Tuesday, 27 October 2009

"G" words and "N" Words

Remember in the last post I mentioned the “blacking up” scandal with Vogue? Well I have decided to dust off my notes and talk about it. Premise of the story is quite simply; Dutch model wears black make-up in October’s Vogue Magazine - a lot of people get angry.

A quite similar but at the same time all together different story is that of
the contestants on an Australian TV s
how, Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
Premise being; Jackson 5 tribute act appear on stage with all members apart from Michael Jackson wearing black face makeup and afro wigs – a guest judge (an American) throws a hissy-fit, a lot of people get angry.

I was talking about this with a couple of Australian friends about a week ago. We talked about the fact that there is often a (jovial) stereotype of Australians having a tendency of being a little bit more racist than other nationalities; not in an offensive manner, but similar to the way the British moan about the French.
They mentioned how there just isn’t the same turbulent history in Australia when it comes to race if compared to places like Europe and especially the U.S. They boasted that, with innocent light-heartedness, they could happily bring up someone’s race as a point of humour without anyone being offended. They used words like, “gollywog” as a point of reference.

When I heard gollywog said aloud, I genuinely recoiled back into my chair out of shock. For anyone outside the Commonwealth and is confused as to why this word made me react like this, here is a short explanation courtesy of Wikipedia. Basically, I would never even think out using that word, and would always associate it with the offensive manner with which it was used for such a long time. Thinking about it, I could probably count the number of times I have heard it said aloud on one hand.
The same goes for the “N” word. A word I am apparently so uncomfortable with I can’t bring myself to type it.

All that said, and even considering the strength with which I believe that using terminology like this should be avoided at all costs, part of me greatly envies my Australian friends. Why am I scared of a couple of words? Why can I not just accept difference of race as a fact and be comfortable talking and even making jokes about it? Neither I nor even my parents are directly connected to the history that has tainted those words. The fact I have a problem with them almost seems to insinuate that I myself could still not be over the fact that, yes, some of us are paler than others.
Is Australian society just that much further down the road of recovery than the rest of the word when it comes to getting over that gaping hole in history where your place in the world was determined by the amount of melanin in your skin?

Would the Vogue incident have been as controversial if it were a black model being portrayed as white? I don’t think so. But then the modelling industry has a long history of discrimination of black models, and there was never a “whiting up” equivalent of minstrel shows.

But how long will we, as a global society, let history force us to tip toe around the colour of people’s skin?

If reading this blog made you feel a little bit uncomfortable, then ask yourself why. I have felt prodigiously awkward writing it, and I am finding it very hard to pinpoint the reason.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Finding Something Shiny

Anyone who is subscribed to this blog will know the sporadic manner with which I update. That said, I do feel I have to apologise. I have had wistful thoughts of being the next Charlie Brooker or Caitlin Moran; my judgemental fingers quivering upon the pulse of the British nation, my opinion that more objective for being in China. Covering stories like the “blacking up” scandal seen in Vogue a week or so ago, the new wave of young sailors taking to the high seas to traverse the world and my generation’s apparent addiction to the Interwebz have genuinely been considered as blog topics.

This happens so often; I have the whole piece virtually written in my head. Then, alas, I find something shiny, like Nick and Norah’s Infinate Playlist streamed on some site, and all hope of writing anything is subsequently lost.

It is a frightfully sad thought, but if I were to be paid for this then I would probably be more motivated. I would sit down in the trendy café, in a manner very similar to my current one, and type away about the wonders of democracy, the struggles of the third world and how much we all hate Jan Moir.

I have, however, yet to receive the traffic or demonstrate the reliability of someone worthy of being paid for something like this. Woe. Is. Me.

I have been thinking about the future a lot. I know! How very un-Buddhist of me; I should be living in the moment and all that, like Jonny Wilkinson, but it’s been fun sort-of-not-really planning my future.

The more I think about it the less I can see myself moving to China and working here after I graduate. From people I have talked to this seems to be the only real option for graduates of Chinese and, quite frankly, I don’t like it.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I think the fact I am so away from YouTube and the “community” when I am here has a big thing to do with it. I feel like I was doing so much with rhymingwithoranges when I was back home: the charity work, Summer in the City, working on lots of different projects, and all of a sudden they have all been put on hold.

I feel like I could still have something of a YouTube franchise here. There are some fantastic video shows here; Sexy Beijing, Danwei, that I feel I could find a niche somewhere. I have been thinking that, when my Chinese gets better, I could start doing interviews with some interesting people here. I already have a couple in mind.

But then, I don’t know, I feel like it would be miniscule in terms of what I could do back home.

Maybe I’m not looking at the big picture enough. Am I really going to be on YouTube for the rest of my life? Am I going to be able to make a living from it? ‘Cuz, let’s be honest, I’m no viral sensation.

Also, if I choose to focus on YouTube I will, inevitably, end up falling into some kind of media. I have always kind of been wary of choosing journalism as my profession. No offence to any journalists who happen to read this blog, but I have always thought that that job tends to be full of talkers, not doers. I want to be a doer, can I be one if I choose this direction? I mean, it’s all very well promoting debate etc etc, but most of the time I feel like I’m preaching to the converted. I don’t want to be a preacher either.

I also have to consider what I am going to do after summer 2011, when I graduate and am set loose into the real world. Should I do a Master’s? If I do, what should I do? Where should I go? It’s a scary proposition.

At this point in the blog I think I would usually be expected to wrap up with some kind of conclusion and evaluate what I have learnt through this train-of-thought journey. But honestly, I‘ve got nothing.

Ooh! V V Brown’s album on Spotify! Shiny.

Monday, 12 October 2009


I have just been pining to write today, so I skipped the second half of my morning lessons today to come back home, strip down to my boxers (it is still quite warm) and type you something.

Last night I, despite having had no more than six hours sleep in the past three days, went out with some of my new multi-cultural pals. Inevitably, as we are all language students, we got onto the topic of language learning and more specifically our accents. I continue to cause a stir with my reserved English tones, constantly contrasted with those of our American friends. A large majority of those on the table, including a Frenchman, one girl from Sweden and one from the Philippines, all said they wished they spoke English with a ‘British’ accent.

I chose to not be my usual, pernickety self and avoided asking which ‘British’ accent they wanted. I would usually run off the absurd number of different forms of annunciation packed into a country not that much bigger than the state of New York; Scouse, Jordi, Cockney, Brum, RP 等等. To be honest it has simply become a way for me to show off a bit, “Look how many accents I can do!” Foreigners don’t need to know my Liverpudlian is in fact probably closer to Irish, and my attempt at Scottish sounds suspiciously similar to French.

I especially turned to the French guy, asked him, “Why?” English sounds wonderful in the thick French accent that tumbles out of his mouth, and after all, why would you want to disguise where you are from? Are you not proud of being French?

I realise in retrospect this was a some-what lame and ridiculous argument. I was clearly just playing devil’s advocate for the sake of it – I blame my tired self. I have a tendency of just go looking for confrontation when I haven’t had my beauty sleep.

Now I think of when I speak my languages. The only one that I speak well enough, in which I can be considered to have anything other than an English accent, is my Spanish: laced with Catalan inflections from years of working there every summer. I am clearly not trying to fit in; ever tried to pass as a Spaniard when you have pale skin, blue eyes and wear nothing but Topman? It rarely works. But the way I speak tells a story; it carries the residue of everyone I have ever spoken to and has evolved because of the very human desire to fit in.

My own English accent has always kind of bothered me, purely because of its schizophrenic nature. Over here I speak a fairly standard form of English, not quite RP but not quite Cockney. It is the accent American will try (oh so hard!) to imitate. I basically have a very androgynous accent when I go abroad, I sound like I am another generic Londoner. This annoys me greatly; I am an Essex Boy and proud.

When I am back home, however, the way I speak wobbles all over the place. My parents are from other sides of the country; my Father from Essex, in the east and my Mother from Bristol, in the west-country. My tongue can never decide which it wants to be; Bristolian or Estuary English. It has always made me question how genuine the way I speak is and have never been sure if I have been subconsciously forcing it (paradox?). I remember times at YouTube gatherings when my accent has been all over the place, because of the mix of people there and their ways of speaking just screw with my brain.

But I guess the way I speak will always change, whether I am at home or abroad. I will flit between the London accent, impossible to place, the country-bumpkin Bristolian or the Essex Boy who greets everyone with, “’Ello sweetheart!” or, “y’aright mate.” Part of me wishes my brain would just make up its mind! But I guess as long as people here continue to tell me my accent is ‘cool’, I suppose I can’t complain.


Thursday, 8 October 2009

Full of Melodrama

Well, it’s been a long time.

China decided to crush even the smallest hint of internet freedom over the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Communist rule, meaning my apparent internet presence has been reduced to zero. Unfortunately normality was not restored after the celebrations as I had hoped, so alas; my life continues with a gaping wound where Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and BlogSpot used to reside. I have not, however, been as absent as I may seem. I am able to read all comments on both rhymingwithoranges and JazzainChina videos and get any Facebook messages emailed directly to me. So I have been aware of goings on, just unable to join in. It’s almost as if I’m a kid off school because he is sick, able to see the kids playing in the playground from my window but cut off from the outside world…

Now that’s melodrama if I’ve ever seen it. (In retrospect this melodrama continues…)

If I am one hundred per cent honest I am still having a rocky experience in China-land. Over the holiday I got pretty close to a nervous breakdown, was seriously considering dropping out and coming back to England, maybe taking up Japanese Studies instead.

Money has been one of the main burdens. I believe this transition would have been made much easier if my debit card were never stolen. The bank have insisted in sorting everything out through the post, I can’t tell them what to do with my money through email which, to be honest, is probably 100 times easier than China post anyway. I have been lucky in that so many of my friends have offered to lend me money – I am incredibly blessed.

Another issue has been the Chinese language itself. Needless to say, it is a challenging language. I feel like I am on a plateau at the moment and that that plateau isn’t very high up the mountain range at all. It is rare for me to get into any conversation more complicated than, “Where are you from?” “How long have you been studying Chinese?” “Do you like Chinese food?” I appreciate this is a stage one reaches when learning any language, I just haven’t experienced it for a long time. I suppose I got too comfortable being the guy who was good at languages. I suppose it’s good to be out of that comfort zone. Oh, and by the way, I moved back down to the B group of classes, but a higher one than the one before. I am much more content there, it’s for the best.

Finally, and probably most importantly, I have found myself becoming more and more disillusioned with China. I have been questioning why I chose this language, this culture, this people. When we did our cruise down the Yangtze I saw a China I was less than impressed with. Wonderful monasteries and temples turned into garish tourist attractions and ways to make a quick buck. There was one temple that even had a ghost train built into it – not a word of a lie. But the Chinese people seem to lap this up. They will readily buy the tat, take a picture of themselves making a peace sign next to the painting or relic, then move swiftly on as the tour guide tells them through the megaphone about the statue that was erected in 1994. This has probably got a lot to do with the people who we were touring with, I realise that there are swathes of people who love and appreciate their country’s culture; but I begin to fear that they are few and far between.

China is what I am going to make it. If I find myself struggling with the language, I need to find myself a language partner or do volunteer some shifts in the hostel a friend of mine runs. If I am having issues with money I can swallow my pride, take up my friends’ offers, borrow money and pay them back when I can. If I feel disillusioned about the Chinese people, the Chinese culture, then I go out and find the parts of China that I fell in love with in the first place. To be honest I have forgotten why I chose this subject in particular in the first place. I can have fun rediscovering the reason. I am lucky enough to know enough Chinese people that can help me with this – my flatmates for one.

I am a tough cookie, it’s a family trait. I am more than capable of getting through this, making the experience my own and growing because of it. I have various methods of keeping me sane. One is BBCiPlayer. Radio four is my saviour; the home of Women’s hour (don’t judge), The News Quiz, Just a Minute, From Our Own Correspondent and Chain Reaction to name but a few (speaking of which, someone should turn the concept of Chain Reaction into a YouTube channel). Along with various Guardian podcasts they make me feel like my damp country is just outside my room.

Spot has also dragged me up by my garters. Boxing, and soon swimming (oh how I have missed it) are like meditation for me. There is also a triathlon that I am planning on taking part in later this month; I really should start training for that. For me sport is the best way to relax, and maybe even pick up some new vocabulary… however useless in day to day life. 拳套!

I have some awesome friends as well, both here and scattered across the globe who have been quite simply delightful. If you have sent me the smallest message on Facebook, send a pointless email or even said, “Hi” to me on Skype to just be swiftly ignored (I rarely log out so get a lot of missed messages), then thank you.

This post has quite frankly been more for me than you, but kudos if you read all 1000ish words up to this point. Blogging is a wonderful form of therapy and I promise you my experiences here have by no means been as grim as I seem to make out. If you want to see happy, check out http://www.youtube.com/JazzainChina - for some reason I can only ever write when I am angsty.

As ever, thank you for reading. I am now going to listen to desert Island discs with Ellen MacArthur.