Thursday, May 12, 2005

Every where I go, I'm just a gweilo. (Gaijin didn't rhyme.)

Expat at Large, had post a while back that I have thought about everytime I have a conversation with S.O. about things Japanese. Taking aim at the ever popular Singaporean Mr. Miyagi, Expat at Large quotes:

"But anyway, that afternoon, at the coffeeshop with me were two Ang Moh (Singapore term for a White Westerner) men, sitting at separate tables, minding their own business, which wasn't much. The first man was seated facing the back of the second, and was mulling over his Tiger mug of Tiger, and the other, seated one table away from the first was poring over some book.
Then it happened. The second man leaned to his left so that half his backside was off the plastic chair. And let out an audible fart. It was a toot long and loud enough above the traffic noise to startle himself and the people at the coffeeshop. There was a very pregnant pause as everyone, coffee stall owner, charsiew, roast pork stall owner and chicken wing man, all turned towards the direction of the sudden noise. The Ang Moh sitting behind the Tootler was already choking on his Tiger trying to stifle his giggles. Then everyone burst out laughing. His emphasis"

E @ L then goes on to ask a great question. Would that story be just as funny if it had been set in Greenwich Village and this man and his blog had substituted the word "negro" for the term Ang Moh. What do you think would happen? All his American readers would get a mild laugh? Or would his comments section overflow with hate mail calling him a racist bigot? Would Rev Sharpton show up with a horde of lawyers threatening to sue? Or would the mommy state, simply jerk his blog off the server before the sun set?

He's got a point, something that I would say every Westerner who has lived in Japan, China, Korea , or Thailand and points south has noticed. Racism to Asians is something that only Europeans ( and by extension Americans) do. Asians don't believe they are capable of it.

Which is why I think of the post every time I'm talking or walking around Tokyo with the S.O. these days. Now the S.O. fancies her self as a progressive woman, she will deny in the strongest terms that she is 大和撫子 (Yamato Nadeshiko..Traditional Japanese woman). However she never misses an opportunity to remind me how superior Japanese products are to American products. Cars, Eggs, Trains ( well, those are superior....), TV's....if its Japanese its better. When we played golf the other day, we were playing with 2 older Japanese guys. During lunch afterward she started talking to them about what Gaijins were like. Now I generally can understand spoken Japanese, even if I cannot sound natural when I speak. Her sentences literally translated as follows:

"Those Gaijins do a lot of things differently. I always have to remind my Gaijin to wash his hands. Plus Gaijins are very noisy....." On and on for about 5 minutes of this. The worst part is that she knows I know what she is saying. However she says it anyway.

It happens in a lot of other subtle ways. For example, she really looks askance at things Chinese. I took her to a Chinese restaurant the other day, it was OK, for a Chinese place , but boy those employees are sure noisy. 3 years ago when we watched the World Cup semifinals, Japan had already been eliminated, it was down to Korea vs Brazil. I was rooting for Korea and I naively thought that she would too. Nope. She did not just want Korea to lose, she wanted to see them beaten and bloodied in the process. And when we went to Thailand? Don't even go there. Sometimes I want to ask her what she ever saw in a Gaijin anyway? Besides if Japanese products are so superior, maybe she would not mind if I did a little test driving of other models, just to confirm her theory. ( For some reason she did not think that was funny.......I think its a great plan):

It's not just here, there are plenty of clubs in Tokyo that are Japanese only, even if you speak the language well. Gaijins are neither required or desired.

Its taken me a while, but I've learned the S.O. really means nothing by it. To her, if you are not Japanese, then you are different. To her, that is just the natural order of the universe. I've heard it described another way: " Japan is the club you can never join, no matter how much you try. You either are Japanese or you are not." Even if one becomes a Japanese citizen over here, you are never really a Japanese. I think most westerners who like it over here, just get used to it. After all, being a novelty ( especially to women) is part of the attraction of living over here in Asia.

It does not just happen in Japan. I think a big part of the Chinese riots recently are based on a Chinese perception of their superiority over the Japanese. ( As well as all of the other usual reasons, in particular trying to keep the pressure on Japan and off China.). Korea I am told is the same way, and even Singaporeans who pride themselves on their diversity, have arranged their little universe so its Chinese centric. Peru had a President of Japanese name and ancestry, think it would work the same over here? Not a chance.

The more I work and talk with Asian people, I realize that they have a huge tendency to view everything in terms of where you came from. For example, to the S.O, she will take a long time to try to figure out where someone is from. One time, in Texas when we were in San Antonio together, some well meaning Texan asked her if she was a Filipina......I thought she was going to slug him. I got an earful in the car in both English and Japanese about, "how could she be mistaken for a Filipina?". Reminding her that lots of folks of Philippine descent lived in America did her no good, she said she could see beng mistaken for Chinese, but there was no way she looked like a Filipina. ( Which may be correct, but its also irrelevant. Big mistake when I told her that!). If I had told her that she was being racist, she would have just given me the blank stare. She's Japanese you see, she can't be racist.

I need to stress that Japanese are not racist in a white, black sense. Its an Asian looking with disrespect on other Asians thing. Lots of girls over here date African Americans. There is even a whole subset of girls for who are so into those men over us poor Americans of Scottish descent. However white or black, at the end of the day, we are both still just a ばか(stupid) Gaijin.



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