Category Archives: government

On Marcos

Korea had a series of dictators and strong men. Park Chung-hee, while credited with helping improve Korea’s economy, he abused his office, declared martial law, and persecuted his opposition, and was eventually assassinated in 1979. He was never elected, but grabbed power after leading a military coup. Many conservatives still worship him, crediting him for Korea’s current economic standing, ignoring the abuse during his reign. This led to the election of his daughter Park Geun-hye as president. She was president from 2013 until 2017 until she was impeached and convicted due to corruption.

I though it was incredible that Koreans allowed her to seize power back in 2013, especially after her father served for five consecutive terms, aggressively controlling any opposition and free speech. I’m sure every country has their political family dynasties, but didn’t Koreans learn their lesson with the father of Park Geun-hye?

Eventually, after the Sewol tragedy, when around two hundred students died in a ferry accident and the government showed an incredible display of incompetence, the dominoes started falling for Park Geun-Hye. Stories of corruption, unusually vain behavior, being controlled as a puppet by her advisor, etc. ignited protests around the country, resulting in her impeachment and eventual arrest. She was just recently pardoned by the outgoing president due to her ailing health.

Marcos Jr. Is the new president of the Philippines. People never learn.

His family’s corruption was the stuff of both legends and parody. He put the country under martial law for a decade and had political enemies assassinated or disappeared. Free speech was muffled and many people lost many family members when he was presidency. All the while, his family was stealing billions of pesos and hiding them in accounts overseas. During his reign, Marcos had the gal to put his giant face on a mountain while he was still alive. A proper dictator move. And still Ferdinand Marcos’ son got elected. This happened following the tenure of another strong man with plenty of blood in his hands, President Duterte.

I have seen this movie before. Filipinos never learn. This is why the felon ex-president Erap Estrada eventually got elected as mayor of the country’s capital soon after his release. I don’t have high hopes for the Marcos presidency. Populism is king in the Philippines, and Filipinos will never be able to vote themselves out of poverty. At 92, I’m not sure if Imelda Marcos would resume he insane shoe-buying habit, but I’m sure one way or another, we’ll hear stories of corruption sooner other than later.

This is a redundant and sad movie.

Korea’s kinda similar, recently electing a conservative populist who seems to have no idea how government works. But his election was more of the population’s rejection of the last president’s bungling of the housing prices. With Yoon beginning his presidency yesterday, it’s going to be a long five years.

Seems like it’s a good time for conservatives and would-be strong men.

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A Slow Crawl to the Dark Ages

Abortion has been decriminalized in South Korea last year, January 2021. Prior to that, women still got around to getting rid of unwanted pregnancies through other means. I can’t remember any case of women going into prison for abortion. Perhaps it’s this Korean habit of ignoring laws for the sake of pragmatism. Smoking in the streets is illegal, but the police don’t regularly enforce it in order to not harass people. Prostitution was tolerated for the longest time until the red light districts became a target for real estate developers. Now it’s kept more hidden but is still tolerated. Men will never stop seeing prostitutes and I imagine cops are getting kickbacks from pimps, etc. And as for abortion. There are different ways to stop a pregnancy, and Koreans don’t have a good record of adopting other people’s children. Abortion happens, even when it’s not legal.

What’s happening in the United States is not abortion being made illegal. It’s the criminalization of safe abortion. When abortion becomes illegal, I’m not sure people and doctors will skirt around it the way they did here in Korea. Women will be risking their health and their lives getting rid of unwanted pregnancies. And as much railing conservatives do against activist judges, I can’t think of anything more activist than taking away women’s rights, getting rid of a decades old precedent, and opening the doors to action against other cases which hinge on privacy laws.

There was a girl I once loved dearly. This was back when I was young, too young to know much about anything. Anyway, things didn’t work out between us mostly because of circumstances and our paths separated. She was in a bad place and mixed in with a questionable group of people. She got herself pregnant and was desperate for drugs to terminate the pregnancy. Someone offered her the drug Cytotec (or misoprostol). She was young at the time and I’m not sure how this person got access to this drug. Either he was old enough to be a pharmacist or just simply old enough to have access to it. I’m guessing she was sixteen or seventeen at the time. To get the drug, he asked he for sexual favors. I don’t remember how she ended up getting the drugs in the end. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t, but that memory is long gone from my head.

It’s interesting. I remember the pain of hearing the story, I remember the drug, but I don’t remember how it ended. I guess that’s what trauma does. Not to forget this girl’s own trauma, but my heart broke when I learned about what happened. And now I don’t know how that episode ended.

But this sadness… this desperation… this exploitation, this is what the conservatives in the United States have planned for the country.

I mentioned privacy laws because this is the government getting inside a woman’s body. This could potentially threaten other aspects of life in America including gay rights, gay marriage, inter-racial marriage, heck even old school laws regarding sodomy.

Unless Biden makes abortion the law of the land now, the Democrats are just going to let this happen. The president can either unilaterally make Roe v Wade law, or simply expand the court and save the United States from decades of judicial devolution by radically conservative judges.

But I don’t have high hopes. Establishment Democrats are really just Republican-lite, and they are so feckless that they have failed to make a resounding political defeat of the Republicans after Trump and his failed coup attempt. I mean, after a failed coup and a win last year, If I was Biden and the Democrats, I would be making so many changes so fast to undo what Trump did before the Republicans could regroup. But now from the looks of things, the Republicans are set to gain more power again come next election. Just like the Winnipeg Jet’s this year, this is depressing to watch.

As the art shows, I was raised Roman Catholic. But I don’t push my religion to other people. You do you. You let women do whatever they want with their body. Let everyone do what they want with their body. God loves me. God loves you. God loves everyone. Leave women alone.

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Dave Chappelle is wrong about Filipina OFWs.

Dave Chappelle opined on the impact and importance of Manny Pacquiao. He mentioned that the women being sent overseas to do domestic work contributes considerably to the Philippine economy, leaving behind men to take care of children. Generations of children in the Philippines are growing up without their mothers. I quote, “Men are left rearing their children, twiddling their thumbs, waiting on their wives’ cheques. These men have been fucking emasculated.” But then suddenly, Manny Pacquiao, with his fists, reinstates Filipino men’s masculinity with his fists. Now, this was a small part of a longer spiel that involves Manny Pacquiao’s views on the LGBTQ community, and yeah, Dave Chappelle has his own issues with them as well, but I’m here to talk about his rather skewed view about Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) women and male masculinity.

He got this wrong. He got this so wrong.

I remember Chappelle saying that he read Pimp: The Story of My Life, and that he’s basically a student of Iceberg Slim. I can’t believe how he can’t see the similarities between Iceberg Slim’s life of taking advantage of women and having them work for him to the life of women OFWs. Chappelle himself said that fathers are “twiddling their thumbs” while their wives are out there in the Arabian peninsula and other places overseas working for slave wages and opening themselves to abuse and exploitation. Now, pardon me, and I don’t mean to compare Filipina OFWs to prostitutes, but I have issues with Chappelle seeing the men in these relationships as emasculated victims when they are more closer to being pimps.

Patriarchy is ingrained in Philippine culture. The first man in Philippine mythology was named “Malakas” (strong) and the first woman was “Maganda” (beautiful). As head of the household, he used his strength to beat his children out of the house because there were simply too many of them. He treated them more like pests than children. All of this while his wife simply let it happen, a passive actor. To this day, men are the heads of households. Celebrities and politicians still make hay out of their macho image. And despite twice having women heads of state, Filipino women still lag behind in women’s rights. The Catholic church doesn’t help in this matter either, with abortion being illegal and access to birth control a perpetual controversial issue.

According to a recent survey, 25% of Filipino women have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse from their husband or partner. As surveys go, I tend to think that with such a sensitive topic, the percentage could be higher. Shame, denial, and fear makes reporting partner abuse more difficult to do compared with other types of crime. And now let’s look at OFWs. There are an estimated 2.2 million OFWs. 56% of OFW’s are women. 58% of these women work as living assistants and domestic workers. That’s around 700,000 women working as OFWs. In 2020, only 5000 cases of abuse were reported by OFWs. This can be anything from physical and sexual abuse, to workplace and contractual disputes. Let’s imagine that half of these cases are with women. That’s 2,500 out of 700,000. But again, as with surveys and sensitive subjects, I tend to believe that abuse is under reported, especially if the women’s employers are holding their passports and virtually control their existence in their respective countries.

Or maybe I’m just imagining things. Maybe my math is totally off. Maybe things are so good overseas that only less than 1 percent of women OFW ever suffer abuse.

The world is not made of candy and rainbows.

So women are sent overseas to live as domestic helpers, basically on call for most of the day as they live with their employers. They’re in a foreign environment, away from their children, friends, and relatives, probably occasionally facing discrimination and abuse, and most of the money they earn, they send back home to their husband and children back home. All of this, while the husbands twiddle their thumbs as Chappelle puts it. Does this sound like Filipino men are emasculated? Was Iceberg Slim emasculated when women worked for him while he twiddled his thumbs waiting for his cut of their pay? No. He was seen as an alpha male, in control of his women. And I can’t help but see the men who send their wives overseas to work as domestic helpers while they stay at home and wait for their remittance cheques as being lazy. They’re not pimps, but they sure get the better end of the deal in the relationship.

44% of OFWs are men. Why can’t that be higher? Why can’t the roles be reversed and have Filipino men be out there working while their wives stay at home, take care of their children? I’m not trying to be sexist and put women in the kitchen. But women are physically more vulnerable than men. Why would so many men put their wives at so much risk when there’s overseas work that men OFWs can do? Maybe they don’t want to be living assistants or domestic helpers, but they can work in other unskilled labor sectors like agriculture and manufacturing. I’ve met a few of these men OFWs in these fields before. (I sold my old computer to one. Gave him a great deal.) They are sending their money home to their wives and children. Why can’t there be more of them?

The thing is, the men who stay at home, I’m sure not all of them are lazy, perhaps they are also working. Good for them. Perhaps they are setting up their own businesses with the help of remittances from overseas. But it’s very hard to argue that they aren’t living a much better and more secure life in their home country compared to their wives overseas. Their neighbors are probably jealous that they get to spend time at home while they receive remittances which are likely higher than the average wage in the Philippines. They get to still be with their family and friends, heck, they can even go drink with their buddies late into the night. There is no isolation, prejudice, and constant risk of abuse. They are not emasculated. And if Dave Chappelle thinks that merely being the primary caregiver of children is emasculating, then he needs to get on with the times. The man doesn’t have to be the primary breadwinner. And yes, perhaps that “woke” statement is going against my main argument here, but I suspect that the majority of the men whose wives are overseas aren’t helpless actors in their situations. They don’t have to be “emasculated.” They can actually take action, keep their wives at home, and go overseas instead.

They don’t have to just sit there and wait, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Their wives are out there, working hard, missing their family, and sacrificing so much! These husbands could actually take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing them, end them. (I apologize, I just saw ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ and have Shakespeare’s lines from many of his plays on my head all day.)

Lastly, the idea that a boxer holding a long undefeated record would reinstate another person’s masculinity is laughable to me. Pacquiao’s success is his success. His masculinity is his masculinity, not the country’s; the same way his dumb comments about the LGBTQ is his and not anyone else’s. Yeah, he’s a boxing champ, and some Filipino men are still at home waiting for their wife to send them cheques from Dubai while they take care of the kids. It doesn’t change anything. This Filipino infatuation with macho figures is a pox on the country and just reinforces outdated patriarchal ideas. And if anything, I would say Filipinos and Filipino men need to get off from idolizing Pacquiao already and have better figures to look up to.

Dave Chappelle is wrong. Women OFWs, just like all OFWs, are modern-day heroes to the Philippines. But the husbands of the women OFWs are not emasculated. That is an insult to their autonomy.

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The OFW

Since the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, Filipinos seem to have been used mainly for their skills and labor. First it was within the country, growing and exporting crops for the Spanish empire. Then when the Americans took over in the 1900s, Filipinos started working in the US’ agricultural sector. They were sent to Hawaii as well as Mainland United States. This partly explains the considerable Filipino population in Hawaii. The other reason is that Filipinos also served in the US military, beginning in World War II. The Americans also began drawing educated Filipino professionals, including nurses, doctors, accountants, and engineers. Non-professionals also began working in other countries as artists, musicians, and laborers.

The former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos instituted the Labor Code of the Philippines, which eventually created the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (later becoming part of the Department of Labor and Employment), which basically functioned as the middle man between countries and Filipinos looking to work overseas. By 2023, the Department of Migrant Workers is set to be launched, looking over the rights, benefits, and welfare of overseas workers.

The country’s main industries are varied, from manufacturing, ship building, tourism, etc. But as of writing this article, around 10% of the country’s GDP is through remittances sent by Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). This can be any laborer from skilled doctors to house helps. For decades, they have helped support countless of households and raised them to the middle-class, especially with the average monthly salary in the Philippines being 12,500 pesos ($240 US) in 2021. One can only imagine how much remittances can help with such a dire salary. One person working overseas can significantly improve a household’s lifestyle even if the OFW is only earning a meager salary by the overseas country’s standards. Now, imagine if this OFW is doing technical work. The remittances could potentially cover the salary of one or two people working in the Philippines of more, depending on the amount.

This is why it is in the best interest of the Philippine government to encourage Filipinos to work overseas, despite the long-term brain drain it might incur. Sure, the country is losing medical professionals, scientists, and engineers who decide to work abroad, but A) can companies in the Philippines compete with the salary these professionals can potentially earn in another country? And B) the remittances they send would be significantly higher than an OFW working as a blue collar laborer. This is not unique to the Philippines, however. One of the nurses who helped my mom was from China. Working in Canada as a hospice nurse, he used to be a surgeon in China. Better salary plus democracy, I don’t blame him for moving and working in Canada.

As countries develop and their populations move to jobs in cities, more and more industries in countrysides need migrant laborers to supplant the shortage of local workers. Take South Korea for example. Most Koreans are leaving their hometowns and moving to Seoul and its satellite cities in the hopes to work in its many conglomerates. Agricultural and manufacturing industries are then increasingly becoming more dependent on OFWs. It is not uncommon to see farmers or fishing boat captains leading a group of Filipinos to work in the absence of willing locals. An interesting aside, farmers in Korea are also left wanting for brides since many Korean women do not want to work in farms and take care of their in-laws in the countryside. This leaves Korean men in the countryside looking for partners overseas, particularly China, the Philippines, and Vietnam, creating matchmaking industries in Korea and these countries.

Growing up in the Philippines however, I learned of the term “japayuki,” which had a derogatory implication, suggesting that women OFWs in Japan working in the entertainment industry or “japayukis” are actually working in some form of prostitution. Technically, “japayuki” means any Filipino working in Japan, so foreign men doing manual labor or people working in a technical or medical field are indeed “japayukis,” but the word and the nebulous meaning of an “entertainment” visa feeds into the term suggesting prostitution. A couple of things however. One, in Korea, many foreigners who are arrested for prostitution in the country are either in the country on an entertainment visa or a tourist visa. Two, when I was in Hong Kong, I happened to stumble upon a very upbeat and packed bar with a big band playing. Lo and behold, it’s a group of male Filipino musicians on stage, most probably in the city on an entertainment visa. So yeah, despite the two things I mentioned not being in Japan, there’s probably a bit of truth on either takes on the term “japayuki.

OFWs are referred to locally as “modern-day heroes” not only for the fact that they are overseas, away from their families and scrimping away in order to send money back home, but sometimes they are subject to abuse by their employers, not to mention sometimes stigma at home, especially with the term “japayuki.” And again, working overseas or being away from one’s family in order to support them is not a uniquely Filipino thing; Nearly a quarter of a million Sri Lankans live and work in the UAE. But in the Philippines, it is about 10% of the GDP. One in ten Filipinos work overseas. In Korea, they have a term, “gireogi appa” or goose dad. This refers to Korean fathers working in Korea in order to finance their families overseas. These fathers probably deal with the same loneliness as OFWs, but they’re definitely better paid and the money they send goes outside of Korea and does not come into the country.

13% of male Filipino workers are categorized as unskilled laborers. This mean they could either be working as living assistants or domestic workers. For women, the percentage is 58%. These are low-wage, unskilled work, and women are more vulnerable to abuse by their employers. They can also suffer stereotypes of being uneducated, submissive, or simply be mail-order-brides. It’s a heavy burden to bear and yet, Filipina domestic helpers seem to be ubiquitous. I’ve seen them here in Seoul employed by US expats. Also in Hong Kong, I’ve witnessed thousands of domestic helpers gather on their Sunday day off around Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to have lunch together, catch up with friends, gossip, and pray. Often living with their employers and having limited free time, I thought the gathering in Hong Kong was a way for local domestic helpers not only to reconnect with the Filipino community but also as a survival skill, to collect a bit of peace and sanity after a busy six-day week.

As I mentioned in another article, the concept of a poorly paid house help was a product of Spanish colonization. Rich families would employ someone from a poorer caste to perform domestic chores. To this day, many Filipino families would employ “katulong”s (house helpers) or “yaya”s (nannies), and these families don’t necessarily have to be especially rich in order to afford a house help. It seems that Filipinos have taken the concept of “katulong” and turned it into a service that could be exported.

OFWs are not just limited to working in different countries however. Many are working in companies whose countries are questionable at best.

A friend of mine from the Philippines once surprised me when I learned that she started working as a photographer for a cruise ship. “What a totally random occupation!”, I thought. Later, I learned that Filipinos are some of the best targets for cruise companies to employ. For one, many Filipinos have a strong maritime heritage, and another is that English is spoken as the official second language. Filipinos also have a reputation for being polite and hospitable. Unfortunately, cruise companies work in a legal limbo. Royal Caribbean for example is registered in Liberia. Policing labor practices or even investigating crimes is a gray area at sea and the government of the Philippines is willing to turn a blind eye to these things. Compensation for injury or a lost limb while working in a cruise ship can be notoriously low, if they’re even awarded. Cruise work is also notoriously long with time off counted in hours rather than days. Despite all of this, however, Filipinos are willing to risk working in a cruise ship in order to send remittances. Looking at the salary of different cruise ship occupations, the lowest ones are more than double the average salary in the Philippines. Twice in Manila, I’ve chatted with bartenders in hotels, later learning that they both got their training working in cruise ships. Apparently, about 30 percent of OFWs work in cruise ships, tankers, or other shipping vessels.

So yes, God bless the OFWs. They are indeed heroes, working away from their families and opening themselves up to abuse and exploitation. If only the Philippines had a better economy and the lure of working overseas will no longer be as strong. Fortunately, business process outsourcing seems to be getting more and more popular in the country, with the Philippines being more attractive to businesses than India. I hope those jobs get to replace working overseas and that more people get to stay in the country with their families.

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Filipinos and Regionalism

Regionalism is defined as the consciousness and loyalty to a distinct region. Populations within countries are not monolithic. There is not one Canadian population, but a group of separate populations united under one nation. The same can be said about many countries. Even South Korea, a country whose population is quite homogeneous exhibits regionalism, rearing its head most often in politics and in dating.

The Philippines consists of over seven thousand islands. The biggest islands in the Philippines, Luzon, Mindanao, Samar, etc. are mountainous and tend to separate populations into different regions. This encouraged a multi-cultural environment where different languages and dialects developed. Out of these languages, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Ilonggo, Bikolano, Waray, Kapampangan, and Pangasinense became the most widely spoken, with Tagalog being made the official Filipino language. Of course, as a former US colony, you can add English to the mix of the most common languages in the country, but we’ll come back to that later in looking at regionalism.

Prior to colonization, regionalism already exists in the country. It is after all, only human to be loyal to the place where you were born and raised as well as to the people who speak the same language as yourself. Even when you go visit the Philippines right now, people who hailed from the same region tend to be more comfortable and have an easier time getting along. Ilocanos would be with Ilocanos, Cebuanos with Cebuanos. But when the Spanish colonized the country, they used regionalism to their advantage. They would favor one region over another in order to prevent a unified rebellion. With colonization comes the creation of Spanish Filipinos, the mestizos and mestizas. Now the term in current day Philippines can be used for any Filipino of mixed European, Chinese, or American ancestry, but back then it was exclusively for Spanish Filipinos who tend to be of a higher class compared to the general population. Interestingly, with languages, the Spanish occupation created a Spanish-based creole language, Chavacano, which today is still spoken by many Filipinos.

After the Spanish occupation, the United States introduced a different form of regionalism via immigration. This occurred in three waves: pre-World War II farm laborers (Hawaii, etc.), Filipinos in the United States Navy, and post 1965 family reunification and occupational immigrants (Espiritu, Y.L. (1995) Filipino American Lives). Filipinos began arriving in the United States during the occupation in order to study. These were either scholars sponsored by the government, and thus called pensionados, or those whose wealthy parents could afford to send their children overseas for higher education. It wasn’t until the United States started utilizing Filipinos as cheap plantation workers did migration significantly increase. The initial recruits where from Tagalog-speaking regions, then came the Ilocanos and the Visayans. When the Navy started recruiting Filipinos in their fleet, once again, it was most often the Tagalog-speakers who were often recruited.

The batches of immigration to the United States centered on specific regions created a gap in opportunity and wealth in the country. Now, even if a Filipino person can immigrate to the US today, their ability to create wealth is only beginning now, while someone from a different region already had generations of creating wealth and sending money back home.

So how does Filipino regionalism manifest itself right now? Well, like many countries, it created regional stereotypes that continue to this day. People from Tagalog and Kapampangan speaking regions tend to be more affluent. The capital of the country is in Manila, and with President Duterte being the first president not from a Tagalog-speaking region, he made a promise to institute a Federalist government and not focus all of the country’s wealth and development solely on the Tagalog-speaking capital. Tagalog-speakers have enjoyed quite the number of perks throughout history and to this day, they often employed people from poorer Visayan regions as cheap household laborers. Thus, Visayan is seen as a lower language. Visayans and Cebuanos in turn tend to be very proud of where they come from due to chips on their regional shoulders.

One time during a trip to the Philippines, I tested a rather harmless regional stereotype on a relative who is Ilocano (from an Ilokano-speaking region). His daughter was dating someone who was Kapampangan. Now, some Ilocanos believe that Tagalog and Kapampangan-speaking people tend to be braggarts due to their privileged history. Ilocanos in return are said to be notoriously thrifty because they had to travel to other regions, save up money, and send it back home. Without any knowledge of how his daughter’s boyfriend truly is, I asked him, “So I hear your daughter is dating a braggart.” With a sigh he goes, “Pretty much. He’s Kapampangan.”

Back to politics, voters tend to be swayed by regionalism as well, with people voting for the candidate most aligned to their region and language. It is why the election of Mindanao-born Duterte was monumental. Populism has defeated regionalism. Of course, regionalism in politics is not unique to the Philippines. South Korean politics is so heavily divided into regions when it comes to politics that I sometimes wonder why politicians even bother campaigning in a region that is so captured by their opponent. Every election, just like the United States, there are often only a handful of true battleground states.

When it comes to immigration, Filipinos can sometimes be regional as well. Sometimes those born and raised overseas are more comfortable associating with other natives, while newly-landed immigrants are more at ease with those of similar circumstances. Filipinos can sometimes feel insecure in the way they speak English, with Filipinos making jokes regarding mispronouncing or misappropriating English words. These jokes tend to be aimed at no one, but it can manifest into insecurity or a form of impostor syndrome, and seeing those who are more fluent in English to be more highly evolved or worldly.

What I find amusing is that sometimes, even in a foreign country, Filipinos will still find a way to group themselves into their regions. This is not to say that Filipinos will discriminate based on their ancestral region, but they will often be more at ease with those from the same background as them. Growing up in Canada, I was amazed and bewildered that my father founded a group for Ilocanos in the city. I was like, “Why?” and “How did you find each other?” But most importantly, “Isn’t there already a bigger group for Filipinos that is not exclusive to Ilocanos?” This is like me starting a group in Seoul specifically for expats from Winnipeg. What are we supposed to do in this group? Listen to Burton Cummings and talk about the Winnipeg Jets?

Just as black people are not a monolithic group, the same can be said for Filipinos. Scratch that. The same can be said for any population, really. There are Filipinos who get along well with other Filipinos, there are there are those who get along better with Filipinos from a specific region or from a common background, and sadly there are those that hate other Filipinos.

Blame the islands, the mountains, and years of colonization.

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Covid-19 isn’t free anymore?

Strawberry

I haven’t been very happy with the actions of some foreigners in Korea. As I wrote a few weeks ago, there’s been several reports of foreigners in beaches not wearing masks even when prompted by the police or given free masks by volunteers. There’s even been some arrests after some rowdiness during the July 4th weekend. It’s also, not uncommon to see foreigners not wearing masks as they wander around Seoul. As a foreigner myself, it makes all of us look selfish. Most people in the country are doing their part to contain the virus, and yet there are people around who walk around not wearing masks because “the country is safe.” It’s safe, thanks to most people wearing masks!

So now I understand why people might be annoyed with foreigners, especially since many of the cases of covid-19 now are getting caught in the airport from people coming in, both from foreigners and from Koreans coming home. But now I see that some people are pushing the government to charge foreign nationals for their covid-19 treatment as some form of punishment? Normally, the treatment is free for everyone, but I think some people believe that foreigners are taking advantage of this situation? I’m really not sure where the logic is here.

As of writing this entry, there’s about 14,000 cases of covid-19 in the country. 700 of those are foreign nationals. A couple of the article I read has stated that the treatment is causing an undue burden to tax payers, which is laughable sine the number of foreigners infected is quite small compared to the total number of cases. How much of a burden would that lighten if those foreigners were forced to pay for their treatment? According to the articles, government officials are saying changes will be targeting those who “intentionally cause a burden to the country’s quarantine and medical system.” The language is quite vague, but it’s notable that a couple of the big outbreaks were caused and hidden by Korean nationals. Also, threatening some sort of punishment to foreigners might discourage more from getting tested or properly treated.

As free as the tests are here, it is not really that simple to get a test. One must exhibit symptoms first for a prolonged period prior to getting tested. I am involved with several sensitive projects in my company, and when I learned that someone tested positive in a building I regularly visit, I tried to get tested afterwards. I got a big fat no. I was told to wait until I exhibited symptoms. Now, if I had covid-19 and was spreading the disease while I was awaiting symptoms, I would’ve been jeopardizing several projects and endangering lives. I was very much encouraged to not worry about it, but if I was indeed ill, does that qualify me as “intentionally causing burden to the medical system?” What if I was a foreign factory laborer who is in a more desperate situation? What if I simply was asymptomatic?

I think this is once again the occasional blaming of foreigners and enacting laws to punish them to ineffectively solve problems. I wrote several times about high profile child abuse cases and the way conservative Korean legislators acted was to force foreign teachers in the country to undergo mandatory AIDS tests, despite those cases not having to do with foreigners. Unfortunately, most of the Korean newspaper outlets online are conservative, so maybe I’m just reacting to the outrage among conservatives, but a part of me feels that when Koreans see dumb foreigners walking around not wearing a mask, it’s not a hard proposition to sell.

Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of crime against humanity by the Hague for his neglect with covid-19. He has recovered and posted a picture of himself holding hydroxychloroquine almost as a way to troll the whole world right before he drove off in a motorcycle not wearing a mask. It’s disgusting. How could the people of Brazil have this man as president over Lula da Silva, the man who raised the hungriest people in the country out of poverty?

And speaking of war crimes, Brazil is only second in covid-19 cases and deaths. The United States is still much higher in cases and deaths. It’s death rate is not as high as other countries, but that’s not saying much when you have the resources of the richest country in the world and you’re comparing the country to Spain, Italy, Peru, and Sweden. How come I don’t see Donald Trump being charged with neglect regarding covid-19? The man literally played golf as people died under his watch.

It is scary how China has been flexing its muscles throughout the world. It’s been trying to claim ownership over the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands for years now and it’s curious to hear what President Duterte of the Philippines had to say about this in his state of the union. He’s long been accused of kowtowing (haha, see what I did there?) to China, but when he said that he was inept in matters of war and that he can’t do anything when faced with China’s military might should they claim ownership of the South China Sea, it was very telling.

For one, no one is really talking about going to war with China. But for immediate effect, he goes straight to China’s military might in order to justify his helplessness in the matter. He is right to point out that these matters are best sorted out diplomatically, but you don’t start diplomatic negotiations by saying you are weak and inept. Other countries are facing up against China and they are not coming out as weak as Duterte appears. Taiwan, Vietnam, and Indonesia are not kissing Xi Jinping’s ring over the territory.

If anything, it shows how weak of a bully Duterte truly is. He can only lord over those who are weaker than him. He would extra-judiciously have suspected drug addicts and drug pushers killed, some of which are children, but cowers over forces that would literally take what his country has claims over. The country’s national anthem (Lupang Hinirang- The Chosen Land), much like “Oh, Canada” reads like a love song but ends with a very tragic, albeit romantic promise. The last verse goes “but it is glory, ever, when though art wronged, for us thy sons to suffer and die.” But Duterte, he doesn’t have the stomach for this. “Inutil ako riyan (I am useless there), and I am willing to admit it.”

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Wearing Me Down

Space Man

I was done worrying about the coronavirus. I was done. Dammit, this thing has been on my radar since January, and I was done. Granted, I haven’t really been too worried about it until there was a resurgence in South Korea after Valentine’s Day, but the fact that my office is still responding to calls from customers, re-scheduling, informing them about the virus, has got me tired. I’m tired of worrying about my health, about people’s health, about my job, about other people’s jobs. This constant atmosphere of high alert, it’s stressful. It’s like we’re witnessing another global historic event that will affect the way we do things, much like Sept. 11, except this one is dragging along through the year.

Last Friday, I went out with some friends. I think because of the sudden drop in temperature, I got a bit of a cold over the weekend, but I’m almost over it. I usually get really bad colds about twice or three times a year, but this one wasn’t too bad. Still, it didn’t stop me from being overly anxious about it. “Do I have it? Is this it? If Tom Hanks has it, then maybe I have it, too! After all, cases of infection have been documented around the neighborhood I work in. Am I endangering everyone right now? Am I going to be Internet famous as the Canadian guy who got everyone in his office sick?”

Korea’s doing well right now. It’s not quite like Singapore, but it appears that the government has got the whole thing under control. The infection rate has gone way down, and more people are recovering from the disease in comparison. People everywhere are still wearing masks, and we are constantly getting updates on television and online regarding the disease.

The problem is now that Korea and China are on their way to out of the coronavirus hole, the rest of the world is just experiencing the brunt of the disease. Looking at the numbers, Spain and Italy have gone past Korea in terms of infections. Germany, France, and the US appear to be catching up within a week’s time. These countries didn’t take the virus seriously. Just a couple of days ago, people were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, crowding bars and restaurants, despite news of the pandemic being ubiquitous.

Quite frankly, I think the reason why the rest of the world didn’t take it seriously for so long is because the initial victims were Asians. I suspect western countries saw it as a foreign matter. “It couldn’t happen here!” When WHO declared the coronavirus a global health emergency in January, they explicitly said it was not because of the tremendous number of infected people in China at the time but the few numbers of infected people in other countries. When the disease exploded in Iran, I don’t think people took that too seriously as well. The world has gotten too used to seeing dead Muslims. The WHO didn’t declare the disease a pandemic until the number of infected Europeans starting rising dramatically. That was March 11. Korea was already in the middle of getting the virus under control.

I think Japan is in denial as well regarding their strategy of suppressing their infection numbers by not testing as many people as they should. “It’s not a Japan problem. It’s a problem with other countries.” I realize it has a lot to do with politics as well as trying to keep the Olympics. But even if Japan looks good on paper regarding their infection rates, the rest of the world won’t be able to participate in the Olympics if they are dealing with the coronavirus come July. Just cancel the Olympics already!

So if Korea’s starting to look fine and the rest of world isn’t, why am I stressing about it? I’ll be okay, right? Well, not really. I have friends and family overseas. Aside from that, I worry personally about the economy. People are already predicting a recession in the US, and I can only imagine how that would affect the rest of the world. How would that affect the company I work for? Fear of the disease and self-isolation has already affected many of the industries here in Korea, particularly restaurants, bars, saunas, and gyms. But all of that, couple with the global economy is bound to affect me at some point. Whether I’ll still have a job next month or if my contract will be renewed at the end of the year worries me.

And even though there are good signs in the country, the constant flood of distressing news from abroad is stressful. I love Twitter, but right now, most everything on Twitter is about how Americans and Europeans are totally dropping the ball in responding to this pandemic. This is really the worst time to elect a failed casino owner as the leader of the free world. I wish I could insulate myself and just ignore all of the news out there. But when I look at some of my art friends who are oblivious to what’s happening, just going about their merry way, I get frustrated as well.

And speaking of art (this is still an art Web site), I haven’t stopped making art. However, I stopped looking for art shows to apply to. I imagine galleries are suffering at the moment. Who wants to attend an art opening right now? Same goes for theater productions. Luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity to get my work seen online.

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Hijacking the #MeToo Movement

Good Doctor

At 4:00 am, a couple is having drinks in a bar in Seoul. The franchise is known for its cheap drinks, thus it gets really crowded and tables are often close to each other. Because of this, and because it’s typical of people when they consume alcohol, people tend to be quite loud when they speak.  The couple gets harassed by a neighboring table. They were two women who for some reason started to harass the table. According to the couple, the two women have been exceptionally loud prior to them trying to ruin their neighbor’s evening. The couple decided to leave.

Not long after the couple left, a neighboring table of four men made comments at the two women. The group claims that they asked the women to quiet down and stop harassing other people. One of the women said that at some point, one of the men began filming them. The two women didn’t take this lightly and started arguing with the men.

The argument spilled outside when it got physical. Ultimately, it resulted in the two women getting seriously beaten and the police getting called. Everyone was arrested and now we have two conflicting stories and some people trying to tie the incident with feminism and the #MeToo movement.

I don’t care so much about the insults or the women’s claims that the men insulted them for them for not looking feminine. It was 4:00 am, people were drunk, and I am sure the two women must have hurled equally vile insults at the men. The women claimed that the men attacked them first, however, security camera footage proved that the women were the first to attack the men. I was never on their side, being obnoxious bar patrons, but this puts them in legal jeopardy and provides defense for the men. The men were trying to diffuse the initial situation (being good Samaritans), were initially attacked, and have a good argument for self-defense. The women were proven to have initiated the attack and are bad actors, providing false statements.

Korea doesn’t have a very good record when it comes to self-defense. Usually it is often the one who is most injured that gets compensation, which makes it wise for people to just walk away from a confrontation even after they have been physically assaulted (grabbed, touched, lightly hit) or threatened. There are self-defense laws, but in the country, it is often countered by laws over excessive force. I believe that at least one of the women thought that she could get away with physically assaulting a man and not have any repercussion due to the tendency of people to avoid physical confrontation and the unwillingness of most men to physically confront women. I’m in no way an MRA apologist, but I believe some women DO goad men into what they believe is an unwinnable trap, where men are either cowards for walking away or are monsters for hitting a woman. I think that these two women thought they could “win” the evening or satiate their bruised egos by putting at least one of the men into this trap.

Unfortunately for the men, it doesn’t look good that there are four of them and only two women. The excessive force argument is also pretty convincing. Most people could imagine four men easily defusing the situation with not as much injury. But if you follow that idea a bit further, the question becomes: what is the reasonable amount of injury is enough to diffuse an attack from a drunk and violent woman? You inevitably come to another trap. Are the courts and society at large willing to say that it is reasonable to lay a hand on a woman? In this day and age of feminism, equality, and the #MeToo movement, that would seem like a bridge too far.

It goes without saying however: it is never good to hit women! It is never good to hit people!

But in my opinion, allowing women the defense of being the weaker sex is in itself sexism. The women were proven violent instigators and they should be seen as that in the eyes of the law. The men’s actions don’t exist in a vacuum, and it should be seen as a separate case. The men would appear to be excessive in that early morning brawl, but that doesn’t give the women excuse for their earlier action. The problem is one of the women already started an online petition calling for an end to hatred against women. “The women were beaten up just because they wore no makeup and had short hair.” She is trying to make the case about men hating women instead of men hating obnoxious bar patrons who harass and physically assault other customers. And if they’re claim that men attacked them because they didn’t look attractive enough. Wouldn’t there be more evidence of this behavior? Perhaps other victims of this “gang’s” misogynist attacks, be it physical or verbal?  Or maybe other customers in the bar noting that the men were criticizing patrons for their looks? So far there’s been none. Just witnesses corroborating the men’s accounts and video footage showing that the women attacked first. Unfortunately, it would appear the women already have sizeable support on the Internet, turning the whole thing into a nationwide gender debate.

True sexism and misogyny is assigning the women weakness and freedom to harass other customers due their weakness. Being a woman does not allow anyone to lay a hand on a stranger free from consequences despite that stranger hurling insults. True sexism and misogyny is allowing incidents like this to be under the umbrella of feminism and the #MeToo movement when it has nothing to do with the movement. I’m a visible minority living in South Korea. If I initiated a physical altercation with two people and lost, I cannot immediately cry racism. It would be an insult to genuine victims of racism as well as a disservice to the fight against prejudice if other people took me seriously.

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Get Over Yourself

Loie

Look, America doesn’t have a monopoly on being the light of democracy, the beacon of hope, the shining city on a hill. Actually, it’s far from it. Since they elected their current president, with one tragedy after another, I keep hearing “we are better than this,” “this is not us,” and “not all Americans.” Now I do agree that Trump and his supporters are not ALL Americans, but I disagree with everything else. Particularly with what’s happening right now at the American borders, the separation of immigrant children and their internment in abandoned Walmarts, this is exactly what America is.

People often say that America’s original sin is slavery and white supremacy. But even that statement ignores a much earlier sin, the displacement and genocide of Native Americans. But just looking at the Trump presidency as a microcosm, there is a pattern which is very similar to the rest of America as a whole. The vilification of Mexicans, the Muslim ban, the attack on NFL players, the blatant disregard to the crisis in Puerto Rico, the splitting and internment of immigrant families… one key they have in common is the absolute vile treatment of people of color. If you’re not white, there’s a great chance you might have a shittier American experience. And again, not all of America is to blame for what is happening. But it is very telling that despite the crisis on the border being the top news item for a couple of days now, instead of Trump losing popularity, he actually gains favorability. Not only that, he appears to have more power among his political party. Being disgusting towards young, immigrant children and putting them in internment camps is proving to be quite good for Trump. Americans might like telling themselves that they are the land of the free and the home of brave, but those same free and brave people often allow awful things to happen right in their own backyard. This is not the first time Americans kept an internment camp. They did so just a few decades ago.

After the Muslim ban was announced last year, there were lots of protests. It was great to see people standing up for their Muslim brothers and sisters. Eventually, the courts ruled that the Muslim ban was unconstitutional, and the president’s own words betrayed the hateful intent of his policy. But since then, there hasn’t been much collective outrage and action over the many injustices which Trump has orchestrated. Why didn’t Americans march for Puerto Rico? Aren’t Americans marching every day for Flint, police shootings, school shootings, or any other issues? Heck, even when the Muslim ban was finally partially enacted, there was nary a protest. Did people just get tired? Were people distracted? Did the free and brave people have other plans that day?

Unless Americans can exorcise their demons, they really shouldn’t be allowed to wax poetic indulgently about being American. Americans can’t say, “this is not who we are. This is not what we do.” No, this is exactly what you do. America is the one person in the room with the most guns who regularly lets bad things happen to minorities. That’s just how it is. And I don’t want to sound too high and mighty, but as a Canadian, we have a long history of sins against our Native populations as well, but you will never hear me say that that is not what we are, that “we are better than this.” Canadians are vile towards their Native populations. That’s what we are, and we should be better than this.

I love Americans. I have friend and family in the US. My nieces are Americans. I really hope that their future America would be better than this. The America I see in the news is the ugliest I’ve seen in years. It can be ugly for people like me and my nieces. As a person of color, I’ve seen racism rear its ugly head in Canada and even here in Seoul. But as Americans, I worry about my nieces. I can handle racism. I’m old and I’ve seen it enough times to know how to roll with it. But they are still far too young. And judging by how the US government and Trump supporters are being vile towards child immigrants, it is apparent that not even children are spared from the dark ugliness of the American experience. In truth, my nieces are raised in a fairly privileged lifestyle. I like to think that they’re growing up in an environment where deplorables have very little chance to make contact with them.  But despite all of that, I fear that it only takes one ugly accident to ruin a person’s day if not a person’s life.

In any case, Americans really do need to get it together. This has gone on far too long. People used to joke that “Trump is bad, but at least he’s not building internment camps.” Well, the camps are now here. What do you do? Where are the free and brave people?

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The Confusing Korean Left

Little Boy

These are crazy times. The left wing of Korea is now a proponent of the alt-right’s agenda, specifically with Trump meeting with Kim Jung Un. President Moon Jae-In, in his quest for warmer relations with North Korea have unnecessarily entangled himself with Trump and Kim Jung-Un meeting next week in a summit in Singapore. When it was first cancelled, the extreme right wing in the country was celebrating, calling it a failure of Moon Jae-In. But now that the meeting is back on, it seems that the left is celebrating it as a “win” regardless of the consequences and what the summit exactly means for North Korean propaganda. If you told me that the left wing of Korea would push for a meeting between Trump and Kim Jung-Un two years ago, I would’ve called you insane.

Now I’m not necessarily against western leaders meeting with North Korea. What I am is extremely cynical of these things. First off, Trump agreed to a meeting without even having any concessions. They demanded total abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but there seems to be a disagreement whether North Korea agreed to this. And even if they did, it is very unlikely they would follow through with this, especially with Kim Jung-Un fearing Colonel Gaddafi’s fate after abandoning his nuclear programs.

Second, the Trump administration is not treating this very seriously. I really think they’re just pursuing this and hoping that they would somehow stumble into a peace agreement. Why do I say that? I say that because we’re weeks away from the summit, and we’ve yet to hear any realistic plan to slowly wean North Korea away from their current nuclear trajectory outside of Trump sounding like a genie, “you will be very happy, your people will be very happy, your country will be rich!” And I get very suspicious when clowns start popping in for the summit. There’s word that Dennis Rodman, Sean Hannity, and Sebastian Gorka (a Hungarian Nazi) will be covering the summit for Trump. It’s a damned photo op for conservative “win.”

And again, all of this while Trump makes trade wars with Canada, Mexico, and the EU (and Nikki Haley embarrasses herself in front of the UN).

I like President Moon Jae-In, I really do, but I think he’s got himself caught in a trap. Friendliness with North Korea doesn’t mean the South has to be a wingman for relations with the United States, not at this early stage anyway. It wasn’t too long ago when the North wasn’t too cool with the South. Now he is wedded to the political whims of Donald Trump and Kim Jung-Un. Should either man do anything to mess up the summit or sour relations with each other, Moon Jae-In’s enemies would quickly jump on that and use it to attack him. The promise of warmer relations with North Korea is tenable. The promise of peace with North Korea, while ideal, seems unrealistic under current circumstances. And anything short of peace and total nuclear disarmament (something which Trump initially suggested the North agreed to), Moon Jae-In will be attacked for.

In any case, the left should really step back and see what exactly they are supporting here. They are supporting “wins” for two men who will cynically use the meeting for short term political gains and propaganda. The “wins” for both Trump and the North is simply the summit itself. Both men attend the meeting, they shake hands, take pictures. Done. Nobel Peace Prize for one of the worst US presidents in modern history. Any failing from the follow through could just be waved of as fake news. The “win” for the South would take far longer, and proving it to be a “win” would be more substantive. This is a strange and hard gamble for the left.

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