Tag Archives: life

You’re Canadian, You Idiot!

Tim_Hortons

I was recently asked about childhood memories. This was for some future project and here is a gist of what I wrote with some edits.

I don’t know how old I was, but this was back in school. My family and I are immigrants, and we were still adapting to life in Canada at the time. I didn’t have too many friends in my new school, and I was still resenting my new city and the people in it. It was a bad time to be a kid. I was somewhat resenting the whole country, wishing not to be there, probably blaming my troubles as a kid to the whole immigrant move or how different everyone in Canada was. It was not uncommon for me to begin my sentences with “Well, back in my country…” in noting how more sensible, interesting, moral, etc. people back home were compared with Canadians. In my mind, I was enlightening people, or at least demonstrating my pride for the country I just left. I could imagine how insufferable that must have been for some. I mean, who was I? Balki Bartokomous?

Then one day in English class, during some discussion or argument about a topic I’ve long forgotten, I mentioned something about being a “permanent resident” and not Canadian citizen. That was a technical term, and I forgive most kids at that age for not knowing it, but one of my classmate scoffed at my ridiculous sentiment. “What are you talking about? You’re Canadian.” I explained the situation and the difference to her, but she still insisted, “It doesn’t matter. You’ll be Canadian eventually.”

I’m sure it was a very forgettable experience for everyone else in the room. But for me, it was a microcosm of what a welcoming, multi-cultural experiment Canada is, and how wrong I was with my resentment and stubbornly sticking to what made me different at the time. I was being stupid and silly. Why was I being so negative about my new home? It was a wake-up call, and I was grateful to be very wrong.  I’m quite older now, but that was a lasting lesson on multiculturalism, acceptance, and how some people stubbornly stick to their differences for no reason whatsoever.

To this day, even when I no longer live in Canada, I proudly call myself a Canadian and value what the country has given me. And as for that classmate who put me in my place, she has become one of my best friends. Even after eventually going to different schools we’ve kept in touch. To this day, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we still watch hockey together.

Anyway, even now, as I live in South Korea, I try not to be too negative on the country too much because of the lesson from that classroom interaction. For all of its quirks and what some might perceive as shortcomings, it’s still a wonderful country. It’s a still a country most people would be very lucky to live in. I can raise my imaginary flag and proclaim my love for Canada, but not at the expense of my current home. And should I be compelled to explain differences between Canada and South Korea, I try to be as unbiased as I could.

But speaking of differences, here’s the key difference. Back then, I had someone tell me, “You’ll be Canadian eventually.” And she was right. Here, it is not uncommon for me to hear people say “you’re almost Korean!” Heck, I even hear it from people back in Canada. But the thing is I don’t think I ever will be truly Korean even if I wanted to. There is a shared national and historical identity that is very difficult for foreigners to be a part in. As wonderful and as welcoming as the Koreans are, the country in general is still not as welcoming as Canadian society. (I don’t blame them. They have a long history which would explain this, one that I won’t be able to explain in a nutshell.) It’s simply not the same as Canada.

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A Grim Trend

Fish Folk.jpg

There seems to be an awful lot of death around me lately. Last November, my grandmother passed away. I had to fly to the States for a bit of a memorial gathering. I haven’t seen my grandmother for many years prior to her passing, and in at least a couple of scares, our family had to mentally prepare ourselves for her passing. And when she finally passed away, it was more like seeing the long inevitable, acting in a scene long rehearsed.

Not long after, my godfather passed away. I don’t have much of a relationship with him, but he was close with my father and I do love my cousins. His health has been in a decline for many years now. And while it was a surprise for me that he passed away, I had a feeling that it was to be expected. He wasn’t getting any healthier. A few weeks after his passing, another uncle passed away. Like my godfather, his health was in a decline as well. It’s a bit of a coincidence that he was really close with my godfather and that they both died within weeks of each other’s passing. It’s almost like what they say about old couples dying.

Just now, my landlord just passed away. He’s not a relative, but being my landlord, he’s physically the one closest to me. His death hasn’t hit me as much as my grandmother’s death did, but the fact that I just saw him smiling with his family gathered all around him on a Sunday afternoon a few days ago makes me feel really uneasy. He was a good guy who was kind and generous enough to let me stay at his place for so many years even though he wasn’t particularly fond of the way I decorated and furnished my apartment. I just hope he makes a straight beeline to heaven and not linger around to make his complaints about my living space known.

Oddly enough, we are planning to move to a different place sometime this year. Having my good landlord finally pass away seems to make that decision even more pertinent. Here’s hoping we find a reasonable place in this currently ridiculous Seoul real estate market.

I don’t know if there’s really a point to my writing this week. There have been a lot of people dying lately. It feels quite uneasy.  I really would like to shake it off.

Be kind to people while they are still around. One of my biggest regret in life is not being there with my mother in her last years. I could’ve found another job. I could’ve made arrangements around my life to make it possible for me to be there with her, but I didn’t. I was lazy, unimaginative, selfish, and unkind. I kinda shut it all out. I pretended everything was going to be fine, and in the process, I missed out on so much from a woman who was nothing but a saint to everyone in the family. Be kind to people while they around, because when they’re gone, you might end up writing blog entries about it repeatedly and getting reminded of your mistakes every time another person dies.

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On Drawing and Joylessly Drawing

Monster

I started drawing at a very young age. Drawing was probably the only thing I was good at when I was young. I wasn’t particularly smart or athletic. I remember my father speculating that drawing is probably the reason why my handwriting was so poor. That was something I would keep on hearing many more years later. Growing up with three sister and not many boys my age around my neighborhood, I tended to entertain myself by playing G.I. Joes, video games, or drawing. I loved drawing. I would draw anything. I even remember copying illustrations from encyclopedias as practice. Later on, in elementary through high school, I got heavily interested in comic books. If you look at the back of my notebooks, they would all be filled with super hero illustrations. I thought I could be a comic book illustrator someday. Whenever the opportunity came, I participated in art contests. They were good experiences even when I didn’t win. They taught me at a young age how to work on specific themes and that art, at least art that pays, is often creating what others want you to make, and not what you want to do.

I didn’t attend art classes until I was grade nine. By that time, not to brag, I was already more skilled than the kids in my class. I was not sure if I learned any skills in high school art classes except for how to mat and frame works. The thing that I value most is learning about art history. My teacher tried to wean us from drawing cartoons and teach us about composition and learn about the masters in art history. It worked. I stopped trying to become a comic book illustrator and no longer drew heroes for my friends to hang on their walls. I was more interested in high art. I remember learning about Chiaroscuro and selling my first piece on canvas to one of my English teachers. It was a poor imitation to Chiaroscuro’s style depicting the piercing of Christ’s side. I think I sold it for $80 Canadian.

It was during high school when I first started developing my small drawing style. Oddly enough, my first piece done this way was made for an English project. I remember it was made mostly of lines and scenes from Hamlet, culminating in the death of Ophelia, the prince’s most innocent victim. I continued drawing with the same drawing style throughout university. There were times when I tried to move away from small drawings, venturing into sculpture and even making gigantic drawings, some measuring around 15 or 20 meters wide. But I kept coming back to the small drawings. I was encouraged mostly by my thesis professor, who despite me saying I was growing desperately bored of being hunched over drawing and writing small words, he told me that it was quite unique to hear of an artist being bored and yet unable to stop drawing. I have to continue making small drawings until my eyes fail me.

That was many years ago. I still haven’t stopped. Vision is still 20/20.

These days, I draw for the sake of drawing. I draw because I have to. I draw to whisper secrets onto the paper and in doing so momentarily free my mind from their burdens. I regret that I didn’t follow through on being a comic book illustrator. I regret that I didn’t explore how to become an illustrator for encyclopedias. Now and then, I regret missing out on learning how to tattoo and developing my own style of body art. I regret not working on being a commercial artist. But then again, maybe that would further discourage me from making art. Work sometimes takes the joy out of something you would do for free.

I don’t draw to make money. If some of my works sell, then it’s a blessing, but I don’t draw to sell my works. My images are not putting food on my table. I draw to show my works if the opportunity arises, but creating shows or making works to sell at shows are not my motivation. If it were, then maybe I’d be selling more works. I draw because I have to; it is a need. I do appreciate the little audience I have and am grateful to those who enjoy and have purchased my works. Even if people don’t buy them. Even if people just stop and stare for a second at a piece hanging on a wall. I am truly grateful for their time. I have no illusion that I will be a famous artist someday. That is why I appreciate the people who stop and enjoy my art when I know there are far better artists that they could (and should) be looking at.

So what is the point of all of this? The point is, drawing and making art doesn’t have to have a distinct purpose. You don’t need to make art to sell or to show people or to do whatever. You could just be making art just because you want to or need to. That is not particularly insightful and I know I’m not the first person to say that, but I think it is particularly true in my case. There are times when I am totally sick and bored of making art. I am left uninspired. But this need, this itch, this monkey on my back keeps me making more images. It pushes me to make something even when it is ugly as sin.

Sometimes people make art for no reason. They just enjoy it.

Sometimes people make art for no reason, even when they don’t enjoy it. They just have to.

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Time Flies Anonymously

Time Flies Anonymously

My grandmother passed away over a week ago. I was in Hawaii to pay my respects and to reunite with my family briefly. The occasion was a mixed.

My grandmother has been bedridden for so long now that it was a relief that she no longer has to suffer in the hospital. A couple of times before, we had scares and talks about letting my grandmother go peacefully and naturally. But in all honesty, after seeing pictures of her with so many tubes keeping her alive, however lucid she was, there was nothing natural about living like that. She was a wonderful, albeit complicated lady. Back in her day, I see her turning heads whenever she entered a room. Life is a blessing, youth is a blessing. I can only imagine the difficulty and pain living in such an unnatural state. In any case, it was good to honor her one last time. It was also good to finally thank my aunt for all the years she has devoted to my grandmother, always taking care of her throughout her most difficult years. My aunt is a saint.

My grandmother now joins my mother and my uncle. It is sad, but through recent years, I have seen a significant part of my family on my mother’s side just disappear from my life, including my own mother. It really hit me hard especially when I saw the picture above from one of my cousins. This was taken in early 2000s. There are eight people in the picture. One of them is me. Four people have already passed away. One person is a stranger to me. The two children in the picture have now grown and have three children between themselves. I don’t remember much from this moment, but I do recall that this was taken after a lunch gathering, and another person at the table not included in the picture is no longer with us as well. Every time I try to think of that moment, I can’t help but think of death no matter how happy the occasion was.

Time flies, folks. Tell your mother you love her while you still can.

I love you, Ma. I love you, Mommet.

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Oh Canada

Icarus

How do you measure love of country? You really can’t, but it’s all relative. There’s a personal rubric to everyone’s life to where you can measure love of country to. I think one of the ultimate sacrifices one can make for the country is to enlist in the military. As much as I would love to kiss Canada in the mouth, I don’t think I’m ready to take the risk of dying for the country as part of my occupation. I don’t want that to be an element of my 9 to 5. Of course, as Louis CK once mentioned, these soldiers only “think” that they’re dying for the country, because really what are wars about these days anyway? Unless you belong in a small country fighting an invading force, you’re most likely part of a large military machine fighting for unsexy geopolitical reasons engineered by politicians at the behest of the one-percenters. But hey, at the very least, in the soldiers mind, they would gladly lay their life for the country. That’s what really counts.

So me being an ordinary civilian, how much do I love Canada? Well, it would be easy to say I could die for the country more than I would die for South Korea or the Philippines, but there was actually one point in my life when I could measure my love for the country in another comparative fashion. It’s ugly, but it’s the truth: I love sleeping in my own bed more than I love Canada.

After graduating from university the first time, I was at a loss as to what to do with my life. Looking for some life experiences, I decided to apply for the navy. I figured it would be good to be part of the navy since I could be in the military without having to be in the ground and stabbing someone in the neck. My uncle is in the US Navy, and he seemed to be living quite the good life with his family in Hawaii. I was all ready to go and sign away my existence when I learned that the first eight months would involve me being in a submarine hot bedding. Hot bedding is the practice of sharing a bed with people and taking turns sleeping in shifts. That’s why the bed is “hot,” it’s always warm from the person who slept on it a couple of minutes ago. So that would’ve been my life, hot bedding in a steel canister, floating or sinking in a dark abyss. I decided no. It was too high a price for me to pay.

Living overseas, I’ve met many soldiers. A lot of them have suffered tremendous trauma from their times in conflict zones. I remember one soldier in particular who started drinking with me heavily a week after he came back from Afghanistan. I tried to keep up with him, but there was an odd glint in his eyes that just tells me he’s seen and experienced things most people shouldn’t. But my decision to not join the military was long before I’ve met firsthand people who’ve suffered from conflicts, conflicts which continue to this day. The bed situation was enough for me to say no. I don’t even remember if I was thinking about Afghanistan at the time. In fact, I remember considering and being seriously tempted to go to Afghanistan a few years ago for a non-military job. So it wasn’t even being in a conflict that deterred me, it truly was the beds.

It wasn’t until many years later, long after I’ve been living overseas that I’ve truly grown to love Canada. I’d like to think it was more with me growing older as opposed to me missing what was no longer there. I often trumpet my love for the country and evangelize the goodness that is Canada, but during the time when I could prove my love for country, I failed due to sleeping comforts.

These days, it is very difficult to join the military because you never really know which conflict you’ll be sent to and for what reason. Which place will they send you to, and will your death really matter or will it just be a statistic in the games people play for oil or whatever resources countries are now fighting for?  Conflicts are not as clear cut as fighting the Nazis. This is why I admire people who willingly join now. Knowing all of these detractors, despite cynics like, they still sign up for love of country.

I’m sorry, Canada. I love you. But I love you with my cowardly heart. It is a heart that needs a warm bed heated by my body heat alone.

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Korean Evenings

Horseman

Learning Korean has been a struggle for me. First off, it’s very difficult to find time to go to class with my job. On a busy day, I work two jobs which start at 7:00 am and end at 6:00 pm. On a really busy day, my day won’t end until 8:00 pm. Squeeze making art and perhaps more side work between that, and it’s very difficult to find time to do anything at all. A lot of Korean learners find listening to K-pop or watching dramas or TV shows help, but I’m not interested in any of those. Korean television is simply not that interesting. I’m mostly isolated at work, so there’s very little interaction with Koreans during my day, so it’s very difficult to learn Korean via osmosis. So what am I to do to increase my Korean fluency beyond intermediate? Sacrifice my evenings and take Korean classes.

I decided to take classes again to force me to take learning Korean more seriously. I took Korean lessons years ago but had to quit because I got busier with work and there was a huge jump in the difficulty level in the classes. It was very discouraging. After that, I didn’t really try that hard to learn Korean. In fact, I focused my attention to studying law instead.

I figure my problem has been a lot of my attempts to learn the language has been based on my own pace. Thus, it was very easy for me to quit or decide that I have learned enough for the day. I think that’s the problem with the Duolingo and Rosetta Stone solutions. They give you too much freedom. They also don’t force you to be in a situation where you actually have to speak Korean to another person. Even basic sentences can be very intimidating when speaking to another person. That’s one of my biggest hurdles. I simply don’t spend enough time interacting with Koreans in Korean.

The classes would result in less time spent at home, but I guess it will be time well spent. In any case, I need to be out more anyway without drinking or spending too much money. This also means I won’t be working as much during the evenings. But again, if I’m not out spending money, it should theoretically cancel out not making money. Korean classes, plus listening to Korean audio lessons (less time spent on podcasts), and reviewing with apps like Duolingo and Quizlet. Here’s hoping I keep this up.

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Space Death

Woman

Jumping from a building to your death is probably the most basic ways people can kill themselves. With enough height, forget the cracking of bones, the exploding of skulls, and the damage done to tissue upon impact. Forget all of that. Those are minor things compared to the grandeur at play. It is the collision of a human body with planetary forces. This is a person being killed by physics. Just as we are all ultimately born from the remnants of ancient dead stars, this is a planet ultimately killing a person. Just as a little bit of sunlight doesn’t usually hurt people but it will kill a person if they manage to fly out into space and come close enough to the sun, so too would the Earth’s gravity kill a person should they decide to embrace it freely from a distance of over ten floors. It is space death without the spaceship. Imagine floating in space and colliding with a wayward asteroid. But with jumping off a building, you are colliding with a planet populated by people you couldn’t care less about anymore. Your horizon is now shifted by 90 degrees, and it is the weight of the Earth slamming on you, with all its continents, mountains, forests and seas. All of the Earth’s trees, creatures, and secrets crush you as the planet’s gravitational pull over you infinitely overwhelm your own gravitational pull towards the planet. It’s like a heroic death envisioned by Ray Bradbury. When people get hit by vehicles, people would describe it as such. Greg got hit by a bus. Susan was crushed by a train. But with jumping off buildings, “Joe slammed into the planet Earth.” It just sounds more epic. Should I jump to my death, I think it would only be fitting to wear a spacesuit. Maybe wear a blindfold to emulate the darkness of space, drink tons of alcohol to get courage and emulate space sickness, and wear earphones to listen to some music and drown out the outside noise. Astronauts listen to music, don’t they?

The only thing I could think of that would be more primordial would be breathing in helium, one of the early gases in the universe. The problem with this however is that setting up a helium bubble takes a lot of human aspect and design to make it happen. It’s not very primordial, is it? Also, most helium distributors now sell canisters with enough oxygen in them to make sure they cannot be used for probably one of the most comfortable ways to commit suicide. I’d call these companies killjoys, but that term doesn’t really make much sense in this scenario.

Despite the rather grim entries these past few days though, I am not seriously thinking of killing myself. I feel like that is something that has to be said. It is weird how talking about suicide always has to be prefaced by saying, “I’m not thinking of killing myself, but…” And even if you mentioned that, regardless of how explicit your warning is or how happy you appear to be, people will always be thinking that you’re suicidal or depressed to some degree. It’s like saying, “I’m not racist, but…” You will always sound racist no matter what you say to finish that sentence. Some bigoted commentary and suicidal musings cannot be uttered without being thought of as being a bigot or suicidal. Anyway, I’m not suicidal, but I’ve been thinking a lot about jumping off tall buildings lately, that and dying in space.

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Swallow the Moon

SwallowtheMoon

Too busy for thoughts, but not for art. God bless us all.

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The Bechdel Test

Elephant

Take the Bechdel test and apply it to women in real life. You’ll find some women simply do not pass the Bechdel test despite being free from the skewed gender norms in fiction.

Take the test and change men to the person’s significant other, or perhaps their children. Now you have a nice little game waiting for the other person to say, “my wife” or “my kid.”

Keep nodding your head to show you’re paying attention.

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Marriage Advice

toe_nail

Today is my wedding anniversary. Today is also my parents’ wedding anniversary. As content as I am with my marriage, I can’t really recommend marriage for everyone.

I’m not saying that my marriage is better than most. I can’t even say that I’m particularly good or content at being a husband. I’m just more realistic about it. It’s challenging, and the good days are coupled with the bad. The problem is, instead of being objective at viewing the bad days, you either blame your spouse and drive a wedge between the two of you, or blame yourself which drives you to depression. And as hard as it is not to do either, sometimes the thoughts just linger there at the back of my head, like a tiny cancerous cell.

So why the negative? Well, as content as I am with my marriage. It is the marriage I think that I deserve. It is the relationship that a person like me, with all of my talents and failings, am worthy of, or perhaps even extremely lucky to have (depending on how much of a scumbag low life I think I am at the moment). I think people come in to marriage with visions of roses and a path paved with rainbows. And that’s when it starts falling apart. Nothing in life is that sweet. No prince charming will sweep you off your feet and take care of everything and make you happy. You can’t marry a sex doll who will also appreciate your personality, feed your intellect, and help support you financially. You get married if you finally find someone who can put up with you, someone that’ll make you happy now and then, someone that will put up with your inadequacies, a roommate that you won’t totally hate. That sounds like a low standard for marriage, but it’s actually quite a tall order if you look at it realistically. Just looking at the roommate standard, I’ve had roommates before, and many of them I liked, but there’s a tipping point to some of the things I won’t put up with and vice versa.

So what’s my advice regarding marriage? Don’t do it to make yourself happy. This applies especially to Korean women my age. Marriage won’t make you happy. You get married, because deep in your soul, for whatever reason, you have to wake up with that person next to you every day, until one of you dies and leaves the other person broken hearted until they pass away as well. It has nothing to do with happiness. It’s about filling a place in your life that is both joyous and miserable. You do it, because you have to do it. I guess that’s my roundabout way of describing a soulmate. A soulmate fills a void in your life; they don’t necessarily make you happy. Find happiness somewhere else. Then let marriage complement or complicate that happiness. Don’t confuse marriage and happiness for the same thing. Otherwise, the minute you start being unhappy, you start blaming your spouse. Going back to the roommate analogy, I never blamed my roommate for my unhappiness. My unhappiness was all because of me.

Of course this is just me talking about marriage without taking children into consideration. I don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t know how that factors in. I love children, but I couldn’t imagine having them myself. I think I’d make a good uncle but a terrible parent. Perhaps having children would make marriage more fulfilling, but I’ve seen marriages not survive despite couple having several children. Perhaps children help marriages, perhaps they don’t. But I wouldn’t want to risk having children in an unhappy household. And if the statistics are accurate, despite what your Facebook feed might tell you, more than fifty percent of marriages end up in divorce. Out of the other half that survives, how many of that are unhappy? How many of that has children. The stakes are just too damned high.

And before there’s any confusion regarding my own happiness with my marriage, let me answer that question. Today, I am happy with my marriage.

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