Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

It is a flood

As the NZ First man took the floor at the WTV-organised Chinese media meet-the-parties seminar on Sunday, not a single person clapped him on. When he finished, not a single person clapped him off - we're not as polite as everyone thinks, I guess.

From my friend's reports, the crowd was old, and pro tax-cut. The parties were pitching what they'd characterise as their Chinese spin - taxes, law and order, family values. And according to the new issue of iBall (complete with supersensationalist front page that seems to associate transvestism with death), Asians are less worried about tax cuts than the moral decline of New Zealand society represented by Civil Unions, drugs and legal prostitution.

Well, what a load of crap.

To be fair iBall was talking about Christchurch, and what do I know about Christchurch?

But overall, the Asian population is actually younger than the rest of New Zealand. And here in Auckland young Asians, like other young people, are on the whole not socially conservative, boring new-right reactionaries, neither are they rich and tax-bribable. The young Asian people I do know, across the range of NZ-born, 1.5ers and student-generation, East to Southeast to South Asian, seem to be an either/or mix of queers, stoners, hip-hoppers, actors, vandals, designers, trippers, multimedia artists, skaters and... um... journalists. They don't go to political party show & tells (except for the journalists), and like other young people, don't vote as much as they could (again, except for the journalists). And so the stereotype of the conservative, right-wing, money-hungry yellow voter continues, and that stereotype's face is that of a older-middle-aged man. These younger, sketchier associates of mine may not have economic power, and may not exercise their electoral power, but they have cultural power. They are the ones who are remaking the streets, sights and sounds of Aotearoa, whether their parents like it or not, or whether or not their parents even know.

So: though it's great to see Asian media more active in the election than in previous rounds, they're doing us a disservice if they keep pigeonholing Asian political opinion in this way.

By contrast, at the 1.5 generation-focused mini-conference on voting, Bananaworks had managed to round up a fairly high density of 18-24 year olds. A spontaneous National Party stump-speech from a greying one-man Pansy Wong cheerleading brigade in the audience, had limited crowd-penetration. As their parents' generation clapped, the 1.5ers looked embarrassed or bemused.

I don't know if they'll turn out for the general election (if it is ever called), but young Asian people showed yesterday that they will turn out for the movie Election (if that's what it is really called). Because it's about Triads - awesome! In fact, the Chinese name of the film is 黑社会 - 'Triads' - double awesome! Go Johnny To To To, for making the first Hong Kong Triad film that claims to accurately represent the ritual handover of power from one Boss to another, and the first that I know of, to describe the origins of Triads as an anti-Qing dynasty secret society formed from defeated remnants of a Shaolin resistance. And the first that I've seen with no guns. It could all just be the usual mythology, but at least it shows that elections have been held in HK for over three hundred years. A strangely socialist gloss to this 社会: you can't elect the government, but at least you can elect your Boss.

We all hate that talk, don't we, the litany of our ancestors' and parents' hardships, and how lucky we are to live in a democratic country with free and fair elections? My parents never give me that talk (bless'em), so I've had to tally it up myself. Here's what my family has fled across borders from, since the 40s, just to get me here.

wars: 2
revolutions: 1
ethnic persecution/race rioting: 2
repressive one-party states: 3
annoying parents: 4

That's quite a lot of fleedom to freedom in just two generations. It seems an insult to my family for me not to vote, such a waste of all that fleeing energy. The same rationale probably also holds true for not getting married and having children, but that's another story, and voting is way easier than living up to your parents' other expectations.

I should have said this to the 1.5 generation voting-conference, but it somehow slipped my mind. Instead, I talked about Keith Ng and Tessie Chen's 1.5 take on things, and how political participation is a way of working out how much we want to be here. Maybe I should have also suggested that it's a way of working out how grown-up we want to be.

Keith's 'uncomfortable de facto relationship' national identity analogy is really catching on, even with multimedia artists. Kah Bee Chow, a Malaysian 1.5er from Roskill (represent!) spent Christmas with her parents in Penang. As previously mentioned, I took her to a movie the other week (which she'd seen already, of course, on pirate DVD). A snippet of the foyer chat:

TM: "This is gonna be good, isn't it."
Kah Bee: "Yeah - last time I saw Kung Fu Hustle, the Tsunami hit."

I have some more pictures of Kah Bee's show at Anna Miles Gallery here, and also linked throughout what she has to say about uncomfortable relationships, nationalism, and love for New Zealand First.

“It is a flood, it is a flood in our context, in our history, given how far away we are away from the world. We are an island nation. It is a flood.” – Winston Peters

There are ways of dealing with such a threat; some might consider constructing a heavy fortress to protect from the impending disaster, some might generate a movement of resistance against the tide, issue warning alerts. And then, there is also the option of adopting an abrasive immigration policy. The most enduring fortress of all time, the 2000-year-old Great Wall of China, was constructed to “shield the ancient empire from barbarians” by isolating itself from the outside world. “A long poem in brick and stone…”, it marks the grand if endless attempts China made for centuries “to find where its true boundaries lie”. Guy Debord proposed another kind of fortress; producing a book bound with sandpaper - a book intended to destroy all other books coming into contact with its abrasive exterior. It acts as a sort of preemptive assault on any neighboring books shelved on its either side - before they even dare to intrude upon its self-imposed isolation.

It recalls a line from F.Scott Fitzgerald’s last completed novel, Tender Is The Night, “The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing… Maybe because the condition of emptiness is too shameful to be divulged.” And then I am reminded of another from F.Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘real-life’ with Zelda, his wife. “We don’t go in for self preservation. When we married, we made up our minds never to be afraid.

It is a brave promise and it is a promise I admire. But I also wonder if it is a promise that eventually deteriorated into a tragic com-promise.

Frances Stark writes: "I also think of a compromise as simply a settling of differences – for instance, something a couple must do to stay a couple."

Perhaps Zelda puts it best: “All I want is to be very young always and very irresponsible.”

...This either-or equation has that familiarity of well-worn fiction, reality is a bit too mixed up to distill into such well-defined formulas. This is how I might sympathize with Winston, yes it is a flood, unstoppable, irrevocable, and powerful – like Love, the best kind of natural disaster: disastrous and unavoidable. A scary situation I understand, much like happiness but oh… c’est la vie, Winston, c’est la vie."