Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

mindless appropriations and empty symbolism



Decided to introduce my mother to the various forms of public transport around here by taking her on a trip to, and around San Francisco on the CalTrain, BART, and the Muni:

Cost of parking vehicle at Santa Clara CalTrain Station = $1.50
Cost of tickets for two to 4th and King, San Francisco = $13.00
Befuddlement at Mom spending most of the day at Chinatown = priceless

Why would someone from Singapore, which is 76.7% Chinese, having flown 20 hours to America, select Chinatown as the first place to spend most of her day in her visit to San Francisco, is beyond me.

Anyway, while mom was looking over and critiquing the cheongsams and embroidered slippers like some kind of Quality Inspector in China meant for clueless Caucasian tourists with an Asian fetish, I looked to the heavens for mercy decided to play the role of the disinterested observer (no prizes for guessing which writer I am emulating here--I didn't even realize the similarity until now), belonging neither to the tourist camp, nor the Chinese savage "native."

A little later, she walked into this Chinese medicinal shop, and began the inevitable process of loading my backpack with strange and occasionally foul-smelling herbs to lug around San Francisco, and then back down the peninsular to my pantry.

Outside, while waiting for her as she returned into the shop for the hundredth time to purchase "a little something else," I noticed that many of the Caucasian tourists would wrinkle their noses as they walked past the Chinese medicinal shop and hurry on to the Chinese souvenir outlets with their kitsch, or the Chinese restaurants with their watered-down-soups. If they--or as a waitress in a Szechuan restaurant in Millbrae loved to call them, Lao Bai--only knew what they are missing...

I am sorry, but donning a cheap $25 cheongsam, flicking a $5 paper fan while playing with a pair of chopsticks, and dropping tenses from your English, do not even remotely approach an appreciation of what it means to be Chinese. You may wrinkle your nose, but there is a world of exoticism (if exotic is what you are looking for) inside a Chinese medicinal shop / hall. There are enough exotic animal body parts in there to give any PETA activist a coronary infarction. Wandering inside the shop, I thought I was looking at the animals of Lord of the Rings dismembered, dried and preserved: there were hundreds of seahorses, all neatly dried and arranged in huge glass jars; there were stacks and stacks of deer limbs, like so many strips of beef jerky; racks of antelope horns, missing their owners; mountains of dried abalones piled up like Lego; Shark's fins line shelves like some sick rendition of bookends; dried fish maw filled cratefuls--an Ichthysian version of Aliens? Not to mention the thousands hundreds of strange herbs filling every nook and cranny. It is a veritable apothecary, serial-killer's menagerie, and friendly neighborhood store, all rolled into one.

Sometimes I wonder if racial essentialism and exoticism are often the end results of intercultural dialogue and exchange. Or is it simply a case of the racial group with the fatter wallet dictating how the other is represented and defined?

1 Comments:

Blogger daftbitch said...

ur mom is really cute...
Thank God my mom isn't like that.
In fact she blames me for LV-doctrination. Ohhh ... hmmm... and burning a huge hole in her pocket & mine.

The repurcussions... scary.
One LV bag : S$ 1500
One trip with the daughter : Super Priceless

7:40 AM  

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