Tag Archives: life

Old Friend

Make Up.jpg

Alexis Ann Willsborough Poirier is one of my oldest friends. We met back in high school and she is one of the few people in high school I’m still interested in keeping in touch with. I like to think she is one of my best friends.

We went to several hiking and camping trips together. I remember despite her being quite fond of being outdoors and camping, she had trouble starting a fire. I sometimes suspected that my only purpose on those camping trips was to start a fire. But even if that was the case, I didn’t mind. Those early camping trips made me see how beautiful the province was. It also showed me that if worse comes to worse, I could live my life in the great outdoors. I learned that moose without their antlers look like weird aliens from behind. And that bears wouldn’t really bother your camp unless you have a bag of marshmallows sitting outside.

She was the first person to get me into working out regularly. I remember meeting up with her early in the morning and working out in the gym before going to school. She and her sister, Alicia, were quite big with sports and working out, and I just tried to keep up with it. Those gym sessions were also a good way of keeping in touch since at that time I was starting in university and she was still in high school. It was a great excuse to meet, workout, and eat a heavy breakfast which would make all of the workout pointless.

We went to grad/prom twice. This was not for any romantic reason at all. I believe it was more for us and our friends spending key moments of our lives together. One thing I appreciated about Alexis is how much she valued her friends. And she tried to keep our core group together especially for key holidays. Even after I started spending my Christmas holidays overseas while I was in university, we always made it a point to celebrate Christmas dinner together at a later date. Outside of childhood Christmases, those were the best Christmas celebrations I’ve had.

The first time I left Canada for South Korea, she was there with my family to say goodbye to me at the airport. None of my other friends were there. She was. And the times I would come back home, she would try to be there to pick me up. After a while, this became impossible since she moved to another province, but she always made an attempt to see me whenever I’m in the country. And when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she drove hundreds of miles to see me, even accidentally running over a poor cow in the process.

One of my biggest regrets was not really being there for her when her father passed away. Though it was not sudden and she had some time to slowly process it, I wish I was more present at the time. I remember her and I talking whenever there’s some serious problems in her life, but with her father passing, I really didn’t know where to place myself. What was the right thing to do? Do I simply fly back home? Fly back home to what? To where? Am I intruding? All I could do was just be there on the phone.

Although she wasn’t there for my wedding, she visited Korea once, and we even traveled for a short time in Japan. In Seoul, we went hiking with her fiance, just like old times. The man she would eventually marry is a great guy. I really enjoyed meeting him when they visited. I remember when we were younger, she would say that if her close friends thought that if there was something wrong about the person she was dating, she would end it with him. I’m not sure if I totally believed this, but try as I might, I couldn’t find any disqualifying traits with her future husband. They seem perfect for each other.

She had a small ceremony in her house last year.

She visited Japan again this year and just got back to Canada today. I was invited to come and see them while they were in Japan, but I felt that since it was their honeymoon as well as a trip to introduce the couple to their Japanese relatives, I felt that it was too much of a family affair. I would be intruding. This was the biggest reason I couldn’t see them aside from a myriad other reasons why visiting Japan was not best at the moment. I tried to message her as much as I can, especially since we were on the same time zone, but a part of me wished that I could’ve spent a day or two with my old friend. And now that she’s in Canada again, I could feel that distance again. I’m sure we’ll still bond over hockey long distance, but yeah, the distance is palpable and the Winnipeg Jets last season was not very inspiring.

So why am I writing all of this? For no particular reason. I just miss my buddy.

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Subway Sandwiches and #Inktober

There’s this Subway sandwich restaurant close to the train station I used to regularly go to before. I knew the owner and everything, but since I started experimenting with different types of diets (strictly salads, strictly Burger Kings, etc.), I stopped going there for almost a couple of years.

There’s another Subway sandwich restaurant close to my company. It’s newer, but through word of mouth, I learned that it’s also owned by the owner of the other restaurant. I’ve been going there every day for two weeks now. No one really knows who I am when I go there, which is fine since I usually prefer just dining alone undisturbed.

The other day, as I was ordering my usual 30-inch Spicy Italian (on Parmesan oregano with shredded cheese, all vegetables except jalapeno, and plain mustard), the owner walked in. He recognized me and we had a rather loud conversation in Korean. He was shaking my hands and everything… and all that time, the people in the restaurant must be thinking, “who the heck is this guy?!” Why was the owner shaking this foreigner’s hand and so happy to see him? What is going on?!

Then he ordered the sandwich artist (I believe that’s what they prefer to be called) to give me two free cookies of my choice and a Dr. Pepper. I accepted, then sat down to enjoy my meal. The owner of the restaurant walked out and said farewell before he left.

A minute after, another sandwich artist came to me again with more cookies, compliments of the house. Brilliant!

Then it struck me. Next time I go in, I’m gonna start pushing my weight around. “Don’t you know who I am?!?! You’d better give me an extra cookie!” “Hey! Hey! You’d better change your gloves before making MY sandwich! How come you’re not wearing a hair net?! And where’s my cookie?! I want that cookie NOW! Pay attention to me!

I’m a super important person!

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On a different note, it’s October and I’m participating in #Inktober for the first time. My works take forever to do, so it’s impossible for me to finish one drawing a day. So I’m cheating. Taking inspiration from Garth Jenning’s music video for REM’s ‘Imitation of Life’, I created an image that can be scanned at different spots to reveal the day’s image. Creatively lazy, yay!

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I don’t deserve puppies.

Foxes

There is an old article in Scientific American about letting go of self-esteem. The whole thing boils down to people’s quest to build themselves up and their own expectations for the future inevitably leads to unhappiness and disappointment. Now, I don’t really know how one can scientifically measure happiness, but I get it.

Prior to the 60s, most children were raised with great expectations from their parents. But instead of being praised and being taught that they are special, things were rather Spartan. You earn your praise. You follow your parents’ or society’s expectations and make something of yourself. Maybe afterwards, people will say something nice about you.

Then ‘Mr. Rogers; Neighborhood’ came along and Fred Roger’s rather Christian message of every child being special change most of the way children are raised. Every child is now special just by virtue of existing. They have gifts and unique features which should be nurtured, and every child should not be ashamed of what they are, including their personal weaknesses. Detractors however saw this as children being raised to be weak or “everyone getting a participation trophy.”

In any case, both ways of raising children look at increasing one’s self-esteem, be it via earning it through hard work or just as a God-given virtue common to all human beings. In a capitalist society, this self-esteem is mostly reflected by what one owns and has accomplished: the size of your house, your education, the car you drive, the attractiveness of your wife, etc. The Scientific American article argues that by basing our self-esteem in such lofty external and materialistic goals, we often find ourselves frustrated in the pursuit, disappointed in our failures, and surprised at how short-lived the satisfaction we experience after achieving our goals. It’s almost like the article was written by a hippie or a communist, but there is truth to the whole thing. As poor as Nepal is, the country ranks as the highest in the happiness and self-fulfillment index among the world’s nations. Apparently, you don’t have to have all of the nice things to be happy. You don’t have to believe that you’ll amount to something either.

The hitch to this whole thing is that I believe already have low self-esteem and yet I’m not happy. That’s a really weird statement coming from someone who has his own Web site which nobody visits, but I really think it’s true. I don’t see myself very highly. And each morning, I wake up thinking that if I could find something to be truly happy about for an hour, then it’s a good day. Happiness is fleeting. And the problem with being truly happy is that you get so lost in it that you don’t watch yourself when things inevitably turn sideways. Afterwards, you get even more depressed. Happiness is a puppy. Things are good until you’re mourning outside a vet.

According to Scientific American, don’t even bother getting that puppy. You probably don’t deserve it. You are a degenerate, and nobody truly cares about you or loves you. You will amount to nothing and that puppy will end up starving. Learn to live with these truths and be happier with the little things in life.

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Shake It Off

Creature

The page says “The Weekly” but I haven’t really been writing much nor have I been making much art recently. I’ve been far too busy, and quite frankly, a tad depressed, to be making anything. I sent some works to a couple of magazines and galleries, but I haven’t heard anything yet, so yeah… it’s been a quiet few days for art. But anyway, let’s get this started! Voila, ART!!!

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Danny Zuko is a Bad Boyfriend

Tell Me More

I was having dinner at a restaurant last night, the meal was great, my wife was enjoying the excellent food and it appears that most other customers and families around us were equally pleased. While the restaurant served liquor, it was not so much a drinking place but a place where someone can bring their family, as evidenced by a couple of the customers and their kids. There was one table however, that kinda spoiled the mood for everyone else.

It was a group of six men, drinking not too heavily but enough that they are all loud and can be heard by everyone in the restaurant. They were fairly young, maybe late 20s-30s. And though they were speaking a tad fast and my Korean is not that good, I could catch enough of what they were talking about, namely: the women they slept with, how their girlfriends are in bed, which Japanese adult film star they would like to be with, and how to get a Japanese girl. My wife heard all of this, and she corroborated my guesses. It was quite annoying and uncomfortable hearing all of this, with my wife at the table, children in the restaurant, and the server being a woman. Good thing the food was excellent.

Now, call me old fashioned, but I never really understood the urge of bragging about sexual prowess and conquests. I mean sure, one can brag about having bedded several women as a way to measure themselves among their male peers in a caveman sort of way, but going about the lurid details is something else entirely. It’s almost like a group session of humiliating women… women who happened to trust the men in the group. It’s a tad too distasteful for me, and if I took a recording of the conversation last night and posted it online, I’m sure most of the men on that table would be single and unemployed within the week.

The incident last night was reminiscent of what happened with several famous celebrities in Korea who were caught sharing their sexual exploits including photos in a chatroom. These were men, doing basically the same thing I witnessed last night, being lewd, sharing too much information, and shaming women in the process. I don’t think it had anything to do with bragging or demonstrating one’s machismo since several members of the chat group are young, popular celebrities who could easily be with several young women if they ever want to. This chatroom incident sparked a huge outrage, bringing down several celebrities, starting several investigations, and calling for crackdowns against sharing photos and spy pornography.

This isn’t the first time people got in trouble for sharing intimate details online. I recall a couple of years ago, one of the biggest photo-sharing sites in Korea was shut down due to men sharing intimate photos of unsuspecting women, giving out tips on how to rape women, and even arranging for partner-swapping.  Now, I’m not against partner-swapping should everyone involved be in on it, but I believe the women were basically pimped out on the site without their knowledge and consent.

I don’t know what has prompted this wave of misogyny. Perhaps its men bottling in their feelings after being subservient boyfriends and husbands, perhaps it’s new technology and people just being their worst, perhaps it’s young people basically rebelling against the Confusion culture, perhaps it’s a backlash to the rise of the feminist movement, or perhaps this whole thing has been there all along. Perhaps it’s Danny Zuko and his friends merrily chanting, “tell me more, tell me more.”

So once I become a grizzled old grandfather, what do I tell young men? “If you wanna brag about how many women you slept with, go ahead. Give a number. If you really want to brag about your manliness, go to a sauna together. Leave the women who trusted you alone. Don’t be an ass and betray that trust just so your friends could have a disgusting mental picture. You don’t need to help them with that. They can make disgusting mental pictures on their own. ”

 

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Keep on Failing

Another_tragedy

The problem with being depressed is that even in times of happiness and contentment you know that it’s all fleeting, that it’s just a temporary refuge from the next wave of overwhelming depression. Smiles and laughs all seem a bit disingenuous and a part of me feels that everything is just performance. Everything is all just a façade that’s built on a very delicate house of cards which is bound to collapse the minute one thing goes wrong.

This is why it is extremely difficult being happy. How can one be truly happy when everything could go wrong in a minute? You are grateful, content, and happy for the way things are, then suddenly you have egg in your face. You had it wrong all this time. You have tons of memories that not only make you insecure and paranoid they also hamper your libido.

These past few years, to my detriment, I’ve become too cynical. See, you can’t be too cynical in life; otherwise, you’ll turn people off. A couple of times, my classmates have noted that I tend to come up with weird answers during class, and that I’m often on the negative side of things. I had to tone that down a bit, lest I alienate myself in class. Now my biggest outlet for my cynicism is my artwork and Twitter. Yes, Twitter… the one social networking service where most people are not trying to pretend that they are living great lives. Most people are miserable on that site.

I’ve been too busy with work and moving apartments lately. It’s been really hectic at work, and at home. I’m often packing stuff or throwing away stuff lately. Throwing away old things has its cathartic effect, but I’m still busy. Then there’s also class. It’s been very difficult finding time to make art. Maybe that’s why I’m a bit depressed lately. I feel like I have a messed up life and I can’t make anyone happy (I am seriously incapable of making anyone happy. It’s my handicap.)… and I don’t even have art to pour all of that misery on to.

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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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