Category Archives: Canada

The Stone Angel

TravelManitoba

I remember being asked to read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence back in high school. It was one of the many wonderful books that our English teacher used to try to infuse some humanity into our young minds. I don’t remember the story much, but I do remember the parallels between the old character in the book and the ultimate fate of Margaret Laurence. It’s like she literally became one of the characters she wrote about. I really should look into the Manawaka series again.

Speaking of Manawaka, my works will be displayed in the town it was based on, Neepawa, Manitoba.  When I used to go camping and hiking with my best friend, I remember visiting there once. Here in Asia, when people think of Canada, the first places that come out of people’s mouths are Toronto and Vancouver. But when they describe Canada, they would often imagine a place much closer to towns like Neepawa.

I love big cities like Vancouver and Ottawa, and even smaller ones like Winnipeg, but it is smaller rural towns cradling close to liberated Canadian wilderness that most people here in Asia often imagine. It is in many ways romantic. I guess like me, that image is mostly from the desire to escape from convoluted concrete jungles like Seoul.

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About Innocently Prodding Someone’s Bum

Saint

When it comes to childhood or child-rearing, some things just don’t translate to North America or just 2017 in general. I remember when I first came to South Korea, I was teaching English to young children. Some of the boys would play around shoving their fingers into each other’s bottoms, occasionally including mine. It was playful and not sexual at all, but in order to avoid any confusion, I discouraged it in class. I have my suspicion that it probably originated in some sort of sexual submission/domination dynamics, but I really don’t think the kids were thinking of that. It was horseplay. It was horseplay that was odd, and is probably less common now than it was even ten years ago.

The thing is this isn’t really a Korean thing, shoving things up bottoms as a form of horseplay. It is an Asian thing as far as I can tell. If I grew up in Japan, I probably would’ve had to deal with kancho. In Taiwan or China, I would probably deal with it under a different name. I remember having to deal with it as a young child. It wasn’t amusing back then. If anything, I always thought it was a throwback to when kids and people in general truly didn’t know any better. I didn’t put much malice in it. I just thought that the other person better wash their hands afterwards.

But it really doesn’t translate to North American countries. Not in Canada. Not at all. Kim’s Convenience tried to explain it to mixed results, and as much as I understand the practice and don’t want to be the straight person in the skit, it really does seem like a throwback. Even when the Korean character equated the practice to a wedgie, it didn’t really help the situation. When was the last time you got a wedgie? Even I am too old to experience the hilarity of giving and/or receiving wedgies when I was young. It was outdated back then, and it would be seen as cruel now. In fact, the only person who was interested in shoving things up my bum as a prank was my father, who I imagine used to play around with his peers that way when he was a child back in the 60s. Different environment, uncomfortable to put up with now, but I move on. It’s the same way I saw my young Korean students when they were keen on putting fingers up bums… different environment. I don’t want to be ethnocentric and tell them that it’s wrong or put malice into it; I just discouraged it like every other horseplay.

But in the same spirit of ethnocentrism, in Canada, we don’t shove fingers up children’s bottoms as a form of horseplay. It’s not that there’s malice in it, but it’s best to avoid doing it to prevent confusion. It’s not really wise trying to shoehorn questionable horseplay or pranks from other countries into North America when it could be interpreted differently, especially in this day and age. If an immigrant parent or grandparent does that to a child, and by some miracle, the child is okay with it, the neighbors, friends, or other relatives might not be. It’s best to avoid that confusion. There other aspects to one’s culture that are much better to pass on to the next generation, things that won’t get one suspected or arrested for abuse.

 

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The Fragile Nazi Ego

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If you have never been seen as an outsider, assumed to not belong in your own country, second-guessed for your intelligence, looked at as a criminal for no reason, given less opportunities because of your color, or suffered through other indignities that minorities and women suffer through, then you don’t get to complain about oppression. I miss Canada. I love Canada. But it is not immune to the racial animus that is plaguing the United States. Occasionally, I will be reminded of what exactly I am and how little some people think of me. It sucks. It hurts.

I even get that occasionally even living overseas. Being brown, I’m the less-desirable foreigner. I sometimes even blend in the background and ignored in a country that is homogeneous. Forget the brown guy; there are other people that need attention. Being white is still the gold standard for some people even when overseas. If you’re white, people assume you’re educated, you have money, you speak good English, you’re worldly, and you’ll make cute little children. Doors open just by the virtue of skin color. How do I know? Look at job ads overseas. Look at the foreigners they choose to have on television. Look at the faces of the people as they sometimes struggle with the concept that a brown person is a Canadian.

So it really amazes me that despite all of the advantages given to them by virtue of their birth, some white men in the United States are crying victimhood. They say they’re being oppressed, replaced, wiped out by ethnic and religious minorities. These people have never faced true oppression in their lives. Never. And yet they cry foul at immigrants taking jobs that they have no interest in taking. They protest against people of different races and religions being welcomed in their neighborhoods. They cringe at colored faces on television populating their media and politics. This is their oppression. This is the crime that they are standing up for: being in the presence of someone different, being not sole voice that matters, sharing the rights that they’ve had for so long with others. This is the cringe-worthy delicate ego of these neo-Nazis. The ones that label themselves “alpha male” and yet can’t stand the threat of other people getting the same opportunities they have.

There’s nothing alpha about not being able to compete against more competent workers. There’s nothing alpha about lying to twist facts in order to suit you narrative. I would imagine an alpha would face the truth, change, then come out on top. There’s nothing alpha about following a lying leader. It’s called being a sucker. There’s nothing alpha about complaining about other races and religions mixing with others. It’s called minding your own business. Go find a white woman who will love you. There’s nothing alpha about bitching that your culture is being wiped out when it isn’t. Go watch a Hollywood film. There’s nothing alpha about complaining that white men are losing influence. Go look at the US Senate and the Congress. There’s nothing alpha about listening to conspiracy theorists, thinking about all of these forces coming to get you, and worrying about Armageddon or whatever. Be a person. Don’t be a paranoid squirrel looking at every corner and seeing danger everywhere before foraging for food. There are more real problems in the world.

This is why I love the current effort to expose the people who participated in the Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Not so much for the consequences they suffer after being exposed as the racists that they are, but for the realization that these people never really faced a day of true oppression in their life. Peter Cvjetanovic never faced true oppression. Neither did one of their alt-right heroes, White House staffer Stephen Miller, who famously complained about having to pick up his own garbage. Oh the horrible suffering of the fragile alpha male ego!

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Could be Tomorrow

Lungs

I’m off to Vietnam this week. I don’t know much about the country and its beautiful people, so I’ll talk about The Handmaid’s Tale instead. What a wonderful, wonderful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s work (a Canadian treasure)! Good job, Hulu! What’s really interesting about the book and the show itself is that if there’s ever a more apt book to adapt for the times, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Being a work of “speculative fiction,” much like books like The Road or Blindness, it doesn’t need much fantasy in order for something to become our reality. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, religion and military dictatorship just needs to marry together, something which humanity has experimented with several times before.

And it’s not like we’re that far off from Ms. Atwood’s fiction. The world is becoming more and more militaristic. Many countries’ police officers are starting to look more like military forces. There’s a loud growing movement of conservatism with their adherence to religious dogma and a distrust of science and news media. And more and more, dictatorial rule seems to be coming back into fashion with many people blindly supporting strong men. Even my father pines for the days of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and praises the likes of Duterte. The show did a great job of incorporating current trends and technology and making it part of the narrative. It almost screams at the viewers, “this could be you! You’d better do something about it” It’s not enough that we trust our collective goodness as a society. Our hubris, our confidence that several others will do good despite of our inaction, will lead to our eventual downfall. I’d like to believe more Americans are sensible, and yet Donald Trump and his ilk run the country. I was impressed at how friendly, welcoming, and seemingly sensible everyone was the last time I visited the Philippines, but they’re the same people who would deny their neighbors are being killed for their vices, even if it happens almost every day. My workplace is surrounded by people who yearn for the days of dictatorial rule in Korea.

It is scary. It really wouldn’t take much.

 

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Not Talking About Suicide

carnival

I used to occasionally go to suicide forums and talk to people… because why not? Like many people who suffer from depression, the thought of suicide has come to my head, but I’m much of a coward to really give it too much serious thought. It was more like, “if I’m going to kill myself, I’d do it this way” or “if this happens, that would be the thing that would make me go ahead and kill myself.” It was a thought experiment more than anything else. But as for the forums, occasionally I would read people’s posts. They were mostly young people, complaining about their lives, or people frustrated by their significant others. It’s rare, but sometimes, I would respond back. Instead of being a community of people seeking help before they do what they shouldn’t, I think it’s really more a community of people just trying to get their voices heard. It’s a place where a person can say their troubles instead of being deconstructed or given solutions to their problems. There was no judgment. It was a place that tells people that they are not insane, nor are they alone. That there’s nothing new under the sun and that they’ll get through whatever it is that’s giving them trouble. I suppose I might be accused of being a tourist for being there, but for a time, it really helped me with my depression. It felt good telling a complete stranger that things we’re going to be alright.

I live in a place where suicide is quite common place. People often regard Japan as one of the suicide capitals of the world, but really, South Korea has it beat. Even the former president committed suicide and in some ways normalized the whole thing. But as horrible as South Korea is when it comes to its suicide statistics and the reasons for why so many people are committing suicide (societal pressures, money troubles, elderly depression, stigma against seeing psychiatric help…) it surprised me to learn that Canada isn’t doing too well when it comes to suicide either.

Canada’s in the thirties when ranked with other countries. But when you look at that ranking, it disguises the fact that some communities are more susceptible to suicide than others. Aboriginal males are six times more likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal males. In 2000, out of 100,000 Aboriginal males, 126 committed suicide. For non-Aboriginals, it was 24. If you consider the size disparity between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities, the suicide rates affecting small areas in the country is staggering. It’s gigantic compared to the suicide rate in South Korea (27 out of 100,000).

What’s shameful is that with countries like South Korea and Japan are actively doing things to help stop their suicide epidemics in the face of the horrible statistics. The police are patrolling suicide-prone areas, and there are groups which monitor vulnerable people. People are talking about the problem and how to deal with it. And while Canada has been helping some communities deal with depression, addiction, and mental health issues, I’m not sure if we’re doing enough to help prevent the high rates of suicide. I think it’s such a non-issue with the average Canadian that I wouldn’t even be aware of the problem if I didn’t have an interest in it myself. Clearly, present-day efforts are not enough for Aboriginal communities. There are initiatives that help them deal with problems once they are already dealing with them, but I’m not sure if Canada is doing enough to help prevent depression and mental health issues from developing in the first place. Now I’m not saying that South Korea and Japan are doing a lot more than Canada to help their citizens have more fulfilling lives to help prevent suicidal thoughts (I don’t think they are, they’re just doing more to keep people from committing the act), but I think Aboriginal communities are much more susceptible to this problem that it’s something the country should address. After all, much of the First Nations’ woes have been the result of its history with the Canadian government.

 

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Oh Manitoba!

Manitoba_Arts_Network

Thank you Manitoba Arts Network for having my works for their 2017-2018 touring exhibition. It’s always nice to have people appreciate my work, that the works I make are not just for me personally, that they could mean something else to some people as well.

 

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Canada Day

Canada

Happy Canada Day. I love you, Canada. If I could hug you, I would.

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Father’s Day Post

Waiting for my turn

I don’t write too much about Canadian politics because as much as a faux-progressive Justin Trudeau has been, he’s still miles better than Harper. I really can’t complain too much with regards to Canadian politics. But if there’s one thing that’s continued to be ignored regardless of whether it’s Harper, Trudeau, or even Chrétien, it’s Aboriginal issues.

As much as I applaud the CBC for featuring the works of Drag the Red (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/drag-the-red-bones-1.4166029), it’s still the same old effort with no real response from the government. Concerned citizens are still out there, dragging the river looking for bodies or any evidence of people missing. Members of the First Nations, specifically Aboriginal women, have a higher risk of ending up missing compared to other groups, and despite this trend, there hasn’t been any real change to correct this. And what’s tragic is, with all the Aboriginal women missing and being ignored, if there’s ever a white woman missing, her case would dominate the headlines. This is why people are out there trying to find members of their community by themselves. And perhaps it might not be the most effective means of trying to find bodies or evidence; I believe they do it mostly as a means for catharsis at this point, especially with the rather gloomy approach of dragging the river for bodies instead of looking for a living person.

I learned about Drag the Red a few months when the group started first started looking for bodies. I’m afraid the group will continue to exist well into the future, and the government will continue with their same replies. “If they feel like they’re doing something to address what THEY SEE is an issue, then we support that.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8iDzIQW0XE) I could understand the risk versus reward approach, especially if the authorities in Winnipeg in particular are working on a very limited budget. But how often are we as Canadians going to keep on saying to the First Nations every time they have a problem that we just don’t have the resources for them?

And while I already linked a VICE video, here’s another VICE feature on missing Aboriginal women (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz63Vppw3gE)!

Before I forget, happy Father’s Day!

As much as I love my father, he’s the biggest Duterte supporter. I have two problems with that. One, Duterte is everything Canada and most western democracies are against. He’s a strongman dictator who happens to think casually about rape and thinks anyone involved with drugs should be murdered. Second, why is my dad so involved with Philippine politics? Shouldn’t he be more involved with Canadian or American politics? That’s where his kids and his grandkids are! It’s like he moved to Canada and enveloped himself into this hyper-nationalistic shell.

In any case, I’ve debated people like him regarding the whole Duterte situation and I’ve written about him before, but one argument that annoys me most is the line, “you don’t know how it is as an outsider; people who live here know better,” which basically means that any outside opinion is disqualified since we don’t get the whole breadth of the experience- we don’t see how much the country has improved under the tyrant Duterte.

Well, first off, that is one of the most common defense of battered spouses. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jZqwq7N-ps) “You don’t know him like I do. We’re doing fine.” I would argue that anyone on the inside is far too gaslighted to know what’s good or not, and that anyone who actually thinks that Duterte is good is too deep in the bubble to know any better. It would take a concerned outsider to point out what’s wrong in the situation.

And like many things Duterte, it doesn’t take too much to point out the hypocrisy in the whole situation. If outsiders’ opinions regarding a situation are not qualified, then what qualifies an outsiders’ opinion regarding a drug user’s lifestyle? Perhaps drug users totally fine with their lifestyle and believe it doesn’t affect them negatively. Who is to say, as an outsider, that they are doing society wrong by getting involved in drugs? Maybe the outsider, in this case Duterte and his followers, should try some drugs to get more insight. And what about the Muslim crisis in Mindanao? Why is the rest of Philippines forcing their some of their minority to be part of the bigger country? Maybe those smaller communities are happier are Muslim nations.

Lastly, as prescribed by Godwin’s Law, it is exactly outsiders’ opinions that got Hitler and the Nazis to stop murdering Jews. What’s chilling however is that it was Duterte who initially compared himself to Hitler, and his supporters didn’t even bat an eye.

So what am I saying to the lost Duterte supporter who happened to have stumbled into my page? Look at your neighbors. Perhaps it’s a good idea to listen when they tell you that you’re in a bad situation.

Oh and yeah, happy Father’s Day!

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Making Out with Canada Again

walrus

There are times when I wish I could kiss Canada in the mouth. This is one of those times.

Apparently, the government of Manitoba has been very supportive of refugees crossing the border from the United States into Canada. The small town of Emerson, instead of being worried about terrorist boogeymen, is more worried about refugees hurting themselves and not being prepared for the cold weather. The RCMP stated that they will devote resources to refugees coming in from the states should their numbers overwhelm the small town. Leaving the US is not a criminal act, and they will be screening individuals instead of turning them in.

Of course, I don’t know how accurate that last part is. Leaving the US is not a criminal act, but I believe illegal immigration to Canada is still punishable by deportation. It is a problem that many people believe will only get worse with the new Trump administration. There was a poll that found a majority of Canadians believe that illegal immigrants should be deported. Ironically, that poll also found that Quebecers, with their rather “close-minded” reputation, overwhelmingly believe that illegal immigrants should get some form of accommodations instead of simply being deported. But then again, I don’t know how accurate that poll is now especially with Trump as president down south and our Prime Minister announcing that Canada will be welcoming refugees.

And speaking of illegal immigration down south, there are reports of ICE agents rounding up illegal immigrants in the US, with some having lived in the States for years and have kids who are American citizens. Some government agents are even following school buses in order to arrest illegal immigrant parents. Great job, guys (especially, you family values folks)! Instead of constructive solutions, you break families apart. How will broken families improve the economy? How will they make your country safer?

So God bless Canada. We may not be as tempting to move in to as the United States, but we care for those who try to come in and be Canadians. I should know, I am an immigrant. And even though it was difficult for the first couple of years, most Canadians welcomed me as neighbor and a friend. I remember even without taking my oath of citizenship, some friends already regarded me as a countryman.* But that was back then, and that was in Canada. It must take tremendous courage now to be an immigrant in the United States, especially if you’re a minority or a Muslim. God help and protect you.

 

*Of course there are some people who will never see me as a full Canadian even if I was the product of generations living in the country. I will always be asked, “yes, you’re Canadian, but where are you REALLY from?” I’ve written about this soft racism several times, and so have other writers.

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The Message with Sally Yates

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I was going to write a love letter to Manitoba, but recent news has got me upset. What happened with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates was not the Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon was more subtle by comparison. The Trump administration had the constitutional right to remove Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates from her position for not following Trump’s executive order to ban Muslim immigration from seven countries, but there is absolutely no reason to tar and feather her by saying she “betrayed” the country and that she is “weak on borders and weak on illegal immigration.” The statement they issued was petty and vindictive, and they flaunt their authority over the justice system, completely ignoring the federal court orders to have the immigration ban stayed. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates cannot act on the executive order when federal courts are against it and the Supreme Court has not made a ruling on its legality.

As the top lawyer of the United States, it is not the attorney general’s job to agree with everything the president does. To do so would make the position technically moot. This also isn’t the first time an attorney general or a deputy attorney general has acted against a sitting president’s orders. James Comey famously went against the president’s wishes just a few years ago. Of course, many attorney generals go along with the administration’s wishes. After all, they get their by the administration’s recommendation. Eric Holder was extremely partisan and didn’t go after the big banks after the Obama administration mentioned that they weren’t looking to prosecute them. But while they are partisan appointees, their job is to uphold the law and make sure that the executive branch acts within the scope of the law. It is not the attorney general’s job to do something which they believe is illegal or somehow bend the rules to make them legal. They definitely can, and can be rewarded for being loyal partisan actors, but it’s blatantly unethical to relieve someone of their position for not doing something which they believe is illegal.

This constitutional duty to not blindly follow the leader but to follow the letter of the law as well as what is ethical is what allows me to sleep at night despite knowing that Trump has the nuclear codes. He may order a country to be bombed simply because a citizen there annoyed him on Twitter, but it is the officer’s as well as everyone else in the hierarchy’s duty to not follow his order if they deemed it illegal, immoral, or unethical. It is their civic duty to do so; and to follow the president’s order in such a case would be a dereliction of duty. This is what Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to do, to carry out an act which is in her opinion, an opinion based on a lifetime of working for the justice department, is both illegal and indefensible. It was her duty to refuse the president. And for that, she got sacked.

But really, what choice does she have. The Muslim ban is clearly a disaster and several federal court orders agree. It was an executive order that was hastily made without consultation from the president’s own top advisors. His own Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, does not support the order, and believes it endangers the troops he’s been recently made in charge of. As far as I can tell, the only people who were certainly in the room when Trump drafted the order was Stephen Miller, a young political operative with a racist history, and Steve Bannon, a publisher of a Web site frequented by neo-Nazis. They’re not exactly the people with the most expertise regarding immigration and national security. But then again, neither is Trump. The woman Trump fired had more years serving the public, more years keeping the country safe, than Trump.

And to those defending the Muslim ban, calling it a mere travel restriction, even Trump calls it a ban. And whatever name you call it, and even if you only limit it to those seven countries, it still affects Muslims. It still goes against the notion of having no religious test for the country. It flies in the face of common decency. The measure doesn’t make the US safer. It makes it harder for the military to gain allies in those seven countries and serves as a great recruitment tool for ISIS. But then again, what do expect from the great military expertise of Trump, Miller, and Bannon?

Sally Yates’ firing goes along with the message that the Trump administration is sending out. From journalists and employees at the National Park Service, to long-time government employees and officials- if you’re not with the Trump agenda, you should be fired. This is an amazingly flagrant display of authoritarianism.

It’s been a really dark few days. Even Canada has not been immune to Trump’s brand of intolerance. Quebec has been marred with tragedy, with the shooting of a mosque. And while some detractors will point out that Quebec has had a history of intolerance long before the Trump phenomenon, the shooter has been a part of the same alt-right movement which supports Trump.

It’s going to be a tiring few years. I believe the wave of bigotry will continue to wreak havoc long after we stopped getting daily bad news from Trump. There will be frequent protests and frequent outrages. Luckily, it is exactly during these times when people can become heroes by fighting injustice. Sally Yates will now be remembered as a hero. Honestly, I doubt if many people knew her name before she stood against Donald Trump. Now it’s time for people to go against him, take advantage of the growing rage against the US government’s recent actions, and make a name for themselves. If not because it is the right thing to do, but it is also good politics.

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