Archive for November, 2009

27. One-uppers

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Traveling to a cool place is like going to an awesome concert. The experience is so good that you wish everybody could see and hear what it’s like. This type of feeling gives one a false sense of superiority, the delusion that other people are missing out big time. “You really shoulda been there,” or “OMG, I wish you were there,” or “You would have LOVED it,” are common manifestations of this feeling.

Don’t be fooled. These statements are stone cold, back-handed beenous. The back-handed beenou is a standard backpacker conversational maneuver. The speaker feigns a desire to share, but really it’s a need to gloat, so he tickles his uvula and pukes out a quick beenou for all to behold.

kristen-wiig-as-penelope-snl-kristen-wiig-323108_1024_768But even when somebody hasn’t missed out — when they’ve actually been to that place or seen that concert — it doesn’t compare. This is one-upping. Somebody sneaked out a little horn toot, which led Mr. Big Shot to pull the tugboat foghorn. The exchange takes on a sudden “check, check mate” silence, leaving everybody feeling stunned and staring blankly at the table.

“I absolutely loved Amsterdam,” somebody says.

“Yeah, Amsterdam is pretty amazing,” says Mr. Big Shot. “I met a Dutch guy when I was backpacking in Indo. His mom was born in Indo when it was still a Dutch colony. Anyway, he was in Indo trying to get in touch with his roots. On a jungle trek we went on, he got bit by a snake and I sucked the venom out; saved his life. Years later, I went to visit him; he lives in Amsterdam. His dad like owns Shell Oil. So we got blazed, ate krokete and drove Maseratis through the streets of Amsterdam all fuckin’ day.”

You see, one-uppers can’t help but shit all over a perfectly good conversation between well meaning travelers. It’s a collegiate thing, sort of like how the goof with the ponytail challenges Matt Damon to an intellectual duel only to get absolutely demolished by Damon, who cites plagiarism and famously proceeds to get Minnie Driver’s number. My boy’s wickid smaht.

The point is: One-uppers will do whatever it takes to make conversation revolve around themselves and their enlightened, shoulda-been-there experience.

The weekend after we ran with the bulls (beenou, see 1. Aussie Guys), my buddies and I went to San Sebastian. The place was awash in backpacker overflow from Pamplona. We ended up partying with some Americans and amid the drunken blur of pub hopping and running into a number of annoying Brit lad parties with matching t-shirts or rugby shirts, I recall getting caught in a heavy downpour.

We retreated to an apartment a few of the Americans had been renting for the past month leading up to the Running of the Bulls. We proceeded to keep drinking and people were playing CDs. Completely dating myself, as this was pre-iPod era. Somebody put on Dave Matthews Band. And an interesting wrinkle in the time-space continuum gave rise to a compound beenou of unseen magnitude: A backpacker bragged about an awesome concert.

“Oh this song reminds me of when we saw Dave in some dive bar in Memphis,” said the backpacker, a fat dude from Georgia. That’s right. He called him “Dave,” like he knew him, not Dave Matthews. “This was way before Crash, before college radio made him huge and lame. He and the band were only doing small shows in tiny little venues. Blahblahblahblah…”

I wish I had more quotes from this guy, but I was drunk and, as a habit I tend to block out one-uppers.

Share Button

26. The Light Skin Paradox

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

india06nw1When you visit a country of colored people colonized by Europeans (i.e. any country outside of Europe, North America and in most cases, Russia), you quickly realize that locals do not want to look like locals. They want to look like their former masters, their former invaders and slave masters: white people.

A recent Globe and Mail article about this desire among Indian men should be poignant to backpackers, who flock by the millions to developing-world countries.

In these dark-skinned countries, where people’s skin is dark because of a genetic adaptation to increased exposure to sunlight, backpackers (most often white) notice that the predominant image of beauty is a colonial one.

It’s a lot like Chris Rock’s recent movie, Good Hair, which explores the head-scratching (pun intended) phenomenon in which African American women prefer having white women’s hair: The grass is always greener. It’s human nature to want what you can’t have. Curly-haired people women want straight hair, and vice-versa. Big titted-women want smaller tits, and vice-versa. Fair-skinned people want to be tanned.

The post-colonial ideal of a light-skinned, European-looking halfbreed exists all over the world. Television ads, fashion mags and billboards  promote uncommon specimens of beauty, unrepresentative of the greater population. Consider models in Brazil, Bollywood stars in India or celebrities in West Africa, Mexico, Cuba, the Caribbean (Sosa, see below, is Dominican), Colombia or the Philippines. Whether these countries were colonized by Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Holland — whomever, the mulatto or mestizo is on TV. 

The paradoxical desire for dark-skinned people to have fair skin, while white people fry themselves in tanning beds, is something that I — as a Filipino-Canadian — am all too familiar with. Like many Asian women, my mom carries an umbrella on sunny days, so not to get a tan and, God forbid, be mistaken for the poorer, more indigenous classes of Filipinos who slave away in the rice paddies and plantations all fucking day. My mom has a bottle of Eskinol in the medicine cabinet. Granted, I’ve never seen her use it, but she has it.

Skin lighteners and bleaches are commonly used by females in places like the Philippines and India, but the Globe and Mail‘s Diana Coulter reports that a growing number of Indian men, both urban and rural, have recently adopted the practice “in the belief that a pale complexion brings sucess in life, love and business.”

This isn’t some either-Michael-Jackson-bleaches-his-skin-or-he’s-got-vitiligo type bullshit. This is real. (Nov. 12, 11:00 p.m: My ESP is kickin’ in again. As my buddy Rhett just informed me, Sammy Sosa is apparently the new King of Pop.)

My brother has lighter skin than I do. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a local Canadian newspaper about my brother’s mercurial rise to stardom in Southeast Asia. He was first discovered as a model in the Philippines and eventually became a VJ on an international music station. When I asked one of his producers what about his audition convinced her that he would make a good VJ, she listed his bubbly personality, his genuine demeanor and his “pan Asian look.” As the music station’s lineup of VJs indicates, “pan Asian” can be translated as “half Asian.”

So to be or look half Asian is to be better looking, right? Apparently not in South Korea. Two days ago, I came across a NY Times article about how Hines Ward was reaching out to fellow point-five Korean kids who’d been bullied or discriminated against by their full-blooded Korean counterparts. I guess the Tiger Woods look doesn’t fly over there. (My buddy Mike points out, though, Ward and Woods are half black and darker. Big difference.) Then you come to North America where biracial, dark-skinned models are sought after, sometimes to the point where being weird-looking or “exotic” is celebrated. Like I said, the whole light skin/dark skin thing is a perplexing phenomenon.

Nov. 28 – Here’s another NY Times article, about the integration of point-five children in South Korea.

Share Button