Monthly Archives: April 2017

Passing the torch?

Maybe we should just sit this one out

Via Nick Land, a powerful post from the blogger Donovan Greene:

Western Civilization is in decline, and Eastern Civilization is going to become the pinnacle of orderly civilization in the world as the West continues to decay.

Western Civilization was incredibly successful while it lasted, of course, and the East is standing on the shoulders of giants in its quest to reach further upward. Still, the apogee of Western Civilization has passed. The last great triumph of West over East was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and I do not foresee another big win for the West on the horizon anytime soon. The future offers nothing but decline. In the far future, it is very possible that a civilization (civilizations?) based in Europe or North America will rise to global prominence and superpower status, but that is something to be expected no less than hundreds or even thousands of years from now.

The rising societies of East Asia could prove magnetic to an increasing number of denizens of the decaying West:

As the East rises in stature relative to the West, we will begin to see a low-level brain drain, as the intelligent, ambitious, and adventurous make their way to lands near the Pacific. We see this happening today in very small numbers, and I predict this trend will pick up. Once the mainstream media notices this, the success of these people (and they will succeed, for they will be among the most elite of the Natural Aristocracy) will be broadcast across the West, and many more will join them. These numbers will be curtailed by controls from both sides, as the West tries to keep people in and the East tries to keep all but the best out, but the migration will still be significant.

I tend to agree. The West will rise again, but in a radically altered, almost unimaginable form. Someday.

My story at The Casper Review

Very pleased to announce that my short story, “The Mall of Babel,” has now been published by the brilliant and quirky e-zine, The Casper Review:

Dirk studied the corpse on the floor of the mall, oblivious to the muzak that wafted through the light-filled atrium. The body had hit the polished marble head-first after plunging from a great height. Flanked by humming security drones, Dirk knelt and inspected the body, which had belonged to a 35-year-old cartoonist. Now the man’s skull was cracked and his brains were fanned out on the floor, splattered like spaghetti.

The young detective disagreed with the forensic drone: This was not a normal suicide. There were euthanasia booths for that, vast gleaming rows of them easily accessible within every wing of every sector of the mall. Dirk had never seen a man take his own life like this. Whether private or live-streamed, suicide was always a quiet, predictable act, similar to buying a new pair of socks. This on the other hand was performance art, offered to a crowd of unsuspecting shoppers on a busy Sunday afternoon.

If rebellious cartoonists, exploding mall cops and dystopian visions of consumerism sprinkled with a bit of the old ultra-violence are your thing, you should, of course, read the whole story here.

From the website’s About page:

the casper review is an arts and culture platform for underserved communities: a non-ideological venue for ideologically excluded artists, or anyone seeking an authentic alternative.

the world is changing. let’s create parallel institutions.

Quite. Is this not an exhilarating time to be alive?

The incredible shrinking expat

Every white guy in Asia who is not hideously disfigured or too clueless to live has had the Charisma Man experience. Charisma Man was a comic strip that debuted in 1998 in The Alien, a magazine for expats in Japan. (Story of The Alien here.) It chronicles the adventures of an expat English teacher in Japan – a nebbishy Canadian guy of overwhelming mediocrity in his home country, who is magically transformed into a swaggering hero and debonair sex god by virtue of his fascinating foreignness in the eyes of admiring locals.

Confused for a modern-day Clark Gable, Charisma Man is mobbed by pretty Japanese women trying to get to know him (“Are you speak French?”). Lacking any discernible qualifications and virtually unemployable at home, Charisma Man interviews for a cushy job teaching salarymen at a major Japanese company – and receives an immediate offer. Charisma Man’s great superpower is his white maleness, which enables him to perform a kind of cultural arbitrage, trading on the gap between the value he actually possesses (zilch) and his perceived value in the minds of locals who have strongly positive stereotypes of Western men. His kryptonite is Western Woman – the expat white girls in Japan who see right through his act with the merciless clarity afforded by a shared culture. Whenever he is unfortunate enough to cross paths with Western Woman, Charisma Man’s heroic bubble is burst – he instantly deflates to his dorky, slump-shouldered Canadian self.

Source: charismaman.com

Source: charismaman.com

This is, of course, a comedic exaggeration of reality – even more so now than 20 years ago, when furriners were still a novelty outside (and even inside) the major metropolises. Nowadays the closed societies of Japan, Korea and China have largely gotten used to the presence of significant numbers of white dudes, to the point of disillusionment and weariness with their unfathomable (but mostly predictable) ways.

Having said that, foreigners and in particular Caucasian men still enjoy a significant edge in most parts of Asia:

  • Mere possession of a college degree and a pulse qualifies even the most hapless expat for a basic English teaching job, which can be fun (for about a year) and usually pays more than enough to live on. The more ambitious expats can leverage their native English skills and knowledge of “global business etiquette” and “international communication” (as well as hyperbolic accounts of their work experience back home) to land a more prestigious corporate gig, where they might be managing a team of locals, mediating communication between locals and foreigners, proofreading/editing documents, or something along those lines. Nice work, if you can get it – which is almost certainly going to be a lot harder in your home country. Furthermore, foreigners are often given a pass for a certain degree of incompetence and cluelessness, on the grounds that a) something is probably getting lost in translation and/or b) foreigners should not be made to lose face, as they need to be kept happy and compliant.
  • Socially, too, your foreignness will open doors and help you carve out a niche that you probably hadn’t even thought of. If you find yourself being interviewed on TV, giving talks to large audiences, or hobnobbing with government officials, you’re probably a foreigner in Asia. To be clear, most of these brushes with celebrity lead absolutely nowhere. But they’re fun and they make for good stories. Also, if you combine your built-in advantage as a foreigner with actual talent and hard work – and you learn the local language – you can make yourself a valued resource and even a respected guru. Start a small business, host an event series, write a book about your experiences, or become the world’s leading foreign expert on, say, Chinese economic data. In some cases, this can be the basis or the accelerant for a very successful career abroad (see point #1).
  • Foreigners also have a huge leg up in the dating realm – this is still very much true despite the growing number and visibility of white people in every corner of Asia. The effect is wearing off in major cities such as Shanghai, but it still exists. Just being a white guy, period, is a conversation starter in most places. You don’t need much “game” to chat with a cute girl who finds you exotic and interesting before you even open your mouth. From there it’s usually not that hard to escalate things. In this arena, the foreigner must be wary to avoid being taken advantage of by predatory local women who may see him primarily as a meal ticket or green card sponsor, but frankly, that’s a highly avoidable danger in the modern Asian megacities. Just be smart and hang out with educated, well-to-do women. Also, use a burner phone.

Here’s the big caveat, though. The fine print you glossed over before you booked your ticket on Kayak. Success “over there” may be entirely meaningless back at home. The sheer alienness (I say it with love) of most of Asia means that your achievements may not be valued or even understood by your compatriots; the skills and experience you labored to acquire in the distant kingdoms of the East may as useless in your home country as your wallet full of Japanese yen at the local Walgreens.

As an extreme example of this, consider the Canadian performer Mark Henry Rowswell, who goes by the name Da Shan in China. Known for his comedic performances delivered in flawless Mandarin, Da Shan is one of the most famous foreigners in China, instantly recognizable to several hundred million people – putting him in the same fame-league as the president of the United States. He first achieved stardom in 1988 by appearing on a TV special during Chinese New Year that was watched by an estimated 550 million people.

Da Shan has clearly built a successful career for himself and, while I have no idea how much money he makes, he probably does well. Nevertheless, his incredible fame comes with a severe qualification: Da Shan is completely unknown outside of China.

So there’s a warning for you. Some skills are transferable if you move back to the motherland; others are not. The confidence you gain abroad, however, is likely to stick no matter where you go.

See also: The bell curve of expat opportunity

And: Loser Back Home (LBH)X-twat

When Chinese come back to China…

circa 1972:

Chinese from abroad who come back to visit the motherland are put in a special category. The Maoist authorities, with their fixation on classification, their obsession with hierarchy, arrange them in four different groups. At the top, you have the Chinese who have taken out foreign citizenship. They are the only ones we [Westerners] meet, because they stay in the same hotels and enjoy the same material privileges. But – noblesse oblige – these aristocrats also suffer from the same disabilities in their contacts with the people, including members of their own families. While they can usually see their parents in their homes (sometimes they may see them only in the hotels), they may not spend the night there. […]

The second class is made up of the “compatriots from Taiwan” – in practice this means Taiwanese who live in Japan or the United States. This brand is in great demand because of its many political uses, but the stock is limited. The press talks about them, but you never see them.

The third class, the Overseas Chinese, is more numerous. Usually they are well-to-do businessmen from Southeast Asia who enjoy the best of both worlds: patriotic pride in their mother country, wealth and ease in the country where they live. In the People’s Republic they enjoy special hotels and restaurants: less expensive than those for foreigners, but out of bounds for the local population.

At the bottom one finds “compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao,” most of whom come to China only to visit their relatives in Kwangtung province. This is really the largest group of all – on traditional festival days such as New Year’s Day, the Feast of the Dead (Ch’ing-ming), and so on, they cross the frontier by the tens of thousands. And the procedure for that is very easy: only an identity card is required. Of course, they see only their family villages, but at least they enjoy direct and close contact with the Chinese in an everyday way, whereas the higher-class visitors, though they can travel on the wider tourist circuits, are insulated by the prophylactic measures that cut foreigners off from real Chinese life.

–Simon Leys

Of course, things are (mostly) rather different now…