Friday, 11 November 2011


November 11 (11.11) is Pepero Day in South Korea. A Pepero 빼빼로 is a "cookie [stick] dipped in chocolate", a favourite snack in South Korea and Japan, where it is known as Pocky. Pepero Day is somewhat similar to Valentine's Day, but instead of chocolates, roses or other typical Valentine's Day gifts, the gift of choice is Peperos.

This year, however, November 11th is extra special in Korea as children born will have identity numbers that start with "111111". To ensure that their children have a sestet of ones in their identity numbers many pregnant mothers have gone out of their way to get c-section surgeries scheduled for today. According to Reuters, c-sections scheduled for 11 November 2011 is up by 20% from usual. (I'm obliged to a South African friend for sending me the link to the news article.)

Speaking of South Africa, annually on the weekend closest to 11 November, South Africa celebrates Poppy Day. It is in remembrance of those that died and fought in battle during World War I, World War II and other wars. World War I ended at the eleventh hour on 11 November 1918 when Germany signed the armistice. In South Africa it is known as Poppy Day because poppy flowers are traditionally sold as part of fundraising initiatives by the South African Legion to help veterans of war. The poppy was chosen because it grew on the battlefields of Flanders (Western Front), where many soldiers died. A poem written by Colonel John McCrae (a Canadian medic) brought wider attention to the poppie connection.

In Flanders Fields -- John McCrae
In Flanders fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place;wait and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead, short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands, we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields!

The red poppie became the symbolic flower of remembrance.

In South Africa Poppy Day remembrance ceremonies are held on the Saturday nearest 11 November and some services are also held on the adjacent Sunday. It is not a national holiday, so I'm not sure how many people actually observe it, but it's function is similar to Remembrance Day or Armistice Day celebrated by countries of the Common Wealth and Veterans Day in the United States which is also celebrated on November 11th. South African's typically use Poppy Day to remember South African soldiers who died in WWI, WWII, the Korean War and Border War, as well as surviving veterans of war. Ceremonies are typically held in Cape Town and Pretoria.

November 11 is also Nigel Tufnel Day kept by the cult following of the 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap. This day was chosen because of the recurrence of the number 11, which became a significant number in the movie, based on one particularly scene in which the character Nigel Tufnel explains how they can turn the volume of their amplifiers "up to eleven", making them "one louder" that other bands that can only go up to ten. The quote "up to eleven" has become pop-culture idiom, suggesting that something is done better, beyond it's expected limitations. I'm not sure exactly how one celebrates Nigel Tufnel Day; I guess you make sure to do something "up to eleven."

Also from popular culture and linked with 11 November 2011 is the movie that is supposed to have been released today, 11-11-11. While it may have gone on circuit in other parts of the world, I didn't see it showing in Korea (I went to the movies today). Then again, I'm not particularly interested as I avoid horror movies; this film was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, the director of SAW II, III and IV, none of which I've seen. On the other hand, I do like science-fiction films and this is a sci-fi horror. I'll wait a bit and first see how it rates on RottenTomatoes before I make my decision.

On a more philosophical note, 11 November is the anniversary of the death of the Christian philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, the father of Existentialism. Existentialist thought was most notably expounded upon by later philosophers like Friedrich Nietzche, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre, but it was Kierkegaard that first focussed on the human dilemma of freedom of choice and the existential angst this causes. He wrote about it in his book The Concept of Anxiety. One example in which he explains this angst requires us to imagine a man standing on the edge of a very tall building and looking down. The man experience two kinds of fear: "the fear of falling, and fear brought on by the impulse to throw himself off the edge. This second type of fear, or anxiety, arises from the realization that he has absolute freedom to choose whether to jump or not, and this fear is as dizzying as his vertigo" (The Philosophy Book, p. 195). In short, Kierkegaard argued that apart from the freedom to be born, God endowed us with free choice. Because making life-altering decisions always cause much angst in me, I'm quite attracted to the Existentialists. Kierkegaard died at the young age of 42 on 11 November 1855.

11 November 2011 is also a day on which New Agers celebrate "Interconnectedness Day", with heavy focus on the Green Agenda. Previous such Interconnectedness Days were celebrated on 10 October 2010 and 9 September 2009. I guess next year on 12 December 2012 will be the last year Interconnectedness Day will be celebrated in a very very long time.

On a personal note, my first best friend, Matthys du Preez, and I used to celebrate 11 November as our friendship day. I can't remember exactly what the reason was that we chose this day as our friendship day, but we celebrated it as a birthday. Matthys was literally my first friend. I cannot recall any friend before him. Our parents were friends and because we were of the same age we naturally became friends. We also went to the same elementary school (a "plaasskool") together. We grew up on farms in the same farming community and there was only one elementary school where all the children in the community went -- a little school with hardly 300 pupils. We were so close in personality that many people mistook us as twins, to our delight -- I guess the fact that we often dressed alike contributed to it. We often finished each other's sentences and my mother told me that we seemed to communicate telepathically as we would sometimes just look at each other and seem to know what the other was thinking. Unfortunately my first best friend moved away when we were about 11 years old and due to the distance our friendship waned until we completely lost contact. In recent years I've started to increasingly think about my old friend. I was able to look him up and sent him an email with the hopes of meeting with him at the beginning of this year while I was in South Africa, but he didn't respond to my email. I guess he's not as sentimental as I am about those early years. In our late teens, early twenties, we both lost our mothers to illness. I think we could have been a great comfort to each other had we stayed in contact. I sometimes wish I could have been there for him during that time of loss and during other trials he may have experienced as a child. I have fond memories of our friendship and I remember quite distinctly the good and caring friend he was. I am very blessed with some great friends in my life. I have, in part, Matthys to thank for that. Because my first friendship had been such a very close one, that has become my expectation of a real friendship. Matthys' care and loyalty as a young boyhood friend inspired me to become the same type of friend later in my life.

Happy 11 November, for whatever reason you decide to celebrate it.

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