Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Pint and the Pub

In response to my last post, one of my facebook friends posted this to my wall:

“The pub brews revolution more than the tea house. Just a thought.” Dude, if this were true, the amerindians would’ve all joined AIM [American Indian Movement]! Grievance-sharing, sure, but grievance construction is quite another thing!! The Green Dragon Tavern where revolution was brewed in Boston still doesnt sport TVs, but that is the exception to USer bars these days. the causes and dis-causes of revolutionary activity, or even plain political involvment in general, far outstrip the pint-factor, true though it may be.

He also mentioned the use of alcohol as a tool of distraction and repression.  And I generally agree, so let me clarify myself.  Alcohol can be useful in getting people to open up and express sentiments they wouldn’t otherwise express.  But what’s more important are gathering places.  The pub is more potent than the pint.

Big Beijing knows this.  In Mainland China, gathering places, whether physical or virtual, are rare and monitored.  Pubs aren’t a major concern because Chinese people don’t drink much, and when they go to bars it’s usually more about status than sitting and talking.  In HK, foreigners sit in the bars and drink; Chinese people take pictures of each other outside the bars.  This is such a familiar scene in all the high-status nightlife areas of the city, that it makes my local pub very special to me.  It’s a rare place in HK where people gather to just have a few pints and discuss what interests them.

The Hong Kong Basic Law protects freedom of expression and assembly, and those protections are actually pretty robust, similar to the US.  What’s also similar to the US is the way the rulers use commercialism and other distractions (like beer and sports) to keep people from engaging in politics.   In both places, there is a small minority of citizens who actually use their freedoms of expression and assembly to try to gain a voice in the political process.  In both, citizens are still working to get a voice, not using that voice to effect change directly.

An example of this is the current “debate” over Hong Kong’s proposed construction of a high speed rail link with Beijing.  But what this debate is really about is democracy: the protesters want universal suffrage.  What universal suffrage means in Hong Kong (where all adult permanent residents can vote already) is the elimination of the functional constituencies which effectively give corporations and Big Beijing direct representation in the Legislative Council  (This council is appropriately called “LegCo” and the head of the executive branch is Chief Executive.  Hong Kong is basically a Chinese corporation, and the people are its consumers.) So while the government builds infrastructure that will probably benefit a majority of citizens, those citizens protest because they weren’t consulted.  In the US, the health care debate is stalled because of a corporate sponsored backlash masquerading as populism.  In the end, the people are manipulated into fighting against their own interests because they feel manipulated; the real issues are forgotten, and the protests prove paranoid.

Because Americans and HongKongers lack real power to influence policy, they rebel against “big government spending” even when that spending is arguably in their interests.  Fed up with a political system dominated by corporate interests and a government that doesn’t listen to their demands, Americans fight the government’s attempt to provide better health care and HongKongers  fight the government’s attempt to provide more efficient infrastructure.  When people are this manipulated by the media and this frustrated by their own inefficacy, no amount of conversation, no matter how honest, will do them much good.


Of Pints and Politics

When men drink, they become more honest.  They discuss what they want to discuss, and they say what they really feel.  They argue.  They agree.  They pat each other on the back.  They discuss sports, culture, and politics.  Unless someone has a specific problem they need help solving, women are usually an afterthought in these conversations…something to mention just to make sure there’s no misinterpreting that pat on the back.

Two things Westerners often observe about the Chinese: they don’t drink much, and they don’t discuss politics much.  I think there might be a connection.  But I think it’s natural for me to talk about politics.  Politics, by definition, matters.  If the rulers are screwing you over, it matters.  So it takes some work to get people not to discuss such things.

Like Americans, Hongkongers have been distracted from what really matters by a media that focuses on two things: celebrity gossip, and want creation.  The mindless materialism in this place is overwhelming.  It drives me to drink; it drives the locals to shop.  As far as destructive leisure activities go, drinking is undoubtedly harder on the body; shopping is harder on the mind, the body politic, and the planet.  So I go to my local pub, and I talk with Englishmen, Aussies, and a few Chinese (mostly raised in the UK or North America).

Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese are not blindly obedient to authority.  The Confucian concept of The Mandate of Heaven is not the same as the European concept of the Divine Right of Kings.   Confucianism teaches that when the ruler does not rule with the best interests of the people in mind, it is within the people’s right to disobey that ruler, and even overthrow him.  Chinese authoritarianism is not as Hobbesian as it appears (order is not valued over all else, though the competing value here seems to be prosperity, not freedom).  When the Chinese don’t respect an authority figure, they don’t confront that person directly.  They’re more likely to use passive-aggressive strategies to subvert that authority, like doing their job, but doing it badly.  They will often still appear to respect that authority.

After a few drinks, people are much less likely to pretend to respect authority figures.  And when a group of people get together over drinks, each may come to realize that he is not the only one who feels who hates his boss, or the government, or whatever.  Without this realization of shared grievances, collective political action is impossible.  Alcohol facilitates this feeling of shared antipathy toward authority.  Perhaps this helps explain why societies that don’t drink much also don’t tend to succeed in winning political rights from their rulers.  The pub brews revolution more than the tea house.  Just a thought.

Sex (and race) in the City

My girlfriend visited me in HK over the holidays.  For the 17 days that she walked by my side, I was visible.  She’s Vietnamese-American, but seems to look Chinese enough to pass for a local here in many instances.  People frequently spoke Canto to her, something they never do to me.  They also stared at her constantly, in a way that would be considered lecherous in the West.  I remember my former boss, who’s a Chinese-Canadian woman, telling me about this behavior, and how much it bothered her.  I had been out with Chinese women in HK a few times before this, and had seen the stares already, but until these last few weeks, I really had no idea.  We couldn’t walk anywhere without men staring at her face, her chest, and her legs.  It was as constant as construction.  Now that she’s back in Colorado, my powers of invisibility have returned.

In Boulder white man/Asian woman couples are considerably less common than they are in HK.  But here, we (or maybe just she) attracted lots of attention, and not just from men.  Women would stare at us as well, they would see her with her gweilo and then look her up and down.  The funniest incident occurred on New Year’s Eve, when some pseudo model walked by us, pausing briefly to give my girlfriend a very serious, aggressive and perfunctory peace sign.  We were unsure exactly what it was meant to communicate, but it certainly wasn’t “peace.”  The cops also noticed me a lot and gave me really dirty looks  (previously my powers of invisibility were so powerful with the police that I was considering a crime spree).  In short, we got a lot of attention.  This really was my first real experience with the stare.

I’m certainly not the first blogger to tackle the white man/Asian woman phenomenon, but I’ve now been half of that pairing on two different continents, so I’ll share my observations.  Particularly since there’s so much nonsense devoted to this topic on the internet.

White people are bigger, taller, hairier, fatter and more muscular than Asians (on average).  Asians also look younger longer, and have fewer flaws in their skin.  All these traits are all either more attractive or less off-putting in men than women.  Hair, muscles and large physical size are all masculine traits, they advertise high testosterone levels and hence high gene quality, and as a result women prefer men with these traits, particularly as short term mates.  Being overweight (i.e. having a high hip to waist ratio), having flawed skin and looking old are both associated with low fertility in women, which explains why these traits are much more important cues for men than women.

There are cultural factors as well, the most obvious of which is the high social status of white men in HK and elsewhere.  That gap is closing though, and many Chinese women will eventually prefer a more culturally competent (in Asia) Chinese man as a long term mate.  But many of these mixed pairings are long-term, and that’s where the cultural factors kick in.  Both white men and Asian women feel like their getting something from the other race that they’re not getting from their own.  Many Asian women (including my girlfriend) complain that Asian men are either chauvinistic and authoritarian toward women, or they are timid.   Many white men (including myself) complain that white women are just too confusing.  Do I pay the tab or not?  What kind of signals is that sending?  I don’t want to appear chauvinistic, but I also don’t want to appear cheap.  Asian women have more straightforward rules.  With them, men can be men; we don’t have to be the perfect man and the perfect woman at the same time.

White women have a hard time dating in this town, and not only because all the white guys are with Asian women.  I’ve met several Chinese men who say they simply aren’t attracted to white women, and many white women who say they aren’t attracted to Chinese men.  There’s definitely something to this, because in HK I’ve never met a white guy who says he isn’t attracted to Asian women (excluding gay men), and I haven’t heard an Asian woman say she isn’t attracted to white men (though I’m sure there are plenty such women, I just don’t run in very Chinese circles).  In HK, it seems that people have sexual preferences for both race and sex.  Some Chinese guys don’t like white women, some do.  Some white women don’t like Chinese guys, some do.  Most women seem to like black guys, but some don’t.  But most everyone is willing to break their race preference, for that special someone.  Not so with the sex preference.  A Chinese friend of mine is bisexual; but she’s only into Chinese women, and doesn’t seem to like Chinese guys.