Oct 21, 2010

Living in NYC

What's wrong with eating Spam? Spam is embraced by many cultures in around the world but why not American?

Oct 28, 2009

Do some languages make the speaker happier?


Mar 28, 2009

Visiting an elementary school in Kentucky

Last Tuesday, my friend Kim invited me to do a presentation about Hong Kong and Seattle at the elementary school where she teaches in Kentucky. We did the presentation in three different classrooms, and they were all 1st graders and 2nd graders. It was interesting to see how the kids' knowledges about another country varies even within the same grade.

I also found it strange to see that the kids had not seen seafood before as I showed them a photo of seafood taken at the Pike Place Market. Moreover, I had a hard time understanding some kids' questions as some of them had strong Southern accents. The most interesting one was that if there are semis over in Hong Kong. One kid was surprised that Chinese people wear the same clothing.

I also showed them a photo of Chinatown that I took in Seattle. Not many of them knew about Chinatown and thought that it was taken in Hong Kong.

It was overall a great experience. I taught the kids how to say and write their favorite animals in Chinese. They were all very excited.

At the end, one of the teachers asked me to teach them the Chinese alphabet. But the thing is, there is no such a thing! Every word is a different character, and as a kid, I needed to memorize the writing of every character by heart.

Mar 24, 2009

Not on my bed!

I was blessed to have two strong men to help me move into my new house on Friday. Without them, I can't image how I alone could have moved four 70 pounds suitcases and several heavy boxes to the second floor. But as they were moving the boxes into my room, it started to irritate me. They put the dirty boxes on my bed!

It is safe to say that most of the people in Hong Kong see their bed as a very private area. They want it to be clean. That is why people usually take their shower at night before they go to bed.
As my friends are helping me to move, one of them left my purse on the floor. That is another "no no" that make me feel strange. For some reason, the floor is the last place that one would put somebody's stuff on in Hong Kong. It can even offend some people for putting their stuff on the floor because it shows that one does not respect the other enough and sees them as trash.

An extreme example would be that Japanese people I met did not even want to leave their backpacks on the floor!

As I can only speak for the culture of Hong Kong, I would like to know what your culture is like on this subject. Please leave a comment!

Mar 16, 2009

This blog is taking a break for finals week. It will be back on shortly.

Mar 12, 2009

Eating is an art

Etiquette is a big part of a culture. From sitting to eating, it shows people where in one’s manner and his or her background. In Hong Kong and China, eating with hands is considered to be unmannered. Chinese eat their meals with usually chopsticks and a spoon. Therefore, since I was a child, I have mastered the art of eating most of the food, including wings and fries, with my chopsticks, or a fork, which is much easier. I never knew that it was not common in other cultures until I went to Buffalo Wild Wing for the first time last year!

P.S. Seinfeld and wings? Could be more American than that?

Mar 10, 2009

On Authenticity

Every Friday evening, I go to China King Buffet with Debbie Lee, my only Hong Kong friend at Ohio University and also my very good friend, and we order authentic Chinese dishes like Ma Po To Fu (not the buffet!) and stir fried calamari. I always enjoy our time together because this is the only time I can speak my own language, Cantonese, a Chinese dialect that is widely spoken in Hong Kong and the Canton Province.

We talk about anything: from news happened in Hong Kong, to World War II, to our academic goals. Our dinner would easily last for two hours. One of our favorite topics is cultural difference. We like to compare the Chinese with American culture, and Korean/Japanese with Chinese culture and even Mainland Chinese with Hong Kong culture. Every time, I learn something new about myself and our own culture. Last Friday evening, the WWII issue was brought up, and it led to the subject of a very popular film in the Chinese-speaking regions, Lust, Caution 色,戒 . The film is based on a novel by Eileen Chang, a Chinese writer. It is set in Hong Kong and Shanghi during the period of World War II. Tang plays a Chinese university student who seduces and plans to kill a high-ranking Chinese official who works for the puppet government controlled by the Japanese.

I talked about how surprised I was that the film was not heard of in America. My surprise owes not only to the farthest it is a great film by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, but also that almost half of the crew were Hollywood filmmakers. Debbie sighed.

She once read a film review about the film in New York Times. The film was seen as “puffed up and sexed up Eileen Chang’s original story without adding any psychological depth or sociopolitical heft” by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis.

But how could a film that bad won the top Golden Lion prize at the recent Venice Film Festival and top awards in Hong Kong and Taiwan? Ang Lee had an answer even before he decided to make the film.

"Its pace, its film language — it's all very Chinese. I also used Western film noir. It's a new start for me. It's not very audience-friendly for a market like the U.S. It's not their subject matter," Ang Lee said in a forum for young directors in Hong Kong.

It is true. If one wants to understand the film, he has to understand the history of China during WWII. Even though I had studied Chinese History through out my high school years, I find it difficult to understand.

Debbie also mentioned how the communist party in China banned the female leading actress Tang Wei from being in any of the films or public events in China. She was right.

According to Timesonline, a British site owned by Times Newspaper Ltd., the ban lifting was because of her extremely revealing acts in some scenes in the film and, for the most part, the glorification of unpatriotic behavior. China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) has ordered broadcast and print media to stop the showing of a Pond’s skincare products advertisement in which Tang promotes.

In the film review in New York Times, Dargis also described the unshaven armpits as “horrors of female nudity” which makes the film unbearable.

It may not be a logical comment. It would be unauthentic to have the armpit shaved because, in China during the time period, women did not have the sense of shaving their body hair. I am sure Ang Lee was aware of that and left the armpit hair on purpose as to faithfully depict the culture in that era. Yes, it is absolutely not the Chinese buffet you are used to.

Yet, in Hong Kong, women are extremely conscious about body hair nowadays. They shave all the hair on their body that could be easily noticed in the public, including hair on their hands and arms that Americans may not care. I believe it is because Hong Kong people are more exposed to Western cultures. Nevertheless, it is not the case in Mainland China.

Women from the Mainland do not shave their legs when they wear a dress, and I saw that with my own eyes once in Hong Kong.

If there are cultural differences between Hong Kong and the Mainland, why shouldn’t there be cultural differences between two countries or even two continents? Nevertheless, Debbie and I were still disappointed about the bad reviews of the film in the U.S and felt sympathetic towards Tang because she is neither popular in her own country nor in the West. It seems as if the only region that will allow her to continue her career would be Taiwan.

Peace sign?

I notice that Asians tend to do the peace sign when their photos are being taken.

Mar 7, 2009

Why are men supposed to give up their seats to a woman? Is it a tradition in your country?

Maiden Name

Sitting at Perks coffee shop today with one of my favorite professors and also now former Women’s Studies professor at Ohio University Julia, I was very excited to ask her questions that I always wanted to ask her when I took her class in 2008.

When I mentioned to her about my blog’s idea about cultural differences, her first reaction was to tell me her story about how she decided to change her family name to her husband's. As a native of Slovakia, she was torn between her tradition and her feminist instinct.

"For a long time, I thought about keeping my family name. My mother said, ‘now that you are married, you have to change your family name. It’s a part of our tradition."

For a number of reasons, particularly that it was very long and hard to pronounce, Julia eventually decided to honor her country’s tradition and changed her family name.
I was content to finally find out the mystery of her family name. It is an interesting subject to ponder because the practice of women changing their family names varies from area to area.

Chinese second-year student Stephanie Sun, majoring in Communication at Ohio University, expressed a revolutionary comment.

“My mother introduces herself as Ms. Wang,” Sun, who is from the capital of China, said. “We just do not have this tradition.”

In China, although usually seen as a county that where gender inequality prevails, women do not usually change their family name to their husband’s. The children usually carry their father’s family name. The same applies to Korean, Iranian, Vietnamese, and most of the Arab countries.

However, because Hong Kong was once a British colony and deeply influenced by British culture, women of that era would prefix her husband’s family name to her original name. In a Hong Kong movie In The Mood For Love 花樣年華 by Wong Kar-Wai, which is set in 1960s in Hong Kong, when the leading actress Maggie Cheung is asked how she wants to be called by the new neighbor, she says, “My husband’s family name is Chan.” Also, when the leading Tony Leung meets Cheung’s landlord for the first time, she introduces herself as Mrs. Shun although her husband is never mentioned nor appears in the entire film (assumed to be dead). Her real name was also never brought up in the film.

For the same reason, in most of the English-speaking countries and Western Europe including France, Germany, married women changing their original family name to their husband’s are more common.

In Spain and most of its former colonies, marriage has no effect on either of the spouses' names. Children usually bear the family name of the father followed by that of the mother. For example, my supervisor from work Enrique is Chilean and his last name is Hermosilla-Palma while Hermosilla is taken from his mother and Palma is taken from his father.

The custom of a woman changing her name upon married may not always be because of a country’s tradition. Many were due to imperialism and colonization, and some are because of political reasons and laws. After all, names do help identify a person. As an old Cantonese saying, “Don’t be afraid of having a bad fortune. Do be afraid of having a bad name.” If a name identifies who you are, keeping a good name is doing a good thing for your offspring.

Mar 2, 2009

Why Asians hold hands or have their arms around each other when they walk together?

"I have been wondering way when many Asians walk down the road they hold hands, or have their arms around each other. I'm not sure if they are just more comfortable with each other, or if it is deeper than that."
Maranda said...
March 2, 2009 12:57 PM

Feb 28, 2009

American Food = Fast Food?

Jillian Mapes has left a new comment on your post "American Food = Fast Food?":

I think fast food is a part of American cuisine, most definitely, but when I think of American food, I think of hamburgers, hotdogs, fried chicken, apple pie, grilled cheese, potato chip, corn on the cob, and a myriad of other basic (and usually unhealthy) foods.

Feb 25, 2009

Meet cool Ohio University instructor Sally J from Syria (Part I)

Sipping her favorite Nescafe coffee, Sally J, an Arabic and OPIE professor at Ohio University and a graduate student at the linguistic department, told me how she enjoys her experience in America. Having been living in the U.S. for two years, she honestly said that she is still learning the America culture. I caught up with Sally in OU’s Gordy Hall and asked her some questions about her experience with the American culture.

Tell me about Syria and where you lived.

“Syria is a very beautiful country. I am from the capital (Damascus), which is a very big city. Very crowded, full of cars and people and very busy all the time.”

What about the religions of Syria?

“The majority of people are Muslims, but the country in general is not an Islamic country. We have Christians and some Jews too.”

What is your religion?

“I am a Christian. Why do you ask me all the religious questions? Does it matter? Is it important?”

I was just curious about your country because I had an impression that it is a Muslim country, but you didn’t seem like you are a Muslim.

“Some people they don’t like to be asked about their religion. Me, I personally don’t mind but other people may not.”


“I notice that, in America, a lot of people don’t ask about religions. There are lots of things that they never ask about. For example, religions, salaries, like small private stuff.”

Do you notice any other cultural differences?

“I learned that bars are not that bad. People hang out in bars. Back home, bar doesn’t sound like a nice social place to hang out with your friends. I just learned that here it is very normal to go to a bar. It’s like going to a restaurant. It doesn’t have the same social aspect. I didn’t really go to bars (back home).”

Is it because bars are for gangsters?

“I have never been. I don’t know. It may be because going to bar was not on top of my list to do for fun. It’s a big city. There is a lot more to do. I would like to go to a restaurant or coffee shop with my friends and smoke some hookah sometimes.”

How are the hookah bars here different from the hookah bars there?

“(The one by OU) is not a hookah place. (People in Syria) are more professional. They know what they are doing. It is just one place with no window. (In Syria), they (hookah bars) are just part of the coffee shops. There are tons of more options. From the popular (hookah) places, to the very expensive ones, to fancy ones, you can find one wherever go. Here you have just one option. I don’t like it because it is gloomy with no light, no window. It’s like locking yourself in a room and smoking.”

What is your impression on American people?

“(Americans) are really nice. I like them. Before I came here, I had it on my mind. I knew what to expect. I met more international students than American students. This is very nice and interesting. The Diversity of Ohio University gives it a very nice flavor. You meet people from all over the world. Sometimes, I feel like I know more about the rest of the world than Americans because I have met more international people than American people. But it’s fun.”

Why do people put ashes on their forehead today?