Monday, May 6, 2019

Asian Fetish? Phooey! (or is it "Fui?")

Sometime in my early-to-mid twenties, while I was stationed in Frankfurt with the army between tours in Washington, DC, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to get an advanced degree in linguistics some day. It didn't seem like the most practical of things to study, but I took to heart the advice of a retired literature professor who'd taught some of the evening classes on Fort Myer that enabled me to start and finish my bachelor's degree while on active duty. He told us one day toward the end of a course not to worry too much about being practical, that studying what one is passionate about is the best way to prepare for a career.

Well-me-now, in the Age of Trump, I wonder just how practical it is nowadays to worry not too much about being practical. All the same, I finished up the coursework for a master's in linguistics in my hometown of San Diego after getting out of the service. The thesis would take a bit of time to finish, but I did it eventually. I was pushing 30, full of interesting life experiences but basically broke, so the important thing at the time of coursework completion was to find a way to make some money.

My coursework was itself broken up by a stint in Peru, where I studied at a university there and got a taste of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), the first cousin to English as a second language (ESL). The difference is that the latter is used to refer to teaching in the U.S., while the former refers to teaching abroad (or, at least, in a place where English is not used as the primary language).

I'd always had a soft spot for Latin America, but it was hardly the place to make money teaching English. I had a girlfriend in Peru whom I'd met in Washington during my last year in the army, and spent the year there deciding that she took me much more seriously than I took her. I was very fond of her, but didn't think the long-term prospects were good. Then, as now, I really think that intercultural romance is an overall bad idea beyond the, um... exotic aspect of it.

After a bit of research into the matter during the spring of 1984, talking to exchange students and to people who'd taught abroad in those pre-internet days, I eventually found my way into a choice between Saudi Arabia and Japan as potential moneymaker destinations that would serve the added purpose of giving me even more interesting stories to tell. I chose Japan, and ended up staying there off-and-on for over ten years in two different and distinct jobs and locations.

The first was "the fun job," in the northern city of Sapporo. I was there about two and a half years. Then I came home, finished off my master's thesis, and spent a few months in Mexico helping to start the UdeG-affiliated PROULEX program in Guadalajara. Early in 1988, I followed up on an interview I'd had the year before and got hired at an ESL/EFL convention for what would turn into an eight year stay, working mainly for Panasonic's training center in Osaka. The company was known then as Matsushita Electric Industrial Company.

During this time, I studied with limited intensity the Japanese language, and made progress year by year in both the spoken and written languages. Though never completely proficient, there was a time when I felt more comfortable speaking Japanese than Spanish, and I was able to take care of everyday business without translations or other help.

I left Japan in March 1996, feeling I'd satisfied my curiosity about the Mysterious East and, more importantly, that I'd saved enough money to never again have to seek full-time employment in the notoriously unstable field of ESL/EFL. Throughout the years there, my love life was hit-and-miss, mostly miss because I simply wasn't that interested in pursuing Japanese girls. I'd tend to have better luck when I'd come home each spring to attend that annual convention. After a few years in Asia, Western women came to seem somewhat "exotic" to me.

I'm not talking about the scowling water buffalo types who might as well wear a large chip on their shoulder at all times, the ones who cackled like Popeye's Sea Hag when that Bobbit woman cut her husband's dick off. I mean the ones who take care of themselves and thrive professionally, who can be logical--and assertive when necessary--yet gentle in their private moments. My "type" had long been Latinas, but living in Asia was giving me an appreciation for my own kind, though during army service I'd come to appreciate a nice down-to-earth black lady's company as well. Asians were on the list, but by no means at the top of it. In my more mean-spirited moments, I found their often fake cheerfulness tiresome, their deliberate blandness boring, and their appearance somewhat cricket-like.

By sheer law of averages and the age I was then, I had something of a girlfriend in Sapporo, but she was really a Japanese version of the one in Peru. I was fond of her, but had no desire to spend the rest of my life with her and, in fact, usually couldn't wait for her to leave after I'd cooked her breakfast in the morning after she'd stayed over. In Osaka, I managed to go the entire eight years without a girlfriend to speak of. A number of colleagues there had married Japanese women, and in one case I knew a female with a Japanese husband. Some of them were well-adjusted; living in Japan was like living anywhere, and Japan was where they'd ended up. Many others were miserable, often divorced with kids in limbo. I never devoted a minute to the thought of getting myself into such a situation.

Since leaving Japan, I've had no desire to return, though once in awhile I'll have a dream about being there since it comprised such a large chunk of my lifetime. I was reasonably curious about things while I was there. I went to all of the major summer festivals over the years. I ate a lot of good food, and drank a lot of sake. I enjoyed participating in teachers' conferences all over the country. I got along OK with my neighbors, and left them some of the souvenirs I'd collected in other parts of the world when it was time to pack up and leave. Once re-settled in San Diego, I became active with the Japan Society and the San Diego/Yokohama Sister City Society. There's a girl or two in Japan that I have pleasant memories of, even the one in Sapporo who so often overstayed her welcome.

What I don't have is any sort of "Asian Fetish." It's one of those terms that come up if you do some casual reading about Asia and the topic turns to romance and dating. It took much reading of these articles--usually written by self-righteously indignant Asian American females--to really gain awareness of what often turned me off about Japanese women while I was living there.

The self-esteem of women everywhere, I guess, is very much tied up in how they look, and whether or not men go to great lengths to look at them. Granting the differences between various Asian cultures--meaning East Asian of the type that used to be referred to as "Oriental"--as well as the great differences between a native-born Asian female and one American-born and/or raised, they nearly all have one salient group quality that stands out like a sore thumb: They are so full of themselves! Try doing a google search of men who don't find Asian women particularly attractive. What you get is a potpourri of indignant Asian women griping about how obsessed white men are with them. I mean, no matter how you word the search, you can't find a word about men who aren't obsessed at all with hitting on the nearest Asian female.

Though not a big-time user of dating sites, I'm reminded of the Japanese female attitude toward these things on the once-in-awhile occasion that an Asian female views my profile and contacts me. It's as if these women presume that all they have to do is wink their eye or send a casual "Hey there..." to have me panting after them like a thirsty dog. I made the mistake of dating one some years ago, a Vietnamese-American hairdresser who spent several hours talking about nothing but how hot she was, how living in America had made her more curvaceous and sassy than the average Asian girl. I was polite as always, but couldn't wait to get her back to her place so that I could drop her off and be rid of her!

It brings back unpleasant memories of nightlife in Osaka, where most of the time I simply wanted to relax with a few beers in a different sort of place, only to constantly have complete strangers drunkenly try to introduce me--in English, and always in English--to some simpering Ja-pa-neeez woman that I had no particular interest in dealing with. Once in awhile, the woman herself would approach me in an overly familiar way, apparently presuming that I would be captivated to be breathing the same air as she. I seldom to never was.

Asian ladies, you can whine online all you want about the horrors of being objectified by white men. I'm pretty old now, have been all around the world, and have been objectified aplenty myself. We're not all obsessed with you, and everything isn't all about you. I can hear a little of myself in some of your whining, but realize now that, sometimes after I'd had my fill of pretentious Asian girls or drunken salarymen's B.S., I could lapse into hypersensitivity. Every once in awhile, I probably saw things that weren't even there. The difference between you and me is that I don't have an entire cult following to keep reinforcing an inflated sense of myself.

You complain that this is a white male-dominated country, and you're right. Wouldn't it follow, then, that people might be curious as to what in the world you're doing thousands and thousands of miles away from the place of your ethnic origins? I know a thing or two about the construction of the southwest railways, the borax mines in Death Valley, the mass immigration of agricultural workers from Kyushuu in the late 19th century, the Vietnam War refugees. I know a bit about the different language families of East Asia. I see you as individuals, and being the polite and sociable person I tend to be, I might try to ask you a half-way intelligent question about your background. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm all that interested in you, and certainly, it doesn't mean it when you cop that Everybody-Wants-Me-Cuz-I'm-an-Asian-Hottie attitude.

In Sapporo, my buddies for hangin' out tended to be a fluid group
of housewives who studied at the language school where I taught.
Some were in my class; others were former students. They were
older, and I enjoyed flirting with them harmlessly. 

One of my best friends in Japan was actually happily married.
He owned a house in Sapporo, where I often stayed while on
vacation from Osaka.

The Hanagasa Festival in Yamagata, Northern Japan. No, I had
no romantic interest in the girls... but bought a festival costume
for my friend's little daughter when I visited later in Sapporo.

At Panasonic's training center. There were always more men
than women taking English classes, just as there were more
working in the company. I tended to like Japanese women
better when I knew them a bit from working with them.

At a teachers' conference in Matsuyama. I joked at the time
that the photo demonstrates a white man exploiting human
labor while presumptuously helping himself to the women. 

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