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Meet Charisma Man

By: Joe Ruelle Posted: September-26-2010 in
Planet Joe Ruelle meets Charisma Man in Vietnam
Joe Ruelle

An average Joe Ruelle moves to Vietnam and is suddenly a casanova. Or so the story goes...

My sister, who lives in Tokyo, once sent me a copy of Charisma Man the compilation. For the uninitiated, Charisma Man was a comic book anti-hero popular with western expats in Japan.

“Back on his home planet of Canada”, the opening strip begins, “Our hero was just an average guy.” This means loser.

“But when he landed on planet Japan…” — well you can see for yourself.


Most poignant is the last frame. In the piercing gaze of his archenemy, Western Woman, Charisma Man is in danger of losing his newfound powers. “Can he save himself in time?” creator Larry Rodney asks.

Lois and Clark
Yes, we male expats fear Foreign Woman. This may not be Japan, but she is still kryptonite in the twin senses (a) her presence diminishes our powers and (b) she is a remnant of our long-dead home planets. Perhaps the two are linked, as they were in Superman’s case, though if we are to continue that dialogue I cannot see who would fill the Lex Luthor role — the alphamale of the new world who uses kryptonite to bring Superman, the alpha-male of the old world, down.

Perhaps Vietnamese males do not yet understand the power of this kryptonite or how it can be manipulated to Superman into fetal, positionesque subversion. That or they deeply fear it, having learnt important lessons from the early passing of Marie Curie.

Lois Lane is of course the Vietnamese princess-babe, minus the stuffy blouse and plus the high heels. Clark Kent, Superman’s alter ego, is not a mild-mannered reporter but a bad-mannered English teacher. Ring goes the bell and off comes the tie — by golly he is unrecognisable! (He puts the tie back on again: “Oh it’s you, Sam!”)

We could make Perry White, his gruff and secretly self-loathing boss at The Daily Planet, a Director of Studies, but that might be taking the metaphor too far and in any case, we are talking about Charisma Man and not Superman.

It All Comes in Stages
There are many Charisma Men in Vietnam. Having been here almost eight years and, if I may say so, having given off many a blast of charisma myself, I can guide you through some related mental stages.

The first stage is denial. You are not handsome, they are just saying that. This is replaced almost instantly by the second stage: a suspicion you have been handsome all along and this possible truth has been hidden from you by means of an elaborate conspiracy which began in grade two. This is also known as the “mother was right” stage.

This leads to a further suspicion that most western women are disabled in their ability to perceive beauty, though in your heart of hearts you can’t shake the feeling they know something Vietnamese women do not.

The third and final stage is a coming down. By this time you have been called handsome so many times (almost as many as your best mate, damn the bugger) that you no longer value handsomeness as a positive trait, be it a trait you truly posses or not. That and the shrieks of “Handsome man!” are not being followed by silken dalliances in dark corners — or at least not free-of-charge silken dalliances (interpret “charge” as you like). So what’s the point? It simply does not matter.

Instantly Noodle
You start to obsess about money, which does matter. If this goes on long enough you develop a new appreciation for Western Woman, your sworn archenemy and the fire at your heels. So cruel yet… yet so down to earth. So readable, so real. This appreciation must go unsaid, just as the Batman comic book series could not conclude with a long and passionate gay kiss from the Joker.

In fact by this time you likely have a Vietnamese girlfriend. Perhaps even a wife. You need the western community but you need her too. This leads to humour. Many western males feel compelled to add verbal qualifiers when describing their Vietnamese ladies to friends from ‘back home’.

“What’s she like?”

“Well she’s Vietnamese from Danang… But she’s really westernised!”

Or she’s a circus acrobat, or she passed her Grade 12 Royal Conservatory of Music Piano Exam when she was seven.... The alluded to point: “She’s Vietnamese but our relationship transcends the ‘you handsome man!’ thing, which I realise you are aware of, oh you dear western friend you.”

“It does. Really. I swear.”

True love conquers all, of course, but there’s more humour in awkward fumblelove. Speaking of which, I wonder if it’s the same when Vietnamese men describe their western girlfriends to curious family members and friends.

“Well her name is Greta, she’s from Germany… But she can eat hotpot, I swear, I’ve seen it, and she puts the instant noodles in last just like we do!”

Republished with the kind Permission of WordHanoi

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