Where Do I Live?

While travelling around Japan, I had to write down my ‘home’ address practically every time I checked into accommodation, as well as most instances when I had to fill out paperwork. While I did not have to write down my ‘home’ address quite as often during my two-month return trip to Taiwan or my two-week trip to Hong Kong, it was something which still came up (such as when applying for hiking permits).

The only address I could fill out was my parents’ address in San Francisco, since that is the only physical address which is a reliable means of reaching me. Filling out my address in Taoyuan would be pointless since I no longer rent that apartment.

It got especially bizarre when a post office in Naha insisted that I write both a ‘to’ and a ‘from’ address, and said that the ‘from’ address should be ‘my’ address. I pointed out that the ‘to’ address was in fact ‘my’ address and that it makes no sense for the ‘to’ and ‘from’ addresses to be identical. I eventually persuaded them to let me list the post office as the ‘from’ address.

People often ask me where I am from, and I reply ‘San Francisco’, and sometimes they reply ‘oh, what do you do in San Francisco?’

Well, ever since I have started this blog, I have not even been in North America, let alone that address in San Francisco.

Even though that is the address I use for paperwork, I do not live there right now, nor in Taoyuan. So where do I live? Wherever I am at the moment.

In a way, I am a drifter now, albeit with the privilege of a ‘permanent’ address, which sets me apart from many other drifters.

And why is having a ‘permanent’ address so special? I suspect that, among other things, by having an ‘address’ (albeit one where I have not been physically present for years), I can prove I am an addressed person, rather than one of those other people. And this can be a tool of oppression – for example, homeless people trying to go to state universities sometimes have trouble proving that they are eligible for in-state tuition because they do not have an address.

I suppose that the place where I sleep – wherever it is – is also my home, albeit temporarily. I am turning quite a few corners of Northeast Asia into my home in this manner. Right now, I am editing this post in Bifuka.

And I am learning not to get too attached to my ‘home’. I can thank a place for being my ‘home’, and let it go, knowing that there are other ‘homes’ for me in the world. I feel quite comfortable with having said goodbye to Taoyuan, and I suspect that, should I ever need to say goodbye to San Francisco forever, it would be possible to do it in a peaceful way (assuming the circumstances of the departure were peaceful).


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A Second Trip to Japan

Hello!

I recently finished by second trip to Japan. I visited the following places

The Prefecture Where I Stayed for More Than One Month:
Hokkaido

The Prefectures Where I Stayed for 7 Nights:
Nagano (Chubu)

Prefectures Where I Stayed for 4 Nights:
Osaka (Kansai)
Toyama (Hokuriku)

Prefectures Where I Stayed for 3 Nights:
Aomori (Tohoku)
Yamagata (Tohoku)
Gifu (Chubu)
Niigata (Tohoku)
Tokushima (Shikoku)

Prefectures Where I Stayed for 2 Nights:
Akita (Tohoku)
Kyoto (Kansai)
Ehime (Shikoku)

Prefectures Where I Stayed for 1 Night:
Iwate (Tohoku)
Miyagi (Tohoku)
Ishikawa (Hokuriku)
Aichi (Chubu)
Hyogo (Tohoku)
Kagawa (Shikoku)
Yamaguchi (Chugoku)

Prefectures Which I Visited But Did Not Stay Overnight:
Shiga (Kansai)
Okayama (Chugoku)

Here is I made a map showing which prefectures I visited during my first trip to Japan and this second trip to Japan: blue = first trip, red = second trip, and purple = both trips (and this map does not show Okinawa – I visited during my first trip)

Japon-Departements-edit

So, what were the highlights of my second trip to Japan?

Favorite Flower: Komakusa (you can see a photo in this post)
Favorite Show: Tough choice. I keep on changing my mind, so I will make this a three-way tie for 1st place between Live Doom in Niseko, Earth Celebration / Umi by the Kodo Drummers, and Elisabeth by the Takarazuka Revue.
Favorite Mountain: Rishiri-Fuji
Favorite Serving of Matcha Tea: At the teahouse at Hikone Castle – they serve one of the best traditional desserts I have had in Japan
Favorite Castle: Matsumoto Castle. It is worth staying overnight in Matsumoto just to see the castle at night.
Favorite Garden: Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu
Favorite City: Hida-Takayama (Gifu)
Favorite Place That Nobody Has Heard of: Bifuka, Hokkaido
Favorite Island: Rebun Island
Favorite Bird: Much as I adore the Rock Ptarmigan, my favorite bird is the ever-graceful Red-Crowned Crane (seen in this post)
Favorite Village: Ainokura (Toyama) (yeah, it is touristy, but it still brims with charm)
Favorite Religious Place: Haguro-san (Dewa Sanzan)
Favorite Buddhist Temple: Risshaku-ji (Yamadera)
Favorite Shinto/Shugendo Shrine: Ishizuchi Shrine, which also happens to be near the highest point in western Japan, and that mountain put up a good fight to get the ‘favorite mountain’ listing.
Favorite Journey by Public Transit (land): Tateyama-Kurobe Alpen Route
Favorite Journey by Public Transit (sea): Riding the Hamayuu, a ship operated by Kampu Ferry.
Favorite Onsen: Noboribetsu Onsen (see this post)
Favorite Lake: Tazawa-ko (Akita)
Favorite Wetlands: the alpine wetlands on the slopes of Hakkoda-san

Overall, my favorite region of Japan is Hokkaido.

Now, as you can see in the map, my first trip focused on Kansai, Chugoku, Kyushu, and (not in the map) the islands south of Kyushu. Overall that trip was a good, engaging experience, but I was happy to leave Japan when it was over. During my first trip, I found a country largely devoid of beauty, except in the islands south of Kyushu and a few isolated spots here and there. I also found an overwhelmingly beaten tourist path running right along the shinkansen line from Kyoto to Kagoshima, though the foreign tourists are thinner in places such as Okayama, and even in the tourist-dense parts of Kansai it is not that hard to get away from the tourists (want to get away from tourists in Kyoto? Then visit a church run by a Christian sect which originated in Kyoto). And I did go to places such as Yoron Island, Wakayama, and Shimane, which are most certainly not on the super-beaten track.

Why the distaste for the super-beaten path? Well, sometimes I like the beaten path, but I feel that once a place is so overrun with foreign tourists that I hear way more Mandarin/English than Japanese being spoken, it makes it harder to connect to Japan, and I came to Japan for *Japan*.

Well, in the second trip, I got well off the track for foreign tourists (though I still managed to encounter plenty of other foreign tourists) and I often was asked “How did you know about this place?”

It made all of the difference. In Tohoku, in the mountains of central Honshu and central Shikoku, and especially in Hokkaido, I discovered just how many beautiful mountains, rivers, lakes, flowers and forests Japan has. I also got a much better sense of just how much cultural/regional variation there is in Japan during this trip. I also got to interact a lot more with Japanese people. In Hokkaido, I spent very little time visiting temples (and the temples in Hokkaido feel different from other Japanese temples), I did not have much traditional Japanese food, and I did not visit a single castle, but got a feel for Hokkaido’s own culture (hint: a lot of talented musicians live in Hokkaido). When I returned to Honshu, I found myself drinking a lot more tea, seeing a bunch of castles, and visiting a lot more temples and shrines- but ones which are quite different from the famous temples/shrines of Kyoto and Nara. And I also went into the Kita Alps, which, to someone who is used to hiking in Taiwan, is a major “what? WHAT!” (what? hot baths in mountain shelters? WHAT! THEY LET PEOPLE HOLD A HIGH-ALTITUDE RACE IN THE MIDDLE OF A TYPHOON!)

After this second trip, I was not happy to leave Japan. I was excited about my next destination (if you look carefully at this post, you can figure out where it is), but I was not happy about leaving Japan. I was a little sad.


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Mention Asexuality

This is for the September 2014 “Asexuals, Advocacy, and Allies” Carnival of Aces.

***

I have written before how reading blogs helped me finally identify as asexual and how other people mentioning asexuality brought me to the blogs in the first place. Specifically, it was this linkspam and this second linkspam by unusualmusic which brought asexual blogs to my attention. My classmate who casually brought up asexuality in a face-to-face conversation (okay, not specifically my face, a lot of people were there) also was a good ally at that particular moment, though she probably did not think about it that way since she probably was not versed in social justice discourse and rhetoric.

So, how did these allies get it right?

- unusualmusic linked to things written by aseuxals, which a) made sure she did not mess up when talking about asexuality because she let the asexuals do most of the talking and b) highlighted the asexual bloggers rather than herself
– unusualmusic linked in asexual blogs in generalized linkspams which were not specifically about asexuality. This is a great way to spread awareness of asexuality – after all, people who are not aware of asexuality probably are not reading much specifically about asexuality
– likewise, my classmate brought up asexuality casually in a discussion when it happened to fit into the conversation, rather than forcing asexuality into a conversation and Making It a Big Deal (sometimes asexuality is a big deal, but I think it is generally better for allies to casually mention asexuality once in a while and let asexuals themselves take the lead when Asexuality Is a Big Deal).

In other words, I am asking allies to mention asexuality sometimes when it is relevant, and to direct people to what asexuals are actually saying rather than talk about asexuality in place of the asexuals themselves. I have personally been helped by this kind of allyship.

And I base my own advocacy based on what has worked for me – namely, mentioning asexuality in different contexts. This blog is not all about asexuality all the time. I like to talk about different topics, mostly because I like to talk about different topics, but also because I hope I can introduce people who are reading about A that there is also B. For example, I suspect some people who first started reading me because of my blogging about Chinese language and culture at Manga Bookshelf and Hacking Chinese later became interested in my asexuality-themed writing. In the other direction, sometimes people who initially find this blog through the asexual content become interested in things I have written on other topics.

I do not think I will ever be the kind of visibility activist who runs an asexuality-focused organization, or even deliver a formal Asexuality 101 presentation. Bringing up asexuality in different contexts is most of the “visibility-work” I do (here is an example of me doing this in a college classroom), and I think this type of visibility work complements more focused activism quite well.


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Island Fever

I have a thing for islands.

Ever since I started this blog, I have slept every night on an island. The only times I have been on a continent were the day trips I made to Kowloon and the New Territories in Hong Kong and the Macau peninsula.

Here is a list of all of the islands I have been to since the start of this blog, not including artificial islands, islands where I did not step off the boat/bus, islands without freshwater, or islands within lakes:

- Taiwan
– Kinmen
– Little Liuqiu (Taiwan Archipelago)
– Penghu
– Xiyu (Penghu Archipelago)
– Tongpan (Penghu Archipelago)
– Qimei (Penghu Archipelago)
– Wangan (Penghu Archipelago)
– Hujing (Penghu Archipelago)
– Baisha (Penghu Archipelago)
– Niaoyu (Penghu Archipelago)
– Lanyu (Taiwan Archipelago)
– Green Island (Taiwan Archipelago)
– Dongyin (Matsu Archipelago)
– Nangan (Matsu Archipelago)
– Beigan (Matsu Archipelago)
– Dongju (Matsu Archipelago)
– Xiju (Matsu Archipelago)
– Honshu
– Ishigaki (Yaeyama Archipelago)
– Iriomote (Yaeyama Archipelago)
– Taketomi (Yaeyama Archipelago)
– Okinawa
– Zamami (Kerama Archipelago)
– Yoron (Amami Achipelago)
– Kyushu
– Yakushima (Osumi Archipelago)
– Takashima (Nagasaki)
– Miyajima (Japan Inland Sea)
– Naoshima (Japan Inland Sea)
– Guishan Island (Taiwan Archipelago)
– Lantau Island (Hong Kong)
– Hong Kong Island
– Taipa (Macau)
– Lamma Island (Hong Kong)
– Hokkaido
– Rishiri island (Hokkaido)
– Rebun island (Hokkaido)
– Sado-ga-shima (Niigata)
– Shikoku (which is where I am right now)

That may seem like a lot of islands … but Japan alone has over 400 inhabited islands. One could spend a lifetime traveling around the islands of Northeast Asia.

Why do I have such a thing for islands? It is because islands juxtapose isolation and connection.

Islands are isolated enough that they can develop their own unique character. Isolation often means that islands preserve things (cultural practices, forests, governments, etc.) which have been lost in the “mainland”. I would say that every island on the list has a distinct atmosphere different from any other island (okay, I admit that I blur Honshu and Kyushu together in my mind a bit, and that Beigan is a lot like Nangan).

In this respect, the Yaeyama islands particularly stand out: in spite of being so close to Taiwan, they feel very different, in spite of once being part of the Ryukyu Kingdom, they feel very different from Okinawa, and Ishigaki, Iriomote, and Taketomi are so different from *each other* that it is incredible that they are all less than an hour away from each other by ferry.

As one Taiwanese person put it ‘Taiwan’s islands do not feel like Taiwan’. Of course not – Taiwan is an island, and though those other islands are under the same government as Taiwan, and some people on those islands identify as Taiwanese, they are separate islands.

Yet islands are often points of connections. Some islands have historically or continue to be major centers of maritime trade, and they are often places where different species can mix (Lanyu/Green Island, for example, has plant species from both Taiwan and the Philippines, as well as endemic species found nowhere else in the world), and where different human cultures can mix. Macau/Taipa is a classic example, though many other islands on the list – such as Kinmen and Okinawa – are also excellent examples of cultural-exchange islands.

In some ways, Hong Kong Island is the best example. On the one hand, it is the location of one of the most famous cities in the world, a major financial center, tons of human history, culture, and engineering feats, and amazing human population density. Yet in addition to being a human metropolis, it is also an avian metropolis since it is along major bird migration routes and Hong Kong has some really good bird habitat. Furthermore, 40% of Hong Kong Island is covered by forest, there are many wild animals running around – including a ridiculous number of wild butterflies – there are little waterfalls and brooks in the woods, there are beaches which look like they belong to vacation island rather than an urban island, and there are ancient rock carvings. Oh, and there is a peak high enough to create clouds to rain on everybody. There is even a species of frog which is only found in the islands of Hong Kong.

There is so much wildlife in Hong Kong because the hills are so steep that they inhibit human ‘development’ (and when people try to develop them, nature gets revenge with landslides and water system disruptions), at the border of land and sea different biological resources can get pooled together and, being islands, some species which cannot survive on the mainland can find refuge in isolation. Likewise, Hong Kong has historically been a melting pot of Chinese, British, Indian, and many other cultures, and much of its cultural and political vibrancy is due to the fact that it has been a place where Chinese people have had greater freedom of expression than in mainland China – in short, because of Hong Kong’s unique combination of isolation (from Chinese government control) and connection (to China and the world outside of China).

Perhaps I should not go to continental Eurasia next week.


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Takarazuka’s Women-Presenting-as-Men Jolts Me When…

I am used to seeing women performing in tuxedos. I’ve seen it in American media (example: Janelle Monáe), I’ve seen it in Taiwanese media (example: Fong Fei Fei), and I have danced in a tuxedo in public myself. Heck, I have even seen Japanese women dance in tuxedos in San Francisco. So when I see Takarazuka performers in tuxedos, it seems totally natural to me.

On the left, we see the face and the back of a standing blond woman wearing a fancy white 30s style dress, on the right<br /><p class=we see a standing woman presenting as a man wearing a black tuxedo, and in the bottom center we see a seated woman presenting as a man wearing a white tuxedo with a black shirt
. All of them are wearing heavy, dark eye-makeup. The English words ‘The Lost Glory’ are prominently featured.” class /> Is it just me, or is this Takarazuka poster a bit creepy? I think the creepiness is due to their artificial-looking faces, not the tuxedos.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the woman-in-tuxedo look, and it is one of the many aspects of Takarazuka which appeals to me. But it also feels … ordinary.

Though I have not seen any Takarazuka shows set in imperial China, my guess is that seeing Takarazuka performers dressed as men from imperial China would not jolt me either. Why not? Because Chinese opera has had women playing male roles since before Takarazuka existed.

I admit, I do not know about every Chinese opera tradition (there are many). But I have seen a Taiwanese opera in which all of the performers happened to be female, and when I saw Ming Hwa Yuan (one of the most famous Taiwanese opera troupes) perform, the male ‘handsomest man in the world’ lead was performed by a woman. Meng Xiaodong, a famous female Beijing opera singer, often played male roles. And Huangmei opera has the legendary Ivy Ling Po, who much like top Takarazuka stars, was considering more charming than ‘real men’.

So after seeing so many operas which show female performers dressed as men in imperial China, I doubt seeing it in Takarazuka would jolt me.

But when Takarazuka performers dress as men from pre-Meiji Japan?

In the top-right corner there is a large Takarazuka performer dressed as a samurai from the 1600s riding a big black horse with a long lance, while in the lower-left corner there is a Takarazuka performer dressed as another man from the period with a flute, and a woman from the period with a sword on her shoulder.

A poster for the show “Ichimuan Fuuryuuki Maeda Keiji / My Dream TAKARAZUKA” (2014)

The first time I saw a Takarazuka performer on stage in a kimono and hairstyle for men in historical Japan, my reaction was ‘Whoa’.

I have seen American women dressed as men from pre-Meiji Japan performing in English. But for some reason that does not count for me. Seeing Japanese women dress as men from pre-Meiji Japan and performing in Japanese seems like something else to me.

And watching Ichimuan Fuuryuuki Maeda Keiji also felt … different.

Unlike Chinese opera, Japanese performing arts have traditionally forbidden women from playing female roles, let alone male roles (note that there are exceptions to this – such as the geisha culture – but try to find a traditional kabuki performance with female performers, I dare you). So the fact that Takarazuka celebrates female performers is itself a break from this broader tradition, and going so far as to have female performers present as JAPANESE MEN …

I even have seen a Takarazuka performer perform a Noh dance on stage. That provided a stronger reaction than Ichimuan Fuuryuuki Maeda Keiji, since in the latter one eventually gets used to the fact that it is set in historical Japan, but maybe it is also because Noh has a strong tradition of no women performing in public.

So, in short, I am more shocked to see Takarazuka performers present as JAPANESE men than to see them present as European or American men.


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The Unassailable Heterosexual

This is for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces.

# START #

Sara the anti-heterosexual bigot firmly believes that anyone who claims to be heterosexual but does not fit every single one of the below criteria is lying!

Criteria:

- Heterosexuals must be neurotypical. If they are not (for example, if they are autistic) they are clearly confused about their sexuality, and not in fact het.
– Heterosexuals must be healthy and abled. If they are not, then that means that their health problems/disability are the cause of their confused sexuality (come on, being attracted to people of a different gender is pretty darn confused) and they are not actually heterosexual.
– Heterosexuals must not have mental health issues, because if they do it is obviously a mental illness thing and not Real Heterosexuality
– Heterosexuals must be cisgendered, since it is impossible for non-cis people to be real heterosexuals (NOTE: unfortunately, this actually reflects how some transphobic people think)
– Heterosexuals must be attracted to all people of a different binary gender, because if they meet someone of a different binary gender and are not attracted, they cannot really be heterosexual
– Heterosexuals must be between the age of 20 and 40, since teenagers cannot understand their own sexuality, and people over the age of 40 do not have sexuality and thus cannot be heterosexual
– Heterosexuals must be sex-positive, since it is wrong to be heterosexual and sex-negative or anything other than sex-positive. And if they ever say anything bad about sex, that means they are not real heterosexuals.
– Heterosexuals cannot masturbate, because if they do, that means they are really autosexual, not heterosexual!
– Heterosexuals cannot have a history of abuse. If they do, then they are not really heterosexual, their apparently heterosexual feelings were caused by the abuse!
– Heterosexuals need to be interested in dating and romance, because if not, they cannot be real heterosexuals

In response to Sara’s anti-heterosexual bigotry, heterosexual-visibility activists often downplay or hide aspects of themselves which did not fit the above criteria, and heterosexuals feel that if they do not fit the criteria, they might not really be heterosexual, or at least they should not try to be visible heterosexuals since they would make heterosexuality ‘look bad’.

#END PARODY#

The heterosexuals/heterosexual activists let Sara the anti-hterosexual bigot manipulate them … hmmm.

Yeah, this parody is a combination of the Unassailable Asexual/Ideal Asexual concept and the Heterosexual Questionnaire.

I decided to make this parody about heterosexuals rather than about allosexuals since there are a lot more people who consciously identify with the ‘heterosexual’ label. But I had to put that special note about the cisgender/transgender part, since even trans people who are heterosexual get their sexual orientation invalidated. As Hezekiah points out, allosexual trans people do not have any privilege relative to asexual trans people.

I think this parody highlights the usefulness of intersectional analysis, since many of the ways people try to invalidate asexuality is tied to other kinds of prejudice (ableism, for example).

I know a heck of a lot of heterosexual people, and I do not think a single one completely fits the criteria for the Unassailable Heterosexual.

And I do not know any asexuals who are the Unassailable Asexual (I have some “unassailable” traits, but I also have ‘assailable’ traits). So, if heterosexuals cannot be expected to be the Unassailable Heterosexual, then asexuals cannot be expected to be the Unassailable Asexual either.


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Being Vegan Does Not Mean I Am an Animal-Lover

When people find out I am vegan, they often say that I must love animals. However, this is not true.

I like some animals, and I sometimes come to love individual animals, but I do not love animals in a general sense.

For example, I generally dislike dogs. But even though I generally do not like them, I recognize that they have rights, and I am against dog abuse.

I have a cousin who is an ‘animal-lover’ – at one time she wanted to be a vet – but who is also a ‘carnivore’ (to quote my mother) – i.e. she loves to eat dead animals, and she is not even terribly concerned about the welfare of the animals she eats, let alone their rights (NOTE: it has been years since I have been in direct contact with her, so her views and behavior might have changed). One time, when my mother was eating with my cousin, my mother refused to eat the meat on the table, and brought up the question of why someone who loves animals so much is eating animals who suffered so much cruelty. My mother reports that my cousin responded with awkward silence.

I do not doubt that my cousin loves some non-human animals, but it is a love which does not include respect for animal rights.

Sometimes, when I state I am people, people tell me that I am a ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ person. Being ‘nice’ means going above one’s ethical obligations to be good. I do not think I am doing that. I think being vegan (at least as an middle class person in the developed world – context matters) is part of my basic obligations. To me, saying that being vegan is ‘nice’ is like saying that refusing to lunge at people’s necks is ‘nice’. By saying that I am being ‘nice’, people are excusing themselves from the responsibility to treat non-human animals with decency.

So ultimately, making veganism about ‘loving animals’ and ‘being nice’ is yet another distraction from the ethical question – is it okay to take away animals’ freedoms in order to use them as objects? Is it only okay when it is an absolute necessity for survival, such as the Gwich’in people who hunt for food but do not deprive animals of freedom while they are alive? Is also okay for affluent people in California to buy eggs from chickens whose beaks were cut off by a hot blade at a young age (de-beaking can cause chronic pain for life) simply because ‘eggs taste good’? What about situations in between, such as my cousin who keeps some hens in his backyard who, while never permitted to leave the backyard, let alone anywhere near roosters, at least can run all over the backyard, are not in chronic pain, and have each other for companionship?

I do not love animals. But I still want to do the right thing.

And a morality which said you only had to treat those you love with basic respect, and that it is okay to abuse anyone you don’t love is a pretty worthless morality in my opinion.

I also recommend reading “A Vegan But Not an Activist? Sure. An Animal Lover But Not a Vegan? Nope.” for a perspective that is a little different from my own.


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