Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Oddities of Anthropoloogy


Throughout my career as a graduate student I have been constantly told of the importance of networking.  It is not always phrased as networking, but the subtext is the same.  Attend conferences, connect with people from other departments or schools, present at conferences, go to departmental social gatherings, and do not forget to publish.

As I tend to be shy, this can be overwhelming, but that is for a different post a different day.

In order to finish my PhD I will be heading to Taiwan to do field research.  The last time I was in Taiwan I stayed for 9 months for the purpose of studying Chinese and doing preliminary research.  Coming home was in many ways harder than going there (Coming Home or Leaving Home?). When I returned to school I found my shared office half populated by people I did not know; the login for the computer had changed, some of the requirements for the job had changed, and for the first time since I began grad school, I was not living on campus.  I had returned home to feel like a foreigner all over again, and this made networking hard as I had to readjust to new circumstances all over again. (This was my third major life change in a rather short time period, so at this point it is possible that I have simply been “out of it” continuously for the last year.)

I have been back for 1 semester, but I have not, in all that time, gotten myself anywhere.  The entire semester was filled with bureaucratic paperwork all in the quest to return to Taiwan to finish my studies.  It was mostly a bore and a frustration.  Only my job offered me any sort of intellectual stimulation.  (I thank-whatever-god-you-believe-in for my job.)  I have not even had the chance to reconnect with my old WoW guild (I<3TrN) despite my dearest desire to do so.  It’s been 2 years….I wonder if I can go back?

So here I am preparing to leave in 17 days.  I will essentially disappear off the face of the earth for the next 18 months.  The time difference will make connecting with my old guild unrealistic, the distance will make conference participation unobtainable, and I can only guess at what changes my department will go through during my absence.  To get ahead I need to network, but to be an anthropologist I have to disappear. By the time I return home I will have been out of the loop for a total of 3 years. I fear I will just have to start all over again.     

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Preparing for Fieldwork

A wise man told me recently that these last few weeks will be the hardest.  I am leaving for Taipei in 19 days to do my dissertation research.  This will be my 2nd time living in Taipei and somehow I find the opening statement strangely true.

My language ability is stronger, I know where I will be staying, and I actually have friends living in Taipei; yet I am more nervous about returning than I ever was going in the first place.  Not that it is all just nerves.  Every time I step out into the whirlwind of snow outside I cannot wait to get back to Taipei.  It was 75F there today.

I left a new boyfriend back there too.  We have been apart from each other longer than we were together. He says we’ll have to start over from scratch if we want to date when I return.  I think he is right.  A lack of shared experience can really pull people apart. I do not think my chosen career path is particularly conducive to long term relationships.  The few colleagues I have spoken with on the matter all agreed.  Not that any of us are attempting a monastic lifestyle or anything, just recognizing reality for what it is.

It takes a special kind of person to live with a wanderer.

To add icing to the cake, I still don’t have my visa, funding, or IRB approval yet.  I think it might technically be more work to get to the field than it is to actually do the fieldwork.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When A Geek Decorates for Halloween

Everyone needs to put down the books and just have a little fun sometimes…but my inner geek never sleeps ^^

20101030-081240 20101030-081308

The pictures aren’t the clearest, but these are pumpkins from this last Halloween.  The one on the left is a copy of one that has been all over the Internet, and needs no introduction.  The one on the right maybe less obvious; it’s the Chinese character pronounced like “boo” Smile

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Funding Justifications

This is what I have been up to lately …

Examining games as an aspect of culture may still be under-developed, but assumptions about digital games abound within public and academic discourses. Many people look at digital games as only a thing which is addictive and damaging without taking the time to look beyond the rare sensational cases that happen to make the evening news. This should not be surprising. Once upon a time the same dystopian fears were expressed about radio, television, and the personal computer. New technology consistently frightens people even as it is accepted by others. This is not, however, an inconsequential historical cycle. These fears lead to uninformed laws and regulations being passed, the blocking of beneficial progress, and the deepening of the class gap (due in large part to unequal access to technologically related opportunities). This is not to suggest that all technology is “good” and that regulation should be done away with completely. Technology is neutral; it is how technology is used that begs moral questions. Therefore, it is imperative that social sciences, such as anthropology, take the time to look at technology, in all of its forms, so that these social practices can be understood and informed decisions can be made.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

When Work and Home Conflict

For 6 years I dated a gamer.  It was during this time that I stumbled upon MMOs as a possible research site.  I was pacing in the living room, thinking out loud about what I would do for my first class research assignment of grad school.  My then boyfriend was half listening to my rambling while the rest of his attention was absorbed in hunting Jaggedy-Ear Jack in FFXI. This became my introduction to my first synthetic world.

I did that paper on FFXI and later moved on to WoW - the site of my MA research -  and other worlds.  Most of the games I played, whether for school or for pleasure, I played with him.  We logged in and interacted with each other in both physical space and through our avatars. Over time, our play diverged and we stopped interacting online as frequently; until eventually I switched servers in order to join a guild that was more understanding of my inability to raid 5 nights a week.

I had in the past run with power gamers, but those days were over.  Not that I didn’t enjoy them, but I had a thesis to write, then defend, and a PhD to begin.  Most of the evenings that I did play my boyfriend was also playing, but we were no longer playing together.  Though we were still playing the same game, we played with different groups of people and wore headphones to voice chat with our respective guilds; and so even sitting next to each other we were, in fact, worlds away from each other. 

My boyfriend went through a few jobs during this time until he gave up looking and delved full time into his synthetic world.  He could no longer afford the game I was at this time still playing, but had switched to a free to play game that worked on a pay per item profit model.  In order to make up for his inability to pay for items he spent endless hours grinding and farming to obtain the things he wanted.  He regularly began playing before noon and continued well into the night - frequently playing until sunrise.

I was a full time PhD student by this time, working that first year as a waitress and the next as a TA.  When I would arrive home I was expected to make dinner and if I wanted to live in a clean apartment it was up to me to clean it.  I began to hate the game. 

I hated the game he played and felt that hatred every time I walked into the house.  I tried spending more time outside of the house (probably a good idea anyway for a shy girl trying to be an anthropologist) but every time someone asked me where my boyfriend was that night I felt the hatred for that game arise anew. 

With this hate I also experienced a kind of intellectual schism.  I hated a game and yet I was a game scholar.  I still believed that "Everquest widows" were nongamers who just didn’t understand and yet I was becoming one myself (no he didn’t play Everquest, but same idea). I was myself a gamer! I continued to play a MMO myself, although, as time passed, I found that my enjoyment dwindled, and even playing a different game with people I had been playing with for a couple of years already, reminded me of how much I hated that other game.

A love/hate war had erupted within me and it was frightening. I had just spent 4 years in school laying the foundations to be an anthropological game scholar, my master’s thesis was based on a MMO, and my first publication - on DKP - was about to come out. In truth, I had no desire to change directions academically, but what was happening in my private life was causing a kind of ethical turmoil in my head. 

What was happening was directly related to my work and yet was something I would speak about to no one.  Was this really fair?  I had no problems writing all about the splintering of one of the largest guilds in WoW and the storm that it had caused, but I was unable to put myself in the position of informant.  Life removed from the written word is just so much easier to bear. 

I eventually left my boyfriend.  It wasn’t because of the game.  He said something to me that simply crossed the line of acceptability and I ended it right there.  It was unplanned, a snap decision. It was almost 1 year ago now. 

So why I am writing this now? Its not because of him.  I am over that.  In retrospect, I think I was over him before I even left him, I just couldn’t see it at the time.  I write this because of the peace that I have academically found with the whole situation.  Yes, it took me a while, but we can’t all be perfect and hindsight is so bitter-sweetly 20/20.

In the end what I realized was that I never hated that game.  The problem was not the game, the problem was the person.  I was not a game scholar that hated a game nor an anthropologist who couldn’t take what she dished out.  I simply needed time to process the reality of the situation before I could put it into words ... and so here it is. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Coming Home or Leaving Home?

There are many books, articles and blogs out there that discuss culture shock.  The experience of moving into a different culture; but what of coming home?  What about the culture shock one feels when returning to the culture they originally come from?

I was warned before I left for Taiwan that I would experience culture shock upon returning to the U.S., but it was hard at the time to imagine what could possibly seem foreign to me. I have been back in the U.S. now for 47 hours and it is weird.In some respects I feel like I am home because I am staying with my family.  My family always feels like home to me.  In other respects, however, I feel like a foreigner.

I woke up in my aunt’s house in the middle of night last night still jet lagged and hungry for lunch.  As I slowly walked from the spare bedroom to the kitchen I was amazed at how spacious her house was. Now, I consciously recognize that by American standards this house is average in size, not big; but it felt like a journey to get all the way from the bedroom to the kitchen. 

The temperature also feels not quite right.  To start with, I have actually gotten used to using Celsius, which I never thought I would. When I Skyped with a friend from Taipei yesterday and told her that is was 23° she agreed that it was cold.  That very day, when I went to campus, I passed by people wearing shorts and tee-shirts...because it is 73° Fahrenheit! It is nice out by Wisconsin standards.  Meanwhile, it still feels like winter to me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Other People, not me..."

The narratives that we tell ourselves never cease to amaze me.  There appears to be a disconnect between the experiences of the self and the experiences of others.  During this past year I have been consistently confronted with two canned stories in particular that, despite their constant repetition, still get told as if this time it will somehow be unique.

I have read a few articles online about the current state of economic affairs in the USA. As well as hearing some first hand accounts from people back home or from people who have chosen to run away from it (i.e. show up here in Asia looking for work). Among the many bewildering claims that people have made there is one meme in particular that strikes me as disappointing...

It’s the average people stories; specifically  the articles that interview the previously hardworking average citizen that is now forced onto welfare/food stamps. The interviewees tell the tragic tale of how this came to be and then, without fail, they make a point of letting everyone know that they are not like "those other people" on public assistance who are lazy and just want to milk the system.  No, the interviewee just fell on some bad luck and needs a little help right now, but in general, they are still against public assistance and think people should go out and get a job.

Well, if people should go out and get a job, then what is their problem? Why don’t they go out and get a job? Oh wait, that’s right, they just fell on some hard times and need a little help, but that obviously can’t be true of anyone else during these glorious of plenty.

The second narrative concerns the stories that foreigners in Taiwan tell about each other (read: themselves).  Foreigners here often claim that most foreigners come to Asia for a set of standard reasons:

1. They have no marketable skills and can’t get a job back home.

2. They are weird and cannot fit in socially back home.

3. They have a bad case of "yellow fever." (A strong attraction to Asian women due to orientalization. Many claim it is partially caused by an inability to attract women back home, thus leaving the men no choice but to rely on their own exoticism as foreigners in order to find a mate.)

Most often these memes are repeated in a disparaging manner and are directed towards other foreigners.  Rarely (though it has happened) a foreigner will openly admit that they fit into one of these categories themselves.  In those few cases it is interesting to note that sometimes the list will still be derogatorily directed towards other people.

Leaving aside the issue of yellow fever for a moment, I wonder why it is deemed such a terrible trait to not fit in where one is born? If someone can find happiness living in a foreign land why is that a mark against that individual? - Especially among a group of people who have done just that!

Now, I know.  I have done the obligatory reading on social theory and identity.  I can see what is going on and on one level I do understand it.  What I don’t understand yet, is why we can’t move beyond this selfish narrative. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Technology? 好不好?

It was months ago now, but I will never forget registration at the college where I studied Chinese.  I walked into the main entryway to find a mass of lost foreign students trying to figure out which line (there were sort of some lines forming) they needed to be in to get the information they needed in the native language (or at least some language they could read).

After getting my English language instructions, I went into the auditorium behind this entryway and got into another line to pick up forms I had to fill out, and then another line, and another.  All of the paperwork was done on actual paper and tuition had to be paid in cash only.

I was floored.  In the very country where so many high tech computers and components are made there was no online registration or pay by credit card options. It reminded me of a story my mother once told me about what it was like to register for college classes back in her day.

Fast-forward 9 months to yesterday.  I received an email from my home university back in the US that said, "

Each time a credit card pays *** charges, the credit card companies pass on a usage cost to the university.  This past year *** offered VISA credit cards as another online payment option and changed from charging a percentage on each credit card payment to a fixed $6.00 convenience fee on each transaction…

The email goes on the explain how the university ended up absorbing a large amount of fees due to these changes and so will no longer be accepting VISA.  They will still except other credit cards, but the student will be charged a 2.5% convenience fee.

Wait, what? First, I want my institution to be spending its money on educational things, not on credit cards.  Second, as a broke college student, I want to be spending my money on educational things, not credit cards. At 2.5% added to robber baron tuition hikes every year (tuition gets to rise with inflation these days unlike paychecks) a student could easily be looking at around $200 in fees a year spent on basically nothing. 

As strange as I found Taiwan’s cash based economy when I first arrived here, I have come to appreciate it. Just because we have the technological ability to do something does mean that it is in our best interest to do/use it. I wonder now how much cheaper things would be back home if stores weren’t paying so much out to credit card companies.

I think this fall, when I return to my college in the US, I will go to campus, stand in line, and pay in cash. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sometimes It Is Good to Trip and Fall

I went out to dinner with a friend the other day and he said the strangest thing.  We were in the middle of a conversation when I got distracted by something.  After the distraction passed, my friend said, "Ok, to get back to the anthropology, so in Team Fortress 2..."

Now, I am in Taiwan to study video games, so perhaps it should not seem odd to me that my friend would refer to our discussion of video games as anthropology, but it did.  It struck me because I had not been thinking of terms of research all night. 

My friend had called me up and asked if I wanted to get dinner.  I had been studying all day for prelims and so I welcomed the break.  I put my studying aside and immediately turned my attention away from anthropology and onto food…so much so in fact that it didn’t even immediately register when our conversation turned to Team Fortress 2.  Why would it? We talk about video games all the time.  It was normal.

I knew before I came to Taiwan that fieldwork was not confined to formal interviews or that it ever took place in contrived settings.  I learned from my previous research that the best information is that which I trip over when I am not looking for it.  Even so, here I am, still being surprised when I trip again. 

So much for that break.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trying to Walk a Tightrope Toddling like a 2 Year Old ...

This is what doing fieldwork is like.

For every social situation there are cultural norms only some of which I know and even fewer that I understand.  There is body language that I cannot read; that I unfortunately do not realize I cannot read until after I misread it. 

When in doubt I tend to fall back on the politest action my American brain can conjure...but oh have I learned how bad that can be. Yet what else can I do?

Yesterday, a friend gave me some good advise. "Learn your place," he said, "This is a patriarchal society. If you learn your place within this system and act accordingly you will have more luck."

"I know this before"

I have read so much on patriarchy that it seems silly to me that I should have so many problems... and yet, I was totally unprepared for life in this type of social system. Even considering what I have read, where exactly does an unmarried 20-something year old woman fit in? Then add in that I smoke openly (which only men do - though women here do in fact smoke) and I openly play video games (another dirty little secret for many people).  

I do not want to give the wrong impression.  No one here is mean to me.  Sometimes people frustrate me, but I get the distinct impression that I frustrate others just as often. Living in Asia is like learning to walk all over again.  Even my "common sense" works against me here. Sometimes I am grateful that I look foreign because I know that lowers people’s expectations of me, but I don’t want it to be like that forever. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"So I ran around naked and shot at people..."

I was sitting upstairs in the common room the other day with 2 residents and a tourist (I live in a guest house at the moment).  I was talking about my Sims game, when the tourist mentions that he once tried Second Life too. (Yes I know that Sims and Second Life are not the same game.) 

He said that he had seen a news-documentary on the game and that the program had said something to the effect of: In Second Life you can be whatever you always wanted to be.  With this in mind he decided to start up an account and then says, "So I ran around naked for 2 weeks and shot at people."

I couldn’t help but laugh, after which the tourists says, "Yeah so I got kicked out of a lot of places and then got bored so I didn’t play anymore."  "I’m sure you did," was all I could think of in response.  At this point the resident (and also a gamer) sitting next to me explained to the tourist that Second Life was more of a social game and he should try a game like WoW or a first person shooter.  The tourist explained that he knew that and that he did actually talk to some people, but then reiterated the tag line from the TV program about "being whatever you want to be."

The gamer sitting next to me, a generation older than the tourist and I, just shook his head, looked at me and then the tourist, and said, "kids these days."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Report on the Sims Experiment

So I have been playing the Sims now for a little while.  Due to my language constraints (and sometimes my own laziness of not wanting to deal with my Chinese dictionary) I have restarted the game now 3 times when I get stuck.  Despite this, it looks like it has been helping based on the, albeit anecdotal, evidence.

For example, I met the friend of a friend a couple weeks ago while out with a big group of people.  (During this time the language used was more English than Chinese due to the varying level of language ability of the group as a whole.) We had a good time and see we added each other as friends on Facebook and chatted through text messages.  We conversed in a mix of Chinese and English, but using more Chinese than English, because I need to practice Chinese and his English isn’t quite fluent.

After about a week of chatting via text we met up and hung out in person.  After only a short time into the conversation he expressed his surprise at my low level of verbal communication ability in comparison to my written ability. My only explanation is that it must be the Sims.

The Sims game uses written Chinese, but like all versions, the avatars do not speak an actual language.  Therefore, when I play I am being exposed to written Chinese, but not verbal. I further believe this to be a result of playing Sims because although I am still taking Chinese classes, the classes do not emphasis writing and therefore are unlikely to be contributing to a disparity between my written and verbal abilities.

In short, it seems that playing the Sims in Chinese was a good idea.  I’ll keep playing and see if this continues to unfold in the vein.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Universal Language of Nintendo

I was having dinner at a friend’s house a couple nights ago, and of course, I tried to bring up the topic of video games. This was a little difficult, however, for two reasons. The first reason was due to the Taiwanese sense of gamer shame that I have blogged about here before. The second problem was communication.

My Chinese is not yet fluent and neither is my friend’s English. To make things more complicated, game titles (and movie titles and other pop culture references for that matter) are often not directly translated. So even if I knew the words, for example, "world," "of," and "warcraft," saying them in Chinese doesn’t make any sense to the person I am talking to.

My friend, like most Taiwanese I have spoken with, told me that he doesn’t play games now, but that he used to. He tried to tell me about a console he had as a child, but wasn’t sure what the English name for it was, so he tried to describe it using hand gestures.

He held his hands out to show me the approximate size of the machine, which of course isn’t much help since most consoles are roughly of similar size. He then says, "You know when you play you have to..." and then he pantomimes taking a cartridge out of the system, blowing on it, and then putting it back in.

"Nintendo! Of course!" I exclaim while loling, "Everyone knows the original Nintendo."

With this one simple gesture, the two of us found a common history from which to relate to each other. Our conversation had been a little strained before this moment, but the next couple hours were filled with effortlessly reminiscing about the good old days when we didn’t have to work and when saving the princess was the hardest thing in the world.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bots = People?

I was having an interesting conversation this evening about Team Fortress 2.  The man I was speaking with was describing his experiences playing against bots (essentially a single-player version) versus playing multiplayer against other people when he uttered the phrase, "It is really no different from playing against people."

I interrupted him right there to ask if him if he had actually said that... he had. The dumbfounded expression on my face must have asked every question running through my head at that moment because without further verbal provocation on my part he went on to explain why.

The bots were programmed to be funny and interactive and so it was just like playing with people, he told me. 

I continued to stare at him in confusion.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around this idea.  I have played single player games that I have enjoyed, but never have any of them felt the same to me as playing a multiplayer game against or with other people.

It reminded me, however, of something a friend had once told me.  This friend had spontaneously gquit while I happened to be sitting behind him chatting.  I was aghast and asked him why he had done that after having played with this group of people for so long.  He calmly explained that these were really just characters in the game to him and that he had only stayed with them for as long as he did because they had provided him with the game support he needed. He left in that moment because he didn’t think he needed them anymore. 

I asked him whether he had any friends in the guild, and responded by reiterating the point he had made earlier - these weren’t really people as far as he was concerned and so he really didn’t care if they had any reaction to his sudden gquit.

Both of these people were casual gamers and not particularly what one would colloquially call a "social butterfly." Maybe that has something to do with the attitude.  I certainly did not find anything like this in any of the WoW guilds I played with, but then again all of them were either hardcore or based on irl social connections.  So maybe being hardcore is a positive thing? The more one plays the more social they are.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do Taipei Expats = FFXI? Part 3: Temporality and Social Risk

I think it was the lack of a long history of shared experiences with my FFXI guild that accounted for some of the social patterns that I witnessed there. When guildmates arranged meetings with each other they were essentially making arrangements with strangers or very new acquaintances.  Therefore, there were little to no feelings of obligation or any real accountability to encourage people to follow through. Whereas in my WoW guild, there were both obligatory feelings and accountability that could potentially follow a person through the game and beyond.

In Taipei, the vast majority of foreigners I have met fall into just 1 of 2 categories: Chinese language student or English language teacher. The students are mostly here for 1 semester to a year, and the English teachers often sign one year contracts. On occasion someone will stay longer or talk about settling in Taipei permanently, but most often a foreigner’s time here is expected to be temporary. This expectation is reaffirmed frequently in the way in which people talk about “back home.”

The temporary nature of this community then is not unlike the FFXI guild. The guild, being a very new community, lacked deep interpersonal connections. In Taipei there has been an expat community for years, but any one given foreigner is likely to be a new arrival and is not likely to stay. So not only does a foreigner here lack roots, but it is known (or assumed) that they will not stay here to establish roots. This may then explain the lack of a sense of obligation to others in the community and a lack of accountability.  Whatever bad blood may come between two people, the likelihood that either one or both will leave at anytime reduces the social risk to both.

Going back home becomes akin to logging off. At anytime a player can log off and walk away from their computer if they are having a problem. This is not to say that this is how people in my FFXI guild always dealt with their problems, but the possibility existed and was sometimes used. Many of the expats I have met keep just enough money set aside to buy a plane ticket home, thus always having the option to leave. This in turn further supports the temporality of the community. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do Taipei Expats = FFXI? Part 2: Foundations and Expectations

The first MMO I ever played was FFXI, and being the newbie that I was, I joined with a social guild that had no hardcore aspirations. Even though this guild was social in nature, people still preferred to team up with guildmates rather than join pugs, and so I would occasionally make plans to be online at a certain time to group with guildmates for whatever particular goal we were all after (usually simple grinding).

I quickly learned, however, that just because someone says they will be online doesn’t mean that they will be. In fact, the act of making plans seemed only marginally more useful than randomly logging on and hoping there would be people available.

This was very different from my next guild experience in WoW, where I joined with a long established group of people (the group was centered on a website and collectively moved from game to game).

In this guild, when someone said they were going to be somewhere it was safe to assume that they would be there. If something unexpected came up to prevent someone’s presence, the group would be informed through one of the various communication channels the guild had available.

Given the differences in these two guilds, I believe that was the deeper level of shared experiences (i.e. the longer history) of the WoW guild that led them to be more socially (and emotionally) interconnected and accountable to each other. This is not to say that the FFXI guild did not have shared experiences, but this particular social group was very young and thus had not yet had enough time to establish strong bonds.

This is not unlike the culture of the Taipei expats that I have met. Granted, I have different expectations of different people, established over time as I get to know them; but it is often the case that if I have plans with someone, the chance of them following through is only marginally better maybe.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Do Taipei Expats = FFXI?

I came to Taiwan under the delusion that I would be (that I should be)spending all of my time with local gamers. That is, after all, what my dissertation is going to be focused on. There were two factors that hindered this goal, however. First, I stayed in a guest house and second, I went to school to study Mandarin. These two factors dominated my early social life in Taipei and both necessarily meant that I was predominantly meeting foreigners.

Interestingly, my first Mandarin teacher often commented on how this was a natural development (and once even suggested a romantic prospect for me) based on the idea that since we were all Americans (we weren’t all Americans, but locals will sometimes, I have noticed, use ‘American’ as synonymous with ‘foreigner’) we all shared a common culture and therefore could more easily relate. What my teacher could not have known was that the expat culture is not the same as the culture back home.

This fact became blatantly obvious to me very shortly after arriving in Taiwan, but it took me sometime to fully digest what this meant. This was in part because it took me sometime to become adequately acculturated, and I needed to do that before I was able to start seeing the differences between people’s actions within this culture and people’s discursive descriptions of this culture.

After I got over the initial novelty of Taiwan, Taiwanese culture, and expat culture, I came to realize that the expat culture here bugged me. It was a partially subconscious annoyance, however, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until I realized that I have been through this before… when I was first being acculturated into the MMO culture of FFXI.

Ok, this blog post is way too long as it is. I’ll flesh this out in the next post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taipei Game Show


The Taipei Game Show was actually last month, but prelim prep and a bad cold prevented me from posting about it earlier.

I went with a friend from school and we had a great time.  In addition to doing some serious work of course.

Watching WoW PvP Tournament  I stopped to watch a couple of tournaments, though I didn’t stay to watch the whole contest of either one due to time constraints.  This picture on the left is the audience of the WoW PvP tournament, and below is a shot of a fighter game contest.

PS3 Tournament 3

I did manage to network a little, but unfortunately, my Chinese language skills are still not where I’d like them to be (on par with my English).

All in all this convention was just like the ones I have been to back home.  Lots of games and stuff to buy, mostly males of various ages (though there were more girls there than I would have expected) and booth girls everywhere.

Me   Booth Girl 1

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First Impression of the Newbie "exotics"

When I first came to Taiwan I was struck by the women here. It was August and it was hot and they were, in general, wearing very little. I too wore very little, coming from what I would now describe as a chilly Wisconsin summer. Walking the streets in my neighborhood those first few weeks was a little depressing. I did not see myself as even comparable to the women I now walked amongst. Those first few weeks I thought it was just me.

After 6 months living in a hostel with a constant ebb and flow of foreigners passing through, I have come o realize that it was not just me. All of the American white women I have met coming through Taipei have expressed similar feelings of awe and inadequacy upon arriving in the city. After 6 months living here though, the feeling fades.

Upon first arriving in Taipei we look around and see so many women thinner than we are, shorter than we are. They are dressed fashionably and in combinations of clothes that one does not see back home. We look down at our legs now scarred from scratching the incessant mosquito bites. We know we shouldn't scratch them, but it is impossible to resist. They all seem to have a man on their arm - or beside them carrying their purse/puppy/shopping bags.

We go to the night clubs and see women dressed to the nines. They seem to be able to command the room. We are in awe. The white men whom have come with us from the hostel or school are being approached throughout the night by these women. No man comes near. It is easy to be a white man in Taipei. After a long night at the clubs we return home and gossip with amazement at how popular our housemates/classmates seem to be. In Taipei we think, it is not easy to be a white woman.

We are, however, mistaken. Some of us learn this because we are fortunate enough to find a veteran resident who explains the joys of the Taipei dating scene. Some of us learn this by mistake, like I did, by smiling to some man while passing through the metro station.

This is not America. This is Taipei and the rules are different.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On a Lighter Note...

I think this blog needs more pictures. Here is a couple from the temple at my favorite night market ShiLin 士林. The lanterns have been put out and lit up for the Lunar New Year.

I didn't leave Taipei for New Year's which turns out to have been a mistake. Everything shut down and to top it off it was cold and raining the entire week. Oh well, live and learn. 新年快樂!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Anthropology in the Public Imagination?

A few days ago a friend called me up and asked for help. It wasn't anything that important or serious, but it would have involved me lying to a third party, so I politely told my friend that I was uncomfortable with the situation.

At the time I got this phone call I happened to be in a public space and so naturally the people I was with asked me about the phone call. The favor my friend had asked me for wasn't anything private so I told the people I was with. The people I happened to be with weren't in anyway connected to any research I am doing, they were just some friends at the hostel, but they of course all know that I am an anthropologist and that I am in Taiwan to do research.

After telling them the story of the phone call they asked me why I had refused to lie. I thought the answer to that was obvious, but apparently not, so I explained to them why I felt uncomfortable with the situation which included ethical concerns about my behavior while in the field. To my horror someone then replied, "Yeah, but isn't that what you anthropologists do? You lie to get into a group and then study the people?"

I immediately went into defense mode and corrected this person's misconception, but what they said stuck in my brain. What gave them this idea? As far as I know I am the only anthropologist this person has met (I don't know if they have read any anthropological texts) and I all but wear a sandwich board explaining who I am and what I am doing here. I am so transparent about my intentions that I even explain it to people whom I have no intentions of involving in my research just in case.

A couple of days after this conversation I went back and asked this person where they had gotten this idea again. They said they didn't know.

Now I wonder, when I tell people I am working on an anthropology PhD, what does that mean to them?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Personal Experiment - the Beginning

During a couple of my trips to one of the cyber cafes here in Taipei I have met locals who are near fluent in English. Now I understand that most (maybe all?) students here study English in school, but I am talking about meeting people who at first sound like they may actually be ABCs and not locals of Taipei. During my last trip to the cafe I finally broke down and asked one of these guys how he got so good at speaking English. His answer was short and sweet. WoW.

I have been considering off and on since arriving in Taiwan buying a Chinese version of WoW in an attempt to meet people and brush up on my language skills, but I never got around to it for several reasons. After a while I gave up on the idea and forgot about trying to use video games to work on my Chinese skills.

Three days ago though, the idea reemerged in full force while I was walking through the mall near my house. I walked into one of the video game stores and was perusing the DS titles available when a box cover with large Chinese characters caught my attention. It was the Sims online. I immediately decided that this would be the perfect game for me to learn Chinese with. It is a life simulator and so my idea is that the vocabulary I will be confronted with in the game should be words and phrases that I can put to use and practice in my daily life.

The game is downloading right now. I can't wait to try this out.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How Long Is Research Supposed to Take Anyway?

After 4 months of living in Taipei I have finally started to make some progress. My ability to speak Chinese, while still not perfect, is noticeably improving. I can now accomplish daily tasks without speaking any English, and some of my American friends have even started to ask me for help when they need a little translation.

Academically, the people I have met over the past few months have begun to feel more comfortable around me I think. A couple of them have introduced me to gamer friends of theirs and one even "came out" to me as a gamer. While gamer shame is still an obstacle for me in meeting new people, my recent progress has made me much more hopeful.

I have also had the pleasure of being invited out to play Left4Dead at an Internet Cafe a couple of times now. I had a lot of fun and I met some interesting people, but the experience also reminded of where I have been lacking recently. I am a games researcher, and yet over the past 4 months I have hardly played any games at all. It is not that I have stop enjoying video games; it is, I believe, due to the nature of adjusting to a new culture and language, and now that I have become much more comfortable in Taipei I anticipate many more trips to go kill zombies.