Para Site Contemporary Art Gallery, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong

This blog series is originally posted at decomP Magazine. It is an experimental (anti-)travel (fake) memoir from an itinerant artist.

We squeeze into a tall elevator, the fetishists and I, and as the doors close, the lights geld bright like an oven set on high. A woman squeezes beside me, priming herself in the elevator door’s reflection. Her animal-hide scarf hides her whispers as she makes some bracing comment to her boyfriend, a short man with curled hair, a Mark Zuckerberg lookalike gently massaging the shoulders of his gateway to the Chinese market.

The elevator stops at the Para Site art gallery on the 22nd floor, and already I can hear the toasts for the “Migrant Domestic Worker Project,” and the words “grassroots” and “minority peoples” being bandied about by suited MacArthurs clutching their mistresses. I try to ignore them, the product of such a union myself, already familiar with the Romeo and Juliet narrative they expel, when, to cynical onlookers like myself, they’re more like Robert Lomax and Suzie Wong.

The gallery is hosting a grand opening gala, a “Housekeeper Spring” that seems startlingly absent of domestic workers themselves, with a crowd that remains over-dressed in chintzy long gold necklaces and plaid suit jackets. This place carries a gloom. Digital art of brown women speaking their dreams seems mismatched to a room of Pinkertons clutching their Butterflys who left their Southeast Asian maids at home to tend to their children. I feel bad for the gallery, that this is the smug crew they have to satisfy with free wine and gimmicky poster art.

And this Anna person still hasn’t texted me back. “Just got to the domestic worker art opening,” I write over the Tinder messenger. “Let me know when you arrive. I’m wearing a brown shirt.” The sad smile on her profile image makes her look like someone who might flake out on a Tinder date. It’s one of those smiles that lunges through anger and desperation, like the smile of my own helper when I give her a ten-dollar tip. Wait, could Anna be a domestic worker too? Anna. “Anna” was no “Mary” or “Rosalina,” but it also wasn’t one of those English names locals often took, like Joy, Pearl, or Grace. Her Tinder profile stated no age or nation, just said that she liked art. I cycle through her photographs, each one of her posing at an airport and coffee shop. Perhaps, to her, these were exceptional spaces.

I stare at a tapestry of hanging clothes, meant perhaps to mimic a migrant housekeeper’s main product: a clean surface, washed by hand, an artisanal craft. Next to me Rupert Murdoch brushes back his Asian wife’s hair, commenting to his face-fucker friends how unbelievably straight and gentle her hair feels, asking them to “try and touch it for yourselves!” (With the money that guy’s floating, I’d probably do whatever he asked me to, too.)

It becomes abundantly clear how this crowd ended up here when I follow the trail of hand-washed wrinkled clothing to the gallery’s open bar, which hosts bottles of British imported beers. I cut the line, daring anyone to try and stop the only brown man here from getting his drink on. The faster I get drunk, the faster I will no longer scowl at them and their absent-minded John Smith and Pocahontas reenactment.

Drink in hand, I waver to the only sober person within proximity, a South Asian intern giving away large red books. She tells me it’s an anthology made up entirely of domestic worker stories. I take a glance at the contents and immediately recognize Carlos Bulosan. Not caring to point out her mistake, I just say “Oh, Bulosan is in here too.”

“Do you know her?” she says.

“It’s a him,” I say, pleased to talk about Manong Carlos in the present tense. I add: “My man Carlos has a thing for white women. Like, a huge fucking thing.” I say it loud, a point of Pinoy pride, to make them feel a smudge of what I feel.

I wander through the gallery’s pasty white walls, looking for Anna. Maybe she got offended that, when she suggested a date, the first thing I thought of was a migrant worker art exhibition. Maybe she showed up, realized she was the only domestic worker in an art event about domestic workers, and fled. Or maybe she found someone more attractive in the elevator, a bearded John Lennon to her hazy Yoko Ono. I squat and read over her past texts. “Hey yo!” was her first message to me. And later: “A migrant worker art event? That sounds killer!” And another: “I’m gonna bounce to my mom’s pad, then I’ll meet you there, ok? Peace!”

Just who, where, what, was this girl?

I join a Woody Allen and step-daughter lookalike staring at a photograph series. It’s a photograph of a maid with her back turned, posed alongside the place where she works, with a hand grenade placed on the dining table like a centerpiece. The grenade, an explosion of anger that leaves nothing left of itself, a device that screams, bursts into light, and takes all the lights out.

I wonder about the artists who have to watch the audience watching their work, trying to think of a metaphor to spot, a classy word to pass on (“espy,” “adage”) so they can get on their colonial banging, passionate because it comes from an authentic artistic experience, guiltless because the maid, who has to sort the sweat-ridden red dress from the bejeweled necklaces and need-to-be-ironed shirts, has had her say.

Anyways, just what could be keeping this Anna?

The Afterwork exhibition at Para Site art gallery will last until May 29, 2016.

Stamped #4: Hong Kong’s Occupy Sundays

This blog series is originally posted at decomP Magazine. It is an experimental anti-travel fake memoir from an itinerant artist.

 

Hong Kong’s Occupy Sundays

At a café in Admiralty, I get lost in thought, checking out the barista. Muscular, with dark skin, a smile as broad as his shoulders. He tamps down on the espresso with a grunt, twisting his whole body, then snaps the metal filter into the machine.

“Dessert of St. Honore gateau,” David says, placing a gold-plated cake onto the glass table, edging my laptop so far off that I have to balance it with my knee. David is a bearded British publisher who has invited me to tea to give me the rundown on Hong Kong, a city that David thinks is devoted only to finance capital and has little culture to speak of.

Nearby, a financier rants to a woman about the umbrella movement protests happening just a block away. “They cannot win. They should give up. Democracy is one thing to fight over, but everyone is losing money.”

I feed some birds. Four, hopping about the deck, catching beads of bread. One sits atop David’s Apple-Cranberry Kuchettes cake, flitting about, like the crème were a tree branch.

Droplets of coffee fling from David’s glass as he spins to answer a text message. “The wifi sucks,” he spits, “it’s the domestic workers outside. They take up all the bandwidth.” He jokes, “Sundays are their day off. Puts us in a conundrum: can’t leave the house, because they take up all the space; can’t stay home, because there’s no one to clean the house.”

“I’m Filipino,” I say.

I think he’s going to whistle, but he doesn’t. Just looks, his face all like no you’re not.

It’s with so many arguments not worth having that I keep quiet and watch the dark barista. His eyes finally settle on mine. After a moment he pulls out a cigarette and heads into the street.

I give chase, leaving David to his phone call, and follow the barista’s glide through the city streets. A man dragging an empty metal cart cuts me off, and I lose the barista at a strange demarcation.

A dozen metal bike racks are woven together by bicycle chains and zip ties. My legs cannot go beyond the barricades. I climb over, looking for the barista’s black collared shirt. Tourists push past me, hoping to take selfies with yellow umbrellas and Cantonese Post-it notes.

My body remains in-between them, taking up space.

I find him, my barista, with smoke slithering from his mouth, slipping through a group of domestic workers waving their arms in synchronized dance. I pass them, then waver through a group of women playing Miss Universe. As I squeeze through another barricaded street, I realize I am leaving a political action, and entering a rendezvous point. From protest to festival, from one occupation to another.

In Statue Square young women perch on every available surface: cement barriers, stairways and broken-down escalators, sitting on cardboard boxes with the edges up in a curved wall. With their shoes lined to make a barrier between them and the street, they crowd onto the cardboard pieces like island settlements eclipsed by an ocean of pedestrian commerce. Some play cards, chewing pork rinds and giving each other pedicures. I have to push past them as they pose for pictures near artificial waterfalls and Christmas ornaments. “Merry Christmas!” they shout, throwing their hands up in that puro arte of the islands, not caring that Christmas is still two months away.

In the center of the square a legion of tourists stand, their cameras aimed at a robust colonial statue, their fingers set on their smart phones as they wait for a group of Filipinas to pass.

My eye catches him: the barista, now behind me. Is he following me now? I get nervous and try to hide inside a cathedral. But the Filipinas are packed in, blocking me along with the other tourists.

I find him again, the barista, whose enticing smile–fake as it is–invites me to sit with him on his cardboard ship. He tells me his name is Nico, and he has a friend competing in a potatosack race. We watch the women hop and scream. Some, Nico tells me, are go-go girls, some maids, some nurses, and some stewardesses, who tomorrow will share a workspace higher than any Hong Kong skyscraper. When the police tell us to leave, we stand up and chat until they are out of eyesight, then settle right back down into our trenches. When the sun peaks, Nico opens an umbrella to give us shade.

Stamped #3:Phnom Penh’s Blue Chilli Drag

This is reposted from my blog series, “Stamped,” at decomP Magazine

Phnom Penh’s Blue Chilli Drag

You arrive in Phnom Penh expecting the New Golden Age. The talk is everywhere. You’ve followed Cambodian artists on Facebook, seen the advertisements for Phnom Penh on backpacker rows in Bangkok and Chang Mai, and in Siem Reap, on your way down Pub Street, you heard the news: Phnom Penh is back. Cambodia is no longer just Angkor Wat.

I imagine this is how a lot of the white tourists came to be here, dancing beside me on Street 272, here to stay for an eleven-hour-long street party. Next to me Kid Rock-like live music drowns out the car horns from near the Independence Monument. Electronic music spills out of every nearby doorway. Every face around me is white. I see white arms sticking up from tank tops; there are more white people in a single place than I have seen since I moved to Asia two years ago. The banner above me reads “Golden Street Party,” and I think, if this is Phnom Penh’s new golden age, what kind of age is coming next?

Eager to move, I climb a stairway up to a well-known club that doubles as a hostel hang out. Inside, tank-topped backpackers, holding bright red balloons, sprawl out on bean bags. Every now and then they kiss the balloons to suck in more nitrous oxide. For better or worse, at least here are some black people I can stand nearby and not feel like part of the monochrome street.

From the balcony I spot street vendors selling kebabs and gyros. I watch dancing backpackers surround a refrigerator-sized tank of Angkor beer, with a sign that reads: ALL YOU CAN DRINK! I watch the backpackers and NGO workers circling around the tall silver canister, handing in their plastic cups, then picking up their beers, then circling, circling, circling, until they arrive back at the vendor where Cambodian waiters give them a refill. I become mesmerized by the pacing, a vortex pleading for me to jump.

Unable to go on in the vortex, I hail a tuk-tuk taxi to the Blue Chilli gay bar, where something completely different is happening. Yes, music also spills out into the street, but it’s not electronic dance music. It’s love songs from pop divas like The Temptations and Lady Gaga. Lounging outside, I meet the expat gays: a man from America, who currently lives in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese, and another man from Sweden who is dating one of the dancers. I meet artists from all around Cambodia, ballet dancers, traditional dancers, and a modern dance choreographer from Los Angeles who runs a Cambodian dance crew in America.

At Blue Chilli, Saturday night, like the two nights before it, is drag night. The woman dancing in a black shiny tank top and webbed leggings levitates over us, held afloat by three half-naked back-up dancers. She pulses out a Beyoncé song, asks “Who runs the world?” and the mixed crowd of Cambodians, travelers, men, women, gays, lesbians, chuggers, sippers, and perhaps people high on nitrous oxide, all belt along: “girls!”

“Who runs this mother–?”

I find that word, “girls,” lunging out of me. My voice comes out, chanting with the crowd, some of us raising our fists, others our drinks. We chime along with the songs we’ve heard a thousand times, tunes that never really connect until you’re chanting them with a woman clung into place by three shirtless men, lyrics that never really register until you hear them sung by a queen bathed in green light, splashing the air with the whip of her fingers, her high heels slamming onto the bar top as the disco lights above her pierce your eyes, when all you want to do is gaze.

Only blocks away, Kid Rock imitators perform for a full crowd of over-oxygenated white backpackers. The contrast isn’t stark, it’s cosmic. Another world, another planet, but not another age.

See Blue Chilli Bar

Stamped #2: The NVM Gonzalez Writers’ Workshop

This is reposted from my series on decomP Magazine. To see the original post, click here.

The N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers’ Workshop, the Philippines

We storytellers spend the ferry ride cycling in and out of an air-conditioned cabin, pausing now and then to watch the ocean below us. Our boat carries us skipping across Batangas Bay to Mindoro, the birthplace of N.V.M. Gonzalez. Our writers’ workshop group is an experiment in cultural cross-over. We are half self-defined Filipinas, and half self-defined Filipina Americans, all of us roped together with the requisite hugs and smiles that occur just before a workshop, when you know the next four days will be spent within dangerously close proximity. I sit next to a group of Filipina writers who share a plastic bag of mandarin oranges, peeling it with yanks, the citrus liquid spurting onto their hands as they whisper gossip about American celebrities. I must be a disappointment to them, a fourth-generation Filipino American illiterate in both Tagalog and Celebrity.

Next to me a self-defined Filipina lies asleep, her white tennis shoes propped on her friend’s leg, her body kept in place by the careful balance of her limbs. I envy her sleep. My head has been pounding for hours, still reeling from Manila’s nightlife. Images of cabaret dancers and bakla hairdressers overload my brain. My breath still smells like Cuban cigars. My senses tingle in corporeal memory. On this vacation workshop, we’re supposed to be writing about our histories, our families, and all the things that connect us to the Philippines. In this sacred pursuit of art, I plan to lie about everything.

“Are you feeling sick?” one of the Americans, Anna, asks me. I tell her it’s just the jet lag. She looks at me cross, knowing that I came from Hong Kong, which is in the same time zone as the Philippines. That’s still one step better than telling her that the Filipino food has made me sick. One could do no worse than get sick off of the food of their own people.

Anna lets me get away with that one, and I sit like the others, with a pen and notebook in my hands, poised to write. I look at the sun, the ocean, the sky, and then at the sleeping woman, her head now hanging lifelessly over the armrest like a deflated balloon.

I wander about the wooden deck, wondering when I should pretend inspiration has grabbed me. “I’m too fat to be here,” I can’t help but say out loud, staring at my growing lumps. My workshop story: how did you get here, fat? And why won’t you leave? Fat. Doesn’t it prove we’re all American?

“We’re here to celebrate N.V.M.’s life,” we’re reminded. N.V.M. Gonzalez, National Artist of the Philippines. “N.V.M.” sounds like a wicked name. The Vice President, Jejomar Binay, is also three names put together (Jesus, Joseph, and Mary). Maybe there’s something to this name-jamming. Is there a point when your multiple identities, your multiple names, can be shortened to a simple, self-made tag? It’s already getting old calling myself Filipino, Irish, and Chinese. Could I just be a F.I.C., a fic-American? A Fictive American?

The ferry skids along. I return to sit with the Filipina Americans, smiling kindly at the Filipinas sitting across the bench, unsure what kind of gestalt inspiration we’re supposed to be getting from them. But the Filipinas don’t stare. They all have 3G internet. So the Americans stare at the Filipinas staring at American music videos, each of us, perhaps, trying to put this lack of feeling into words.

See The N.V.M. Gonzalez Writers’ Workshop

Stamped: Notes from an Itinerant Artist

I have a new blog series at decomP Magazine, where I am also the Prose Editor. To see the original post, please go to the decomP blog.

Pansodan Gallery, Yangon, Myanmar

pansodan

I happen upon Pansodan Art Gallery on a Tuesday night, during their weekly social, and end up intruding into a tight room with iceboxes full of water and Mandalay beer bottles. Smatterings of French and German punctuate the air, but mostly it’s English, a colonial legacy here in Myanmar, that lassos me further in. Pansodan’s Tuesday gatherings are popular among academics and artists around Yangon, all of whom hope to protect and safeguard Burmese art. “Safeguard” from what, I’m unsure, but they do seem off-put when I ask them about the few Burmese artists I know, the ones who perhaps sold out. I ask them about the Burmese American author Wendy Law-Yone, and they look at me like “Burmese American” is a curse word.

I pass through three interior rooms stock full of large square paintings arranged so close together that they appear like large quilts strung along every wall. I am told by a burly journalist sitting atop a beer case that there are many artists in Rangoon, but not enough art spaces. Pansodan seeks to correct this by opening more: Pansodan Scene, which has a café, and Pansodan Bookshop.

When I came to Yangon I meant to write about George Orwell’s famed hideaway, the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. But Pansodan carries an irresistible aura of intrigue. Tucked into the second floor of a small building, inside paintings sit stacked and bound, tilting against the walls. There is an ambiance like warm breath.

Pansodan’s balcony overlooks a thoroughfare walled with off-white stone buildings. I bum a cigarette from Stuart, a graduate student from New York studying anthropology, and cynically ask if he’s come here to find some ‘lost tribe.’ He isn’t amused by my question, and says anthropologists don’t really do that anymore. “What do they do?” I ask.

“I’m here working for an LGBT NGO,” Stuart says candidly, smiling at me through his goatee. I smile back not to signal him, but to keep myself from scowling at the word ‘NGO.’

Stuart and I chat for a while, half bored with each other. We each take turns looking behind us to see if some long lost friend has suddenly appeared at the party. I wonder how long it will take for this anthropologist to ask me something personal. Will it be my race? My age? My sexuality? I can see in a moment of silence, when he peers at my collar, that he’s almost there.

We’re interrupted by a squad of anthropologists who enter the gallery, pouring glasses of wine and making a ruckus in the small exhibition room. Stuart greets an anthropology student from Colombia who wears a polo and brags about having recently met James C. Scott. It’s not long before they’re going at it, arguing about the merits of “obscurity in academic writing,” tossing quotes from graduate courses they took the semester before, name dropping Foucault, Nussbaum, and Derrida. All the while they’re both looking at me like I’m a referee. No. Like I’m a cat, being culled by two potential owners. All this culling makes me feel very, very special, which so far has been a rare feeling here in Myanmar.

If I lived here I’d probably be like them, arguing and culling every week at Pansodan, a haven for haven-seekers.

Pansodan is run by the artist Aung Soe Min and Nance Cunningham.

“Research” in Myanmar

The traffic into Yangon is abysmal, and it doesn’t help that the taxi driver won’t stop trash-talking the city; the only solace from his ranting comes when hawkers come to sell fruit and music CDs. We pass pagodas, where women young and old clasp their hands, repeating prayers, their mouths moving quick like film. The men meditate like the male Buddhas who the women pray to.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Luckily, on my first night in Yangon I meet a fellow scholar from NYU who works for an LGBT NGO run by locals (but supplied by foreigners). I meet many within the research community, which is populated almost entirely by anthropologists who seem to still be reaching for the “undiscovered tribe” and/or the “transitioning tribe” who will soon lose their authentic values to be further integrated into global capitalist markets. While these academics are welcoming, they grow offended by my entire field of study, as both a literature person and as someone seeking to compare the postcolonial anglophone literature of Burma with India, Singapore and Malaysia. Of these later three countries, these academics seem to know very little (many do not even know that Malaysia was colonized by Britain). In that wider regional ignorance, they seem to read only ignorance in me. At any rate, like good expat migrants we drink and try to outdo each other over how many places we’ve been.

2015-07-03 14.12.45

We venture later to an art gallery, which I will have to leave unnamed as it was really a cover for an unofficial set of historical archives that the Myanmar government has censored. The archives, run by painters, poets and journalists, has boxes full of British colonial documents, and many on the state of prisons and the ethnic-run areas where the British were afraid to go. I stay with these archives for days, where I take over a hundred pictures of information, and send many of the Chinese-language newspapers to my two helpful research assistants in Nanjing.

2015-07-03 17.53.07

During my research process in the archives I habituate myself to certain cafes and diners where journalists and English-literate locals hang out. It seems Burma is often the last explored place in Asia, a gnawing unchecked box on a long list of Asian countries. There are no new travelers here, it is the anti-Thailand – not sexy, not easy, and mostly riddled with complaints about the food rather than compliments.

2015-07-03 18.06.10

I meet a journalist who is so adept at the language and knowledge of local politics that I feel embarrassed to tell him what I do (literature), and embarrassed further to admit that I write fiction about travelers in Asia. He gives me the third degree, and, satisfied that I’ve at least read enough journalist accounts of Myanmar, he takes me gallivanting from one journalist-packed expat pub to another, telling stories of all the things that fascinate him about this region. At one pub I meet three Chinese-Burmese people, none of which have official documents (they could flee and be refugees but choose not to be). These connections inform me of Myanmar’s political climate in the past twenty-years and the effects it has had on “unofficial minorities,” where Chinese-Burmese are not recognized and therefore cannot be citizens.

Girl making Beetlenut

Girl making Beetlenut

The next week I travel throughout Myanmar, to Mandalay and Bagan, and with some “wanderlust”-based inspiration I begin to write again.

Bagan Temples

Bagan Temples

After this research excursion, I spend another couple of weeks in Hong Kong thinking through the experiences and archives I had encountered in Yangon. For a country with similar colonial histories as Malaysia, India and Singapore, the lack of literature in English is a testament to its recent postcolonial history (see Ne Win). While the anthropologists I meet may not seem to care for the wider regional history, I find that Burmese really do — they see the People Power movement of the Philippines as inspiring their many student-led movements, they constantly keep up with Lee Kuan Yew’s government to look for similarities and methods towards gaining traction, many follow Indian politics like it’s a soap opera. And of course, their gaze is laser-beamed onto China, the historical actor who has been both “big brother” and “abusive step-father.”

Mustache Brothers in Mandalay

Mustache Brothers in Mandalay

Most of the work in English I studied was in local cookbooks, translations of Burmese myths, journalistic accounts (Like Empire of Jade) and testimonials/auto-biographies written by political leaders and diasporic refugees. But nothing seemed to exist that cultivated literature in English on a local level. Perhaps because the authoritarian government has massacred students on the steps of past English-language institutions. But this does not mean that Burmese Anglophone literature does not exist. To be able to access it means shifting the definitions of anglophone literature itself to merge the postcolonial/colonial field with that of ethnic literature and diaspora, otherwise we lose the meaning of these stories under nationalist understandings of canon making and ways of reading.

Abstract for a Presentation I Fell Out of Love With

In this installment of Abstracts I Fell Out of Love With, this piece comes from an application I sent to an anthology on traveling around Southeast Asia that never got off the ground.

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Secured Tourists, Exposed Locals: Imperial Nightlife in Honolulu and Manila

While traveling around tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, one cannot help but be made uncomfortable by the historical reiteration of Western colonization. From the officious restaurant servers to the children selling bracelets, brown locals seem to always be serving white tourists. For critical ethnic studies scholars like Vernadette Gonzalez, the symbolic imaginings of Western tourism in Southeast Asia are made possible by colonial infrastructure, which can expose the relationship between tourism and militarism within “the historical and present- day tropics” of the United States. Yet for the tourist, the roots of these neo-colonial norms are deracinated in nightlife areas, where they are free to encounter locals not seeking money or access, but, like them, are there to play.

This presentation analyzes how nightworlds, as spaces of hybridity, artistry, and connectivity, reduce distinctions between tourist and local. Through short stories by Filipino/Hawaiian authors such as R. Zamora Linmark, Kristiana Kahakauwika, Lysley Tenorio, and my own travel experiences, I argue that nightlife in spaces like Manila, Honolulu, and other places of rampant American militarism, plays a major role in counteracting the guilt from neo-colonial complicity, as the tourist is made to feel “at home” in the dark, distinctionless nightlife. At the same time, these nightworlds link tourist practices to histories of military intervention and colonial dominance, histories that so often go erased by official tourist practices (sunbathing, massages, trekking and temple tours). Indeed, these stories open up what Victor Mendoza has called “queer nomadology,” a reading method that can “track the sexually, narratologically, and topographically wayward agent without capturing it discursively through progressive signifying practices” (816). In inviting tourists to “play” with locals, such nightworlds allow the Westerner to trace the violence of colonial history through casual encounters with sex work, and the tension towards foreign bodies.

On “Middle-Aged American Seeks [Asian] Female for life in the USA” and other fake queers

One of my white male colleagues in China gave me this parting advice:

“Before you leave China, be sure to get yourself a Chinese wife. They are not as disrespectful as American women. It’s their culture, they are sweet and loving and the best part about being in China.”

I really enjoyed talking to this colleague, and I really like his sarcastic, no-nonsense wife, so I had a hard time digesting this sudden revival of orientalist claptrap. He’s lived in China for a decade, and he claims to suffer from being pinpointed as “one of those Americans” stealing Chinese women. Poor him?

Well, he’s in the Philippines now (where Asian female-ophiles go for retirement). And I’m left pondering.

My friend calls his own relationship “unconventional,” but, in the spirit of Asian American patriarchs (Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, etc.) I want to call him a “fake queer.” The very sound of “fake queer” is offensive to the ear, and that’s part of the point. A “fake queer” relationship is not “normative,” but is also so eye-rollingly typical and indifferent (or complicit) to heteronormative cultures that it would make anyone cringe to name it “queer.”

Fake queer desires are kind of like “reverse racism,” in that they sound “queer” if only we lived in an ideal society deprived of any real context/history. The “white American male seeking an Asian female” relationship is one of these.

Take this craigslist post for example.

image 1

This Christmas-color-wearing hunk has left the same ad in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and god knows where else. His “nickname” is “RRRR (pronounced like a growl).”

He is seeking:

Wish list: soft body and spirit, unconventional, strong mind and character; free thinker yet likes her man in charge and to protect her; height/weight proportionate; no large tattoos or piercings exc. ears; EXTREMELY feminine and intelligent; LOVES classical music (knows, for example, the difference between Haydn & Ravel; doesn’t think Beethoven’s a large dog and Bach’s the sound he makes when chasing cats); arts & sciences, politics, literature, nature; incurably curious.

I suspect that the ad may be fake or exaggerated, but then again, in Asia it’s a pretty typical style of flirtation.  I call men like “RRRR” fake queer. Not only does he seek out an Asian female who will adjust to his personality traits, his language, and his country, but he sees himself as a rebel for it. Riddled throughout the ad are efforts to find a woman just as “weird” and “nonconformist.”

On a more sympathetic note, his love for the Asian stereotype could be termed a fetish (and, remarkably, queer). As RRRR writes, “I’ll open your door, carry all heavy stuff, be strong for you, and protect you.” It sounds like something a good honest person, comfortable with her sexuality, has whispered in my own ear. Indeed, the whole ad could be read as a call for a dom-sub fetish one-night stand. He says: “I’ve fulfilled all my sexual fantasies, and want to keep fulfilling them with someone I love, and who loves me.”

There are times when reading his ridiculous, unconscious orientalism that I couldn’t help but insert sex-positive yawps: “I favor gender fairness, but I’m sick of being treated like the enemy by bitchy American women [oh yeah, I’m such a dirty dog]. Why do you think so many American men look overseas for wives? I won’t apologize for being [such a] masculine [big bad boy!]. American feminists tell men to get in touch with their “feminine sides,” but I only do that to give it a firm spanking like the dirty little slut that it is [no commentary needed].”

How do these men go on in their (out of the bedroom) fetish stereotypes, and call themselves “unconventional,” “nonconformist” or “stereotyped”? Fakes, all of them.

Chatroom Roleplaying Outtakes #1

Chatroom roleplaying (Chat RP) consists of improvising prose within a community, where each writer responds to another’s posts quickly, but not so fast that it totally losses quality. Settings vary from castles to battlegrounds to islands in the sky, but mostly chats take place in taverns, where extremely well thought-out characters who don’t know each other let loose. It’s less infused with magic as it is with the chaos of diverse characters and  explosive interactions.

Chat RP is  unapologetically character-focused. The writer is known as a mun, meaning “mundane,” and is only referred to through the character (“Kawika’s mun,” for example). So much attention is given to the character that most sentences are absent of the subject (the character), and references to “irises” or “orbs” just mean “her eyes.” Out of character (OOC) talk is restricted to two parentheses or brackets.

Here’s a snippet from one of my favorite (unnamed) roleplay artists:

That is so…“ eyes rounded like those of owls, straight whites flashing as she peaked around Ashley [racoon sun-burn shades remember] to spot the two rather than simply hear them, “cute, to say the least, but cocks not on my current regime, sweet ragazza,“ weren’t shy, was we?  Cheeks sunk with the thoughtfully casual pucker of glossy, vemon-stung lips, holding the menu and squinting down at it as if she couldn’t quite see the words written there, [not true, miss Alice was simply energetic] “Goid idea…how’s about a double shot og whiskey sour and a cheeseburger, no tomato,“ book of tantalizing goodies was slapped shut with two lean hands before two brows lifted and she handed the waiter the document, “what, of course.  And what’s yer name?  I want to hear it rather than read it off a tag,“ soft voice, arms folding for fingers to tap on her arms.  Maybe she wanted an app and just had to be polite first.  Maybe bois anxiety to look toward the clock was showing in the swivel of the pen, or maybe every girl needed a gay or borderline gay friend.  Guess.[d]

I’m floored by how well this mun knows her character. This post was improvised immediately, with spelling and grammar errors, but also with a grasp of a character that seems rare in published literary fiction. Her accent, her food preferences, her mannerisms, thoughts, and out of character information all go to bring this character totally alive for other muns to respond to. And all this, just because a waiter brought her a menu.

My admiration for this post may be difficult to understand as the genre is bound by community rules, making such posts both intricate and extremely confusing to outsiders.

That is so…” – Roleplay starts with an italic and underline. The bold later is for emphasis and to begin separate posts.

“straight whites flashing” – reference to her eyes.

“[racoon sun-burn shades remember] ” – the mun is reminding her fellow muns that their character’s can’t see her eyes, though she’s describing them. If another character were to respond to her eyes, it would be bad form.

“weren’t shy, was we?” – This may be a reference to a sort of Lord of the Rings Smigel dual-personality thing.

“Goid idea” – character accent.

“book of tantalizing goodies was slapped shut” – passive verbs indicate the character actions.

“an app” – probably an apple.

“Guess.” – Really, the other characters should guess why she’s doing what she’s doing. With all the elaborate ways of expressing this character, the mun still leaves room for that more alluring trait, ambiguity.

I’ll start posting these Chat RP outtakes because it pains me when I read posts by talented writers, and only a community of six or so people read it before it gets eaten by the blank space at the top of the chat room.

For a humorous look at Chat RP, check out the webcomic Elf Only Inn

On “Bored”

My short story “Bored” was published in JMWW, a journal that alongside Smokelong and decomP, convinced me that speculative flash fiction was the highest pursuit.

This story is about sex workers in turn of the century Penang, Malaysia. It’s in a way a response to Lydia Kwa’s novel, This Place Called Absence, which is about turn of the century sex workers in Singapore. Kwa’s novel centers around a queer Asian Canadian woman, Wu Lan, who desperately needs some psychological closure on her father’s death, so she imagines Chow Chat Mui and Lee Ah Choi, two sex workers in Singapore whose trials mirror Wu Lan’s own.

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Inspired by her novel, I became deeply curious as to why anyone would imagine two historic queer sex workers to resolve their own traumatic issues. So I imagined “bulging” Xia and the “withering” narrator. I played with them in my imagination from time to time between aerobics and petting my cat. Sometimes Xia would appear in her satin robe swatting pretend bees with an electric tennis racket. Sometimes they said stuff in Mandarin, I don’t know what. But mostly it was the girls staring at me, legs folded on the hostel carpet, wondering what kind of pervy fiction writer would invoke their presence.

Overall I wouldn’t suggest re-imagining turn of the century sex workers unless you seriously feel like coping with some deep shit. I wasn’t ready, but I wrote this story and now I can go back to taste-testing wine over my divan.

For the setting, I was a tourist in Georgetown a while ago, so I know everything about that place that there is to know.

The first line of dialogue I basically ripped from chat room role-players.

For the title, I was listening to Faye Wong’s “Bored,” and I was all: yeah, that’s a word.