Sunday, 20 April 2014

I love words -- including the Korean word for love

Image Source: Korea Rainbow Alliance 

The National Institute of the Korean Language has been pressured to change the definition of love "사랑" into something that can only occur between people of the opposite sex. This is simply ridiculous. Love cannot be limited to heterosexual romantic love only. The Korean word "sarang", like the English word "love", is an inclusive word. One can sarang your lover, yes, but you also sarang your parents and your friends and your children and your pets. I'm signing and supporting this petition not only because I support the rights of sexual minorities, but also because I sarang words.

If you feel like supporting this cause, you can sign the petition at Avaaz.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Mmm...

"If there is anything to do, there is certainly a best way to do it, and the best way is both the most economical and the most graceful." -- Inazo Nitobe

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mmm...


“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things -- praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts -- not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.” -- C. S. Lewis

Some Things I Did in March

It is the end of March. That means I'm shouldering ahead again with work. It is four weeks into the new semester, I'm settling into a rhythm, and getting a sense of my workload for this semester. This is not an easy semester. I'm teaching five content courses: Anglo-American Essay Readings, 19th Century English Poetry, Prose Reading and (Response Essay) Writing, Anglo-American Short Stories, and Film Theory: Cinematic Adaptations of Shakespearean Plays. Apart from my full time job, I'm also working on a PhD and already had to submit two reports. I'm taking three courses this semester. Originally it was four, but I decided to cancel the evening class which started at 7pm and continue until 9pm or later. Seeing as the university campus I study at is over two hours from my house, I just felt that I needed to be more realistic about my time and energy levels. Cancelling that class may result in me graduating a year later, but my general health and well-being is more important to me than getting to write "Dr" in front of my name.

So here is a selection of some other things I've been doing this past month:

Birthday

It was my birthday earlier this month. Since I didn't do anything special for my birthday the previous year (and I can't remember if I did something the year before that either), I decided to invite some people over for a small dinner at my place. I invited about 30 people, but specifically invited them on short notice, knowing that many would not be able to make it. The reason for this strange logic is that I really do wanted them all to share my birthday celebration with me, but my apartment really cannot host that many people. I figured that a form of natural selection will result in few numbers attending. In the end we were around 12 people. A good size. We had three curries (palak paneer, vegetable, and green Thai) and for dessert I made a trifle. It was my first attempt at a trifle, but it came out very good.

While my guests sang to me for my birthday,
just before I dished the trifle.

Capoeira and Martial Arts

Every two weeks I organize a martial arts workshop. Once a month I and / or one of my friends teach one of the workshops, and for the other workshop of the month we try and find some outside instructors to teach something that is not part of our arsenal. Last week Sunday we enjoyed Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art based on Afro-Latin rhythms. It was great fun. Below are some photos of the instructor from Cordão De Ouro Seoul in action.






I'm still training regularly. I recently decided that I need to refocus on core muscle exercises again. Here are some pics of some of the core muscle exercises I do:






SASKOR First Orientation Meeting

I'm chairperson of the South African Students in Korea association and recently we had our first orientation meeting, hosted by the South African Embassy in Seoul. I gave an overview of what we have done since the association was founded towards the end of last year, and then continued to give a presentation about culture shock and reverse culture. Another presenter spoke about "Conducting Research Outside of South Africa" and two presenters facilitated a session on "Finding Jobs, Making Jobs". I think the session went off really well. We already have a Facebook page for South African students currently studying in Korea and will soon launch a website with relevant information for South Africans considering coming to Korea to study.

Bulssang Dance Performance

Last weekend I went to a dance performance by the Korea National Contemporary Dance Company, entitled "Bul-Ssang", which seemed to be a deconstructionist interpretation of Buddhist iconography. It was quite an interesting performance, but I was somewhat disappointed. Honestly, I expected a better performance from the KNCDC.



Steampunk Art Exhibit



I also went to a steampunk exhibit and wrote a bit more about that in my previous post.

Movies


Three movies I watched this month were Noah, the new Captain America, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Of the three I consider The Grand Budapest by far the best movie, and in fact I think it is one of the best, intelligent comedies I have seen in years. An absolutely delightful film, and I think I might just go see it on the big screen one more time before it disappears from the circuit.



Crit Friend and Steampunk Exhibit

I used to be part of a creative writing critique group. We were a bunch of writers, all with degrees in Creative Writing. They studied in the United States and most have Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees, with focus on Creative Writing. My degree from South Africa is a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing (MA-CW). Our group's focus was speculative fiction. In other words, we wrote stories within the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and sometimes steampunk, which is an off-shoot of sci-fi. Then we would read each others' stories and get together every other week to discuss and critique each others' work. The aim being constructive criticism. I really enjoyed it for two reasons. First, it was something far removed from my everyday Korean experience. We were just a bunch of westerners coming together and talking about something we have in common--our love of writing and speculative fiction. And secondly, it somehow reminded me of a big part of my identity, which is being a writer. In Korea I'm a literature lecturer and I'm a martial artist. These two things, my job as a university lecturer and my passion for martial arts, are the main reasons I am in Korea. That other part of me--the artist--is, I'm afraid to say, neglected. Therefore my crit meeting every other week with other artists was a good way to help me stay in touch with that neglected, however integral, part of me. Sadly, the crit group came to an end. The other members of the group all moved on; their sojourns in Korea having come to an end. That is the nature of expatriate communities.

One of my crit friends, the author Gord Sellar recently came for a short visit to Korea again to sort out some stuff. It was wonderful to see him again. We also did something I thought particularly apt -- we went to a steampunk art exhibit that is currently running in Seoul, until sometime in May of this year. Gord wrote a very nice update on his blog about the exhibit. Be sure to check it out. Below are a small selection of photos I took of some of the art:







If you happen to be in Seoul and have an interest in steampunk or the speculative genres, then I highly recommend you go to the exhibit. I definitely plan to go back there before it ends myself. The exhibit is showing at the Seoul Art Center, close by Nambu Bus Terminal.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Palmers' Kiss

In the class I'm teaching on cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare plays, we are spending the first half of the semester looking at adaptations of Romeo and Juliet. One of my favourite parts of the play is Romeo and Juliet's first interaction. What a smooth charmer is that Romeo! He makes out with her, kissing her twice -- three times, actually, if one counts the kiss he planted on her hand -- within quite a short time; somehow convincing her that kissing is like praying. My commentary is in italics.

Image Source


Act 1, Scene 5.

ROMEO
[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Basically, he takes her by the hand and tells her that since his hands are so rough, he will pay for his indiscretion by kissing her hand.   

JULIET
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.

Since they are touching hands, Juliet suggests that palms against palms (or hands in prayer) is like a kiss done by saints. 

ROMEO
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Seeing as they are touching hands, which Juliet suggested is like a kiss, Romeo asks why don't saints kiss with their lips instead.

JULIET
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

Because, says Juliet, they are using their lips for praying.

ROMEO
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Romeo says that their lips should do what their hands are doing -- touch each other in prayer.

JULIET
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.

Juliet, to shy to make the move, says that saints don't move.

ROMEO
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.

Romeo assures her that she doesn't need to move, he will move, and kisses her.

Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.

After the kiss he explains that his sins have now been taken away by her lips.

JULIET
Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Juliet laments that now Romeo's sins are on her lips.

ROMEO
Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

So Romeo states that he will take his sins back, and kisses her a second time.

JULIET
You kiss by the book.

You can read a modern English translation of the text here, and watch a nice modern adaptation of this kiss scene here.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Some of the stuff I did in February

So here are a couple of the things I did in February.

Jaehyuk

Kim Jaehyuk and me
My friend Jaehyuk and I hadn't had an opportunity to hangout in a year. When I realized that a year has passed, I called him up and told him it is high time to get together. It is not that we are not in contact -- we occasionally chat on KakaoTalk and are KakaoStory friends, so we are up to date with each other's activities. However, it was just nice to sit in each other's auras again. (Something that electronic communication cannot offer.) With our mutual schedules so full, we decided to make appointments about every other month, long in advance.


Jaehyuk, who is Mr Korea 2013 and went on to represent Korea at the Mr International pageant in Indonesia last year, and I met during a martial art photo shoot some time back.

Seoul Art Center & Myung-Il's Play







 



When I lived in Korea the first time, one of my favourite places to go to were the Seoul Arts Center. I especially enjoyed going there on Sabbath afternoons, as their is a beautiful little mountain just behind it with some short trails, and in the evening there is a music fountain, or other enjoyable activities to do on a Saturday night. Unfortunately I don't live close to it anymore, so I seldom visit it these days. However, my friend Myung-Il, who is a theater director recently had her production "The Closed Door" there, so it was wonderful to go there again and reminiscent about the "good old days". Myung-Il's play was probably one of the best in her ouvre I've seen so far. I'm also starting to notice some recurring motifs, so I'm starting to think about writing an article on her work sometime.

Road FC




Since the gym I'm associated with also practise amateur MMA we sometimes attend MMA competitions. Road FC is a touring pro MMA championships in Korea -- it was a nice evening, although the fights were a little dreary at times. Luckily my friend John joined us so we had great conversations through the boring parts.

Friends' Graduation

Dr John, me, and Dr Leo

Speaking of John, he and Leo, another close friend, graduated recently--both getting their PhD degrees. It was nice to attend the ceremony and get a taste for what will hopefully also be my achievement this time next year.

Temple Stay







An interesting cultural experience was staying overnight at a Buddhist temple and partaking in the religious services. Their was much of the experience that I enjoyed and many things about Buddhism that I found appealing, but the experience also confirmed some ideas I had about the basic Buddhist worldview that I am at odds with. It is a religion that I can appreciate, but not one I can fully embrace.

Community Supported Agriculture


I decided to join a CSA-group here in Korea, which provide me with fresh, organic (i.e. non-GMO) produce from local farms once a week. I ordered a sample package (picture above) and after thinking about it, decided to join as of this (March) month, so from next week I will be getting my weekly supply of fresh organic food. Here is an explanation of CSA:

CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, is a mutually supportive relationship between producers and consumers where farmers are able to have a reliable market for a variety of products and the community is able to attain fresh organic produce from responsible local farmers. Consumers pay for a specific time’s worth in advance and every week, or every other week, a box of fresh in-season produce is sent to the consumer’s doorstep directly from the farm. This lump sum payment provides the necessary capital and safety for the farmer to successfully grow his/her crops and in turn the farmer provides the consumers with trustworthy, fresh organic food. While both producer and consumer may share and reap the benefits of a successful harvest, they also share the risks that are undertaken while farming.

See some pro's and con's of CSA here. CSA are also part of a greater WWOOF-network, something I'm thinking about -- even as a form of holiday. As a tourist, I'm not really into the typical touristy places. Instead, I like to see how the locals live and get my hands dirty with local activities. This I find to be a much better cultural experience that just going to tourist sights (although I may do that too). One way of getting involved with the "locals" in a country, and actually living with them and interacting directly is to go work on a farm. Here is how it works.

Movies


During January and February I saw a number of movies. The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle are both really good films, but I found them disturbing. With both, after seeing them, I felt that this is exactly what is wrong with America (and the "West") today. Hedonistic greed. Speaking of problems in America, Dallas Buyer's Club was very touching with great performances. A story about HIV/AIDS and pharmaceutical companies' hording of medicine. (Greed again.) The most recent movie I saw, and the one that probably touched me the most was 12 Years a Slave. I came out of the cinema with an awful feeling in my stomach, as if I have just been given the news of a death in my family. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is a superb film. I force myself to watch these things, to remind myself of the evils man are capable of and hopefully be inspired to be a better person -- daily.


The new Robocop was a pretty good remake of the sci-fi action movie of my childhood. Similar to the remake of Total Recall, I found the new Robocop to be close enough to the original, but inventive enough for a new audience used to superb special effects and CGI. It didn't disappoint. I also watched some children's animated films. I strongly discourage anyone to see the new Tarzan movie. While the CGI was brilliant, I found the story to be quite poor and highly sexist. These gender stereotypes are not the values you want to teach your children. On the other hand, Disney's Frozen. It was beautiful on many levels and did a great job at dispelling gender stereotypes. I saw it twice.


I also watched Stephen Chow's new Kung Fu comedy, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. Such fun!

Students' Poems



After quite some time of editing, I finally got my students' poems published. Download the ebook for free here.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Universe Spins -- an anthology of my students' poems


Last semester I taught a creative writing class. As part of my students' final grade, they had to submit a writing portfolio that consists of two short stories and five poems. With their permission I selected the best poems from their submission and edited them into an anthology. Finally, after quite some time I finished the anthology and the e-book was published today. You can download The Universe Spins for free at Smashwords.Com in a file format of your liking.



Sunday, 23 February 2014

My First World Problem: Penis Touching Toilet Bowl

Image Source

Seriously, one has to wonder who designs toilet bowls. I'm tempted to come to the conclusion that they are either women who are not designing toilets with male genitalia in mind, or men with extra short penises, or hyper cheap manufacturers (with short penises) that would sacrifice our hygiene for a few centimetres less of toilet space.

There are few things in life that galls me as much as when my penis touches the front of the toilet bowl. And it is not as if I'm sitting on the front edge of the toilet either. I'm sitting properly far back. Neither do I have an unusually large penis—mine is in line with the world average, so I'm sure it can't just be me who is struggling with this most irksome of problems. In fact, a quick online search for “penis touching toilet bowl” showed that this is a very common problem. There is even a Facebook page for: “The awkward moment when your penis touches the toilet bowl.”

What's wrong with this picture?
Image Source

The toilet at my home is okayish, but I still have to push my penis down with one hand otherwise it touches the front of the toilet bowl. Some public restroom toilets are particularly cramp and shallow, so that even with me pushing things down, it still touches the front bowl. Which, keeping in mind that it is a public toilet, is particularly gross. As one guy on a forum said, it is like “a kiss for your dick tip from every other dick tip” that has used that toilet before you. If I'm going to have parts of my body kissing parts of other peoples' body, I'd prefer to know them first and have it happen outside the confines of a gross toilet cubicle. And sometimes, even if you get to push your penis down so that it doesn't touch the front of the bowl, often these public toilets are not deep enough, so what ends up happening is that you dip your tip into the water, which—considering that you are taking a dump—is disgusting. Now I haven't even started to to talk about the occasions you have a semi-hard on, which happens quite often for average healthy guys throughout the day. And since this rant is concerned with penis tips touching the front of the toilet bowl, I will not address the related but fortunately less common disasters of those terribly shallow toilet bowls where your scrotum touches the water's surface on hot summer's days. It is not as refreshing as it sounds.

Can you spot my brother?
Image Source

Back to glans penises and porcelain. Women might think that the solution is to keep your penis outside of the toilet, by simply resting it on a piece of toilet paper on top of the front brim. Unfortunately this doesn't work because you always pee a little when taking a dump, which results in you peeing over your pants and shoes. Alternatively one can hang a piece of toilet paper on the inside of the front of the bowl and let your penis rest against it, but again this isn't ideal as a toilet is always damp and so the toilet paper just gets all mushy and the wetness (and germs?!) from the toilet bowl steeps through onto your manhood, or you get a urine soaked piece of toilet paper wrapped around your glans. One of my brothers' solution to the problem is to climb onto the toilet bowl, and squat on it, which according to science is a healthier position for passing stool that sitting down. Regrettably, this is a balancing act I've never quite mastered and the fear of accidentally slipping of the brim and stepping into the bowl is enough to prevent me from testing my agility on a public thrown.

Image Source

The last time my penis touched the toilet bowl at a public restroom—a week ago—I finished my business in the toilet and then went over to the handbasin and just washed my penis with soap and water. I was frankly too grossed out to walk around the whole day thinking of all the germ-kisses that were planted on my penis tip. Luckily there was nobody else in the public restroom who I could disturb with me washing my junk in the public sink, but a hygienic man's got to do what a hygienic man's got to do. While I'm guilty of this act, the habit of men washing their groins in public restroom basens is not something I hope catches on. Imagine having to stand in line to wash your hands after another guy has just lathered up his penis!

The simple solution, dear toilet makers, is to make toilet bowls adequately long and deep enough to prevent the normal sized and larger sized men from having to endure the irritating problem of their penises touching parts of the toilet bowl. Is that too much to ask?