Category Archives: sculpture

Foreigners in Local Protests

napoleon

Working in the heart of Seoul where protests usually happen, I’ve seen it so many times, foreigners looking at protests. Now, the protests in Seoul rarely get violent, so it’s a bit of a spectacle for tourists to come and see how protests are in other countries. It makes them seem like they’re seeing an unusual political event aside from the usual touristy fare. Unfortunately, protests here happen at least once a week. They usually interrupt my work on Thursday afternoons.

The recent string of protests that got the president of South Korea impeached however are much larger than regular protests. They’re bigger and are more elaborate affairs, with choreographed light shows and musical entertainment. It can be quite tempting for foreigners to come and see the protests and witness history taking place. But in such cases, there’s a very blurred line between witnessing a government protest and taking part in it.

Several people in Korea have invited me to join them in the protests, and as much a political junkie as I am, it is really not in my place to take part in a protest in a country where I am technically a guest by the government. There’s also some chance of violence erupting, and I’m sure most embassies wouldn’t encourage people to be near the protests. I haven’t heard of anybody being arrested and deported for participating in a government protest, but just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean that it’s okay to do. It also doesn’t mean that the government is not well within their rights to deport any foreign visitors participating in anti-government activities. How would Canada react to foreigners coming in to Canada to protest the government? I would be thinking differently if the issues directly affected foreigners, say Canada decided that all permanent residents (landed immigrants/ non-Canadian residents) must now pay higher taxes than Canadian citizens. But many of the protests I’ve seen where foreigners are wandering into are about issues that don’t really affect them directly.

One of the protests in the past that comes to mind is the mad cow protests several years ago. Koreans didn’t want American beef imports to Korea because of suspected cases of mad cow. Now, this was all just a massive hysteria with a healthy dose of anti-Americanism, but this didn’t stop millions of people protesting in the streets. In these protests, I even saw foreigners participating. Now, I couldn’t tell whether they were Americans or not, but seeing how the country now fully accepts American beef imports with little consequences, not only are the protests a big egg on the face of the Koreans but also to the foreigners who participated. There must be better ways to bond with the locals than joining protests.

The local media however sure loves pointing cameras at visibly foreign faces during news stories. It gives events an international vibe. Perhaps that’s part of the allure. Hey, we might get on TV in Asia!

The thing is foreigners don’t have a dog in the fight, so why go against the country which gave them the privilege to visit? The one time foreigners had an issue to legitimately protest the Korean government was when they made it mandatory for all foreign teachers to pass an AIDS test prior to getting teaching visas in fear of them giving AIDS to school children. That was a horrible piece of racist, xenophobic legislation that didn’t get any protest in the streets, not from locals or foreigners. And to this day, foreign teachers are still taking AIDS tests, some of them believing the lie that it’s for their health insurance.

So what is a foreigner to do? Stay out of it. If you have to be a tourist, take a picture, and spread the story to your friends. Locals love it when their stories reach an audience overseas. Otherwise, know why you’re really here (as a guest) and know why people are protesting (It’s usually not about you).

 

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Why, Richard?

protester

So this 14 year-old kid Ahmed Mohamed goes to school with a clock he made for a science project, shows it to several teachers, some of them say that it “looks cool.” Then one teacher gets nervous, thinks it’s a bomb and calls the cops. The school wasn’t evacuated, the cops say it wasn’t a bomb, and the kid was handcuffed anyway. Now, people are saying that this was a case of Islamophobia. And I would say yes, it seems patently obvious. I don’t think a box with wires sticking out of it in a school is any more menacing than a couple of people brandishing their AR-15s in a Walmart. Both are legal, only the second example is designed to elicit an example. Only the second example involves things that are actually designed to kill people.

And if you compare the incident to how predominantly white gun-carry advocates walk around the country unmolested, there’s a good argument that this is just as much as being a person of color in America as it is about being a Muslim.

I already talked about how Bill Maher sometimes loses me with his Islamophobia. It is one thing to be an atheist, but it is another thing to be an Islamophobe. The hysteria over the brown kid carrying a science project around school showed such an abandon of logic that I was hoping someone as intelligent as Bill Maher would not try to justify. I tend to be sympathetic to atheistic arguments, and I really don’t want to claim that there is religious persecution after many fundamentalist Christians cry wolf about their “suffering,” but when he said that people were reasonable to be suspicious of Ahmed Mohamed, this is exactly the type of light Islamophobia that results in children being handcuffed.

He is not alone in this either. Even Richard Dawkins tweeted that the kid was a fraud. He suggested that the kid passed himself off as an inventor and made a clock that suspiciously looks like a bomb. All of it just to get arrested, create a viral story, and later on get scholarship offers and an invitation to the White House. Bravo, Richard Dawkins. You’ve just become a Twitter nut job (at least in this case). There’s always the possibility that we’ve all been victims of this brilliant kid’s masterful hoax, but Occam’s razor suggests that it’s probably just a kid who made a suspicious-looking clock.

Steven Levitt once wrote about atheist books and the mysterious market for them. Who buys these books? There is a market for holy and religious books, after all, the religious need the books to enlighten themselves more about their faith. And the religious would never buy atheists books. At least, I imagine they won’t. Why would they? But what about atheists? If you truly don’t believe in the existence of God, then why buy a book to affirm your belief? You don’t need reinforcement on a non-belief. As Steven put it:

“So who is making these anti-God books best-sellers? Do the people who despise the notion of God have an insatiable demand for books that remind them of why? Are there that many people out there who haven’t made up their mind on the subject and are open to persuasion?

Let me put the argument another way: I understand why books attacking liberals sell. It is because many conservatives hate liberals. Books attacking conservatives sell for the same reason. But no one writes books saying that bird watching is a waste of time, because people who aren’t bird watchers probably agree, but don’t want to spend $20 in order to read about it. Since very few people (at least in my crowd) actively dislike God, I’m surprised that anti-God books are not received with the same yawn that anti-bird watcher books would be.”

I think Steven kinda brushed on the reason why anti-God books are selling recently. Conservatives hate liberals and would buy books that bash liberals. I’m guessing that some atheists actively hate the religious, or at least see them as intellectually inferior to some extent, and perhaps get some joy out of bashing them. Instead of adopting a liberal attitude about things and truly not caring about religion unless said religion affects them somehow, some atheists get trapped into a sort of game of one-upmanship the same way political parties do. Of course, this is not something truly unique to atheists. The same could be said about some of the religious.

And this is where Bill Maher and Steve Dawkins sometimes sink to. Yes, yes, religion is bullshit. But that’s coming from our “enlightened” bubble. Ethnocentrism is judging others based on their ethnic group, especially in terms of customs, language, and religion. Perhaps people find value in their religion in ways that I do not. Who knows? I’m not about to judge other people as long as it doesn’t affect me. Believe in God or don’t, just don’t make it my business. But when giants of the atheist way of thinking start bashing huge swaths of people, it sours the whole thing for me. It is lazy and misguided. The same way some current feminists are spoiling the movement by being hyper-sensitive, censorship-advocating, misandrists, some atheists are turning into outright bigots.

I’m not saying that the religious are being persecuted. I’m not, especially in terms of Christians in North America. But casual bigotry towards other religions makes cuffing children, not allowing refugees into countries, and outright bombing cities, a tad easier to do.

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Art for the People

diesel engine

There’s a law in the city that mandates the erection of public of art with the construction of major buildings in the city. It’s meant to add culture and prevent the city from looking like a jungle of right angles. Of course, not everyone is pleased with every choice of art that is erected in public, but I guess that is true with most artwork. It won’t please everyone. The statue of a proposing man below for example doesn’t really do it for me. Instead of inspiring thought, it is about as shallow as Ronald Macdonald sitting on a bench. It is kitsch kneeling for all eternity.

proposal

I believe it’s not a private commission, but Borofsky’s Hammering Man, which I see almost every day, is borne out of the same desire to bring culture out in the streets. Now this, I like.

Hammering Man

I understand not everyone likes it, but I do hope that more public art will be like this. Not necessarily as grand as Borofsky’s works, but less kitschy. Granted, there is value in cutesy and lighthearted works, but the jokes wear thin after a while… really thin if you see the same joke every working day.

It reminds me of what my old art instructor did a few years ago, when he had his students erect colorful sculptures to “liven up” downtown. Some of the works were fun, but after a while, it makes one wonder why muddy and honestly what looked like amateurish works were littered downtown. It’s like a giant dropped his old, unused toys on his way to the flea market.

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