Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hold on an internet minute, let me just Facebook-Blog that Twitter before I Flickr that Yahoo!?!*#@

This week I bit myself and joined Twitter - that latest rad social networking sensation that even the Senate seems to have taken up. Back in graduate school I was known as "that cyber kid who's on everything!". To fill up my empty hours after labs and after reading papers, I started a blog in Yahoo!360, then here on Blogspot, then Xanga, Friendster, Doostang and, when launched in Britain, Facebook. I then started taking pictures and posting them up on Flickr for far-away family to see what I saw.

It's not hard to understand why it becomes so harrowingly addictive, especially for people like me, who require a thrice daily fix to fill their empty time and quite probably their empty souls. Had I been born just a bit more of an extrovert with, say, an ounce more love for real people and had I grown up in a town other than London, where the weather is not such a miserably foul dictator, I would not have joined this crazy modern internet phenomenon and perhaps I would have been more fulfilled with what I had.

But history has run its course. Instead, I now scroll through terabytes upon terabytes of meaningless friends' updates daily: Sarah is shopping on Oxford Street; Mark is in Bombay, woohoo!; Ashley has started drinking beer at 10am and thinks everyone should do it; Tania is now a pious protestant nun and wants to chastise Britney Spears' baby. OK, so the names are not real and neither are the updates I've just taken from my sometimes garbage-filled skull, but you get the picture - it all adds up to garbage. On top of this, Twitter - bless their Silicon Valley souls - add an extra layer of complexity and suddenly, I get these @ signs seeing people I don't know in real life, responding to celebrity updates about celebrities I cannot relate to in real life, such as @Stephenfry it is true, you are bisexual, or @Sarah_Palin I think you won't be back in 2012. I can even link my Twitter update to Facebook and vice versa? Yes! I can feel important in front of "friends"!

Honestly, it no longer matters to me that around 60% of my Facebook "friends" are people I never talked to in school, or one of my few close friends just took a picture of himself in a compromising position next to a dolphin in Disneyland, or what the next Senator thinks about his football team while listening to Obama's address. It no longer matters that there are these hot looking girls linked up to every social network talking about tech-wizardary improvements, luring sweaty-palmed geeks to their subscriptions. I don't care that you can use all these fantastic magical applications (apps) on each website, or on the iPhone, to further improve your over-connectedness to strangers or to play mind-numbing games:

Case in point:

For too long we have become obedient to the idea that online friends and, to a certain extent, online dating is actually normal. A world of cowards (or we are encouraged to be cowards), cowering behind a screen to exchange messages or spy on people we would otherwise never give a second glance to on the street. We entertain ourselves with the idea that it's OK to procrastinate because we are making contacts with potentially new business associates, or dates and opening doors to new horizons. Our souls have been blackened enough and it is time for me to call it quits - let's do something REAL.

NEXT WEEK I WILL ABSTAIN from any of these social network websites for a week. If I do well, I will continue for longer and longer, until I eventually give up all this online shenanigan business. This is going to be tough and it will be as if I checked into rehab. But I will still have the internet, e-mail and online news. Here's to a more healthy soul in the face of great adversity and a lack of friends! With any luck, I won't be back here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chinabounder - 欲望上海

A few years ago, a humble, English man left his less than mediocre life in Britain to take up a job teaching English in Shanghai, China. He soon embarked on a journey as a sex tourist and started a blog of his daily casual sex-capades. He went by the name of Chinabounder in his now notorious blog, Sex in Shanghai (A Western Scoundrel in Shanghai tells all) - his real name is allegedly David Mariott. Before long, the Chinese netizens discovered it and started raising complaints. One of the professors in Shanghai University, called for the blog to end. I e-mailed Chinabounder once asking why he wanted to brand Chinese people with ridicule, before his blog was taken down by the Chinese internet police. He replied with a huge rhetorical essay on why he thought China lacked potential and why the women he met were so easy. Excerpt from his e-mail, dated 2006:

Come come now, surely you must recognize that China is full of problems?

I guess that I have given you the idea I look down on Chinese people. I am sorry if that is so. I guess (like rather a lot of foreigners here) I have quite a lot of anger towards China. What makes me angry is that the government of this country holds back the talent of its people. The dead hand of the CPC turns education here into ideological bullshit. Too many people just give up and become drones in the face of this. I see this most clearly when I teach kids. I have found that each kid – let’s say under ten – is an individual; each has his or her own personality. But as they grow beyond that age, they become the same… the education system stifles and oppresses their individuality and crushes their natural selves.

I do see a day when China is the world’s superpower, and I look forward to that day. Of course, on that day Chinese women will just laugh at my attempts to seduce them -- and quite rightly too. But right now it is easy to do, so I do it. Just like it is easy to earn money here, so I earn it. What do you expect? Who turns down opportunities to live the life they want to live? It is not very honorable, true – but imagine getting to 90 years old and regretting not living life to the full. How terrible!

The West (meaning, ‘white people’) has pretty much run the world until now. It’s about time Asia had a go in the driver’s seat. Fuck, *of course* China could out-perform the West, as you say. But it won’t with this current government.

It seems to me the CPC is holding back that day. The CPC does not really give a fuck about China; its first priority is to keep in power – looking after the country comes a distant second. It does seem to me that a lot of overseas returnees do come back just to make money, and do not have any interest in changing the system. That makes me sad.

Finally: I began by saying China has problems, but please don’t think I am singling it out. I know only too well that my country, the UK, has lots of bullshit too. One of its major problems is the petty, small-minded and gossipy nature of many UK people. And – as I guess you have experienced – there is a lot of subtle (and overt) racism in the UK. I find that disgusting and I am highly critical of it.

Anyhow, that’s enough from me. I look forward to the day when guys like you run the globe. I hope you make a better show of it than Bush and Blair and that lot.



My response - what and idiot! Do something with your life instead of pulling out the old angry white man in Asia with a conscience card! If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. His case is not extraordinary. There are plenty of European and American Chinabounders in Shanghai right now replicating his actions - some of my friends included. This is why I've been reminded of this blog now.

Last year David Mariott re-emerged from hiding to publish a book, based on his experiences in Shanghai, "Fault Lines On The Face of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great". Thankfully, his book did not make it onto the best seller list and to this day, he is still best known for his salacious blog. Needless to say, I won't read the book. If I wanted to know why China may not be great, I just have to listen to my own nagging grandparents, the greatest critics of their own country.

Admittedly, out of all his nonsense, he has a point. For all the glamorous glitz of the Chinese Olympics in 2008 and the past 30 years of non-stop miraculous economic boom, the Chinese mentality remains the fundamental rock that can't be changed. The greatest stumbling block that still prevents my family from returning back to a country of ruthless leaders and shallow-minded civilians.

[The Guardian has the best story on it]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Importance of Being Angry

Wrath is one of the seven deadly sins from the Christian Old Testament and it's not hard to understand why society still preaches against it. But anger has its uses, or else, why, as humans, would we be programmed with this emotion. Recent research from Harvard University found that people who let out anger constructively in the workplace were able to get ahead more quickly than those who repressed it and felt trapped under the glass ceiling. Let's face it, who has not found themselves in a pent-up rage at work?

That's not to say it's OK to let out fists of fury at your work colleagues every time your boss piles on an unreasonable amount of projects on your desk. I've worked with people before who are constantly angry at work, who have to share their raw emotion everyday with everyone, making others work around their needs. They are vile.

But those who can express and manage their anger constructively are able to channel their emotions and drive themselves towards much higher goals. For example, when someone is not pulling their weight at work and begins to drag your work behind, it helps show a bit of anger when you tell them off, provided you don't make it too personal. That can make a real difference. It's not that emotions are strictly good or bad, but it is about how appropriate they are to the situation and how we deal with them.

If history has taught us anything, it's that anger can be a powerful tool in shaping our progress as people. Progress was made for the abolition of slavery because people were enraged at the injustices on an entire race. Progress was made for women when Emmeline Pankhurst was enraged by the ruling men of England. Indeed even in the New Testament, Jesus also became angry at the people in the synagogue who remained silent when he asked if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath and he became angry at the money changers in the temple.

I get angry from a lot of things:
  • The failure of small universities to introduce bigger ideas or inspire its students, or to help newer, younger students to make more contacts.
  • The lack of lead Asian and particular male Asian actors in Hollywood films, despite legions of Asian actors in Southern California who can clearly act better than the familiar few famous names being over-paid on the silver screen.
  • The assumption that Asian communities in America and Europe do well and are always over-achieving when they have to fight just as much racial prejudice as any other.
  • The sneaky international legislation introduced by the American government and Wall Street institutions to oppress ordinary people, sometimes far far away, in order gain money for itself.
The list goes on and I can't say I have the answers to any of these problems. I'm hoping other Angry Asian Men will help.

However, my anger is important to me because it allows me to move forward in work and life. It keeps me down to earth and motivated when I become too self-indulgent. It is the only thing I have to stop me from retreating into the lazy mediocrity of a numskull's life - after all, of the seven deadly sins, I would rather suffer from wrath than sloth!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Chinatown Bus

One of the extraordinary properties of America is its capacity to generate successful entrepreneurs out of humble foreign immigrants. The most striking example for me lies in the Chinatown-Chinatown bus services. Here on the East coast, there are at least a dozen rival bus services that depart and arrive daily in downtown Chinatowns between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DC and they have plans to extend further south. To top it all off their prices are dirt cheap and buses run very reliably - in some cases, out-competing the traditional cross-country Greyhound coaches and the over-priced Amtrak train monopoly. I travel on one of these coaches (New Century - and possibly the most popularized) every two weeks to visit my mum in DC.

It is worth it for the convenience, the money you save and the greeness. Yes it's cheap because it only costs $28 return for a roundtrip. Yes, it's green because you are not pumping gas into your own car to drive three hundred miles. The Asian drivers are always pretty much on time and are familiar with the route. Occasionally the driver even tries to do some live sight-seeing commentary on warm, pleasant summer days.

Unfortunately, word of the cheap-ass Chinatown bus has spread like wild-fire in the last decade and its popularity has soared so high it now attracts too many customers. A lot of the time the coaches are over-subscribed, especially on busy Sunday afternoons and if you get there ten minutes before the bus leaves, you WON'T get a seat. Scrambling on this bus to grab a seat can be disorderly at best. I'm often reminded of the scene from Babylon A.D. when Vin Diesel and Michelle Yeoh desperately chase for a space on an illegal Russian submarine, with hundreds of other desperate refugees fleeing a nuclear disaster, only to be shot at and pushed off into the frozen ice. That's the feeling you get if you arrive just a few minutes too late and the full coach is about to leave before you even figured out it was supposed to go to Philly, not New York - then you'd have to wait another 4 hours in the cold for the next one! It's sometimes hard to decipher where and when the next bus is departing when the driver and ticket sales women speak to you through their broken Chinglish. Obviously once you do get on, you have to sacrifice the comfort and space that you may have in your own car by squashing yourself in a seat with a stranger next to you for 3 hours + and suffer occasional bad smells from the only available public restroom at the back of the vehicle.

However, despite all that, if you don't have a car, don't plan to spend money on fuel and are a skint student/academic, this is THE way to travel between the big cities on the East coast.


This week, Lost in Americana watched another graduate student at the university defend his thesis in front of his relentlessly demanding thesis committee - one that has been mentioned before, renowned for their over-ambitious snarling, even derogatory questions. My god, these professors are unreasonable! Lucky for him, that graduate student has already done some pretty smart work, has a list of good publications to back himself up and an intimate knowledge of how to rebuff the attacks. Lost in Americana looks forward to the day he will also be punished (again) in front of the high and mighty thesis committee members when he gives his postdoc seminar before leaving the bloody place!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Limey Racism - 英国人种偏见

When I was at school, a third of my classmates were second or third generation British Pakistani and Indian immigrants from hard working professional families. The majority of my school was made up of white middle class British pupils and teachers and the remainder of it, a few stragglers from Hong Kong, other European countries and pseudo-BBCs, like me. I never really suffered any serious racist taunts at school, save being called flat faced occasionally, but I remember others who were.

Although racism was and is frowned upon, and generally repressed, I remember the white kids would whisper behind their backs the "PCs are going to play football today for the Indian World Cup". PC (Pakistani Club) referred to a couple of Pakistani boys in the class who were picked on because they always disappeared at lunch, at the same time, for midday prayers. The "Indian World Cup" was an innuendo for the group of hotchpodge Asian kids who always gathered together at lunchtime to play football. It's not that the "white" people didn't mix with the "Asian" people in class or in after school rugby - they did really well - but lunchtime football was an example of simmering tensions between the ethnicities.

I personally was never attacked for being yellow. Being Chinese in England is very different from being Chinese in America, in the sense that there just aren't that many in England and most minorities are just not that upwardly mobile. However, the upside is that the Chinese minorities are not singled out as much, simply because they are not seen as a threat for taking highly skilled/paid jobs. That being said, I do remember people throwing eggs at our house and car in the early 1990s when my family first moved to England as we (and an Indian family) were the only non-white people in the neighbourhood. There are of course instances of racism against Chinese people which no doubt occur (Remember the 18 illegal Chinese immigrants who drowned at Morecomb bay in 2004, because the locals drove them away from the safe areas of picking cockles).

But, when it comes to racism directed against Asian people, "brown" people have it worse . One of my friends who qualified as a junior doctor three years ago was stabbed in the stomach by a patient he was trying to help, while working on an A&E shift at a hospital in Kent. Whilst he was still bleeding, he went up to the patient, who happened to be drunk, and asked why he did it. The patient replied "because you're a Paki, you're a terrorist and I don't trust you". My friend happens to be of Indian descent but that didn't make a difference to his inebriated attacker. In spite of this racist assault, my friend the Indian doctor mustered enough energy to calm his drunk patient, take him back to the ward to help him seek council and to find him a white doctor. That's bravery for you.

It's understandable how this kind of racism can occur, in light of the car bombing of Glasgow City airport and London by British Iraqi doctors and engineers a few years ago. In recent years religious fundamentalism has swept the British muslim society and in its wake, there has been a renewed sense of racism against all Asian minorities as a whole. Unless there is more awareness placed in schools and universities on understanding our cultural differences, particularly the ones we least understand, the situation will only spiral downwards. This applies not just for Britain, but for the global community and especially for the USA.


This week, Lost in Americana continues to be baffled by the American Northeast weather. It all started rather chilly in the week with shed loads of snow and hail dumped on our freezing necks - but by Thursday, the air became so hot the birds began chirping, the cherry blossoms began blooming and girls started revealing their bikini lines in the streets, ready for Spring. As fun as it is jumping in snow one day and watching bikini girls walk by the next, I'd prefer to have a fixed temperature so I can go outside without having to think if I need to wear an eskimo coat or a Hawaiian t-shirt.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Thing About Ivy Leagues - 常春藤盟校

The differences between going to a good university and an exceptional university are many. But one thing stands out - the social network and people you make contact with.

At a fundamental level if you enter an Ivy League, people will want to know you because they think you are (a) very smart, or (b) very rich and have influential parents (G.W.Bush, case in point). This I can tell purely from seeing dozens of former fellow students from London fly off to Harvard/Columbia for their postdoc research and suddenly gaining a LOT of new friends, through partying/socializing/getting involved in community projects a LOT. I remember my Dad used to tell me about all these brilliant characters he met at MIT and immediately plunging himself into a huge group of new friends he instantly befriended, even if some of them turned out to be idiots. If you want to be superficial, you could argue that students, or scholars, who enter Ivy Leagues, major universities or mega companies always seem to gain a huge number of friends on Facebook, simply as a reflection of how many MORE people they come into contact with.

My first impressions of coming to work at this, my current medical school was how few social activities there are for research students and postdocs and the general lack of communal interaction between departments (save for graduate open days). There is not even a decent-sized communal lunch space for graduate students and postdocs (there is a space in the basement). I see pathetic students eat shitty pieces of sandwich everyday outside their respective labs, on their own, on dusty rotting chairs for christ sake! There is a rather dindgy canteen for undergrad. students and a decent gym (I'm not complaining about the state of the art gym), but such is the miniature size of this med. school and university as a whole, it simply breeds and shouts CLAUSTROPHOBIA, all around. In my old university in London there was a seminar room which was converted into a coffee room at mid-morning, a lunch room during lunch hours and a beer/party room in the evening for visiting or leaving scholars, providing a spirit for all people in the department to socialize together - and that was just in one department, on a daily basis. Here, there is no communal coffee morning, no communal lunch (especially not in my lab of F.O.B.s). Asking some of these guys to go out or do some fun activities outdoors at the weekends is like trying to drag out a two ton rock! How are you supposed to work hard and do good science, if you don't play hard?!?!

Still, the lab I work in currently seems to be hard working and the boss is very good at motivating people on top of getting grants/publishing papers. Where in the world they get their energy from to work so hard, if they stay at home all weekend watching American Idol, remains a mystery to me. I get my energy from pumping iron at the gym while trying to work away the frustration of not being able to socialize. From every pain, there is gain.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Listen to the Beat

The markets are collapsing, so let's listen to Beyonce and forget the Foo Fighters.

According to an NYU academic Phil Maymin the more regular the beat on the nation's top 100 singles, the more volatile the American markets. After studying decades of Billboard's Hot 100 hits, Maymin found that songs with low "beat variance" had an inverse correlation with market turbulence. True to this statement, Beyonce's most steady-beat song, single ladies is EVERYWHERE, but the appeal of indie grunge bands, like the Foo Fighters and MGMT are now beginning to fade. The most obvious examples to me are now happening in recession-hit Britain. You have the rising starlet golden girls, such as "Adele", the "Ting Tings", and "Little Boots" suddenly hitting the charts this year with their VERY regular beating pop, or electro pop music, enabling some, like "Duffy" to even go on to win the Brit Awards. Then you have good old Coldplay, REM and no doubt other indie rock bands, who in previous boom years would have swept the awards and chart toppings, but this year have failed to be mentioned.

Apparently, people's preference of musical beats always correlates with changes in economic stability. The most popular songs become steady just before the economy slumps, but complex songs catch on before the markets rebound. I like to think of it as escapism. When the markets turn sour and people start to lose money, people go home and turn on stable, regular pop music to help them stay positive to keep going. When the markets become bullish again, people cheer up, they have more money and time to spare, so they like to listen to more complex music. To put it simply, when we have no money, we listen to brainless pop and when we have money, we listen to deep melancholic indie rock.

I for one prefer indie rock, as a reminder of the halcyon days of when the markets were well and people were happy, at least on the surface. But then again, I am usually deeply melancholic.


This week, Lost in Americana scowls at his failed experiments, realizing he wasted last weekend staining tissue that simply dropped off into the ether after long hours of painstaking preparation. But he quickly cheers up again by doing another experiment that ends up with a real result. He has also been set the task of teaching a fresh graduate student how to dissect mice, even though he has barely got the hang of it himself. In the process he is reminded of the analogy to playing action video games. With dissection/surgery, as with video games all you require is good hand-eye coordination and a good stomach for a little gore.