A newfound appreciation for Sex and the City 2

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When Sex and the City 2 was released a few years ago it was a huge letdown to the SATC fans around the world. Those who, like me, grew up watching the popular 90’s show had high expectations that the second movie (and the first one too as a matter of fact) would measure up to the original epic series with similar wit and spirit.

But the outcome was disappointing, to say the least. In the second movie the characters come across as extremely shallow and selfish, even though none of them any longer has to deal with the single New York gal drama. The scenario is lazy and does not do any favours to the weak storyline maimed by constant bitching and navel gazing. For all I know, It could have been an episode of “the Real Housewives of New York”. I remember watching the film in a London theater thinking it cannot get any worse than that.

I won’t get into more details about how bad an impression it made. I have read some pretty aggressive reviews, including some really angry bloggers taking it out on the web. SJP gets a lot of the slamming (as she did anyway during the series) and if you ask me she does not deserve it. If anything it is her solid acting that makes Carrie look exactly as she is supposed to: self centred, childish and selfish.

And then last night when I put my-tired- feet on the sofa and watched it for a second time it finally dawned on me. You see, the real SATC finished in Paris on that very well made last season finale. There is nothing else to say after that, because the whole point for the existence of the show was the single girls’ game and the (dis)enchantment. Once that problem is settled, you get Real Housewives. So what was the film about? The film (no doubt made for profit by the producers) was what we could call Carrie’s Dream: A dream or a fantasy single girl Carrie has one particularly hot Summer afternoon in her tiny New York apartment: a dream of lavish apartments , glamorous parties and designer clothes, as well as luxurious jets awaiting to fly her and her chums to exotic faraway places, and the only worry in sight the struggle to keep the sparkle alive between her and the man of her dreams. And mostly the very challenged idea throughout the original series that you can afford a collection of Manolos (among other designer names) on a columnist stipend.(A day’s work typically including lunch out with the girls, popping to Gucci to treat yourself with a pair of shoes or a bag, and lots of strolling around town with a cappuccino in hand). Those who have read the original book by Candace Bushnell may snort ironically right now. You see, there was little doubt how Carrie could afford her Manolos and it surely wasn’t because she was paid generously for her writing.

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So therefore Carrie’s dream starts way before the film Sex and the City 2 was made: Her life as a writer in NYC already belongs to an imaginary realm. Which makes SATC 2, as a romantic poet would say “A Dream within a Dream”.

The cues pointing to my dream theory are numerous. The most obvious of course the fact that the film does not take itself seriously. It does not even try to become more real or inclusive but proudly displays its over the top aesthetic. Garish gay wedding with bonus Lisa Minelli performance? Check. Handsome butlers in $22,000 a night suites? Check. Last minute Christian Dior shopping to ride a camel?Check. At the end of the day it becomes 146 minute trip to Wonderland where you are requested to leave your brain at the door (you won’t need it anyway) and indulge in this purely eye candy experience.

In the beginning of the film Big and Carrie snuggle up in the hotel bed and watch black and white movies on the tv. Here we are also reminded not to get too stressed or too eager to identify with either of them. (Not that it is possible for any human being to identify with Big, I mean the guy does not even have a name during the series). Carrie and Big are just another version of old movies’ characters: Cary Grant and the Hitchcock blonde. You are allowed to escape to that New York city with them, avoiding comparisons, expectations and disappointments. You are allowed to leave your lousy day at the door: that colleague that treated you badly,your money problems, your tired thoughts about life. You are allowed to indulge, two feet on the sofa and a glass of wine on the side. You are allowed to sneer and snort ironically and with delight. And go to bed at night to dream of faraway places too.

And that’s what happened to me after a physically and mentally strenuous day, I put my feet up and I let go. I ended up enjoying watching Sex and the City 2, and in my mind, I finally got it.

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Lost in Translation: are we meant to transcend language?

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What would humanity look like if humans did not use language to communicate? What if we possessed a more advanced, let’s say telepathic way to communicate information through images?

I recently watched  Lost in Translation again, one of my favourite films of all time. For those who have not seen it, Lost In Translation is a delightful journey through Japan’s urban culture and traditional imagery. But what makes the film truly great is the way it uses its spectacular photography to surpass dialogue.  In fact, the whole movie is a demonstration of how awkward,  inadequate and redundant verbal communication is compared to image. The sophistication of the vernacular is demystified and reduced to mere incoherent utterances and comical mishaps . Throughout the film there is a persistent communication fail that leads to the gradual deconstruction-the death- of language.

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Powerful images effortlessly replace words. Communication in Lost in Translation resembles telepathy, or if you prefer, a  soul connection than allows instant knowledge without employing words. The two protagonists do not connect so much with speech (which has the habit of bringing unwanted aspects of their personal lives into their present reality) but rather by surrendering to their surroundings, almost transcending time.

There is somehow the instant knowledge that their surroundings depend on their inner truth. The couple creates their own external reality, whose chaos is a reflexion of their own inner chaos.

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Undoubtedly, communication through image requires a new perception of reality, and a new purpose. Instant access to an image would mean instant access to the purpose and the intention behind it. This requires honesty and truth, both of which are obstructed by the formalities of language. An image is clear. “One picture is worth a thousand words.”

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An image is non linear. By this I mean that it encompasses information that is absorbed in  random order, and in diverse ways. Indeed, we use a different part of our brains to process an image than we do for speech and language. An image doesn’t require a  logical or moral response. Instead we “feel” or even experience the image’s message as a whole, and as a type of encoded hologram. (hologram: greek word holos (whole) and gramma (message).) We can have a psychological, mental or spiritual response instead of a logical response. But in order to achieve this, one would also need to develop a form of telepathy.

Lost in Translation is a great example of communicating through images, and accessing information through visual stimuli instead of a narrated storyline. Hyper-urbanised , futuristic Tokyo is the ideal backdrop, offering a glimpse of what communication will look like once humanity moves past the Age of Reason.

Cultural Talk: There can only be one Hong Kong

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Lately I have been following closely the debate surrounding the Hong Kong Occupy Central movement. Labeled as a struggle against China’s anti-democratic administration by the western media it has gained popular support in the western world as a fight for freedom.

It drew the attention not only of the media but of the international watchdogs, who quickly seized the opportunity to lecture the Chinese about democracy and begin to suggest various democracy monitoring mechanisms. I am not going to quote all the reasons why democracy is one of the most abused words masking western political hypocrisy or why permitting third parties to interfere and stick the democracy-meter in your mouth is a bad, bad idea. As a Greek and national of a country that in the last years has been shaken with tear gassed demonstrations, illegal taxation and vast unpunished political corruption and still this country is democratic, I feel like today’s sense of democracy leaves a lot to be desired.

But in any case the young Hong Kongnese have their cause and what motivates them night after night to take the streets is basically the desire to be free to denounce the alignment with China’s administration and policies. In every relationship, after all, a person has the right to voice their desires and intention and act upon them.

What however remains a question is after a hypothetical “divorce”, what would the new alignment be, since the UK has long now resigned from its former active role . To fully answer this question one must examine the identity of the Hong Kongnese people, who they are and who they identify with most.

To me the Hong Kongnese identity can be compared to that of an adopted child that is taken from its biological mother at a very young age and raised by a another mother. The child’s uniqueness, charisma and beauty is a combination of its upbringing (thanks to the foreign mother) and its natural charisma (thanks to the biological mother.) You cannot isolate either side to describe her. A grown up now, she is trying to get used to her birth mother’s ways and realizes that their newly found co-existence is much harder than she had expected.

Behind Hong Kong’s uniqueness there are some interesting facts . Here are few that culturally underlie the debate about Hong Kong:

Hong Kong was Chinese territory taken by the British
. Described as scattered fishing villages before its occupation by the imperialists, it was Chinese soil built and developed by the British. As a British crown colony needless to say it also did not enjoy democracy at a time where colonialism was still in effect.

Hong Kong was a gateway and entrepot to China before its opening up by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The special interest the West had in Hong Kong was closely linked to its proximity to China and the trade potential attached to it.

After China’s opening up Shanghai has been gradually replacing Hong Kong’s role as an international port. The dynamics between the relationship of the mainlanders and the Hong Kongnese have rapidly changed. Now it is the mainlanders that are financially ahead and are calling the shots. This has been a huge blow on native Hong Kongers sense of self and pride.

Desired by both “mothers” Hong kong has been also neglected by both. When leaving in 1997, The British failed to supply the Hong Kongnese with full British citizenship as perhaps they ought to have done to support their growing feelings of identity loss. At the same time the Chinese have been gradually trying to rapidly integrate Hong Kong to what it has been interpreted as erosion of identity.

Hong Kong is a small place and China does not pretend to care about Hong Kong’s identity. Neither China was ever obliged to be oversensitive about an ex British colony.

However it should.

Hong Kong is a unique place built from scratch as a hybrid identity city state. It has been the ground for bold urban architectural experimentation: highrises and skyscrapers built on the steep and hilly topography of Hong Kong island, elevated roadways and a record of escalators, as well as sights skillfully integrating nature and hyper urbanism. Hong Kong’s international airport is one of the busiest airports in Asia built on large artificial land that was created by leveling two islands.

Even though the population is in majority ethnic Chinese, it has been home to different nationalities that prospered in different trades. It prides itself on a variety of authentic international cuisine available and high standard English speaking touristic services. It is a truly global city and a jewel to be carefully preserved by the Chinese.

But mostly for all the above it is a true piece of history. It is a reference to the past and a leap to the future. And for the Chinese who have invested millions in creating replica European cities like Venice or Paris, Hong Kong is the real thing. In fact there cannot be a second Hong Kong. But what will keep the flame alive is proudly declaring a Hong Kong identity that deserves to be voiced and preserved.

Hong Kong’s value as a unique historic global city and cultural investment will only increase with time if China allows it. It is loved by millions around the world, Chinese or not. It is a symbol, and just like everything precious there is a duty attached to it to protect and preserve.

Living Abroad: Are you an Immigrant or an Expat? Cultural Talk

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A thing that has puzzled me for a long time since I left my native country is stereotypes regarding the identity of foreigners and the popular terms Immigrant and Expatriate. In London this was not completely an issue. Every other person I met was a foreigner with a different story and circumstances. You could not describe lots of people with just one term: the human mosaic was too intricate and the relationships too complex. At the same time, like everywhere else, people often valued others based on individual judgments related to nationality and popular stereotypes related to nationalities, career and earnings, looks, religion etc.

In Sweden I find things are more straightforward. There is a well defined line between what is Swedish and what is not, and officially foreigners are perceived as belonging mainly in one group: they are Immigrants. There are of course cultural reasons why the average Swede could warm up to an expat more than he/she would to an immigrant. Also there are subconscious classifications of different immigrants that make some more desirable than others.

Let me explain.

An immigrant is described as “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country”.
The Immigrant is different from the migrant; the latter defined as “a person who moves from one place to another in order to find better living conditions”.

Even though these two terms have a different definition they are usually used as having the same meaning. Culturally the word migrant often brings in mind images of desperate people escaping war and conflict and trying to reach a safe first world country. The word immigrants evokes more peaceful images, but still is closely linked to poverty, low paid jobs and life in ghettos.

An expatriate is a “person who lives outside their native country”. Another definition that I found online is “an employee who is sent to live abroad for a defined time period”. An expatriate therefore is not perceived as someone who is planning to spend his whole life abroad or get a pension abroad. It is rather someone whose identity abroad is somehow linked to his role in his native country.

An expatriate is usually culturally perceived as someone whose financial potential abroad could well exceed the financial potential of many locals of the country he visits. The word expat brings in mind popular images of white people socializing while sipping gin tonic in membership clubs. Expats don’t really need to learn the language of the country they live in as they work in another formal language and can leave the country whenever they wish. They are very mobile too. Another stereotype about expats is that in majority hold strong passports from financially and culturally “important” countries: the locals can indeed benefit from their presence. (As opposed to the presence of immigrants, whose “foreign cultures” could be seen as a nuisance rather than a benefit).

These silent classifications no matter how inaccurate, superficial and stereotypical underlie the relationships of people. As a foreigner in Stockholm I have been surprised by the various classifications of immigrants and clichés that I have encountered. For example, when I first got here, I was talking to a friendly Swedish woman who was once married to a Portuguese man. When I identified with her experience being married to a foreigner myself (and one that comes from another continent too) she retorted: “But it is not the same! You two are both Latin!” (I am Greek, he is Mexican).

“Latin” therefore is perhaps another definition for the “darker colored Christian immigrant coming from a poor country/hit by crisis with nice beaches to visit on holidays”.

Or maybe it’s much more complicated than that. I never take offense in these observations as I believe we all have our subconscious classifications of people whether they have to do with wealth, career and prestige, gender, beauty and looks, nationality, religion etc. I have seen people in China stop the traffic to let the Scandinavian looking boy pass, staring in awe.

It is a very real and sad aspect of human existence.

The time that it does bother me however is when it messes with my right to compete on equal terms. When I had the job coaching with Arbetsförmedlingen I was promised to be treated like a professional and in the end the person doing the coaching saw no harm done suggesting I became a cleaner. I have the utmost respect for people who clean to make a living a have friends who have done it. But I am not going to enroll myself in a four month job coaching program just to be told in the end that my options are reduced to that. If I need this type of job I can very well get it without fancy ipad coaching.

So even though I absolutely abhor stereotyping I asked myself one day:

“Am I an expat or an immigrant?”

The job coach who read my arbetsförmedlingen post replied in an angry message that I am the latter and came here to steal Swedish jobs. (Ironically she was not Swedish!)

But I, just like so many other people I have met here, I am a number of conflicting things. I am this and that. I am a traveler, a visitor. But I don’t live in a ghetto. I don’t socialize only with people from my country. I am married to a foreigner. Am I here to stay forever? No. Do I have a cleaner and a nanny? No. I live in a one bed 55 square meter apartment.

Living in Sweden as a foreigner you may ask yourself who you are and where you belong. I tell myself I am a hybrid, and other hybrids can feel my identity.