Filipinos and Regionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Long Reach of Catholicism

I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic school, served in church, sang in a choir, and went to church twice a week. I have nothing against religion or the religious, and when I’m confronted by my wife who is furiously anti-religion and she tells me about different churches and religions’ many contradictions, abuses, etc. I tell her that it’s not about what the church takes from me or how it “lies” to me, it’s how my religion personally brings me peace of mind. So yes, even now as a Catholic that doesn’t regularly go to church, I have nothing but good things to say about how the Catholic Church has affected me as a person. The bible is indeed a good source of hope and wisdom, and there have been many dark times when it pulled me out of despair.

I believe I am not alone in being this way. In the Philippines, the effect of the Roman Catholic church is even deeper. Though there is a separation of church and state, the church holds a strong influence on Filipinos even if they’re not religious. It takes over their relationships, their calendar, almost everything. Growing up in the Philippines, I got lucky enough to be accepted in a special school with science-focused curriculum. Students were drilled with advanced sciences, mathematics, and oddly enough “values education,” a subject which had very heavy religious components. The church is simply everywhere in the country, even in a school of science! It’s almost as if without religion, one runs the risk of having no moral values, and thus the church and being religious is so necessary. (I imagine if my school back then didn’t have a bit of religion, it would be accused of raising little heathens.)

Once again, let’s look at politics in the country. It is not uncommon for sexual issues to be at the forefront during elections. Often, it is the candidate with the support of the church that wins out in the elections, be it local or federal. On a trip to the Philippines a few years ago, I was surprised to learn it was coincidentally a few weeks into the election campaign season. One of the main topics being debated was the legality of contraception. It was 2011 and people were still debating whether women should have access to birth control pills. In country that is overpopulated with around 20% living in poverty, one would think access to birth control pills would at least help the country economically by allowing families to plan their futures, especially since abortion is still strictly illegal in the country. So yeah, it was election season and due to strong religious sentiments, the use of contraceptives was a hot debate.

But that’s not the worst of it. There was also a debate against the use of condoms in the country during my visit. Again, that was 2011. Fast forward to 2017, and the country is still debating the use of condoms, with the president openly advocating forgoing its use. In 2017, the HIV rate in the Philippines started to soar.

Being a religious country, there is a strong patriarchal culture in society. There are deeply defined roles for family members and genders. Stepping outside of these norms can be dicey. Outside of being fodder for laughter and curiosity, being gay is still considered a sin. Future presidential candidate Manny Pacquiao even compared homosexuality to degeneracy lower than animals. That’s boxer and current senator Manny Pacquiao letting his religious views lost the support of the roughly 11% LGBTQ in the Philippines. And again with its strong gender and family roles, divorce is still considered taboo in the country. The Vatican and the Philippines are the only two sovereign states that still won’t allow couples to divorce. Annulment is allowed in the country instead, but it is prohibitively expensive, can take a long time to resolve, and still results in negative stigma after the separation.

Of course, those are just a couple of issues where the church’s heavy hand is felt by Filipinos. The church acts like the moral center of Filipinos, dipping its toes on even non-religious issues as drug use, media.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m exclusively harping about the negative effects of the Roman Catholic Church on Filipinos, but the church does fuel a lot of the conservatism that holds the country back. Now, going back to what I was thankful for about the religion is the personal peace it offers (as opposed to the external conflicts it can fuel, but let’s talk about that some other time). Having religion growing up, I was grateful of having that sense of hope, or a the sense that a personal divine observer is out there looking out for me. Now this might sound fantastical, but living in a country that has struggles with crime and poverty, then me moving to Canada at a young age, and then dealing with the pressures of being a young adult, religion gave me hope that somehow, someway, things will always be fine. I didn’t have as hard a life as other Filipinos in comparison both abroad and at home had, so I could only imagine how much more solace they found through religion.

Personally, one thing I noticed that Filipino families are often so willing to do is to forgive. Now what do I mean by that? You know how many families often have that one bad seed? Or maybe that one argument that tears the family apart? Maybe it’s just me, but I think Filipinos are more often willing to forgive and welcome back their prodigal sons than most people. I’ve seen/experienced it a couple of times. However, I’ve seen people from other nationalities cut off family members over some ancient squabble. This is all anecdotal, of course, but it’s not uncommon for me to hear someone in Korea say that they are no longer in contact with a relative due to a past wrongdoing. With Filipinos however, one could have a long resume of sins and still be welcome to every Christmas dinner (though that person will be gossiped about afterwards). So yes, forgives, for better or for worse, has been ingrained by the church in the Philippine psyche.

Looking at all of it from the most utilitarian point of view, what does the Roman Catholic church promise? Life on earth is temporary and the afterlife is eternal. Everyone you lost in life will be reunited with you once again in the afterlife. You have God watching over you 24/7, and any challenge or setback you face is something that you can overcome because it is part of his plan. God loves you for what you are. God will protect you from your enemies and provide for your needs. God will forgive you for all of your sins as long as you ask for forgiveness. Imagine being a citizen of a recently conquered nation, someone who experienced tragedy, or simply someone in need of hope, doesn’t all of these promises sound too good not to accept? No wonder the Roman Catholic Church tagged along with Spanish colonialism. People having religion also helps to survive not only through a series of colonial regimes in the past, in modern times, it also helps getting out of bed easier in the face of long tiring and challenging day, be it due to poverty or simply just the redundancy of everyday life.

The New Testament itself mirrors many of the ideals Filipinos see in themselves, especially when one looks at the country’s national anthem, Lupang Hinirang (The Land that was Chosen): their sense of uniqueness, the value of hard work towards reaching a goal, the duty for self-sacrifice. The Church has a tradition of having a “chosen one” be it Jesus Christ or the many saints and martyrs. Filipinos have a sense of being unique, and in a way being chosen for a better future amidst its much wealthier neighbors. Now, I’m sure this is the same for many other countries as well, but this is made so much evident in the national anthem’s lyrics: The Pearl of the Orient… The Land that was Chosen… A country can’t get any more special than being “the land that was chosen,” a land whose populace would be happier and more prosperous if it weren’t for invaders. Then the song talks about oppression and rising above it much like Jesus did. And as for the duty of self-sacrifice, Land of the sun of glory and passion, the skies are alive in thy presence. Our joy is when someone comes to oppress thee, is to die for you. Compare this national anthem’s lyrics to Oh, Canada. The Canadian anthem entrusts God to protect the country and its citizens promise to stand on guard for the nation, not to joyfully die.

In closing, if I was to offer a travelers guide to anyone being around Filipinos, due to religious influence, chances are you could expect a bit of conservatism, Catholic guilt due to people’s upbringing, some judgmental attitude behind closed doors, and a patriarchal attitude regarding the nuclear family. Oh and there’s hope. There’s a lot of hoping and praying.

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Love the people, hate the politics

In 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign made several key mistakes, but probably it’s biggest mistake was underestimating the power of populism. Look at Hillary Clinton’s whole life. She is clearly a brilliant woman who has devoted herself to politics. The one smear that her opponents often attacked her with was arguably a Christian virtue: she forgave her husband and stuck with her marriage. So with all of the experience and expertise under the hood of the Clinton campaign, they can’t help but get lulled into hubris as they looked at Donald Trump, a reality show blowhard whose demeanor fits more with pro wrestling than with the halls of government.

The thing is, pro wrestling is incredibly popular. Aside from WWE, many wrestling companies have sprouted and the masses are just eating them up. WWE is making so much money creating low-brow drama and their biggest stars are so popular that they are venturing out into Hollywood. And thus, 2016 officially started the pro-wrestlification of politics. Populists started speaking the language of the people, and by language of the people, I mean the lowest common denominator. And instead of being insulted, Trump’s supporters saw it as vindication. They found a leader who talked like them and can be crass like them, despite his elite lifestyle. Trump created a fictitious character: a multi-billionaire that is anti-elite and is willing to hang out with the masses. A great lie. A great electable lie.

All of this is nothing new in the Philippines. Every time I look at Philippine politics, it depresses me to see how people elect their leaders. Let’s look at the 13th President of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada. Wikipedia defines him as a politician, a former actor (an action star often playing parts defending the downtrodden), and a kleptocrat. A kleptocrat, like it’s an occupation. For the unfamiliar, Estrada was impeached for receiving payoffs, being involved in illegal gambling activity (jueteng), and having secret bank accounts. Along with former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he is among the most infamous Filipino politicians due to corruption. He was removed from office and was the first Filipino president to be put in trial and found guilty of plunder. After seven years of detention, he was granted executive clemency and released in 2007.

Most countries who finds their leader corrupt and guilty of plunder would often not hear from that leader anymore. But not the Philippines. In 2013, Estrada became the mayor of Manila, the nation’s capital. People love a redemption arc, but more than that, Filipino voters love their celebrities. Despite what parents teach their children, voters seem to value fame over education and actual experience in governance. Estrada’s image as an action star fighting for the downtrodden outshone his record of kleptocracy. This love for celebrity as well as love for familiar political dynasties is something that the Philippines could never shake itself away from. Estrada was a college dropout. The current mayor of Manila who has presidential aspirations was also an actor and only has non-degree programs under his educational belt. Manny Pacquiao, an internationally famous boxer turned politician got a certificate course before serving the public. He now plans to run for president as well. Just think about it. The highest post in the land to a man with a certificate course. I don’t want to sound like a political gatekeeper, but I like my leaders to at least have a bit of education before taking on key roles in the government that affect people’s lives. Fame and being able to be “down with the people” is good for selling movie tickets, or in Pacquaio’s case, Pay-Per-View, but it doesn’t make good leaders.

When Trump was elected in the United States, it was proclaimed as “the death of expertise.” You don’t need expertise or education to be put in office. This has been true in the Philippines for a long time.

The 16th president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, got elected using his tough guy image, crass language, and common man charisma. He admitted to shooting people and encouraged tough on crime policies, and the voters saw him as an action star. Being the first president from Mindanao, instead of the more prosperous major island of the Philippines, Luzon, not only did he promise to be tough on criminals, particularly drug dealers, he also committed to switching to a Federalist form of government, distributing wealth throughout the country more equally instead of just focusing development on the nation’s capital. He painted an almost movie-esque redemption arc for the country’s future: a leader from the nation’s poorer islands transforming the country for the better and shooting the bad guys while he’s at it.

He made good on his first promise. His war on drugs resulted in extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers and users. Despite being condemned by the UN, he proudly claimed it a success and declared that crime is down due to his policies. The promise of a more prosperous country under a Federalist system however was long forgotten. The war on drugs and talking tough proved to be far easier to do than doing the un-sexy chore of actually governing. Half of the infrastructure projects he proposed are still in the proposal stage, his economic policies have middling results, and despite his tough talks against criminals, when it comes to countries like China, he often succumbs to their threats, much to the disappointment of his supporters.

Sadly, all of this is not going to change anytime soon. Celebrities will continue to graduate as leaders in the Philippines. Being a populist will always win elections, and what better way to connect with voters than to be someone they’ve been watching on television for years? Some have basically been campaigning for a decade outside of the regular election season. Of course, one can also be successful by being a member of a long-running political dynasty in the Philippines; be a Marcos, an Aquino, a Roxas, etc. But that’s another can of political worms.

Elections in the country are like fiestas. Candidates make spectacles along with their campaign speeches, be it some singing, dancing, or even just the act of shaking people’s hands. Being that close to a celebrity makes a mark on people’s minds and translates to votes. Candidates are not judged by their merits in terms of politics, they are judged by their charisma and how they can mesmerize voters. This is why I’m very skeptical of the Philippine’s future in terms of politics. It’s only natural for it to be marred by a history of corruption. Why wouldn’t it be? People keep electing candidates based on charisma.

Filipinos deserve better. I just hope they realize this each time there is an election.

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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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Filipinos

Read a 2014 article about the effect of antidepressants on creativity. It’s about a study at the Max Planck Institute. Apparently, the flatness of mood, which is a great alternative to depression, can also be seen as “emotional blunting” which hurts creativity, especially for artists who work best in response to internal turmoil. Another article I read talks about an artist who found it difficult to write after a period of being on antidepressants. Now, I’m not sure if I’m experiencing a bit of this, but I’ve experienced a couple of periods of artist’s block and I don’t know whether to attribute it to medication, the lack of stimulus due to the pandemic, or just natural artist’s block. I seriously hope the antidepressants are affecting my creativity because given the choice of coping tools, I’d rather have art than medication.

One possible effect discovered by the study coining “emotional blunting” is that antidepressants negatively affected feelings of affection towards partners, especially among male participants in the study. Perhaps men are more prone to “emotional blunting” than women. Or to put it simply, women just care more than men, so much so, that their love emotions are more resistant to drugs. So yeah, antidepressants may cause less creativity and love… but hey, less depression and suicidal thoughts. If true, what a dilemma!

My sister proposed a writing project regarding Filipinos and the immigrant experience. It could be a book, a collection of essays, whatever. We’re just in the process of throwing ideas at the moment. I think it’s a good idea, especially with her being a mother of a couple of gen Z kids who might be disconnected from their heritage or would need some guidance regarding the culture of their parents. Admittedly, many of my entries regarding the Philippines, or perhaps even Korea, tend to be very critical. This is not coming from a negative spirit. This is coming from someone who wants things to improve. So yeah, perhaps in the coming months, I’ll be writing more about the immigrant experience instead of much else. Some ideas that come to mind include:

-“Kain na tayo.” The willingness of strangers to share their meals.

-Love the people, hate the politics. Why Filipinos will never vote themselves to prosperity.

-The long reach of Catholicism

-Filipinos and regionalism

-Spanish colonialism and its effects

-Filipino heroes and non-heroes; Juan Luna is a despicable scoundrel.

-The Out-of-Taiwan theory, and what the heck are we?

-The Overseas Filipino Worker

-No, Dave Chappelle, you are wrong about Filipino women overseas.

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Time to Show Some Work

I started early applying for shows this year. Last year, I didn’t really do to many shows, but this year, I plan to be more aggressive. With most in-person galleries out of the question due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, I’ve been more focused with publications and showing work online or either sending it to galleries overseas. What I do notice though is that North America and Europe to a greater extent is very open to international artists. There’s always opportunities for competitions, calls for submissions, and residencies. I’ve actually been accepted in a couple of residencies last year, but just before I’m about to commit, covid surges yet again and my plans have to be scrapped.

Two places I’m having the most trouble in trying to break into are Hong Kong and Japan. I’ve always loved Hong Kong. I used to go there quite frequently before China started cracking down on protesters. What I noticed in galleries is that they’re mostly interested in Chinese artists and not much else. I realize there’s a great trend for Chinese art, but what about locals looking for other artists? It’s very difficult to get my work in the city. The same goes for Japan. It seems that galleries, at least the ones looking for artists, are exclusively interested in those that make Japanese-style art or art about Japan. I don’t make either. I don’t make anime/manga, nor do I feel qualified to make any serious work related to Japanese culture. Heck, I don’t even think I make Canadian art! If anyone knows of any galleries in these two places interested in work that is more in my vein, please let me know.

It’s my mom’s birthday today. She was a wonderful woman. I’m not sure if my dad realizes how lucky he was. I know I didn’t truly appreciate her when she was still alive.

My book is almost done and am now ready for test printing and perhaps even selling them locally. With the postal services being devastated by the pandemic, it still won’t make sense for me to sell them overseas, but I still plan to meet my schedule of making another book this year. I’m thinking of printing next month once I’m less busy with my taxes and getting my car fixed. And no, I really don’t plan on making money out of these publishing projects. It’s just a way for me to mark my artistic progress.

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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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Farewell, Bond!

I finally saw the latest James Bond film and the last of the Daniel Craig movies for the franchise. I normally don’t post movie reviews here, but there’s nothing much art-related stuff I could talk about at the moment and I have a three-hour lecture tonight which is making me nervous, so I thought I would do some writing to calm me down, just some random thoughts about the franchise and the latest film.

A few years ago, I decided to watch all of the Bond films in chronological order. I’ve seen it go from semi-serious, to campy, to more grounded, back to campy, and then back to the grounded semi-seriousness of the Craig films. I gotta say, Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond. Purists will always give the title to Sean Connery, but I can’t help but see him from millennial’s perspective, the casual misogyny and perhaps even downright rapiness is hard for me to get over with. Others enjoy Pierce Brosnan’s turn as Bond, but I never really enjoyed the franchise during that era. I found Brosnan a bit too cheesy and the writing of the movies too silly. Also, before he became 007, he didn’t realize that his wife’s ex-husband was disguised as their elderly nanny. You gotta be sharper than that, James!

The latest film was good. It didn’t really feel that long as things kept on moving. In fact, it kept moving so fast that the main villain’s motives barely registered. He was out for revenge? But once he got his revenge, why did he want to kill so many people? What’s going on? It’s sad to say, but the main villain is actually the weakest part of the movie for me. He just wasn’t that interesting. And for Spectre to be built up as this massive organization overshadowing so many evil plots across the movies… for it to be undone by a boring villain that seem to come out of nowhere, is really unsatisfying. Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva was a great villain in the Craig films and wasn’t really matched by Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld. Then it was followed by Mr. Robot. I now appreciate Christoph Waltz’s performance (and ‘Spectre’s’ writing) much more.

Lea Seydoux was great as Madeleine Swann, but I actually found her quite forgetable in the film prior, so I was surprised to see her back in this film. If anything, what stole the movie was Ana De Armas’ performance and action sequence in Cuba. The first time I saw her was in a regretable Eli Roth film and I didn’t really get her appeal even after I saw her a couple more times in ‘Knives Out’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049.’ In ‘No Time to Die,’ I finally got it. Consider me a fan. I thought having a black female 007 was a smart little wink as well. It would be interesting to see more adventures of Lashana Lynch as a secret agent, but I think it was all just a cinematic coño to the obnoxious man-o-sphere who insists that 007 should never be black nor female.

It was not the best film among Craig’s Bond turn but it was a good enough ending. It had great sequences, the score was great as usual, and it left me wondering and excited at who the next 007 will be. It was a very utilitarian movie and it served its purpose, much like Craig’s Bond has been described as a “blunt instrument.” I think the best Craig film would either be ‘Casino Royale’ or ‘Skyfall.’ So for the uninitiated, go watch the first Craig film instead. But for those who enjoy the series, this movie should be fun.

For the longest time, I never really cared for the James Bond franchise and thought it was a relic of a power fantasy meant to be enjoyed by dads and uncles. Maybe that’s still true since I didn’t really truly enjoy it until I was in my mid twenties. These days, I see it more as my “Fast and the Furious”… my Marvel Cinematic Universe film, my super hero film on steroids. As much as I enjoy spy thrillers, like 2019’s ‘The Spy’ starring Sacha Baron Cohen (surprisingly!), it’s always good to see a fantastical secret agent do his mission with so much finesse and with a catchy blaring orchestral melody.

Oh and as for best theme. I love the original ‘Dr. No’ theme and it’s many reincarnations. I also think “Goldfinger” is great. But truly, the best and sexiest song ever written is “Nobody Does it Better.”

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Helping Randos

I’ve become a creature of Reddit. It’s awul but it’s nice. After being banned from Twitter, I devoted most of my SNS time on Instagram. But now I’m finding myself more on Reddit, sticking my nose on other people’s business and giving advice when asked. I find that Reddit is more concerned with developing communities and being helpful to whatever people’s interests are, as opposed to Twitter which is like a rage machine. Anyway, thank goodness for Reddit.

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