Tag Archives: south korea

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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Thanks for the comment, buddy!

Inktober

Despite #Inktober, I’m still working on art everyday. I’m slowly making new pieces whenever I find the time and applying to galleries if I find something that matches my work. My Instagram has been a bit sad since I post the same piece everyday with just a different part of it highlighted, but one thing it showed me is whether some of my regular Instagram visitors or actual people who know me are actually paying attention to my work or just throwing mindless compliments and pushing heart. To understand what I’m saying, here’s what I have on my Instagram.

As one can clearly see from above, a number of colored circles are there to highlight the part of the work which was zoomed in for that day. The colored circles are simply a tool, a sign, a visual to signify to the viewer to look at that spot. It was never meant to be a design element.

And yet one person who I happen to believe I was close to remarked, “Wonderful work Jospeh loving the colour.”

Now, it’s one thing to misspell my name. I can take it. But to say “wonderful colour,” why bother? The person cares enough to leave a comment and make their presence known, and yet doesn’t care enough to actually look at the work they are commenting on. This person is an artist, too! How can I take any artistic comment or criticism from this person seriously again, be it regarding my work or anyone else’? Ugh!

It’s like being in a gallery and hearing someone say the most general thing about your work. You know that they are trying to pay you a compliment. They are being kind. Patronizing, but kind. Neither of you want to be in that moment, and both of you would rather be back at the food table grabbing another glass of free wine.

Anyway, the lesson I guess is don’t take social media too seriously. And if you’re gonna half-ass saying hello to anyone on your social media for any obligation whatsoever, don’t even bother.

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I can vote again.

The Nonsuch

After being unable to vote in Canada for a couple of elections, I was finally able to register to vote for the upcoming elections. Previously, Canadian living abroad for over five years were unable to vote, with the logic that they don’t get to feel the direct consequences of their vote, especially if they live far away. Who cares who’s the Prime Minister of Canada if my life is more affected by the President of Korea?

Actually, both affected me. Steven Harper took away my right to vote, and Lee Myung Bak dramatically increased my taxes. And notably, if I were an English instructor, the conservatives in Korea would have forced me to take an AIDS test prior to being allowed to work. So yeah, citizenship and elections have consequences to expats from two governments regardless of how far removed they are from their country of origin or to local politics.

This reminds me of Michael Sandel’s lecture in 2009 regarding solving the immigration problem. Gary Becker, a free market economist suggested selling citizenship to people. Why not just sell American citizenship for $50,000? Perhaps even higher? This would automatically guarantee certain characteristics like a level of wealth which makes them unlikely to be a drain to social services. It would also automatically make them contributors to society. Now, ignoring the other parts regarding refugees, selling citizenship seems to focus more on an individual’s merit and contribution to society as the main criterion for citizenship. If that is the case, that would make me more of a Korean citizen by virtue of my taxes and the value of my work and how it affects Korean society in general.

When it comes to everything else however, I’d like to think I’m still very much Canadian. My artwork is mostly focused on Canada and North America. Most of my friends and family are in Canada and I have no doubt that my ashes would someday be scattered in the Red River. Culturally, I am still very much Canadian, although an older Canadian. As for education, I have educated myself a second time just to make myself a more informed Canadian citizen. So yes, when it comes to love of country, I have often said that, “if I could, I would kiss Canada in the mouth.”

Thus, the recent Supreme Court decision proclaiming the inalienable right of Canadian’s abroad to participate in federal elections is very important to me. It bothered me that Steven Harper ruled the country for so many years, and it also bothered me that Justin Trudeau won in 2015 with only 39% of votes out of the 60% of Canadians who voted. Less than 30% of the country want him to govern. Something is not right. Not enough people are voting.

Quite frankly however, I would take anyone as leader of the country other than the conservative Andrew Scheer and the goofy PPC Maxime Bernier. Despite my feelings regarding Trudeau, I would be comfortable with the Liberals leading the country for a few more years. But I would hope that the popularity of Jagmeet Singh would push Trudeau to a more progressive bent.

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I love you, Hong Kong.

Pigeon Eater

I love Hong Kong. I love the city, I love the people. I find the people very polite and it’s very easy to make friends in Hong Kong.

My mom and my dad both visited Hong Kong on separate occasions when I was young, and I was always intrigued by their pictures and the souvenirs they brought back. It was the first foreign place overseas that I ever flew into, and I’ve since visited the city many times. The only couple of bad experiences I’ve had in the city are from scammer foreigners, but other than that, Hong Kong is a wonderful city with a wonderful people. It’s gotten more and more expensive to visit Hong Kong these past few years, but it’s still my favorite city in the world.

I’ve been following the umbrella protests since the first Umbrella Revolution in 2014. It was impressive seeing Scholarism, basically a group of young kids, start a movement which rippled out to other countries. I remember seeing protesters and meeting Hong Kong students right outside my office in Seoul. And now, after months of protests, they’ve won a major victory facing against one of the strongest forces in the planet. I hate what China is doing to Hong Kong. I hate how it’s transforming the city to a police state warzone now that it can afford to since China has started to grow several other cities which will rival Hong Kong as economic hubs in the future.

But it’s great that the protests worked. It’s amazing how almost a quarter of the population rallied against an oppressive force. And it wasn’t just young people, it was also the older generation protesting to protect the city’s youth. Protests do work, and it was good to see it in action. The last time I saw protests like that working, it was here in Seoul when they ousted the former president.

Unfortunately however, Carrie Lam’s words when conceding to one of the demands of the protestors show signs of a prolonged conflict. She labeled the protestors as rioters and accused them of violence. These are the words of someone who thinks the Internet does not exist and outsiders don’t have third party media to see that it’s the Chinese police who are consistently perpetuating the violence. It’s the protestors who are protecting themselves with vinyl umbrellas and putting out tear gases using innovation and science.

The protests are going to continue. There are still more grievances that need to be addressed, especially stemming from the government prolonging the protests, using brutal tactics, and arresting thousands of protestors. China and their puppets in Hong Kong will continue to spread a propaganda war against the protesters. I suspect this small victory serves as an appeasement to tamp down on the protests. People are getting tired, and this small victory might just be enough to make some people want to stop and even turn on other protestors who want to continue protesting. It’s cunning politics, but it’s evil.

I don’t blame China for trying to bring Hong Kong to heel however. With many different regions, and countries like Taiwan claiming to be an independent country, it is in their best interest to demonstrate that a move towards independence is not in the best interest of the local population. However, the whole Hong Kong affair could’ve been dealt more diplomatically and really should’ve followed the spirit of the agreement following the return of the Hong Kong to China back in 1997.

In any case, I do hope things calm down in the city someday soon. The city is wonderful, and its people are brave. They deserve freedom and independence.

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#boycottjapan Is Sad and It Sucks

Sun God

Instead of going to Japan a week ago, I went to Vietnam instead. I enjoy going to Japan, but the recent tension between Korea and Japan has really made going to Japan inadvisable.

Abe, in his bid for reelection, has begun attacking Korea and imposed restrictions on components necessary for key Korean industries. He is basically trying to damage the Korean economy and has stroked anti-Korean sentiments, saying that South Korea is illegally trading with North Korea and that South Korea is reneging on the comfort women issue which was inartfully “settled” by the last Korean president. This in turn, has sparked an anti-Japanese boycott in South Korea, to which a high-level Japanese politician responded by saying that it doesn’t matter, that Japan’s economy will not be hurt if Koreans stopped visiting Japan and stopped buying Japanese products.

What an asinine thing to say.

First off, South Korea trying to ease relations with North Korea is a good thing. The two countries are neighbors. There has not been any illegal trade with North Korea. If anything, I suspect that Japan is afraid that better relations with the North would jumpstart South Korea’s economy which has stalled in the past couple of years. Of course it doesn’t help that the North isn’t too afraid of flexing its military strength towards its neighbors.

As for the former president “settling” the comfort women issue, President Park Gun-Hye reached an agreement to accept five million US dollars from Japan to help women dubbed “comfort women,” the women Japan’s military forced into sexual slavery during Japan’s occupation. The “settlement” did not include the women during the talks. It also did not include a formal apology and acknowledgement from the Japanese government as well as the royal family. It still allows Japan to deny that they forced women into subjugation in their history books. And if you look into any first year law book, any agreement absent full knowledge and consent from both parties is no agreement at all. The comfort women and their family have to be involved.

So yeah, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. Many of my friends think that I have become Korean in regards to this issue, but I know about Japan’s war crimes long before I set foot in South Korea. I’ve also known veterans who fought the Japanese in World War II. And for Japan to try to skate along without making a full mea culpa and working to have their constitution remove Article 9, which forbids them from having an armed forces with war potential, is worrying at the very least. At least Germany acknowledged its crimes, made a full apology, compensated its victims, and learned from history. Japan has barely done any of this.

I also, don’t like it when countries are being dismissive of their neighbors. That’s me being a Canadian with a chip on my shoulder. I feel South Koreans’ pain in this.

What bothers me about the whole thing is that, while Japanese politicians seem to not care about local industries dependent on Korean customers, Koreans equally don’t seem to mind hurting other Koreans who are involved with Japanese products. I’ve passed by Uniqlo and Muji and there was no one there except clerks with nothing to do. Tour companies are having their customers cancel their trips. No one is buying Japanese beer. And many are even avoiding going to 7-11 which is owned by the Lotte Group, a South Korean/Japanese conglomerate. It’s getting ugly, and the little guys are the ones who are feeling the pain, not Abe and his cronies.

Nationalism is ugly. It is not patriotism. I understand South Korea in this matter, and in many ways, they really don’t have a choice. The recent Japanese election results showed that only the very few old people really support Abe and most young people don’t really care much about politics. Heck, the Japanese media don’t really show much about the Japanese/Korea tensions, when it’s always in the news here in Korea. This Japanese blind spot tells me that despite my hope, these tensions will last longer, maybe even until the Olympics. What’s dumb is that while Abe is quick to condemn and punish South Korea for what it claims are support to the North, it won’t condemn and punish the United States for actively supporting, and in fact, coddling the North Korean regime. Missiles launched by the North Koreans in the past few days were launched with little fear of sanctions by the United States. I would argue it is a direct result of Trump’s cozy relationship with Kim Jung Un. And yet, Abe would rather stroke sentiments against South Koreans.

Yep, Abe’s Japan would alienate the Koreans, but God forbid they say something against the Americans.

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Dog Whistles

Reyes_Joseph_Assiniboine_12inx14in

A friend of mine, Jordan Miller, is a gallery owner. She also rents out space for small events. Recently, a local wing of a political group rented her space for an upcoming meeting. She agreed and the meeting was scheduled.

Sometime later, she receives an e-mail warning her to cancel the event unless she wants a boycott of her business. The e-mail comes from Omar Kinnarath, an activist who appears to be quite active speaking against the alt-right. (I’m guessing from the alt-right’s point of view, that makes him antifa? Correct me if I’m wrong.)

My friend tells me about the situation and it doesn’t take much Googling to find out that the political party that rented her space was the People’s Party of Canada. It’s a party that was just created last year. About a week ago, several members of the party resigned after learning about racist members in the group. From what little I gather, it seems to be one of those typical libertarian types which unfortunately is a gateway to extreme rightwing politics. They want to privatize the postal service, have more private companies in the healthcare system, limit immigration, ease gun ownership, etc. They sound nuts.

Anyone would be smart to stay away from this group fresh from the controversy that they just had, especially if you’re a gallery that caters to an open community of artists.

Now, the PPC as well as their supporters are spinning the story that my friend has a “struggling gallery” and that she was “terrorized” by Omar Kinnarath into reneging on lending out her gallery space. They labeled Omar Kinnarath, who happens to be brown, as a “terrorist” and my friend, who happens to be a white woman, a “small woman” and a “young woman.” (Note the save-the-white-woman misogyny here.) Some guy with a video channel on Facebook hanging a Gadsden flag in his studio recounts the events and even says that my friend was “directly attacked.” There are so many racist dog whistles here that it’s hard to miss. I’m just glad she didn’t go to that guy’s poorly-lit basement for an interview.

The Winnipeg Free Press wrote a story about the whole thing, with the headline “Anti-racists labeled as ‘terrorists’ by the PPC.” And yeah, it is ironic that the PPC, being accused of being racists, accuses an activist who happens to be brown, a “terrorist,” thus showing their racist colors. People online are accusing those who oppose the PPC as being against free speech, but free speech does not give everyone the right to say anything at a private property. My friend’s gallery is her property and she exercised her will and her free speech by reneging on the agreement. Omar Kinnarath exercised his free speech by telling my friend that he will boycott her gallery if she associates with what appears to be an organization that has racist members.

The whole episode is unfortunate, and it’s sad that my friend, who couldn’t care less about politics, had to be dragged along with it. But here’s a few pointers moving forward:

-If racists are on your side, then you’re probably doing something wrong. If you’re against “anti-fascists,” then you’re probably doing something wrong as well. Yeah, I know, some members of antifa can be unruly, but stick to the topic. What-aboutism is a lazy argument.

-Privatizing the postal service is dumb. When was the last time you saved so much money on UPS? Privatization leads to citizens relinquishing things to private companies, NOT competition in a capitalist society (True capitalism doesn’t exist these days). At least if something is run by the government, leaders are still accountable to their voters. Large private companies couldn’t care less about their customers.

-The Gadsden flag has been adopted by racists, thus making it racist, just like the okay hand gesture. If racists think it’s cool, then maybe stop using it.

-Free speech is not ultimate. Any first year law textbook will tell you that it has limits. Free speech also doesn’t protect people from the consequences of their speech. If a previous action is offensive, then maybe I won’t be too open in allowing you to practice your free speech in my private property. It’s not that difficult to follow.

-I don’t really know much about the PPC, especially whether they truly have racist members, but judging from the whole interaction, I would guess they don’t mind tolerating racism among their ranks. A proper political party that truly cares for a multi-cultural community (and actually wants to win support) would have handled this situation better.

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Bad Vacation Timing

Pain Bird

Off to Japan next week. It’s the worst time to go to Japan. We will miss most of the major traditional festivals except for one which I plan to attend. We also won’t be able to see any baseball game while we’re there. I’ve always wanted to watch a Japanese baseball game live at a stadium. There’s just a weirdly, exciting energy emanating from them, especially with the drumming and the horns.

The weather also doesn’t look too good in Japan right now. I’m off to a rather secluded resort. But if it rains throughout all the days I’m there, I’m basically stuck in a small Japanese beach town with not much to do. Weather forecasts past seven days basically have a fifty-fifty chance of being accurate, so I’m just hoping that all of it will change and I will at least get to see a bit of sun.

The worst part of going to Japan right now is that Abe decided to make fighting against Korea a key political platform. After the G20 summit, he remembered that there is an election coming up, and he decided to woo hard right nationalists and claim that since Korea is still fighting for the claims of their comfort women during the war, then they will punish the Korean economy by not selling key components to manufacturing giants like Samsung and LG. This started a backlash in Korea with anti-Japanese sentiment growing and boycott against Japanese products. This of course is fueling anti-Korean sentiment in Japan despite many Japanese questioning Abe’s turn on the country’s neighbor.

Abe has been spending too much looking at how Trump does politics. He’s had a history of courting nationalists long before Trump became president, but this sudden turn reeks of Trump’s tariff playbook. Japan seems to be thumbing its nose to its neighbors. Even the recent open hunt for whales, despite the lack of domestic demand for whale meat, suggests that they couldn’t care less about international opinion. They are Japanese first, citizens of the world second.

And now I’m faced with a Korean currency that is slowly deflating due to the current economic situation and a Japanese population that might not be too kind should they hear me or any other foreigner speaking in Korean. It’s been a rough many days. The last time I was out of the country was basically for a funeral. Can I not get a normal vacation?

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Artist’s Block and Embarrassing Works

Gator Knife.jpg

When there is nothing I want to draw or when I’m uninspired, sometimes I just draw something I would define as incredible stupid. It might be incredibly stupid to me, but from the audience’s perspective, it could just be as stupid as my other pieces. This piece is based on an alligator in Texas with a knife stuck on its head. It was all over twitter a couple of weeks ago and seemed like a good subject outside of anything that had any personal meaning to me.

The good thing about drawing something that I personally don’t have any emotional investment in or something absent of any deeper message is that it ends up lasting longer and doesn’t come out as cringe-worthy after a few years. There are quite a few old drawings, that when I look at them now, they can be quite embarrassing. I’m sure this is true of all artists. Much like old Myspace or Friendster pages, naivety in art is embarrassing and doesn’t age well. It reeks of first year art school. This is why most popular art has ambiguous meanings or none at all. This is also why political art, when it becomes popular or when they rise to high art, they are truly done by masters.

As an artist that does small works, this is where I have an advantage over others who work on large canvasses. My embarrassing work can be stuffed in a bag and kept in a small closet somewhere. Heck, I can even put them in the recycling bin. They are not large works, taking up space in my life, reminding me of what a hack I was a few years (or months) ago.

So yeah, do small works, folks! Or at least think of long term storage whenever you make art.

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Art Forgery Drama

Good Beef

There is an interesting documentary on the works of the late Norval Morrisseau, ‘There Are No Fakes’. Morrisseau started the Woodland style of painting, using imagery from First Nations cultures showing the insides of creatures in a sort of x-ray effect.  His works are far more colorful and playful compared to the more traditional images in Inuit and West Coast art.

Unfortunately, many of his works have been forged, and a lot of what is passing off as original Morrisseaus could potentially be fakes made by an art forgery ring. I’m not sure if the documentary will show anything past what has already been detailed when I first learned about the Morrisseau forgery in Maclean’s last year, but what interested me was the very title of the film, ‘There Are No Fakes.’

Is it because somehow Morrisseau’s family was connected to the forgeries? Or is it because the forgeries themselves, just by the very fact that they are connected to the drama of Morrisseau and his legacy make them valuable on their own? Or does the documentary basically say that if you love an image and that you find it beautiful, you shouldn’t really care about its authenticity or its monetary valuable. That art is art. They are not objects to be traded or treated as real estate investments. They are far bigger than that. (I sincerely doubt that this is where the film will go.)

The leader of the forgery ring, Gary Lamont, was sentenced to jail back in 2016 for being a sexual predator. I’m not sure if many of the news media at the time mentioned his involvement with producing forged Morrisseaus, but according to one of the victims, the forged pieces represent a very abusive period. Gary Lamont would manipulate and abuse young men while the works were being produced, between 1993-2007, when there was increased demand for Morrisseaus and when the artist’s health was slowly declining.

I’m sure there are still more to this story, right now galleries and owners are still insisting on the authenticity of many works, but I do hope that the worst is over, and at the very least, no one is producing more forged works. Growing up in Manitoba, I remember seeing some of Morrisseau’s works and even more works inspired by him. After learning about the forgeries last year, I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen a real Morrisseau.

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What Use is 5G?

Piles of Smiles

I’m old enough to remember when work doesn’t have to involve the Internet. The Internet connection in my office is currently inconsistent, and work grinds to a halt.

I remember a few months ago when a fire damaged the phone tower near my place; and the Internet and phone lines were down for 24 hours. Initially, I was wandering the street, trying to find answers to why I can’t contact the outside world. I was asking strangers what was happening. Many of them didn’t have answers. It was a weird feeling, not being able to contact anyone by phone, not even the police. The CCTV cameras were all useless as well. It was like a great time for a purge-type of scenario.

Many of the stores I went to would only take cash. The restaurants wouldn’t feed me as well because their card readers couldn’t connect to the Internet. Hard cash was vital again. We were thrown back to the 80s.

Eventually, my wife and I sorted out what happened through word of mouth (you know, like they used to do back when people were curing diseases with leeches), and she spent the night knitting and listening to the radio. It was like we were at a bomb shelter.

I could list all of the things as to why the Internet has become so vital to our everyday existence, but that list would encompass almost everything. Heck, it swung the election in many countries, most significantly the US! But yeah, right now, our dependence on it is making me waste my day as I type this entry on my Website to be posted at a later time when I finally get a consistent connection.

The goddamned country is leading the world in 5G connectivity, and yet the genius IT people in my building can’t get their act together.

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