Monday, April 30, 2012

My Coming Out and the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade

people holding up a large waving rainbow banner

One day while exploring Taipei, Taiwan last October I approached a street intersection and noticed a curious amount of people, traffic, and a lot of color. I quickly discovered I had stumbled upon the 2011 Taiwan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade--the largest such parade in Asia. For the next couple of hours I followed the parade and watched some of the rally that followed.

Seeing people freely and openly march for a social cause in a land rich with Chinese culture felt surreal. Nothing like this was possible in mainland China where I had been living for over five years. The parade also brought to mind several friends who had repressed their sexuality but felt comfortable during their college years to "come out".

And thinking about that day now, I am reminded of a particular challenge I faced as a youth regarding my own sexuality. It in no way compares in magnitude to the challenges faced by many LGBT youth around the world. But it highlights a sometimes overlooked benefit to decreasing LGBT discrimination.

My challenge was coming out as straight.

During my high school days I occasionally heard stories about people announcing to their sometimes surprised family and friends that they were homosexual. Sometimes they had previously insisted even to themselves that they were heterosexual. Sometimes they had even gone so far to have married someone of the opposite sex. Being the type to deeply ponder a variety of topics, I wondered if I could become gay or already be gay and not yet realize it. I saw no indications I was gay, but how could I be sure I was not deluding myself as others had? I even wondered if my asking the question was itself a sign that I was truly gay. A skeptical and probing mind that would later serve me well in my research work proved to confound itself on this issue about which I knew very little.

It was not solely a logical exercise. Although I never saw homosexuality as something bad or requiring changing, I viewed it something best not to be--it seemed to come with many disadvantages. For example, why would I want to be something that a number of other people derided? Or why would I want to be automatically disallowed from a normal rite of passage and expression of love for many: marriage? So it deeply mattered to me. And it caused me no small amount of stress over an extended period of time. I was worried someday I would discover I was gay.

One day after years of pondering the issue off and on, I had a revelation. It was something I could have asked myself earlier, but I had not previously understood sexuality well enough to realize it might be so simple. I asked myself if I had ever felt a sexual reaction to a female. Undoubtedly I had. In fact, often I felt my hormones had a mind of their own and was maddened by the degree to which they could distract me.

And it clicked... I had no control over it. It was just there doing its own thing like the beating of my heart.

So, I asked myself if looking at or thinking about a male had ever made me feel aroused. The answer was again simple: no. I had never experienced anything even close. Ever skeptical, I wondered if I could be repressing some feelings. But I quickly dismissed that idea. Completely burying such feelings or denying their existence seemed inconceivable-they were just too strong.

Was my reasoning flawless? It did not matter. With those simple questions the issue was resolved for me. And so to myself, I confidently came out as straight. Admittedly, I did not go public. I knew it was not necessary and would only raise unwanted questions by others. I also knew that it would completely bewilder my longterm girlfriend.

Looking back, I have no problem that I questioned my sexuality. With a mind that even managed to question its own existence (happily resolved) it was probably inevitable. But I do question why it had to be so stressful and an issue of such concern. I wish I had lived in a world where I had received more guidance about how to explore such issues. Part of me also wishes that I could have been strong enough to feel more at ease with my personal exploration. But this was not at all easy. Even today, for many youth who realize they are LGBT there are no immediate and complete solutions to the challenges they face in their environment, and they can only take comfort in hearing "it gets better". But most importantly, I wish I had lived in a world where I had known that being an equal member of society could be assumed regardless of what I discovered. In this world I would have had no need to worry. This is precisely the goal of many around the world who work to decrease LGBT discrimination. Their goal should be the goal of straight people as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transexuals.

So as I witnessed tens of thousands of people marching:

paraders at the Taiwan LGBT Pride Parade

paraders carrying signs

Tens of thousands of people attending a rally:

large crowd sitting on the ground with a colorful stage in the distance

more of the crowd at the rally

Individuals publicly expressing themselves however they chose:

young women hold signs that say free hug and LGBT

young man holding a sign and dressed up in a maid's outfit

two young men with rainbow flags

two young women holding hands with Chinese writing on their backs
The young woman on the right has “我是夏娃” written on her back.
It translates to "I am Eve".
The other has "我爱夏娃" which translates to "I love Eve".

same two young women who are dressed with minimal covering and vines

paraders and watchers

man dressed up in colorful women's clothing and wearing a large wig

two young women with rainbow stripes painted on their left cheeks

Companies and religious organizations displaying their support:

Person in an Android Robot suit and others wearing shits with two Android Robots holding hands and a rainbow flag

group standing behind the sign Promise Giver Christian Action Network

And police ensuring that it could all occur safely and peacefully:

police cars and motorbikes providing traffic control and security

I felt so much hope and excitement for the people of Taiwan -- LGBT & S.

To capture more of what I saw that day, I have created a short five minute video of the parade. It shows just a small portion, but I have tried to make it reasonably representative. I believe it can serve as an especially important look at an LGBT Pride parade for those who have never had the opportunity to see one. As noted in the Taipei Times:
Part of the parade marched through neighborhoods around National Taiwan Normal University, where many conservative families live, hoping that the residents would acquire a better understanding of LGBT communities through more contact, organizers said.
I am not so naive to expect this post or single video to change anyone overnight. But I believe they can play a small part in opening people's minds. In that spirit, they can be an opportunity for the parade to march through even more neighborhoods.

See the creatively dressed people. See the companies showing their support. See the dancing. See the rainbow-colored dog. Much else is captured. And many of the paraders had no special clothes, no signs, and otherwise would blend into any crowd. Those portions of the video may seem boring but that ordinariness says so much.

People expressing their desire for themselves and others to love who they choose. People trying to bring positive change, both in minds of everyday people and in the policies of their government. People seeking the day when everyone will be treated as equals regardless of their sexual orientation.

See the people who came out:

 (HD version of the video is available by clicking the gear symbol. Or you can find it here.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Anvils are from Acme

In "Mortal Coils: The Risks of China's Collapsing Sidewalks" I quoted Anthony Tao who wrote on Beijing Cream:
Now we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe. What next, falling anvils? How next will death conspire to end our mortal coils by the most indecorous devices?
I suggested two possible interpretations, both of which I found problematic. I also took the opportunity to quote Shakespeare.

But as I walked to a late night dinner after publishing the post, I began to wonder if something was amiss. Today, "The Tao", who by all appearances is indeed Anthony Tao, left this comment on the post:
I think there's a third interpretation you may have missed: that I was trying to turn a quip out of two surreal, tragicomic yet all too real events. If I wanted to paint with broad strokes, I probably wouldn't have referenced Acme anvils.
First, I appreciate the confirmation that the anvils were indeed of the Acme variety.

Second, yes, this appears to be an entirely possible interpretation.

I could use this moment to launch a discussion on the fascinating issue of sarcasm. As someone who has written a sarcastic post now and then myself, I appreciate the various challenges involved--both as a writer and as a reader. I suppose there could be an interesting debate (or experiment!) on whether the sentence "Now we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe" is clearly sarcastic in the context of the individual post (the sarcasm regarding anvils was always clear to me). Whatever the case, if I had read Tao's other posts on Beijing Cream, many (all?) of which appear to include a healthy dose of sarcasm, I would have likely interpreted it differently.

Anyways, it is wonderful to know that Tao has not fallen into the trap of reading too much into individual incidents. And I wish him the best of luck on his series tracking the location of Chen Guangcheng.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mortal Coils: The Risks of China's Collapsing Sidewalks

Previously I shared a video of girl in Xi'an, Shaanxi province who fell into a hole created by a collapsed sidewalk. I explained why I thought this and other individual incidents were useful in considering why people do or do not help accident victims in China. However, I did not make any broad claims based solely on these incidents.

Anthony Tao on Beijing Cream also referenced the sidewalk accident in Xi'an. After mentioning a more tragic case of a sidewalk collapsing in Beijing, Tao expressed his interpretation of the events:
Now we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe. What next, falling anvils? How next will death conspire to end our mortal coils by the most indecorous devices?
If Tao had claimed "sidewalks can be unsafe" I would not argue, although I would question its value. Just about anything can be unsafe. However, Tao makes a stronger claim of which I see two possible interpretations.

One, Tao may be claiming that two people experiencing a collapsed sidewalk out of more than 1.3 billion indicates a great risk. If those are the odds of being a victim of such an accident I will take them. They are far better than what I accept when riding in cars or engaging in a variety of other activities that are no less important than walking on sidewalks.

Two, Tao may be claiming there is a more widespread problem. Of course, this could be true, and it may be worthwhile for people to explore the issue. But at the moment, where is the evidence to say "we have confirmation that sidewalks are unsafe"? On their own these two experiences are woefully little evidence to make such a claim.

In a country the size of China a variety of eye-catching incidents are sure to occur--something to keep in mind when reading "amazing" stories from this region. Such stories can sometimes be relevant to larger scale issues and serve as meaningful examples. But like informally collected online comments, care needs to be taken in applying them to broader issues.

So, I am far from convinced that the label "unsafe" is deserved for sidewalks in China--at least in this regard. At the moment I am not particularly worried people will one day ponder how I could "have shuffled off this mortal coil" due to a collapsed sidewalk. Falling anvils are another story for me, though. Someday I will share an experience I had in Hong Kong with a heavy object which fell from above me. Indeed, it could have been a most indecorous manner to cease "to be".

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Hole in Xi'an: Understanding People's Willingness to Help Accident Victims in China

In "People Not Helping Accident Victims in China" I considered the tragedy of a little girl in Foshan, Guandong province who was hit by a truck and then ignored by numerous people. This single incident was particularly notable not just because of its graphic nature as seen on a video. There were reasons to believe it was indicative of significant issues specific to mainland China, although people differed on the nature of those issues.

The lack of response by many passersby to the injured girl in Foshan brought to my mind a far less dramatic incident I had seen in Taipei: people quickly assisting a woman whose leg was stuck in a hole created by a collapsed sidewalk. I mentioned it in the post because it provided a contrast and occurred in a culture outside of mainland China. But I would not (and did not) claim that the cultures in Foshan and Taipei could fully (or at all) explain the different reactions of passersby in these two specific incidents. Other factors could have been at play--for example, the type of accidents and the immediate environments in which they occurred.

It could be that neither of these incidents are truly representative. For example, I am not aware of any formal psychology studies or analyses of a large number of accidents which strongly indicate people in mainland China are less likely to help accident victims. As I mentioned in the earlier post, there are incidents of people ignoring accident victims in places other than mainland China, including the U.S. But as also mentioned in the above linked posts, there are reasons to believe that mainland China does significantly differ in how people react to accidents.

In light of this complicated issue, I think it is valuable to consider a recent incident that happens to be more similar to what I saw in Taipei. In Xi'an, Shaanxi province a portion of another sidewalk collapsed. But this time the resulting hole was larger and swallowed an entire teenage girl who fortunately survived relatively unharmed. The dramatic moment was caught on video:

In contrast to the incident in Foshan, but similar to the incident in Taipei, people quickly provided help.

So what does this mean?

There are two things I feel confident to say.

One, it highlights that the conditions under which people are likely or not likely to help accident victims appear to be varied and complex. Numerous possible explanations exist just for the different behaviors seen in the Foshan and Xi'an incidents. For example, there is a large amount of diversity between different regions in China, and the willingness of people in Foshan to help accident victims may differ from Xi'an. Or people may be less worried about being blamed for someone falling into a newly created hole than for other types of accidents. Or witnessing the accident may increase the chance of people involving themselves. Other explanations are also possible and they all lead to further questions. Although at the moment there is no clear answer to which explanation(s) is correct, there is plenty of reason to believe a variety of factors need to be considered in order to explain why a person did or did not help an accident victim.

Two, the example in Xi'an further highlights that even if mainland Chinese are more likely to not help an accident victim, it would not be appropriate to assume the actions of any individual. The Foshan incident itself also includes a person who eventually saw and provided help to the little girl. If it were a fact that 70% of Americans and 40% of mainland Chinese would help an accident victim, the difference may be indicative of a negative condition in China. But it would be ridiculous to say to an individual, "I know you probably won't help an accident victim since you are from mainland China," when over 500 million would indeed help. In reality, these percentages are unknown. But the available evidence does not suggest that the blanket statement "mainland Chinese do not help accident victims" is justified.*

The incidents in Foshan, Taipei, and Xi'an are all striking in their own ways. They are single examples but together with others they suggest possible avenues of exploration to better understand the willingness of people to help accident victims. They also suggest that applying such an understanding appropriately requires thoughtful consideration.

*As a point of comparison, I do believe it is reasonable to say "mainland Chinese use chopsticks" or "mainland Chinese do not want to blow up the world". The likely proportions of people covered by the claims seem high enough (even though they may not be 100%) to make the statements reasonable for most typical purposes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Will Hu Jintao Slow Jam the News Like Barack Obama?

Previously, I shared photos of U.S. President Barack Obama's appearance in marketing for BlackBerry in Chengdu, Sichuan province. I commented on a difference it suggested between Obama and the current leader of China--Hu Jintao. For example, I doubted that a company would desire to use Hu Jintao (with his permission or not) for a U.S. media campaign in a similar manner.

The "soft power" I mentioned typically refers international affairs but "the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce" can apply to domestic affairs as well. I believe this ability can be found in the video below of Obama trying to influence his country's citizens about a publicly debated government policy. Yet again, I doubt we will be seeing Hu following in the footsteps of the "Barackness Monster".

H/T to Kaiser Kuo.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Scenes of China: Yinchuan, Ningxia

A few days ago I asked whether readers could identify my current location based on a several photos. Reader Marc came the closest with the answer of Xi'an in Northwest China's Shaanxi province. Approximately a 10 hour drive to the north and slightly to the west is where you would find me right now in Yinchuan (银川)--the capital of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (autonomous regions are a provincial level division in China). As Ningxia's name suggests, it is a region with a significant population of China's Muslim Hui people. For more about the broadly-defined Hui see the light post I wrote last year about my experiences with the Muslim culture in Zhaotong, Yunnan province.

If you drove from my earlier location in Guangdong province you could expect to spend over 30 hours on the road and would find a place that exhibits some important differences in its culture, economy, and environment. Later (probably after a few more posts regarding Southeast China and other topics), I will post more about Yinchuan to help capture some of what makes it different and not so different from other regions of China. For now, I will share a few selected photos all taken in the central Xingqing district. The photos are not intended to be fully representative of the area, but they all in their own way (except for the intriguing electric vehicle) capture some of the everyday life that can be found in Yinchuan.

numerous motorized tricycle carts in Yinchuan, China
Rows of motorized tricycle carts lined up on the sidewalk outside a popular shopping center

four boys playing a game on the ground in Yinchuan, China
Boys playing a game

street sign with Chinese, English, and Arabic in Yinchuan, China
Some, but not all, signs include Chinese, English, and Arabic versions of street names

man preparing a soup in Yinchuan, China
Where one can get a soup with lamb meat and various lamb innards at a pedestrian street market

nanmen square in Yinchuan, China
Nanmen Square

two young men sitting at a table with several beer bottles in Yinchuan, China
Two young men who invited me to join them for some local Xixia beer at Nanmen Square

two very differently designed three-wheeled motorized vehicles in Yinchuan, China
Two very different three-wheeled vehicles (this is the only time in Yinchuan I have seen the one of the left)

Young women dressed in various outfits standing in front of a a large heart in Yinchuan, China
A promotion for marriage photos at a large shopping center

two people with physical disabilities on a pedestrian street in Yinchuan, China
A number of people gave money to this pair while the man sang.

four young people wearing a variety of fashions sitting on a couch in Yinchuan, China
Workers at a hair salon

on the back of a woman's shirt it says organizations in pea skyline friendly
Not uncommon to see shirts with non-standard English phrases

five chefs preparing dumplings in a restaurant in Yinchuan, China
Time to make the lamb dumplings

Monday, April 23, 2012

Young Workers at a Restaurant in Zhuhai, China

two girls talking to each other at lunch in Zhuhai, China

I met the two girls taking a lunch break above because they worked at an inexpensive local restaurant I frequented in Zhuhai. Almost any day from before lunch until after 8pm I could count on seeing them there taking orders, serving food, cleaning up, and more.

The girl in the striped shirt left the restaurant after I had been in Zhuhai for a couple of weeks. I later discovered her working at a nearby hair salon. I had several light conversations with the other girl and found out that she was about 15 years old. If that sounds young for someone to be working full time keep in mind that she had been working there for two years.

In my explorations across China I have met other girls who are also working full time at a young age. Sometimes it is the costs of high school (yes, it is not entirely free even in "Communist" China). Sometimes it is a family's need for additional income. And sometimes this additional income is primarily to support the education of a younger brother who may one day be a bread winner and source of pride for the parents. Whatever the case, they are sacrificing their education and the opportunities it could possibly bring.

Although many people may consider their situation unfair, it is not uncommon to hear them speak about their lives in very pragmatic terms. Though, typically more revealing thoughts and emotions can be found if one carefully digs deeper. But if you ask the girl on the right what she wants most now she will answer without hesitation.

Money. And what she realistically hopes for is probably far less than someone in a country such as the U.S. would guess.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cycles in Zhuhai, China

As is clear from some previous posts, I enjoy taking advantage of the wide range of transportation forms available in China--from horse carts to high-speed trains. For a light Sunday post here are some of the various cycles I saw in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. It provides a hint of the important role cycles play in Zhuhai and elsewhere in China.

Of course, people could be found with bicycles:

two young men stranding next to a bicycle in Zhuhai, China
Most people's bikes are not so sporty.

Three women pushing bicycles on a sidewalk in Zhuhai, China.
The padded seat above the wheel allows a more comfortable ride for an extra passenger.

Although some have more compact versions:

man on a small bike in Zhuhai, China
At least he has a helmet.

Others prefer motorized bikes:

The sitting arrangement of the two riders is common in China.

And some motorcycles serve as taxis:

two people riding a motorcycle in Zhuhai, China
Although I have often used them elsewhere in China, I did not take a motorcycle taxi in Zhuhai.

Nonetheless, some people are happy to ride their motor bike alone:

man riding a motorbike on a bridge in Zhuhai, China
The photo does not communicate the speed at which he zoomed by on the bridge's sidewalk.

But riding with another person can mean an extra pedaller:

two young women on a twin tandem bicycle in Zhuhai, China
Did you know that the rear rider of a tandem bicycle is the "stoker"?

And a triple-tandem bicycle means two extra pedallers:

three people riding a triple tandem bicycle and an artistic display of bicycle riders nearby in Zhuhai, China
The riders see some nearby inspiration.

However, sometimes two wheels are not enough. For example, tricycle carts are popular for mobile vendors:

tricycle carts in China with a items such as sugar cane and jackfruit
An excellent way for to bring goods such as sugarcane or jackfruit.

They are also common for deliverers:

man in Zhuhai, China pushing a tricycle cart with a mattress on top
Definitely not fruit

Tricycles can also be useful as cycle rickshaws (also know as bike taxis):

two young woman sitting on the back seat of a cycle rickshaw powered by a young man in China
Not useful if in a rush

Finally, I even saw a quadracycle in Zhuhai:

Looks like the kid gets a work-free ride.

The tandem bicycles and the quadracycle above could be rented in various locations along the "boardwalk" in Zhuhai--typically just for fun. Except for the quadracycle, I have seen all of these elsewhere in China. And based on a single experience in Beijing, I will say that being the lead rider for a triple-tandem bicycle is a bit trickier that I would have imagined. It is definitely easier to be the stoker.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not in the Pearl River Delta Anymore

While staying in this city:

city view of Yinchuan, Ningxia

I have...

frequently passed this drum tower after leaving my hotel:

drum tower in Yinchuan, Ningxia

picked up some tasty chicken from a street vendor:

woman standing behind a pot of lamb and a pot of chicken in Yinchuan, Ningxia

walked along a scenic dirt road:

dirt road at Shuidonggou in Ningxia

and had a brief conversation with a friendly server at a large public square:

Muslim woman holding a tray of vegetable dishes in Yinchuan, Ningxia

Several clues here so... can any readers figure out where I am in China (city & province)? It is definitely not very close to my recent locations of Hong Kong, Macau, and Zhuhai. I have a few more things to share about those places before revealing the answer so there is some time to mull it over.

UPDATE: You can find the answer (and more photos) here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Android Robot Singing for the iPhone

I have one more tech-related photo to share from Nanping, Zhuhai--the place I found due to a trip on a randomly chosen bus. I share it as a striking example of "creative" trademark usage in China. It certainly is not the only case, but this particular example seems to be a fitting tribute to both the Android store I saw nearby and the "fake" Apple stores I saw elsewhere in Zhuhai.

advertisement for the iPhone 4S including the Android Robot in Zhuhai, China

Yes, in the above photo an Android Robot appears to be singing its praises in a promotion for the iPhone 4S. Although Google's branding guidelines for the Android Robot stipulate that it, "Can be used, reproduced, and modified freely in marketing communications," I suspect Google presumed that any marketing would be for Android-based products and not iPhones. Even if the promotion has technically met this part of the guidelines, it does not appear to have met Google's criteria for providing proper attribution. However, I see some open space below the Android Robots perfect for this purpose. They could easily add it with a good marker and then all would be fine, right?

So, should Google and Apple be more concerned about promotions like the above or about "fake" stores? What do you think?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Looking Back at Zhuhai from Macau

Two earlier posts (here and here) included scenes in Zhuhai with Macau in the background--a special administrative region that mainland Chinese can only visit with a special permit. As a reminder, here is a photo from a popular "boardwalk" in Zhuhai with a view of Macau across the water:

people in Zhuhai with Macau in background

Like many other times I visited here, there were numerous Chinese walking with family or friends, riding bikes, or having their photographs taken. In fact, the two umbrellas in the photo are for vendors who photograph customers for a price and then use a computer to quickly produce photos. Although there are other popular waterside walkways in Zhuhai where Macau cannot be seen, it appeared that visitors to this location were particularly drawn to the view of Macau.

I had often wondered how the area of Macau seen in the background would compare to this vibrant area in Zhuhai which was excellent for both enjoying the view and people watching. I answered my question during my most recent visit to Macau. Here is the view of Zhuhai from there on an overcast day:

view of Zhuhai from Macau

The location where I took first photo in this post is near the tallest buildings. Although it was interesting to see Zhuhai from a new vantage point across the border, what most caught my eye was a bit closer:

waterfront in Macau with 2 people sitting on a bench and an empty walkway

There were very few people on the Macau side and no vendors of any type. The difference does not seem to be solely explainable by the weather since on the opposite side in Zhuhai I typically saw more people even on days with similar weather.

So what is the explanation for the difference? Is it because Macau offers a more interesting or photogenic skyline? Is it because the Zhuhai walkway itself is more appealing? Is it because the cities have different visitor numbers and demographics? Is it because the cities differ in what else they offer for ways to spend free time? Is it because Macanese can more easily visit Zhuhai than mainland Chinese can visit Macau? It is because Macau has a status in the eyes of mainland Chinese that Zhuhai does not have in the eyes of Macanese? Some of these explanations could be interconnected. Others are possible as well.

Whatever the reason, the difference in the number of people at the opposite waterfronts can be seen as symbolic of deeper differences. Compared to mainland Chinese, Macanese can travel to a far larger number of other countries without needing a visa. Macanese enjoy greater freedoms of expression and use an open Internet not censored by mainland China's Great Firewall. Macanese on average earn more money. Regardless that many mainland Chinese may not necessarily want to live in Macau, they may desire some of what Macau has to offer in a way that does not hold true for Macanese regarding mainland China.

It would be fascinating to know what people in Zhuhai are thinking when they gaze at Macau. It would also be fascinating to know what they would think upon learning that so few in Macau are gazing back.