Category Archives: Korea

Where Religion and Covid Meets

Abstinence

Back in 2017, after years of scandals and people protesting everyday in Seoul, Park Gun-Hye, the conservative president of South Korea and daughter of the former dictator Park Chung-Hee was ousted from her position, formally impeached, and sent to prison for corruption. She was sentenced for twenty-four years. The protests, which was key in removing Park, was fueled by the president’s inept response to the Sewol ferry disaster where 304 people, mostly high school students, died. This, plus her government’s push for censorship and the discovery that the daughter of a cult leader was unofficially acting as her right hand man and was privy to state secrets pushed people to the streets. It was a natural groundswell which started from journalism, to the Internet, to mainstream media and some celebrities openly pushing for her ouster, and down to the streets. The impeachment of Park Gun-Hye was even seen as a model for how some countries *cough, United States, cough* should handle massive abuse and corruption by the government.

Conservatives in the country afterwards saw these events and tried to emulate it. They tried to push for the impeachment of the current president on made-up charges. Coddling to North Koreans, being inept, being a criminal, anything. The charges were extremely inept since none of them were based on provable facts, and the current president was enjoying an extremely high approval rating when his opponents started to encourage the rallies. Every weekend, they rallied their supporters, mostly made up of senior citizens, to the same place where the former protests used to take place. The protests became a mixture of confused ideologies, Internet rumors, and religion. People walked around with the Korean flag, the American flag to symbolize freedom from the supposed dictatorship of the current president, and the Israeli flag for whatever reason. In some instances, there were even signs asking Donald Trump to bomb North Korea. So much for being patriotic and Christian.

I work near where these protests occurred. They’re supposed to happen only on weekends, but sometimes I would see them on Thursday and Friday afternoons as well. The place I work at is also close to a park popular among retirees. There, old people would congregate, wander about, and shop for useless wares and snake oil. I notice that the same people that walk around the park, are basically the same type of people going to these protests. Often, the people around the park would be carrying Korean and American flags as well.

See, these protests have become more like a social gathering for people. It’s a thing to do in the afternoon. I passed by these protests a couple of times and many people are just chilling. There are even snack and liquor vendors. The frustration and rage that political and religious leaders are fueling, I believe, tend to be more rooted to longing for a feeling of being in control, longing for a time when they were younger and more relevant to society… which is ironically back when the country was under a dictatorship. And really, there is no concrete reason to any of their demands.

A: Impeach the president.

B: Why?

A: Because he’s corrupt.

B: Really, why?

A: Because, uhm, *Insert this politician under him* was corrupt/caught in a scandal/etc.

B: Okay, but he was let go. That’s not the president.

A: Well, uhm, look at the economy! (and on and on we go.)

The people attending these protests are at best bored. At worst, they are stubborn, brainwashed morons. They are being taken advantage of by political and religious leaders. A few days ago, these protests and the mega church where one of their leaders con his followers became the spark that started another spike in covid-19 cases, much worse than the previous ones we had in the country. The religious leader, Pastor Jun, was diagnosed with covid-19. And even after being diagnosed, he was caught walking around, smiling, and not properly wearing a mask. Asked about the disease, he claimed that it was spread by North Koreans who aimed to sabotage his church and the movement. In Canada, this would be seen as a false claim of terrorism. It is irresponsible and illegal.

Now people who attended the rally as well as the police they clashed with, who had no choice but to be there, are now at risk of having the disease. Thousands of police officers are being tested, but tracing all of the people who attended the rally and members of the church is more challenging. Before all of this, doctors were already on strike, demanding significant change in the country’s medical infrastructure, as well as an increase in pay for working in remote areas. Just yesterday, a member of the church who was diagnosed with covid-19 escaped from his quarantine and was caught in a coffee shop. These people are insane. Things were already bad. Religious nuts, craven politicians, and brainwashed senior citizens just made it worse.

Again, South Korea is on high alert. People in Seoul are advised not to travel outside of the city. Masks are required in most workplaces and allowed to be taken off mostly only on one’s desk. Gatherings after work are discouraged. Gatherings of more than fifty people are discouraged. Church services are canceled, as well as afterschool academies. My Korean class was again canceled yesterday. I’m not sure when classes will resume. Many stores were closed yesterday. Clubs, sports facilities, karaoke bars, and PC rooms are closed. Personally, this virus has already cost me money this year, and Pastor Jun and his followers just cost me even more. The economy was going back up but this recent resurgence has brought the economy back down again.

The first case of covid-19 in the country was brought by missionaries who traveled to Wuhan and kept their actions a secret for days. It has spiked several times in many churches. And now, the latest spike is caused by one of the most politically influential churches in the country. I don’t know what it is they do in these churches that they often become vectors for the disease. I’ve gone to coffee shops, bars, schools, company buildings, and restaurants, and they don’t become vectors for the disease as often as these churches.

The nighttime landscape of Seoul is dotted with so many neon red crosses. Unless the government cracks down on these churches, which are technically businesses, this virus will spike again and again. The wonderful thing about God is that he is omnipresent. People could still talk to him at home.

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Coronavirus Life

Heart_apple

I didn’t realize that most of 2020 is going to be me reacting to the coronavirus. It’s been six months now since Korea woke up to Valentine’s Day with a spike in infections. Though New Zealand has been the only country to fully be rid of coronavirus infections, Seoul has been regarded by many as the gold standard in dealing with the pandemic, especially in terms of contact tracing, mask-wearing, social distancing, etc. However, to this day, Korea is still struggling to have infections lower than 30 a day.

A few weeks ago, the country was on its way to having zero daily infections, but after relaxing on rules on bars and clubs, a few clusters popped up. And now ironically, we’re experiencing occasional clusters cause a rise in infections, most often from religious gatherings. A lot of recorded infections are getting caught via the immigration process and are coming from foreigners, but those are at least getting caught coming in.

What’s annoying, is that many foreigners don’t seem to care much about local regulations regarding the virus. It’s not unusual to see foreigners walking around with no masks on. I was planning to go to Haeundae Beach in Busan, but then I see that the beaches are not only super crowded, foreigners are lounging around the beach insisting on not wearing masks even when prompted by authorities to do so. Just a few days ago, a group of foreigners with US military were shooting fireworks at buildings and people, basically ignoring the police who meekly tried to stop them. Ugh. Youth + coronavirus + hooliganism = gross.

Just last week, my evening Korean classes were canceled for the month because one student from a different morning class was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Fortunately, they traced the virus and found that he contracted it from his workplace, which unfortunately is just a few blocks from where I work. They traced his actions using the mobile app we use to enter our class, and through his credit card activities. They also looked at CCTV footage of him and found that he was wearing the mask the whole time he was in the building. This raised a big alarm for my company and I was worried that it might affect me or my job. It still might. I tried to get tested for the virus myself, but I was told that I needed to exhibit symptoms first in order to qualify for a free screening. If I was “just curious,” I would have to pay the equivalent of $120 US.

Now, I’m quite relieved at the amount of surveillance available to track the one person who canceled my classes for the month. I do realize that a lot of this would be impossible in the US or other countries. Not only is the infrastructure not there, but people would also be unwilling to have their privacy or personal freedoms breached.

I mentioned that I was planning to go to the beach. I’ve been looking to travel outside of Seoul for vacation this year since I won’t be able to travel overseas. I don’t really travel around Korea since it can be just as expensive as traveling abroad. Why pay big money to travel in Korea when you can use the same money to travel somewhere more exotic? And yeah, I’ve already done as many exotic things in the country as I can. It takes quite a bit to excite me. So yeah, I’m not too excited getting stuck in traffic going somewhere crowded within Korea this year.

Aside from my vacation, Korean education, and work being affected, I haven’t worked out in a gym for six months now. Though I try to watch what I eat, I could say I’m currently in the worst shape of my life. Living in a small Korean apartment, I don’t really have the space to work out. As for working out in gyms outside, that would still be ill-advised due to the coronavirus. We’ve been ordered to wear masks even while we’re working on our desks at work, and it’s been quite uncomfortable. I can only imagine how hard that would be in the gym or anywhere working out.

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A few interesting things of late.

The mayor of Seoul disappeared last Thursday. And after hours of searching he was found to have committed suicide due to the pressures of a recently opened investigation into allegations of him sexually harassing an assistant. An ally of feminist and progressive causes, it was a bit of a turn especially in the age of #Metoo.

I wasn’t aware of the allegations when I found out about the mayor missing. I remember I used to work with one of the mayor’s assistants, so I shot her a message, “Hey, where’s the mayor?!” just as a way to keep in touch. A couple of back and forts later, I moved on to other things. The next day, I learned that the mayor passed away. I also learned that he could potentially be a monster to women in his close circles. Then I go back that woman I was messaging the day before. Does she know? Has she heard rumors before? Surely, she must. Do I message back, “Hey, sorry about the news”? How do you respond in that situation?

An odd thing about Korean law is that once a suspect of an investigation commits suicide, the investigation is immediately dropped. Now, I have no dog in this fight. The left in country seem to be suggesting that the mayor was a victim of a smear job while the conservatives are trying to press for more investigations. As a westerner, I figure this shouldn’t be the end of the investigation but the beginning of one. A person is dead, and at least one crime might have been committed. Couldn’t the victim still press charges on his estate for damages if the allegations are true? Couldn’t she press and claim damages on his office? How many victims are there? Alternatively, if he is indeed the victim of a smear, isn’t that a crime in itself? I know defamation is a serious crime in Korea. They should be trying to root out this conspiracy if it exists. This is why there should be an investigation.

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ICE in the US is an evil organization. It has canceled the student visas of all international students if they’re only taking online classes due to the pandemic. They are thus trying to pressure schools to open classes and force the students to take the classes in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. This is pure evil. International students are a big source of revenue for schools so they are facing a risk of losing a huge chunk of funds for this year and the foreseeable future. Students on the other hand are now on a limbo. Trump has screwed with their future.

And as I was learning more about this, I also learn that ICE will now be training people on how to make citizens arrest. Great! Empower racists to make citizens arrest on brown people. As if things weren’t bad enough as it is with the police getting carried away with the power they have. Now they’re going to let loose a bunch of overeager racists with their guns on brown people just trying to get by in the middle of a global pandemic. Ugh. Maybe those international students are better off studying elsewhere. The US under Trump is becoming a hole.

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The Hobbyist

Hands Up

I don’t mind when celebrities later on in their career fancy themselves as artists and try to take up painting or photography. What gets to me is when they rely more on their celebrity status and the art they create and sell is clearly BS. I remember Richard Grieco, an actor who was famous in the 80s, had an art show with works clearly inspired if not poor copies of Pollock’s work. When asked about Pollock, he denied ever being inspired by him. Ugh. What a hack! Shows like these with garbage art amount to nothing more than expensive autograph sales.

Now back to 2016, there’s a story about a Korean singer-turned-artist who was charged with fraud. Cho Youngnam was “indicted of fraudulently selling artwork with his signature on it after having other people create most of the work and “doing only a small portion himself.” He was accused of paying a man surnamed Song to paint 21 pieces from 2011 to 2015, 17 of which he sold for a total of 153 million won ($126,000).

Cho claimed that it was common in the art world to have artists hire assistants to create most of the work. Initially, the court found that it was fraudulent for Cho not to divulge that his paintings were mostly done by his assistant. But then a higher court reversed the decision and proclaimed that buyers don’t need to know that the works were made with the assistance of another person, and the fact that there was an assistant was not an essential information in the sale.

A public plea session was held and it’s upsetting to hear Cho’s side argue that it’s customary for artists to have assistants do most of the work. For one, it’s not common. Second, their argument showed a lack of knowledge of art history or perhaps relied on the general public’s lack of knowledge of art history.

They cited artist Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ which was a simple store-bought urinal. The only thing the artist contributed was it’s positioning and the fact that Duchamp signed it. Duchamp was a pioneer of the Dada movement which used found objects in creating art. It was no secret that he was using objects he didn’t manufacture himself. Instead, he manipulated them and gave them new forms. ‘Fountain’ was created as a form of mockery of the Society of Independent Artist’s rule which accepted all works of art as long as the artist paid a fee. And honestly, looking at the number of pay-to-play galleries in Seoul. “Fountain” would serve as a biting critic of how the art world is, particularly in deciding who gets to have a show or not.

Cho was not making any statement regarding the material nor the process of his work. The fact that 90% of the work was done by a more skilled assistant was not part the work’s story. If Duchamp acted like Cho, Duchamp would have pretended to have moulded the urinal himself. It was a ridiculous comparison. If Cho wants to position himself as someone who thinks up concepts and hires other artists to fulfill his vision, he could very well have done that. Doris Salcedo is a famous installation artist who uses furniture. She famously stacked hundreds of chairs in an alley in her piece ‘Istanbul.’ She didn’t build all of the furniture herself, nor did she stack all of the chairs by her lonesome. Cho could’ve started out by doing the same. Instead, he marketed himself as a singer who found he had talent painting. He didn’t market himself as a singer who had ideas for paintings other more talented people could paint.

I grant that artists will have assistants and apprentices. One of my favorite sculptors is Camille Claudel, who was the student, mistress, and assistant to Rodin. Some may speculate that some of Rodin’s famous works have Claudel’s hand in them, but it is undeniable that even before Caludel, Rodin was already a known genius. Also, both artists shone as separate great artists, though Rodin’s shadow loomed large over Claudel. Cho is no Rodin. He is a rich singer who found a hobby.

I haven’t read the book in the article, Aesthetics Scandal, but I want to look at the pull quote, “The manner of conduct that the Korean art world showed during the process was regrettable. They provided the wrong information to the judiciaries for the first hearing. Saying that physical execution is crucial to art, that authorship lies in the skills of the execution, that fine art does not use assistants, that one is only allowed to use an assistant when the process of the work takes the theme as a meta experiment […] All pieces of wrong information that stemmed from a lack of understanding of contemporary art were used as evidence for the first court’s ruling. The art world is in need of self-reflection and introspection.”

I agree, there is so much nuance to art that it is unwise to say make sweeping rules regarding authorship. However, when it comes to law, defining fraud is much clearer. In Canada, “Every one who, by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether or not it is a false pretence… defrauds the public or any person, whether ascertained or not, of any property, money or valuable security or any service” commits fraud. How were the pieces sold? What was Cho’s compelling story regarding finding a new passion in visual art? Did he say he discovered he had a knack for painting of did he say he had a knack for coming up with ideas for his assistant to paint? Isn’t this just a visual arts version of Millie Vanilli? Someone else sang and recorded the songs, while two guys lip-synced and danced to them. For Cho, someone else did most of the hard work, while he painted a few corners and acted like an artist.

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A Long Wave

Busy

People need to stop talking about a “second wave” or “the next resurgence.” Outside of China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, the world is still pretty much dealing with the first wave. It bothers me that people have been itching for businesses to re-open, to get their hair cut or their nails done, only after a few weeks. So much so that there are protests in some countries which could inevitably spread the virus even further. South Korea has been dealing with the virus and social distancing since February. The rest of the world needs to calm down.

South Korea has been enjoying a good record on getting infection rates down. The country had zero local infections for a number of days. Then over the long weekend, one person came from out of town to Itaewon in Seoul and partied in five bars and clubs. He ended up spreading the coronavirus to a number of people. Just this morning, the number was 52 cases. Unfortunately, the area and a couple of the clubs are popular among the gay community. So contact tracing will be extremely difficult. People would be more secretive about their presence in the area compared to how tight-lipped people were about their relationship with the Shincheonji cult during after the initial outbreak this year.

The incident highlights the greed and hubris of some people, both the business owners and the patrons. Club and bar owners have been itching to get people coming in. I realize they have bills to pay and everything, but this rush to open and fill their venues with people paying in often un-taxable cash has inevitably hurt their business even more. Now the bars and clubs are forced to shut down.

A bit of history. Itaewon is multi-cultural district near the army base in Seoul. A few years ago, due to the music video “Itaewon Freedom,” it became a very popular hangout spot not just for foreigners but also the locals. It caused a lot of Koreans to start their own bars and restaurants and even pushed out many of the foreign establishments which gave the area its distinct character. Later, with news that the army base nearby will be shutting down, real estate prices began to rise dramatically, and many of the businesses began to shut down as well. The place is now filled with buildings being torn down, presumably for bigger buildings to be built. Business hasn’t really been good for the area recently due to a Japanese boycott and the coronavirus. The place looks like a shell of its former self if you walk around during the day. Then a few weeks ago, ‘Itaewon Class,’ a popular webtoon-turned-K-Drama gave the area a bit of push, especially since the drama focused on upbeat nightlife and gorgeous young people. Unfortunately, I think the bar and club owners got ahead of themselves. Many clubs opened with sanitizers at the door and masks laughably “mandatory.” And now with these businesses being forced to closed, the area is dead both during the day and at night.

It annoys me how lame (yes, LAME) the people who insist on clubbing and partying during the pandemic are. Can’t they read the room? And yes, I’ve had my clubbing phase before, but I’m sure the minute someone tells me that masks and sanitizers are mandatory, I’d probably cool it a little bit. How fun could it be going out and partying wearing a mask outside of Halloween?! There are other ways to get laid! Or better yet, DON’T get laid. Stay in for a few days. It won’t kill you (It won’t kill your old relatives either). Even Pornhub is famously helping by providing their premium content for free. It annoys me still that with Itaewon bars and clubs closing, many are going to Gangnam and maybe even Hongdae to party. This is utter hubris. This is the Korean version of spring breakers in Florida.

And now people are on alert again. One of the infected happens to be US military as well. A few are foreigners. More than ever, people are talking about how many foreigners in the country seem to walk around thinking that they are invulnerable to the virus by not wearing masks. They don’t seem to understand that the reason why the masks and the whole sanitation and social distancing works is that if everyone does it, the greater the chance it will be effective. They can afford not to wear a mask because everyone else is. And that’s just being a selfish, ethnocentric ass hat. At least wear one because “when in Rome…” A collective effort is how Korea managed to get its coronavirus situation under control. It’s when actors stray from this collective effort that leads to an outbreak: the cult breaking protocol, and now with these dumb clubs.

It annoys me even more that the incident is probably reinforcing the stereotype of foreigners (and perhaps gay people) being too carefree or not being serious people. Just this morning, I was encouraged out of nowhere to tell my friends who went clubbing over the weekend to get tested. Huh?! Why me?? For years, people assume I have connections to the club/party scene simply because I’m a foreigner.

The thing is, even during the worst of the pandemic. I still went out to restaurants. I still went out to bars. But the establishments I go to are around my neighborhood. They are in the community which I would probably have contact with at some point since work was never really shut down for me. I don’t think it’s smart to travel, go to crowded places with other people from out of town or wherever, and inadvertently spread the virus. People still need to be wary of spreading the virus and not indulge in overly unnecessary risks.

So with Korea reeling and in a bit of a panic over the recent (hopefully) mini outbreak, why are other countries so confident that they can ride through it like more people won’t get infected? I realize companies want people working just so they wouldn’t cover their unemployment insurance costs, but other than that, how do you explain everyday Joe-Schmoe itching to go out there, get a haircut, and maybe catch the virus and kill grandma? There’s no second wave, folks. Korea, which is a model country in terms of the coronavirus is still dealing with the virus like it’s the first wave. Businesses are still hurting. People are still strapped financially. But with much of the virus still being unknown, it’s really best to just stick to social distancing and calm down for a bit. Get used to this new life for a while. I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say that while I still have a job. But, I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long and painful ride, and pushing life to normalcy regardless of the risks would simply make things worse.

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Money for the People

Buddha

In Canada, people in need during the coronavirus crisis would be given $2000 a month for four months. I’ve read from people going through the process and even read through the guidelines, and it seems simple enough. Not everyone would qualify of course. The program is targeted towards those who have lost their jobs or are struggling because of the lockdown. It’s not a free for all. Someone I know who hasn’t worked for ten years asked if they qualify for monetary assistance. As someone who is essentially retired and hasn’t paid income tax forever, he doesn’t really qualify. This is Canada taking care of it’s most vulnerable citizens. Coupled with universal healthcare, I think it’s not that bad. It could be better, but it’s still good.

In the US, they have a similar program which gives out $1200 to people help them out. Other countries have assistance programs of different amounts. How much each program actually helps is debatable, but the concept is all the same. People have lost their jobs or are not earning as much. They need help. Also, money needs to be moving around in order to maintain the economy. It shouldn’t just be static, otherwise there will be greater effects in the long run.

South Korea just unveiled a stimulus package that would help the lower 70% of the population. It’s a lump sum of 1000 Won to help people in the form of vouchers or check cards. As little as I earn, I don’t really qualify for assistance. I’m still currently employed and working every day. And though things have been tighter in the past couple of months, I’m still able to pay my bills and go out once in a while. I don’t really begrudge others for getting benefits. I’m just grateful that I’m still in a comfortable position not to require it.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the tone in the past few days in the country. Many people who are against the Korean president are complaining that he is essentially buying the support of people right before the upcoming elections. Also, many are complaining that it is unfair that the “bonus” is not universal and that they do not qualify. There’s also a conspiracy theory that the flattening of the curve in the country is a complete lie designed to make the current administration look good.

Well, first off, buying the support of people prior to an election is what every politician does in terms of their promises. Telling people that they’ll lower taxes, improve the economy, or whatever will ultimately impact the voters’ bank accounts. Offering the lower 70% a small financial assistance in the midst of a crisis is the least a country could do in the current situation. I just walked through a neighborhood near my workplace and it’s depressing to see all of the business that were shuttered due to a lack of tourists. People need financial assistance and more. This undeniable reality has become so evident that just recently, all of the parties have adopted some sort of financial assistance platform to help individuals.

Regarding artificially flattening the curve. Anyone who trumpets this doesn’t really follow politics well. An administration facing a crisis would more often see a rise in approval levels than not. George Bush saw his poll numbers rise during 9/11. Even Donald Trump is enjoying a rise in his poll numbers. A country in crisis would naturally root for their leader even if they don’t normally support him or her. You want your country to succeed. If Moon Jae-In is artificially deflating the number of infections, then he is going to make it a non-issue prior to the elections. This is similar to how Japan tried to make coronavirus a none-issue prior to the Olympics. The problem with this however is two-fold. One, once the coronavirus becomes a none-issue, it opens up the field to people who can criticize and proclaim they could’ve done better without much consequences. If you were in power, wouldn’t you want this right after an election? Second, if the lie becomes too untenable, then the political backlash would be so much worse. Moon Jae-In and his administration doesn’t have to worry too much at the moment. Well, not so much that they need to resort to shady tactics.

Anyway, I don’t want to delve into too much Korean politics. I’m just happy that some people are getting some help, sad that they are not getting enough, and grateful for every day that I’m able to work. And as for complaining about some people getting benefits while others don’t. One should look at their neighbor’s plate only to see if they have enough food to eat, not to check if they have too much.

 

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Coronavirus Prejudice Zits

Ceiling Monster

So I wanted to book an appointment with my dermatologist, and BOOM, right there, instant racism!

Sorry, sir, but it’s difficult to make appointments with foreigners right now. I know you’ve visited us before but because of the coronavirus, we are not allowing foreigners in the clinic.”

Now, the clinic I go to is often filled with children and it appears that they are dealing with various forms of eczema, which is quite common in the country. I imagine the clinic’s hesitation with having foreigners in the clinic is to alleviate parents’ worries who might be harboring some prejudice regarding foreigners, thinking that they are infected with the coronavirus. They don’t want to risk being in a room with a foreigner because, “you never know.” Or maybe that’s just the clinic being xenophobic on their behalf.

I am a Canadian in South Korea. The clinic knows this. I also spoke with a clear North American accent. It is very ironic that the country which is currently being shunned by most of the world due to fears of the coronavirus somehow finds a way to shun foreigners who found a way to stay and live in country despite the widespread fear and paranoia. Now, I understand the sentiment and the situation. This is not my first experience being subject to institutionalized xenophobia in the country, so I’m not about to raise Cain. It’s just that it’s always amusing whenever I encounter it. It’s like seeing a strange but somewhat familiar-looking animal… an animal which happens to stink.

See with this virus, there’s enough xenophobia for everyone to go around. First there’s the prejudice against the Chinese. “Oh they eat bats and other strange animals.” Then there’s the prejudice against Koreans. The Japanese government are now trying to paint Koreans as particularly risky potential carriers of the disease. They’ve canceled Korean visas and are now forcing visitors to go on 2-week quarantines. But while Koreans can complain about being victims, they are also trafficking with their own prejudices, prejudices which kept me from getting a prescription of pimple cream a few minutes ago.

I can only imagine how it is right now with Iranians in the US or with Italians in Europe. Actually, I don’t think think Italians would be subjected to much prejudice anywhere despite them now being the second country worst hit by the disease (That is officially with testing. Compared with countries who don’t test, who knows?!). Let’s be honest, Italians are white. This day and age, the image of disease vectors is a prejudice exclusive only to visible minorities.

Oh and about the disease, people are still on high alert despite the rate of infection going down in the past couple of days. Some politicians are cautiously optimistic that the worst is over, as long as there’s no resurgence in other parts of the country. I hope so, too. This heightened paranoia is not doing my skin any good. Add to that the economic anxiety brought about by the stock market crashing this morning and I’m about to break out like a fourteen year-old kid.

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The Panic is Real

Ceiling Monster

It’s been going on for weeks now, but the sudden upsurge of coronavirus cases which began from that church in Daegu has resulted in what I could only describe as a proper widespread panic.

First off, next to my office, they’ve expanded the customer service department and people have been answering phones non-stop… changing schedules, updating customers, etc. It’s become a bit of an irritant, as my quiet office is suddenly abuzz with telephone rings, chatter, and people milling about back and forth.

Everyone in the office is advised to wear a mask. The department head instructed me directly to wear one. I often get away with skirting the rules, but with this one, it’s getting more noticed than usual. Aside from the mask, I just learned that we’re supposed to get our temperatures checked when we enter the building in the morning and for some peculiar reason, go to the tenth floor to have it recorded by a clerk there. This one, I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Besides, I should get a pass on this. I’ve been pumping Purell on my desk long before it became fashionable. I’ve also been campaigning against using those disgusting fingerprint scanners we have in the office.

My building has been sprayed several times for viruses. Even last night, the elevator smelled of disinfectant. I’m assuming this added zeal is also because they found cases of coronavirus in the neighborhood I work in. Because of those cases as well, there are not too many people walking around outside, a very touristy neighborhood which would normally be busy with Chinese tourists and food vendors. It’s actually quite eerie.

People have been buying canned goods, instant noodles, and bottled water, thinking that they might be forced to stay indoors for an indefinite period in the future. Masks, while generally available, can be sold out in some stores or available at an inflated price. And speaking of masks, most people outside are wearing them. My train commute is normally packed with commuters, which I imagine is a promising vector for a viral infection. This week, there’s noticeably fewer commuters. I believe this is because many companies have advised their employees to stay at home and telecommute for at least a couple of days.

A company I worked for had its headquarters shut down a couple of days for disinfection. This is because a neighboring building had an employee who was diagnosed with the virus. Many buildings are connected by underground tunnels lined with shops and restaurants and perhaps even a pathway towards a nearby subway station. This makes an infection in one building a cause for concern for the whole neighborhood since many company employees use those tunnels not only to travel between buildings but also to eat lunch.

Classes have been delayed for a week. My Korean class next month is delayed and could potentially be canceled depending on how many people sign up. Attendance to after-school programs have been down since many parents would prefer their children stay at home. I haven’t seen Chinese students in the institute I attend. In fact, I think the attendance of adult students has been down as well.

No one is going to movie theaters or amusement parks. This must be a huge boon for Netflix which was just introduced to the country last November. And speaking of business, the virus is hurting many big Korean companies especially ones relying on their ties to China, be it import and export or tourism. I just hope that this would be the final lesson for these companies to diversify already and not be too dependent on the Chinese. They should’ve learned this lesson many years ago after the THAAD fiasco. These big businesses will survive however. I’m more concerned about small businesses that are currently suffering because of people choosing not to go out for fear of catching the virus. The lady I used to buy sushi rolls from on the subway station hasn’t been there for days. I hope she’s okay.

It has affected me financially as well. Usually, I’m involved in many side projects starting in January. It’s almost March and many of them have either been canceled or delayed ultimately due to the coronavirus panic. People don’t want to be near other people if they can avoid it.

Some churches have canceled in-person services. Instead, people are asked to view services streamed online, an odd mixture of religion and technology.

The government has instructed weekly protests in the city centers to be halted momentarily. Last weekend however, far rights groups still staged a protest near my workplace in defiance of the government order. They believe the government is using fear of the virus to quell political dissent. The protesters are mostly senior citizens manipulated by charismatic leaders pandering to them. You’ll often see them on weekends waving the Korean, American, and Israeli flag demanding that the Korean president be impeached for whatever reason.

Some Koreans are complaining that the government should have temporarily banned all Chinese nationals from entering the country, not just ones from Wuhan. I’m willing to bet however that these same people will be the first ones to complain about Koreans being detained overseas or prevented from going to their country of destination. Right now, a group of Korean travelers are being prevented from entering Israel. It’s caused a minor stir in the country.

Not many people are traveling overseas. I know people who are getting married this summer and they haven’t been really that thrilled talking about honeymoon plans. The price for tickets to China however has risen due to Chinese nationals wanting to go home and many destinations to China being unavailable due to travel advisory. I’m not too keen on traveling either. I wasn’t too keen on traveling to Japan earlier, but now even less, especially after seeing how Japan is currently bungling their handling of the virus. I imagine this is going to be a disaster for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics which they’ve been hyping for so long now. Personally, I think this is a good thing. I believe the Japanese government is not being truthful regarding the current danger left by the Fukushima disaster. They’re going to use the Olympics to whitewash their failed effort to properly contain the radioactive contamination. I also believe that the Japanese government is using the Olympics to bolster their right wing nationalist agenda.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I’m not really too concerned about catching the virus. I believe it is still very much hype at the moment despite all of the events I described. Still, I don’t want to be the one who catches it and spreads it to everyone I know. Imagine the constant nagging I would hear from people if I do catch it. I don’t think it would be good for my resume either. I just want all of this to be over soon. This virus is not good for business.

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The Log Jammed in your Democracy

Rat King

Matthew 7:3, And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

The US has always prided itself as a champion of democracy. Americans are not shy with hyperbole. “The US is the greatest country in the world.” President Ronald Reagan called the country “the shining city on a hill.” Just last week, I kept hearing that the US Senate was “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” There are several reasons for Americans to get involved in the internal affairs of other countries outside of their own global interests, with the most noble being to spread democracy and uphold the rights of the locals being abused by a tyrannical rule. Sure, the Bush administration lied about the existence of WMDs, but the invasion of Iraq was also sold as liberating its people. This is why the toppling of the Saddam’s statue was such a monumental image at the time. The Americans were being “greeted as liberators.”

This same promotion of democracy was the reason for getting involved in Iran, the Philippines, South Korea, El Salvador, Vietnam, Libya, etc. Of course there are different geopolitical self-interests in each theater, but the most prevalent way of selling intervention is the promotion of democracy and that the Americans are doing it for the good of the locals in the long run.

Spread democracy, sure. Ironically, the same senate that calls itself “the world’s greatest deliberative body” has stalled hundreds of bills passed by the House and simply gave Donald Trump a free pass after an absolute sham trial with no witnesses. It has given Donald Trump, a failed casino owner and an admitted sexual predator, freedom to commit crimes and be an unchecked dictator. When Robert Mueller decided not to definitive state whether Donald Trump committed a crime, Donald Trump immediately started to extort Ukraine to cheat on the 2020 elections. And now when the US Senate decided no to indict Trump for extorting Ukraine and trying to cheat on the 2020 elections, Trump immediately begins exacting revenge on witnesses who decided not to participate in his cover-up. He also orders the Attorney General to pressure the justice department to be lenient to his conspirators.

The US president holds full control over the Senate, a body made conservative due to a heavily gerrymandered process. He control the justice system with an Attorney General who will nakedly do his bidding for him and a stacked Supreme Court with two conservative judges brought in under very questionable circumstances. And right now, the Democrats on the House are too slow to act and to weak to boldly counter the President’s criminal actions. They’re also too busy attacking their own and propping up Pete Buttigieg, an ex-mayor with very little experience but comes with heavy corporate backing. It’s almost like they want Trump to win in 2020.

Donald Trump attacking witnesses and nakedly trying to help his lackeys a few days after not being indicted is a sign of unaccountable abuse of power. And who could blame him? He has never once shown any sign of restraint, ethics, or grace. He has never shown any sign of learning any lesson or demonstrated contrition. His behavior will only get worse until he finally makes true on his previous boast of being able to shoot someone on broad daylight in the middle on Fifth Avenue. Cowardly and corrupt Republicans as well as the weak and feckless Democrats allowed this to happen. This past week, we witnessed the full realization of a dictator ruling over the shining city on a hill. Even Jesse Watters, a conservative talking head, could plainly see it, “It’s fun living in a banana republic, isn’t it guys?”

A political commentator asked, “We saw what happened when South Korea’s Democratic Republic was threatened. We saw what happened when Hong Kong’s Democracy was threatened. What will we do?

The Americans will do nothing. Americans don’t have the patience or the attention span to do what the Koreans did or what the courageous students in Hong Kong are continuing to do. Koreans were able to oust their corrupt leader in less than a year. It took a long time to get through the Ukraine scandal and even longer for the Mueller investigation… and yet Trump is unscathed and currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The march towards November is long and sad, and if things continue the way they do, we will see four more years or more of Trump being the first American dictator. I love the law. I love the study of law. It hurts to see the rule of law being ignored completely and have a country which models itself a champion of democracy devolve into a cheap criminal enterprise.

Maybe before the US gets more involved in conflicts overseas in order to spread democracy, it should try to fix its own democracy first.

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Striking Viral Gold

Calendar

Lately, there’s this new mascot in Korea has skyrocketed in popularity. Pengsu is a headphones-wearing penguin that does 10-minute man-on-the-street skits produced by EBS, the Korea Educational Broadcasting System. Unlike a lot of Korean comedy, the character is able to attract both young children and adults with his witty ad-lib free of sexual overtones, cursing, or slapstick.

I must admit, I too find him amusing. The whole set-up is reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen skits. Talk to someone for a few minutes, move one, rinse and repeat. He also has recurring things he comes back to, basically building his own world simply by virtue of the story he spins.

Much like PBS, EBS survives through sponsorship and advertisement. Because they’re mainly focused on education, they’re not as attractive to companies compared to other bigger broadcasting companies in the country. The character Peng-su’s surge in popularity not only because of the character itself but also due to the story of an educational character crossing over to the viral mainstream. And that is one of the things that interest me most about the character. A lot of the character’s fans are quite keen on speculating on what products the character would or should endorse in the future. Already, I’ve seen news stories of companies courting the creators of the character to ink a deal to start hawking their merchandise.

Now I know that some characters or some shows are always in danger of not having enough funding to continue. It’s always difficult finding funding for the arts. But to me, the Peng-su phenomenon is akin to having a viral tweet or Instagram post. When an unknown account suddenly goes viral with one tweet, it is often followed by either the original poster advertising something in response to the sudden popularity or just shrugging it all off and linking to something innocuous. That attitude of “BAM! You’ve hit the big time, not milk this for all it’s worth” is so pervasive that it’s a tad off-putting. Now, I know that this has been going on since the very beginning of mass media, but now it’s almost the very first thing one thinks of the minute they get a hint of fame (or infamy even). And now it’s even come to cartoon mascots. It’s a bit weird. I mean, I enjoyed cartoons and different characters and media when I was younger, but not once did I think they should trade their fame for more advertising revenue. G.I. Joe was already selling me action figures. I didn’t think they should advertise McDonalds just so they could eke out more episodes. Sesame Street could easily survive if Big Bird started selling life insurance.

I’ve seen this kind of talk with athletes before in the country. And this I understand. The champion figure skater Kim Yoona was super popular (and still is) in the country and her fame coupled with her good looks made her a magnet for advertisers. And good for her, too. Athletes only have a few years to capitalize on their fame, so she did well with her advertising and she didn’t overdo it either.

I remember Howard Stern once saying, “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” Which is him saying just because you can be part of any sort of project just to make a few dollars, doesn’t mean you should say yes to everything. You can afford to not be part of everything. You can afford to say no. Which is more than I can say with some celebrities in Korea. There are times when the media just keeps on pumping the same set of people again, and again, and again. Sure, they might think their current popularity has a very short lifespan, but during that lifespan, I’m already sick of their face on television (Yes, I’m sick of Park Na-rae). This is one reason why I get easily put off by Korean television. It’s the same people again and again until you get sick of them.

Now, I do hope this Peng-su character lasts for a while. If anything, his popularity shows that there is more to Korean television than singing, people eating, or fake reality show BS. It’s also good to see a character be successful fueled mostly by wit. It’s a good departure from the standard brand of stand-up comedy you would see in Korean gag comedy.

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Night Club Diary

Thyroid

I have always enjoyed David Sedaris’ work, be it on his occasional contributions to This American Life or his books. I’m not sure if I said it before, but I always wished that I was born a Sedaris. How fun it must be to have Amy Sedaris as a sister. Anyway, his book Me Talk Pretty One Day really connected with me because I am also trying to study Korean, and just like him at the time, my relationship with the language moved from utter despair and confusion, to learning to live with and be amused at how dumb I must sound.

The dumb fish out of water experience added with the awkwardness of the language. Let me present a semi-fictional minute-by-minute autobiographical chronicle of a club-going experience in Suwon, a satellite city of Seoul. This was written in Korean, Google-translated to English.

6:34 pm I met my boss’s son. He came with two friends. His English name is “Yun”. I said it’s not an English name. “English, no! English, no!” He was a bit angry about it. “English, yes!” he insisted.

7:50 pm After dinner, I went to the club in Suwon. I thought it was too early. In the club there was no one.

8:00 pm In the club there was no one yet. The club gave us watermelon and bananas. Because loud music my head hurt.

8:32 pm The waiter brought two women outside. They didn’t seem happy. Yun how to drink taught us. I called it Titanic.

8:47 pm Two women left. In the club there was no one else.

9:03 pm Yun said he needs patience to succeed. He started studying English with me.

9:16 pm The waiter picked up three women from outside. It was like they came from a birthday party. I brought a half-eaten cake.

9:20 pm Yun wanted me to shake the “gangsta” handshake on the girls. I don’t know that. I’m really angry.

9:28 pm Three women left. They forgot the cake.

9:30 pm I learned the price of drink. A bottle of shochu was 7,000 won. A bottle of Cass was 10,000 won.

9:41 pm I finished the cake. Yun said he needs confidence to succeed.

9:49 pm The waiter brought two women outside. They seemed really drunk. Yun talked about the military experience. Although his story was passionate, they seemed boring.

10:02 pm Two women left. In the club there was still no one else as there was a ghost.

10:03 pm I realized that Korean club is so different than Canadian club.

10:32 pm In the club there was still no one else yet. Yun’s friend we go to the Salsa Club suggested. Yun forced me to go with them.

10:45 pm We left. The fruit bowl was 50,000 won. The fruit is very expensive! Yun said he paid. He is my brother.

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