Coronavirus Life

Heart_apple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A few interesting things of late.

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

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

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

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

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

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A Netflix Moment

Rain

Here’s a moment. My wife and I were looking around Netflix, trying to decide what to watch over dinner. Koreans are well known for being very reticent and not being direct in their statements. They wouldn’t say “no” or deliver negative news directly, thinking it rude. Instead they would often do the courtesy of finding a workaround to finesse the situation. My wife no longer has patience with me. She is rather blunt in her statements, which can be a tad hurtful at times, but if you think about it, saves me a lot of time.

And honestly, when she says, “I’m not interested in that,” it is actually a microcosm of the many things that we are. Take Netflix for example. Most of the things I watch on that channel, she will never watch. She is not interested in my documentaries, crime series, or “not-so-popular” movies. Likewise, I’m not interested in her Korean reality shows and foreigners reacting to Korean food.

So when she curtly says, “I’m not interested,” to watching Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani’s film, ‘The Lovebirds,’ it really is fine. I’ll just have to turn off my brain and deal with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in ‘Murder Mystery’ instead. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for other people having a bad time due to my movie choice. Back in 98, I remember being harassed for an hour after watching ‘Rushmore’ with friends who didn’t quite appreciate the charm of Wes Anderson films.

Fast forward to this morning on the subway, already forgotten about Adam Sandler’s vacation disguised as a movie, I decided to check out ‘The Lovebirds’ on my phone. A few minutes in, the two main characters start having a couple’s argument/break up that is all too real. It’s like the writers poked a hole into my psyche and saw the sad husk of a relationship I’ve been living for the past couple of years and encapsulated it in an argument during a car ride.

I’m so glad my wife opted not to watch that film. It would’ve been super awkward watching a reflection of my current stagnant existence. Whew! Elephant in the room avoided! This way, I could continue being quietly depressed.

Ever have that happen to you?

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The City’s Limited Funds

Cherubs

When I was training as an artist, I had my heart set on being a sculptor. My first professor was very encouraging. He taught me how to weld and work with steel. I didn’t have much money back then, but he allowed me to make pieces out of the scraps we had in the sculpture studio. I really enjoyed making small pieces of metal art. I was often in the sculpture building early in the morning hammering and shaping steel like a prairie anachronism.

Come second year, I had a different sculpture professor, Gordon Reeve. I didn’t like him one bit. He wasn’t shy in showing his favoritism to a couple of the female students. He tends to be quite cliquey with the thesis students as well. Suddenly, it was like high school all over again. Only the professor was one of the asshole kids, and I have to prove my worth to him. Instead of challenging me, I was uninspired. The only thing I learned from him is that when showing your works during a review, make sure to have good lighting and environment. Get ready to amp up the bullshit. If the only thing a student learns is how to sell works instead of how to make good art, then the 120 hr program was a waste. Maybe it was me, maybe it was him. I say it was him.

Fast forward a few years later and I learned that he was commissioned by the city to create a sculpture in Assiniboine Park. This was a park near my old high school. I used to go there all the time. I would eat lunch there, take a walk, visit the zoo, or enjoy the Leo Mol sculpture garden (Leo Mol was a Ukranian-Canadian sculptor, superior to Gordon Reeves.). Reeves already had several public sculptures in the city. This one however, was the worst. Named ‘Agassiz Ice,’ it’s a set of aluminum sculptures modeled after a glacier in Nunavut. In the grandest of imagination, they would be imposing structures conveying the relentless force of time and nature. Instead, the city got a set of humble figures which look like aluminum sheets the size of a couple of minivans.

I was upset about it. Not only was I hearing about Gordon Reeve again, but I was terribly unimpressed at how the city spends its money on public art. The piece looks like any mediocre government-mandated corporate art in front of buildings here in Seoul. They could’ve used that money to fund other art programs instead. Heck, they could’ve used that money to fund better artwork. It’s illegal, but I had half a mind to have taggers paint a price tag on it, making the piece mine, much in the same vein as Marcel Duchamp. But I also wanted to send a message to viewers as to how much the city was spending on mediocrity. I mean, Google it yourself. Doesn’t that sculpture look like any sculpture one would find prior to entering a golf course? Anyway, I was convinced by artist friends that it was a bad idea. And since they’re the ones who have to put up with it and I just simply have to not read any news about Winnipeg for a while, I decided not to commit any act of vandalism.

But why am I writing about Gordon Reeve and Agassiz Ice? I just thought about them because recently, I had to explain one of the cultural ‘attractions’ in my hometown, the Canada Museum for Human Rights, a $350 million project sitting in the heart of downtown Winnipeg. It is a museum designed to educate visitors about the sufferings in the world. If the news and the Internet is not enough for you, then drive over to downtown Winnipeg and learn about all of the atrocities in the world! Ironically, from its creation, it was rife with controversy. Not only was it built in Indian sacred ground, the inclusion of what was to be exhibited has turned into a suffering Olympics among the city’s different cultural groups. Not to mention, it doesn’t even include the current Israel/Palestinian conflict. That’s our cultural attraction, folks. A museum built to either infuriate or depress visitors.

So yeah, that’s what bugs me about my hometown sometimes. We spend so much money on things that don’t make anyone happy. So much money on grand visions that end up either being incredibly mediocre or simply a headache. It’s not cultural, but for less than what they spent, they could’ve built the largest indoor water park in the Western Provinces. That would’ve at least brought in some tourists into the city. I mean, seriously? Outside of school field trips, who will drive to Winnipeg to get depressed?

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Internet Criming

Saint

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, also known as CDA 230, protects Web sites like Facebook or Twitter from liabilities which may be imposed due to third-party contents. So if a Facebook user promoted hate speech or whatever, Facebook as a company will not be held liable for promoting the hate speech, only the one who posted it is liable for it. Simply put, websites are not responsible if their users violate criminal or property law.

A law signed by Donald Trump two years ago poked holes into the protection CDA 230 provides. FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act) create an exception to CDA 230. Web sites are now liable for prosecution should their users promote sexual services. Advocates of the law have always looked at the worst case scenarios to push the law through, child sexual trafficking, but it ignores the fact that many sexual workers freely operate on the Internet, seeing it as a more secure avenue to ply their trade instead of going underground or on the street.

FOSTA and SESTA has not made the Internet safer for children. The laws simply haven’t. Just recently, a group of Korean teenagers were arrested for operating a Web site that trades, promotes, manufactures, and distributes child pornography. They were able to function for a time even with the laws already in effect. And they were the ones that were caught. Who knows if there are other operators out there currently distributing and manufacturing illegal material? The point is, the laws have just made it more complicated to operate such sites, but it hasn’t eliminated them. If anything, it just made sex work less safe for those who are willingly working in the sex industry. See, pedophilia and child pornography are already crimes. FOSTA and SESTA just makes criminals out of Web site operators and sex workers who have nothing to do with endangering minors. And really, if legislators are really serious about stopping criminals, they would criminalize bitcoins and all forms of cryptocurrency altogether. But you know they won’t.

But this rant is not about FOSTA and SESTA. It is about Facebook. I was just watching Joe Scarborough (I know, I know) rant about how Facebook is openly profiting from hate groups, harassment, and undermining democracy. Mark Zuckerberg does not care that his Web site has become an open market for false information. They were warned prior to the 2016 elections that their site was going to be used to undermine the elections and they were more upset at the people who raised the alarm. Fast forward to 2020, and Facebook is pushing ads on sites that push conspiracy theories and thinly-veiled (if at all) bigotry.

FOSTA and SESTA pierced CDA 230 in order to ineffectively protect children. It is very difficult to go against such legislation, because really, who isn’t against child sex crimes? But if anything was to greater than the love for freedom of speech, it’s the discomfort of people towards sex. This, I believe, is why FOSTA and SESTA were able to pass and why craigslist and backpage.com are no longer able to have people advertising sexual services. It’s not about protecting children. You can talk freely all you want, but once it’s about sex, then legislators are more willing to clamp down on your rights.

So many things that Facebook is allowed to do under the protection of CDA 230 is openly harming people including children. Disinformation over vaccines and COVID-19 is endangering the lives of people. Freely allowing hate groups to operate on the site has led to not only harmful government actions like caging migrant children, but also a rise in hate crimes. Child sexual abuse is bad, but it’s not a suffering Olympics. Other forms of suffering can be just as bad and they are allowed to continue simply because they don’t have the ickiness of sex. One could argue that profiting from undermining democracy is treasonous and is right up there with inadvertently promoting pedophilia.

So what am I saying other than Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are garbage and that FOSTA and SESTA are dangerous pieces of law? I’m saying if legislators could find limitations to the umbrella of protection that CDA 230 provides, they should be able to do so with other offenses. Either that, or just go back to 2016 and make the Internet safer for sex workers. I’m also saying Mark Zuckerberg is a soulless creature that would gladly sell out his country and his neighbors to make a dollar. He won’t even police his own Web site. No patriots exist in the Facebook executive board. If you’re not using Facebook solely to for its Messenger app (because your relatives simply won’t get off it and find alternatives to messaging you), you should delete it. It would be better for you and for everyone. Go read a real newspaper.

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Gardening Instructions

Baked Ziti

Peach– Peach pits are quite simple to grow. Using vice grips, the seeds can be cracked open to release the actual seed inside. I do not recommend using a hammer or knives to open the seeds. Hammers can damage the tender seed inside, while knives can be quite dangerous. Simply wash and dry the seeds after eating them, then use vice grips to crack them open. Afterwards, encase the seeds in a moist paper towel and put the towel in a sealed plastic bag. Keep the seeds inside the fridge for two to three weeks. Periodically check for molds.

After two to three weeks, the skin of the seeds should start to peel already and the seeds have begun germinating. Plant the seeds in a soil. Out of the twelve seeds I had, two have had the most growth. I recommend pinching the top of the seedlings in order to encourage the growth of branches. Do this once of twice, but not much more.

Plum– Plums can be planted the same way. There is no difference in the process. Although plum seeds are smaller and tend to split more easily. I also find that peaches tend to grow more aggressively than plums.

Plums and peaches can have spindly growth or simply not grow properly. I found that plums tend to do this more than peaches. I try to trim the unwanted growth out, change pots, and apply chemicals to no avail. I ended up weeding them out.

Cherry– Cherry can be planted the same way as peaches and plums. It is notable however that the seed inside the shell of cherries, also much like plums and peaches, have compounds which can turn to cyanide when swallowed. I’m not sure about the other fruits, but two or three crushed cherry pits can be quite deadly when eaten.

Cherry seeds grow fast then tend to stop and show no progress for a long time. I do not advice pinching the top of cherry seedling to encourage branch growth. Even as I wait for branch buds to grow on my seedlings, they are growing very slowly to the point of many of the leaves turning brown.

Apple– The moist paper towel technique can be done with apple seeds as well. Unlike the other drupes, apple seeds don’t need to be cracked open. They can just be placed in the moist paper towel and plastic back directly after washing. This time, they should not be kept inside the refrigerator but somewhere consistently warm, like behind the refrigerator. The seeds should be sprouting roots within two weeks.

Like cherry seeds, apple seeds can also be poisonous, but an average person needs to swallow over a hundred seeds in order to get close to a lethal dose. Apple seedlings tend to grow aggressively. Some leaves might have some rusting, but I find that most of my apple seedlings are growing healthily with no problems.

Persimmon– Persimmons are germinated the same way as apples. There is not need to crack the seeds or peel the skin. Simply place the plastic bag container in a warm place. I have read that they are difficult to germinate, but I have found it to be the opposite. Growing them from seeds is pretty straightforward.

Avocado– Avocado seeds are slow to germinate. They start growing roots and leaves when suspended halfway in a glass of water after four to six weeks. Simply wash avocado seeds, punch toothpicks into them to suspend them in water, then keep them somewhere sunny. While suspended, they tend to get slimy or moldy. Simply wipe the slime and the mold out and occasionally change the water.

After six weeks, plant the avocado seedlings. Some recommend pinching the seedlings in order to encourage branch growth but avocados tend to grow really slowly so some are understandably hesitant to do so. Please note that avocados, much like native tropical plants, need plenty of sunlight.

Mango– Mango seeds are germinated the same way as avocados. Simply scrub the mango seeds and dry them after eating. Once they are dry, it is easier to cut them open to release the seeds inside the shell. Use scissors to do this.

The problem with mangoes is that they tend to be very sensitive and will develop fungal disease, in my case anthracnose, which causes the tips and up to half of the leaves to turn brown. Apparently, mangoes will get sick when it’s either too dry or too humid, or if it is watered to much. It is a very finicky plant. When this happens, use copper-based fungicide to fight the infection. Absent of that, try not to water too much, especially the leaves. Also, trim off infected parts of the leaves with clean scissors. I disinfect the trimmed parts with hydrogen peroxide.

Kumquat– I have not grown any other citrus fruits other than the kumquat. I would like to grow calamansi, but the fruit is very difficult to find in the country. Also, compared to oranges and lemons, kumquats have small fruit and leaves, which make them ideal to be kept in small places.

Kumquats will have several seeds per fruit. A small pack of kumquat could easily yield a person over a hundred seeds. Gather the seeds, rinse them and place them between a moist paper towel, then seal it in a plastic bag. Like apples and persimmons, keep the plastic bag in a warm place. Check the bag once a week for molds, rinse, then continue keeping the seeds warm. They should be ready to plant within three weeks.

Out of all of the fruits I planted, kumquats appear to be the most willing to grow. Most, if not all of the seeds have grown into seedlings, with some seeds splitting to become one, two, or even three plants. The only problem I’ve encountered is that I ended up with too many kumquat seedlings, too many to give away, and that’s an excellent problem to have.

Mangosteen– Mangosteens, the queen of fruits, is very difficult to grow. I’ve tried several times now with no success. It’s an experimental process at the moment. I’ve planted them directly in soil, put them in a moist paper towel, kept them cold, and kept them warm. Roots simply will now grow out of their seeds. I read that because mangosteens harbor fruit flies, the fruit is irradiated to kill insects before they are packed and sent overseas. Unfortunately, this process also kills the seed inside.

I’ve been trying to get mangosteens to grow in hopes that the seed I got were from fruit that somehow escaped the irradiation process. It would appear that so far, the irradiation process is airtight. Mangosteens are uniquely delicious with their tangy sweetness. Unfortunately, they seem to be the opposite of kumquats. They arrive to me dead and are impossible to grow.

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The Hobbyist

Hands Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Focus, friend. Focus!

Ugh

Look Korea, I’m rooting for you. I’m your friend. But this tendency to make things about you, this desperate thirsty shit needs to stop.

Black people are being killed and an authoritarian steak salesman is threatening to point US military guns towards US citizens, and yet you find time and resources to figure out which properties damaged were owned by Koreans? That’s messed up.

Koreans sometimes need to calm down and stop trying to find the Korean angle or trying to assert Korean-ness in things too much. I get it. There’s patriotism. There’s love of country and fellow country men. Canadians tend to be overly assertive in finding the Canadian angle in things, too. But sometimes Korean media just seems a tad too thirsty. Korea has arrived on the world stage. Most people can now differentiate between Japanese and Koreans. Korean media doesn’t have to weed through every miniscule detail in things to find out if there’s anything Korean in order to blow it up as if it’s a triumph or that Koreans are somehow victims.

I see this in local media a lot. “Oh, let’s send out a food truck in Washington, DC and film it for our reality show. People will learn about Korean food.” Yeah, great idea if most people don’t already know about Korean food, especially in Washington, DC. “Did you see that one ‘kimchi’ comment by one of the characters in Birdman? Don’t you think it’s racist?” Maybe? But it’s a super minor comment in a prestige film that not many people will see!

Do you know about Dokdo? It’s Korea’s Hawaii!” It’s not. Not even most Koreans think it’s Korea’s Hawaii.

Things like this can range from annoying to mildly amusing. But when a major international event happens and I see headlines like the one above, not only is it disappointing, it just reeks of being blind to the issue at hand. The writer, as well as the editor and everyone else involved in having the dumb article posted on the paper, seem to be unaware to the tense history between black Americans and Korean Americans, particularly the LA riots and Koreatown. Heck, officer Tou Thau, a Hmong American who was one of the officers who allowed the murder of George Floyd to happen, kinda symbolized the complicity of Asian Americans (the model minority) to the violence against black communities. Simply put, this is not the time to worry about property. Black people are dying!

In Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was murdered by cops, Gandhi Mahal, an Indian family restaurant was burned to the ground due to the protests. The restaurant was started during the recession and became a local community hub. During the protests, it became a shelter for protesters, especially to those who were injured. And when it burned down, instead of being concerned over his loss, the owner was quoted as saying, “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.”

Forget property. Forget who owns what. The headline should be “Racist Cops are Out of Control.” Sure, you could mention that seventy-nine Korean businesses were damaged or looted in the process, but if you’re not focusing on the racism, death, and authoritarianism in the US, then you’re missing the racist forest for the Korean trees.

Dark Times

Black

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

Sinclair Lewis might have thought about the sentiment above, but there’s no proof that he actually uttered those words. But in any case, for the things that are happening in America right now, those words certainly will do.

After riots have broken out over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Donald Trump emerged from his bunker, had the police shoot tear gas at protesters to clear some room around the White House, and declared that he will allow military force within the country to quell the riots. Instead of backing down from his previous “once the looting starts, the shooting starts” comment, he doubled down with threatening to have the US military turn their might against Americans (As if the police aren’t already happily using military gear and tactics against Americans). And to complete the faux Lewis quote, he stands on a photo op holding a copy of the Bible as a prop. It was a slow and steady crawl, but fascism has come to America.

One of Trump’s favorite dictators, Duterte of the Philippines, has used similar tactics to cement his hold in his country. The Philippines is very similar to what’s happening in the US. Under the guise of the war against drugs and for the betterment of the country, he has sicced the police force as well as vigilantes to rein terror on drug users and suspected drug users. In the name of national security, he has silenced many of his detractors, even shutting down the country’s largest broadcaster, ABS-CBN. Just recently, Trump threatened to shutdown Twitter. If he had it his way, he would’ve shut down CNN and MSNBC a long time ago.

Now regarding his announcement regarding authorizing military force if state governors couldn’t get the protests under control. Much like his approach to the coronavirus, instead of leading, Trump is letting governors fix their problems independently, allowing him to take credit if the governors succeed and blame governors should the situation get worse. It’s leadership by cowardice. What Trump doesn’t seem to realize though is that it is illegal for the military to act within the US borders, and the only time the military is allowed to quell insurrection within the United States is if it’s under the request of the state’s governor. Now, which crazy governor would willingly point the guns of the US military on their own citizens?

What’s disheartening is the fact that amidst the protests, the coronavirus is still spreading. At the moment, the US is nearing 2 million cases, by far the highest in the globe. Should there be a surge in infections, it would inevitably affect the poorest in the country, and in this case, it would be felt more by minority communities protesting police violence. As if they weren’t suffering enough prior to the death of George Floyd.

The thing is, I believe the current protests are not only the result of decades of police abuse and racism. They are also the result of the US being fed up with 2020, if not the whole of Trump’s presidency. Communities have been ravaged by the pandemic. People have been suffering from the recession. There has been a constant rise in hate crimes in the US. The news has been a constant train of one injustice after another. And dumb, white people are angriest over the slightest discomforts… to the point of going around carrying guns to legislative buildings to protest wearing masks designed to keep them healthy. Which they all do unmolested, I might add. And so when the world saw Derek Chauvin slowly kill George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, which was ironically very reminiscent of Colin Kapernick’s protest against police violent, something inside many people’s hearts have died as well.

What police officers in US cities are doing right now as well as Trump’s move towards fascism is such a collective shame that many parts of the world have taken notice. There are rallies in many major cities. It is such big news here in Korea that people have started donating to black causes in the US. Even Iran is asking police officers in the US to treat its citizens more humanely. It’s like the whole world is looking at the most popular guy in school and seeing him hurt and embarrass himself.

I take no joy in seeing Donald Trump fail. It is frustrating to see him be evil or simply be inept and not see anyone stand up against him effectively. I have great love for Minneapolis. I have love for the US. Depending on who you ask, the country is Canada’s closest ally. So it’s infuriating seeing Trump fail America and the world again and again. And he seems to save his most vile poison towards minority populations and immigrants. Being a minority and an immigrant myself, I have felt the hurt of bigotry. I too have been racially profiled both in Canada and in Seoul. But I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and suffering to be a black person in America right now. The “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that Trump has bragged about earlier were meant as a threat against protesters, but I have a feeling they are especially trained for Americans who don’t happen to be white.

Things are dark right now. It is extremely dark. With racism and disease, and as Trump hoisted that Bible in front of cameras, it is very difficult to imagine light at the end of this long and dark tunnel.

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Dodgy History

Monster Base

Re-listening to Malcolm Gladwell talk about Brian Williams and how memory often distorts over time, I started thinking about how distorted my flashbulb memories are. One example I wrote about before was a picture of me on New Year’s Eve when I was six years old. My face was covered in smoke. For the longest time I thought it was me and I created this memory of me enjoying myself at that time. That is, until I started remembering that I was sick at that time and there was no way I could’ve been out celebrating New Year’s at that time.

Anyway, Gladwell mentioned that our memories of key historical events tend to distort even within a year’s time. And as an experiment, I would like to list a few historical moments that would probably be distorted or disputed once I read it again after a while. Our memories aren’t perfect. We often distort and unintentionally lie to ourselves. These lies become our truths.

-COVID-19: I had a pretty bad and/or uneventful Valentines day. I remember going to Korean class after work. A couple of days later, things got really hectic at work as we scramble to cope with the effects of the virus infection.

-Park Gun Hye: I didn’t want to go to any of the rallies because as a foreigner, I was technically in the country by the graces of the government. The protests were not my fight. I did go once. I remember watching Park Gun Hye leave her home on television when she finally got impeached.

-Umbrella Revolution: I remember meeting several students who were protesting what was happening in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is my favorite city ever. To this day, it still upsets me what the Chinese government and the Hong Kong police have turned such a dynamic place into.

-Donald Trump election: I was at work and was quite disappointed that Hilary didn’t win. I was following the Young Turks and MSNBC on Youtube. What a shitty day! The Chinese girl working next to me never talked to me once all that time I worked with her. This is why I never bothered remembering her name.

-Fukushima: I was home. I remember being disappointed that the release Yakuza: Dead Souls was postponed.

-Iraq Invasion: I had a roommate at the time and he was giddy at the prospect of watching Saddam’s military get utterly destroyed in a matter of days. “Shock and awe, baby!”

-9/11: I was getting ready to go to school when I saw the news on television. I had a CRT television in my room and I remember seeing smoke come out of the towers. I was wondering if I should go to school or if there was going to be school for a while. Then I remember it was everything people could talk about in class.

-Y2K: I was in Hong Kong waiting for the apocalypse to happen. The city would’ve been a great place for me to be stranded in. Sadly, nothing happened, and I had to fly back to Canada afterwards.

-Napster/file-sharing: I remembering illegally downloading Radiohead B-sides in weird formats. At the time, I was also trying out different programs to send text messages from the PC to cellphones. The first person to ever introduce me to t he Internet was Mr. Hanuscuck from our tech and woodworking class. He mentioned “surfing the Web,” and even back then, I thought the term was dated.

-Death of Princess Diana: I was in a van with my mom and dad picking up my sister as she gets off from a shift at a hospital. I heard it on the radio. We were on our way to have dinner somewhere. I remember thinking about those paparazzis chasing her as if it was a Mad Max scenario.

-Rise of the Internet: I remember being in a student conference about this in St. John’s Ravenscourt. Some girl across from me was flashing me with her skirt during a discussion about the Internet’s implication in the future.

-OJ Simpson not guilty: I was in an art class. A classmate of mine was doing a poll of the class minutes before the jury was to be announced. Even then, I knew he did it but was not impressed or could not follow the prosecution’s case. I said, “not guilty.”

-Soviet Union Collapse: I was in school. There were talks about the new countries that were bound to be born out of the event. Around that time, our teacher had us debate communism versus capitalism. I was on the side of communism.

-Nintendo: God bless my mom for buying us a Nintendo system. I remember being the luckiest kid ever when she came home with it. Our first game was Circus Charlie.

-AIDS epidemic: I remember reading extensively about this on National Geographic. There were also TV specials about it, but the magazine article stuck to me. Oddly enough, I don’t remember thinking it was a gay disease.

-EDSA Revolution: I don’t remember much about it, just mostly the songs. My father was and is a pro-Marcos guy. Politics was not often discussed at home. I recall a couple of days being thankful that he came home in one piece.

-Iran hostage crisis: I was coming home from school when I heard the news on the radio. I was eating the driest and crumbliest cookie ever. A neighbor kid gave them to me as an apology for inadvertently stabbing my hand the day before.

-End of the Vietnam War: I remember when it ended, my uncle, who is a veteran, had a lot of opinions about it. I was too young to get involved so I just ignored it and mostly played with his model airplanes and helicopters. It was the first time I got to thinking about small scale models.

-The Cuban Missile Crisis: I was visiting my grandfather and he had the TV on. I wasn’t too interested in it and neither was he. I remember him grumbling that it was mostly an American thing and something that Canada shouldn’t bother with. He was preparing lunch at the time and reheating/remoistening a bowl of rice by adding some water in it. I thought it was odd.

-George VI dies: I was babysitting a neighbor’s kid, Courtland, and he was climbing on to my shoulder while I was trying to read the newspaper. I remember thinking, “We’ll be seeing a lot of this new Queen.”

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Prom is Coronavirus Casualty (but there’s always Jennifer Lynn Jenkins)

Girl Diver

I met an old acquaintance of mine who had me spend time talking to his daughter. His daughter was studying in Canada but had to suddenly move back to Korea due to the coronavirus. Let’s call her Kelly. Now her education in Canada is in a bit of a limbo. She doesn’t know when and if she could go back to Canada to finish her senior. And worse in Kelly’s mind, she fears that she’s going to miss out on prom. Prom… Ah, to be young and naive. I asked her about her ideas about prom and it was interesting hearing how a lot of it is informed through YA novels and what she’s seen on her Netflix subscription.

I had to tell her that prom in Canada is called “grad.” And I’m not so sure about other kids, but I remember it not being such a big deal to Canadians, at least to me. I remember listening to ‘This American Life’s’ take on prom and one teacher said that it was the time when kids become adults in America. It’s when they dress up as adults, get treated like adults, are allowed to drink, and for a night, think that everything is possible. I remember my grad being a mixed bag. There wasn’t that much hype about it, but I do remember being in an environment where it’s all sort of a blank slate. High school hierarchy was sort off forgotten, tired facades were dropped, and for a night, I found myself socializing with people I normally wouldn’t hang out with. A couple of times I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, that guy ain’t half bad. I should’ve hung out with him more.”

Contrary to the critical hype, I actually went to grad twice. Both with the same person. My date wasn’t really my girlfriend or anything. She was one of my best friends at the time. I graduated one year earlier, so I took her to my grad and she invited me to hers. I was initially planning to invite a girl in my history class to grad with me. But when I called my friend for advice asking that girl out, I ended up asking her out instead. Interestingly enough, I believe the guy the girl in my history class went to grad with ended up marrying her. So that was all good for her. I never would’ve guessed that after seeing her all drunk with her future husband trying to nurse her back to consciousness.

I don’t really remember spending too much time with my date on either nights. I remember renting a limo once. I remember being drunk and getting kicked out on my second night. I remember not only do these events have liquor, they also had gambling, which is a really weird education/initiation for kids. It was like, “hey, in case you didn’t know the rules of black jack before you graduate, here you go!” I remember dancing with a girl whose name I believe was Jennifer Lynn Jenkins (I could be wrong). I always had a crush on her but thought she was too out of my league. She had beautiful long blond hair which seemed to just swish with every turn. I remember her having braces at one point, but then tried fangs in order to fit in. It was a thing back then, I guess. Anyway, for someone so attractive, she seemed to never really stuck with a crowd. I think it’s because she was the pretty girl who just moved from another school on her last year. Anyway, with the democratizing nature of the event, I was able to finally work up the courage and ask her to dance with me. She probably doesn’t remember it, but that was the highlight of all of my grad experience.

Outside of that, both events were mostly just hanging out and waiting for things to happen, just like what most teenagers do. We wait for people to arrive, for things to happen, for things to end. It’s not really exciting. Looking back now, aren’t teenagers dumb? We mostly spent our time waiting. I tell all of this to Kelly and that seemed to dampen the hype a bit for her. But I guess what really turned her the most is the fact that people are expected to have dates at grad. Well, at least that’s what media told her. A lot of people in both of the grads I went to didn’t really have dates. Or maybe they’re like me. I had someone with me, but she’s not really my date in the truest sense of the word. Anyway, most Koreans start dating at a much older age than Westerners. It’s not unusual to see kids in university who’ve never been on dates once. The pressure to have a date on one night in a foreign country with so little time must be daunting for her. But then again, she seems like a good kid. I’m sure some guy would ask her out given the chance.

Anyway, it was fun seeing how big a hype grad (or prom) is to a kid. It seems really foolish to me now. Heck, it seemed fooling to me even during my first year in university. But it’s interesting to see how kids’ minds are so different, even when they believe that they have become adults. Maybe it’s our minds changing significantly as we age, or maybe it’s just the wisdom (or cynicism) brought about by years of experience. I really hope Canada gets the virus under control soon. I feel bad for the young kids missing out on grad (or prom) this year. I hear that some schools are moving their prom events to August, but I’m not sure if that’s too soon for the virus to be under control and for such large gatherings to be safe. In any case, I hope next year, Kelly gets to experience this event which the media has been hyping so much for her.

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