Mixed as Absurd and The Inn of The Sixth Happiness

He is a fictive character who serves our purposes. The following dialogue reveals some key details about the Colonel:

Col. Lin Nan: “You’re white. You shouldn’t be in China at all.”
Gladys Aylward: “How can you say that, when you’re part white?”
LN: “I’m half-white. In your world, I can only be a second-class citizen. I chose China because here, I’m allowed to be of value.”
GA: “That’s why I came here. To be of value.”
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The President vs. Office of the President

How much do we care about the distinction between "The/A President" and "The Office of the President?"

It seems every American movie in recent memory where the White House, or some organ of the U.S. government is attacked and the President is injured, held hostage, or otherwise compromised there is one character or another that must use the perfunctory line: “The Office of the President is bigger than any one man.”

“Dimensions” (i.e. the cultural dimensions that I talk about in my book) regarding something as tricky as values or “culture,” are not black and white. But even though these differences are not ironclad and easily identifiable, there is a point where cultural differences do matter. You have been to the movies, and you know what I mean. Chinese screenwriters don’t have the corresponding stock line.

The Western model is institution unambiguously above the individual. Mind you, I don't necessarily think this is how governance is practiced in the West today--I am just talking about abstract ideals.

Maybe we don't immediately think of it that way, but in the American practice it is a default to reflexively point out “The President” and “The Office of The President of The United States of America”. I wonder if that reflex is not as well honed in greater China because institutions can be synonymous with an individual, if not subsumed by an individual. 


Serendipity and How a Bridge is Always in Motion

What struck me was that the protagonist in my dream was a composite of the two characters Cate Blanchett had played inthe two movies I’d watched:  the badassagency operative deft with pistols from Hanna –  only she was wearing the posh clothes and had the tics of the character from Blue Jasmine

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More on Bouncing Around (The Frank and Ernest Story)

One of the side effects to bouncing around, as described in yesterday's post, is that tweaking your approach to every particular situation, being ad hoc in every instance, means you often sink to the lowest common denominator. You settle. You are like a fire truck, zipping around reactively putting out fires. You come under enormous pressure to base your decisions on pissing off the fewest number of people. And let us sing it: These are not the foundations to developing leadership. You will game situations, as we mentioned, doubting your own instincts as your rational brain whirrs up, informing you of all the reasons each side has their own legitimate grievances, each worth their own hearing. The amount of situational awareness, patience, and energy you have to gather, and stay on top of is burdensome to say the least. 

There are other, maybe even more troublesome aspects of bouncing around.

Samuel L. Jackson's character, Mitch Henessey, in The Long Kiss Goodnight delivers one of his most memorable lines of the movie, on a fake version of Larry King Live: "I'm always frank and earnest with women. Uh, in New York I'm Frank, and Chicago I'm Ernest.

It is funny. It is. Well, Samuel L. is funny, almost no matter what. Anyhow, I do want to tie this into the discussion of mixed race, and again I am speaking about what I know, specifically Chinese and Western.

He is a lovable ol' dirty bastard, who gets away with his schthick because he is on the right side of creepy. But Samuel L. is clearly "bouncing around." He's grabbing the low-hanging fruit. The delivery is funny and all, but intuitively we know something is off. If only the women in Chicago knew that he wasn't Ernest when he's in New York- we know he'd be in deep trouble. 

He'd be doo doo in Chicago and pxx pxx in New York instead.

I think that in the case of mixed people, there is something similar that goes on. It is not exactly the same- it doesn't have to do with licentiousness or New York or Chicago- but it is similar and it happens chronically.

That is, you play up the Chinese when it suits you, and play up the Western when that suits. For example:

  • You are Chinese amongst a Western group when, for example:
    • Chinese food comes up, or Chinese History, or Confucius or Aaron Kwok, or elite Chinese politics, or Beijing, or Chinese manners come up- and you embrace the sudden authority you have, all of a sudden. The only problem is this is a topic that you don't know that much about. 
  • You are Western amongst a Chinese group when, for example:
    • You are observing some arcane funereal rite, or you are visiting someone's distant relatives, or reading the social tea leaves, or required to be quiet or deferential or obsequious. 

One of the problems is that you are committing argumentum ab auctoritate: you are arguing from a position of inappropriate authority. On the flipside- the problem is you are taking a powder on the very type of topics you were supposed to be an expert in with your Western friends. 

If only the Western friends knew what you were saying to your Chinese friends! And vice versa! Welcome to Chi-York!!!

The danger in all of this is you become a musical conductor who loses sight of the composition. If that happens, all you are left with is a bundle of harmonious notes. You don't want to bounce around, because even though you may think to yourself- well, I'm just doing it for this one instance, for this one day, or for this one task, every time you do it you forget what it is you are bouncing from, and bouncing to.

In the end, you just want to be you- right?