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reviews

I probably don’t need to publish this post on my blog. It is not appealing. It is not good writing. It will not make you laugh out loud. It is not even a proper rant. Besides, it is friggin’ long – I am amazed at how much I tapped out on my iPhod, and tedious. I am not even making any coherent argument, not to mention grammatical errors! Run-on sentences! totally exposing myself as a feeble-minded person. Even the title spells “MEH”.

That being said, I feel this pathological need to be on the record, I guess. Since I have been treating this blog as my diary, I want everything that comes out of my head to be on here. So, sorry about this… mental puke…

I brought the book, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett with me on my flight back home last December. I have had the whole flight between IAD and Narita to ponder on this book. I won’t even attempt at writing a review since I am really not qualified to do so. And at any rate, there are already more than 1,400 reviews on Amazon.com. Furthermore, all the book reviewers in the major news outlets have done so and waxed poetic on this book, with one of them comparing The Help to To Kill A Mocking Bird.* I will just make a list of things that I have been chewing on. By Tap Tap Tap on my iPhone (without a SIM) and therefore heavy editing involved thereafter.

Spoiler alert: If you are thinking of reading this book, you should skip this. I will also be 100% honest with myself, which means I will be contradictory, at times nonsensical, and possibly offending, especially if you love the book.

Confession first: I enjoyed reading this book tremendously. Cliché, yes. Truth is: it IS a page turner. For me. From the moment when I opened it in August when I first received it, I could not completely put Aibileen out of my head until the Christmas week, when I finally had time to sit down and read the book in long stretches.

The stories are riveting. The voices are, as much as I hate using this word because it is often confused with “stereotypical”, or at the very least “archetypal”, the voices sound to me “authentic”. That is, when I was reading it, when I was caught up in the drama of the story that was being expertly told, when I was kept in suspense as to the safety of the women, when I was hoping with clenched fists and a racing hear that they would triumph over evil and that justice would be done. Well, justice be done to a certain extent, in the strict confines of the story-telling.

Now I ask myself: How many Southerners do I know? None.

Do I know any African American domestic help? Nope.

What do I know about Southern dialects and accents? Not a thing.

So what do I know about whether the book is “authentic” or not? Hasn’t this always been the gripe I have against books like Memoirs of a Geisha? That a fiction novel, on account of its main characters being of a non-white race, is evaluated and praised for delivering an “authentic” portrayal. Do we even care whether Dan Brown’s characters are authentic or not?

Damn the identity politics theories I read, classes I took.

I cannot help, in the back of my mind, though I immensely enjoyed the stories of these women, that a white woman took possession of the black women’s stories twice, especially after I read Kathryn Stockett’s personal note at the end of the book: like Skeeter in the story, Stockett wrote the black women’s stories and gained wild success.

I understand the above statement reeks of identity politics, but I cannot help the gnawing feelings in the back of my head.

What bothers me even more is Skeeter’s cajoling, forcing almost, these women into telling her their stories because she was told that she needed to write something that nobody had ever written before in order to get into the publishing world. Throughout I was extremely uncomfortable with her motive: next to the all too real risk to the black women’s lives, her motif seems so trivial. Selfish even. What is the potential downside for her engagement in this feat? None too serious really. And indeed, there was a happy ending for Skeeter. But for Minnie and Aibileen the future remained uncertain.

Although I do wish something horrible would happen to the wrong-doers and was a bit let down when it didn’t, I do applaud the author for not cheapening the story by taking the easy way out. They are still in the mid 1960s in Mississippi and it is not like they are going to all of a sudden find true equality by the end of the book. I need to give the author props for not providing her White readers with an easy cathartic way to assuage the white guilt. “The villain that caused such misery is dead/appropriately punished, all is well in the universe. Now get on with your merry life.”

As I mentioned, the book received gleaming reviews. From White book reviewers. This could be racist on my part, and certainly identity politics at its worst as some might say, nevertheless, I feel I NEED TO know how an African American reader may feel about this book. NOT because a white woman from a privileged family in the South wrote this book, but because, again, despite my immense enjoyment of this book, and yes indeed I feel guilty for liking this book when I started wondering how my friends back in my graduate study classes would have said about this book, I cannot ignore the conflation of the tropes: 1. the White heroine being rescued, or finding self-realization, through Black folks around her that she does not socialize with, 2. Black people, unable to help or save themselves, being rescued by a White person.

I imagine this book already optioned by a movie studio. Or soon will be. Anyway you look at it, it IS going to be a great vehicle for some of the outstanding African American actresses, and god only knows how hard it is for a good script with a strong minority character lead to make it all the way to some head honcho’s desk. I do hope that the script and the actor that portrays Leroy would breathe some more life into him rather than the one-dimensional wife-beater. When in doubt, we reach for the things we share as women: abusive husbands, cheating boyfriends, sexist Chauvinistic patriarchs. In that process, our men are further demonized. Joy Luck Club immediately comes to mind. I can’t watch that movie without cringing. Not a single man in that movie is worthy of loving. Is it why it was accepted by the white mainstream audience? “Poor Asian women. They are so much better off over here. Away from their men.”

When The Blind Side came out, and the Internet was all abuzz about what a feel good movie it was, it immediately raised the mental red flag for me. “Feel good” means, to me, “Not for you. You are probably not the target audience/reader. Stay home. Otherwise you won’t feel good.”

I asked an African American columnist whether she planned to see the movie,

“No. We don’t consider that movie an attractive idea.” She said coyly.

* The surest way to incite heated debate against the worth of any book is to compare it to the beloved To Kill a Mocking Bird… So if you hate someone, yeah, go ahead and compare them to Harper Lee.

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Unknown Mami Here is another edition of I Comment Therefore I Am, following the footsteps of the great Unknown Mammi.

In this era of information overload, in a lot of the news blogs, especially political news blogs, comments are often the best part. Sometimes the scariest part. The comment section is like a looking glass through which you get a glimpse into what the other end of the spectrum is really thinking, under the cloak of anonymity. Wouldn’t you know that comments are also the best part in product review websites?

Amazon.com.

Bet you did not know the fun you would encounter by prowling the world’s largest retail store. Here is one that has become a legend, a pop culture reference:

Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee: BEST comments? You bet'ya!

As of now, there are 1,657 customer reviews of this shirt. WHAT? Yup.

In November 2008, one genius shopper, or social commentator, wrote a smashing, rave review of this shirt, which has since garnered 222 comments. More than that, 17,617 of 17,783 people found the review helpful. Sheer number counts make this review a force to be reckoned with. The popularity of the review and the number of imitators propelled this shirt to some Geek Stardom. Case in point: The final episode of The Office when Pam and Jim got hitched? Dwight was wearing this shirt when he proudly declared that he would be at the bar to pick up the ladies.

The review is funny as hell. Read on:

“This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time (if you catch my drift!). The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called mehth. I told them no, because they didn’t have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes to him…” (Continue reading)

Satirical, rave reviews are often done to highlight the ridiculousness of the high price asked for the product. For this $500 audio cable, Denon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable, dueling reviews have been written: Yes! It solved Global Warming! and No! It caused alien invasion!

I know. Some people have way too much time on their hands. Speaking of people with too much time AND money on their hands… SOMEONE alerted me to this Land Cruiser for sale. At $19,999.95 it is a steal, won’t you say? But the reviews are priceless.

JL421 Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank: I think this is an ACTUAL product and not meant to be a joke...

You know how I love making a point when given the chance, therefore when I saw how much the baby bath book is fetching…

If this is not a WTF moment, I don't know what is...

I had some fun…

Product reviews as a new form of satire. What has the world come to? Guilty as charged...

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This has just come to my attention that the number 1 rated hotel in Beijing is… Drum roll please…

A frigging Holiday Inn!

Yes, they do have true 5 star hotels in Beijing.

Granted Holiday Inns do get a worse rep in the U.S. than in many other places around the world. Don’t think it is because we are more pampered here: it is true that Holiday Inns outside of the U.S. seem to be a bit more than meeting your daily bare necessities. But, Number 1 out of 1,168 hotels reviewed on TripAdvisor??!!

Apparently, it is also the Winner of Traveler’s Choice for Best Bargain/Best In Top 25 Cities.

Morevoer, the spread of the ratings are quite convincing: of 165 reviews, 127 rated the hotel as a 5 overall, 28 – 4, 5 – 3, and 5 – 2. Not too shabby. So there does not seem to be any major argument against this hotel’s #1 standing.

But still, a Holiday Inn? So naturally, I am intrigued. Wouldn’t you? Especially since many, and I mean MANY, of the reviews specifically mentioned the one employee, Storm, in their titles. This Storm is the most famous in Beijing next to Sand Storm, as far as Western tourists are concerned, it seems. And he is much much much beloved. Some choice examples of the review titles: “Loved Storm”, “One word: Storm”, “Storm makes it great”, “Wonderful Hotel, Wonderful Storm”… You get the idea. Even some travel blogs gave Storm honorable mentions. This one employee basically single-handedly made the Holiday Inn Central Plaza in Beijing a gem, stand out amongst all the other similar surrounding hotels. (Sort of like how HoJo Annheim has become a legend and best-kept secret amongst all the Disneyland aficionados…) Storm has taken on almost a legendary status judging by the reviews I had time to go through. It is amazing what this guy would go through in the name of Customer Service.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a picture of him online. Is he even real? Maybe this is one of the biggest Internet hoaxes: that Storm is actually a fictional character? Maybe Holiday Inn Beijing has employed many Customer Service “handlers of white people” and they all call themselves Storm? Somebody needs to profile this man named Storm! I need to know that he has been recognized and appreciated for all those extra steps (literally in many stories) that he took for the guests staying at the hotel. Somebody needs to call InterContinental Hotels Group and confirm that they do take notice of the employee who was cited as THE best feature of the hotel.

Barring the not-yet-written profile/interview, I wonder whether I need to travel to Beijing so I can confirm that Storm is not a high-tech robot designed to carry out the most mind-boggling, highest standard, Customer Service, ever experienced by Western tourists.

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