August 19, 2006

The Quite Farang

I read this opinion article this morning in the NY Times.

The article is spot-on correct. This has always been one of the main mysteries of life to me. Why is it that whenever Western (read: European or American white) men associate with Asians, it almost always seems to have something to do with some sort of sexually deviant behavior or expectation? And equally mysterious is this: why do Asian people encourage it? It's no mistake that a very significant part of the Thai GDP comes from accommodating the johns who come looking for Thai prostitutes. After the Gary Glitter incident, local radio host Bob Rivers called Thailand "the most permissive country in the world."

Last year, Sheridan Prasso wrote a book called "The Asian Mystique" that discusses the trend of Western-Asian sex across Asia. A few years back, Karen Kelsky wrote a book called "Women on the Verge" that discusses the trend as specific to Japan. To their credit, they both attribute to the problem of complicity between both white people and Asian people.

Most Asian American writers have always seemed to view Western-Asian relationships as a colonial type of relationships, where Westerners are the aggressors and Asians are the victims. In my opinion, this kind of mentality is self-defeating because it eliminates any kind of responsibility on the part of Asian people. It disempowers us because it says that the fault is entirely that of white people, and that we're just a powerless, emotionless people who suffer from the sins of others.

Such cannot be the case. It isn't too often that one hears of poor black people or poor white people selling their daughters and sons into sexual slavery. You don't often hear of African, Russian, or poor European governments trying to build an industry out of the sex trade. The dignity of such countries is such that they would rather remain poor than debase their women and children by selling them into the sex trade. They would rather remain poor than debase their men by eoncouraging them to become pimps and hustlers.

Communism and censorship and violent history aside, one good thing I can say about the Chinese government is that they have actively pushed for Asian people to be treated with respect. They are trying to create industry where Asian people can distinguish themselves by their human capital, not their sexual capital. Such is not the case of all Chinese people obviously--there are many Chinese people who still try to base our image on sex (some of them are Chinese American writers in this country who write garbage like "M. Butterfly") . But the push towards greater recognition does exist in the Chinese government, and it would be great if it existed in larger measure here in the U.S.

I think we'll all be happy when we can get beyond the old tired images. But to get beyond these images, we need to first change our internal actions. This includes the actions of Asians in Asia, Asians in America, and Western people. When we try to see people as people and treat people as people, the world will become a more equal place.

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