Face Off: Eighteen years in Asia, and I still don’t understand the concept


I have lived in multiple Asian countries over the past eighteen years, and I still don’t understand the concept of “face”.  The idea that things like losing your temper should somehow embarrass you or means you lose the argument doesn’t makes sense.  Speaking truthfully, if angry, isn’t the same as going Godwin.  Some say that westerners (I know, I need a better word for it) don’t have face, but I disagree.  Honesty, trustworthiness and reputation have their own sense of face (or at least, they used to).

Two recent events in the news highlighted this to me again.

In July 2018 during summer vacation (Kaohsiung, Taiwan), an 18 year old university student named Lin went to a park to exercise.  He and an 80 year old man (doing Tai Chi) got into an argument over personal space.  Lin knocked over the elderly man who suffered a minor head injury and bleeding.  Although the elderly man chose not to press charges, the police still arrested Lin under the “Maintenance of Social Order” law (akin to England’s ASBO law).

Because Lin “lost face”, he decided to exact revenge.  Lin purchased hydrofluoric acid (HF), telling the store keeper he was using it for an experiment at school.  Instead, Lin ambushed his victim, shocked him with a taser-like device (which are illegal in Taiwan) and poured hydrofluoric acid on the man.  Anyone with any knowledge of HF knows this was a death sentence.  The 80 year old was hit on 35% of his body, and though he was rushed to hospital, he died very quickly.  And painfully.

Lin splashed himself during the assault and ended up in hospital for a week where he was arrested.  He is currently on trial for the murder. Lin claims he “did not know” that HF could cause the man’s death.  Yeah, right.  9_9

One of the most shocking parts of this story is the fact that hydrofluoric acid was not a restricted substance.  Anyone could have bought without proof of identification or license.  Only now in October 2019 has HF and other subtances been restricted and special permission required to obtain it.  Another shocking part of the story is that Lin was studying to be a special care provider, training to take care of other people.  Somehow, I suspect he wasn’t qualified.

I don’t believe for one instant that inanimate objects have intent or can be “evil”, but if they were, hydrofluoric acid and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) would probably make the top ten list of non-nuclear materials.


This wasn’t the only such recent incident in Taiwan.  In July 2019, two men sitting next to each other on Taipei’s MRT blue line (Mass Rapid Transit, the subway) began a fist fight after arguing over personal space.  Both were manspreading, and both expected the other to give up or move.  The younger of the two ended up in hospital. I have no word on whether charges were laid.

The irredeemable force met the immoral object.

 

Comments

  1. says

    The idea that things like losing your temper should somehow embarrass you or means you lose the argument doesn’t makes sense.

    It makes perfect sense for all the Western male misogynists. If during an argument a female-looking person shows emotions, her words will be dismissed, and men will conclude that she is hysterical and must be experiencing a PMS. If you have a female body and you want to be taken seriously, you cannot possibly afford to show emotions. It’s only people like the angry cheeto (white, male, straight, cis, wealthy) who can afford to go on rants.

    Some say that westerners (I know, I need a better word for it) don’t have face, but I disagree. Honesty, trustworthiness and reputation have their own sense of face (or at least, they used to).

    Westerners might call the concept differently, but I’d say that it exists here and is pretty similar. People buy big cars or expensive designer clothes to show off. People get angry and offended when somebody else doesn’t metaphorically bow to them upon their demand. People brag like crazy if they have a distant relative who’s a celebrity. And so on. Status is a big deal everywhere in human societies.

    By the way, I totally agree with you that the whole concept is silly. Devoting one’s entire life to showing off and maintaining a fake facade is a sad way how to live. But I do think that also in Western countries people do these things.

    • StevoR says

      FWIW. I agree with that Andreas Avester*. I think maybe, “face”” perhaps is more formalised in some cultures than others but the notion of respect / dissing others is close as is the concept of “machismo” in some Central and South American nations. Obviously rnages with individuals and precise cultural details but there does seem something universal(~ish?) and (Capt’n Obvious) linked to power dynamaics / pecking order hierarchy about it.

      * Also agree with chigau (違う) too. So thirding I guess.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    Intransitive
    Your “concept of face” link says that 「face」is uniquely Asian.
    I think the very same concept exists everywhere.
    Honour killings on the same spectrum.

  3. Owlmirror says

    I think the DARVO behavior of abusers/harassers is related to what you describe.

    I don’t believe for one instant that inanimate objects have intent or can be “evil”, but if they were, hydrofluoric acid and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) would probably make the top ten list of non-nuclear materials.

    See also: Things (Derek Lowe) Won’t Work With

  4. lorn says

    Nasty stuff HF. I knew an older chemical tech who was missing a chunk of his arm the size of a baseball where some HF dripped in him. They took needles and injected a neutralizing agent into the still vital flesh ahead of where the HF was. Progress stopped they scooped out the liquefying tissue.

    The scariest stuff I’ve heard of was chlorine trifluoride. Known in WW2 Germany as ” N-Stoff “.

    John Drury Clark summarized the difficulties:

    ” It is, of course, extremely toxic, but that’s the least of the problem. It is hypergolic with every known fuel, and so rapidly hypergolic that no ignition delay has ever been measured. It is also hypergolic with such things as cloth, wood, and test engineers, not to mention asbestos, sand, and water—with which it reacts explosively. It can be kept in some of the ordinary structural metals—steel, copper, aluminum, etc.—because of the formation of a thin film of insoluble metal fluoride that protects the bulk of the metal, just as the invisible coat of oxide on aluminum keeps it from burning up in the atmosphere. If, however, this coat is melted or scrubbed off, and has no chance to reform, the operator is confronted with the problem of coping with a metal-fluorine fire. For dealing with this situation, I have always recommended a good pair of running shoes.”

    From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorine_trifluoride

    Scary stuff.

  5. lorn says

    Derek Lowe :
    ” I still won’t touch the stuff.
    And if anyone needs any more proof as to why, I present this video, made at some point by some French lunatics. You may observe the mild reactivity of this gentle substance as it encounters various common laboratory materials, and draw your own conclusions. We have Plexiglas, a rubber glove, clean leather, not-so-clean leather, a gas mask, a piece of wood, and a wet glove. Some of this, under ordinary circumstances, might be considered protective equipment. But not here.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4l56AfUTnQ

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