Downtown to Chinatown

A casual stroll down the narrow streets and cluttered alleys of a typical Chinese ghetto that blight the urban centers of the industrialised world will reveal a few things about the ways in which Chinese merchants typically work. If a merchant sells, for example, illegal snakehead fish and succeeds at meeting a demand, his business model will simply be copied by another Chinese immigrant a few storefronts away, or, indeed, sometimes right across the street. In short time, the fish vendors who now offer snakehead fish in this urban Chinese ghetto will likely double, triple, or quadruple on the same narrow lane, and the odours of fish will soon overwhelm the neighbourhood. Whether the product is snakehead fish, pornographic DVDs, or licensed software, the piracy of ideas as such is not viewed within the Chinese community as piracy. The reduplication of merchants all offering the same merchandise essentially whittles away whatever profit motive existed in the first place, since petty mercenary battles will likely result in an overall drop in both price and quality of goods sold. Just ask an average economist, like Professor Kenny Ng.

One of the hallmarks of Professor Ng’s website,, a smartly rendered and highly polished website that richly details the thriving red light districts of Asia, is his reliance on simple copyright infringement as a way of manufacturing ridiculous commentary for his alcoholic or otherwise chronically ill readers who suffer from enlarged prostates. His actual writing, whether photo essays of underage prostitutes, questionable co-authored academic papers on marginal subjects within his putative field of expertise, or bizarre advertisements for consumer electronics devices, serve as a mere coat rack upon which he drapes long and rambling and sometimes colourful commentary using fictional names, or the well-established names of his competitors, who are usually more intelligent and superior writers, like Saphan Loy. That he continues to do so seemingly with impunity is the mark of a profoundly disturbed public school teacher with an almost schizophrenic imagination and little regard the sanctity of the copyright.

In California, the plight of the Chinese was fairly remarkable in historical perspective. Imported as coolie labor for the rail system in the United States during westward expansion, they faced an uphill battle here as they do in virtually every country in which they attempt to assimilate and adapt to the hallmarks of a more civilized culture, generally called the “rule of law” and democratic governance. Vice and lawlessness characterized the early Chinatowns here, and still do, while elsewhere in the world, like, say, in Bangkok, the vice trades were made legal simply to keep Thai cash within the kingdom. By decreasing any incentive to remit earnings to China, and by tickling the Chinese proclivity toward addictions to prostitution, opium, and gambling, Thailand simply permitted such activities in its own Chinese ghetto so as to keep its labor supply sexually satisfied and stultified with drugs and drink. This successfully prevented the export of Thai cash to China, and indeed serves as a vital source of fresh infusions of dollar-denominated cash today.

A late 19th century advertisement featuring the Chinese

And so the Chinese in America continue to struggle against an increasingly parochial, homogenized and hostile culture. Even when a Chinese achieves what, on the surface, seems like a respectable position, such as an Associate Professor at a large state university or as a similar technocrat within a sprawling bureaucracy, his position can never transcend the limitations of the experiences of an immigrant or the ghettoized restraints imposed upon him by a dominant societal structure rooted in common decency. In short, what Professor Ng finds so appealing in Thailand’s brothels is, ironically, a modicum of illusory dignity absent from his identity as a (barely) functional bureaucrat for the State of California. Thailand’s prostitutes, just as they entertained countless Chinese coolies over the centuries, are entertaining enough to him that he feels “special” and “unique.” Like lower level functionaries of British colonial administrations throughout much of Asia, who were not drawn from the elite of the British Empire, Ng envisions himself to be something far different from what he actually is.

We suppose this is the magic of Thailand, the moral contortions of a troubled academic and lazy writer, or the illusions of one man’s fictions.

  The View from Above


One Response to “Downtown to Chinatown”

  1. […] The other characters, I forget their names, put him into an ice cooler in some shitty hotel in Chinatown. But not to worry….he comes back to life later. He and the little monkey are perfect together […]

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