Tag Archives: south korea

Striking Viral Gold

Calendar

Lately, there’s this new mascot in Korea has skyrocketed in popularity. Pengsu is a headphones-wearing penguin that does 10-minute man-on-the-street skits produced by EBS, the Korea Educational Broadcasting System. Unlike a lot of Korean comedy, the character is able to attract both young children and adults with his witty ad-lib free of sexual overtones, cursing, or slapstick.

I must admit, I too find him amusing. The whole set-up is reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen skits. Talk to someone for a few minutes, move one, rinse and repeat. He also has recurring things he comes back to, basically building his own world simply by virtue of the story he spins.

Much like PBS, EBS survives through sponsorship and advertisement. Because they’re mainly focused on education, they’re not as attractive to companies compared to other bigger broadcasting companies in the country. The character Peng-su’s surge in popularity not only because of the character itself but also due to the story of an educational character crossing over to the viral mainstream. And that is one of the things that interest me most about the character. A lot of the character’s fans are quite keen on speculating on what products the character would or should endorse in the future. Already, I’ve seen news stories of companies courting the creators of the character to ink a deal to start hawking their merchandise.

Now I know that some characters or some shows are always in danger of not having enough funding to continue. It’s always difficult finding funding for the arts. But to me, the Peng-su phenomenon is akin to having a viral tweet or Instagram post. When an unknown account suddenly goes viral with one tweet, it is often followed by either the original poster advertising something in response to the sudden popularity or just shrugging it all off and linking to something innocuous. That attitude of “BAM! You’ve hit the big time, not milk this for all it’s worth” is so pervasive that it’s a tad off-putting. Now, I know that this has been going on since the very beginning of mass media, but now it’s almost the very first thing one thinks of the minute they get a hint of fame (or infamy even). And now it’s even come to cartoon mascots. It’s a bit weird. I mean, I enjoyed cartoons and different characters and media when I was younger, but not once did I think they should trade their fame for more advertising revenue. G.I. Joe was already selling me action figures. I didn’t think they should advertise McDonalds just so they could eke out more episodes. Sesame Street could easily survive if Big Bird started selling life insurance.

I’ve seen this kind of talk with athletes before in the country. And this I understand. The champion figure skater Kim Yoona was super popular (and still is) in the country and her fame coupled with her good looks made her a magnet for advertisers. And good for her, too. Athletes only have a few years to capitalize on their fame, so she did well with her advertising and she didn’t overdo it either.

I remember Howard Stern once saying, “just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” Which is him saying just because you can be part of any sort of project just to make a few dollars, doesn’t mean you should say yes to everything. You can afford to not be part of everything. You can afford to say no. Which is more than I can say with some celebrities in Korea. There are times when the media just keeps on pumping the same set of people again, and again, and again. Sure, they might think their current popularity has a very short lifespan, but during that lifespan, I’m already sick of their face on television (Yes, I’m sick of Park Na-rae). This is one reason why I get easily put off by Korean television. It’s the same people again and again until you get sick of them.

Now, I do hope this Peng-su character lasts for a while. If anything, his popularity shows that there is more to Korean television than singing, people eating, or fake reality show BS. It’s also good to see a character be successful fueled mostly by wit. It’s a good departure from the standard brand of stand-up comedy you would see in Korean gag comedy.

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Criminality and being “right”

Old Man with Wings

It’s very difficult to follow hockey when the Trump impeachment is going on. I wasn’t able to follow the Clinton impeachment back in the 90s, but what’s happening right now is a great learning experience if not a historic event which would probably be discussed in law schools in the future. It’s quite engrossing, especially with the brazenness of the government officials (and non-government goons) protecting Donald Trump and the bravery of the long-time career officials who tried to function amid all of the chaos but have no choice now but to call out illegal behavior. What’s even more engrossing is the almost soap-opera aspect of all of the twists-and-turns. Just a couple of hours ago, it was revealed that Devin Nunes, ranking member and the Republican lead of the House Oversight Committee, was linked with Lev Parnas, the Guiliani associate who was indicted for illegally directing funds from a foreign government to US officials. This puts an ethical dilemma on Devin Nunes and his role in the hearings into question since he is now implicated on the whole thing depending on how far the Democrats would push the issue.

It is all pretty compelling stuff. And the issues at hand are more serious, not just a man hiding his affair from his wife. I’m pretty sure I would’ve been tired of the whole Clinton impeachment drama after a couple of days. I don’t know how Jay Leno at the time stretched that out into a nightly comedy staple.

Although I’m often not happy with the weakness of the Democrats, I’m very pleased with how t he hearings are going. Today with Dr. Fiona Hill, we get to hear her say that the notion that the Ukrainians were the ones who hacked the 2016 elections and not the Russians is basically the product of Russian disinformation. This makes everyone perpetuating the stupid conspiracy theory, including Donald Trump, a tool by the Russian government. Yesterday, we heard Ambassador Sondland admit to the quid pro quo and name all of the major players in the attempt to pressure Ukraine into announcing a fake investigation into Trump’s political rival. Ex-Ambassador Yovanovitch provided more details regarding the conspiracy and was even subjected to harassment by the president in the middle of her testimony. And of course there’s Lt. Col. Vindman who testified to what he witnessed and remind everyone that in the end, despite of how low the state of politics around the world is now, he still believes that in his country, “right matters.”

And I think in the end, that’s what separates the good guys and the bad guys from the very beginning of the Trump nightmare to now. It’s the notion that right matters. It’s not the matter of whether something is illegal or not. It’s whether something is right… doing the right thing despite the limits of your role. And vice-versa, doing the right thing despite the ease and freedom you are given to abuse your power.

Sure the US government could ban people from the United States based on their religion according to the Supreme Court. But is it right? The US government could endlessly detain people attempting to apply for refugee status. But is it right? Even with the smaller things. Sure the president is entitled to spend most of his time in a golf course on the tax payers’ dime. But is it right? Evil has skirted on legality and it beat people down to being too tired to vigorously call out wrongdoing when evil is no longer hiding and what is happening is plainly illegal.

I think one of the biggest culprit of this is Mueller himself. He was tasked with rooting out Russian interference in the 2016 United States election and suspicious links between Trump associates and Russian officials. He had the ability to expand his investigation into other things related to the Trump organization in order to learn more about its criminality, but instead, he strictly focused on most limited of scopes. A number of Trump associates were indicted as a result of the investigation, but he didn’t even bother interrogating Donald Trump Jr. He was also happy to let Donald Trump mail in answers to an interview as if he was earning a degree online. Mueller stuck to what his role was. He stuck to his reputation of being a strict, no-nonsense actor… leaving the final conclusion of a Trump-Russian connection to House of Representatives and a Senate that won’t act on it. Right matters. But for Mueller, he decided to play it safe and stand by while Trump, Barr, and other right wing hacks proclaim that Mueller’s lack of firm conclusion exonerated the president. Mueller was a soldier and a hero, but I don’t think he has the courage of a whistleblower, the courage to stand up and point out wrongdoing if it means stepping out of your role.

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has fallen into this same trap. She wanted to narrow the impeachment inquiry strictly on the conversations regarding Ukraine. Now she is free to do so, and expanding beyond the business with Ukraine could be seen as overstepping or a “witch hunt.” But with a creature like Trump, someone who makes impeachable offenses on Twitter during the hearing, doing the right thing is not sticking to your role and limiting yourself to the advantage of your enemies. The right thing to do is to be just as courageous as the whistleblower, be just as courageous as the witnesses. There are limits to one’s roles, but loving your country and upholding the oath of office sometimes requires going beyond that.

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Night Club Diary

Thyroid

I have always enjoyed David Sedaris’ work, be it on his occasional contributions to This American Life or his books. I’m not sure if I said it before, but I always wished that I was born a Sedaris. How fun it must be to have Amy Sedaris as a sister. Anyway, his book Me Talk Pretty One Day really connected with me because I am also trying to study Korean, and just like him at the time, my relationship with the language moved from utter despair and confusion, to learning to live with and be amused at how dumb I must sound.

The dumb fish out of water experience added with the awkwardness of the language. Let me present a semi-fictional minute-by-minute autobiographical chronicle of a club-going experience in Suwon, a satellite city of Seoul. This was written in Korean, Google-translated to English.

6:34 pm I met my boss’s son. He came with two friends. His English name is “Yun”. I said it’s not an English name. “English, no! English, no!” He was a bit angry about it. “English, yes!” he insisted.

7:50 pm After dinner, I went to the club in Suwon. I thought it was too early. In the club there was no one.

8:00 pm In the club there was no one yet. The club gave us watermelon and bananas. Because loud music my head hurt.

8:32 pm The waiter brought two women outside. They didn’t seem happy. Yun how to drink taught us. I called it Titanic.

8:47 pm Two women left. In the club there was no one else.

9:03 pm Yun said he needs patience to succeed. He started studying English with me.

9:16 pm The waiter picked up three women from outside. It was like they came from a birthday party. I brought a half-eaten cake.

9:20 pm Yun wanted me to shake the “gangsta” handshake on the girls. I don’t know that. I’m really angry.

9:28 pm Three women left. They forgot the cake.

9:30 pm I learned the price of drink. A bottle of shochu was 7,000 won. A bottle of Cass was 10,000 won.

9:41 pm I finished the cake. Yun said he needs confidence to succeed.

9:49 pm The waiter brought two women outside. They seemed really drunk. Yun talked about the military experience. Although his story was passionate, they seemed boring.

10:02 pm Two women left. In the club there was still no one else as there was a ghost.

10:03 pm I realized that Korean club is so different than Canadian club.

10:32 pm In the club there was still no one else yet. Yun’s friend we go to the Salsa Club suggested. Yun forced me to go with them.

10:45 pm We left. The fruit bowl was 50,000 won. The fruit is very expensive! Yun said he paid. He is my brother.

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The God of the Old Testament

Buddha

Outside of my office, there are street preachers which I usually tune out. The other day however, one of the speakers came out with a particularly interesting rant:

“Don’t treat Jesus like garbage. He’s not garbage. YOU’RE GARBAGE!”

Now, I don’t really know who the speaker was referring to, but as I know, Jesus (despite not being garbage) preached humility and lowered himself to wash the feet of his disciples. I also remember Jesus saying blessed be the poor and the meek. Jesus was never proud. In fact, pride is one of the seven capital vices. So while I’m not saying that it’s right to say that we should treat Jesus like garbage, it’s probably safe to say that Jesus would be the last to accuse anyone of being garbage.

But then again, looking at the signs surrounding the preachers I see in the country. They’re very heavy on the condemnation.

“Believe or you’ll go to hell!”

These are people who are heavy on the condemnation. They spend more time preaching and condemning people on the street than actually doing good works. I sometimes wonder if anyone is ever converted by the regular blaring sermons on the street. I seriously doubt it. This is like the religious equivalent of negging… undermine someone’s self esteem in order to make them seek out your approval. That, couple with threats of eternal damnation.

But why do it then? Why do it if it’s not working? Simple. Because it’s easy.

Or rather it’s easier than actually following Jesus’ example. If you’re religious there are two common arguments to reaching heaven: believing in God or doing good works regardless of believing in God. There’s injustice in reaching heaven simply for believing in a deity. A Buddhist could be a much kinder and generous person than me, but just by virtue of me believing in God, I would go to heaven and they would rot in hell. The problem with reaching heaven simply for doing good works however, is that it makes religion irrelevant. Why study the Gospels and listen to a preacher? I don’t need to do all of that in order to do good deeds. I’d just spend my time volunteering or something.

And that right there is the key. It is easier to claim rights to the kingdom of heaven simply by believing in God and making everyone else feel like sinners. It is much harder to follow Jesus’ teachings and simply be good to others.

Another thing that’s key in ignoring Jesus’ teachings is simply devoting one’s self to the Old Testament, the old God. See there are two main Gods in the Christian bible. There is the vengeful God in the Old Testament. And then there’s Jesus, the God of the New Testament. The thing about following the Old Testament is that he is more exciting. There’s more condemnation. There’s more us against them. There are more sinners being wiped away by flood and fire. Compare that to the New Testament where all sinners are saved by Jesus’ sacrifice. Outside of the crucifixion, it doesn’t get extremely violent and judgmental until Revelations. The excitement brought by the jealous, judgmental, and sometimes incomprehensible God of the Old Testament brings a tribal sentiment much like sports. “We are going to heaven. You suck! You’re going to hell!” It must feel very good. And it’s definitely much easier than giving out soup to homeless people.

This reminds me of the newly appointed religious advisor in the Trump administration, the grifter Paula White. She was recently “praying against President Trump’s enemies.” Praying against… like she’s sending a vengeful spirit to curse people, like voodoo magic or something. I ask why aren’t people, religious scholars in particular, not speaking out against this. But then again, I realize that the God of the Old Testament seems to be more popular than Jesus these days. I mean, it’s easy to invoke Jesus by name. But in everything else, condemnation, tribalism, curses… everything is Old Testament.

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Baghdadi and Our Monsters

Trigger Happy

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was the leader of ISIL. He was surrounded by special forces yesterday and detonated himself using an explosive vest. When he was alive, he orchestrated the genocide of the Yazidis, pushed for sex slavery, and organized brutal displays of mass crucifixions and executions, often putting them on video to be used for propaganda and recruitment.

I have no sympathy for people like Baghdadi, especially after they perverted the image of Islam. The world is better without him. His death is not the same as the death of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. There are no gray areas or utilitarian purpose to his rule. He is simply, a bad guy. However, the whole circus with the Trump administration’s announcement regarding his death leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

First off, the Pentagon stating that he ran to a tunnel with three kids to be used as human shields sounds like unnecessary propaganda. It’s very similar to when they described Osama Bin Laden using his wives as shields, which was later denied as a false statement. They are painting a very dramatic scene in order to make Baghdadi sound evil when he is evil enough as it is. I’m already on the US’ side on this. They don’t have to lie in order to sell it to me. In fact, the lie is off-putting. Why would Baghdadi bring children along when he planned to detonate himself? Wouldn’t he know those kids he was bringing with him? Isn’t it more plausible that he was trying to escape with them and not use them as shields?

Now, maybe the Pentagon wasn’t lying, but Trump lying and saying that he saw the whole thing live, much like a movie is a childishly blatant lie. First off, there was no audio. Second, the photo of him and his generals perfectly posed to try and simulate a situation room is comically set up. Cables are disconnected, people are staring at different directions, the photographer was blocking where the screen would be, and Trump perfectly centered like it was Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper.’ Third, his description of Baghdadi crying and begging for his life was totally fictitious. Even Pentagon officials immediately denied it. There was no audio. No witnesses could attest to this. And the whole thing happened in a dark tunnel. Either Trump was describing what happened to Muammar Gaddafi years ago or he’s just going off of his sadistic imagination. “His body was mutilated by the blast… there wasn’t much left?” Really? Can the US president not hide his childish glee over this?

“Died like a dog”? “Die like a coward”? How does a dog die? How does a coward die? How does Trump know how a coward dies? What kind of language is this?!?!?

And then Trump goes on to brag about himself, comparing himself to ISIS in terms of Internet proficiency (what a weirdo!), claiming that he advocated the death of Bin Laden (he didn’t), and that killing Baghdadi was more significant than killing Osama Bin Laden. That last one is something adults simply don’t do. What does that even mean?

As for Trump comparing himself to ISIS in terms of Internet proficiency, let me follow his lead and go a bit further. Bill Maher lost his first show after he described the 9/11 terrorists as being brave, in contrast with US military strategy which is basically just bombing cities from a distance. I’m not a fan of Bill Maher, but there was truth to what he was saying. The 9/11 terrorists were cowards in that they targeted civilians, but they were courageous in personally committing their act of terror and facing death. The west commits terror mostly long distance. As hideous and as ill-advised his sentiment was, it cannot be dismissed as totally wrong. In any case, let me pull a Bill Maher and say that Trump, given the same circumstances, would not be any different from Baghdadi.

They both failed at serving in the military, though Baghdadi might actually be truly nearsighted. Apparently, Baghdadi has a PHD in Islamic studies. But just like with Trump’s education from Wharton, their supposed education doesn’t match reality. Baghdadi is as much a religious scholar as Trump is a business leader.

Trump is an accused sexual predator. In the same position as Baghdadi, is it really a stretch that he advocate for sexual slavery as well? With his macho fantasies and authoritarian tendencies, it is also very easy to imagine that he would be just as violent and as brutal as Baghdadi. Trump was quite callous with the imprisonment of children and the death of the Kurds. He doesn’t care much about the suffering in Puerto Rico and was quite dismissive about the US’ history with lynching. Baghdadi has his followers do most of the work for him. They are zealots who are following both extremist ideologies and twisted religious dogma. According to a recent poll, evangelicals are 90% against Trump getting impeached. These are the same people who believe he is appointed by God. The same people who wouldn’t mind conflict to break out over the Gaza Strip in order for Christ to come a second time.

The way we see leaders and monsters truly depends on the culture and circumstances surrounding them as well as which side we are on. ISIL and Baghdadi rose from the horror that is the fall of Iraq. One could argue that without the conflicts in the Middle East, perhaps the monster that is Baghdadi would’ve never evolved. Trump on the other hand lived a life of excess and was never really held accountable for his many failures and supposed crimes. And despite getting everything most people would want in life, he became this strange villain on the world stage. Now, imagine what worse cartoon monster he would’ve become if he was given the same circumstances as Baghdadi.

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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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