Why the first world problem meme is problematic #fwp

Maybe I’m a little late jumping on the band wagon, but I had a little think today about why the First World Problem Meme is so problematic. Also seen as hashtags on Twitter #firstworldproblems #fwp, it was originally known as “White Whine” (although that term is less popular), and is defined by Urban Dictionary as:

First World Problems: Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.

The reason why I am thinking about this older meme is because my coworker showed me this ad recently for non profit group Water Is Life.

Basically, it shows people in developing nations surrounded by poor infrastructure, reading out tweets that are tagged as ‘first world problems.’

This is the first part as to why it is problematic. I get that the point is to illustrate that the problems in the tweets aren’t real problems, and that the people reading them have real problems. But it also comes across as a little patronizing and firmly positions the speakers as “others.” They are not us. They have “real” problems.

I won’t even delve into the terms First World and Third World because there are piles of books out there about deconstructing these terms and their colonialist implications. For argument’s sake, I’m going to use these terms because everyone knows the meaning behind each term.

So what does #fwp assume? Well, that the First World and Third World are monoliths. As in, everyone in the First World is rich and don’t have ‘real’ problems, only problems that involve maids and phones. Everyone in the Third World is poor and starving and facing rape and torture and therefore have ‘real’ problems.

Nevermind that starvation, rape, murder, and other ‘real’ problems really do happen in the First World. I could point to overwhelming statistics that illustrate massive wealth disparities in the world’s richest countries. In fact, Manhattan’s wealth disparity rivals that of Sub-Saharan Africa, a region of the so-called Third World.

And the Third World, while there is poverty, also has rich people. The rich people in the Third World usually live it up more than the rich people in the First World. See also: Imelda Marcos and her collection of shoes that would make Carrie Bradshaw have a seizure.

The Third World also has a middle class. Maybe they don’t have two routers or have heated car seats, but they aren’t exactly starving either.

So blah blah, long story short, this meme is lazy. Maybe they should call it One Percenter Meme.

Girl at the End of the World

Chapter 1

Emma was getting ready for work. From her wardrobe she selected a black tank top, a black lace pullover, and black skinny jeans. She brushed her long hair, tied it up into a high ponytail, curled the ends with a flat iron, and applied thick strokes of eyeliner at her lashline.

“Are you done with the bathroom?” came a tinny voice from the other side of the door. Emma rolled her eyes at herself in the mirror and yanked the flat iron plug out of the outlet.

“Yeah, yeah,” she replied. She swung the door open, nearly hitting herself. The bathroom was so tiny that one had to edge past the door into the room to close it. “Just getting ready for work.” A tinge of annoyance bordered her words.

“I was just asking,” snapped her roommate, Zoey. “You’re not the only one who has to go somewhere.”

“All yours,” Emma said, stepping out brusquely. “Good luck getting to the Slut Awards.”

Zoey brushed past Emma and closed the bathroom door behind her. The other roommate, Morgan, walked past them towards the kitchen to make dinner. Her jaw dropped when she heard Emma’s comments.

“Did you hear what she said?” Zoey yelled at Morgan from beyond the bathroom door. “I don’t know why she says things like that!”

Morgan looked at Emma and shrugged. “I don’t want to get involved.” She went to the fridge and pulled out a half-empty jar of pasta sauce.

Emma shook her head. She grabbed her black walking shoes, noting the worn down heels. Time to get new ones, she thought to herself gloomily, while taking mental note of expenses this month. Pulling on the shoes and her black peacoat, she waved wordlessly at Morgan and slammed the door behind her.

It was a brisk walk to the bus stop, with the wind howling about her and whipping her ponytail around her face. Newspapers and little bits of debris kicked up around her ankles as she walked. The smell of dog urine hit her square in the face at one corner.

While she waited at the bus stop with other equally glum passengers, she recalled how her life had turned for the worse the last few years.

The bus arrived in a gust of dirty air. She filed onto the bus and stared out the window, watching as an elderly woman in a wheelchair was lifted onto the platform.

A burly man sat down beside her, awakening her from her day dream. He grinned at her, showing yellowing teeth. He was sitting too close.

“Hi beautiful,” he said. She looked at him and turned towards the window.

“Not in a mood to talk, huh.” He turned his head to face the window as well.

Uncomfortable, she began to edge away. Finally, the bus stopped and she leapt up from her seat and bounded down the steps.

“Have a good day!” she heard from behind her. She practically could feel his gross yellow smile.

She walked the rest of the way to her workplace, only five blocks away. She brushed off the earlier encounter and steeled herself – it was Friday night and it was only going to get worse.

The lounge was practically empty, with only a couple of stragglers finishing up their dinner. She walked to the back, ignoring the stares, and headed straight for the back of the bar.

The lounge was busy that night. Emma never stopped moving, swooping in between the bar and the other bartenders. There were endless shots bought for her – Emma simply poured herself some water or juice to match the customer’s preference.

At around two, her boss signaled that it was time for her shift to end. The night was beginning to slow down, even though the music kept pumping through her system.

Another bartender had come in to take over her shift. He would most likely work until the early morning.

“Hi, pretty lady,” he said, flashing her a perfect smile. His black tee showed off thick biceps and a thin waist. Emma drank him in.

“Hi, Omar,” she replied, smiling. Her night had instantly perked up. “How are ya?”

“Not bad. Seems like you got the good part of the night.” He winked.

Emma surveyed the lounge. Most of the people had coupled off and left. There were only a few all-girl parties (probably bachelorette) and some desperate guys looking for action. The floor was suitably sticky from all the spilled mojitos.

“Looks like.” She tried to play it cool, which was incredibly difficult around him. “Anyway, I’m done. Gonna head home.”

“’Kay. Stay safe out there.”

Emma untied the black apron around her waist and hung it up in the break room. She grabbed her coat and bag, adjusted her hair in the mirror, and quickly walked out of the lounge. It had been a long night and all she wanted to do was sleep.

The next day began at 11AM. Her phone buzzed next to her ear, where it had been charging. Moaning, Emma rolled over and grabbed it, looking at it with one eye open.

Erica. She swiped her finger over the screen. “Hello?”

“Hi, sleepyhead.”

“What do you want?” Emma asked groggily.

“Still doing brunch today at noon? It was your idea.”


“Well, hurry up. It’s 11 already.”

“Okay, okay.”

“I knew you’d still be sleeping.”

“Shut up.” Emma couldn’t help but smile. “See you there.”

She slid out of bed, and grabbed a light blue sweater tunic and black leggings. Throwing these on, she headed to the bathroom.

The bathroom stunk like vomit. “Oh, gross!” Emma cried, sidestepping spots on the floor. “Zoey!”

A very hung over Zoey floated through the kitchen like a ghost. “What?”

“I have to get going! You have to clean this up right now.”

“Okay,” Zoey mumbled, looking on the verge of death. She gripped the sides of her head. “Oh god, what a night.”

“Don’t wanna hear about it. I’m going to be late.” Emma grabbed her toothbrush and went to her room to get ready.

She pulled on brown ankle boots, slung her purse around her arm, and went out the door, making sure that it wouldn’t slam shut behind her.

“I haven’t seen you in forever,” Erica said over plates of huevo rancheros and pancakes. They were sitting on a picturesque waterfront in Chelsea. Erica was a petite little thing, with a mass of dark brown curls and bright eyes. Emma often felt like a giant next to her.

“Yeah, I can’t remember the last time I had brunch either.” Emma had decided to splurge on a pitcher of mimosas. She felt entitled after the unpleasant start to the morning.

It was a lazy sort of morning and the conversation went that way as well. Emma told her about Zoey, about Omar, while Erica shared her tales of working as a low-level administrator at an advertising agency.

Two hours and one pitcher of mimosa later, Emma finally felt relaxed enough to head home.

“How are you getting home?” Erica asked.

“The L train, then bus.”

“2 and 1 train for me. Okay then. Get home safe.” Erica hugged her.

“You too.”

Emma had just gotten on the train when two police officers stepped on and ordered everyone off.

An announcement was made over the PA. “Ladies and gentlemen, all train services have been suspended until further notice. Please exit the trains. There are shuttle services available aboveground to take you to your destination.”

“You heard that!” said one of the police officers. He pointed towards the doors. “Everyone off!”

“What’s going on, officer?” Emma asked.

“We don’t have that information yet. Can’t say.” He lifted his head to yell at the rest of the passengers. “Everyone needs to proceed to the emergency shuttle service. There will be buses to take you along this route.”

Everyone filed off the train, some more willingly than others. “Stupid L train!” muttered Emma to herself.

It was a long commute home. Her phone rang a couple times, both from Zoey. Emma was already in a foul mood so she hit the angry red X on the screen.

When she finally got home, she found Zoey and Morgan standing in the living room around the TV.

“Where have you been?” demanded Zoey. She looked much better than this morning and smelt distinctly of lemon cleaning product and soap.

“I had brunch with Erica. It took me an hour to get home from Chelsea! They shut down the L train so I had to take two buses.” Emma went behind the curtain that separated her ‘bedroom’ from the rest of the living room. She stripped off her blue sweater and threw on a large over-sized white tee.

“Well, there was a biological attack at 28th and 1st!” Morgan said in a strained voice.

“What?” Emma flung open the curtain and went to join her roommates around the TV.

“Yeah, they’re saying that its infected a bunch of people already,” Zoey said. She looked grim. “That’s why they shut down the trains.”

“What do we do now?” Morgan asked. Her eyes were wide as saucers and her blonde hair looked frazzled.

“The mayor is urging people to stay in their homes,” the news anchor said, as if in reply to Morgan. The roommates looked at each other.

“I guess that’s what we do,” Emma said, flopping down on the couch. She looked at her phone and checked Facebook and Twitter.

What’s going on?? Couldn’t get home today.  Staying at the boyfriend’s.


Praying for all the people affected at NYU Langone!


Just saw this sketchy looking guy on the street! He tried to bite me.. WTF!


“This is weird,” Emma said to Zoey and Morgan, pointing at the last update from a friend.

“What’s that?” Zoey asked, crowding Emma. “BITING?”

“Guys.. you have to see this,” Morgan said, pointing at the TV.

There was shaky cell phone footage, taken at Times Square.

“Ugh I hate it when people film vertically,” Emma grumbled.

“Shh.” Morgan turned up the volume.

“In this cell phone footage sent to us, you can see the effects of this biological agent.”

A man at the center of the footage was lurching unsteadily, swinging his arms about. He appeared to be homeless. The footage paused.

“Now, take a look at what he does to this bystander. Warning: This may be disturbing to some viewers.”

The man lunged towards a woman who was pointing at him. He grabbed her arm and bit down on her hand. The footage suddenly became very shaky and the owner of the cell phone appeared to be running away from the scene.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” Emma leapt up off the couch. Morgan shrieked.

“Oh, please don’t tell me it’s more of those bath salt drugs,” Zoey said in a quaking voice.

“NYPD police commissioner will issue an official statement in five minutes regarding these events.”

Emma walked to the kitchen, open the fridge, and cracked open three beers. She handed them wordlessly to Zoey and Morgan, who both took deep gulps.

Morgan set down her beer and flipped channels. Each channel showed the same terrifying footage. Finally, the NYPD police commissioner came on the screen.

“Guys!” Morgan said, waving Emma and Zoey towards the screen.

“…we have reason to believe that this may be a terrorist attack…”

“Oh my god!” Zoey said. Her eyes darted at Emma in a panic. Emma knew that Zoey had been in New York during 9/11.

“…I am urging you to stay in your homes until we deem it safe to go outside. If you have nowhere to go, we are opening up all homeless shelters to provide emergency first aid care. In the meantime, we will continue to let the public know about developments as we learn about the situation…”

Emma stood up and went to the kitchen to take stock of their food. She cleared out the sink and began filling it with water. “Morgan!” she barked. “Go to the bathroom and fill the tub.”


“We don’t know if we’re going to need it,” said Emma.

“Just do what she says, Morgan,” said Zoey, still sitting cross legged on the ground in front of the TV.

Emma opened the drawer beside the sink and counted the number of emergency candles. “Twelve.”

“…the virus is spread through blood contact. Symptoms include hyper aggression, stiffness, nausea, and in severe cases, decaying flesh. If you or a loved one has been bitten within the last 24 hours, immediately quarantine that person…”

“So what is this? A zombie virus?” asked Zoey.

“…talking about establishing martial law in parts of Brooklyn to contain…”

“Don’t say that!” Morgan said. She had returned from filling the bathtub.

“…military base in Long Island…”

“What do we do now?” Morgan asked.

“Stay inside, I guess,” Zoey answered.

Two days had passed. Emma was bored to death. She read a novel that she had been putting off, only occasionally going out into the living room to check on her roommates. She also avoided Facebook, tired of all the updates that were almost invariably the same panicked exclamations of “I’m leaving New York!”

Zoey was obsessively watching TV and once in a while came into either Morgan’s or Emma’s room to make announcements of what she had learned from TV.

“They said Times Square is completely overrun! Elmo turned into a zombie!” which elicited more giggles than it should have.

“The military base in Long Island might be the new headquarters for the mayor! They’re airlifting him out of Manhattan!”

“People are fleeing uptown. There are huge traffic jams on all bridges!”

“ERs are packed! There are too many patients.”

“They’re deploying the National Guard!”

After a while, Emma tuned out Zoey whenever she came into her room.

The three roommates did not venture out at all, shaken by the cell phone footage on TV. Food was also beginning to run low, since Emma and Morgan hadn’t gone grocery shopping that week. The only sounds from outside for the last two days were endless sirens moving up and down the area.

On the second day, Emma and Zoey were staring out the window, watching what appeared to be a college student venturing out the front door of their apartment building. It was a boy of probably no more than 20 years old, wearing the dark purple of NYU.

“Do you know who that is?” Emma asked. Zoey shook her head. “Must have just moved in.”

He darted around the corner and disappeared from sight, reemerging a few minutes later with a small grey plastic bag of what looked like canned food.

“Oooh, he’s got food,” breathed Zoey. Her stomach rumbled.

They both watched eagerly as he made his way back to the apartment. “Maybe we can borrow some in exchange for sex!” Zoey said jokingly. Emma shook her head, unappreciative of the crude humor.

“Fine.” Zoey fell silent, watching this little boy walk along the sidewalk.

Suddenly there was a loud pop pop pop! Emma and Zoey both jumped. The boy slumped the ground. His plastic bag ripped open and cans of food rolled in all directions.

“What was that?” Morgan said loudly, loping to the window.

“Shh!” Emma and Zoey said. They dropped the ground, dragging Morgan down with them. With only their eyes and fingers over the windowsill, they saw two armed guards wearing helmets rush forward towards the body of the boy. Both of them carried rifles. One of them bent over and examined the body on the ground. The other spoke into the radio on his shoulder.

“National Guard,” Morgan murmured.

“They have radios!” hissed Zoey.

It was another few minutes before the gurney arrived, but it seemed like hours. The two guards stood around the boy, keeping watch, until two military paramedics arrived, sirens blaring. The inside of their apartment glowed blue and red alternatively.

They lifted the boy onto the gurney and slipped him into a black body bag. The two guards had collected the cans of food and placed them on top of the body bag, which was then wheeled into the ambulance.

“Oh my god,” Zoey said. “They took the food!”

“Should we go out there?” Morgan asked.

“No!” Emma responded quickly. “I think they’re going to shoot first, ask later.”

“Why are they doing this?” Morgan wailed, tears in her eyes.

“Shh.” Zoey flapped her hands at her. She pointed out the window. The two guards remained in front of their apartment building, looking up at the windows.

“What are they doing?”

“I think they’re trying to figure out how many people live here,” Emma whispered.

The two guards walked the length of the apartment exterior, then followed after the paramedics.

On the third day, Emma changed out of her pajamas for the first time in a while and tucked her wallet into her jean pocket. They hadn’t heard any sirens since yesterday and it was deathly quiet.

“Where are you going?” Zoey beseeched. “You can’t go out there!”

“We’re almost out of food, Zoey.” Emma pulled on her boots and sweatshirt. “I have to go out there. There might not be anything left if I don’t. I’m just going down to the bodega.”

“What about the National Guard?”

“Zoey. I know you’re hungry. I’m hungry. Morgan’s hungry. We need to do something.” Emma was on the verge of angry tears.

“Okay.” Zoey relented. “Be quick. Keep an eye out.” She turned back to the TV and continued clicking through channels. It seemed to be showing the same footage over and over again.

Emma breathed in the air outside. Even though it was a little stale, it was nice to go out. She looked around for signs of the guards that she saw yesterday, but noticed nothing. It was strangely quiet and the streets were empty. Probably staying indoors, she thought as she walked down the crumbling steps to her apartment building. There was a small splatter of blood where the student had fallen. She side stepped it.

It was a short two-minute walk to the bodega on the corner. The store was open, the lights were on, but it was empty. She stuck her head in the door and took a quick look around. No one.

She grabbed a red basket from the counter and began filling it with protein bars and packets of dried food. The aisles were virtually untouched. She looked at the fridge and saw a giant quart of Ben and Jerry’s. Why not? she thought, putting that in the basket as well. It’s the end of the world.

Her basket was nearly full when she heard a groaning noise. She placed the basket on the ground.

“…hello?” she called out. Only more groans answered her. Emma looked around and picked up the heaviest object she could find – a butternut squash.

“Hello?” she called out again, more boldly. “Who’s there? Don’t shoot, I’m unarmed.” Or at least, armed with a squash. Her hands shook. What if she was attacked? No one would come to help her.

It was a tense minute as the shuffling and groaning noises came closer.

A gruesome, bloated face appeared behind packets of pasta sauce and instant noodles. Emma yelled and jumped back. It was the bodega owner.

“Mister, I don’t want to hurt you!” she cried as he lumbered around the shelves and placed himself between her and the exit. He was slobbering and lunging towards her with his arms outstretched. “I really don’t want to hurt you!” she repeated over and over, remembering the footage from TV. She threw the butternut squash at him, which only cracked open ineffectually against the side of his head. Golden yellow pulp flew everywhere. The man continued to lumber forward, unaffected.

Emma darted around the aisles towards the back, where she knew there was a small hardware section. She grabbed the biggest tool – a monkey wrench – and held it in front of her.

When he was almost within arms reach, she swung the monkey wrench as hard as she could, bringing it down on top of his upper arm. There was a loud crack and splinters of bone came out. Emma gagged. And yet he still shuffled forward.

“Okay, here goes!” she said to herself. She lifted the monkey wrench high above her. One of his hands found her elbow. She wriggled it free, backed up, and brought the wrench down as hard as she could on top of his skull.

Down he went. He lay on the floor, jaw still working. Double tap. She swung the wrench down again onto his head. His arms stiffened and then stopped moving.

Emma felt sick. Her heart was pounding so fast she could barely breathe. Her arms were tingling from exertion. Her stomach was rolling. Still holding the wrench, she grabbed the basket with her other hand and walked as fast as she could home. In the distance, she heard a slow, deep rumble and then several blasts in succession.

Stopping on the sidewalk, she looked up and saw several blue and orange clouds erupting from along the waterfront. They roiled and sputtered upwards. Oh shit! she thought in a panic. She ran home. Ahead of her, she saw the shadows of fighter jets.

“Zoey! Morgan!” she cried out as soon as she got home.

“I know,” Zoey said softly. “The TV’s out. There’s no power.”

My 2013 resolutions

I usually don’t make new year’s resolutions (aside from when we had to make them in grade school and decorate them with drawings and stickers). But this year, I really feel like I’m going to be turning over a new leaf. 2012 was not exactly an easy year. I was unemployed for a good amount of it, and faced the stress of visa issues, rejections, moving, and the death of my grandmother.

I also got my Masters, got engaged to a wonderful person, and worked for some truly great people in an amazing organization.

With that in mind, I am going to write out realistic goals for myself this year.

1) Finish one major non-work related project

This will most likely be a novel. I’m currently writing a zombie romance novel set in New York, and I intend for it to go somewhere. If you know of any interested publishers, send them my way!

In my time of unemployment, I realize how much of peoples’ self worth is tied up in their occupation – they let their job title define who they are. Even when I become employed, I don’t want that to define who I am to other people. I want to have something that is entirely my doing. I will continue with Meanwhile in China. Something big is going to come out of this, I know it. It’s been a passion of mine for a long time and I want to continue with it. It’s going to be hard work, but I know it is doable.

2) Treat my body like a temple

This is probably a resolution that’s on everybody’s list, but it’s a valid one. I will eat more vegetables. I plan to have my meals at least 50% greens. I will avoid unhealthy foods – fried, processed, refined sugars. I will exercise five times a week – different work outs, not always the same. More importantly, I will keep my stress levels down. More naps, more soothing herbal teas, more happy thoughts. Which leads me to number 4.

3) Be more understanding

I have always struggled with this, always quick to jump to conclusions about other people. I will avoid negative thoughts and try to be kinder to others.

4) Spend more time reaching out

I will keep in contact better with friends and family around the world. I’ve never been very good at this – I forget birthdays too. I’ve already started by sending Christmas cards out to some friends this year. I will continue to do this with the help of Skype. I also plan to keep in touch through cards and phone calls. Social media is the crutch that people use in lieu of real communication, and I will try to go beyond it.

5) Let things happen

I did this in 2012, but it was still difficult sometimes to accept things as they happened. This year, I vow to be more flexible and allow things to happen as they will. 2013 will be a year of opportunities, and the way to see them is to let them play out.

Here is to a 2013 that is better than 2012. May each year be better than the last!

What are your new year resolutions?

My 8 realistic and not-crazy fitness tips

Yes, it’s kind of cliched to write about ‘motivational fitness tips’ (or according to the blogosphere, ‘fitspo‘). But after two solid months of traveling and jet lag messing up my eating and sleep schedule, I’m ready to get back on the fitness path I was on in New York. If you travel a lot like me, make sure to keep plenty hydrated! Flying really can screw up your metabolism.

So, here are my own personal mandates for fitness.

1) Don’t watch TV after dinner

I am so grateful for DVDs and streaming. Now I don’t have to sit through all the food commercials on cable. Naturally, the more TV you watch, the more commercials you will see. Majority of commercials are for fast food. This will make you hungry. Avoid this.

It became especially bad when I was hooked on cooking shows like Chopped and Iron Chef. It’s probably the worst thing in the world to flip to the Food Network at 10PM and find yourself drooling over 10 different courses of lobster.

Those ihop commercials are the worst. I’ve never even seen an ihop in Toronto but they make me wanna go so badly!

2) Do digestive activities after eating

Either go for a walk, or do some gentle stretching. My favorite is the yoga ‘diamond pose,’ or the vajrasana if you’re one of those crunchy types, which is supposed to aid digestion and manage blood sugar levels. Also, it’s a killer stretch for your knees and ankles. Super easy digestion without even moving!

Diamond pose

3) Drink room temperature or warm drinks instead of cold drinks

Cold drinks go down easier, while room temperature or warm drinks fill you up. This will stop you from drinking your calories. Just imagine how much quicker you’d down an iced venti mocha versus a hot grande mocha. Apparently, cold drinks also keep the fat around your midsection and upsets your stomach’s natural equilibrium. (I used to have acidity problems, which is how I know from experience!)

Watch those after-work drinks! Alcohol metabolizes as sugar, meaning that your white wine translates to a LOT of extra empty calories.

4) Break one sweat a day

This is much easier than it sounds! I always try to get in at least one good sweat somewhere, whether its taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a brisk walk with the dog, or simply doing a 10 minute ab workout from Youtube. (Cassey is my new fave fitness guru!)

5) Drink lots of water

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this before. But did you know that 37% of people mistake thirst for hunger? Sometimes I’d be halfway through a bag of chips before realizing its because I’m actually dehydrated.

If you’re hungry, drink water first. I’ve got my bottle of room temperature water on hand, always.

6) By the hammer of Thor! Keep a food journal if you must, but don’t count your calories

Tried it, hated it. Also it turns you into some kind of crazy person. “I can’t have this croissant because it has 300 calories!”

Don’t be that person. It’s just plain exhausting – for yourself and the people around you.

If you’re very concerned about eating healthier, I suggest you keep a food journal instead of counting calories. Calories mean nothing – nutrition is far more important. Eat your fruit and veggies!

7) Smaller plates and bowls go a long way

It’s all psychological anyway! A bigger bowl or plate means you want to fill it up, even if you don’t need it. Having a smaller dish prevents you from overeating, and you can always get seconds if you’re still hungry.

Yes, I’ve heard that chopsticks supposedly help you eat less because you pick up less with each bite. Being Asian, this doesn’t work for me. Not by a long shot. But if you can’t use chopsticks, they’re probably a pretty decent diet tool.

8) And finally: be happy! Stress messes with your metabolism big time. Smile!

Got your own fitness tips to share? Put them in the comments!

South-south migration: The way of the future

Meanwhile in China

November 5

Guangzhou, Guangdong — Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong, is home to an area called Hongqiao which is known throughout China as an African neighborhood. In 1998, the first group from Africa came to Hongqiao area and since then the population has kept increasing. More than a decade later, there are more than 200,000 Africans living in the city, making up almost 2% of the whole population of Guangzhou. With the rapidly growing African population, the billboards in this area are usually written in four different languages — English, Chinese, French and Arabic.

News source: [news.ifeng.com] Chinese language

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Meanwhile in China

November 1

Chengdu, Sichuan – At a press conference held by the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Director Zhang Zhihe introduced a group of seven newborn baby pandas to the public for the first time. The press conference also promoted the research base’s newly published book “Giant Pandas: Born Survivors.” According to Zhang, these baby pandas will be raised by their mother until they are one and half to two years old.

News source: [Chinanews.com] Chinese language

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Hong Kong’s identity needs broader look at colonial era

The Hong Kong Autonomous Movement claims that the displays of the Hong Kong British flag are not a call for a return to colonialism. Instead, they claim it is, “the defense of the lion and dragon and the blending of the East and West.” Opponents of the movement argue that the flag belongs in a museum.

Although the city-state movement in Hong Kong may not intend the British flag to symbolize the return of British colonialism, the usage of the flag as an icon of Hong Kong is one that cannot be removed from our long history of colonialism. Its display is not simply assertion of the Hong Kong “East-meets-West” identity. It speaks to the embedded nature of the colonial mindset.

Protestors carry colonial flags on the anniversary of the Handover. July 1, 2012. Photo credit: AP/ Vincent Yung.

The discussion of Hong Kong as an autonomous state comes with a viewpoint of history, one that is amnesiac in its recollection of colonial Hong Kong. In order to fully understand the origins of the autonomous movement, we must look at the historical and post-colonial context.

It is understandable why Hong Kongers credit the British for the city’s global prominence. Hong Kong would not be the financial hub it is today without the British. Like Mumbai, Hong Kong started out as a collection of tiny islands. Queen Victoria reportedly was regaled by the signing of Hong Kong to the British after the Chinese Qing Dynasty had lost the Opium War. “Albert is so amused at my having got the island of Hong Kong,” she wrote in a letter to King Leopold of Belgium in 1841. Others were less tickled. “A barren island with hardly a house upon!” wrote Lord Palmerston.

The island, along with a perpetual lease granting Kowloon and the 99-year lease granting rent-free use of the New Territories to the Queen, grew into a major trading post. Trading giants including Jardine Matheson and Forbes conducted the business of banking and opium from its harbours.

Nathan Road, Kowloon. 1960.

The period from the Opium War onwards was a tumultuous time for China. The Qing court from which Hong Kong was ceded crumbled, and the Republic of China took over. World War I and II caused heavy damage to the landscape and decimated its population. During this time, Hong Kong remained relatively insulated from China’s woes, even when occupied by the Japanese for 3 years and 8 months.

Then the Communist Party began taking territory in China as they chased the Kuomintang out. The fervor of socialism swept into Hong Kong, mirroring the Marxist movement happening across Europe and the post-colonial movement in the Global South. The 1967 Riots were sparked by a labour dispute on May 6 when picketing workers clashed with police. Unfair working conditions became the cause of pro-communists inspired by the Cultural Revolution. The British responded with brute force, arresting protestors and suspected communist sympathizers. Martial law was imposed even as leftists planted home-made bombs both real and fake. Anti-communist public figures and politicians were kidnapped or murdered.

Nearby Macau also experienced a series of pro-Communist riots, leading Portugal to temporarily hand over control of the colony to Britain.

The riots spurred discussion of Britain’s role as a colonizer and heralded massive policy changes in colonial affairs. Discussions were held as to whether or not continued brutal handling of the pro-communist anti-colonial movement was effective in quelling social unrest. In response, the British colonists began to change its attitudes towards locals, adopting a “soft” colonial agenda of social programs and greater economic freedom under Governor MacLehose.

It is these policies where the rosy view of the British comes from. Yes, the British colonists did implement some great social programs, including universal healthcare and public housing projects. But these policies stemmed from the demands of the Hong Kong people, not the initiatives of the British.

It is all too easy to forget that prior to the 1970s, Hong Kong was no better off than China is now. In fact, the British practice of indentured servitude was rampant before its abolition in the 1930s. Before WWII, Chinese could not go to some beaches and were not allowed to own property on the Peak, in accordance with racially segregated zoning laws. Prior to Governor MacLehose, Chinese was not recognized as an official language of Hong Kong.

Doing away with these policies was an investment for the British, who now saw Hong Kong as a viable gateway into China, a future economic partner.

Unlike other post-colonial nations, Hong Kong did not have a successful uprising against the colonists. It was a teary goodbye, symbolized by the torrential downpour where Prince Charles stood miserably in the rain while the Chinese officials remained dry and high indoors. Was it Stockholm Syndrome? Or simply fear of the unknown? Looking at the turning points in Hong Kong history, I’d say it is a mixture of both. My then 10-year-old self sitting in front of the TV watching the ceremony most definitely felt that sense of uncertainty.

Ultimately the fight for Hong Kong is still about politics and economics. The basic struggle is still about differing ideologies, a push back against the government once perceived as a major threat by the colonists. Although controversy surrounds the National Education Plan that was shelved a month ago, I believe civic education in the context of history is essential.

As Hong Kongers, we must assert our identity as a post-colonial state, to embrace the legacy of the colonial era without adopting the fears and prejudices of the time. We must look at the bigger picture of history without cherry-picking parts. Only then can the true potential of our city be realized.

Originally posted at Meanwhile in China News

Read more:

Hong Kong protestors raise colonial flags at anti-Mainland rallies

Hong Kong shelves national education plan

Beautiful, touching, and sweet!

Meanwhile in China

October 2

Ningde, Fujian — After two years of engagement, same-sex couple Lu Zhong and Liu Wanqiang had a public wedding ceremony in the smallest city in Fujian province. Many pedestrians stopped to follow the couple as they rode a motorcycle cross town to their wedding ceremony. Onlookers blocked traffic as they took pictures. Afterwards, news of the couple’s wedding sparked discussion in national media outlets and drew the public’s attention to same-sex marriage rights in China.

China does not recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions and adopts a “three nos” policy: “No approval; no disapproval; no promotion.”

News source: [6park.com] Chinese Language

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Follow my newest venture – a news blog about what’s happening in China. Meanwhile In China isn’t focused on politics or business, like most mainstream news about China. Instead, we focus on human interest stories. We are looking to put faces on the stories of the rise of a super power.

Meanwhile in China

October 2, Mount Hua, Shanxi — The double holiday week has caused severe traffic jams throughout China, but on Tuesday, tourist destination Mount Hua in Shanxi province saw its first human traffic jam. Holiday seekers during China’s “Golden Week” were left on the mountain summit when public transit could not handle the large number of people.

Due to the surge in number of visitors, the frequency of cable cars and shuttle buses servicing Mount Hua were increased to cope with the demand. The large number of tourists could not be accommodated on cable cars descending the mountain, leading some of the tourists to demand a refund from Mount Hua Scenic Area Management. The management company initially refused. In response, the tourists blocked both the cable car and shuttle bus entrance to the mountain, leaving tens of thousands stranded on the peak for over twelve hours. Microbloggers posted pictures…

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