcome to China!”

As an American, I have the privilege of universalizing. I tell him: “Welcome to the world.”

Xian June 27, 2012

If we only paid attention to the people usually shouting aggressively, ridiculing others, and demeaning their partners, it would seem that women had all the power in China.

And everyone seems to love Adele. On the train we sing “Someone Like You.”

Xian city wall

Xian (西安) is the western capital, literally translated, the “Western Peace”. The city goes back, way back, according to some, 500,000 years back, with the Lantian Man. Officially the city is documented to be about 3,100 year old, and  has been home to over five dynasties. It stands with an intact wall that takes about two hours to fully bike around.

The city wall above ground, the subway below ground.

At a restaurant in the Hui Muslim quarter, I meet a Chinese man who is going to Stanford to study. His friend is going to Brown. His other friend is going to UCLA.

I tell him I went to the University of Nevada, and he nods, as if to be generous.

Yang Rou Pao Muo (羊肉泡馍), Signature Hui Muslim dish

The Terracotta Warriors. Apparently one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th Century, but I had never heard of it until the hostel workers push me to hop on a bus towards this great tourist attraction. I meet another foreigner on the bus, a businessman getting his MA at the Stanford Engineering program. He also has never heard of these Terracotta Warriors.

“What are those people gawking at? Another temple, perhaps?”

Our ignorance pays off. The shock is electrifying. We ponder our own lack of information. It feels like randomly coming across the Taj Mahal, without ever hearing about it or seeing a picture of it.

WTF!!

The American traveler orders an English travel guide. She runs a private business, so she is not shy about criticizing the government.

 “When the warriors were found, the PRC evicted thousands of villagers from their homes to create this place. They were never compensated, and many starved to death. Also, building this place ruined the scenery and polluted the land.”

Not quite something you would read on a tourist information guide.

According to historians, the Terracotta Warriors were commissioned to over 600,000 artisans from all over China, but were not discovered until a farmer accidentally bumped into one when digging a well. So far over 8,000 have been discovered, and no two faces look the same.

Faces were based on real people.

As we go through the warrior pits, my American friend starts proudly calling Qín Shǐ Huáng, the third century B.C. emperor who commissioned the project, “The Steve Jobs of his time.” The guy was an asshole, but an innovative asshole, who created the Chinese state system and organized provinces under a single written script. An American, it seems, at heart.

As we go through the museums, we realize this is an insult to Steve Jobs. The reason why these warriors were so long forgotten, was because the mad king had all 600,000 artisans buried alive in his own tomb, locking them in with packs of mercury to guarantee agonizing deaths. He also had over 600 scholars buried alive, and all of a culture’s books burned.

The dying artisans left epitaphs scratched into the mausoleum walls.

Ironically, we pay to gawk at this mad king, with currency bills that all have the exact same portrait of Chairman Mao.

We step in, and marvel at his inhumanity.

Muslim district at night

Nanjing, June 20 2012

The train to Nanjing leaves two minutes before its scheduled time. Apparently there is no such thing as being late for a train.

In this socialist country, not even silverware and plates are free at restaurants.

The high speed rail skis through countryside fog. Or is that pollution? No one seems to know the difference around here.

Confucius Temple area at night.

Nanjing is an old Capital, the southern capital to Beijing’s northern capital, but now it is mostly a college town. It is bordered by the oldest city wall in the world, a remnant of the 14th century Ming dynasty. The city has a spectacular mix of architecture, from the Ming-era walls, to the 2,500 year old Confucius temple, to the 1912 district where Sun Yat-Sen set up the Republic of China, to the contemporary shopping districts and artsy Nanjing library.

It pays to be a flaneur in Nanjing.

Nanjing Library

The artful look of the Nanjing massacre museum is enough to lay waste to Singapore’s urban “environs”.

Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, or “The Memorial for compatriots killed in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Forces of Aggression”

The Nanjing Massacre Museum is part recovered history, part stacks and stacks of official documents that apparently prove that the Nanjing Massacre actually happened. Japan, typically, still denies the massacre, though on occasion the government admits that around 3,000 people may have been murdered. Chinese researchers estimate the total at around 300,000, about half in mass massacres, and about half in random slaughtering, looting and rape.

“My dear poor wife!/The devil raped you, killed you…/I’m right after you!”

This is not the first massacre and war museum that I’ve been to that spends half its time speaking against Japanese official history. There seems to be one in almost every city that the Japanese occupied.

Shopping district, Xinjiekou

The student-heavy night life districts and night markets are merged with the ancient sites, creating areas that are sacred during the day, and then at night, are inhabited by Chinese electronic music, buzzing lights, and wasted students. For anyone wondering what Chinese electropop sounds like, consider SingerSen.

KTV

For their lack of any internationally famous tourist spots, Nanjing is more for students than travelers or tourists. Perhaps that is why the people here seem so playful, vibrant and helpful.

Underground stalls and lights are like the shopping district in A Clockwork Orange

A kind avuncular Chinese professor living in America shows me around the city, announcing proudly that Nanjing is “my city!”

City Wall Modal

Thus I experience Chinese KTV (karaoke) for the first time, which is quite similar to KTV in Taiwan. Perhaps because the KTV companies are Taiwanese, and all the lyrics are in traditional Chinese script.

“We paid so much for that room, those KTV girls would have done anything we wanted.”

—Anything? As in, fix our cable?

Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum. One of the only places in China that the Republic of China (Koumintang) flag still stands.

Many of the foreign (white) students I meet are Sinophiles, who study Chinese history, culture and language, just for the hell of it. Their love for the culture and the scripts is shown in every polite gesture they make with the locals, every laugh and piece of barbecued kebab they share. It is a fascination that for many of them, began with films of Zhong Yimao, Ang Lee and Wong Kar Wai.

View from the City Wall

Check this city among one of the places I wouldn’t mind spending a year in.

view from Xianqwu lake, at the train station.

Travel: Shanghai, June 13 2012

Five years ago I had my first terrible travel experience. Spoiled by the service industries of Korea and Japan, which cater to American businessmen and soldiers, I was unprepared for everything about traveling in China. I was surprised when I was told that I needed to wait for a Chinese Visa for five days,  all of which I spent in a Korean sauna. I was horrified by how badly my body reacted to Beijing’s pollution. I was disgusted with the way the government set up gigantic walls around its homeless and tenements, replacing these “eyesores” with posters of government propaganda.

Image

Oh no, we don’t “keep off the grass!”, we cherish it.

And I did not know a word of Chinese. I had arrogantly assumed that, in a country of over a billion people, they would cater to English speakers in the way other countries do.

This time, roughened from excursions to India and Southeast Asia, traveling around China feels almost too easy. They have subways, convenience stores, and the only real danger is pick-pocketing. It feels like a level 6, whereas my experience is around a level 8.

Though I am armed with a year and a half of studying the Chinese language, the language barrier is still quite difficult. I still request English menus at restaurants, and I still run the risk of ending up in the middle of some village every time I buy train tickets to the next city. For the budget traveler, there is little catering to the English language. Most tourists hire translators or guides. What little I know helps. On the trains, I would not even know which seat to sit in or which berth to occupy, without knowing that shang means up, zhong means middle, and xia means low.

Street kebab chefs from muslim dominated areas in the southwest.

In step with the rest of the world, Shanghai and Beijing have become increasingly proud of their minority cultures, though there is still a blatant class separation between them.

Shanghai itself is super expensive for foreigners. Unlike Korea and Japan, which is home to military bases of soldiers with little money to burn, most foreigners in China are of the business, design or IT class. So any “foreigner” bars, clubs, restaurants, or tourist destinations, are going to be far more expensive than I can afford on a backpacker’s budget.

And past 9pm, pimps emerge from behind brick walls and station signs, their hails so common and frequent that often they’ll offer a girl as they pass by, giving you only .5 seconds to answer.

Girls are offered like fake Ipods.

—Hey,  you want beautiful young Chinese girl? Very special girl, just for you.

—bu yao, (don’t want).

—Oh, you must be a student studying Chinese. We have special student discount on very special girl.

—Just go away.

—You want boy? How about young boy?

Christ, a lot of people must be buying, with so many selling. 

Do-it-yourself street food. You pick the ingredients, they barbecue them or stick’em in a soup.

Thankfully, my meager Chinese skills allow me to avoid the foreigner-heavy districts to drink, eat, and play with the locals. The super hard alcohol can be bought at convenience stores for only 5¥ (80 cents) a bottle. Locals sometimes mix it with coke, but usually take it straight, drinking it alongside 1¥ (15 cent) kebabs and chunks of beef or pork.

There’s a lot of eye-rolling to do in Shanghai. The city seems desperate to be seen as “global,” though they are far from it. To be “global,” one does not necessarily need to be extravagantly rich (Kuala Lumpur comes to mind).

Perhaps the closest I can think to it is Singapore. English magazines and newspapers in both cities speak in an extremely pretentious and fashioniesta-heavy language, with every sentence containing words like “posh” “environs” “sporting.” It’s like watching Bill Hader play Stefan but without the humor. Continuous appearance of the words “hip,” “young” and “cool” make one wonder: what do you get once you finally are hip, cool and young? Is there some prize awaiting those who make it? Is it like Scientology, where one gets infused with a new super-power when they surpass a certain level?

Some of the most popular clubs are in the basement of the old colonial architecture.

The women in Shanghai clubs dress like they are trying out for the role of “sin” in a medieval allegory. The highly fetishized fashion scene here seems like an obsession with European brands and styles. I’m speaking as a fan of the old Shanghai look, the supposed birthplace of the Chinese bob, that modern girl fashion worn in local casinos and moving down the French concession with light pink parasols.

But the look of contemporary Shanghai seems to have lost that uniqueness, that curious fusion between Chinese chongsams and French dresses. Instead, what we get are pajamas. Pajamas down the runway, pajamas on the street, most in polka-dots or blue and yellow stripes. The birthplace of the modern, cigarette-smoking Chinese woman, and we get pajamas.

Fashion wall at Xintiandi, the self-proclaimed center of Chinese fashion. Make no mistake, those are pajamas.

The city feels like Singapore, except without the saving grace of the National University of Singapore and other popular schools. It is like Singapore but without the self-satirizing architecture and self-demeaning irony of Singapore. From the museums and the humor of the locals, Singapore seemed always aware that it was an artificial city created through the chaos of global commerce. Often it seemed that people in Singapore were having a laugh at themselves, at their own history, at their own extravagances.

Unlike Singapore, Shanghai seems to actually take itself seriously. The city’s narrative seems as serious about their pajamas-as-fashion as they are about their lotus-flower shaped buildings. The foreigners seem to shrug their way past it. Travel guides recommend using the airport to come into the country, but to otherwise avoid the void of materialism within the city center.

It makes sense that the Taipei 101 tower looks like bamboo, but a tower like a lotus flower?

And of course there is little English, so who knows. Maybe there’s some kernel of irony in all that self-aggrandizement. If there is, it gets lost in translation.

Travel: Seoul – June 6, 2012

How many times have I come to this city? A dozen? Every subway entrance seems so familiar. It’s hard to believe I’ve never lived in Seoul. It feels like “my city.” Is it presumptuous for a foreigner–a Filipino American, nonetheless–to feel so at home here?

절정의 끝까지 가봤어요? (“Have you finished your climax?”)

Yet the presumption stays with me. It’s my city. It’s my city because in Seoul you are never more than two blocks away from a bar, or a karaoke room, or a PC room, or a café, or a convenience store, or a restaurant, or even a sauna, where you can get cleaned up, sobered up, and then pass out for the night. All my favorite things, in such abundance.

An entire grilled Saba; one of many free side dishes.

I am reminded, as I see the familiar marshes on the way from Incheon airport, that Seoul can also be, if you’re not careful, way too much fun. The abundance of sugar-coated fried chicken easily makes one fat. The abundance of karaoke rooms makes my voice scratched and quiet.

And other things…in abundance.

Speakers up throwin’ fire like a mob

Hongdae is Hongdae, perhaps the best nightly block party in the world, at least the best and most consistently amazing that I’ve been to. As a 26-year-old from Las Vegas, I should know a good party when I see one. And Hongdae’s is world-class. It’s the kind that will make you scoff at nightlife districts in other countries, and say “you call that a good time?!”

This time, we are more adventurous in leaping from rooftops to get to the less mainstream bars and clubs. Foreigners are now not allowed in many Hongdae clubs, for reasons concerning the U.S. military and violence and rape (need I say more?).

Just so wonderfully wonderfully wonderfully wonderfully pretty

Other districts are worth our consideration. Apgujeong, which one cannot mention without mentioning plastic surgery (another item of ridiculous abundance), has somehow become very cheap. The so-called “Beverly Hills of Korea” has gone the way of all California. Better for us.

Plastic Surgery clinics are now called “aesthetics” clinics

“Listen, we know the plastic surgery thing is crazy in Korea. But seriously, look at the girl on the left in this advertisement. Which one is more attractive?”

–That’s not the point!

“Then what’s the point? Ridiculing Koreans to prove that someone out there is just as superficial as you?”

All of these dishes are free side dishes.

Insadong still hosts the better art galleries in Seoul. Hyehwa has an abundance of performance acts that I can’t understand

And my decaying ability in the Korean language still seems completely useless, as everyone I attempt to speak to in Korean  responds in a far more advanced English.

“I get really shocked when I hear a foreigner speak Korean. I think—why learn Korean?”

Says my previous language exchange partner.

Unofficial Chinatown near Guro-gu

The gender segregation is still stunning. Patriarchy takes different forms everywhere, and certainly the U.S. is no exception, but in Korea the gender gap slaps you in the face, makes you look twice at every advertisement. Why must a woman be married before turning 27? What abysmal chasm awaits those who fail this seemingly all-important life goal?

The debate over gender equality was reignited two years ago in Korea,  when parliament members began opining over dealing with what Americans would call the “casting couch

Even on the 5:45am trains, the after-after party, the young people still prefer to group according to their sex.

Friend: “These days, we’re having some trouble now. New concern. Women begin looking so alike, we don’t know who the actress is on the advertisements.”

What does it mean to really enjoy a country, a culture, a language, a people, when the place also seems (to my American, Western feminist-conditioned eyes) shamelessly patriarchal? What does it mean to love that?

And in the United States attempts are being made to bolster Asian American masculinity. How do we desire a masculinity that invokes images of foot binding?

Speakers up throwin fire like a mob, thrash bang thunder

And still the sight of a white woman holding hands with a Korean man, in Seoul, catches eyes like an exotic, endangered peacock. When I see this, I nod to the man, as his hand slips down the white girl’s hips. He nods back, as if we’re playing for the same team.

Who are we to call them patriarchal, anyway? It’s our soldiers who constantly have to defend themselves from accusations against raping Korean women.

You know who I am, I run this fucking club.

I hear there’s an unofficial Chinatown in Seoul, where the migrant workers have set up shops and restaurants only for themselves. Every day I look for it in Guro-go, and only on my last day, I stumble upon the gigantic, six-block wide “unofficial” Chinatown. In stark contrast to the official Chinatown in Incheon, Chinese people actually live here.

The official Chinatown in Incheon. Like most Chinatowns, its incredibly kitschy and kind of fake.