Category Archives: Korea

Itaewon Halloween

I don’t think I need to explain what happened last Saturday in Itaewon. It’s a tragedy and it’s amazing that such a thing could happen in an open area with no obvious catalyst. In any case, let me just quickly go about with my musings.

First off, I appreciate all of the calls of concern I got from people. I live near the area and I could easily have gone to celebrate Halloween that night. Fortunately for me, I had a very busy week, and I wasn’t really in the mood to go out for Halloween night. Also, the tragedy happened on a Saturday. The big Halloween parties usually happen on Friday nights in Itaewon. I’m guessing the crowd was bigger on Friday night than it was on Saturday, so it’s a mystery as to why the tragedy occurred on Saturday while nothing happened on Friday.

And yeah, when the tragedy happened, I was out having a meal and drinking somewhere else close by. I was so tired, I was home by around nine, watching crime shows on Netflix. The gravity of the news didn’t really hit me until the next morning.

Itaewon has a really interesting history. It was first seen as the foreign underbelly of Seoul. While popular, people would rather hang out in other, more hip places. Itaewon was simply just a place for foreigners to hang out. Then the song “Itaewon Freedom” came out and made it a popular place among the locals. Halloween made it particularly popular, with people dressing up and everything. A sexy nurse here, a Harley Quinn there… it was prime fodder for social networking material.

Then covid hit, and many of the bars and restaurants were forced to closed down. Several places I used to frequent are no longer around. Many of the small restaurants and buildings have been demolished, and now a lot of spaces in Itaewon are under construction, bound to be giant buildings or office spaces in the next couple of years. Last year, people started to be more comfortable going out in Itaewon. Business was starting to pick up. People even celebrated Halloween, I remember. But this year, with this thing happening over Halloween, I’m afraid it’s going to once again scare some business away from the area. After all, who wants to party where over 150 people died in one night? It’s such a grim scenario.

There are videos online of people chanting “push, push, push” as the crowd tried to move, regardless of what was happening a few feet from people. People don’t directly see what’s happening a few feet from them, so they could be unwittingly crushing someone as they’re going with the crowd which is chanting “push, push, push.” A smaller version of this happens every day in trains. I experience it regularly. People would push their way in, not considering the people already inside, regardless of whether the train is already packed. These people would ignore the discomfort their causing and pretend everything is normal as they hug the doors of the train. Selfishly, these same people would not move out of the way or just step out of the train for a bit whenever people want to get out, probably in fear that they would not be able to push themselves in a second time around. When a simple “실례합니다 (Shil-leh-ham-nee-dah)/ Excuse me” wouldn’t do, I have to resort to “Get out of my damned way.”

Now imagine about a hundred of these train jerks in the Halloween crowd just starting to push themselves through in one direction. One pusher multiplies his/her force via domino effect. Now imagine a hundred more pushers going on the opposite direction, unwilling to compromise, pretending that each push is not inconveniencing or hurting other people, the same mentality of the person squeezing himself in at the crowded train door. Then add in a chant of “push, push, push.” Push, push, push. Then you can stop wondering why such an incident could happen.

On April 16, 2014, a ferry, the MV Sewol, full of high school students sank in Korea, killing 360 people. In memory of the tragedy, people wore yellow ribbons. People are already comparing the Halloween incident to the Sewol incident, and now I see black ribbons online for the tragedy. It is certainly something that has shocked the nation and made them aware of life’s fragility. I think this will be seen in the same light in the future, the same collective PTSD. Right now, the small alleyway and the are around it is still closed off to the public. Who knows what will happen to the area in the future once things have settled down. Will businesses be affected? Will people still go to Itaewon to have a good time?

Some people in the government are blaming the tragedy on the lack of police presence to prevent such tragedy. I’m not sure if more police would have prevented the tragedy. I don’t think young people and definitely inebriated foreigners wouldn’t pay much attention to Korean police. They have such a weak presence in the country and don’t really command that much authority.

The lack of police presence could be attributed to political rallies happening close by. The president moved his political headquarters close to Itaewon, and it made the area a hotbed of protests and counter protesters during the weekend. Who knows, maybe if the president was more popular, there wouldn’t be too many protests. And there would’ve been more police available for the Itaewon Halloween celebration. It’s an interesting “what if,” but as I mentioned, I’m not sure more police presence would’ve prevented the tragedy.

Will this prevent future Halloween celebrations in Itaewon? Probably not. There would probably be a memorial set at the alleyway where the tragedy happened, but as for young people partying, I don’t think there’s no stopping it. If not Itaewon, there’s always Hongdae and other places. You don’t have to look far really. Hebangcheon is just a few minutes walk from Itaewon, and it’s filled with bars and foreigners (though not clubs).

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About Covid

It’s been a while since I’ve done a coronavirus update, so here it is. It’s been over two years now, and I still haven’t caught it. Knowing someone who’s caught it is much more common these days, so is getting over it without much complications. I think taking the vaccine helps, and the treatments have gotten much better. My sister-in-law here and her family caught the virus from a daycare center, and they’re all much better now. I got coworkers and acquaintances here who caught it, too.

My bestfriend in Canada caught the virus, too. She seems to be doing well, but it shows that the virus is still out there causing trouble.

And me, I’m still successfully dodging that bullet.

They’re giving out second booster shots now to people who want it, but only to a certain age. A lot of people didn’t even bother getting the first booster because not long after they made the booster available last year, they made vaccine passes no longer necessary.

For a while, cases in the country were down to around 10,000 a day, which was quite low. People have begun to relax more as open public mask mandates have been lifted, although it is still required in closed public spaces. Even in the office, I see people occasionally taking off their masks when sitting around their desks. It just doesn’t seem to be something people worry too much about anymore.

There are no more limitations to gatherings, nor are there curfews. Once again, drunk people roam the streets and ride the trains of Seoul late at night. That’s one thing I kinda miss about the pandemic. The people and quiet at night. That, and the obligation to finish drinking at 10:00. I know, I know. That’s early. But I’m getting old, and going out for drinks has gotten pretty expensive these days.

I’ve been able to go to the gym these days, too. Finally. I haven’t regularly worked out in two years. Just doing push ups and ab rollers at home. People still have to wear masks however, but I come in super early and I tend to work out without a mask on when no one is around. Shhhhh!

When it comes to traveling though, some people are still wary, while a significant number of Koreans are taking the first opportunity to travel that they can. Some countries don’t require negative tests nor visas to enter, but South Korea still requires negative PCR tests to allow people in. My sister will be visiting on September and she’s got herself a visa. So yeah, tourism is slowly making a comeback in the country.

Relations between Japan and Korea still haven’t been normalized however, and Koreans would still need to apply for a visa when traveling to Japan. Uncertainty regarding Covid and the situation with Japan made me decide to just stay in the country for now and just vacation somewhere I haven’t been to: Busan. I will be on vacation this week, and I’m hoping all goes well.

What scares me though is the current uptick in cases happening around the world due to the new omicron variant. Yesterday, Korea had 40,000 new cases of coronavirus in the country. Japan had over 100,000. I’m hoping this is just a minor blip and not something that would last. God, I remember when Korea was being hailed as a model country with cases less than 1000 a day. Now it seems we’re just as bad (or as good) as other countries.

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The Permanent Resident

I was on a path to getting my permanent resident visa here in South Korea. For a while now, I’ve been living in the country under a marriage visa. This visa has to be renewed every two to three years. This makes sense to me because it prevents people from scamming Koreans into marriage, then getting a divorce and after settling in the country. Unfortunately, it also gives the visa sponsor a lot of power since their spouse is literally in the country based on their whim. Fortunately, I’m not in that situation, but I still figure that I’ve been living in the country long enough that I should try for a permanent resident visa.

A couple of differences before I move on. A lot of teachers and professors here are on a working visa, an E2 visa. This is for foreigners to teach in Korea for a year. I used to be in the country under an E7 visa. This is for foreigners working in other white collar jobs. Both types of visas are working visas sponsored by the employers and only allows the visa holder to work for the employer and no one else. No side gigs, no personal businesses, etc. A marriage visa is F6. This allows a person to work for any employer and any side gig or business. This gives the visa holder more freedom, but the person is naturally tied to their spouse for sponsorship. An F2 visa gives the same amount of freedom in terms of employment to the visa holder. However, the visa holder must show proof of employment as well as salary, thus tying themselves to a financial state that they must maintain when they apply or when they renew their visa.

An F2 visa is awarded on a point system. Points are awarded based on age, salary, special recommendations, Korean language skills, etc. If you accumulated over 80 points, then you qualify for a visa. I’ve been stressing out for the past couple of weeks over my Korean and passing the TOPIK test, the Korean language test, in order to get more points. However, it is notoriously difficult and even if I do get a good score, it will only award me a few points. The category most people can get points on seem to be age and salary. The younger you are and the more money you earn, the more points you get, which is frankly counter-intuitive. There are not many rich young people applying for permanent residence. And by the time one is older and earns more money, they’ve already lost a ton of points due to their age.

But then I discovered that my school, the University of Manitoba, qualifies as an Excellent school, giving me an extra fifteen points. This qualifies me for an F2 visa even without taking any language test. Perfect! I started getting my ducks in a row, sorting out my diplomas, my financial records, employment contracts, etc.

Then boom, just as fast as my hopes were raised, my hopes were once again dashed. I simply do not qualify for a permanent resident visa. Apparently, people in the country under a marriage visa cannot apply for an F2 visa. I will need an E7 visa. I had an E7 visa before, but that was during my bachelor days. An exception can be made and F6 visas can be changed to F2 visas if the applicant was working in a competitive hi-tech field like nanotechnology or something. Not me. No, not me.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

My wife suggested that maybe I’m looking at the wrong thing. Why can’t I be like other foreign celebrities on television who have different visas and can vote and everything. First off, with voting, it sounds like they’ve been awarded citizenship, which I really have no interest in applying for. But I decided to look anyway.

F5 is a permanent resident visa awarded to people who have made considerable investments in the country, employ Koreans, and has mastered the Korean language to heights I could only dream of. A lot of the qualifiers also include recommendations by government agencies. This is a no go.

So that’s my adventures in trying to get a permanent resident visa. If you’re an English teacher or an office worker reading this. If you’re on an E2 or an E7 visa, as long as you’re young enough or earn enough money, you could very well qualify for an F2 visa. And don’t underestimate your school even if you didn’t graduate from an ivy league institution. Your school could still be Excellent and award you with additional points.

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On NFTs (now)

Apparently NFTs are still a thing and there is still much about them that I don’t know about. I’ve written negatively about them before, but a friend of mine who works in fintech has been educating me a lot about them. Now, of course I’m still very wary with investing in anything, and I’m really in no position to buy any bored primates, but I’m now more open-minded about them. A few things about them however.

1. They could be one of the only ways to truly sell and monetize digital art. Digital art is still art, and it is a bit unfair that they haven’t been able to be part of the art market until NFTs came around. This is similar to my complaint about anatomical/scientific illustrations. Why are they not seen nor exhibited as high art? There should be room for them in galleries, the same way there is room for most kinds of art. The only difference with anatomical/scientific illustrations and digital art is that the former can be monetized while the latter hasn’t been able to until NFTs came around.

2. The NFT market, much like the cryptocurrency market will always be in a state of ups and downs. I prematurely predicted the demise of the NFT market months ago and yet they are still here. Many NFTs have lowered in value since then, but many are still worth the initial investment. And me, I’m sitting here eating crow.

3. Many if not most NFTs are bad art. The percentage of bad art among NFTs compared to just plain digital art is considerably higher; I’d say 98% of NFTs are bad art. And it naturally will be that way for two reasons. One is that most of the NFT buyers are in it for the investment. They are not in it for the art. The second reason is that much like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, lots of NFTs are a set of similar images with a randomized set of traits that are digitally generated. Make 10,000 similar drawings, randomize their features, have people bid on them or set prices on them based on the rarity of the features an image has.

4. I don’t think many artists are making digital art and turning them into NFTs on a 1:1 ratio. I think that’s a rarity. The story of NFTs helping unknown artists in developing countries finally make a living off their art is a fairy tale that is only true for the smallest percentage of the market.

5. Most NFTs will not increase in value. There’s simply too many of them, and the initial prices of NFTs that made the news last year were so high that there’s nowhere else to go but down. Just check out what happened to the NFT of Jack Dorsey’s first tweet. It was sold for $48 million, and on the most recent auction, it barely got $300 in bids.

6. Celebrities who promote NFTs or who show off their purchases are in it for themselves. They are actively trying to increase the value of their NFTs before selling them. Did anyone really believe Jimmy Fallon and Paris Hilton when they mused about the uniqueness and artistry of their bored apes on the ‘Tonight Show?’

7. As incredulous as I am about the metaverse, NFTs will be an integral part of it. Basically, anything that is traded over the Internet for monetary value that has a limited amount functions as an NFT. The only difference is the blockchain element. If the metaverse does become all-encompassing as Mark Zuckerberg wants it to be, then we have no choice but to be involved in things like NFTs.

8. I am still skeptical of the element of the artist earning a percentage each time their artwork changes hands. This was one of the initial selling points of NFTs and I didn’t really see a point in it. Why would they get a royalty for items that they already sold? If I sold a painting, I don’t care if it increases in value when it gets resold years later. Good for the buyer. Good for me too because it means I’m talented enough to command such prices. But getting a percentage of the sale? Why? And when does that stop? Until I’m dead?

9. I am still dismayed at the cost of minting NFTs, both monetarily and environmentally. Apparently, the technology is getting better and the process will become greener, but who knows when that would be reality and whether that would also affect the price of minting NFTs.

10. Will I be making NFTs in the future? Who knows? I dismissed them prematurely last year, and now I’m no longer sure. I will need to talk to more people about them. I still need a lot of education.

11. I believe there are two camps when it comes to looking at NFTs. One camp are old school artists and the other are artists willing to try out new things online. During the beginning of the pandemic, I was trying to sell an idea to a friend of mine who owns an art gallery. It was a virtual art gallery that people could navigate in 3D online. She dismissed the idea as too fanciful and would require too much effort on her part. I tried to volunteer my services but she shut me down. Two years in, many galleries and artists are doing shows online one way or another, including virtual 3D galleries. Boy, did I feel vindicated.

I don’t want to be in the old school camp with my friend. I’d like to be more open-minded.

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The Multilingual Liar

My wife and I were watching Terrace House last night as I was folding clothes. The screen was just on my periphery and I could just barely read the subtitles. Despite my attention being distracted by my chores, I try to keep up with the conversation and read what I can. I do this, so I can remain engaged with my wife who is invested in the show. I commented, “That’s sad that Hana just sees Kai as a friend.” This surprised my wife. From her angle, she thought there was no way I could’ve read that, and also, my eyes were on the clothes I was folding, not on the side of the television, which she tried going to and reading the subtitles, and she had trouble doing. She suspected I actually understood Japanese.

She spent about twenty minutes insisting that I understood Japanese and that all of these years I was just feigning ignorance. I must’ve been interested in Japanese culture and learned some of the language.

This is not the first time she accused me of knowing Japanese. And for the record, I don’t speak nor understand any Japanese. I have good eyesight and a decent intuition which I use to read subtitles and follow conversation, that’s about it.

But then she accused me of pretending not to speak Tagalog either. She said that I sometimes feign ignorance when a Filipino speaker was on television. Now, I’ve never done this ever. And I’ve explained it to her many times: I can speak Tagalog. This is the reason why so many Spanish words are familiar to me. What I cannot understand and what I’m truly ignorant in are the many other languages that Filipinos have. So when a Korean documentary goes to Palawan and they start interviewing the locals, I don’t necessarily understand what they’re saying all of the time. And this is the same with Filipinos we encounter in the country. I don’t necessarily understand the depth of their conversations when they’re speaking Ilocano or whatever dialect.

The thing is, she think I should be prouder of my Filipino heritage and not be too proud of being Canadian. After all, I’m ethnically Filipino and have spent most of my living life in Korea much more than I have in Canada. Let’s explore that.

First off, I say I’m Canadian because I chose to be Canadian. It is something that my mother dreamed for her family and one that we worked on being. Why should I not say I’m Canadian. I may not be a Canadian by birth, but I am by will. And as for loving Canada more than let’s say the Philippines or Korea. I spent my teens in Canada, my most crucial formative years. You know how the songs you listen to in your teens will be the songs you will listen to for the rest of your life. The same goes for culture. The shows I watched, the friends I made, the way I talked, not just the songs I listened to… these are all that I will carry with me because it happened in that crucial time in my life.

And no, I don’t actively despise nor feel shame for being Filipino. Heck, I just wrote several essays on the Philippines a few weeks ago. It’s just that the memory of being in the Philippines are much farther removed from me. I have like one friend from my childhood that I still keep contact with. I lost touch with many of my cousins from the Philippines. The last time I was there, I felt alien. I was practically foreign. Add the fact that whenever the Philippines is in the news lately, it’s often bad news or something about the country being backwards (like electing the son of the former dictator). Who wants to talk about that?

And so when my wife complains that I always point out that something is Canadian, it’s because I find it interesting that something or someone Canadian is out in the mainstream or out here in Korea despite the greater influence of America. It is part bemusement and part love of Canada. When I hear Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me” in a Korean bus, how can I not point out such an obscure song making it in Korean airwaves. And of course I don’t do the same with Filipino things because they’re not as ubiquitous as Canadian things. And as for pointing out something or someone is Korean… I am in Korea! That’s kinda redundant. And of course when I mention that the lawyer that justified torture for George Bush is actually a Korean, my wife is barely interested. Nor does she care if I mention that Sandra Oh is in a movie.

This is in contrast with an experience I had with my best friend growing up. I wrote about it once, but it bears repeating. I was still a permanent resident and not a citizen. We were in English class. Somehow, I mentioned that unlike her, I was not Canadian, that I was still Filipino. She said, “bullshit.” “You will be Canadian soon enough, and in many ways, you already are.” That was such a welcoming feeling into a society that I still remember it to this day. I don’t think my friend realizes how much Canadian patriotism she planted deep inside of me.

Now as welcome as I have been in Korean society, I don’t think people ever truly considered me Korean. I am forever grateful to be in this country, but I doubt if I would ever get past the label of being a foreigner.

So what does this whole rant amount to? Well, from last night, I am reminded that my wife thinks I’m extremely duplicitous and that I could maintain a lie for years, hiding my knowledge of Japanese and Philippines language, despite being an intermediate Korean speaker for the longest time. Also, she believes I am not proud of being from the Philippines. Don’t I sound awful?

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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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National Heroes and the Problems with the 5 Peso Coin and ‘Spoliarium.’

I’m not the best person to talk about Filipino heroes. There are names that Filipino children are taught and grew up knowing. Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. He was a member of the Filipino Propaganda movement against the Spanish occupation and the author of Noli Me Tangere and El filibusterismo. Andres Bonifacio was “The Father of the Philippine Revolution.” Marcelo del Pilar was one of the leaders of the Reform Movement in Spain. Apolinario Mabini was known as “The Brain of the Revolution.” And there are many others. From the earliest hero, Lapulapu, a chief who killed Magellan but also died in the Battle of Mactan, Filipinos made heroes from those who opposed the Spanish occupation, a period which lasted for 333 years. Even the first Filipino saint, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, was sent to Japan and eventually to his martyrdom due to a false accusation that he had murdered a Spaniard during the occupation.

The Philippines was also occupied by the US and the Japanese, but the Americans had a relatively less directly antagonistic and more complicated relationship with the Philippines despite a three-year strife. To this day, the US remains a partner and an ally of the country. As for the Japanese occupation, which Filipinos fought with the help of US support, figures like guerrilla leaders Luis Taruc, Terry Magtanggol, and Marcos Agustin are not as famous as the ones who led Filipinos against the Spanish.

So if there are better sources for Filipino heroes out there, what am I to write about? Well, I have a couple of bones to pick. The first one is with Emilio Aguinaldo, the man on the 5-peso coin. He was a veteran of several revolutionary wars and was officially the first and youngest president of the country, the First Philippine Republic, which lasted about two years before the break of the Philippine-American War. He was a brave and brilliant soldier and leader when he was younger. I will not take that away from him.

After his first capture by the Americans, he took an oath of allegiance to the United States. However, during this time, his former allies who fought the Spanish alongside him are still fighting what they see as colonial forces, who are this time the Americans. Andres Bonifacio instituted the Tagalog Republic which refused to recognize the government of Emilio Aguinaldo, especially since it now surrendered to the Americans. Bonifacio and his brother were captured and implicated in a crime allegedly done by those under Bonifacio’s command. In a sham trial with a jury filled with Aguinaldo’s advocates and a defense attorney that believes his client was not innocent, both Bonifacio brothers were found guilty and sentenced to death, but later to exile. This was later reversed back to execution.

Aguinaldo is also believed to have ordered the assassination of Antonio Luna, one of the most brilliant generals fighting against the Americans at the time. Luna was invited to a location via telegram sent by Aguinaldo for a meeting, only to be confronted by army officials he considered enemies once he arrived at the meeting location. Luna never received a telegram that the meeting with Aguinaldo was cancelled, if there ever was a telegram. He and his companions were slaughtered in a plaza in front of a church immediately after the failed meeting. After the death of Luna, Luna’s men were left demoralized and eventually surrendered to the Americans.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Aguinaldo famously sided with the Japanese and implored General Douglas MacArthur and the Americans to surrender to the Japanese. He naively believed that the Imperial Japanese Army would free the Philippines from American occupation and finally give them independence. Someone should’ve told him the meaning of “imperial.” This is the Japanese empire that enslaved people, did horrible experiments on prisoners, tortured POWs, and raped women in the countries they invaded. He later became part of what many considered a puppet government and discouraged guerrilla warfare, spreading anti-war and pro-Japanese propaganda. As much as I love current day Japan, the Imperial Japan of the past was disgusting. Aguinaldo must know what the Japanese were doing at the time and what they are capable of. He cannot be that naive. The Rape of Nanjing was in 1937, just a few years before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in 1941.

Later, when the US defeated the Japanese and regained control of the country, Aguinaldo went into hiding and was later arrested as a Japanese collaborator. He would’ve spent his last days in prison if he wasn’t pardoned by Manuel Roxas, the country’s fifth president.

Now, despite his earlier actions as a revolutionary, doesn’t his later actions as a leader seem slimy and unprincipled? Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio bravely faced firing squads. I’m not sure if the older Emilio Aguinaldo would do the same. He seems more a conniving politician than a revolutionary. If it weren’t for the Americans, maybe the Philippines would still be a Japanese colony, all with the help of Aguinaldo. I wouldn’t want this man’s face in coins.

Another hero I have an issue with is Juan Luna, the celebrated Filipino artist. While I admire The Battle of Lepanto and think it’s a masterpiece, I’m frankly not a fan of Spoliarium. I think it was only elevated by the commendations of his friend Jose Rizal who compared the abuse and indignities suffered by gladiators under Roman rule to that of the Filipinos under the Spanish. As a piece, I do not find it exciting at all. Even the name is gibberish to me. I suspect it is made up the same way vomitoriums don’t really exist. I also find it odd to elevate him so much when most of his famous works are done in the European classic tradition with European themes; there’s not many that connect to the Philippines and the culture of the country. I’m not even sure if Jose Rizal’s interpretation of Spoliarium is Juan Luna’s intent or if it was just incidental.

Juan Luna was a bully, a serial wife abuser, and a double murderer. I think his success and being a pensionado got into his head and wouldn’t think twice to abuse his wife who he eventually shot dead through a door along with his mother-in-law in a fit of jealous rage. After being arrested and charged, he was acquitted on the grounds of crime of passion and temporary insanity; insanity over his wife’s unfounded infidelity. This was 1893 and misogyny was to be expected, but it still saddens me how women seemed to be so disposable back then. Now many artists are famously horrible to women or their muses. Auguste Rodin was not particularly good to Camille Claudel. But she was able to rise as a renowned artist herself and certainly didn’t die from gunshot wounds from Rodin.

What’s fascinating is that even after the double murder, Juan Luna was still able to continue his career and even be a part of the Philippine Revolution. This is like letting OJ continue his career successfully and even be elevated as a hero even after the murder of his ex-wife. There are better Filipino artists out there: Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Guillermo Tolentino, and Fernando Amorsolo. None of them are sociopaths.

No hero is perfect, of course; most of the US’s Founding Fathers kept slaves. But I think it would help to know some of the less known history of the Philippine’s heroes. I say this because I actually grew up hearing a lot about Juan Luna, not really knowing that he was such a despicable human being.

Lastly, while I have nothing negative to say about Jose Rizal, there’s an argument that Andres Bonifacio, “The Father of the Philippine Revolution” is more deserving of the title national hero. Rizal inspired Bonifacio in his revolution, but Philippine historian Renato Constantino argues that Rizal was a “United States-sponsored hero” who was against the Spanish occupation and already passed away before he could make any comments regarding the American occupation. Andres Bonifacio fought and lost in the Philippine-American War. Rizal had a more diplomatic approach to change while Andres Bonifacio was more radical and troublesome with occupiers, including the Americans. His guerrilla warfare could even be compared to that of Che Guevarra, famously assassinated by the CIA. Even at a young age, I thought that Rizal seemed privileged: traveling overseas, socializing with elites, romancing women, etc. Most historians believe that Jose Rizal was unknown to many Filipinos at the time since he was often overseas and frequently associated with the elites. Contrast this with Bonifacio who had an image of someone who was down in the trenches fighting with the people. I found it odd that Jose Rizal was the national hero compared to someone who had a more direct hand in Philippine independence and similarly had to face a firing squad.

Another person who supposedly advocated for making Jose Rizal the national hero instead of Andres Bonifacio was Emilio Aguinaldo; Emilio Aguinaldo who allegedly had a hand in the execution of Andres Bonifacio. Why would he give someone the honor of national hero when he was instrumental in his demise? That, and he was also very much in line with the forces that Andres Bonifacio was fighting against.

God bless Jose Rizal and his sacrifice. He is a hero; I will not argue that he’s not. But I cannot help but think that his elevation to national hero over Andres Bonifacio was part of American propaganda. You wanna be a hero and save your country? Write a book and traffic in allegories. Don’t be a guerilla fighter.

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Let’s Eat.

As a Filipino-Canadian in living in South Korea, I used to catch the eye of other Filipinos, especially in my old neighborhood where many Filipino expats among other foreign nationals live. Foreigners sense each others’ presence; it’s just a thing among foreigners in South Korea and I’m sure everywhere else. It happens among different races as long as they’re non-native. The thing is, and it’s a bad habit, no matter how innocent the curiosity is, when it comes to some Filipinos, it comes off as them looking at me suspiciously, almost menacingly, and it make me uncomfortable. Perhaps the stares can sometimes be too long. This uncomfortable stare is one of the things that made my wife feel uncomfortable when we were traveling in the Philippines a few years ago. She felt like someone is always observing her or us. Let’s all try to be subtle, people.

But the thing is, once you get beyond that, the minute you get a little familiar with Filipinos, then it’s almost like you have an instant extended family. While I was living in my old neighborhood, now and then I’d hear “hoy, kabayan! (Hey, fellow countryman!)” or even better, “Kain na tayo. (Let’s eat!)”

Being invited to eat or share a meal by strangers is something I find quite unique and I don’t normally hear this from strangers of other nationality. Say you pass by someone you are sorta familiar with and they happen to be Japanese, Korean, or whatever nationality, do they invite you to join them? I think this might be a Filipino thing.

More than once, I’ve been offered to join Filipinos as I pass by while they are eating. This could be in a Filipino store or a restaurant. A couple of times in a Filipino store I happen to frequent, the owner insisted on me having his packed dinner because he was sure it was a dish I miss eating or he was insistent that I should try his wife’s cooking. I ended up bringing them home and enjoying them each time. I don’t even remember us introducing ourselves to one another. All he knows is that I most likely have a Filipino background due to my frequency in his establishment (and that I looked really hungry?).

The closest I can compare this to is when Koreans ask, “Bap mokosoyo? (Have you eaten?)” It is a common expression with roots going back to years of wartime poverty and starvation. As a Confucian society, Koreans generally have community-centered ethos, and this is reflected in the expression inquiring about their neighbors’ well-being and whether they’ve had anything to eat for the day.

Times are tough, have you had anything to eat? If not, here, have some food.

South Korea has a long history of being invaded by the Chinese and being under the rule of Imperial Japan. There’s been repeated times of struggle, starvation, and injustice under foreigner conquerors. The same is true with the Philippines. It was the Spanish colony for hundreds of years, then the country was ruled by the Japanese, then by the United States. Frequently poor throughout history, the simple pleasure of having a meal, sharing it with a countryman is akin to ensuring the survival of one’s neighbor, of one’s own family.

So when I’m shopping at a Filipino store in Seoul (or any city overseas) and I see the owner bringing some food in to eat and they politely offer, “Sir, kain na muna tayo. (Sir, let’s eat first.)” It brings to mind the same history of wartime poverty, starvation, and shared perseverance the Koreans and Filipinos went through. I’m sure there must be similar sentiments regarding food among other nationalities other than Koreans and Filipinos, but from my experience, I’ve only seen it among the two.

Sharing a meal to bring two parties closer together is universal. From kings of old age, to modern dignitaries; from families during holidays; and even simple dates among couples; it is one of the most basic ways to bond with one another. But from my experience, with Filipinos, there is eagerness to share and to bond simply by being Filipino, even to mere acquaintances.

“You’re Filipino. I’m Filipino. We’re both in a foreign country. How about sharing a meal?”

Around 20 percent of the Philippine population live below the poverty line. More than fifty percent of Filipino households struggle with food insecurity according to a 2019 estimate. This, along with the frequency of natural disasters, could suddenly turn a middle-class family to one that is struggling with food. The act of sharing what little food people have is a communal reaction to poverty or at least to the ever-present looming threat of food insecurity. Perhaps it is an act of Christian kindness (even if the offer is insincere or just made in an attempt at being polite) while the offerer is still capable of being generous. Who knows when food will be scarce? Might as well be kind and generous given the opportunity.

I didn’t grow up in a rich environment. And foolish as it may be, I’ve seen family members come into money for a short while and instead of saving it or investing it in something more productive, the initial instinct was to share the sudden windfall, to be generous while they still can. The money never lasted of course, but there was a tendency to be generous in an almost haphazard “you only live once,” sort of way. And who can blame them for thinking so? So many people are financially starving. The chance to be generous to others, to spread goodwill, or in some cases, return goodwill, might never come again.

Filipinos can often be accused of crab mentality. See crabs, when put in a bucket, don’t need to have a lid to prevent them from escaping. The crabs will pull down on one another and thus make escaping futile. Filipinos sometimes put down others who are more successful or people who are about to be more successful than they are. It’s ugly. But whenever I hear “kabayan” or “kain na tayo” from complete strangers, I hear the complete opposite of crab mentality. I hear people rooting for me. I hear people checking to see if I have eaten and whether I would share a meal with them. Life is hard, let’s work through it together. Here, have a meal.

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Actual Art

Despite the new surge of covid cases around the world, it’s a great time for art lovers in Seoul, and thankfully, I’m not talking about NFTs.

First off, there’s a great exhibition of around 200 pieces by Matisse on display. I remember spending a month studying his works in art history and finally seeing them in Minneapolis and Chicago. ‘La Danse’ is a favorite and I’ve seen it influence many artists. I even tried to do a poor version of it myself. Despite being a giant in the arts, I always feel like he’s unjustly overshadowed by Picasso and other artists. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think everyone has seen a work by Matisse but only a few could name him as the artist.

Dali’s works are also being exhibited and I’ve seen his advertisements for his exhibitions everywhere. Maybe his famous looks are more famous than his works because they’ve been using his face with that ridiculous mustache to in the posters, which I guess is as he intended. He kinda became just as a famous as a celebrity as much as his art (a celebrity Picasso hated due to Dali’s support of Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator). His ridiculous imagery has inspired me through the years, and as someone who makes Dada-esque imagery, I can’t help but admire him. However, I kinda resented his celebrity persona and being one of the early “zany” artists. I think ever since him, many artists try too hard to look, dress, and act funny. Can’t we all just be normal? Just as trying to fit in can be tiring, being unconventional can be stressful as well.

Speaking of celebrity artists, Andy Warhol’s works are also on display, but I feel like his works are always on display in the city. Him, Picasso, and Klimt.

Lichtenstein’s works can also be seen in the city and is probably the one I’m most exited about. I’ve seen his works before, but apparently they’re showing a significantly large collection of his works. Seeing the blown up comic book pages in person is so much more impactful than just seeing it on screen. Another artist with a large number of works being shown is Chagall, but honestly, I don’t know much about Chagall. I find it interesting that on of the impressionist’s works (‘Over the Town’) just happens to look like the poster for a movie I’ve been hunting down and wanting to see, Roy Andersson’s ‘About Endlessness.’

Oh and speaking of Dadaism, a bunch of Surrealist works are on display at the Seoul Art Museum for three more months. It features works by Duchamp, Man Ray, Magritte, and other artists.

Anyway, it’s a good time to look at art once the covid situation calms down and I get boosted. I’m already scheduled for a shot in a couple of weeks and it seems that the recent covid surge in Seoul is finally starting to get under control, especially since tighter protocols have been reinstated.

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A Year in Review

First off, covid has gone up, gone down, and gone up again in South Korea. I got my two jabs and will be ready for my booster next month. Despite the high numbers, I managed to not catch the virus. The tracing and tracking in the country as well as the treatment has been good, so the death rate has been quite low and the numbers are believable. The country also has a vaccine pass rule everywhere, and no, it’s not tyrannical. If anything, it’s liberating to know that everyone in the establishment I go to has been vaccinated and that I will be warned if anyone got covid anywhere I went to.

This year, I started regularly seeing a therapist and have been religious with my drugs. It’s helping and I do look forward to each of our sessions. I feel like I have too much control over our sessions sometimes, but I’m glad that he’s helped with my anxiety, depression, and addictive personality. I had a public nervous breakdown last summer while I was arguing with my wife, and I vowed not to revisit that bar again nor put myself in similar situations. It’s just too triggering.

I also started to study more Korean by myself. It’s difficult, but going to class has been impossible. I miss meeting people and making friends in class, but I guess that’s part of being older. Making friends is difficult.

I haven’t gone to the gym for two years now. I miss it. I try to work out more at home and climb stairs more, but it doesn’t compare going to the gym. But it doesn’t matter really. It’s not like I’m going to the beach anytime soon. I’ve eaten way too much Burger King this year. My favorite Subway Sandwich place has closed down, and now due to laziness and me often eating lunch at my dek, I just grab a burger from the Burger King next door. In other food news, my new favorite place for dining is this Japanese lamb place in Yeonnam-dong. Good food, good price, great Japanese ambiance, friendly staff, decent sake. One of the servers is a kickass tattoo artist as well.

I used to not be a driver, but this year I became a motorist. I can’t travel outside of the country so I might as well travel outside of the city. I got a car, it’s an Audi A4. It’s already in need of some body work, not my fault, but I’m going to ignore it for now. I think it adds some character, plus, I can sense that it won’t be the first scratch my car is going to get in the next few months. In a country filled with Hyundai Avantes, it’s a bit slicker than the average 4-door sedan. But in the words of Marv from Sin City, “Modern cars- they all look like electric shavers.”

I didn’t travel outside of the country but I did go outside of Seoul and had the worst sashimi ever. Never eat machine-sliced sashimi. Aside from a lack of TLC, it’s simply disgusting.

Artwise, I’ve been consistently producing works. It’s therapeutic and very calming. It’s been very difficult to get my work shown and I imagine it’s going to be the same next year. I didn’t apply to too many shows this year, which was disappointing, but it doesn’t make much financial sense to me to send my work overseas with the way covid has devastated postal services and made sending works exorbitantly expensive if not impossible. Sales have been dismal as well, but that’s the same throughout my art career. I don’t really care much about sales. I did publish a second book last February, a plan from 2020 which I actually followed through on. Now, I’m contemplating publishing another book next year. And no, I’m not making nor buying any NFTs. The only people who are saying NFTs are good are usually ones who are already invested and shilling NFTs. It’s rare to find NFTs actually uplifting artists. And even funnier, I found a post asking, “What is a good way to print or display NFTs on a wall?” Haha!

Unfortunately, I’ve stopped gardening. I moved to a new office and I no longer have the space to cultivate plants. I’m glad to have maintained it for a while and even given out several seedlings to people. I’m hoping at least half of them are still alive. Oh, and I also learned that cherry pits are not toxic. Not two cherry pits, not thirty, not sixty. They are simply not toxic.

Family’s been okay, but I haven’t been seeing eye to eye with my dad this year. I haven’t called that often and when I do, he often frustrates me. I really should try harder, but I keep thinking why? Why do his children have to try harder to get along better with him? Why is the effort seemingly always from our side? What about him? I don’t see him making things better for himself? This is the year I gave up caring too much.

It’s late but I think the ‘The French Dispatch’ is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Wes Anderson is a treasure. I’m still upset that my bestfriend back in the 90s couldn’t appreciate the genius of ‘Rushmore.’ Other movies I enjoyed; I was surprised with Nicolas Cage’s ‘Pig’ and delighted by “The White Tiger.” I couldn’t think of anything too remarkable on television. I’ve see quite a few Korean dramas but nothing stands out. Everyone was raving about ‘Squid Game,’ but frankly, I didn’t think it was that special. Videogame-wise, I enjoyed ‘Persona 5 Strikers’ and ‘Resident Evil: Village’ the most. Otherwise, I haven’t played too many video games this year. Also, I’ve yet to get a PS5. I wish I could read more books, but most of the books I’ve been reading are Korean learning books. No fiction this year. I’ve fallen behind on Chuck Palahniuk. Music, I’ve given up on anything new. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sparklehorse and Vic Chestnutt, which I realize is not really the best for my mental well-being.

There’s been a couple of close calls, but I almost died twice this year. Each day, I’m grateful that I’m still breathing air. Tired of living, but grateful that I am. Dying is scary. Here’s to 2022, which I suspect is going to be exactly like 2020. I’ll be moving houses, renewing my contract at work, trying to get into a Speedo before summer, get into more art shows, and hopefully improve my relationships. God help me.

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