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002 Madama Butterfly

But when we associate self-worth with anything external,
we develop an unstable, distorted perception of ourselves.
we overlook our intrinsic value and lose sight of true beauty.

 


All is Vanity

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 1:2

We can be pretty stubborn and hard-headed people. No matter how many times someone tells us the way something is, we have to determine for ourselves what it really is. We’re pioneers. We craft our own truths.

Especially as young-ins, in this new digital age of wonder, the possibilities are endless. The amount of creativity, social change, beauty, freedom that can be experienced in our lives now. Who is it for anyone to determine for us how we should live our lives?

This sentiment has been echoed through every generation. And it’s often dismissed as a youth of folly; something that will inevitably pass when the bitter truths of life sink their teeth in. But is it different this time?

Previous generations have seemed to be so caught up in preserving themselves. A lack of disregard for our environment. A lack of understanding, of empathy. Things are wrong, and they need to change.

But perhaps this is something that we all intuitively know. There are aspects of the world that are obviously broken, and in many ways, our entire lives are already scripted to act on our impulses to shape the world in how we want it to be. So why do identify such a difference between us and them? Whoever that may be.

It seems people who cling to the status quo, who resist change, are desperately holding onto the things that seem to fill the void in their lives. It gives their lives meaning, stability, comfort. In many ways, aren’t we doing the same? What are the core motivations behind the things that we want to realize in the world? Deeper than buzz words like “social justice” and “progress.”

Perhaps this isn’t such a new idea after all.

The Story of Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong was born in 1905 a second-generation Chinese American in Los Angeles. She grew up in a neighborhood just outside of Chinatown with her parents and seven other siblings. From a young age, Wong was no stranger to racism.

“We tried to walk unconcernedly home from school, always with a larger and larger crowd of our tormentors around us shouting, “Chink, Chink, Chinaman. Chink, Chink, Chinaman.” Yanking our “pigtails” as they called our straight black braids of hair. Pushing us off the sidewalk into the street. Pinching us. Slapping us…. Every day was one of torture for us.”

Chinatown was quickly becoming a hub for American film, and Wong grew fascinated with it from an early age. To the dismay of her parents, she chose to pursue a full-time acting career by the age of 16. She landed her first role at 17, and achieved international stardom by 19.

She was a natural. Her presence in films commanded attention. But despite her talent, she was always relegated to two simplistic, repetitive characters. The sly Chinese villain or the butterfly temptress. Americans loved her, but it seems they just wanted a taste of the orient. See, “orientalism.”

In very broad terms, “Orientalism” refers to the overarching tendency of the “Occident,” or the Western world, to fetishize and exoticize the “Orient” (“The East,” or civilizations and cultures spanning the Asian continent). Scholar Graham Huggan defines exoticism as an experience that “posits the lure of difference while protecting its practitioners from close involvement” — and that’s exactly what Westerners wanted: a taste of “difference,” usually in the form of an evocative song, poem, or painting, without the actual immersive and possibly challenging experience thereof.

. Sep 30, 2014.

Wong played these roles for over a decade, traveling back and forth between Europe and America doing film, trying to find her place. The biggest disappointment of her career was being refused the leading role in the movie, The Good Earth. It was as a literal Chinese woman, which she lost out to the white actress Luise Rainer.

Devastated and disheartened, Wong left for China in 1936 to tour the country and visit her father who had retired to his home village. She was met with a range of reactions from complete adoration to a vehement insistence that she’s a disgrace to China. For playing such stereotypical roles.

She eventually settled back to America and made history with “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.” The first ever US television show starring an Asian American series lead. She had been planning to return to film in the Flower Drum Song, but she passed away before she could at the age of 56.

Anna May Wong’s story is one of heart and determination. It’s a delicate, tragic embodiment of the American Dream: making it against all odds; breaking into a system that’s set up for your failure. But Wong’s story also represents an all too relatable narrative of conflicting identity for Asian Americans. The perplexity in holding on to traditional values and embracing American culture.

It’s a story to be remembered.

Wong was a silent-film demi-star, a European phenomenon, a cultural ambassador, and a curiosity, the de facto embodiment of China, Asia, and the “Orient” at large for millions. She didn’t choose that role, but it became hers, and she labored, subtly, cleverly, persistently, to challenge what Americans thought an Asian or Asian-American should or could be — a challenge that persists today.

. Sep 30, 2014. (thanks again)

RIP Anna May Wong (1905 – 1961)

Journey of the Fool

The word materialism carries a strong connotation to it. I think of egocentric entrepreneurs, self-absorbed celebrities, corporate fat cats counting their cash (beautiful alliteration I know). The idea is comical. Like an over-exaggerated cartoon personality. A trait I would never associate with myself.

Though, the essence of materialism: identifying with anything other than intrinsic worth, is deeply rooted into our culture.

We’re flooded with superficial beauty standards, we’re driven by our need to successful and prove ourselves. There’s always something happening, something to do, to achieve. Time continues to float on by, and then we wonder where it all went.

The end results are routine. Mid-life crises at 40 years old. The impending crow’s feet, bags and dark circles. Plastic surgery and motorcycles can only ease a mind for so long. When the euphoria fades, what do we have left?

Is this it?

A simple question, and the one we’ll always have more time to think about.

The Journey of the Fool is a familiar road. It’s a path of long contemplation. It’s lined with reflection and divergent thinking. It’s messy and full of mistakes, weakness, and hope. It demands a relinquishing of control, an honest understanding that we can’t understand everything. It’s recognizing that maybe we don’t know as much we think.

Whether it’s today, tomorrow, or on our death bed, we’re forced to recognize an uncomfortable truth – that our time on this earth is short-lived. This Journey is one we all walk in time.