On the menu in Qingdao: anglerfish

For as far back as I can remember, the coolest things in the ocean have always been octopuses, sharks (of course sharks) and anglerfish.

If you don’t understand why, go google image search anglerfish. I’ll wait.

I’ve seen sharks at the aquarium and handled dogfish on the fishing boat, and we occasionally play with octopuses in our neighbourhood vegetable market. But I’d never seen a real angler fish until last night, when I was picking up take-out at one of our favourite local restaurants. They have a big display of live and nearly-alive seafood that changes every night, depending on what the boss finds at the seaside market. I wasn’t sure what these fish were at first, but the teeth got my attention:
qingdaoanglerfish
Monkfish_dict_entryThe staff told me 安康鱼 ān kāng yú, which my dictionaries don’t have. But between Baidu and Pleco we found it: it’s a monkfish 鮟鱇 ān kāng, which is a kind of anglerfish (notice the real name is nearly the same as our initial search, except with a “fish” radical added to each character: 鱼 + 安 = 鮟 / 鱼 + 康 = 鱇).

Anglerfish! How cool is that? Their… bioluminescent things (I won’t even pretend to know what the actual word is) were plastered down on their heads and don’t show in the photos, but it was easy to lift them up for a look.

A google image search for monkfish turns up what looks like the exact same fish as in the restaurant — a particular kind of very ugly anglerfish.

anglerfish_bioexpedition
Click for the Anglerfish page at Bioexpedition.com.

A google search for anglerfish will give you nightmares.

A Chinese wedding banquet (is always a small adventure)

A Chinese celebration is a special thing. We’re grateful that we occasionally get to take part in them. The way they’re done — the ‘family style’ dining, the toasting, etc. — really is fun when done well.

And, of course, there’s the food. Weddings will have special dishes, fancy dishes, expensive dishes — and for Euro-Americans that often means eyebrow-raising dishes.

There are two kinds of adventure eating in China. It’s one thing to deliberately go out of your way to seek out some crazy-to-your-home-culture dish — like dog or máodàn or cányǒng or starfish — and share the photos on social media, regardless of how common those are to locals (Canadians eat bull testicles — did you know?). Sure it’s cliche but whatever, have fun. You’re not hurting anybody.

The other kind of adventure eating is the the kind that seeks you out. You’re just going about your business, accepting a neighbour’s dinner invitation or attending a friend’s wedding feast, and you’re served “cicada monkeys” 知了猴:

cicadanymphdish
Cicada nymphs, a standard restaurant menu item in Shandong province.

Or this:
weddingbanquetpighead
#somepig #terrific #radiant #humble

Both of those were last weekend for us, at a friend’s wedding banquet, which was lots of fun.
Chineseweddingtoast

Imperial Concubine Bathing

I’ve had my fair share of Chinese bathhouse adventures, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the target market for this…

Imperial Concubine Bathing
I’m just not even gonna ask…

Re: aforementioned bathhouse adventures:

Bible story Chinglish

My favourite Sunday school Chinglish ever: The Parable of the Prodigal Son like you’ve never experienced it before. From our friend Lindy in Tianjin.

Bible Chinglish
“He…lived a wild life wasting his money on beers and women skittles and other skittles.”

Graves on Qingdao’s Fushan

crowded mountain graves
Red firecracker debris litters the lumpy Fushan hillside crowded with grave mounds in Qingdao, China.

Civilized Ancestral Offerings
文明祭祀 “Civilizedly offer sacrifices to the ancestors” — The officially atheist communist government of China provides designated places to burn spirit money to the ancestors, hoping to reduce the risk of forest fire. Normally people burn offerings at the graves, which are scattered all over the mountainside.
Qingdao Fushan grave
Spirit money piles up over time, the newer offerings on top not yet bleached by the sun.

Easter (“Resurrection Festival” 复活 in Chinese) and Tomb Sweeping Day tend to coincide. More about both below:

InstaChina & InstaQingdao — Our China Instagram feed

So we’ve moved to Qingdao. And we’ve started using Instagram. Our actual Instagram feeds are private because they have lots of family pictures, but you can see all our public China Instagram fun at ChinaHopeLive.Tumblr.com. And here’s the RSS feed.

Defining You (Pt. 2): Pick your poison

This might read better if you put on a tinfoil hat first. :)

The Self: Eastern and Western

The first Defining “You” post contrasted typical Western and East Asian understandings of the self as explained by psychologist Richard Nisbett in The Geography of Thought. To briefly recap, here are some excerpts:

…Westerners and Asians literally experience the world in very different ways. Westerners are the protagonists of their autobiographical novels; Asians are merely cast members in movies touching on their existence (87).

To the Westerner, it makes sense to speak of a person as having attributes that are independent of circumstances or particular personal relations. This self – this bounded, impermeable free agent – can move from group to group and setting to setting without significant alteration (50).

But for the Easterner (and for many other people to one degree or another), the person is connected, fluid, and conditional. As philosopher Donald Munro put it, East Asians understand themselves “in terms of their relation to the whole, such as the family, society, Tao Principle, or Pure Consciousness.” The person participates in a set of relationships that make it possible to act and purely independent behaviour is usually not possible or really even desirable (50-51).

…For early Confucians, there can be no me in isolation, to be considered abstractly: I am the totality of roles I live in relation to specific others… Taken collectively, they weave, for each of us, a unique pattern of personal identity, such that if some of my roles change, the others will of necessity change also, literally making me a different person (5).

I wonder, for example, how individualistic Western assumptions about self-validation and self-actualization sound to people not raised in an individualistic culture?

Prescribing You

Anyway, I recently came across a documentary making the sobering case that the identities of individualistic Westerners are highly externally defined — deliberately, and not with our benefit in mind. It doesn’t contradict Nisbett’s psychological sketch of Westerners because it’s speaking in a relevant but different sense of the terms. In fact, I think you can see Nisbett’s explanation of the individualistic Western self embedded in this question posed by writer/director Pria Viswalingam in his documentary Decadence – The Decline of the Western World:

We’re led to believe that money gives us choice, status, and, increasingly, an identity. But there’s something hollow about all this. Who’s meaning or identity is it? Am I really defined by where I live, what I wear, eat or drive? Or am I just another willing victim of our sophisticated market?

Decadence argues that, in the absence of a new renaissance, Western civilization is doomed to collapse due to its own internal cultural rot a la the ancient Roman Empire.

One major instance of this fatal rot is how our lives and identities are shaped by the market to the point that our identities have been psychologically colonized by imperialistic market forces. If I understand it right, we’re basically peons, programmed puppets manipulated in our actions, feelings and ideas, desiring and working to consume things because we’ve been bred and brainwashed to anxiously need them.

It’s not merely the idea that good advertising makes me desire a newer car or makes me feel like I need products I actually don’t; it’s the psychological state in which my identity, sense of meaning and purpose, emotions and anxiety, all revolve around and are determined by the dictates of marketing forces that benefit from our relentless consumption. The market tunes our subconscious, tells us who we want to be and then provides means via consumerism to pursue our choice of the available options. We’ve been bred to seek fulfillment through consumption — subconsciously, automatically, unthinkingly; it’s the default posture we take to most aspects of our existence, including our relationships and beliefs.

We’re offered a choice of identities to assume, all of which depend on an unending stream of consumption, but the available options are empty at their core; it’s not possible to be satisfied in them, and it’s in the market’s interest to keep us unsatisfied and anxious. And we’re distracted away from this fact by our noisy entertainment culture and the over-worked lifestyle required by our treadmill consumption. The result is hollowed-out people, superficial husks of humanity who behave as cogs in the market machine, whose lives and activities are ultimately determined by and dedicated to the economic benefit of corporations.

As Westerners, we think of all this almost entirely in hyper-individualistic terms; we’re seeking identity in stuff rather than in people and relationships. There’s a critique of our extreme individualistic understanding of self, such as this quote from ANU social analyst Richard Eckersle, that ties directly back to Nisbett’s sketch of the Western self:

The result of construing the self as kind of independent and separate from others — and the evidence suggests that men tend to do this more than women — does mean that we are more likely to feel isolated and lonely, even in company, in the bosom of the family you get this effect.

I see no reason why this picture of parasitic market forces that colonize our identities for profit doesn’t also just as corrosively apply to East Asian conceptions of self, though I expect the dynamics are different. Whether Chinese or Western, collective or individualistic, are we all just willing peons of a psychologically imperialistic market?

Anyway, I’m not articulating any of this as well as Viswalingham does in the Money segment, but I found most of the episodes on YouTube:

  • Episode One — Money (YouTube: 1, 2, 3)
  • Episode Two — Sex (couldn’t find a working copy online)
  • Episode Three — Democracy (YouTube: 1, 2, 3)
  • Episode Four — Education (YouTube: 1, 2, 3)
  • Episode Five — Family (YouTube: 1, 2, 3)
  • Episode Six — God (YouTube: 1, 2, 3)

The documentary is about more than consumerism, of course, and it’s interesting to note that it manages to explain the possibly fatal condition of Western civilization without reference to China or any other outside competition.

If this is as good as it gets in the West, well then, we’re destined to drown in this abundance of nothing, and become the final chapter in this ‘Good Book’ of our modern life.

These big-picture takes on our own culture are usually interesting, but even more so when you’re living overseas in a culture so very different from your own. I wonder if we’ll be seeing an increase of comparisons to ancient Rome in the coming years — both Decadence and The Hunger Games independently make significant use of the “Bread and Circuses” idea.

Here’s an interview with director Pria Viswalingam about the documentary:

Other stuff about identity: