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what keeps me awake

 

 

This pictures says everything and more about Country Music in the 21th century, after Shania Twain, Jewel, Leann Rimes, and of course, Taylor Swift, after all the crossover frenzy, the “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” sung by every Carrie Bradshaw and her hipster buddies.

I do confess: I know nothing about country music other than, like most people I have the (good) fortune to come in contact with, the “crossover” pop singers I mentioned above. So this is more of a gut reaction, a musing-out-loud, upon seeing this picture and listening carefully to the lyrics. And of course, the # hashtag made me chuckle. I am still laughing.

If you want to wrest country music back from the sissiness, how much more could you have done than a song about trucks titled Truck Yeah!  What’s more, the music video includes all the tropes associated with Machismo: trucks (of course), men in boots on construction site, etc. None of them were carrying an iPhone though so I am not sure how they are going to tweet or update their Facebook status with #TruckYeah…

After listening to the song and watching the video multiple times, I cannot decide whether Mr. McGraw is singing it straight or tongue in cheek. Ok, he definitely does not mean for this song and the whole performance to be camp. (I wish) And he’s definitely serious about this anthem of trucks, Friday night football, Hillybilly proud.

 

 

I could imagine many of his male fans pumping their fists shouting, “Fuck yeah! We have been oppressed for far too long and it is time we bring swagger back, time we take Country back!” Still, I was chuckling throughout the video. It’s all kinds of awesome. For starters, it’s pretty infectious. By the end of the song, I want to run around singing Truck Yeah! like I’ve got some redneck blood in me.

I find the song and video amusing because I chose to read the whole thing ironically. In addition to the overtly heightened machismo, the socio-economic gap between the so-called “rednecks” that this song seemingly glorifies and seeks camaraderie with and Mr. McGraw the millionaire country star is a sad irony. I am trying not to be bothered by the underlying social mores that brought about this song at this juncture in time because over-thinking is a curse.

Truck yeah!

Below is the lyrics for Truck Yeah! So are you one of us?

Got Lil’ Wayne pumpin on my iPod
Pumpin on the subs in the back of my crew cab
Redneck rockin’ like a rockstar
Sling a lil mud off the back, we can do that
Friday night football, Saturday Last Call, Sunday Hallelujah
If you like it up loud and you’re hillbilly proud then you know what I’m talking about

Let me hear you say, Truck Yeah
Wanna get jacked up Yeah
Lets crank it on up Yeah
With a little bit of luck I can find me a girl with a Truck Yeah
We can love it on up Yeah
Till the sun comes up Yeah
If you think this life I love is a little too country
Truck Yeah

I party in the club in a honky tonk downtown
Yeah that’s where I like to hang out
Chillin’ in the back room
Hangin’ with my whole crew
Sippin’ on a cold brew, hey now!
Got a mixed up playlist, DJ play this
Wanna hear a country song
If you like it up loud and you’re hillbilly proud throw your hands up now
Let me hear you shout,

Truck Yeah
Wanna get jacked up Yeah
Lets crank it on up Yeah
With a little bit of luck I can find me a girl with a Truck Yeah
We can love it on up Yeah
Til the sun comes up Yeah
If you think this life I love is a little too country
Truck Yeah

Backwoods country, city Boy
It don’t matter who you are
Got a little fight, got a little love
Got a little redneck in your blood
Are you one of us?

Truck Yeah!
Wanna get jacked up Yeah
Lets crank it on up Yeah
With a little bit of luck I can find me a girl with a Truck Yeah
We can love it on up Yeah
Till the sun comes up Yeah
If you think this life I love is a little too country
You’re right on the money
Truck yeah!

 

 

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I know that I suffer from a severe case of liberal guilt and that’s why I don’t think I can truly relax in places where there is a clear demarcation, often times physically, between the privileged and the underprivileged. You can accuse me of being a hypocrite if you want. I would not know how to defend myself. So there. 

I am in Shanghai now on a business trip. I never feel truly comfortable when I am in China because people mistake me easily for a local (I can fake a Beijing accent when speaking Chinese vs. my natural, Taiwanese-accented Mandarin Chinese) and yet they could tell that there is something off about me. They’d ask me where I am from. When I explained that I grew up in Taiwan and now live in the US, inevitably there would be lots of questions about the comparisons between Taiwan and China, the US and China, and the topic always leads to, uncomfortably at least for me, how I have a much better life.

“You went to good school.” They’d conclude with regret or longing or something in their voice, if the person I’m speaking to is from outside of the upper-middle class.

The hotel I am staying in provides massage services until 2 am. It sounded like an awesome idea: travelers with jet lags will LOVE to be able to get a massage when they have trouble going to bed anyway. So I called the extension and booked a 60-minute acupressure massage session in my room.

“So where are you from?” My masseuse asked as she tried to figure out in which direction I should lie on the bed. I was still confused because she had come in with nothing. Where’s the oil? The lotion? The blanket? The towel?

“Taiwan? Wow. It must be a lot nicer over there.” I tried to deflect the conversation by suggesting that people love coming to China nowadays because of the opportunities.

“More opportunities?”

“Yeah, you know. More land. More people…” My voice trailed off as I backed myself into a corner. Sure enough, she told me that she’s not from here. “We came from [another province].” Instinctively, I understood that she’d meant “we, the masseuses working at this hotel”. She was here, like many other migrant workers from rural China, by herself leaving behind two children and aging parents.

She told me about the farms back home, how before she got married at 23 she was already considered to be an old spinster, how massages were unheard of because god forbid if the neighbors got wind that either you got a massage from a man or you gave a man a massage.

She said that she wished she could visit Taiwan some day. I suggested jokingly that perhaps she should visit other places before Taiwan if she ever has a chance. “But when will I have a chance to visit another country? It costs so much!” I simply forgot how much it costs to travel, to fly on an airplane overseas. My plane tickets to Shanghai cost almost $2000 USD, which translates roughly into 4 months of her wages if she works every single day.

Finally came the question I dreaded the most, “How much are you paid over in the US?” (Yes, people do ask you this question sometimes.)

I gave a lame response of how salaries may be higher in the US but our costs of living are higher and also we have to pay more taxes. Lots more. She didn’t seem to mind my not answering her question.

“I am paid 100 yuan a day. I did so many massages today but I will still get 100 yuan.”

I was surprised. And embarrassed somehow. In my panic, I also wished that I had pretended to speak no Chinese. Then I felt extremely guilty and ashamed of myself.

“You know, you are smart [why’s she so sure of that?] and you went to good school [ibid]. Me? I don’t know how to do anything. No skills. No brains.” She said, matter-of- factly.

Fortunately for me our conversation veered off when she got to my derrière. She said jokingly, “You look so thin but oh your [backside] is so big!” I was not offended the least because I was so relieved.

“Hey. That’s what they call Son-bearing hip, ok? All the grandmothers loved me when I was young. They know I’d be popping out boy babies.”

“Oh, my butt is huge too.”

We bonded over son-bearing hips. And thick thighs. Yes, once I turned to lie on my back, she was surprised by how “there is no meat on your face”. She proceeded to wonder out loud how it’s possible that I could have such thick thighs since my arms and my mid region looked great. I wanted to hug her for the compliments. These were sincere and not backhanded at all.

By the end of the session, I had determined to give her a great tip even though tipping is a complex matter in China. Yes, hotel workers cater to Westerners may have come to expect tips, most Chinese are not accustomed to it. Some people actually resent the thought that “foreigners are training workers in China to expect tips from all”.

“I don’t have the exact change. How about you bring these to them and keep the change. Will they let you keep the change?”

She looked utterly confused. “Don’t you have exact change?”

“No. I am sorry. That’s what I meant though: go downstairs with the money, and keep the change. If I give you these bills, will the change go to you at all?”

“Oh no. No. They’ll never give me the change.”

“Ok, here’s what you are going to do: Give them the bills. Tell them I asked you to bring the change up to me. But then just go home.”

Now she looked scared. “They may catch me leaving with the money… I will bring the money to your room.”

As she hurried out, it dawned on me that this might not have been the best idea because what was I trying to prove? What was I trying to do to this poor woman so I could feel better about myself?

A knock on my door.

“Hi. Good evening. Here’s your change back.” Standing there, holding out the money was not my masseuse but a better-dressed, more cosmopolitan-looking young woman.

Somehow I was not surprised. Of course they wouldn’t allow her to bring the change back to me. I was saddened, imagining my masseuse’s disappointment caused by me.

Why did I try to meddle in somebody’s life?

Another knock on my door.

“Oh, I was so scared! Did she bring you your change?” Now she’s embarrassed. “I just want to make sure that you’ve got your change. They told me that I could leave. So I made a turn when nobody’s looking and came upstairs.”

Giving someone a tip should not made either the giver or the receiver feel as if they’re having an illicit affair. I was really upset at “them” by this time. The irony did not escape me of course.

Her eyes widened as I pushed the change into her hand. “What are you doing? You are nuts.”

“Well, you know. I used a coupon and I think you the person who did all the work should enjoy this reward and not me.”

 

It’s now past 3 am here. I am not sleepy at all. I don’t know what I am trying to say by recounting my encounter with my impotent conscience.

Maybe I am hoping that one of you will call me out on it as an atonement.

 

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Lucky

July 25, 2012

in therapy in session

Before she started telling you the story, she would have said, before anything else, “This journal entry has a happy ending.”

The red light on her phone was blinking. Somehow she’d missed a phone call when she knew that nobody would be calling her. Not on her cell anyway. Her husband was out of the country, her children only TXT now, and her mother would only call the landline (because she’d never bothered to give her her cellphone number) and always when it was way past bedtime (because figuring out time zone difference becomes a lot harder once day light savings time change is (not) taken into account)

The unfamiliar number shown had the local area code. With smart phones nowadays our relationship is discreetly judged by whether you show up as a name (from Contacts) or as a mere phone number. The persistent blinking red light indicated that the person had left a voice mail. She was annoyed. Really. Who in this day still leaves voice mails? She dreads checking her voicemails on the very few occasions when some un-indoctrinated people leave them. The problem is they never ever come out clear. Press 1 to repeat the message. Press 1 to repeat. Press 1. Often she ends up pressing 7, reasoning that if the message is important enough, the person will surely call back.

It was a call from some doctor’s office but she could not make out which. She did not think twice when she missed another call from the same number later that day. The call showed up as a mere number and therefore automatically deprioritized. Funny how stupid her logics sound in hindsight.

She jumped when her phone suddenly rang in the midst of the somber silence as she and her children huddled in front of the television, watching the retelling of the horror in Aurora, CO, unfold.

Hello. You need to go in for a follow-up. It’s probably nothing. But we just want to make sure. They noticed something… that looked… calcification…

She held her breath and blinked. She’d forgot about the mammogram the day before.

The doctor wants you to schedule an appointment with the hospital right away and she will fax the order in. Call me right back and let me know the time.

She knew that the doctor’s office was concerned when they waited to hear from her. She went back to sit in front of the television at first as if she had just received a phone call from a telemarketer. The chaos on the screen made her comment out loud how fragile life is.

Oh.

She remembered the call and what it could possibly mean. She wanted to cry.

What if? No… It can’t be, right? No way this is happening to me. Maybe I should be freaking out now? She asked herself. Let’s see how good I really am at compartmentalizing.

She shook her head violently. Stop thinking about it! There is nothing you can do about it except waiting until Monday morning.

When her mind immediately, out of habit, presented silver linings to the worst case scenario, “I can finally quit my job!” I am such a fucking idiot, she chastised herself, ashamed and worried that if her friends who had fought and survived knew this was her first thought, they’d be offended by how she’s trivializing the whole thing. It’s not a fucking excuse! This is no child’s play. For some people, this is real. Too many people actually.

She shook her head violently. Stop thinking about it! There is nothing you can do about it.

She did not tell anybody about the phone call. In fact, by Monday, she herself had forgot about the follow-up appointment and almost missed it. She woke up late on Monday morning because for three nights she stayed up channel surfing. She cried through Brideshead Revisited.

At the hospital, the technician made her stay for the result. Just in case he needs to see something more, she said.

When she pulled her book out from the purse, she felt guilty for not feeling anything. Maybe I should cry, she wondered, what’s the proper behavior at a moment like this? When the radiologist walked into the gowned waiting room and called her husband’s name, she was startled by how scholarly he looked. Almost bookish. Like a professor. He blurted out even before their hands parted, “Everything looks fine,” and smiled. “I didn’t want you to walk down the hallway wondering.”

The humid air rushed into her lung when she pushed open the heavy door to the garage. Her breath suddenly caught in her throat. She fled into the car and shut the door before the violent tears came.

You are such an idiot, she murmured.

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Body and Soul. I want to break free.

September 17, 2011 random

My favorite album of all time is A Night at the Opera by Queen. On some days I would simply listen to the whole album over and over again when I am driving. Volume turned way high. Windows down. (And yes, it helps me imagine myself as a badass. Why?) On some nights, I prowl through […]

16 comments

WTF Wednesday: I will stab anyone who says “Boys will always be boys”

July 27, 2011 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

I wrote a post titled  I will stab anyone who says “Boys will always be boys”  in October 2010 at the height of teen (and preteen) suicides. With the nation coming together in the movement It Gets Better, I felt relieved. “People get it now.” I thought. “They are reaching out to our young people. People […]

24 comments

Leaving

March 7, 2011 through the looking glass

    I started getting it, bit by bit, that the thing between parents and children, the thing that ties you together is that all your life, you are forever watching them walking away. [The inadequate, rough translation mine] I read this in a book by Lung Ying-tai, a renowned cultural critic in Taiwan, on […]

50 comments

Jet Lag is a Bitch

February 20, 2011 through the looking glass

It’s 2:46 am here in Taipei. I have been awake since 1, lying quietly next to the exhausted boys who passed out at 8 pm, which means they’ll be up and ready to go any minute now. Jet lag sucks ass when you are traveling with kids. I am also typing this on my stupid […]

31 comments

The Antidote to VD

February 14, 2011 random

I received the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek this Saturday and I could not have been happier. Such a great antidote for Valentine’s Day Blues. . . . After reading the well-written article, “Cheating Incorporated”, still aghast and shaking from the get-go by the tagline “Life is short. Have an affair”, I went and checked […]

32 comments

$5000 a Bullet

January 13, 2011 this i believe

Many of us have seen Chris Rock’s standup routine on gun control, or as he called it “Bullet Control”, either on YouTube or in the movie Bowling for Columbine. In the wake of the shooting in Arizona, there is a heated discussion surrounding the fact that 1) the gunman fired off a large capacity magazine […]

32 comments

A sad day. A new low.

January 8, 2011 imho is just a polite way to say I know you don't give a hoot what I think but I'm going to say it anyway

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head today when a gun man fired allegedly 15 to 20 bullets into a small crowd outside of a grocery store during a meeting held by Ms. Giffords with her constituents. The gunman killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, and wounded 13 others. (Live […]

24 comments