Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chinese Scholars and the Dream of a Second Child

In 2011, I met Dr. Yuan in Boston. He was a visiting scholar from Shanghai, China and worked at the Boston General Hospital’s clinic. His wife was in her sixth month of pregnancy; at that time, they already had a 9-year-old son.

Doctor Yuan said he was pretty lucky: during their second month in the U.S., his wife became pregnant. Their baby would be an American, born during their length of stay in the States; they wouldn’t have expected this– a second child– if they were in China.

In comparison, Zhiqi Cai, who was teaching in South China University of Technology, was fired recently for allegedly breaching the one-child policy. Cai and his wife’s first child, now a 6-year-old girl, was born when he was a Post-Doctorate candidate at Ohio State University, in 2007. As the child was an American citizen, Cai assumed it would be legitimate to have a second child in China– their first in the country– since his family hadn’t “met” China’s one-child quota.

Cai’s second child was born in Tianjin, in northern China. Later, a whistle-blower exposed the family, and Cai received a notice from his place of employment (the South China University of Technology) that he was in violation of the one-child policy and would be fired according to Guangdong’s family planning regulations. Mainland Chinese scholars aren’t supposed to have a child during their one-year study period in the United States; or, to Cai’s situation, despite whatever other citizenship his first child held, he wasn’t “allowed” another Chinese-citizenship child.

Cai is starting a lawsuit against the University’s Office of Family Planning. To illustrate the difficulty faced by Chinese academics, Tingbing Cao, the head of the Department of Chemistry at Renmin University, who’d conducted research at Harvard University from 2002 to 2005, jumped to his death from the ninth floor of a campus building in March after being threatened with dismissal for having a second child. His colleague, Jianxin Li, a Beijing University professor, attributed his death to extreme pressures brought on by his colleagues’ accusations on Weibo of having another child.

Under such circumstances, if Dr. Yuan wanted to back to China, he’d be fired for violating the three-decades long family planning policy, even though the easing of the policy is just around the corner.

Dr. Yuan is lucky: he’d already found a job in Boston, and he said he would quit teaching in China.

For many scholars with short study periods in the U.S. or abroad, it’s tempting (and risky) to flout the one-child policy. After overseas studies, these academics tend to enjoy higher reputation and better employment prospects. Adding to that a freer social environment, a more convenient passport, better social welfare systems, and modern education– many of them choose to take the risk. Sometimes, this means possibly losing almost everything back in China and starting from scratch.

Dr. Yuan told me, “I’m not doing anything good for myself here; I’m doing something good for my kids.” His nine-year-old son was standing by his mom. He showed her his first award: ranking number one in the class, in English.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Plastic Surgery in South Korea: The Same Face Epidemic

Sitting on the floor of my uncle’s house in Seoul, I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as a young woman came out on the television screen. She had undergone extensive plastic surgery on the South Korean show, 렛미인 (Let 美人), a reality program where regular people (usually women) receive free plastic surgery by agreeing to have their lives featured on TV.

I was watching the climax of the show, the big reveal where the participant came out and shocked viewers with her dramatic makeover. This girl had almost every plastic surgery procedure possible done on herself: a nose job, double-eyelid surgery, a forehead implant, jaw reduction surgery, etc. When her family members came out to see her, they couldn’t recognize her at all.

“Her mother and brother can’t even tell who she is anymore. Why would she change herself so much?” I exclaimed, in Korean.

“Isn’t it worth it, being beautiful?” replied my uncle.

At this, I had no response because as a woman, of course I could sympathize with the girl I saw on the screen, crying tears of joy over her new appearance. I myself put on makeup and try to dress nicely every day because I also want to be seen as beautiful and care about others’ perceptions of me. But looking at this young woman’s before and after pictures, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and even a little sad because while her former appearance was not like that of a model or a celebrity, she was not ugly or deformed like how others seemed to make her out to be.

I found myself unable to smile and clap for her like the audience members in the show were doing. She had undergone intense cosmetic surgery and major facial reconstruction, despite the fact that she had no real physical abnormalities and despite potential risks like facial paralysis, infection, lifelong pain, or worse, death.

And for what? All to be considered beautiful.

In South Korea, a lot of women and men don’t hesitate to go to extreme lengths to change their looks (like this girl on the show) because in a society where your appearance determines how others treat you, whether or not you get that high-paying job, or who you end up marrying, beauty becomes a sort of social power. Due to the strength of this social power in the country, South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita in the world.

But Koreans aren’t using plastic surgery to pursue unique, individualistic appearances; rather, they attain the same ideal look: a small face with big eyes, a slim jawline, and a thin, high-set nose, all features that are more common amongst “white” Americans and Europeans but less common amongst Koreans.

If everyone pursues the same standards of beauty, their appearances inevitably become the same as well. Who could forget the uproar that Miss Korea (a South Korean beauty pageant) contestants created this year as their strikingly similar profile pictures went viral on the internet? There’s even a .GIF, highlighting how each woman’s face looks like the one before her.


With the popularity of plastic surgery, Seoul has become a city of cookie-cutter faces, since everyone goes under the knife to achieve exactly the same look. Gangnam (yes, of “Gangnam Style” fame), one of Seoul’s most affluent neighborhoods, is crammed with plastic surgery clinics, so much so that Koreans jokingly say that in Gangnam, everyone’s faces are identical.

If this “same face” epidemic continues, the statement “Asians all look alike” may very well transition from an ill-founded stereotype to a valid observation.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Letter from the Editors: Happy Holidays from Jane and Audrey

Good morning, dear readers!

We’re using December 25th as the placeholder to celebrate this wonderful time of the year in much of the world: family, friends, food, part deux if you were in the U.S. and were here for Thanksgiving. In fact, please refer here and replace the appropriate sentiments with mostly parallel sentiments, because to reiterate is too cheesy, and, as we know, most Asians tend to be lactose-intolerant.

If you’re not around for Thanksgiving, we want to wish you a very Merry Christmas, or happy holidays, or very simply a happy Wednesday.

This is one of Audrey’s favorite clip — don’t examine too much into this — film. Back to a time when moxie could potentially avert disasters and LiLo pre-desperation (i.e., The Canyon).

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Quickie: What’s in My Browser Cache

In which we collect news and stories of interest from the internet, so you can sit on the couch and pretend to “work” on your laptop versus cleaning up or helping out in the kitchen. Wait, that’s me.


In China, bird flu is back in the news. (Voice of America)

For a local’s take, TWP covered it here.

San Francisco had a day of air quality worse than Beijing, and then everyone was all like, APPLES AND ORANGES. (SFist)

Murder on the Roof of the World: My Travels Along the China-Pakistan Border (The Atlantic)

Writer Li Chenpeng praises Taiwanese democracy, sees trees for forest? (Li’s Sina blog, in Chinese)

And beyond

15 scary, beautiful scenes of skeletons (Salon)

This seemed to be a very social-services focused week for me: The Invisible Child (The New York Times), which will win something for sure, and The Welfare Queen (Slate)

Lose more time in the Wiki wormhole with the Wikipedia Advent Calendar. (Noah Veltman)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Asian Parent’s Approach to Dating

One of my first romantic encounters with the opposite sex was when, in the seventh grade, a boy (I’ll call him Carlos) asked me if I would go out with him. I liked Carlos and Carlos liked me back, so I told him yes.

Yet, even at the tender age of twelve, I was apprehensive as to how my parents would react to my newfound romantic interest. My parents had never explicitly told me I couldn’t date before, but their reaction to me even hanging out with boys had been frigid with a lot of the stern glances that Asian parents know how to wield so well. Also, Carlos was Latino, not Korean, so I knew my parents would disapprove on the basis of race.


Although I tried to hide my little middle-school relationship from my parents, my shrewd mother found out and forced me to break things off with Carlos; all because she and my dad felt that I was too young to date and needed to focus on school rather than boys. Ever since then, throughout middle school and high school, my parents made it very clear to me that they didn’t want me dating. To them, boys were an unnecessary distraction to my studies and just the sort of thing that could turn their good Asian daughter into a troublemaker.

So you can imagine my surprise when one day, in the summer before I started college, my mother suddenly asked me if I had a boyfriend. She was folding laundry while I was watching TV, and she casually slipped this question into the conversation.

“Are you dating anyone?” asked my mother, in Korean. I could only stare at her for a few seconds and then reply with a quick “No”.

“Why not? You know, you need to get married soon,” she said, “before it’s too late!”

“Mom, what are you saying? I’m not even in college yet,” I replied, in utter disbelief. When I asked her why she wasn’t more concerned about my brother’s romantic life (since he’s older than me), she informed me that guys stay “good” for far longer than girls, who age quickly and are only beautiful for a short while. According to my mother, if I didn’t get a boyfriend and get married to him soon, it would be hard for me to find a husband later on in life (when I’m presumably too old and ugly).


No one wants to end up with an old maid

Upon hearing these oh-so-charming gender expectations, I could only roll my eyes and throw my hands up in exasperation. Still, I couldn’t help but feel shocked at my mother’s attitude change towards me dating because it almost seemed like it happened overnight. How does one go from banning all boys to practically demanding a wedding date?

Judging from what my other Asian friends have told me, I’m not the only one who has gotten caught in the epiphany that our parents have about our romantic lives. Asian girls and guys alike, forced at a young age by our parents to hit the books and stay at home rather than going out on dates, suddenly find ourselves bombarded by questions like: “Why don’t you have a boyfriend yet?”, “Why don’t you try and meet a nice Korean (or Chinese, Japanese, etc.) girl?”, and “When are you going to get married?”

Unlike most conventional American households where parents cover “the birds and the bees” and are fairly open to their children dating at a young age, those of us from Asian families are often discouraged from even thinking about dating for most of our youth. My parents, like many other Asian parents, never went over “the birds and the bees” with me or my siblings, so everything I knew about romance and dating, I had to glean from teenage novels, word of mouth, and chick flicks. I’m pretty sure there is no Asian equivalent to “the birds and the bees” because Asian parents just don’t talk about it. Period. If there is, I think it would go something like this:

You meet boy (or girl).

You meet parents.

You get married.

The end.

And yet one day, the demand for a spouse is thrust upon us when we reach the age that our parents deem to be “good”. Frustrating, right? How are we supposed to enjoy committed relationships at the drop of a hat when we’ve been romantically stunted for all these years? As I get ready to go back home to my parents for the holidays, I find myself mentally preparing for their endless barrage of inquiries about my romantic life and my nonexistent boyfriend. But then again, as any Asian person can tell you, not even the ring on your finger will stop Asian parents from digging into your personal lives.

Monday, December 16, 2013

China to Tesla: Welcome?

China to Tesla: Welcome?
The Chinese loves flashy cars, and Tesla is as flashy as high tech cars get; but, are the Chinese…
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