Thursday, April 28, 2005

Gwenihana & Harajuku Girls

The first time I heard the name Gwen Stefani was in 1996. A fellow classmate in University told me that her term paper topic for English Literature class was about Gwen Stefani of the band, No Doubt. She said one particular song titled “I am just a girl” really inspired her and has made her feel empowered.

Almost ten years has passed by, I wonder whatever happened to Ms. Stefani that bleached blonde dyslexic girl from Anaheim, California?

Recently I have received several emails from readers about Gwen Stefani; one of them was an article by MiHi Anh titled “Gwenihana” posted in The article was indeed interesting about how Ms. Stefani has been blindly adapting pseudo-Japanese culture into her fashion and life style. One particular oddity was the “Harajuku Girls”:

Stefani, the platinum-blond No Doubt front woman with the undulating midriff, recently released her first solo album, "Love, Angel, Music, Baby," a riotous jumble of everything from '80s bubble-gum pop to hip-hop to "Fiddler on the Roof" gone mad on a pirate ship. And tying all these influences together in one baffling mélange of semiotic ambiguity is her ever-present entourage: Four Harajuku girls, or rather, Stefani's interpretation of Tokyo street fashion in the Harajuku district.

They shadow her wherever she goes. They're on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, and she even dedicates a track, "Harajuku Girls," to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they're not real but only a figment of her imagination. They're ever present in her videos and performances -- swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That's right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a "we're not worthy, we're not worthy" pose. She's taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls.

Real Harajuku girls are just the funky dressers who hang out in the Japanese shopping district of Harajuku. To the uninitiated, Harajuku style can look like what might happen if a 5-year-old girl jacked up on liquor and goofballs decided to become a stylist. Layering is important, as is the mix of seemingly disparate styles and colors. Vintage couture can be mixed with traditional Japanese costumes, thrift-store classics, Lolita-esque flourishes and cyber-punk accessories. In a culture where the dreaded "salary man/woman" office worker is a fate to be avoided for this never-wanna-grow-up generation, Harajuku style can look as radical as punk rockers first looked on London's King Road or how pale-faced Goths silently sweating in their widows weeds look in cheerful sunny suburbs.

Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it's rumored they're just plain old Americans and their English is just fine. She's even named them "Love," "Angel," "Music" and "Baby" after her album and new clothing line l.a.m.b. (perhaps a mutton-themed restaurant will follow). The renaming of four adults led one poster on a message board to muse, "I didn't think it was legal to own human pets. But I guess so if you have the money for it."

Stefani fawns over Harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that's suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.

It's not only Stefani whose big kiss to the East ends up feeling more like a big Pacific Rim job. Author Peter Carey's own recent foray into Japanophila, the book "Wrong About Japan," was a semi-autobiographical account of one clueless father's attempt to bond with his son over manga on a trip to Japan, and his futile attempts to understand Japanese culture through a Western filter. Why devote an entire book to being "Wrong About Japan," when you can just send out a one-page fax that reads, "They Are Inscrutable." Even some of the movies that consciously play with Japanese stereotypes can seem puerile no matter how fast the postmodern hipster spin, whether it's Lucy Liu's blood-lusting geisha in "Kill Bill," or Devon Aoki's killer Miho in the new "Sin City," who slays a multitude but is never allowed to utter a single word.

One reader Chris has emailed me about this phenomenon:

"The point is, Ms. Stefani has started using Asian culture as a way to make money. Specifically, as I understand, Japanese Harajuku style clothing in her upcoming clothing line. is a site you can go to learn more about the situation if you're interested. Story has it she pays her little entourage of "Japanese" girls (who are probably Americans) to walk with her everywhere she goes and only speak Japanese and exude a trendy hip-hop styled geisha aura. I have a screen shot from her aforementioned music video in which there are Asian characters on a basketball court floor, and a little ad Gwen did for her clothing line. But anyway, this is a more recent appearance of eastern language in western pop-culture."

I have also asked my friends in Japan about what they thought about Ms. Stefani and her new-found Japanese-fetish, and Rex from Tokyo replies:

“I've never seen anybody in Harajuku that dresses like that and I go by and through all the time. It's just another gimmick. The knee pads thing is a bit weird.

In her lyrics she mentions the underground malls in the world of Harajuku. How ignorant can she be? Shinjuku has underground malls. So does Ginza. But not Harajuku.

But then she just wants to create a fantasy world in her own mind. Like I said, if it works for her, more power to her.”

Aaron emailed with the following:

“The fact that they are only allowed to speak Japanese in public is what pisses me off the most. Japanese is not a "cool" language. It's not a game. It's not a parlor trick. It's a language. It's a language with a long and convoluted and interesting history (much like that of English). It is a language that people speak to do business, learn things, and talk to their loved ones. It is a TOOL; it is a CULTURE. It is NOT some quaint little habit of yellow people with crazy costumes. So you know what? Screw Gwen Stefani. I'd say she should know better, but since she's essentially illiterate, I guess that is simply asking too much.”

However another friend of mine, Andy, has a different view about Ms. Stefani:

“I don't really agree with the article much. She talks about how Stefani appropriated a youth culture for her own purposes, but what's wrong with that? She’s just using a style she thinks is cool, and people find their inspirations everywhere. Why not use the Harajuku girls? I don't even think the real girls in Harajuku are mad that they're being misrepresented by Gwen Stefani.”

Personally, I don't really mind if Ms. Stefani uses pseudo-Japanese culture to make a few bucks with her fashion line, or randomly throw in couple of Japanese Kanji in her music video and on the CD album covers, as long as she would get them done correctly.

Otherwise, she is just another Winkie poser.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

"Do You Know Yao Ming?"

I have several instant message accounts with Yahoo, MSN, and AIM, but I rarely use them. The only reason I have them is when I signed up for their free email accounts, all these IM extras are assigned to me automatically. I usually just let them run in the background via Trillian.

But today I had an interesting chat with a young lady from Florida; it is kind of humorous, perhaps some standup comedian out there can use our conversation into his routine.

Her: “I would like a photo of you.”
Me: “Oh? Why? Are you purposing to me?”
Her: “I’m curious and I’ve never been denied before and people are all too eager to display themselves, and no.”
Me: “That is too bad. I don't understand why people would love to be in the spot light, or showing themselves. I have rarely taken photos of myself.”
Her: “Are you Chinese?”
Me: “Yes.”
Her: “Are you a Chinese MAN of 20-something age?”
Me: “Yes.”
Her: “I knew it.”
Me: “Why?”
Her: “It was easy to infer from your blog.”
Me: “Ok.”
Her: “Plus, I don't know anything about you, but you remind me of this other guy I know who fits the same description.”
Me: “What about yourself?”
Her: “21 F Floridian!!!”
Me: “Good lord, there is another 'me' out there?!”
Her: “But in college in MA!!!”
Me: “Sweet.”
Her: “There are probably lots of you.”
Me: “There is a cult of my clones, didn't you know?”
Her: “I had no idea, what about that photo of you?”
Me: “I tell you what, I am a reasonable person, how about we do an exchange, you send me a photo of you and I will reply with mine, just like kindergarten.”
Her: “You can go first.”
Me: “But you asked first, therefore I would insist you go first while I go scramble for some hot Asian male model's photo off the internet, so you will not be too disappointed.”
Her: “I’ll be able to tell if you do that because I know what they all look like since I spend most of my WAKING HOURS looking at MEN on the INTERNET.”
Me: “You too?! Wow, we got something in common there.”
Her: “I go to a women's college, are you G-A-Y?”
Me: “That was sarcasm.”
Her: “There are more gays out there than you bargained for.”
Me: “Good lord... That would be last time I will use sarcasm via IM.”
Her: “Well I take everything very literally and subtlety is lost on me.”
Me: “Oh my... and your genetic background?”
Her: “I’m white, is that what you were asking? Lol”
Me: “I usually don't like the word 'ethnicity', because it gets confusing…”
Her: “Yes it does. I’m Scandinavian/German/Irish or something.”
Me: “Sweet, they do have good food, except Irish and Scandinavian, well the Irish got corned beef and cabbage, and the Scands have cod. Not bad. Are you good cook? I am looking for a good cook. Actually what I am really looking for is a sugar mama to pay off my school loans.”
Her: “I have to say I’m mediocre but my parents do a good job at cooking. Oh where are you in school? Are you younger than me? Are you in COLLEGE or GRAD school?”
Me: “What makes you so interested in me?”
Her: “When did I say I was interested in you? Well I think I get your meaning anyway. I don’t know, I just found your site interesting, and you seemed to have that aloof quality which I find sometimes charming, only in men. You’re not the first person I’ve messaged out of the blue... and YOU WON'T BE THE LAST! OOOOOOOOO”
Me: “Ah ha! I love a woman that is willing to confess. I feel cheap after your last I message anyone out of the blue" comment... I need to go wash myself and perhaps eat a gallon of ice cream...”
Her: “Get back on the track now, regarding the photo of you, I want an AUTHENTIC one please.”
Me: “So which photo would you like? Me with an entourage of beautiful women in tiny clothing. Or the dorky version of me?”
Her: “Dorky.”
Me: “Sweet, I got a lot of those laying around here… hold on, slow pc.”
Her: “You look like my professor who is also Chinese and surnamed ‘Chen’.”
Me: “Sweet. Hope you will put my photo into good use. Don’t paste it in truck stops' men's room with 'for a good time...' there is already enough of that around...”
Her: “My professor who is surnamed 'Chen' is missing a few fingers, just thought you’d like to know.”
Me: “That happens when you need to dig deep in the nasal cavities for the few 'gold nuggets’, I personally still have all my ten fingers. I have always used the 'projectile' method. You know, blocking one nose hole, take a deep breath, and force all the pressure to come through the remaining open one... KAPAW!!! Projectile comes out like RPG off an Afghani’s shoulder launcher.”
Her: “Here is my webpage if there is not enough for you to see, then you can visit my 'somewhat tongue in cheek' webpage, which is located at I think."
Me: “What is your name?”
Her: “Kat.”
Me: “Kat of what?”
Her: “Florida, Katharine.”
Me: “That is a nice name.”
Her: “Thanks! Do you like my web pages!?”
Me: “Well tell you the truth I have not seen them yet.”
Her: “You best look at 'em, you haven't LIVED.”
Me: “Are you going to do the z-formation snaps at me if I don't? 'you best to see it, sistah' *snap snap snap* I like, it has a nice layout.”
Her: “That is awesome but you are supposed to be focusing on /kat.”
Me: “Your page is fine too, but I was hoping for some tittas, isn't that what internet is really for? Great big tittas!”
Her: “Haha naw, my page is TONGUE IN CHEEK but not really. I mean every word about Turks joining the NBA; I give a hoot about sports. Plus I need to repose for the night soon!”
Me: “Don't worry the tongue-in-cheek thing, you will eventually graduate into 'something else' in the cheeks.”
Her: “FOREIGNERS LIKE YAO MING!!!! Do you know him?”
Me: “Of course, Yao Ming and I hang out all the time.”
Her: “He is nothing but a freak of nature.”
Me: “We cruise the Austin on the weekends to pick up some local ho's, yo. I am telling you, Texas, ain't nothing but steers and queers...”
Her: “Now Latrell Sprewell, there's a real man…”
Me: “Who?”
Her: “He plays for the t'wolves. Sorry if I bored the Christ out of you with all this basketball talk well I got to go to bed I have class tomorrow.”
Me: “Aright, peace out, biatch.”
Her: “Please don’t call me biatch. Tootles.”
Me: “That is not what MTV and David Chappelle said.”

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Speed Up Real Player

Yesterday on, there was a video clip posted about the theft of one biology professor's laptop computer. The video clip was in Real Media format, and many users complained about its poor quality streamed via the internet.

Here is how to speed up the performance of Real Player:

1. After open Real Player, go to Tools, and select Preference.
2. Under Connection, go to Network Transports tab.
(screen capture: realplayer_networktransports.gif)
3. Check the box for Manually configure connections settings.
4. Click on RSTP Settings button, and only check box for Attempt to use HTTP for all content.
(screen capture: realplayer_rtsptransportsettings.gif)
5. Restart Real Player.