January Pieces Of My Mind #2

Rålambshov, Stockholm
  • I love how fast the staff of the National Archives go through boxes of tea bags in the break room.
  • The 1920s New York that H.P. Lovecraft detested was the same 1920s New York that Damon Runyon loved.
  • I’ve said in talks that Thor Heyerdahl was no Nazi: for one thing he was friends with the UN’s Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Who, I now realise, was a Nazi party member and army officer. /-:
  • Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.
  • I’m releasing a two-hour recording of random noise and FM radio dialling as a previously unknown rock opera by The Who, and calling it Apophenia.
  • Story germ. Heritage manager c. 1900 re-erects the fallen or leaning orthostats at a prehistoric cemetery. Makes the whole thing come back online and summons a local godling.
  • “Hypnosis, yoga. These mystics can be very convincing. They can even hypnotise themselves.” Horror Express, 1972
  • The Horror Express has more carriages when seen from the inside than when seen from the outside.
  • The real name of Vampira in Plan 9 From Outer Space was Maila Elizabeth Syrjäniemi. She was a skilled linoleum floor layer and carpenter.
  • I had dinner at three Levantine restaurants this past weekend: Folkets kebab on Hornsgatan in Stockholm (their buffet), Samboosak in Jönköping and Al Shami in Skärholmen. All highly recommended.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

86 thoughts on “January Pieces Of My Mind #2”

  1. This could be of interest to those with Chinese connections, or just generally interesting:

    The colour codes on PCA plots (which are the easiest things to grasp intuitively) can be confusing, so I can assist by labeling the clusters on the plot. Starting from the lower left and moving upwards, the clusters are: Vietnamese, then Dai, then Lahu (ethnic group in China and Southeast Asia), then Southern Han 2, then Southern Han, with Miao/Hmong (labelled as Miaozu in the plot) clustering with/between Southern Han 2 and Southern Han, then Beijing Han at the top, then moving down to the right Korean, and then Japanese.

    Things to get: This is a fairly coarse grained plot. The people labelled Miaozu are called Hmong in Laos, and the Miao ethnic minority in China. The Laotian Hmong hill tribes were allies of the Americans during the Vietnam War, so things went very badly for them when the war was lost and the Americans left. They migrated as refugees to America in sizeable numbers. Reportedly, Hmong communities in the USA do pretty badly in contrast to most Asian-Americans: high drop out rates from schools, low academic achievement, high violent crime rates, etc. – notably different in those respects from Southern Han in the USA, who seem to do pretty well. I can’t begin to analyse or understand why that is.

    In ancient times, Han-like people from northern China migrated into the Korean peninsula and morphed into Koreans. And then rice farmers (the Yayoi people) migrated from the south of the Korean peninsula into the southern-most part of Japan, and then expanded progressively northwards in Japan, encountering on their way the pre-existing people of the Jomon culture (thought to be ancestral to the Ainu, who now exist nowhere in unadmixed form) who were sedentary hunter-gatherers, and absorbing/swamping them genetically.

    Hunter-gatherers can be sedentary if they are largely exploiting marine resources; that happened in the north-west USA (think ‘salmon’) and western coast of Canada, and I understand also in Scandinavia; they can get enough food from marine sources not to need to be nomadic. Such people can live peacefully enough side by side with farming populations for long periods, trading marine resources with the farmers for other stuff, which I also understand happened in Scandinavia for a couple of thousand years, basically because the two groups are not competing for resources, and in fact are exploiting different/complementary resources.

    Olde timee anthropologists who thought the Ainu were some European-like group, just based on appearance, were wrong.


  2. So, when is ‘cultural appropriation’ not that? When it’s ‘transcultural adaptation’ of course. Just check out this mess:

    So, it’s OK to take a couple of Chinese literary classics like “Journey to the West” and “Water Margin”, and do whatever the hell you like with them. The writer of this piece doesn’t even seem to be aware that “Water Margin” is Chinese, not Japanese.

    And it’s not ‘whitewashing’ as long as you stick a couple of Polynesians in there. What the hell? Do they think Chinese people ‘identify’ with Polynesians?

    I predict Chinese people in China won’t give a damn that their culture is being appropriated – they are long used to it. They won’t even notice. That’s what ‘culturally inferior’ people do when your giant civilization is the centre of the universe, after all – it’s the sincerest form of flattery.

    Sometimes I just can’t begin to figure out how Australians’ minds work. Lately, it seems like most of the time. China saved Australia from plunging into a deep recession in the wake of the GFC and has been Australia’s largest trading partner since 2010 – you’d think my fellow (but not lately) Australians would take a bit of time to try to figure them out. No.


    1. Anglophones have a long history of mentally blending together distant cultures. Try finding a Chinese restaurant in a US city that does not have a Chinatown–you are likely to find Polynesian dishes, sushi, or both on the menu as well as things that might be vaguely Chinese. This attitude goes back to the days of the British Empire (“they’re all wogs east of Calais”), and I’m not surprised that Australians have it as well.

      For that matter, if I don’t know a person’s surname I cannot reliably guess on sight which Asian ethnicity somebody has, any more than I can tell by sight which European country somebody is from. Even knowing the surname is not 100% reliable: most common Korean surnames are of Chinese origin, and two of my co-workers are Germans with Slavic surnames.

      That doesn’t mean that ABC shouldn’t be doing a better job of casting. It’s one thing to cast a Polynesian as a Chinese character because there are few or no ethnic Chinese actors available. But that’s no longer the case in the US, and I doubt it’s the case in Australia.


  3. If you mix influences from different countries in an imaginary empire, I suppose it will not offend.
    “Interesting Times” by Terry Pratchett is mostly set in a Discworld version of China, but with elements of Japan, like sumo wrestling and haiku poems.
    Readers also get re-acquintanced with Cohen the Barbarian and his octagenarian Horde.


  4. Having lived in the Boston area and having followed the Hmong immigration story over the years, it’s rather obvious why Han Chinese do much better in the US than the Hmong. If nothing else, the Hmong were back country farmers up in the hills living in small towns. Chinese immigrants grew up in a much more complex society. The Chinese have been literate for centuries. They have had job specialization, bureaucracy, civil service, trading houses, an aristocracy and so on forever. Education was highly valued. The Hmong story is that of country people meeting the big city, and it is playing out as it usually does.
    We’ve always had cultural appropriation. Think of how weird it is for a westerner to think of the communist Chinese having a home grown stock exchange and riding around in automobiles, both quintessentially western capitalist inventions. Watch a Korean sitcom and, if you are baby boomer, you’ll have flashbacks to the television of your childhood, except with subtitles.
    What is different now is that what were once exotic foreigners are now living just about everywhere, so we should start treating them as fellow citizens, not freaks. When Mozart did his Abduction from the Seraglio, people from the Ottoman court were as alien as Klingons or wookies. Long distance immigration was rare. When Shakespeare wanted to cast a Moor or a Jew, he couldn’t just put a casting call. In modern London he could. (Let’s not get into issues of Jews playing Christians or Protestants playing Catholics, though they are relevant.) If we ever meet Martians or Centauri or Andromedans, our current portrayals of space aliens are going to be pretty embarrassing too.


    1. Thanks for the explanation about the Hmong. Makes perfect sense – should have been obvious to me.

      I was being tongue in cheek about ‘cultural appropriation’ – most of it is just silly, but occasionally some of it is really not. I was trying to point out the hypocrisy of ‘virtue signalling’ white Australians who rail against cultural appropriation, but morph instantly into ‘transcultural adaptation’ when it suits them – plus their complete tone deafness in thinking that casting a couple of part-Polynesians and a couple of extra females in ‘more meaningful roles’ makes it all OK. It is all OK, but not for the reasons that they delude themselves into thinking. It’s OK because Chinese in China think cultural appropriation is not only OK, but something they have been comfortable with for millennia. They simply don’t care.

      When people make and sell fake Aboriginal artefacts and art for large sums of money, while unscrupulous art dealers ruthlessly exploit Aboriginal artists, that is definitely cultural appropriation of the ‘definitely not OK’ sort.

      But ‘Monkey King’? Too funny.

      While some Chinese-Americans and a lot of virtue signalling white Americans railed against Matt Damon being cast in the male lead role in the hilariously awful 2017 film The Great Wall as ‘whitewashing’, audiences in China loved it – the film made more money in China than the whole of the rest of the world combined. I suspect Chinese audiences saw in it what I saw – the really funny racial/cultural caricatures, with the dirty, thieving, money-grubbing, unethical foreign barbarian mercenary Damon character becoming ennobled and incidentally improving his personal hygiene as a consequence of his immersion among the perfectly squeaky clean, courageous and self-sacrificing Chinese defenders of the the Great Wall battling cartoonish alien creatures straight out of some bizarre Godzilla style B movie.

      Likewise, some Japanese-Americans and the usual virtue signalling white Americans howled about Scarlett Johannson being cast as the lead in the (to my mind better film) Ghost in the Shell, Japanese people in Japan calmly pointed out the blindingly obvious – the lead character is a robot with an implanted human brain, and so could look like anyone. They really didn’t care, they liked the film anyway. I loved it because the backdrops were urban scenes in Hong Kong that I am abundantly familiar with, entrancingly digitally enhanced – thought that was done really well.


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