A filthy mainlander Asian-American’s quick and dirty review of “Crazy Rich Asians” by Jeff Zhao

(read on Medium)

My mom seldom drinks but she took this opportunity to order a margarita. She is 5 foot nothing and so she was quickly drunk. About 75% of the way through the movie, she exclaimed to nobody in particular, “UGH. This is so boooring!” I loved this because I agreed. And because I felt like this gave me permission to hate on this film.

Michelle Yeoh is clearly the star of the show. I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” for the first time yesterday and I’m comfortable calling her the Asian Meryl Streep. People that skillful can make lesser talents shrink, but Constance Wu did quite well. Henry Golding was perfectly flat and flawless, just like his character. Nearly every other Asian man was a diverse case study in being shitty — a veritable cabal of douchebags, degenerates, and perverts. Thanks, y’all. Awkwafina played herself and did fine. If Ken Jeong is trying to convince me he’s one-note and annoying, it’s finally working.

Who is this film for? It’s not for me, a Beijing-born Chinese entrepreneur who grew up in America. It’s not for my mom, a self-made first generation immigrant, who went from working at a Chinese buffet to a master’s degree. My 13-year-old brother thought it was alright. Perhaps it’s for Singaporeans? Or mainland Chinese, or Taiwanese/HKers? Maybe — but I suspect it’s really for romance drama lovers of any background, the usual suspects who can’t wait to embrace performative wokeness, and Asian-Americans so desperate to remain proximal to whiteness and privilege that they’ll lap up finger-dipping water like it’s La Croix. A billion Chinese people in the diaspora and perhaps a hundredth of a hundredth of a percentage point live like this. The older female characters mostly behaved believably, but everybody else was a caricature — a simulacra of Asian-ness, lacking any of the subtlety or nuance that makes Asian people — my people — so wonderful. 5,000 years and it still distills down to filial piety, tiger moms, and dumplings.

My mom ran into a friend of hers in the lobby and she disliked the film too. Of course they traded WeChat info in the parking lot so that their sons could mingle (including me… I’m supposed to give career advice next week.) And there was some commentary and critique on the film and how it compares to their lived experiences. My mom and I had more good talk in the car.

For many years people have been telling me what I ought to like and dislike and, when it intersects with racial identity politics, shaming me for preferences on one thing or another. My favorite is when non-Asian people try to tell me how I ought to feel about Asian-American issues. Okay, William Ford. Tell me more about how intersectionality works. If that’s your instinct, you can shame me all you want for not falling in line, but good luck shaming my mom. Tell her she’s a bad Asian-American for disliking this film, and she can tell you about how she used to sew her own shoes growing up.

My family and I watched it to grow the buying clout of the Asian demographic and to have a bonding cultural experience a la “Black Panther”. Alas, this film was far more hollow than the already simplistic Marvel formula. It’s funny that the movie opens how it does, because I feel exactly how Michelle Yeoh does in “1995” — disregarded and humiliated by the gatekeepers until money got me access. Yes, I got through the door, but that scummy feeling that follows me in isn’t just the mud on my boots. Still, they can grab my cash this go-around if this means we get another shot at doing it better next time.

Last thoughts: Jing Lusi's epic "WOT" was great. The mahjong scene was the only emotionally impactful scene in the film: I felt like it was exploited to callback game theory, but it was poignant enough. I though it was a bit odd that of the entire Coldplay catalogue they chose to play a Chinese cover of "Yellow", but apparently there's background for that and the lyrics do not translate literally as the cover contains little to no mention of yellowness. Oh, and this film convinced me to cut my hair, work out and get a tailored suit, and make $100 billion dollars.

I rate this film a 4/10.

An open letter to legal immigrants by Jeff Zhao

(read on Medium)

As a documented immigrant to the United States, I unequivocally stand with DACA recipients.

There is a lot of talk about white bigotry, anti-immigrant racism, and the cruelty of the Trump administration. Many of these points are valid, and I encourage you to continue listening to the voices of those affected by DACA. But now I speak directly to communities of legal immigrants — people just like me.

Don’t let your personal sacrifices taint your worldview with cynicism and bitterness. While you and your parents may have had to make huge sacrifices to become legal permanent residents or citizens in the United States (I know we did) that should color your perspective with more empathy, not less. The wall between legal and undocumented Americans is reams of paper thick, but the enthusiasm with which the Trump administration seeks to deport hundreds of thousands of young people should remind you that were it not for flimsy legal protections they’d send you away with equal zeal.

Don’t project dissatisfactions with your life onto innocent people. Like me, you’ve probably looked longingly out a window (or more likely, into a digital screen) at people living their life with undeserved frivolity while you are (as usual) working hard — paying your dues — making the necessary sacrifices. Why do they get rewarded for taking shortcuts? It’s easy to misapply this frustration onto DACA recipients for “skipping the line”, but just like the myths of undocumented immigrants being drains on the economy or minority students getting free university tuition, it’s simply misguided. Before DACA, undocumented students lived in constant fear of deportation, their family being separated, or opportunities being denied to them simply due to their immigration status. Mental health deteriorated. It became a massive feedback loop of suffering.

Don’t treat DACA recipients as a generic brown-skinned conglomerate. Put a face and a story to DACA. Not every DACA recipient is Mexican. Their parents are often not that different from your own. Having parents who successfully navigated the complex immigration landscape is a tremendous privilege. It may be the greatest contribution your family ever made to your well-being. If you found out tomorrow you were undocumented, what would that mean for you?

It’s time to look in the mirror. It’s no longer enough to be a neutral party or ignore our own prejudices. We have hidden in blackness and faded in whiteness for too long. Stand up for your brothers and sisters.

Seniors in Japan by Jeff Zhao

Most of contemporary society glorifies youth and associates it with beauty, freedom, and happiness. (As they say, "live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.") Most young people think of life as over by the time they hit 60 or so, and accordingly, we have a great deal of anxiety about not being successful enough, not being "far along" enough, and hitting thirty. By then, you're halfway dead!

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munewari zero / 胸割りゼロ by Jeff Zhao

Tomorrow I begin my munewari tattoo with Horitoshi 1st. It is the beginning of a long, painful, and hopefully cathartic process. This labour is an important and necessary part of connecting with my Buddhist faith. I love exploring the city and all it has to offer, but this is the primary reason I am in Tokyo for three months. I was supposed to come here with someone who was precious to me, but that person has gone away from me, so I have found renewed purpose in something else.

I booked my ticket to Tokyo for August 10th. It's the date I finished my Texas 4000 for Cancer ride in 2012. Since the ride ended, I've been searching to reclaim that feeling without success. I've accepted that my Texas 4000 days are behind me but I believe there are still many undiscovered things in the world capable of making me feel.

Getting this tattoo and the Texas 4000 ride are in many ways the same:

  • It is a test of endurance - the ability to overcome pain and fatigue in the mind.
  • It simplifies my life - I wake up, eat, work, get tattooed, eat, work, sleep. That's basically it. Simple. Ascetic. Pure.
  • It can be hidden - I picked the munewari style for many reasons, but largely because it can be exposed or hidden. It's my choice whether I show it or not.

Below are some pictures that are similar to my design, which has a lot of meaningful symbolism. A few friends have encouraged me to take progress pictures and I think that's a good idea.

Arriving in Tokyo by Jeff Zhao

After a tense moment with Japanese immigration, I made it to Tokyo.

My form says I'm visiting Tokyo for tourism. The clerk asked me about work and seemed to think I was an indigent vagrant. I told him I was taking three months vacation (mostly true) and he raised an eyebrow. After some page flipping, he stamped me through, and I vaguely sensed his sadness as he waved on the next in a long line of foreign visitors.

If you're going to stay in Japan this long (three months), make sure you book your return flight and have your confirmation ready to show - they do ask. I am now legally required to leave this country no later than 11.8.