Aping a Beauty

By Ms. Wu    March 13th, 2003

Greetings, dear Reader. Some may wander through the Zen garden and rake sand to find inner tranquility and others may meditate under the weeping willow by the creek full of cavorting fat carp fish. But I wax philosophic on the following photograph:

Who is who? For the discerning popular culturalist, s/he would correctly identify Lisa Ling, ex-co-host of The View on ABC as the one on the left; and Lucy Liu, the infamous actress known for portraying Ling, Dragon Lady extraordinaire, on Ally McBeal as the one on the right.

Perhaps Ms. Wu has sleep in her eyes, but for a great while, I was under the impression that these two women were the same person. They both seem to be popular with American mainstream culture and with mens magazines. A rather curious coincidence indeed that recalls an old Chinese folklore called aping a beauty.

Folklore notes a famous beauty named Xi Shi whose beauty was unrivaled in all of old China. Unluckily for Xi Shi, she also suffered horribly from an ailment of the heart and was often seen clutching her chest and wincing in pain with pinched brows. A neighborhood girl who did not know Xi Shis health condition misconstrued her wincing face and clutching bosoms for gestures worthy of imitating. So she began to walk about the village aping the beauty to ridicule and unfortunate results.

Now, I wonder, who is aping whom?

Til next time,
Ms. Wu

Where are you from?

By Ms. Wu    February 28th, 2003

Fellow Readers, greetings. When someone poses the question Where are you from? how do you answer? I for one always answer Shanghai followed with China for the rare few who are so smitten with my beauty that I must further reinforce a world geography lesson for the dirty and naughty schoolboy in all men.

However I have as of late observed that this question, harmless enough in a multicultural grab bag like this fine city, can create great duress and offense to certain people of the Asian appearance and persuasion. When a NALP (Non-Asian Looking Person) asks where I am from, I presume that the question is in fact an implicit inquiry of my ethnicity. The subtle stress on the words are and you in the question suggest that they are by no means interested in a domestic locale such as Brooklyn, and they certainly would be enormously disappointed should this pair of rose petal lips answer with a ghastly, Ohio. I have never assumed the worst in the NALP for noticing my physical difference (after all how could he not notice?), nor have I assumed that this NALP is discriminating and treating me with political in-correctness. For the life of me, I couldnt conjure another way of inquiring anothers ethnicity. One cant very well say, Your eyes sho look funny. Where are you folk from anyway? Or Whats that language you be speakin theres? Would the incensed Asian Looking Person (pun intended) be less indignant if the NALP had explicitly asked, What country are you from?

One particular encounter I will recount demonstrates the complexity and subtle political play involved in our innocuous question. An Asian looking man and I were having a lovely conversation and sharing typical immigrant stories of growing up as one of the few Asian families living in our town. You gentle, sophisticated Readers may find nothing remarkable or worth noting about this, but I must remind you, in the olden days before feng shui and Pearl River Imports became popular, wearing a Chinese-styled dress to school did not elicit compliments and positive attention. Since I could not tell whether my companion was of the Chinese, Korean, or Japanese descendent, I asked him the question.

Brooklyn, he answered matter-of-factly.
I meant where were you born? I persisted.
Brooklyn, he said again unblinking.
What ethnicity are you? I finally inquired. Correctly this time.
He was Chinese.

Aye, and there is the rub. National versus ethnic identity has created the ideology of being a dash-American. No one else in other countries identify himself as an Chinese-English, Chinese-French, or a Chinese-Kiwi. A Chinese-American, Japanese-American, or the all-encompassing Asian-American exists only in America where it suggests: A) I am not FOB (fresh off the boat), B) Dont ask me questions about feng shui or what my Chinese name is, or C) Watch what you say around me.

Although I do think that having a strong sense of ones national identity is important, I do not think that this sense can be defined through nomenclature nor through employing a language of denial. Belonging, entitlement, and the right-to-be-here are ideologies that can not be shaped by attaching a dash after ones ethnic root. Does anyone really care what comes after dash? I do not.

But it appears to matter a great deal to many. Then again, these are probably the people who think Amy Tan is the best thing to happen to Chinese-Americans.

Til Next Time,
Ms. Wu

The Mysteries of the Oriental Eye

By Ms. Wu    October 31st, 2002

Greetings, World. I must apologize again for my tardiness in showering you with my words. I know I send shivers down your spine and ripples of wanton desire through your rippled loins. Yes, that is the way of the Wu.

The way of Moi has been terribly occupied in consulting for a major international cosmetics company. These poor souls with big, round eyes who want to tap into the Asian market have not a clue on the mysteries of the Oriental Eye.

The single eyelid.

Accursed to some and quite lovely to others such as Moi, the epicanthic fold has always been a point of contention and debate among Asian women. Defined in the dictionary as “a vertical fold of skin from the upper eyelid that covers the inner corner of the eye,” this piece of skin is more popularly known in Asian communities as the “single eyelid” as opposed to the “double eyelid” common in Caucasian features.

Blepharoplasty, a surgical procedure in which “single eyelid” women can have their eyes “fixed” to have a “double eyelid” look, is common in Asian countries along with other forms of tormenting rituals such as eyebrow and eyeliner tattooing. Many of my Shanghai flowers back in the days pinched and saved their earnings just to have the surgery. It would make my eyes look more beautiful, they’d say. My eyes will look bigger. I will look more like Hollywood movie star. And if one could not afford blepharoplasty, one can simply purchase little crescent-moon shaped “eye tapes” from the cosmetic store. This creates a temporary crease on one’s eyes but it is also known to cause blistering. Alternatively, one can emulate the ways of Connie Chung and apply an impressive amount of blue eyeshadow on one’s eyelids and hope ones eyes look doubly big.

Many a times I have lost my patience during conversations with Asian women who contemplate having their eyes fixed. On one level, I empathize with them. Applying eye makeup is much easier on double eyelids. Curling one’s eyelashes also creates a more dramatic flare on double eyelids. But on another level, the fake double eyelid makes one appear either terribly sad or extremely sleepy. And frankly, it’s simply unnecessary. I like to use Adobe Photoshop, the founder of imageering, as an example. The Oriental Eye is becoming quite fashionable and so intriguing that Adobe has changed their trademark non-Asian eye to a progressively more Asian-looking eye.

My single eyelids have never been a burden. They match my dark, shapely eyebrows. They match my jaunty cheekbones. They match my voluptuous nectar-filled lips. And many a man have fallen prey under their intense hooded lure (some ancient spells made from deer penis helps as well). All in all, Ms. Wu asks you, why tamper with perfection? Lastly, I leave you with these words. The mysteries of the Oriental Eye lies beneath its almondine shadows, and its beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Until next time I bid you zai-jian,
Ms. Wu

The Exotic Durian Fruit

By Ms. Wu    July 23rd, 2002

Greetings, fellow readers.

I have long heard of the durian fruit. Omnipresent in all Asian supermarkets and in street vendor carts in Chinatown, it’s spiky surface and rough brown skin stand out quite jarringly next to the succulent sweet shape of peaches, lychees, and mangos. Not to be mistaken with the “Ugly Fruit” that one sometimes sees in supermarkets, the durian fruit’s reputation proceeds its taste. So fetid it is that in some countries it is banned from public places and transportation vehicles.

Often likened to the stench of sewers or an oven gas-leak, the taste of the durian fruit has also been likened to the taste of a woman’s “lotus flower.” I have met a quite few men who have confessed their initial shock from the head-reeling foul-smell of a ripe durian exposed wide open in front of them. But almost all the men developed a monomaniacal craze for that “special durian taste.” I just can’t get enough of it, one said to me in confidence. It’s just like WOMAN, the other said with emphasis. And as these men described the taste of the durian to me, a mist would glaze over their eyes so full of lust and wanton as if the mere thought of the durian itself is titillation enough.

I myself have never tasted a durian, but I have used it as a way of measuring a man’s worthiness of my lotus blossom. One can tell many a thing from how a gentleman caller consumes the fruit. Some gently nibble and lick like a tender pup who is not worthy of a second glace. Others may prod a bit with their mouths without passion. And there are those who truly devour the durian like a wily adventurer parched from his long travels in the unforgiving Mongolian desert. Those are the ones to keep around.

Til next time learn about the durian,
Ms. Wu

How My Weekend Changed My Opinion of Ten Ren Teahouse

By Ms. Wu    July 16th, 2002

Today, I brood.

As a loyal patron of Ten Ren* Teahouse in Chinatown for four years, last weekend I had purchased my usual 1 pound of tea for Old Master Chang. Old Master Chang was my mentor during the three years of my political exile. I was hiding in the mountains and earning food and boarding by sweeping floors and doing other menial work in the Taoist temples of a small village. I limited my contact with people and the outside world to a minimum. Deadly afraid I was of being discovered by the Red Guards. I was young, willful and desperate to belong to a political ideology. Old Master Chang understood the demons hunting my soul and taught me how to harness them. The time I spent with this sage is an epic in itself, but for now, I return to the malicious way Ten Ren treated La Me Me.

As soon as I arrived home, I realized that I had accidentally purchased Jasmine Tea instead of Dragon Well Tea. Old Master Chang would have been pleased regardless of which tea I sent him, but because it was important to me that he has the tea he likes, I went back to Ten Ren the following day to ask for an exchange.

An exchange, mind you. Not a refund. Not an upgrade to a more expensive tea. Just a simple exchange. The same saleswoman was there so I approached her.

“I bought the wrong tea yesterday,” I said to her in Mandarin. “I would like to exchange it for the right one. But if your store policy doesn’t allow exchanges, I understand and will get a new one.”

She took the bag of tea, placed it on the scale, and shook her head. “No. We wouldn’t have sold you this bag of tea. Look here,” she pointed to the digital read-out on the scale. “It says 0.9 pounds. We would never sell tea at this amount. We always sell by the pound.”

Surprised, I was. The thought of double-checking whether the salesperson was selling me short has never crossed my mind. When I buy my favorite cheese at Dean & Deluca, I don’t double-check the scale to ensure the weight of my purchase. These are things I take for granted in a culture based on consumerism. These are things one should be able to take for granted especially in a specialty store. Aghast at the sudden realization of who knows how often Ten Ren might have been short-selling me, I looked at the digital display. Indeed it read 0.9 pounds.

I can’t exchange this because look here,” she went on. “It’s all loose on top here. I would have packed the bag tight. And this tape here, anyone could do this.” She lifted the strip of yellow sealer tape with “Ten Ren” printed on it. Another saleswoman, an older one, came over to the counter now. After she inspected the bag of tea, she chimed in. “Ah, no, no. We wouldn’t sell like this. Not at 0.9 pounds. This is not us.”

I didn’t know whether I was feeling more shocked or disgusted at their suspicious behavior. Why would I steal 0.1 pound of tea? What would I do with it? Obviously the golden mantra of all good business “The Customer is Always Right” didn’t apply. Fortunately since I haven’t had my Sunday brunch yet, I was quite sober and was able to control my temper and composure.

“You are the one who sold it to me,” I said. “I come here all the time. Why would I want to cheat you of 0.1 pound of common tea?”

Thus ensued five to ten minutes of verbal volleying. Them saying they didn’t sell the bag to me, and me telling them they did. And all this time, my Kiwi Man quietly watched with hands crossed at his chest. I was on the verge of leaving the damn bag on the counter and go to a Japanese tea store where at least they have mastered the etiquette of business-making when they finally gave in. The older saleswoman was mumbling banal expressions of polite-talk that I listened to with a half-interested ear. Then she gestured to Kiwi Man and said to me, “Make sure you explain to him. Make sure he doesn’t have any misunderstanding.” What about my misunderstanding of the way they treat their customers? And what of the possibility that Ten Ren may be short-selling many of their unwary customers? Did my impression and understanding not count? They seemed more worried that Kiwi Man’s impression of them might be tainted rather than losing a long-time customer like myself.

As I left Ten Ren, I felt a sense of sadness mingled with pity. Part of me was embarrassed that it was true. The illness. The illness that plagues many Chinese companies who wish to break into the American market and business world. Old Master Chang told me of it when I decided to leave Shanghai for America. He had called it: Kissing the white man’s butt but kicking your own.

The present political climate as it is between China and Taiwan and China’s desire to be reckoned as a world power militarily and economically, this type of attitude is not beneficial to anyone. If there is any chance of world peace, global business and trading is the arena in which the idea of “peace” can be first practiced. To alienate certain customers and to acquiesce to others is a stupid way of doing business and a sorry way of treating people especially if one wishes to be recognized internationally. Businesses who want to break out of the glass ceiling should seriously reconsider who they are pulling a Subservient Coolie on. If there is anyone they should gain favor from other than Uncle Sam are hybrid persons who embody elements of both cultures, who can critique the good and bad of both, and who can sucessfully assist them in building a bridge between the East and West.

But alas. This tea house at least has permanently burned its bridge to any kind of heavenly benevelonce with me.
Until next time,
Ms. Wu
*Ten Ren translates to “heavenly benevolence.”

Teany Cafe: How It Changed My Opinion of Moby

By Ms. Wu    July 11th, 2002

Moby is so annoying. Even Eminem thinks so. That was what I used to say before I started going to his newly opened tea cafe in the Lower East Side. Teany, the place is named. But in my mind I have started to think of it as “Moby’s” with an unabashed feeling of warmness and comfort that familiarity breeds. “Meet me at Moby’s,” I would say. Or, “Let’s discuss the work order more thoroughly tomorrow at Moby’s.” I have grown to love the white sangria, the 96 types of tea, and the delicate and novel tea sandwiches, and like the man himself, Teany is little and humble.

I say this begrudgingly. To further complicate matters, Teany is my music soul mate. This happens rarely as my taste in music is quite dated. Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive. Imagine my surprise when Cocteau Twin’s “Frou-frou foxes in midsummer fires” came on followed by a Dinosaur Jr. cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and preceded the previous day by an entire Morrissey album. Could I be more enchanted? As I sipped my lychee iced tea and playing footsies with my Kiwi Wild Jungle Man who was having a dainty old time with his cucumber – tea sandwiches, that is – I was awash with a sudden sense of sadness. Perhaps I have been unfair and judgmental and pulled an Inquirer. So what if he wears stupid star-shaped sunglasses and has an annoying video with Gwen Stefani? And so what if he writes essays on topics such as “fundamentalism,” “vegan,” and “intolerance” on his web site? And the little Moby sketches on Teany’s tiled floor I suppose could be seen as charming and cute in their crudity. The point is, this cafe makes a damn good cup of tea and makes some lean, mean vegan sandwiches that taste good, which I never thought possible. Preach the good word, Moby. Show the world that vegetarianism can taste good. I certainly know that my vegetarian tastes better. (wink, wink).

Then the other day I spotted the white Moby himself sauntering down past Cafe Habana as I was sipping a lime margarita. Despite the fact that Moby appears everywhere on magazines, billboard posters on Lafayette Street, and in random sentences from people’s conversations (“Oh my god, so like Moby is going to be at this party.”), this was the first time I sighted the man himself. He was wearing a red polo shirt, jeans, and black-rimmed glasses. If it werent for the crucifix tattoo on the base of his neck, I would have passed him as a dime-a-dozen film major from college. Why does he, of all celebrities, rouse such vehement opinions in everyone?

Moby crosses lines as a musician and as a celebrity. As a musician, he has licensed his songs to movies and commercials, and by doing that he had committed the crime-de-la-crime in the eyes of the alternative music community. I remember ’93-’94 when he played at small venues in Dallas, Texas, and at the end of the set, he climbed to the top of the stereo and raise his arms upward (like a God) to a maddening crowd hopping excitedly to their new techno god. And to many old-timers, this was the Moby we remember. This is the Moby we want because we want our childhood and memories to remain still. We are selfish products of a consumer society obsessed with analysis. Moby maybe the icon of mainstream and “sold-out-ness” to some, but he resists the tide of mainstream by supporting local economy and travels by foot around town. Moby’s music has grown and matured despite the fact that Eminem doesn’t think anyone listens to techno anymore (besides its ‘electronica’). He has remained as alternative as he can for a musician who has achieved a successful career. And as a celebrity, he makes me feel like I can go up to him and tell him how much I appreciate the cafe, and besides, there is someone else more loathsome and annoying: Vincent Gallo.

Til next long time from now,
Ms. Wu

Splendor in the Grass II

By Ms. Wu    February 18th, 2002

Hello and welcome to me again.

I apologize for my long absence. With Fashion Week winding down, Chinese New Year, and myself relocating to a new neighborhood, I was busier than I ever was when I was Lotus Blossom and had thirty young girls to manage at the Flower Boat. Although I was quite fond of my previous residence in the golden tower, the stench of equine manure surrounding the space outside my building reminded me too much of the dirty alleys of old Shanghai. Fashion Week came and went with a flurry of show and party passes. Tis was amusing. Chinese New Year found me dining with the Chinatown triad. Silly bunch of old men they were and terrible karaoke singers as well. I bid my leave early on in the night with a toss of my raven hair and a sprinkle of silver laughter. I made my exeunt and flourished my way to my rendezvous with my new conquest.
A young thing he is. So much to learn. And so eager to learn. He fancies himself the pamperer of Ms. Wu with his little gestures and tokens of affection. A massage here and there. Presents under the pillow. A pearl necklace. A wake-up prodHullo! I am getting rather carried away there. Too poor to afford Cartier or Tiffanys, this coltish young man made a ring of wood that he had chiseled and shaped with a knife and presented it to me on Valentines Day. Although a bittribal for Ms. Wus taste, I was quite taken with his initiative and ingenuity. A particular ingenuity that reminded me of a certain Kiwi from my olden days that now brings me back to my tale of lust, betrayal, and unrequited love.
Yes the one who got away. Our separation was untimely and unfortunate. I pushed him. He pulled me. I pushed him again. He pulled me back again. Oh, the drama went out longer than the dreadful running of Cats until finally I succumbed in his hairy, whitey arms for one more night. Fresh from pricking, I pricked him back with my special needle of sleeping potion. As I have said last time, I snipped a lock of his hair for remembrance. But what I had neglected to retell, Patient Reader, was that as he sundered off to a troubled sleep amidst murmuring words of eternal love and a green card, I rummaged through his travel luggage and found a carved jade vessel that appeared to be of the Qianlong period. It was carefully wrapped in thick leather. A strange item for a foreigner to have in his luggage, I thought to myself. The superior workmanship of the intricate design and the vibrant green colour of the jade could only mean that the object at hand was a work of Imperial commission. Of extreme beauty it was, but so were many other things from old China that have been denounced by the revolutionaries. To be associated with anything connected with the four olds of society” * could condemn one to torture, jail, and porridge. I was terribly excited, and I could not discern whether my over stimulated state was due to my discovery, or because lying in front of me, asleep in his naked glory (with a full staff under the sheets I might add), was a…spy.
Until next time, Excited Reader, I bid you zai-jian,
Ms. Wu

* old ideas, cultures, manners, and customs