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The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 5, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Prasso, a former Business Week Asia editor, asks if Westerners can look objectively at the Eastern region, blinded as they are by "issues of race and sex, fantasy and power." It's this worldview-one the author admits succumbing to and feeling a "sense of loss" in giving up-that clouds cross-cultural relations. Prasso's ambitious agenda focuses on both Asian women and our perceptions of them, exploring the historical and pop cultural roots of the "Asian Mystique" and ending with a "reality tour of Asia." Her stories about the lives of Asian women from diverse cultures and socio-economic backgrounds are compelling. The Japanese woman who inspired Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha shares her distaste for the novel's "misinterpretation" of her "flower and willow world." A Chinese investment banker struggles with modern demands and traditional expectations. With the author in tow, a Filipina prostitute navigates a seedy red-light district. Prasso has an almost voyeuristic fascination with sexual mores, and the result is a frank, at times graphic, exploration of how some Asian women cope with stereotyping-and with Western males looking for one-night stands. But when the author moves from reportage to social anthropological analysis, the book loses focus. Self-conscious ruminations, such as the incongruity of dancing with Filipina prostitutes to Madonna's "Like a Virgin," sometimes intrude and distract. In addition, Prasso never really gets a grip on the Asian Mystique's effects on foreign policy, concluding, not surprisingly, that it is "much harder to measure and more difficult to prove." Nevertheless, Prasso's work and travels have opened her eyes, and this book might do the same for others.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.
Prasso, who has lived in Phnom Penh and Hong Kong and written for Business Week, nearly turns the fascination of Western men with Asian sexuality into a subject of numbing correctness. Fortunately, though, her determination to explore "our relationships and interactions, our misconceptions and stereotypes" doesn't suck the life from her compelling topic--perhaps because she is not above taking readers into the girlie bars of Bangkok and Manila, the personals ("Red Hot Asians") of the Village Voice, the cinemas and TV screens of West and East, even the home of Mineko Iwasaki, who inspired Arthur Golden's best-selling Memoirs of a Geisha. Using this frame of reference effectively, Prasso explains the symbiotic nature of Western fantasy and Asian fulfillment--often to great profit--of that fantasy, the roles that Asian women play and defy in the West, even the dangerous implications of this still-active fantasy upon global politics. Especially interesting are her observations on the emasculated role of Asian men in Western media--picture, for instance, Jackie Chan even kissing a Western woman. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.
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I had mixed feelings about part 2. Probably because it's a mix of life stories, some successful, some mundane, some sad and pathetic. Generally, the author stays on the non-judgmental side and just reports without being too opinionated. I liked that. However, when she gets to tell the prostitutes stories she can't help but insult any man over 30-something. Mainly for being fat, ugly, miserable and a loser in his own country. Sure, she may have seen a few of those but I think she was unnecessarily insulting and was seeing these men through her own prism and the prism of many western women. However, as she grudgingly admits, fat and older are considered positive attributes in many Asian countries. Adventurous western men and women with means will spend their leisure time, or indeed, their lives in environments where they are appreciated. There are actually many places where old, fat and ugly women of means can go and receive attention from attractive young local men: the Caribbean, Turkey and Bali come to mind. The author barely mentions this except to say Japanese women sometimes go to Bali.
I enjoyed the fact that the author and I have visited or lived in many of the same places. I have lived in Asia for 6 years (China, the Philippines and Mongolia) and visited many more countries. So the book felt like a travelogue with some common ground. However, I don't frequent or even like go-go bars, brothels and prostitutes. I find them sad and, for long term expats, unnecessary. They are mainly the domain of tourists, armed forces, and oil/mining guys who are only in town for a short time. Good for them. It's old fashioned commerce and it's hardly unique to Asia. However, long-term expats usually have local partners just based on availability rather than an Asian fetish. If you live in Asia the dating pool is going to probably be 99% Asian. The non-Asian women are often just here for 1-2 years and intend to go home. Men are more likely to stay. I have dated both Asian and western women in Asia and the western ones just weren't serious about a long-term relationship.
Finally, the age disparity of men and women, although rarer in the west, is pretty standard in Asia and you shouldn't look at it through a western prism. I'm 49 now and live in Mongolia, my Mongolian wife is 25 (gasp! Outrageous! You say). Well, since most women are already married with kids at 25 in Mongolia, the single available women in the dating pool are going to be younger than 25. The few divorced women here don't go out at all. It's similar in China. You work with what you've got. You can't create options that don't exist.
Anyway, good book except for the frequent insulting portrayal of men. Maybe some deserved it, but I don't think all of them did.