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Cao Boi…Apply Directly to the Forehead… September 15, 2006

Posted by peterong in Asian American, Rants.

So many of you may not know this but I am a fast becoming a Jeopardy Game Show fanatic with my wife and I watching and playing (we even have a borrowed copy of the PlayStation video-game of the TV show) and there is this weird commercial for a headache ointment stick called Head On. The only time I see the commercial is when we watch Jeopardy. So last night I happen to watch the first episode of CBS’s Survivor: Cook Island where the experiment of having ethnic specific tribes compete with one another. The character of Cao Boi really made me think of the commerical when he applied this mystical head massage on one of the Asian American teammates which left a “bad air” mark…and for the next three hours I was reciting “Cao Boi…apply directy to the forehead…”

I didn’t have any profound feelings about this show as some of the critics out there, some calling the show’s theme as exploitative or racist but I thought that it is representative of our perceived realities of what role our ethnicity plays out in our daily lives. We live in a culture where we have to collide with other cultures and where we have our biases. In our PC’ed world we don’t like talking about it in a way that is authentic and instead we have these forced acceptance that leads to silence because of the taboo subject of race. So instead of deepening our ethnic roots, we often deny or superficially acknowledge it (eating dim sum, having bubble tea or listening to Canto doesn’t make you Asian) it because it is more important not to touch this gaping wound. But we patch it with these comical statements, like the cliche…”we are part of one race, the ‘human race’.”

But the reality is that we all carry a lingering unspoken suspicion that we are different. We do come from different stories and it echoes our past in ways that are deep and profound. I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood and we often joked about our races and we also had dialogue on some of the ugly parts of our cultural identities. The challenges of being a black male, violence towards asians, mutually unhealthy perceptions of women, etc…We have plenty of incidents in our recent history to remind us of that. LA riots, O.J. Simpson, and 9/11 that pitted our most deepest notions of racial convictions.

Last night the pseudo-neo hippy Cao Boi (pronounced COW BOY not to be mistaken for the WWE’s Asian American Redneck Jimmy Wang Yang) of the Puka Puka (who came up with this busted tribe names?) had a mystical way of dealing with one of his tribe member’s migraine but getting rid of his “bad air.” He made jokes about being Asian (“we are short and we eat rice”) and he diagnosed the gap due to generational issues and his pronounced history as a refugee from Vietnam. He was a bit of a character but I appreciated his honesty and they way we made fun of the other Asian teammates being “out of touch” with their ethnic heritage.

I think for many Asian Americans, we have been “out of touch” with what it means for us to re-discover a distinct heritage that is lost but recoverable. I am not saying we should all speak a native tongue but to recognize that we have a history, on that is rich in its narratives worth acknowledging. I believe that it is part of a healthy engagement in our culture, to at least do our part in searching it out. Many Asian American walk this path as if we have no history or no culture to speak of. Is it shame? Is it apathy? Is it that our culture of silenced pain fails to confront. We then are left with no vocabulary to speak of when we say “I am Asian American.”

As for the Latino group, they had a very strong desire to “represent.” They were very emphatic about being from DR or South America. The white group seemed confused as what it meant to be “white” and the African American group also had a strong desire to “represent.”
I am sad to say that for some of us, Survivor may be the only (or first) doorway for this discussion. And my hope is that we get offended and we perplexed and that we have conversations around water coolers to untie this notorious knot…and so there can be an authentic recognition and recovery of our undeniable ethnic stories. The show’s outcome is inconsequential but the larger issue of race in America that it points to is not.



1. g a r y - September 15, 2006

very well said, bro!

2. Ali - September 23, 2006

Ya Im not to big on Cao Boi either.

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