Poverty Porn

South Africa Township Tours: An “Authentic” Experience of Cape Town

"The Cape Town area is famous for beaches, wine tours and Table Mountain, among other attractions. But on a recent morning, a group of tourists set out to experience something most visitors never see - the townships where black and mixed-race South Africans were warehoused under apartheid.

"We want to show them the other side of Cape Town with this township tour," said Samantha Mtinini from Camissa Travel & Marketing. The tours take visitors to homes, schools and markets in three townships where they meet children, vendors and other residents."

Branded as a bridge to cultural understanding and economic benefits to the residents, one tour company begins with a stop in “Langa, a black township where the visitors were greeted by preschool kids singing a welcome in Xhosa and English.”

Can these tours build capacity for tolerance? Or are they the latest form of poverty porn? This time riding on the waves of visitors in South Africa attending the World Cup. While an influx of tourists will bring a small economic boost to some, most residents will not benefit from the tours. Humans are used to serve as a background for the privilege seeking a sensual experience of the “real world,” while reinforcing the Western perceptions. The poor are being exploited again for the insatiable appetite of the rich in the latest manifestation of poverty porn. Human dignity is being traded in to tease the cravings of those in power, under the guise of education and humanitarianism.

For the already marginalize population, I can almost guarantee you there was little community decision making to bring groups of tourist who will come to buy trinkets, take pictures, and leaving feeling worldly by racking up some good street cred with friends back home. A few individuals are offering these seductive tours knowing full well the object of the tours will or can do little to fight the force insertion of outsiders.

Call it cultural immersion, but it’s another form of white privilege in arousing the senses of the powerful. Stop and think for a second. If the residents of the townships have any objections to tour groups, do you think they will speak up? And to whom, exactly? Who will listen? Who will enforce boundaries? I often hear reports from world travelers that “the locals are so friendly. They are such great people, we American have a lot to learn from them.” Do these locals (if they are locals, you will find many are migrant workers feeding off the job markets) have any choice other than be friendly and smile at visitors from the developed world? Tourist are their source of income and by extension, their employer. Of course the “locals” are friendly to outsiders. The welcoming expressions tourists see are a combination of genuine human kindness coaxed out and magnified by classism and oppression.

You’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, now come see the real thing! These township tours are little more than the Forks, Washington pilgrimage of the Twilight saga fans. I don’t have a problem with tourism. A healthy tourism industry can create robust economic growth and larger job markets. My issue with township tours is usage of people, poor people without a political voice, as objects in tourism fantasy. Slum dwellers did not give consent to be participants of this fetish act. The perpetual reinforcement of placing the third world “others” as powerless displays is the latest manifestation of prejudice and power abuse. Safaris are out, slum tours are the in. Come gawk at the struggling exotic noble people who are connected to nature and have infinite knowledge of the universe. See Edward Said and Orientalism, nuf said.


Limited Household Members on Census 2010

Filling out Census 2010. Noticed that you get to check the race of up to 6 people in the household. Person 7 and + don't get to declare race. Let me jump into the stereotype that many Asian Americans have multi-generations living under the same roof. It's noted on the Census that they may call to get more info for the additional people. So I'm curious on the impact on APA households:

Will they actually call to collect the additional data?

1) If so, will language be a problem. Will they automatically use an English caller or assume a language based on person 1-6's race and use specific interpreters to call? I know if my parents get a call they'll panic if it's an English speaking call or assume it's a telemarketer. Even if it's a Chinese speaking caller, my parents will lie or hang up, because growing up in communist China made them paranoid like that. They assume everyone is "out to get us."

2) If they don't call, will APA get under counted?

Now I understand the form planners having to decide on some kind of cut off. They can't send forms with 20 spots, even 6 spots feels like overkill for a lot of families.

Asian Men

Saw this over at Post Secret this weekend. Good stuff.


She Likes Chicken Feet

My two year old daughter gobbled up chicken feet (Phoenix Talons) at dim sum today. I’m so happy. Made it the best day of the week. I never explained what animal/body part/name of the dish it was. Wasn’t trying to hide the fact, I was busy making sure she wouldn’t choke on the little bones and just forgot. After she studied it for a minute she said she liked the “fingers.”

Oh, she also likes to lick her own feet when bored. Not sure what that's all about.


Stopping Injustice

Injustice is like an angry bull bison in mating season. You can try to take it out with BB guns, but why not find a way to buy a grenade?

We need a complete policy reform and a worldwide mindwipe to take out this muthafucka. Someone let me know when the United Federation of Planets is hiring a diversity director.



Iris started a great post on Asian superstitions over at You Offend Me You Offend My Family. I added to the comments and thought I'd cross post here. Should hop over to the post and check out some of my fellow brainwashed bloggers' memories.

Just a few things I thought of here:

1) Sharing a pear with someone means you'll stop being friends or family. Splitting a pear "fun lay" sounds like separation in Cantonese.

2) White clothes is clothing for mourning. My grandpa wore white tennis shoes to my brother's wedding (I think on purpose to piss my mom off) my parents nearly fainted. That was 12 yrs ago and they're still mad.

This is so ingrained in my mind, I had to fight the compulsion to hide under the table while wearing the white wedding gown during my own wedding.

3) Never get an used mirror, spirits travel with mirrors.

4) Open umbrellas are spirit mediums. Never leave one open indoors.

5) Don't touch or eat any ceremonial offering food before the ceremony is over. Don't diss the spirits.

6) OMG, I totally snatch the red crayon away if I catch my kids signing their names with it!

7) Pretend you don't notice a pregnancy, even if the mama is big as a whale. Talking about an unborn baby jinx the baby's survival rate. No acknowledgment until after the Full Month Ceremony.

8) Preggies also should not visit cemeteries as lost spirits may hitch a permanent ride with the new baby.

9) Don't try to call hiking "h-un san" walk mountain/ mountain walking. Walking a mountain is taking the journey to visit your ancestor's graves.

10) Always take a couple of kids to check out a house before you commit to buying it. If the kids seem uncomfortable there, there are probably lingering evil spirits.


Short Girls

I read Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen, and it’s like talking with a girlfriend who really “gets” me. Someone who understands where I’m coming from. She speaks the life of children of Asian immigrants. The burden and weight of filial piety. The perpetual translator syndrome. The pain of watching racial prejudice toward your own family members because they are more fresh off the boat. Self questioning and sense of betrayal in interracial dating in a white world. Subtle attitude differences between say, a third generation versus a first generation immigrant. The achievement trap when the track leads to an racially isolated middle class pond.

The novel is not just filled of angry vents like my blog. Nguyen is a crafty storyteller. Her voice filled with humor and story arc that wraps around her main characters’ last name “Luong.” The plotline rotate around Mr. Luong’s garage built grabber for short people “The Luong Arm.” The divided living experience of tall and short people is explored without shame. Finally, somebody takes battle with the insanely high vertical standard of kitchen counters at 36 inches and ceiling height cabinets at 7 feet.

At times she struggles to smoothly explain the angst of modern Asian American trials and over works with preachy immigration policy lectures. I can sympathize with her difficulties in delivering our complex grievances. Nguyen weaves racial injustice, immigration law cases, modern girl relationships, family obligations, generational and cultural gap, all within a storyline. That’s one big task.

If you want to give a shout out to modern Asian American women, it’s not Amy Tan’s bittersweet escape from communist regime and concubine stories. Read Short Girls.