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Media of the Week – Nov 13, 2022

YouTube: Asian American

Since the beginning of COVID, I’ve been getting into watching stand up. Of course, I also spent a lot of time getting in touch with my Asian culture. Logically, I had a great time watching this stand up special combining two of my favourite things. I haven’t travelled to China in ages but a lot of what Jim Gaffigan runs true based on my experience – lots of squat toilets, curiosity and adoration of Westerners, and toilet paper as napkins.

Report: MIT’s Banana Lounge

Credit: Iain Cheeseman/Twitter via Boston Magazine

I visited Cambridge, MA a few weeks ago and one of my good friends at MIT showed me MIT’s magnificent Banana Lounge to snag my favourite peeled snack. It’s just this little study space in the middle of campus with dozens of boxes full of bananas in the back. Of course, I had to learn more about this interesting concept. Turns out, there’s more than meets the eye. The Banana Lounge came out of a student-run project to improve campus life. This report talks about the costs associated with maintaining the Banana Lounge, why the banana makes the ideal snack, and the considerations for creating a welcoming common space. I definitely think more places could use a banana room.

Wikipedia: Hundred Family Surnames (百家姓)

As someone who is learning Chinese, I can’t believe I hadn’t learned about this sooner. The Hundred Family Surnames is a Chinese text of 507 Chinese last names and was used back in the day as reading practice to memorize the Chinese characters. One of my guilty pleasures is learning about names and I was amazed at how many surnames there are in this list. Some surnames are going extinct and what surprised me most was how many two-character Chinese last names there used to be. Of course, most Chinese people are familiar with Ouyang (欧阳) but there are so many other cool ones like Helian (赫连,) and Sima (司马). I feel like there should be a revival to bring back these rare names before everyone becomes a Zhang, Li, or Wang.

Media of the Week – Oct 23, 2022

TV: Someway

Some of you may have watched John Oliver’s segment about Subway or Johnny Harris’s video about Subway in Korean drama. If you haven’t…first, highly recommend doing so. Second, to get you up to speed, a strangely large number of Korean dramas take place in a subway. Apparently, what it boils down to is the fact that Korean TV isn’t allowed to have commercial breaks. Instead, Korean drama series have major product placement to get investment from big companies – of which Subway is a big contributor. In a parody of how much their restaurant and sandwiches get placed into TV shows, Subway decided to make its own mini TV series. If the name wasn’t enough of an indication of how good the series is, it’s certainly the best Subway advertisement I’ve ever seen.

Podcast: How Coal Maintains Its Political Hold on West Virginia

As someone who hopes to work in the sphere of environmental policy and law, I really liked this podcast episode. Appalachia is just an interesting region to begin with. But when you combine national politics and energy economics it goes to another level. The part about West Virginia’s change in definition of alternative fuels to include coal exemplifies why I think law and policy are so important in our world. They literally create the definitions for all the things that make the world work. I also really like the part about how corporations are working on their sustainability goals which makes West Virginia an even more unappealing location to set up business exacerbating the economic stagnation in the region. It makes me think about how much sticking to one’s culture can be entrenching in a bad way.

Song: Andorinhas by Ana Moura

In the past few weeks, I’ve been oddly been getting into Lusophone culture. I don’t know what’s gotten into me – I usually find European cultures to not be that interesting but something about Portuguese culture is slightly different. Maybe it’s the delicious food – pasteis de nata is utterly fantastic. Maybe it’s the slight connections to Asian culture – peixinhos da horta is the origin of Japanese tempura and there’s obviously the colonial connection to Macau and Goa. Maybe it’s just because I think Portuguese sounds like the cooler cousin to Spanish. Regardless, I’ve been getting into fado music, particularly Ana Moura. I don’t even understand the lyrics and I can feel the saudade.

Wikipedia: Tok Pisin

Pidgin languages are all super interesting and as an amateur linguist, I haven’t given them as much attention as they deserve. The lingua franca of Papua New Guinea, Tok Pisin is one of the few English creoles in the world. The vocaulary similarities section was particualrly interesting to me – just seeing how the different words are formed. Like how did grass get used for hair? Or using belong as the genitive article? Or how haus dok sik (Eng: House dog sick) is animal hospital?

Media of the Week – Oct 9, 2022

Now that my applications are turned in and my new schedule has settled, I’ve made my return back to Planet Dorje! Due to other obligations, I likely won’t be posting as frequently as before but I thought it would be nice to start with a Media of the Week (or should I say the past few months?)

Movie: RRR

Everybody has been talking about this movie and, personally, I think it deserves the hype. Watching the film, I wasn’t aware of it’s inspirations from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata or how the main characters are based on famous Indian revolutionaries. Regardless, it’s the kind of action film that energizes you and it’s very entertaining to watch even if you don’t know the full context behind the movie.

Music: The BAATAR

You might know Mongolian metal from the HU, but have you heard of Mongolian country? I stumbled on The Baatar from Enkh-Erdene’s cover of Amarillo by Morning. As someone who likes Asian culture and country music, Mongolian country is the perfect combination for me. I particularly like Nairsag Ulaanbaatar but you should check out his entire album. Growing up, I always preferred the Mongolian version of Om Mani Padme Hum over its Tibetan counterpart so I guess I have some more exposure to Mongolian music culture than most. Although I’ve only heard it sung, Mongolian is a beautiful language that I hope to learn someday.

Book: Himalaya: A Human History by Ed Douglas

It was so cool reading this book while being in the Himalayas (more about that trip in an upcoming blog post!). It’s probably the most comprehensive book about the Himalayan region I’ve read and I love how it touches on so many different areas of the region and aspects of its history. A small note, it does focus a lot on the European interactions and perspectives in the Himalayas. I don’t necessarily think that it’s a bad thing; Dharamsala and Darjeeling in India are famous Himalayan cities that were founded as British mountain bases and the British influence on the region is undeniable. But it helps to curb one’s expectations if you think this is going to be a bonafide Himalayan anthropology book.

Podcast: The Rodney Dangerfield Pronoun

A little known fact about me is I’m kind of an amateur linguist…or maybe that wasn’t little known because I love language learning. While they aren’t the same by any means, my interest in linguistics comes from language learning; with so few online resources to learn Tibetan, I was forced to read dense linguistics books to satisfy my desire to learn the language. However, trying to understand some of these linguistics books was almost like reading a foregin language itself. Over time, I gradually learned a good deal about linguistics from agglutination to Whorfianism.

Wikipedia: Duke Kahanamoku

Considering the concept of dryland didn’t exist yet, Duke is ripped!
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

As a swammer, it’s a shame I had never heard of Duke Kahanamoku until recently. He revolutionized freestyle by introducing the flutter kick and held the 100m free world record (1:00.4). After his swimming career, he dabbled in acting, water polo, and lifeguarding. I was recently introduced to the concept of the Hawaiian waterman: people who are proficient in water sports like swimming, free diving, and surfing. Duke Kahanamoku is the ultimate waterman. The way he was so successful even after his swimming career is so inspiring as a former swimmer.

Media of the Week – May 6, 2022

Movie: Everything Everywhere All at Once

This movie is amazing. Like the best movie I’ve ever watched amazing. Like I never have to watch another movie again amazing. I’ve been largely supportive of Asian American content, but this is the first one that I felt truly connected with. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan’s characters reminded me so much of my own parents and their struggles. I also related to the themes of living up to your potential and destiny. I shed tears of laughter, sadness, and joy at various parts of the film, sometimes simultaneously. I’ll probably write up a full blog post on my thoughts on the movie because I feel like there’s so much to talk about. Go watch this movie.

YouTube: New Guinea – lessons from a cradle of agriculture and languages

I don’t know that much about New Guinea but I learned a lot from this video. I did know that it has amazing language diversity, but I’d never heard of the Trans-New Guinean language family. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the logistics of why high-altitude banana cultivation is better. Also it was really cool to hear about the connection between agriculture and language – it reminded me of the Tea if by Sea, Cha if by Land phenomenon.

Credit: Quartz

Podcast: The 5 Allies Every Man Needs

As Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his famous speech, “the concept of the self-made man, or woman, is a myth.” To achieve success, we always need help. This podcast episode provides an overview of the different archetypes that help us achieve success – the encourager, the playmaker, the facilitator, the rock, and the bruiser. I’d like to think I’m a playmaker, maybe facilitator type. Cool concepts and something I’ll have to think about in my friends.

Wikipedia: Great Translation Movement

China’s Great Firewall and the difficulty of the Chinese language allow the Chinese government to give one message to its populus and a completely different one to its foreign audience. The Great Translation Movement is to expose the Chinese government’s doublethink and hypocrisy by translating native Chinese content. This transparency is super important if you’re someone who believes in human rights or the truth. Some of the brainwashed content is so disgusting and egregious that it’s hard to believe they’re real. Please check out the Twitter account too.

My NYC Highlights

NYC from above
Credit: Sam Trotman / Unsplash

Recently, I travelled to New York City for vacation. It was my second time in the city and I saw and experienced a lot I missed out on in my first trip there. In this post, I’d like to share my highlights from my visit to the Big Apple. Overall, although I didn’t get to see many of my college friends in the city due to unfortunate timing, I had a good time experiencing a lot of things you can only get in NYC.

La Dinastia

Credit: Summer L / Yelp

One of the cuisines I was determined to try in New York was Cuban-Chinese food. A few years ago, I remember watching the video about a Cuban-Chinese restaurant by Real Big Story. Unfortunately, La Caridad 78 closed down early on in the pandemic. However, there are still a couple Cuban-Chinese restaurants still around in New York so I went to La Dinastia. The food and portions were really good (I ordered the tortilla de platano and egg fo young) but the highlight of my meal was chatting with the owner. Turns out, he’s mixed Chinese and Peruvian and grew up in the city when the Upper West side had more Cuban-Chinese spots than typical Chinese places. This restaurant is his attempt to preserve a unique culture in a time when Chinese-Cubans are ageing and priced out of the neighbourhood.

Tibet House US

Mural of the Potala Palace at Tibet House US

I’m an avid listener of the Tibet House US podcast – Dr Bob Thurman’s podcast for his lectures and talks about Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet House US is an organization comissioned by the Dalai Lama with the goal to preserve the Tibetan cultural and religious heritage. The gallery was really cool – there were a couple things I’d never seen before like a Buddhist rosary made of snake bones. However, the real highlight was talking to some of the Tibetans who worked there. It was really cool to bond over Tibetan media and culture. Tashi-la and Tenzin-la were really eager to share their documentary, restaurant, and language-learning resource recommendations. I feel like my interest in Tibetan culture is a part of who I am that I don’t get to express very often so I always feel a special connection with people who share that common interest.


For my trip to Jackson Heights’s Little Tibet, I made sure to try out one of the Tibetan restaurants in the area. I went here from the restaurant recommendations from Tibet House. My go-to for any Tibetan restaurant (I haven’t actually been to that many) is the veggie thenthuk (ཚལ་འཐེན་ཐུག). Thenthuk literally translates to pulled noodles but it’s different than Chinese noodles (拉面). Instead of long noodles, the dough is pulled into broad and flat pieces. The thenthuk was really satisfying. However, the cool part about my meal was I spoke completely in Tibetan and that was completely normal. I got to speak with the owner too – he’s a Khampa which explains why the tables were stocked with both sepen (སི་པན), a kind of Tibetan chili chutney, and chili oil (སུར་སྣུམ).

Museum of Chinese in America

In Chinatown, there’s a small museum about Chinese Americans. For anybody who has done their homework in Asian American studies, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy but their new exhibit about COVID’s impact on Asians made the visit worth it.

A poster at the Museum of Chinese in America. During WWII, it was important that Americans know that the Chinese were fighting against the Japanese.
A poster at the Museum of Chinese in America. During WWII, it was important that Americans know that the Chinese were fighting against the Japanese.

Bronx Zoo

Every new city I go to, I have to visit the zoo. For my NYC trip, I couldn’t miss out on the famous Bronx Zoo. I saw some species I’d never seen in person before. Some of my animal highlights were:

  • Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) – As an avid fan of both animals and the Himalayan region, I can’t believe it took me this long to finally see the Himalayas’ most iconic animal
  • Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruvianus) – The males of this species are so goofy looking – they kind of have a little mohawk on their beaks. I didn’t know they were so noisy though
  • Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) – This bird is so cool looking – it has long feathers on its upper neck with iridescent plumage on its back.
  • Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) – If you remember the movie Madagascar, there’s a scene in which fossa attack the lemur village. The fossa is a real animal native to Madagascar that preys on lemurs.

One thing that I found really cool was the architecture and design of the exhibits. First, I was really impressed by the amount of immersive exhibits – there were several bird exhibits where you’re in the same room with the animals. I also think the exhibits do a good job of giving the illusion that animals are in the same space but are actually hidden by hidden glass walls. Both of these two design aspects really enhance the immersive experience of going to the zoo.

The Met

I’ve been trying to go to more art museums to become more cultured and this place definitely had its fair share of culture! This place was so big I don’t think one afternoon was enough. That said, I tried to prioritize the regions and cultures most interesting to me. I really liked the art of East Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Here are some pictures from my visit to the Met:


I consider myself an adventurous eater who’s always looking for new foods to try. One of the foods that I’d been really meaning to try was khachapuri and I finally got the chance! I tried two different kinds of khachapuri: the adjaruli and the penovani. While I preferred the eggy, fondue-like adjaruli khachapuri, both types were really good and I’m glad I got to try them out. Now, time to try out other Georgian dishes!

Media of the Week – Apr 30, 2022

Music: Special by Lizzo

I’m an avid follower of Saturday Night Live but I normally skip the music performancnes. However, I usually make it a point to watch the music when the host is also the musical performer because I think it’s amazing how they manage to de both. I hadn’t known much about Lizzo (I know she wrote that DNA test song) but I’m a fan after watching her skits and listening to her songs. I was touched by this song in particular. She puts so much love and passion into the song that I really felt like she was speaking to me. I know I’ve struggled with feeling special and loved at times and it’s great that Lizzo wrote a song about that.

Article: US Olympian Andrew Seliskar Announces Retirement

Following a theme of touching media content, I don’t know how I only found about Andrew’s retirement this week (it was almost two months ago) but this article was very bittersweet for me. I swam and trained with Andrew at NCAP Tysons and the McLean Marlins. He was definitely the aspirational paragon in my swimming career – in terms of his carnal drive to win and steadfast work ethic in and out of the pool, he’s a god amongst men. It was an absolute tragedy that he didn’t get to swim at finals at Tokyo. While I’m sad he won’t be striving for the Paris Olympics, I wish him the best in his next stage in life.

Book: Woke Racism by John McWhorter

There are a handful of books I read each year that change my way of thinking and this is one of them. In America, there’s a lot of dialogue about race, mostly by the political left. John McWhorter says most of these people have the wrong idea – what he calls “woke racism” is more of a cultish religion than a coherent ideology. On the surface, he might just sound like your typical anti-woke contrarian, I do think he presents some meaningful arguments against this wokeness – namely his arguments that antiracism is performative and doesn’t contribute to any meaningful change to improve the lives of black people and this way of thinking demeans black people. Regardless if you agree with the principles at the end of the book, I think it’s worth a read for everybody.

YouTube: Why China is Building Their Own Europe

I had vaguely heard of this phenomenon before watching this video, but I had no idea of its scope. To me, this is an result of the hollowed-out Chinese culture that came out of the Cultural Revolution. The Chinese people have found European architecture as an outlet for the vacuum where their deep cultural heritage used to be. But, without any of the culture or history that makes these cities noteworthy, this all just seems tacky.

Media of the Week – Apr 22, 2022

Wikipedia: Plant Blindness

No, this isn’t blindness caused by plants. Plant blindness is a type of speciesism against plants. As a whole, people don’t really care about plants as much as animals. This is a critical issue in conservation because the biosphere is more than the charismatic megafauna that usually garner the most attention.

Podcast: Breaking Down Climate Misinformation with Amy Westervelt and John Cook

In the spirit of Earth Day, this podcast addresses the issue of climate misinformation. Although there’s clearly a connection when you think about it, I hadn’t given thought on the link between corporate free speech and fossil fuel propaganda. Also, I really like the rundown on the common strategies for arguments against climate action – magnified minority, cherry picking, and false dichotomy. One thing I’ll definitely remember from this podcast episode is the observation that as the climate science has gotten harder to refute, fossil fuel companies have shifted their arguments to attacking climate solutions. Definitely something to think about on this Earth Day.

Art: Sakyamuni announces another prophet

Credit: The Met

I recently visited New York City and saw this painting at the Met. I think it’s really cool that there’s Islamic art that recognizes the Buddha as an important religious figure. This was made in Afghanistan which historically was a hub for Buddhism. In fact, one of the religious sites Xuanzang visited (whose trip inspired the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, 西游记) was Bamiyan.

YouTube: The self-fetishization of east-asia: koreaboos & weebs aren’t the only problem

Within the past two years or so, I’ve come to realize a lot of aspects of Asian culture have been commodified and commercialized. Many Asian Americans have completely associated their Asian identity with these commodities – think about how many people associate Asian culture with watching anime, listening to kpop, and drinking bubble tea. I like her analysis, particularly her points about the fetishization and tokenization of minority groups in Asian countries. Stay tuned, this might turn into a fully fledged blog post in itself.

Media of the Week – Apr 15, 2022

YouTube: The Rise and Fall of Cultural Appropriation

The concept of cultural appropriation in the current conversation about race in America comes up a lot. Who gets to wear traditional clothing? Who gets to cook ethnic foods? Who gets to have certain names? The list goes on. I’m generally in the camp that as long as the original culture is recognized, it’s perfectly fine (and encouraged!) to adopt aspects of other cultures. This video pretty much says the same thing but in a more articulate and nuanced way. I really like the quote from the video “If you love it, it’s not appropriation”.

Wikipedia: E. O. Wilson

“The real problem with humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall”

E. O Wilson

This quote is so powerful and thought-provoking. After finding it, I decided to read up more about E.O. Wilson. Turns out, he’s one of the greatest minds of biology. Among his many contributions to science is the concept of island biogeography. Despite his many scientific contributions, I still think the part about his philosophical beliefs is most interesting. I’ll be sure to add his books on my to-read list.

Podcast: How manatees got into hot water

One of my fondest childhood memories is visiting the Miami Seaquarium and watching the manatees lazily float on the water while casually munching on lettuce. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of the gentle giants. This Planet Money episode is really cool because it shows the connection between manatee conservation and the eregy industry.

Manatee surfacing to breathe
Manatee surfacing to breathe
Credit: Jim Reid, US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons

Music: Red Sun by Tsunami Wazahari

I don’t really have much to say about this track other than I’m a fan of dub music and love the Asian influnce.

Media of the Week – Apr 8, 2022

Podcast: Inheritance

You can never go wrong with an episode of Radiolab if you want something interesting to listen to and this is no exception. All three stories were captivating but the third one about paying money to drug addicts to get sterilization surgery was especially captivating. I’m still not sure how I feel about it but I think I lean more toward the idea that it’s unethical.

Article: Taiwan’s Indigenous Tribes Give Han Chinese New Identity

For those who don’t know, Taiwan has more than just Chinese escapees. There are actually several indigenous groups that have lived in Taiwan long before the Kuomintang settled there. In fact, the Indigenous Taiwanese are thought to be the ancestors of modern Austronesians, which include Polynesians. With the push for a unique Taiwanese identity, many Taiwanese are connecting to local Indigenous cultures.

YouTube: Seas of Polinices

Was anybody else obsessed with the docuseries The Future is Wild? Since I was little, speculative biology has been so intriguing to me. So, it should come at no surprise that I enjoy watching the Curious Archive. This particular video is so fascinating because it imagines a watery world full of colonial organisms. The idea of a biological internet is such an out-there and creative idea, I’m half convinced J.J. Aniorte went to an alien planet and reported what he saw.

Fish-like stegocauduates from J. J. Aniorte's project Polinices
Fish-like stegocauduates from J. J. Aniorte’s project Polinices
Credit: J. J. Aniorte

Wikipedia: Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

In doing research for my most recent article, I came upon this Wikipedia page. In response to European imperialism, the late 19th century saw the rise in Pan-Asianism, the idea to unite Asia under one flag. Based on the ideals of Pan-Asianism, Imperial Japan conceived of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as a means for Asia to be free from Western powers. Although the concept is tainted due to its association with bloodthirsty Japanese expansion, I think it’s kind of interesting that it’s the closest South Asians, East Asians, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders have been united a la the acronym AAPI.

What is Asian?

DC Chinatown Friendship Gate
DC Chinatown Friendship Gate
Credit: Richard Tao via Unsplash

Since the pandemic started, there has been a huge uptick in the dialogue about Asian American identity in response to the xenophobia and violence toward Asian Americans. Movements like Stop Asian Hate seek to bring greater awareness to Asian hate crimes and racism. While I think these movements have been successful in bringing attention to the problems Asians face in America, we need to take a step back and ask who Asian Americans are before any meaningful change can occur.

Asia is too big and diverse!

Who are Asian Americans and what does it mean to be Asian? The question seems simple enough, right? Clearly, Asian refers to Asia so anybody from the continent of Asia can be considered Asian. This is technically true but I don’t think this definition is satisfactory or useful at all.

World map with Asia in red
World map with Asia in red
Credit: TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Why not? In short, it’s because Asia is humungous. Not only is Asia the largest of the seven continents but the lion’s share of the world population resides in Asia. As of this writing, 4.6 billion out of the 7.9 billion people on Earth live in Asia – that means nearly 60% of the world are Asian! Asia dwarfs the next most populous continent, Africa, by more than threefold. A single word to describe people proves useless when it’s used for 60 percent of the world and their diasporic communities.

However, the problem isn’t just the fact that Asian is used for so many people. Asia is such a large area that no one word is sufficient to account for a such a great diversity of people. I realize this is the case for any word used to describe a group of people but the definition of Asian in relation to the continent is particularly egregious. To illustrate the diversity of Asia, let’s look at linguistic diversity. This is a particularly good indicator for diversity because language is so closely tied to culture.

There are several major language families in Asia including Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, Dravidian, Turkic, and Austronesian. Compared to Asia, over 90 percent of the European population are native speakers of a language in the Indo-European language family. Asia’s linguistic diversity greatly overshadows that of other places. In fact, speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, the Asian branch of the Indo-European language family, outnumber Europe’s population 1.5 billion to 750 million. Looking at language alone, the term Asian encompasses greater cultural diversity than comparable terms like European or African. Due to Asia’s size and diversity, defining Asian in terms of anybody from Asia means that the word is too broad and blunt to have any meaningful utility.

Map of the world's major language families
Map of the world’s major language families
Credit: Alumnum, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The US Census

Fortunately, in America, the Census Bureau uses a finer definition of Asian such that not everybody who originates from the continent of Asia is considered Asian. The Census Bureau considers people from the Middle East and Central Asia as white. Essentially, the Census definition only considers people east of Pakistan to be Asian. This means that Asian in the US refers to East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian.

While I think this is an improvement from an overly inclusive term of Asian, I still believe the Census definition is too broad. There’s a valid case for grouping East and Southeast Asia together. Historically, there’s been a great deal of cultural exchange from East Asia to Southeast Asia due to the migration of Overseas Chinese. However, I don’t think the same can be said for grouping East and South Asia together. To understand why this is the case, I think it’s helpful to look at what I consider to be East Asia and South Asia.

South Asia

The essence of South Asia is what I call Greater India. This region’s core is composed of the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. These countries are indisputably South Asian. Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Maldives are also sometimes included in this classification. While there is tremendous diversity in the region, I think there are some commonalities that unite Greater India such as the influence of Hinduism in the caste system and the historical importance of Sanskrit as a liturgical language.

Map of Greater India in dark orange. Areas in light orange and yellow indicate regions with significant cultural influence from Greater India.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Regions influenced by Greater India have some clear links to the Indian subcontinent. Aside from religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) and the caste system, many of the cultures have linguistic connections. Languages from Tibetan to Khmer have adopted an abugida writing system based on Sanskrit as well as many Sanskrit-based loan words.

East Asia

Just as there is a core for Greater India, there is an equivalent core for the Greater China cultural sphere composed of the modern countries of China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Taiwan and Singapore are sometimes also included due to their cultural ties to China. Further, some also consider Mongolia’s historical ties with China in the Yuan dynasty to warrant classification with East Asia.

While diverse, there are historical and cultural similarities among these nations. For one, China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam have traditionally adhered to Confucian and Taoist values and beliefs. Additionally, these four nations have historically used Chinese characters and much of the modern vocabulary of their languages originate from Middle Chinese. As an aside, these cultural characteristics of East Asia are also part of why I think the western regions of China (i.e. East Turkistan, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia) don’t even count as Chinese or East Asian.

The Greater China cultural sphere
The Greater China cultural sphere
Credit: Hogweard, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Similar to Greater India, Greater China has exerted tremendous influence in Southeast Asia. Although Overseas Chinese are a minority in this region, their economic dominance in the bamboo network means they have exerted disproportionate influence on the local culture. For example, noodle dishes like mi goreng in Indonesia have Chinese origins. Given that the bamboo network is still alive and well (and China’s recent politico-economic encroachment in the region), there’s an argument to be made that today Greater China is a greater influence on Southeast Asia than Greater India.

What this means for Asian Americans

Clearly, South Asian, East Asian, and Southeast Asian cultures are very different so why are they lumped together in America? To me, it’s because white America doesn’t care enough about Asian Americans of any kind. Your average South Asian and East Asian would never get confused for each other. Asian, espically when it’s used as AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander), is a classification that means we’re exotic (i.e. not white) but not black or Spanish-speaking. This is the only way I can justify the reasoning for joining such disparate groups.

Some people will say that Americans of East Asian and South Asian descent share a lot in common. For example, we both have strict parents who pressure us to be high-achieving, eat weird (to white people) food at home, and feel simultaneously part of and alien to our American and home cultures. Personally, I feel like all of these similarities are part of the immigrant experience and not unique to any kind of Asian culture.

Other than the British calling our ancestors coolies (which, as a tangent, would be kind of cool for us to reappropriate), there isn’t much that unites us together. I don’t even see why we would want to be put together. For most of world history, China and India were the wealthiest civilizations with rich, unique cultures. I would much rather have the American cultural language reflect this history instead of the racial chopped liver that the word Asian is.

Clearer Asian American Vocabulary

In the Asian American dialogue, we need an expanded vocabulary to describe our cultural experiences. I think the American racial and cultural dialogue has outgrown the Pan-Asian ideals of the 1960s when the term Asian American was created. The sooner we can recognize this, the sooner there can be meaningful change to our problems with race in America.

South Asians commonly use desi to describe their diasporic kin. I absolutely think there should be a commonly used, equivalent term for East Asians and Southeast Asians. Although I’ve been using them in this entire essay, I don’t like the terms South Asian, Southeast Asian, and East Asian at all. They’re too geographic, academic, and robotic to be readily used in normal conversation. In the future, maybe we can extricate the word Oriental from its offensive origins and reclaim it for ourselves.

So, what is Asian? Well, it’s a word that describes a huge and diverse group of people. Because of this, it doesn’t really amount to much. Asian groups in America experience different experiences and challenges that are unique to their cultural group. East Asians and fetishization and demasculinization. South Asians and colourism and caste discrimination. Southeast Asians and intergenerational trauma and their achievement gap. We Asian Americans deserve better and more diverse language that reflects our culture and history. If we’re ever going to make any meaningful change, we must have the vocabulary recognizing the diverse groups within Asian America.

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