Tuesday, August 31, 2010

the fashion crisis

The other day I was shopping at the Forever 21 superstore in my hometown mall in Albany and looking at these horribly tacky gauzy puffed-sleeve fashion abortions in bright lame with absolutely zero practical application to the daytime world, and it dawned on me that I could just say "fuck those guys" and wear WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT ALL THE TIME. I even walked out of the store with a shamelessly too short, bright blue ruffly dress that only fits me on skinny days. I didn't bring it to Japan because there are giant cockroaches and venomous centipedes and mold monsters, and also because there is pretty much no occasion to wear such a dress here since there is no '80s night. But why should I need an occasion? I could dress like Björk at an awards ceremony EVERY DAY.

It occasionally drives me nuts that I always gravitate toward sensible and plain clothes. I see pictures of incredibly cool outfits by the baker's dozen every day of the week and I have the money and easy access to fantastic and affordable shopping, so what gives? It's like my entire life is spent waiting for the opportune moment to "improve" or "change" in a given way, and when that moment shows its face I just shove it back to the back of the waiting list. This is why nothing gets done and why I don't look as cool as this chick does when I leave my house on a Friday night.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

They Killed Romance For All Of Us?

In Chuck Klostermann's satire/humor piece "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs," he lambastes John Cusack as singlehandedly destroying and rendering futile the efforts of all men in the United States to behave in a romantic fashion toward women. Squeezing into her seat at the multiplex, caramel popcorn and a 32 oz. Diet Coke in hand, the average American woman who wears a size 14 watches Sarah Jessica Parker find the truest love in Manhattan. Teenage couples finding themselves alone in parked cars in dark shadows switch on the radio in desperate searches for an "our song" that will define their magical moment - romance cannot happen in silence; it must have a soundtrack. Depending on who you ask, the sound of romance might be the Philadelphia Orchestra on a summer night as heard from lawn seats. It could be a German language dance song at an '80s night. Perhaps it's the most cliché of love songs, "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White Ts as heard on Top 40 radio in a car somewhere. There is a carefully weighted order in which things must be done; falling in love is like building chemical compounds out of toothpicks and balls of clay.

The only thing that's for sure is that domestic violence victims aside, all women are completely jaded by mass and indie media when it comes to defining romance. The classical dateable guy in the '50s that everyone desired was a charming guy to bring home to your parents who opened the car door for you and paid for your dinner, blah blah blah. Chicks swooned over Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable and John Wayne. This idyllic and possibly nonexistent "perfect man" archetype oozed over and under the free love of the '60s and '70s into the hedonistic and complex '80s, where we saw a shift from "respectable" to "hunky and damaged" with Harrison Ford protagonists, coked-up yet sexy party villains, and affairs galore. The '80s, undeniably the turning point of modernity in Western society, gave us a ball of clay to mold to how we see fit through the '90s and into the millennial years starting with 20~. The formulaic romantic comedy (I dislike "rom-com" for obvious reasons) perfected its chemical compound-like structure.


Nowadays, everyone enters a first date expecting witty and gender-appropriate banter just like in the movies and TV. Carrie from "Sex and the City" and her courtship with Mr. Big are a star example of the bloated expectations and ideals today's woman searches vainly for. Song lyrics have moved increasingly from direct feelings to descriptions of situations that could be construed as romantic. Roy Orbison sang frankly about crying over you. New Order turned up the heat with open-to-interpretation allusions of a bizarre love triangle. Lady GaGa - well, she likes that fucked up shit and probably enjoys being spanked with hot irons. Social networking profiles offer universes of insight on what we want. Like me, I'm willing to bet at least 33% of the girls on your friends list have included this quote somewhere in their profiles:

“Find a guy who calls you beautiful instead of hot, who calls you back when you hang up on him, who will lie under the stars and listen to your heartbeat, or will stay awake just to watch you sleep... wait for the boy who kisses your forehead, who wants to show you off to the world when you are in sweats, who holds your hand in front of his friends, who thinks you're just as pretty without makeup on. One who is constantly reminding you of how much he cares and how lucky his is to have you.... The one who turns to his friends and says, 'that's her.'”

(Barf.)

Now, think long and hard about the most romantic scenarios you've experienced - those moments where you felt so adored that you almost peed. Ten bucks says the thought "it's like a movie!" popped up in your head. Which brings me to my final question: did romance inspire media, or did media invent romance?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Price You Pay

I'm doing things and seeing places and meeting people and learning stuff, which means while I am doing, seeing, meeting and learning, I am also missing everything and everyone that is elsewhere.

How many close friends' weddings is it worth missing to continue my stagnant lazy adventurer lifestyle here? Then again, how many of those friends actually noticed whether I was there or not? My parents are getting old and it's starting to show - I should be there for them since they won't be around forever, but all they do is sit on the couch reading library books. Stuck at work during my 36 hours of free time each week, I can't shake the nagging assumption that at this given moment I could be anywhere on earth doing something else. Maybe tripping on a mountain with hippies and pagans at the Beltane festivities in Heidelberg, fighting my way through restaurant menus in China, or going for a cherished morning exercise walk with my white-haired mother through our quaint suburban neighborhood.

No matter what you find yourself doing, you'll always be faced with the painful dilemma of missing out on one of the other areas of your life. Everyone has experienced the minor yet really annoying annoyance of missing something fun because you couldn't get the time off work. It's shitty because you need to make money but you really, really wish you could have made it even just to say hi. You just know someone there said "oh, [your name] had to work" and everyone else said "oh too bad" and that was it. They didn't miss you as much as you missed them, yet of course you built up the event in your mind until you were convinced it was PARTY OF THE YEAR WOULDN'T MISS FOR THE WORLD fantastic. It's not really rational but it still sucks, yeah?

I suppose that's how I feel about being in Japan in general. I have to do my job and put in time and to be frank I certainly have a much more "exciting" life from an outsider's perspective than the average Jack or Jill in my hometown. But sometimes I do yearn to be in two or more places at once, living both my main lives plus living all the fragmented sub-lives I've built through meeting people and making connections in my travels. I often wonder what the people I know and care about are doing right now, and feel irrationally jealous of them for having quick access to futile crap like Nordsee or Dunkin Donuts. And I hope they do too.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Orientalism in Italo and Euro Disco



Jessica - "Chinese Magic"

Aneka - "Japanese Boy"

Peter Randell - "Lost in Tokyo"

Murray Head - "One Night in Bangkok"

Fuck your life. Leave it behind and head to the exotic Orient, where neon lights and golden opportunities await your every need with a ninety degree bow and petite feet. The sprawling Asian megalopolis is "Blade Runner" gone utopic, so unexplored and so utterly foreign that it will eat you alive and you will never be the same. Enjoy complete and absolute anonymity in the Far East; fall in love with a beautiful creature that you can bring home later; even the strongest and mightiest of men fall prey to the wicked and unexpected charms hidden in dark alleyways, go-go bars and tea salons.

As much as we like to pretend we are creatures of enlightenment because we read Edward Said in Asian Studies 101, I think we as Westerners in Asia all carry a little bit of this Orientalist fantasy with us when we hop on that long flight. Asia is still uncharted territory as far as young Western interests are concerned - how many people do you know that can name more than five cities in China? As far as North Americans are concerned, many more opt to head to Western Europe or the tropical islands to the south for leisure travel. Those who make the trek over to Asia often (sometimes un)consciously carry little beacons of pride with them on their travels, peering down their noses at those pawns who think Paris is a big culture shock jump because the French speak French. Yeah brah, Europe is cool and all, but Asia is for the adventurous.

It applies to me, too, even though I have much more in common physically with the feline, almond-eyed geisha-ladyboy-me-love-you-long-time sex object than the awkward-looking visible foreigners stumbling around Tokyo with maps and backpacks. No one looks at me twice over here, and they have no idea that I am listening to "Chinese Magic" on repeat under my blanket while China Airlines Flight 0011 lands bumpily at TPE. As mentioned in this wankfest entry from a few months ago, it didn't take long for Tokyo to lose its magical mystery. I think I know deep down that the sprawling capital cities of Asia are just like anywhere else, with possibly more hepatitis and deformed beggar children, and that's why I'm afraid to visit and keep running away to Europe instead of exploring the countries and cultures in close proximity to Japan. I actually want Asia to be the exoticised fantasy land of Italo and Euro disco from 25 years ago, and not simply part of a globalized world that has been raped and pillaged by American popular culture.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When love fades...

I don't think I like airports any more.

I used to be convinced that working in an airport would be some kind of dream come true. Just imagine being around travelers eight hours a day! In those eight hours I could meet people headed for Stockholm, Riyadh, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Tel Aviv...mmm, all the celebrities and rich people and beautiful twentysomethings I'd see on a daily basis would be so worth it. In the past, whenever I traveled I would excitedly run around the terminals and check out all the international departures. Ooh this plane is going to Tokyo, I wanna go! Oh man look at the Lufthansa check-in queue, everyone's over six feet tall! Airports represented freedom from routine, fresh starts, reunions, and the possibility of boundless romance between strangers. An airport was in some way a safe haven of ultimate anonymity, a free zone where you could reinvent yourself and be whoever you wanted. The entire travel experience was defined by the magic of the airport and the thrill and excitement of being on the move.

Now I'm sitting at JFK (a least favorite airport) surrounded by hundreds of exhausted people from all over Asia who like me are sick of travel before they've even made the first boarding announcement. Miho is recovering from a stomach ulcer and is sleeping next to me and there are crying babies and children running around and everyone around me is speaking some language that sounds like variations of cats dying or mating. I personally feel a bit bloated and dehydrated and minorly carsick from the stressful stop and go traffic between Albany and NYC. My makeup looks terrible as a result of crying while saying goodbye to my parents at the Greyhound station and my eyes are swollen. While getting in line for the TSA security check, the guy checking boarding passes yelled "NIHAO NIHAO" at me despite the fact that my UNITED STATES OF AMERICA passport says KOREA on the inside.

This isn't magical at all. This is like the stage in a relationship when you start thinking about other people during sex and impatiently ask "are you done yet?" Something good needs to happen.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Homesick?

I'm at home right now but I feel more homesick than I ever have. I'm homesick because I miss how things were, and of course I know I have to get on a plane in a week and fly back to my other life. I'm a completely transient, temporary fixture here and my friends are grown and no longer need me since I'm never around. It's a fool's hope to think life would screech to a halt and wait for me while I run around frantically "figuring myself out" or whatever it is I've been doing in Japan, and not surprisingly I'm finding that the gap between me and the people I consider bosom friends is widening with age. In the past two years I've been away, countless friends have gotten engaged, married, moved in together, started families, divorced, whatever. The economy has been in a rather hellish state of woe and the faces of the government have changed and my countrymen seem to have gotten fatter, sloppier and stupider than ever before. So it's not without considerable and significant changes in the environs that I'm finding myself just a bit stupefied and feeling like a fish out of water being back, but it is still weirding me out to feel like a stranger or alien in my own hometown.

Incoherent and a bit rabid, those are my thoughts. It's of course my own decision to have extended my stay in Japan for three years' total and to have been a shoddy correspondent via email and Facebook and whatever. Maybe that's just how I plan on going about creating a fresh start or a new life. Hurts like a breakup to see everyone changing and getting married off but it's that time in our lives and of course I'm a bad friend if I resent people for making a choice I will not personally make myself.