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A Conversation with Sheridan Prasso, the author of "The Asian Mystique" - Part I

mystique


Prasso, a former news correspondent and editor in Asia, is currently travelling in our region to promote "The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient". The book covers lots of stuff my sisters and friends and I discuss all the time. I got to talk to the author in a posh Tokyo restaurant.

This is the first of a two-part interview.

On "Asian fetish" and fantasies of a back-scrubbing Japanese girl

As a Japanese woman who's never scrubbed anybody's back, I want to know: What's with the fascination with back scrubbing? It pops up a lot in the book.

I think it's a symbol of a fantasy of what Asian women should be - for Western men. There is the idea of grasses are always greener, you know, if you don't get what you are looking for on your own yard, you'll find it elsewhere. So the image is symbolic of a fantasy that perpetuates in the Western culture.

I don't even know if it feels that great.

I don't either. But of course it's not the only one. It's the service. It's the Singapore airlines girls with cleavage, bending down, to take your order, on their knees, in front of you. It's one of the many images of the Western male fantasies. It pops up a lot in the Western culture.

There's another saying we have: If you find some one to peel your grape, it's a dream. It doesn't apply to Asian, but with Asians, back-scrubbing, tea-serving, massaging the feet-that sort of thing.

What's the difference between "Asian fetish" and "preferences"? Why Asian fetish - guys with which chase and marry Asian women - more offensive than other types of preferences? Some gentlemen prefer blondes. Some like big breasts.

Everybody has preferences. I have my own preferences, and you have your own preferences. We like what we like, of course. The problem is when what we like comes with an expectation of behavior, and when an expectation of behavior is based on stereotypes about race. Whenever you expect some one to behave according to their race, or their cultural background, instead of as an individual, that's where the problem is, that crosses the line, and that's where I take issue. I take no issues with preferences, I have my own preferences.

I hear the phrase "Asian fetish" more and more recently.

It's being perpetuated because of the Internet. The Internet is giving it the power that it didn't have before, the power to these groups of people who foster these fantasies, foster this fetish. What happens is, that people who were in isolation before, people who were in a small town in, maybe, Ohio went to Asia by himself. And wow, he's so excited. And on the Internet, he can find many people who share that experience. And together, they have power they can't have as an individual. So the Internet is a way to build a community and giving it strength.

This will come out obnoxious, but I'll ask you anyway. Some Western women feel isolated, even neglected, while living in Asia, because Western men chase Asian girls, and Asian men are too scared of American women. Was that your experience, too, and perhaps part of the reason why you wanted to write the book, to blow the cover of the mysterious Asian women?

Not at all. Actually for me, I felt like I am the perfect person to write about this, because I have such a different experience myself. I'm 5-foot-2, I'm very small. I'm smaller than Japanese women, smaller than Japanese men, I'm not intimidating. So therefore I don't experience the same kind of thing, but I can see -- I'm a perfect observer really, because I can often experience the same kind of attention that from Asian men other American women can't.

I lived in Hong Kong for several years, and had long-term relationships with Asian men, which a 6-foot-tall American woman can't really experience. So I felt like a cultural interpreter, for both sides, I can see everything really clearly.

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You can buy the book here.

Find more information on the book here.
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