Friday, 22 April 2005

The Cruelest Sales-Pitch

I have the hottest hairdresser in town. She is so hot that I return to her at five-weekly intervals, even though she goes for short-back-and-sides every single time. Not that it really matters, because my motorcycle helmet rules out styling my hair and in general I suffer from a serious case of helmet-head. In any case, she is so hot that, when I return home after a haircut, the first thing my housemate asks me about is what she was wearing. In fact she is so hot that she is the only person who can pull off a double-denim with style. In fact, she is so hot...ermm you get the idea - this girl is sharper than the pair of scissors she supposedly earns her living with.

I usually wait until I have a really bad day and then I go for a wash and a cut. Aah yes, another thing about her - she does not palm regular customers like me off to some shampoo-girl - she personally washes your hair. She takes great care not to spill some water in one’s ears, the way careless shampoo-girls are wont to do. Also, a wash is followed with a very long and relaxing head-massage. This head-massage is so intense that it usually elicits involuntary moaning sounds from me. At first I felt a little guilty about this moaning, but she reassured me that moaning is an important signal in our stylist-client communication, as it indicates to her that she is on the right track... sort of pressing the right buttons I suppose. However, I soon learnt that muttering "yes, baby..." is frowned upon - apparently there is this invisible line that should not be crossed.

Oh and when she cuts your hair she lowers the chair to this perfect height whilst moving around you. And when she moves around you there is the intoxicating smell of her perfume that follows her. Not too sweet and flowery, not too metallic either - an in-between scent... perfection. Whilst normal hairdressers clean the fluffy hair in one’s neck with an electric clipper, this girl whisks out a genuine old-fashioned razor-blade! This action of her pulling the razor-blade over my skin, stimulates a mixture of fear and excitement in me that is truely Sigourney Weaveresque (in an Alien[s] 1, 2, 3 and 4 kind of way). So in short, I really enjoy going to her for haircuts, probably because it is the closest that I can get to a lap-dance without the moral disapproval that accompanies visits to strip-clubs. And in a twisted way my hair-salon visits are hotter than strip-club visits too - especially if (like me) you rate potentiality over actuality.

Over the last couple of visits, she managed to convince me that, taking into account the fact that I regularly wear a motorcycle helmet, the shorter she cuts my hair the better. At first I refused. The ostensible reason (that I advanced) being that my hair is really straight and have a tendency to stand if cut too short. The hidden reason (that I harbored of course) being that really short hair would move me off the five-weekly haircut cycle to a six-weekly cycle. Imagine my horror at simply imagining a whole extra week without her hovering around me, clasped in a chair, covered in a cloak, with the razor-blade being flicked over the back of my neck!

But of course, I have never been really good at winning arguments with beautiful people, so I gave in to the even shorter-back-and-sides suggestion. To be fair, I must admit that having fire-breaks around your ears does wonders for helmet-head, if only because there is less hair to be disturbed. But the shorter sides also meant that some thinning of the top was called for. She has a special pair of scissors for thinning hair that are a couple of teeth short and these only cut some of the hair, her level of enthusiasm regardless, and so thins the hair out. Naturally a major part of my last visit consisted of thinning the top, because she went "medieval" on the back and sides. The haircut was practical beyond believe, no styling required, not affected at all by time spent inside my motorcycle helmet, and so forth. I also think I looked great, albeit in a retro rat-pack kind of way.

After such a haircut comes another special treat. Knowing how uncomfortable it must be to walk around with cuttings of hair stuck under your collar and other irritating places, she offered to rinse my hair and then blow-dry it for me. Of course I noticed the unspoken-but-implied invitation to a bonus head-massage and agreed in a knowing sort of way. And then, while she was running water over my head, she lined me up for an incredible salvo of salon cruelty. First she made a little "u-oh" sound and then exclaimed with shock that she could see my scalp! My back stiffened and my fingers clamped the armrests. Carefully I asked her what it means. She gave me a complete diagnosis. My hair is naturally fine and according to her it is starting to thin noticably at the top. Sweat started steaming from under my palms as I waited for her professional opinion. Based upon my last few visits she came to the conclusion that I am rapidly approaching baldness! I was silent for a moment and then tried a weak joke about the correlation between an over-production of testosterone and baldness, but before my mind’s eye I could see myself losing my toupee in public and I was horrified.

In a soothing voice she told me to relax, because it is not such a disaster as one would think. Apparently thinning of male hair is natural. It is caused by a confluence of factors ranging from genetic predisposition, to nutrition, to stress and even environmental pollution. But there are some things that a victim can do to soften the blow dealt by nature. There are a number of shampoos and conditioners available that stimulate the hair follicles, reverse the thinning of the scalp, clean and nourishes the hair, and these products can slow, if not reverse, the process of balding. Especially if the symptoms are noticed as early as she has done in my case. Together, we can beat this thinning of my hair; she will monitor my situation and help me. To be exact, I am actually in luck, because their salon just that week became a Nioxin supplier and they have the entire Nioxin hair and scalp regimen for sale!

I slumped in the chair as I realised that my favourite hairdresser just made me the target of the cruelest sales pitch. And I walked out to my bike, even more convinced of the depths of female perfidy than before.

Sunday, 17 April 2005

Media Control

Here's a very interesting article I found by accident on a Chinese forum: Changing the Subject: The "Invisible" Control Mechanism in Chinese Media

It is worth reading in full, substituting Chinese Government with South African Government. For example, here is one paragraph from the article, with some words substituted:

There is a very basic aspect of the South African political discourse that is so obvious that it is seldom commented on. It involves a common dynamic in human interactions where hypocrisy, deception, and issues of "saving face" intersect. It is this:

If I find myself in disagreement with another person about something, and yet I sincerely believe in the correctness of my own position, I will seek to highlight our differences and show decisively why my position is sound and that of the other person is flawed. If, on the other hand, I am painfully aware that the other person has a point, and I am in the wrong, I will change the subject.

The strategy of the South African government is to change the subject.

Interesting to note that China has a long list of words that you cannot search for on Google. After reading this article, I searched for more on Ann Condi (a pseudonym), the writer. Google blanked out. It stays unusable for 30 seconds, and never returns any results. It's magic. So obviously she has been noted by "sinister figures" and has been blacklisted. Wonder where she is today?

Monday, 11 April 2005

Heavy weather

A heavy storm with all the special effects of heavy storms struck Cape Town on Sunday evening. This picture of flashes of lightning illuminating the pitch dark in the City Bowl was thanks to a moment of lucky timing. Posted by Hello

In search of postmodernism

Coming from South Africa, and having experienced the political and cultural conditions there during the eighties, I find engaging with Chinese issues increasingly unbearable and exasperating.

The climate at the moment tends towards a stifling hegemony of xenophobia, mainly towards Japan, but also generalised towards what is regarded here as "Western" influence. This is all just shorthand for: opinions that do not coincide with our own.

At the moment there are raging protests in the streets of several major Chinese cities against Japan. These protests focus on Japan's whitewashed treatment of history in their new school textbooks, that refer to Japanese aggresion during WW2 as "invasions" rather than, well, I don't know rather than what exactly. The Chinese seem to prefer something like "pig-dog violent bastard shit-eating raping aggresion"), but its hard to tell what they want.

On TV it simply looks like irrational bands of students maliciously damaging shops and cars. Or at least, so I hear: there's a news-blockout in place and the protests do not get reported in Chinese media.

This is going to explode in the CCP's face: they've been fanning anti-Japanese sentiment for years amongst ordinary people, while generously partaking in Japan's financial aid. Japan recently got a little fed up with giving so much and never receiving any cultural reciprocation, and announced these contributions will end next year. Of course, the Chinese people think these are simple loans, but they are in fact direct donations, responsible for much of China's infrastructure, from bridges and dams to whole airports. Xi'an's Xianyang being one of them.

Then there's the Taiwan issue. It's disconcerting to know that a recent poll showed 90% of Chinese students, aged 23 to 32 supports using all-out force against the island if they should continue independence overtures. Some even want the government to act sooner, rather than wait for Taiwan's provocation. The issue of Taiwan is spectacularly misunderstood by all people on both sides of the Straits, and based on my experience in SA, I predict it will lead to overt violence eventually.

The problem is the government's own fanning of these sentiments. This has been a theme in China for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. There's a simple equation at work: when the people are rich (or getting richer) they don't complain. When the economy levels out, you give them a scapegoat, a demon.

Look at the Boxer rebellion of 100 years ago. A seemingly spontaneous uprising of ordinary people right across China; in fact, the most downtrodden, repressed, poor and disenfranchised people, who had every reason to hate the Qing-dynasties cruel policies... but no, they rose up _in the name of the Qing_ AGAINST foreigners, Christian missionaries, and yes, Japanese merchants.

This was only 100 years ago. As I walk around Xi'an today, looking around at ordinary people, I can't help but wonder how close to the surface their xenophobia lies. Might they suddenly, spontaneously decide to act out their frustrations on my person, as it were? Who knows. Oriental inscrutability remains a factor. Supported by the intense difficulty of trying to understand their reasoning on issues like Taiwan and Japan.

Part of the problem is that the Chinese people have no aspirations towards what we would call freedom, democracy and human rights, precisely, imho, because they have NO experience of these things. They don't understand them, have no idea what benefits they can bring, and they don't comprehend their own repression. They support censorship, bannings, centralised control... because the only experience they have is with censorships, bannings and centralised control. Better the devil you know.

Of course, at the moment they ARE getting rich, rapidly. And the richer they get the less they'll want to rock the boat. There's the danger then: this system of almost self-imposed mind control will in fact only get stronger and more entrenched in the Chinese mindset as long as the current economic boom continues. But with more than a billion people there's going to be cracks, little tiny hairline cracks of dissent. And a hairline in 1.3 billion people might still stretch across a few thousand minds. And there's only one way for them to respond: with quick, decisive violence.

Prepare for more bloodshed soon. And hope the hypocritical Western governments can stick to the values we support, and stop pandering to China, just for the sake of economic ties. As far as I'm concerned there is only one decent moral position now: change the "One China" policy to the "One China, One Taiwan" policy. Tell these corrupt dinosaurs unambiguously that there is no sympathy left in the world for their manipulative and violent control mechanisms. If we can't get China democratic, at least we should keep Taiwan so.

Hoesit Rassie

Comment on the previous post by Pollen.

What is most evident for me is that I agree with what I assume is his underlying concern: that rascism is still a tangible and fatally dangerous element in South African society. Perhaps, as whites who have distanced ourselves from practicing rascism, and who are the bearers of a few centuries of shame for that perpetrated by us and our ancestors, we have some responsibility to filter out what we perceive to be negative towards us from his side of the discourse, and apply ourselves rather more productively to what is, clearly, an undeniable truth.

Very long and prosaic way to say: we should take responsibility for our stereotype and in so doing confound it. Where rascism exists it should be uprooted and demolished, and if the "race card" is not mentioned in connection with the terrible incidents he describes, then it should be.

I am still frequently shocked at how ingrained rascism is amongst most white people, and how the social system still favours us of a lighter complexion, and how very little responsibility we, as a (somewhat non-heterogenous) group take for this. When all is said and done, for example, I have still not heard a single, heartfelt and unproblematic apology for Apartheid from anyone. That remains one of the first steps in correcting the wrongs done by it.

So, let me declare myself, at the conclusion: I am a rascist. I make assumptions about people based on their appearance, religion, background, history, you name it. I don't feel too bad about this, since I know that I consciously reconstruct my assumptions on a daily, hourly, minute-ly basis, to find ballance between what I think and what I feel. Rascism is something I have to work on, continuously guard against, be aware of... Where I disagree with Mr. Qwelane is that I suspect all people are rascist in this way. Why? Well, I believe all people are basically the same. And since I have such propensity for assumptions and stereotyping, then I won't deny anyone else that ability.

Perhaps, if he means, black people cannot be _ideologically_ rascist, he might have a platform for discussion. (Although still only arguably.)

But that aside: South African politics and society demand of us whites a certain tolerance for the "race card". We have some responsibility not to react out of pride and defensiveness, but to attempt to look through the rhetoric and find the essence, which, in this case, I'm sure we actually agree with.

Also, everyone has a responsibility to avoid making accusations that can be thought generalised towards any specific group or identity. Blood being thicker than water, it's kinda easy to push people's buttons if you want them to show their dark side. Ha.

Amandla, baby.

My naam is Rassie

A while ago, News24 published an online column by Jon Qwelane titled "I am not a racist." I read through it and thought there are some serious errors in the argument and in Jon's judgement, to which I responded and sent the little impromptu piece below into the void of the News24 newsroom. I have no idea what they do to such responses, whether it immediately gets dumped, graces the funny wall or dartboard in the room or actually gets forwarded to the person in question (which would be my first choice). Cerebus replied to mine (see above) and it makes for the beginning of a nice debate, if someone wants to pick up the thread.

Anyway, here goes:

Having read Jon Qwelane's "I am not a racist" piece, I want to comment on the following paragraph:

"Also, no black person can ever be a racist, however hard he or she tries. Racism is an exercise of power relations and, necessarily, one has to have power - political, economic, religious, military, social, etc - for one to exercise racism over others."

I don't know whether this is a statement referring to South Africa only or the whole world, but I want to say please please please do not tell me you think this is true. Surely the last time I checked there are countries (including South Africa) where black people have political, economic, religious, military and social power. The way I understand this quote is that nowhere do blacks have such power, therefore they cannot be racist. By inference, only once they acquire such power, will they become racist.

The definition of racism used by ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination) as used on the website of the South African Human Rights Commission defines racism as: "Any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life."

This definition makes the apartheid government racist, that is clear. It also stretches to other actions as racist: Idi Amin against Indians in the 70s, Japanese against Chinese in Manchuria, Spanish football fans against black players recently, Robert Mugabe against farmers, judges and politicians etc.

I have recently also been shocked by how deeply ingrained white racist views are still in South Africa, including the exclusion of the boy from a church in Mossel Bay reported on in Sunday's News24. This approach of Jon Qwelane doesn't help. Instead of focusing his anger he takes a shotgun approach and points it at all white people, everywhere. This first of all undermines the nuances attached to race and racism, it is not only a black-and-white thing. Can coloureds and Indians be racist, or are we only talking so-called African blacks? And does being African include Arabs in the north of the continent?

By using simplistic and generalised arguments such as the one in the column, it further undermines the integrity of an underlying argument that says (I think): "People, look at South Africa, we still have racism in our midst, and I am angry about it and angry with the people defending some actions as colour-blind."

Another case in point: according to the schema of no black can be a racist, where does a person like Joe Seremane fit, referred to as Leon and Gibson's "black sidekick". If he shares their views, does it make him a racist against black people, even if he is black and, by Qwelane's definition, cannot be one? What is this type of racist called? Or does it not matter? If you're a racist, you're a racist and what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. That's the type of argument I'm hearing. And that saddens me, if this is the type of contribution we can expect to address the very important issue of race and racism.