Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 in Retrospect

It is time to take inventory of the past year. (See summaries of 2008, 2009 and 2010.)

January / February

The year started somewhat traumatically as I was involved in a car accident while I was in South Africa; thankfully nobody was seriously injured. During my time in South Africa I enjoyed spending time with many family and friends, some of whom I hda not seen in many years. The fruitful quest in search of my grandfather's grave in an old cemetery in Johannesburg was especially memorable.


In March there was a terrible earthquake that caused the terrible tsunami that destroyed large areas of Japan's eastern coast and resulted in the explosion of nuclear reactors. Japan took the brunt of the tsunami, saving Korea from any ill-effects. At a personal level, March was much less volatile. After working on the day of my birthday, I went to an excellent bakery and enjoyed exquisite pastries and deserts.


In April I started my Afrikaans poetry blog, Ingelegde Lywe, with focus on love and erotic poems.

Nothing else much happened. I did do some touristy things in April, such as visiting Seoul Tower, watching the theatre performance Jump! (for the fourth or fifth time), and hanging out in Insadong.


A most memorable thing in May was the Lantern Festival Parade (which coincides with Buddha's birthday) that I went to see with some friends whom I hadn't seen in years. Another memorable random day was when I went with my Taekwon-Do instructor and another friend to meet some high level Taekwon-Do people. That wasn't the memorable thing; the memorable thing happened later when we went to the Han River and found this strange bridge with a glass floor on which you can stand (or lie) and look at the river below.

Because of the car accident earlier the year I started going to a chiropractor again on account of acute back ache. It helped a lot—it also forced me to practise more Korean as the doctor is even worse at English than I am in Korean.


June was a much more active month for me. I went paragliding, went to the port city Mokpo where I had some of the best vegetarian food I've ever had at a little place called “Waltz Vegetarian Buffet” and also went for a weekend to Jeju Island.

I was also asked to give a speech on poetry and Christianity; I focussed on the value of Mythos and the Numinous.

In June this blog reached its 1000th post.


I travelled to three countries: Thailand, Laos and China. From Thailand I flew to Laos, crossed the border by bus into China, back again by bus to Laos and then by plain back to Thailand. During the Laos-China trip I had a wonderful experience meeting with Sabbath keeping Hmong Christians. It was an enriching and humbling experience. For my second journey in Thailand I just relaxed, first in Bangkok, then on an island (Koh Samui) where I hanged around and went scuba-diving, and back in Bangkok again, exploring Thailand's jazz spots.


In August I went to the Taekwondo Hall of Fame ceremony to support my instructor and other acquaintances as they receive awards. I was very surprised when I was also awarded with a citation.


It may not sound particularly noteworthy, but it was a life enhancing discovery for me: I started making nut milks.


With the cooler, more pleasant weather I enjoyed more trips around Seoul, enjoying the Gangnam Fashion Festival, a trip at some of the palaces, and a trip to the Blue House, the Korean presidential residence. I also went to a Fantasy Festival where I ended up being a model to be sketched with two other French models for one of the live-drawing sessions.

Not to be forgotten is my backpack that I lost, with nothing inside missing. This was soon to be followed by another miracle.


Early in November my car in South Africa got stolen. Miraculously it was retrieved, and with value added. The thieves actually spray painted my car, so that when the police got it back, it is now worth more than when it got stolen! I can only praise God for this.


Friends from South Africa came to visit me. This has been the first time for people from my South Africa life to enter my Korea life. For some reason, it feels like something important. Since they have been here I've been all around Seoul, doing and seeing a myriad of things and enjoying Korea again with “new eyes.”


This year it felt as if I really settled into living in Korea. I remember at the beginning of the year how I seriously considered leaving Korea by the middle of next year, maybe relocating to Europe, but as the year progressed I became more and more comfortable in my life here. My work has been a good blend of stress and enjoyment. I truly enjoy most of what I'm doing. I definitely do not think that I will want to stay here indefinitely, but for now I am happy. For much of the year I've been contemplating about my future plans—what will I do when my contract expires at the middle of next year? Will I renew? It's still too early to answer that question. I do know, however, that I would not mind staying on in Korea. At the beginning of this year, shortly after I arrived back in Korea after my trip to South Africa, I caught myself calling my apartment here in Korea “home”. I do feel it.

In 2011 I've made some new friends, learned some new lessons, and reminded myself of some old ones.

What will 2012 involve? The world economy will continue it's uncertain downward spiral. There is likely to be a war (between America and allies with Iran and allies) with the potential to escalate to global proportions. But before WWIII occurs, I'll be teaching new subjects that I'm looking forward to teach. Next semester will be a hard semester because I'll be teaching extra hours, but I look forward to the new classes and expanding my knowledge and skill set. I hope the global elite's plans for world domination will not hinder me to see the next Batman film (a little shallow, I know), and afterwards I will join the millions and millions of people that will resist their psychopathic ambitions. I haven't decided what my involvement in the protest movement will be just yet; in the meantime I'll use my vocation as a teacher to get my students to think for themselves, to question the status quo, and to value the great principles: Love, Hope, Liberty!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Maya Angelou

I've mentioned before that my favourite poem in English is Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise". This year, while teaching 19th & 20th Century American Poetry I got to spend some time with Angelou's work again. The poem that my students seemed to like the most (based on the amount of essays that focussed on it) is the poem "Africa." It is quite a striking poem in which the African continent is anthropomorphised as a beautiful woman who is metaphorically ravaged by colonialists, who also "took her young daughters / sold her strong sons / churched her with Jesus / [and] bled her with guns". The poem ends with the woman "rising", "although she has lain" and "now . . . striding", suggesting that she refuse to submit and give up hope, but instead rise above her oppression and adversary. Like "Still I Rise" the poem shows the victim rising above her situation. The poem that really stood out for me this time, however, was "Phenomenal Woman". It might be because many people have asked me in recent months about my ideal woman, and while ideally a good figure does score some points, it is more her confidence in herself--her at homeness in her body--that makes a woman sexy. The poem "Phenomenal Woman" really captures this.

I just now saw this interpretation of Oprah Winfrey of "Phenomenal Woman" and "Still I Rise". Phenomenal! In the YouTube video below, Oprah starts to speak at 2:45 and begins with the excellent performance of parts of the two poems at 3:30.

The Canadian actress/singer Amy Sky did a pretty good job of putting "Phenomenal Woman" to music.

It is difficult to speak about Maya Angelou and not mention her poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". Do read it. It is beautiful.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Queen Elizabeth II's 2011 Christmas Message

There is much that can be said about Britain, and with ever decreasing favour. However, I have a soft spot for Her Majesty the Queen.

I keep Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558-1603, in high esteem. She was one of the first rulers who considered religion a personal act between man and God and worked towards Freedom of Religion in a time when "heretics" were routinely excommunicated and / or burned at the stake. Queen Elizabeth I may have been "only a woman" and ruler of “half an island” as Pope Sixtus V referred to her, but she stood her ground against the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire, before whom many a king had bowed the knee, and withstood Spain and France. The England of today, including the Common Wealth, that enjoys its great freedoms of religion, speech, and conscience would not have been had it not been for this wonderful woman. Even the attacks of religiously-aggressive atheists like Richard Dawkins would not have been conceivable was it not for the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I who believed in religious tolerance.

It might be because of this endearment I have to Queen Elizabeth I that I'm curiously open to her name-bearer, Queen Elizabeth II, particularly to her annual Christmas Message. And what a beautiful address this year's Christmas Message was! She emphasized the value of family and friendship and man's need of a Saviour and forgiveness. Keep in mind that the annual Christmas Message is the only time the Queen is allowed to freely speak her mind. At all other times she is restricted by “advisers” on what she can or cannot say, but the Christmas Message is thoroughly her own. Imagine that you have only once a year the opportunity to freely speak your mind. Certainly at this opportunity you would share the things that are most important to you.

I highly recommend you listen to Her Majesty the Queen's 2011 Royal Christmas Message.

Since I don't really keep Christmas, this will probably be my only Chirstmassy-post for the year. The Queen's message of family, friendship and forgiveness is also my wish for you all.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Jack Parrow, Katie, Mmê Emily and The Help

In a recent post about Afrikaans rap and Hip-Hop music I mentioned how I'm not a big fan of the Afrikaans rapper Jack Parrow. But let me not be a spoil sport for others that enjoy him. Someone just now showed me the video below of a help (maid) in South Afrika, most likely working for a white family, and listening to the Afrikaans rapper on television. Watching her do her work with that amount of enjoyment she derives from Afrikaans rap will bring a smile to anyone's face and is possibly the best marketing for popular alternative Afrikaans music I can imagine.

It also made me think of Koos Kombuis' Afrikaans song "Katie", in memory of the maid that worked for his family and helped raise him. In the lyrics of the song he proclaims that their maid "was not merely a maid / but also a mother" [my translation] to him. In the video below Christo Wolfaardt does a rendition of the song "Katie".

This song by Kombuis is one of his most famous, probably because it resonates with so many white South Africans that grew up with an "Ousie" (Afrikaans word derived from "ou suster", meaning older sister, and used to describe a maid or house help). For many white South Africans of around my generation "the maid" was more than just another worker; for many of us, our Ousie was a second mother.

Me and my "mother" Emily.
Mine, was definitely a second mother. She worked for our family for 27 years. Her name is Emily but I often called her "Mmê Emily". Mmê is Sesotho for mother. She is actually ethnically Zulu, but the area we lived in was predominately Sotho, so she spoke Sesotho to me. The name I use and which all my family and friends use is a Sesotho name and was actually given to me by Mmê Emily.

She is retired now and currently lives in the Sebokeng-area, Vaal Triangle. The last time I visited her was in 2008. I hope to go visit her again next month, God-willing, when I visit South Africa.

Recently I watched the film The Help (2011), based on the 2009 début novel by Kathryn Stockett. The Internet Movie Database gives the following synopsis: "An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960's decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid's point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis," and gives it a rating of 8 out of 10. The American Film Institute listed the film as one of the ten films of the year. For people like myself, coming from a white family, who grew up with a nanny who is a person-of-colour, the film was particularly touching. Although the set-up in America and in South Africa worked differently, the similarities are enough for South Africans to also appreciate The Help, and appreciate our helps, as I appreciate my Mmê Emily.

Salvation by Spam

I saw the picture below on a social network site and then thought of something I wrote a couple of years ago somewhere else. Since the two compliment each other so well, I thought I'd post them here together.

Email this to 15 people and God will love you more.
Email has become the next bondage to works-religion. Almost daily I get (Christian) emails telling me to forward this to people and I will be blessed. Here’s an example:

Pass this message to 15 people except you and me.
Don't ignore and God will bless you.
So if I do not send irritating time consuming emails to other people God will not bless me? In other words, I have to work (send emails) in order to gain God’s favour?
Christianity is unique among the great religions because it is centred upon the idea that salvation (i.e. God’s favour) is not because something we do, but due to something God has done. The greatest struggle for many Christians is to accept God’s love and saving provision. Not to try and save ourselves, but accept God’s salvation on our part.
These chain-letters also usually make emotional manipulative appeals to make you feel guilty. For instance in the letter already quoted, the author pretends to pray for me. Included in that prayer is this sneaky manipulative sentence:

I pray for those who don't know You intimately. I pray for those that will delete this without sharing it with others. I pray for those that don't believe.
By proximity of the sentences I am to deduce that if I “delete [the email] without sharing it with others” then I do not know God intimately and do not believe. Apparently ones relationship with God depends on whether or not you “share” these irritating emails with other people. So the more you spam other people’s mailboxes, the closer you are to God?!
Call me paranoid, but I think that these emails are a ploy of Satan to get Christians to doubt in the faithfulness of God. Getting us to doubt in God’s complete salvation. Getting us to subtly try and contribute to our salvation – thereby insulting our Lord and Saviour by insinuating that His saving sacrifice was insufficient.
To become perfect I still need to send this to 15 more people.

The text focussed on religious emails that do the guild-tripping trick, but they are not the only ones to do so. Many other emails and social network posts use emotional appeals to make you feel guilty less you also copy-and-paste the emotionally charged request. Chain letters showing dying babies and telling you that for every email sent a few cents will be donated to the suffering child are equally manipulative and utterly bogus. Emails are not "tracked" in this way, and if they were it would be an illegal infringement of your privacy. No money will be paid to the dying baby through your email forwards.

As the picture above says, if you want to make a difference, make a tangible one. Go volunteer. Send actual money to an actual charity.

Do not forward me your guild-tripping devil-spawned messages! I just delete them and do not feel guilty for doing so at all. In fact, I sometimes even take the time to "Reply to All" in which I tell you and the other friends you sent your stupid email to, just how silly you must be for believing in such nonsense.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Adds About Dictators

North Koreans weeping over the death of the "Dear Leader"

Monday, 19 December 2011

Kim Jong-Il's Death, America and World War III

At noon today the official North Korean news agency announced that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, has died. The North Korean newscaster was dressed in clothes of morning as she revealed that the “Dear Leader” had died on Saturday, 17 December, due to extreme psychological and physiological fatigue while doing on site inspections—something he was known for doing quite frequently—at 8:30 in the morning. The North Korean newscaster announced that he died of “physical and mental exhaustion.” The exact cause of death is myocardial infarction, a heart attack. This was determined during an autopsy that was performed on Sunday. He was 69 years old (70 years in Korean counting). North Korean citizens broke down weeping at the news, according to pictures from the Chinese news agency. China is North Korea's greatest ally. The funeral is set for next week, the December 28th or 29th.

Although the South Korean government has declared a state of emergency, the second highest security level, I have spent much of my day in the streets of Seoul and can attest that the average South Korean citizen does not seem too concerned. This is in high contrast to how American citizens reacted upon the announcement of the death of their bogeyman, Osama Bin Laden, earlier this year. In South Korea there are no obvious cheering in the streets nor cowering in the corners. People are just going on with life as normal Although online video sites do have news videos about the North Korean leader's death, the news is shared with local entertainment videos of participants in the pop idol show Kpop Star.

Asian markets seem more concerned than South Korean citizen as Asian currencies dropped at the announcement, but Asian markets have always been nervous.

So what can we expect? For the time being, I think, not much. It is very unlikely that there will be any uprising in the North. Since Kim Jong-Il suffered a stroke in 2008, the North Korean regime has been preparing for his eventual death. Also, although he died Saturday already, the party only made the announcement two days later, giving them enough time to prepare for any unwanted reaction from the people. The South Korean government's state of emergency is more for political display than anything else, since it is highly unlikely the North will do anything to stir up further animosity until after its mourning period. Apart from the immediate mourning period, which will last until around Thursday next week, Korean's also have a special mourning ceremony 100 days after the day of death. Furthermore, Kim Il Sung's Centennial is coming up next year. Plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, has been put into motion for quite some time now.

North Korea is practically a cult-state devoted to Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il. Kim Jong-Il's third son Kim Jong-Eun has been groomed as the successor so plans to “enthrone” him will also take up focus. The next couple of months we can expect North Korea to be completely internally focussed with the mourning of Kim Jong-Il, the centennial celebrations of Kim-Il Sung and the successor ceremony of Kim Jong-Eun.

That is at least how I see things play out, unless there are any outside interferences and the only powers that could / would cause “interferences” are China who isn't likely to do anything, Japan and Korea who prize stability in the region more than anything else, and the United States. America has its focus divided elsewhere and would rather not thin their attention any more than it has too. In any case, China will not stand idly by if America were to make a move in North Korea. North Korea serves as a strategic buffer between America's heavy presence in South Korea. A move by America on North Korea is too close for comfort for China.

Speaking of the United States and it's divided attentions... Both the USA and Russia have naval air carriers and other military presence in Syrian waters, what can only be described as a under-reported stand-off. China and Russia has blocked United Nations Security Council efforts (i.e. US military) to interfere with Syria. China has announced its allegiance to Iran.

It is well known that America feels the need to invade Iran because of Iran's nuclear ambitions. (That is, at least, the cover story. The truth is more probably America's hunger for oil or using war as a economic stimulus.) However, the American people are waking up to the fraudulent wars their government is waging. Although war is likely, it is unlikely that America will make the first overt move. Instead we are more likely to see them bite at the heels of Iran until Iran gets so irate that it loses its temper and make the first strike. This will, of course, give the Military Industrial Complex that runs the show the excuse to go to war with Iran. For this scenario to play out will require quite a number of months of agitation, so we can probably expect it to happen later, maybe September, October, 2012. That is unless they pull another false flag event like 9/11. With US presidential elections coming up we may first see some “soldiers coming home” rhetoric in action, which was a promise Obama made during his presidential race. Either way, it is plausible for Obama to stay on as president. He has been heeding the commands of his international banker masters quite well. But it doesn't matter. What we can be sure of is that unless Ron Paul or a completely different third party candidate suddenly become exceedingly popular and wins the upcoming election, the banking elite will just replace Obama with one of their cronies—it doesn't matter the party. The Republicans and the Democrats are merely to sides of the same proverbial coin—a two headed party.

Back to the probable war with Iran later next year. Such a war has so many parties involved that it can easily escalate to a global conflict—a Third World War. Unfortunately, with technology as advanced as it is, a Third World War will be a rather messy affair which could easily involve bioweapons and nuclear / hydrogen bombs.

Then, let's not forget the predicted high solar activities predicted for next year. And for those that do not know, sun storms are closely related to natural disasters such as earth quakes and unusual weather here on our planet.

But, in the meantime, enjoy the festive season. It ought not be too volatile. The “fun” is all scheduled for later in 2012.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Vyf dinge wat ek by my ma geleer het

My ma

'n Mens is nie aldag bewus van die waardevolle lesse wat jy deur die jare by jou ouers geleer het nie. En om eerlik te wees, die trauma-geïnduseerde amnesia wat met my ouers gepaard gaan maak dat ek nie juis veel van my ma kan onthou nie. Gevolglik is ek opgewonde wanneer ek wel 'n paar positiewe herinneringe kan onthou. In elk geval, hier volg vyf dinge waarin my ma geglo het en wat ek as waardevolle lesse by my ma geleer het:

“Vra is vry, en wyer daarby”

Dit was een van my ma se gunsteling spraakwendings. Ek is seker dat die idioom “vra is vry, en wyer daarby” selfverduidelikend is: Daar is geen skade om te vra vir, oor, omtrent, of na iets nie. Die ergste wat die ander party kan doen is om jou versoek te wyer, so daar is nie veel te verloor deur te vra nie, maar daar is altyd die potensiaal om iets te win. Selfs die Bybel por ons aan om te vra (Markus 11:24).

Veg gravitasie

Wanneer jy gesigroom aanwend, vryf dit op, nie af nie. Gravitasie trek die heeldag alles af, moet jy nie nou ook dinge begin afwaarts vryf nie. Soos ek ouer word kom ek agter dag dinge begin sak en het ek nou besluit om die beginsel ook in my daaglikse afdroog roetine toe te pas na ek gestort of bad het. In plaas daarvan dat ek “afdroog”, met ander woorde die handoek afwaarts oor my liggaam vryf, maak ek nou gebruik van “opdroog”—ek vryf die handdoek opwaarts oor my lyf.

Iets anders wat my ma ook vir my genoem het en waaruit ek as 'n man nou nie juis persoonlik veel baat vind nie, maar dalk van my vrouelesers wel kan, is dat “borste moet ondersteun word”. My ma het sterk geglo in bras wat die borste behoorlik ondersteun en die effek van gravitasie teenwerk. Klink sinvol.

Worry nie oor wat ander van jou dink nie en wees proaktief

My ma was nie 'n skaam mens nie en het glad nie omgegee om uit te staan of in die kollig te wees nie. Sy het kanse gevat, haar stem laat hoor, en was nooit bang vir verkeerd wees nie. Om aksie te neem is beter as om te kwyn voor die vrees van wat ander mense van jou mag dink. Sy was proaktief. Uit die krygskunste kan ek die beginsel beaam: aksie is inherent vinniger as reaksie. Wees 'n aksie mens, nie 'n reaksie mens nie.

Musiek het voedingswaarde

My pa hou nie van musiek nie. Ek vind dit uitermatig weird dat 'n mens nie van musiek kan hou nie. My ma, aan die anderkant, was 'n groot musiekliefhebber. Om haar was daar nooit nie musiek nie. My ma het van alle musiek gehou: Country musiek, rock-en-roll, klassieke musiek, boeremusiek, koortjies en lofliedere, popmusiek, selfs die metal-goth waarna ek as laattiener geluister het, het sy saam met my geluister. Sy't gesing, klavier en orrelgespeel en ons kinders aangemoedig om ook musiek deel van ons lewens te maak, want musiek is so nodig soos kos. En nes kos, het sekere kos meer voedingswaarde as ander. So luister na 'n gesonde verskeidenheid!

Waarde word nie net in geld gemeet nie

My ma het waarde gesien in enige iets wat handgemaak is, waaraan iemand tyd spandeer het. Massageproduseerde, masjien gekoekiedrukte produkte het min waarde in haar estimasie gehad. Iets wat die produk is van iemand se persoonlike swoeg-en-sweet, se bloed-en-trane, was outomaties meer werd vir haar. 'n Kranklike houtgekerfde stoeltjie was vir haar van meer waarde as iets wat dubbeld soveel werd is in geldelike terme. Daar's baie waarde in die “personal touch.” Tyd voeg ook waarde by tot iets. Natuurlik was enige oudhede en antieke dinge van hoë waarde vir haar.

Goeie lesse, dink jy nie?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Aegyo: Korea's Cute Coquette

In Korea there is something called "aegyo". They translate it as charming, which is definitely not the best translation. Aegyo is basically when an adult acts childlike in order to come over as cute. It is usually done by women, but men sometimes do aeqyo too, particularly in the early stages of a romantic relationship. Aegyo is basically acting cute coquettishly. This is probably a good translation for aegyo: "cute coquette." Korean women usually do aegyo to break her male target's resistance as she manipulates him to do her will.

I get that aegyo is cute. I also like cute things -- a cute kitten can melt me in a second. What I don't get is why aegyo is sexy. Korean men actually thinks it is sexy when their girlfriends act like little girls. Personally I'm completely put off by it. I find the nagging-manipulation of aegyo, like any type of emotional manipulation, distasteful. Also, that men should find such childlike behaviour sexually exciting borders on paedophilia, I think. (I cannot help but wonder if there is a correlation between child sexual abuse and a culture that views childlikeness sexually attractive. I couldn't find much information on the topic; this post by The Grand Narrative may be a start.)

As I mentioned earlier, aegyo is not exclusively used by Korean women. Korean men also do aegyo, as the videos below demonstrate.

However, male aegyo sometimes works the other way. Instead of an adult trying to act cute, a young man could act more mature, self-confident or tough towards a female that is his senior. The following video illustrates this:

I've often been asked about my interest in Korean women and why I don't yet have a Korean girlfriend. There are different reasons, but one is that I really do not find aegyo sexually attractive. On some isolated occasions I thought it cute, and can appreciated it as an interesting cultural phenomenon. However, sexually it is a turn off for me. I definitely find mature women attractive, not little girls.

A bad aegyo moment. Sorry.
But, let me not be too hypocritical. I've done aegyo myself on occasion, because I know the results it gets in this culture. Also, apparently I speak Korean very cute. The reason is two fold. First, my Korean ability is quite elementary so I end up sounding a little like a toddler clumsily putting together sentences and we all know how cute that can be. Second, I used to learn much of my Korean from women, so I ended up speaking like the girls whose intonation I copied. Therefore, I'm often doing aegyo without it being my intention. I've started watching how Korean men act tough in Korean films and have tried that instead, but from the reactions of some of my students I think it came across as the reverse aegyo that men sometimes used, which I spoke about earlier. While I'm not a fan of aegyo, I catch myself sometimes being an aegyo culprit.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Guan Yin

In the Oriental religions, the bodhisattva (enlightened one) I find the most attractive is Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Her full name Guanshiyin means “Observing the Cries of the World.” She is, therefore, ever presently compassionately aware of all the suffering that occurs on the Earth. Her male counter part is likely Avalokiteśvara. His name suggests the “One that looks upon the world with compassion.” There is a Buddhist story of Avalokiteśvara's efforts at trying to free people (sentient beings) from samsara (the cursed cycle of re-incarnation). The Buddha of Infinite Light (Amitābha Buddha), seeing Avalokiteśvara compassion and sincerity, gives him multiple heads to better observe the suffering of the people, and bestows him with a thousand arms and hands so that he can better reach out to all the suffering.

The video below depicts the Thousand Hands of Guan Yin. It is a riveting performance by a troupe of deaf and mute Chinese women. Looking at the grace and precision with which these “disabled” women depict Guan Yin, one might be tempted to think that there is indeed some divine compassion at work here.

I think what I like about the mythos of Guan Yin is that it captures a key aspect of how I understand God to be. God is ever compassionate, ever merciful. There is no suffering that God is not painfully aware of. When we suffer, God suffers. Not in a pantheistic sense, but very much in a Parent-child sense. When a loving parent sees her child suffer, she is personally hurt by her child's pain as well. In this festive season we are reminded of the Suffering God; the God who “became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14, The Message); the God that came to live and suffer as we live and suffer; not a far off deity, but a God that is intimately acquainted with our predicaments.

The first time I heard of Guan Yin was in a song by Alanis Morissette called “Citizen of the Planet” in which she sings: “I'm a citizen of the planet / My president is Kwan Yin”. It is a song I associate with. As a traveller of the world and as an expatriate, I agree that my “Patriotism [has] expanded by callings from beyond”. I'm no longer bound by a narrow minded xenophobic patriotism, but by a more open view -- one that is hopefully driven by compassion.

"Sir, you look like Mitch."

Jesse Tyler Ferguson
(Image Source)


“Who is Mitch?”
“Mitch. Mitchell from Modern Family.”
“NOOOoooo!!! I don’t want to look like Mitch!!!”

Or something to that effect is how a dialogue went between one of my students and I this morning. Now what I find quite curious about her statement is the peculiar timing. I usually have a stubble. I’m not fond of shaving, so I just use a clipper to quickly spruce my beard to a two-day trim. This morning I actually shaved properly, splattered toner and moisturized. “You look ten years younger,” is what a colleague told me. Why the student should compare me with Mitchell on this particular day is unusually baffling. Not only is Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the actor that plays Mitchell Pritchette in the TV-series Modern Family, my senior by a couple of years, on this particular day we look a decade apart.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson
(Image Source)

So let’s compare Mitchell and myself. He, is older. I'm younger. Okay, just three years younger, but still. Mitchell is out of shape; I'm not. Yes, I'm no beefy hunk either, I will admit it, but I'm not sagging -- yet. He has an unfortunate sense of style. I may not be a fashion slave, but I do have a sensible aversion of checkered clothes. He has what one can obviously refer to as a ginger beard, while I usually display an auburn stubble. He is evidently gay, with the fame and salary that warrants the paparazzi's attention, while I'm questionably bi-sexual with neither the fame nor the salary to have strangers take pictures of me without my shirt on. If I want shirtless pictures of myself on the Internet I have to take them and post them myself.

So what do the character Mitchell and myself have in common that causes my student to "compliment" me as Mitchell's doppelgänger? Mismatched red hair? He is a strawberry blond, while I'm more of a light auburn. A fair skin? Pink cheeks? A slowly receding hairline? Jobs that require talking? (Mitchell is a lawyer and I'm a literature lecturer.)

I guess in Korea all Caucasian gingers look alike. ;-)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

(Suid-) Afrikaanse Rap

Ek kan nie sê dat ek noodwendig 'n aanhanger is van rap is nie. Wat ek bedoel is, ek is nie 'n super fan nie, is nie ophoogte met al die nuutste albums nie, en hou nie trek met al die nuwe kunstenaars nie. Terselfde tyd kan ek ook nie sê dat ek geensins na rap luister nie. Ek was ook opgesweep met Eminem en terwyl ek nie tans juis na hom luister nie, het ek waardering vir sy sosiale kommentaar. Ek luister ook graag na K'naan -- was bewus van hom sedert sy album "Dusty Foot Philosopher", voordat hy 'n fenomeen geraak het tydens die sokker wêreldspele met sy "White Flag"-enkel. Dan is daar Kanye West. Ek het twee van sy albums, die nuutste een waaroor ek nie huistoe sal skryf nie, maar ook die vorige een 808's & Heartbreak, wat ek beweer 'n baanbrekersalbum in die Hip Hop-industrie is.

Wat Suid-Afrikaanse rap betref, Die Brasse vannie Kaap het my regtig opgewonde gehad en ek mis hulle nogals. Hulle het inderdaad 'n verskil onder die Kleurlinggemeenskap gemaak en was sonder twyfel baanbrekers in Afrikaanse kontemporêre musiek-industrie.

Na Die Brasse het ek eintlik min Afrikaanse rap gehoor. Ek het bewus geraak van Jack Parrow en Die Antwoord (soos almal maar), maar nie juis met enige intensie om hulle musiek op my speellys te hê nie.

Onlangs het ek bewus geraak van nog 'n Afrikaanse rap-groep, Bittereinders. Wat 'n bevange naam! Hierdie is wel 'n groep waarvan ek meer wil hoor en beplan om hulle album te koop wanneer ek volgende maand Suid-Afrika toe gaan.

As jy op YouTube soek na Afrikaanse rap kry jy 'n klompie videos van skoolkinders waarvan hulle eerste taal nie Afrikaans is nie, maar wat vir 'n projek hulle gunsteling rap songs in Afrikaans moes vertaal en voordra. 'n Vyfhand vir die onderwyser! Dit maak my uitsien na al die Afrikaanse musiek wat nog voorlê!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Ou Blog

Die eerste keer wat ek Korea toe gekom het, dit was rondom 2006, het ek ook 'n blog gehad--destyds nog met Yahoo! 360. Ek het daardie blog toe gemaak nadat ek hierdie huidige een begin het. Ek het wel 'n rugsteun gemaak van die oorspronklike blog en het nog meeste van daardie inskrywings. Dis interesant om my oorspronklike reaksies omtrent Korea te lees. Sien byvoorbeeld een van my eerste inskrywings hier onder:

Orals is trappe. Baie trappe. 'n Mens begin om roltrappe te waardeur in Korea. Hierdie roltrap is in een van die moltreinstasies.
Of hierdie inskrywing wat ek oor my eetgewoontes in Korea gemaak het:

Ek het hierdie week vir die eerste keer wat ek hier is vleis geëet. Van my studente het my uitgeneem vir ete en al die disse het vleis gehad. So toe kies ek maar 'n tofu-bredie met stukkies beesvleis. Ek wou hulle nie in die gesig vat en glad nie eet nie. Gelukkig is my benadering nie 'n wettiese "geen-vleis" kwessie nie, maar eerder 'n "gesonde leefstyl" beginsel. Omdat daar soveel soja produkte hier is, is dit maklik om vegetaries te lewe. Ongelukkig is daar nie 'n verskriklike groot variteit groente en vrugte nie (en boonop is die goed so duur), so ek sal nie heeltemal vegan kan gaan terwyl ek hier is nie. Ek het regtig gehoop dat ek sou kon.

In somertye het die Koreane baie koue disse. Nie koud soos ons het nie—regtig koud! Die kos word op ys gesit. Ek het nog net een so 'n dis gehad, pasta met kimchi. Ek verkies maar warm kos, of ten minste kamertemperatuur kos, eerder as half gevriesde goed.

Ek raak stelselmatig gewoond aan die Koreaanse kos, maar dis steeds nie na my eie smaak nie. Tradisionele Suid-Afrikaanse kos is ook nie regtig na my smaak nie... ek eet nie graag vleis nie, geniet nie pap nie en drink nie bier nie.

Ek wens dat ek net meer gewone vrugte en groente hier kon geniet. Maar elke keer wat ek R18 vir 'n appel moet betaal wil ek die horries kry. Een van my gunsteling skrywer het die volgende te se: "Money spend on nutritious food is never wasted." Ek probeer nog daardie woorde ter harte neem.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Vegan Coconut Cake

A while back I found a nice vegan clementine and cranberry muffin recipe by another Korean blogger. I had neither clementines nor cranberries, but I did have blueberries so I winged the recipe and made a blueberry muffin mix instead. I also do not have muffin pans, thus my muffin mix became a cake mix. Neither do I have cake pans -- I just have glass containers that are oven resistant. Any way, the small blueberry cake came out quite nice.

Then I experimented with a chocolate-walnut cake. I had made walnut milk the night before so used that, with some crushed walnuts, and a couple of heaped table spoons of cocoa powder, to characterise the rest of the ingredients. When it came out of the oven I melted chocolate truffles over the top as the icing. It was absolutely deliciously decadent!

Vegan Coconut Cake
Today I decided to make a coconut cake. I wasn't sure how it would come out, but it came out surprisingly well, although I did have to bake it longer than the previous cakes I made. Luckily I kept tabs of the ingredients so I can share the recipe.

Dry ingredients:

2 cups of flour
1/2 a cup of coconut shreds
1/2 a cup of sugar
1/4 to 1/2 a teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Wet ingredients:

1 tin coconut milk (i.e. two cups)


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.

Mix the dry ingredients together. Then add the coconut milk and mix well. Poor into a greased pan and bake for around 40 minutes, or until a testing utensil (e.g. knife -- I use a chopstick) comes out dry.

I topped my cake with condensed milk, but I'm sure you can find a vegan alternative instead.

It is not a very big cake. Maybe four big slices, so great for a small group of friends or a nuclear family.

Enjoy it with fruits and Rooibos tea!

Friday, 2 December 2011


A short video I took of ajumeoni (Korean aunties) making ho-ddeok, a sweet pancake filled with brown sugar, cinnamon and crushed nuts and other secret ingredients.

The music is by Kang San Ae.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Classes Next Semester

I received the list of classes that I'm most likely going to teach next semester.
  • 19th Century English Romantic Poetry
  • British & American Essays
  • English Prose Reading & Response Writing
  • English Short Stories
  • Literature & Visual Arts (Shakespeare Films)
  • Intermediate English Listening & Conversation
My basic contract requires me to teach twelve hours a week. I'm usually teaching fifteen or sixteen hours. This coming semester I'm requested to teach eighteen hours! The reason is that our department is losing three lecturers. One resigned, one was fired (or rather, his contract is coming to an end and the department chair told him that his contract will not be renewed), and another is going on a research sabbatical. With three less lecturers, us remaining professors need to carry the extra burden. 

The problem, however, is that this will again prevent me from doing any research of my own. The maximum a typical university lecturer teaches is twelve hours, usually less, with the assumption that they will also work on research and writing academic papers. Since I'm consistently teaching over twelve hours, my department does not expect any research output from me. And, of course, the extra hours I'm teaching count as overtime for which I get extra money, but unfortunately I'm not doing much for my academic career apart from gaining teaching experience in a variety of subjects. While this is a good way to solidify my base as a well rounded English literature lecturer, it is not doing much for my scholarly career. 

I'm teaching two new subjects next semester: Prose Reading & Response Writing and Short Stories. While I look forward to teaching new subjects, it means a lot of extra preparation, compared with classes that I have taught before. We have also chosen a new textbook for the Listening & Conversation class, so this class will also require extra preparation. The idea of teaching six overtime hours and technically three new classes has me exhausted just thinking about it. I had hoped to enrol into an official Korean language learning course next semester, but that seems unlikely now.

In the liminal space between the end of this semester and the beginning of next semester I will be teaching a Winter School class: Research Methodology. Again. Every time I teach I'm told that it will be the last time the class is taught. I really hope this will indeed be the last time. Although it is only a one credit course, it is terribly time consuming and needlessly stressful. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

My knorrige Koreaanse kollega

Daar is 'n knorrige Koreaanse doktor in die Engelse departement waar ek werk. Die eerste jaar wat ek hier begin werk het, het ek gewoond geraak daaraan dat hy heuwige humeuruitbarstings het tydens departementele vergaderings. Ek is bly om te rapporteer dat hy intussen aansienlik stiller geraak het en hy nogals lanklaas so 'n uitbarsting gehad het. Dis natuurlik ook effe senutergend wat 'n mens kan nie help om te wonder of die spanning intussen ontploffingsdruk opgebou het nie, en die volgende uitbarsting tot waansinnige bezerktheid gaan lei.

In elk geval, die Koreaanse doktor is bot. Hy ignoreer almal en die kere wat hy sowaar met my 'n uitruil van sinne gehad het (ek wil dit nie 'n gesprek noem nie), kan ek letterlik op my vingers tel. Wanneer ons verby mekaar loop of onsself gelyktydig in die sekretaresse se kantoor vind ignoreer hy my eenvoudig soos 'n koning die tuinjonge.

My moeder het vele male aan my 'n staaltjie vertel van my tweede oudste broer wat dit moeilik gehad het onder een onderwyser in hoërskool. Om een of ander rede het die onderwyser net 'n gly gevang in my broer en die lewe vir hom baie ongemaklik gemaak. My moeder se raad aan my broer was om die onderwyser met volhoubare vriendelikheid te behandel. Haar praktiese raad was om die onderwyser altyd en met 'n breë glimlag te groet. Glo het my broer die raad geneem en uit sy pad uit gegaan om dit te doen. Selfs wanneer hy die onderwyser van ver af gesien het, het hy gretig vir hom gewaai en geglimlag. Ons moeder se wysheid het glo vrugte afgewerp, want volgens haar was my broer en die onderwyser later dik vrinne. Ek besluit toe om ook haar raad te volg en begin toe 'n veldtog van vriendelikheid teenoor my knorrige Koreaanse kollega. Elke dag as ek hom sien gee ek hom 'n groot gulle glimlag met 'n gepaardgaande “Good morning,” Good day,” “Good afternoon,” of “Hello” (afwisseling is goed, alvorens dit eentonig raak). Ondanks my hardste pogings het hy my bly ignoreer. Partykeer, as ek hom onkant gevang het, mog hy moontlik 'n “Annyong haseyo” (hello in Koreaans) gemompel het.

Ek was byna gereed om tou op te gooi totdat ek uitvind dat een van my ander nie-Koreaanse kollegas glad nie die stiltebehandeling ontvang nie. Ek gaan steek toe by hierdie kollega op om uit te vind wat hy anders doen. “Nee,” sê die kollega, “wanneer ek hom sien, groet ek hom in Koreaans en gee aan hom 'n klein buigie.” Ek kon dit nie glo nie, die knorrige Koreaanse kollega wil hê ek moet vir hom buig en in Koreaans groet. Ek is toe sommer vies toe ek dit hoor en alles in my skop daarteen om hom die plesier te gee.

Ek is glad nie suinnig met my Koreaanse respek nie. Ek groet in Koreaans met die eervolle buigingtjie aan allerande mense: die tannie by die bakkery, die busdrywer, die mannetjie agter die kaartjietoonbank by die flieks. Hierdie is mense wat laer in die sosiale werksklas is as ek—'n universiteitsdosent—tog gee ek nie om hom hulle met oordrewe respek te behandel nie.

Die eerste ding wat my irriteer van die situasie is die verwagting dat ek hom in Koreaans moet groet. Hierdie is allermins die Engelse departement. Vir watter rede moet ons in 'n ander taal kommunikeer in die Engelse departement? Hy is allermins 'n doktor in Engelse letterkunde en is die taal totaal magtig. Daarbenewens is daar drie ander Koreaanse dosente in ons departement van hoër portuur as hy—die een was 'n akademiese dekaan, die ander eertydse departementshoof van die Joernalistieke department, en die derde is tans die departmentshoof van die Engelse departement—wat my gedurig in Engels groet en geensins van my verwag om voor hulle te buig nie. Ook gee ek nie om om vir hulle die nodige knik van die kom of lyf te gee nie, en doen partykeer so heel natuurlik en gemaklik.

Die blote verwagting van die knorrige Koreaanse kollega dat ek aan hom sulke Koreaanse respek moet wys—respek wat ek met oorgawe aan meeste Koreane wys—maak dat ek dit glad nie vir hom wil wys nie. My respek is iets wat ek vrylik gee; dis nie afdwingbaar nie.

Met na betragting dink ek dat die heuwige rebellie in my nie bydrae tot 'n Christen-karakter nie, en dat ek die geleentheid kan gebruik om nederigheid te beoefen. So ek het intussen begin om hom in Koreaans te groet (in die Engelse departement!) en 'n knik van die kop te gee. Voorwaar het hy intussen begin om my terug te groet in Koreaans (in die Engelse departement!).

Noudat ek hom die respek gee wat hy so graag na smag, word ek nie meer geïgnoreer nie. Dis nie asof hy skielik met my begin klets nie, maar ten minste groet hy my ook nou terug. Maar o, dis moeilik. Ek doen dit met knersende tande!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

"If you don't use it, you lose it."

I'm so frustrated with my deteriorated drawing skills!

I've committed for an art exhibit for the House of Sharing. The exhibit is to take place in less than two weeks (December 10), but I'm still struggling to do what I want to do. I have a very clear idea in my mind's eye, but it would seem that my skills have eroded too much for me to make my mental image manifest on paper.

I can't believe how difficult it is -- when did I get this bad?! I've been drawing from as long as I can remember, and went on to study Graphic Design. During my studies I realised that I'm not interested in working in the marketing industry, so I continued to study English Literature and Creative Writing afterwords. Since I've finished my master's degree in Creative Writing, I started working as an educator. I'm currently focussing on English poetry and writing. Obviously my work do not require me to draw pictures, so I haven't been doing much of that over the last couple of years. It has been about ten years now since I graduated from my first degree in Graphic Design. Since then I haven't done many art projects, and have only drawn on occasion. I didn't realise that my skill have wasted away so dramatically until I started working on this project.

The art exhibit will focus on the so-called "comfort women". These were (Korean and other Asian) women that were kidnapped by Japanese soldiers and kept as sex slaves during WWII. I'm planning five drawings of which two are Japanese soldiers: male nudes holding weapons (a rifle with bayonet and a sword, respectively) in phallic positions. The idea is to associate the phallus as a weapon of war.

I've managed to scribble an okayish first draft of one of the figures, but the second one just keeps alluding me. I'm not getting the proportions right. Even in the above picture the one leg's thigh is too long. The two figures I'm planning are supposed to be positioned on the left and right of another drawing, based on the one below, which will be the central piece, focussing on the Samurai, the most iconic of Japanese symbols.

The other two drawings of the five picture set will be the bloodied flags of Imperial Japan and Korea, positioned above and below the picture above. Or that's the plan. If I can't get my the drawings done within the next few days, I may have to withdraw from the exhibit.

I know I have been neglecting sketching--and art in general, I just haven't realized how much I have neglected it. As the saying goes, if you don't use it, you lose it.

President Lee Myung Bak's Eyes

I'm yet to talk to a Korean that like the current president, Lee Myng Bak. Honestly, I really don't know how he got elected. But that's not the purpose of this post. Instead, I want to share two sets of pictures of President Lee with two female Heads of State.

Yes, Lee Myung Bak is staring at the butt of Yulia Tymoshenko, the previous prime minister of the Ukraine.

Yes, Lee Myung Bak is staring at the boobs of Julia Gillard, the incumbent head of state of Australia.

Sneaking peeks is one thing, but to gawk is quite another. And a completely different kettle of fish is when one head of state blatantly objectifies another head of state. Goodness, these were official inter-governmental meetings, not encounters at a night club!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Der große Fürst Michael

"Michael, the Archangel" by Celia Fenn
Daniel 12:1a: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people...”

A theologian friend and I have been speaking about the possibility of Jesus also being Michael, the Archangel. He says that most of evangelical / protestant Christian tradition interprets Michael to be a manifestation of Jesus—and also that he disagrees with the possibility of Jesus being Michael on account of Hebrews 2 that states God has not subjugated the world to come under any angels, but under Christ alone. I disagree with my friend on both points.

First, I don't believe that most of Christianity holds the interpretation that Michael and Jesus are the same being. The Catholic tradition do not hold this view and I know of very few evangelical / protestant interpretations that equate Michael with Jesus. There are only two denominations that I know of that makes this assertion, and both are generally considered sectarian. Now let me stop here for a moment. Just because something is believed to be “sectarian” doesn't by default mean that the belief is false. When Galileo Galilei proposed heliocentrism, instead of the earth as the centre of the universe, he was called a heretic. Heretics, although in the minority, i.e. sectarian, are sometimes correct.

My second disagreement with my friend is not that Jesus must be Michael, but that Hebrews 2 does not trump the possibility for Jesus to be Michael. The Bible is filled with theophanies. A “theophany” is an appearance of a deity in a tangible form. From the Torah (Old Testament) we learn that God spoke with Adam and Eve, Cain, and Noah and his sons, although a specific manifestation / appearance is not mentioned. However, for Abraham and Sarah it seems that God manifested God-self as the Angel-of-the-Lord, an angel that speaks as God in the first person, i.e. God. God originally met Moses in the form of a burning bush. The Israelites encountered God as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. The Holy Spirit (one of the three persons of God) manifested in the form of a dove at Jesus' baptism. There is therefore many examples of theophanies so that Jesus appearing as the Archangel Michael could be just one of these instances. The appearance of Michael could easily be a Christophany—which is a theophany of Christ. After all, the name “Michael” literally means “Who is like God?”. And we know from Hebrews 1 and other texts the answer to that question: Jesus Christ. If Michael is a Christophany, I cannot see how it clashes with Hebrews 2.

On a side note, the prophet Daniel described Michael (in the text quoted at the beginning of this post) as the “prince” of “thy people.” I think “prince” is an unfortunate English translation of the Hebrew word “śar” [שׂר], from which Russian derives the term “tzar”. I much better prefer the German translation: “der große Fürst Michael”—the great Force Michael. Fürst (or the Afrikaans “Vors”) better captures the Hebrew word “śar”: a great power, or force, the power that will protect you, keep you safe, one's steward. This, to me, is a comfortable description of Jesus as the protector or saviour of God's people; the One that fights on their behalf.

"Archangel Michael" by Luca Giordano
That there is a close relationship between Michael and Jesus we also learn from Revelation 12, where “Michael and his angels” fought against the “dragon . . . the ancient serpent, he who is called Devil and Satan”. Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven. Immediately after this a great voice in heaven is heard saying: “Now is come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren has been cast out . . .” There seems to be a link between Michael casting out Satan and the “salvation” and “authority” of Christ. In Luke 10:18 Christ declares: “. . . I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven”, suggesting that Christ was present when Satan was cast out of heaven.

If Michael is indeed a Christophany, it would seem that Michael is the battle-title or warrior name for Christ. Michael is the one that battles Satan, the Prince of Evil (symbolised by the Prince of Persia in the Book of Daniel). We see this in Daniel 12, in Jude 1, and in Revelation 12.

Does believing or not believing in Michael as Jesus affect any core Christian doctrine? Yes, if we believe Jesus to be merely a created angel. But this need not be the case. Michael could just be a Christophany, in which case the deity of Jesus is not questioned, and therefore no core Christian doctrine is affected.

Is "I Am What I Am" Blasphemous?

I've come up in defence of Lady Gaga's song “Judas”, which many people consider blasphemous. I even enjoy Marilyn Manson's song “Eat Me, Drink Me”, which I'm sure other people might find blasphemous too. (No the song is not making reference to Jesus' invitation; it actually alludes to Alice in Wonderland.)

The song that really makes my hair stand on end is probably not one that most people would raise and eyebrow over, and I doubt it's intention was blasphemous. It is “I Am What I Am”, originally from the Broadway musical La Cage Aux Folles (1983-1987), but made famous by Gloria Gaynor. Some might be mistaken to think that it is because the song was written by a gay man, Jerry Herman, or taken up by the gay community as a gay pride anthem, that makes me think of it as blasphemous. That's not it at all.

Rather, it is the hook of the song “I am what I am.” This is practically an exact quote from Hebrew: אהיה אשר אהיה, which is commonly translated into English as “I AM That I AM” or “I AM What I AM” or just abbreviated as “I AM”. It is a quotation from Exodus 3:14, one of the most famous verses in the Old Testament (Torah).

“I AM What I AM” is God's name for God; this is what God calls God-self. The expression is not merely an ambiguous self-description, it is the most sensible description that a perfect and perfectly self-sufficient entity could describe itself as. There is nothing else higher, or remotely equal to God. Even the term “God” is an inferior construct. God, therefore describes God-self by God-self: I AM What I AM. This expression is one of the seven holy names for God in the Torah.

Is it any wonder that when I hear Gloria Gaynor sing “I am what I am,” that I cringe, and when she follows up with “I am my own special creation” and so equating herself to the Creator that I flinch? Of course, these are all associations in my own mind, coming from my own interest and knowledge in philosophy and theology.

Unlike the Church and religious people that have many opinions about what constitutes blasphemy, the Bible (i.e. Torah), only truly has one thing that is really considered blasphemous and that is equating oneself with God—setting yourself up as God. When Jesus described Himself as the “I AM”, in other words equating Himself with the God of the Old Testament that spoke to Moses, the Jews wanted to stone him because they believed it to be blasphemous. One of the reasons Jesus was crucified is because he basically proclaimed that He is God, that He is the “I AM”.

I don't think Jerry Herman really intended to write a blasphemous song, but I just can't help to make the association when I hear the words.

One of the comments that got the most thumbs-up for John Barrowman's rendition of “I Am What I Am” in the YouTube video above is: “Some people hate that he's gay. I hate that he's so g*d damn perfect.” I agree.

The song teaches an important principle: it is important to know and accept who you are. Millions of people live unhappy lives because they feel uncomfortable in their own skins, uncomfortable with themselves, uncomfortable with who they are. The song declares that your “live's a sham” until you make peace with yourself. I understand this. And I accept that there is a truth in that. For that reason I also like the song. I used to suffer from low self-esteem too, so I know the truth to this.

Still, whenever I hear someone sing it, I cannot help thinking of a puny little human being declaring him- or herself to be the Great God Almighty—the Self-Sufficient, Uncreated, Infinite, I AM.

So is the song “I Am What I Am” blasphemous? Probably not any more than Frank Senatra's “My Way”.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

20 More Things I'm Thankful For . . .

I cannot believe that it is that time of year again—Thanksgiving. I still remember the list of 51 things I'm thankful for that I made in 2009. In fact, I can actually still remember the bakery where I sat and composed that original list. If I were to make such a list again, I doubt it would differ much from the previous one, since I'm still thankful for practically all of those things. So instead of starting from scratch and repeating things I've said before, I'll just add to it.

52. I love poetry. I love to write it and I love to read it.
53. Nut milk. I used to drink soy milk all the time but then someone told me that too much soy products is not good for you because of the high levels of natural oestrogen in soybeans. This led me to search for other milk alternatives, so I began making my own nut milks. It's wonderful.
54. Basil. I love it fresh or as pesto.
A Samsung Galaxy Tab
smartphone, like the one I have.
55. Communication programs and apps such as Skype and Whatsapp and KakaoTalk and all the other things I use to communicate with the people I love. I'm excited about the use of Twitter in the Arab Spring revolutions.
56. Smartphones are changing everything. The ability to just quickly look up anything—that constant connection to the Information Highway is terribly satisfying.
57. I've had some great martial arts instructors and martial art friends through the years. I've had some bad ones too, but I'm thankful for the great ones.
58. Ondol, Korea's underfloor heating, is just plain wonderful. Korea is freakin' cold in the winter, but if you have functioning ondol one's apartment is always warm and cozy.
Kurt Vonnegut,
Sci-Fi Author and Thinker
59. Kurt Vonnegut.
60. Torrents and Miro.
61. While I'm looking forward to teleportation one day, in the mean time I'm really thankful for airplanes.
62. Nice plants in my apartment.
63. Providence.
64. I'm really thankful for Pastor Dan Smith's grace centred sermons.
65. Lemons.
66. Long holidays. Although my annual vacation time is fixed, it is nonetheless wonderful having such long vacations—about three months of paid vacation per year! You can't beat that.
67. I'm constantly reminded what a great privilege it is to be bilingual. It makes life richer. It expands your horizons.
68. Blogging and bloggers.
69. Mandu, or Korean dumplings, is one of my favourite Korean foods. You can buy them frozen and then just steam them. I don't eat mandu that often, but today, when I had nothing to eat, I quickly took some frozen mandu from my fridge, steamed it and it was ready within five minutes.
70. I live in an apartment on campus, where I work. It takes just five minutes from my house to my office.
71. From my apartment to the closest bus stop takes 15 minutes by foot and then another 15-20 minutes by bus to the closest subway station. I'm exceedingly thankful for the campus bus that runs from campus to the subway station. It is during the vacation times or on weekends when the campus buses do not run that I realise how much I appreciate them.
72. That ice drifts, rather than sink, is something I'm thankful for.
73. I don't use it every day, but I'm really happy that I have an oven.
Antjie Krog, South African
Poet and Author
74. Antjie Krog.
75. My first, and so far only, schrink—Okkert Kotze, I think that's his name, it's been a while—(and probably his supervisor under whom he practised) helped a lot!
76. My X for reminding me that I'm a man.
77. Ludolf Bezuidenhout, a childhood friend, who befriended me when I had no friends, and later saved my life. I'm sorry I couldn't save his.
78. Those ladies with their sexy voices that I love so much: Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow, Ella Fitzgerald, Penny Sue, Sarah Vaughan, Tori Amos, Mahalia Jackson, Reana Nel, Fiona Apple, Edith Piaf, Dido, Amy Winehouse, Alison Krauss, Diana Krall, Amanda Strydom, and the list goes on.
79. Having a friendly dojang (martial art gym) here in Korea where I can train and teach, with a very accepting and caring kwanjangnim (gym owner) that values me.
80. Clean drinking water.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Image Source
To all my American friends the American readers of Skryfblok, may you enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving, shared with those you love.

Wangdda -- Korean Outcasts

Image Source
I have two wangdda in some of my classes this semester. A wangdda 왕따 is a type of social outcast in Korea. (The Japanese equivalent is lijime.) In a group orientated society, being a wangdda is unimaginably hard. To become wangdda could be quite arbitrary like being bullied at school usually is. In general, however, any sign of being a little different, could have you ostracised. What bothers me though is that I always thought wangdda to be children's phenomenon. Korean school children would pick out a student and bully and ostracise the child.

I never expected it to continue into adulthood. The two wangdda are not bullied, but they are completely ignored. While this ought not generally be a problem, it is whenever I require students to do group work. I would assign these students into groups, but find that the other students completely ignore them. Once the groups had to do presentations and I think I heard this one group actually telling the one student not to come to class during the next class. I might be mistaken because my Korean is not that great and I wasn't standing close to the group when they spoke, but that is what I thought I heard. It is a big challenge to teach a class where such covert ostracising is occurring, especially a skills oriented class like Conversational English that constantly require pair work and group work.

In an individual society it is difficult to be ostracised, but individuality is often celebrated so that once you are an adult, it becomes okay. I remember that in school I was sometimes ostracised for being the weird, sensitive, artistic boy. As I got older it became easier, and by the time I went to university I found out that there were many other freaks just as weird as me and I made a great group of odd and creative friends. In Korea it is different. There are not that many subcultures and students that stand out as individuals are actually quite few. In fact, I often encourage and compliment any students that show originality and uniqueness, since these are values that I treasure and are probably undervalued in Korea. There's a famous idiom in Korea: The nail that stands up gets hammered down. I try to build up those lonesome nails; hopefully they'll survive the hammering if someone valued them enough.

Read more about wangdda here,

Monday, 21 November 2011

What's in a Name?

Image Source
One of the first Korean friends I made was a student of mine that I taught English at a language institute in 2006. His name, Jun Hyun-Jin. Recently Jun Hyun-Jin suddenly became Jun I-Sum. Why? Well apparently the Korean Sound Wave Name Institute convinced him that his name Jun Hyun-Jin is full of bad luck. If he kept his name, they told him something to the effect that he will suffer from serious ill health later in life, he'll get a terrible wife, have weakly children, and never advance his career. They suggested he change his name to avert these travesties and proposed the name Jun I-Sum, which he did. I don't know how much he paid for their services, but he paid over $1000 to have his name officially changed.

Personally I think it is all hogwash and suspect that it is not much different from numerology or other such superstitions.

Then again, there is much to be said for a name. Would Oprah have been the success she is today were her name Mary-Sue? Would Madonna have been equally iconic if she was known by her middle Louise instead? Or if she hused her family name and was known as Madonna Ciccone?

In the Bible, names often carry meaning, usually describing the character of the person. Bible characters would sometimes undergo a name change. Abram became Abraham. Jacob became Isaac. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. The name change often signalled a character change.

I once had a friend who were verbally and physically abused by her father. As an adult she decided that the negative associations with her name--her father always shouting her name--disturbed her, so she took up another name. She wanted a unisex name so we decided on Toni. With her new name, signifying a new start and a strong character, Toni was able to commence her journey of recovery after years of abuse.

Similarly, my younger brother who has a four syllable first name that people always mispronounce decided to shorten his name to a two syllable name. Later still, his friends adopted a one syllable nickname, Nate, which most people now use. While I liked the two syllable name, Nethan, I also like the name Nate. These days I see that he use different versions of his name, the original four syllable one, the two syllable one, and the one syllable one, in different situations, to good effect.

I'm sure that my own name also had an influence on who I am today. My real names are proper English names. However, our nanny gave me a Sesotho / Tswana name, which ended up becoming the name my family used. I grew up with an African name, which always made me stand out within white contexts. I'm sure this must have had an influence on how people treated me, and how I interacted with people. (If you want to know my name, you can see it on my poetry blog: Ingelegde Lywe.) In Korea my name is very similar to a common Korean name 상국, so that Koreans always ask me after I introduced myself to them if it is my Korean name, then I always have to explain to them, no, it is an African name, I am from South Africa. It has become such a trite routine, that I am shocked when it doesn't happen. Since my name sounds Korean I have opted to use 이상구 Lee Sang-Goo as my Korean name.

Image Source

While I still think that the Korean Sound Name Wave Institute is a sham, I agree, that there is much to be said for a name.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Korea's Drinking Culture and Why I'm a Teetotaller

Saturday night and Sunday I spent with a group of mostly Koreans and some foreigners at a martial art excursion. This had not been my first such an outing with Koreans, so I expected there to be a lot of drinking and therefore prepared myself psychologically for it. As I am a teetotaller, I need such preparation. In general, teetotallers are a minority, but here in Korea with its extreme drinking culture teetotallers are almost non-existent.

Sometimes they start 'em young.
Image Source
If you do not drink in Korea, you are practically ostracised, for almost all social outings include alcohol. Somebody that doesn't drink with the group is considered unsociable and rude. I remember one occasion where I joined a group of Koreans and when I refused to drink I was basically told to leave by one person. Another senior Korean with whom I have close ties came to my rescue and persuaded them that I should stay since I am his “chinggu” (friend) and explained that it is part of my “religion,” which is a half-truth. However, I'm sure that had it not been for me being a foreigner I would either have needed to leave in shame because of my insult for not drinking with them, or I would have had to conform and drink with the group. I have met some “teetotaller” Koreans in Korea who would accept one drink and drink a little of it, just so that they do not come across as insulting. Some Koreans that do not wish to drink come up with stories like being sick or that they are taking medicine with which they are not allowed to use alcohol. However, even with some people showing the medicine as proof, I've witnessed the extreme pressure they receive to drink at least half a glass of soju. While foreigners can get away with not drinking, they will often experience severe pressure and may find themselves indirectly ostracised for being unsociable.

A drunk Korean passing out in public.
Not that uncommon a sight, actually.
Image Source

There are some Korean subcultures that do not drink, whom are part of so-called sectarian faiths such as Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons. Because these Koreans are part of their own communities they at least have a social life. Koreans who do not belong to such religious persuasions are, as I mentioned already, ostracised and struggle to make friends. Even Koreans from these religious groups have a hard time, particularly in their work place. It is customary for colleagues to go drinking together after work, and refusing to do so, particularly if one's senior or boss suggested the drinking, is considered terribly rude, and even disrespectful. In that sense, not drinking could sometimes cost you your job.

Bottles of soju -- Korea's most famous
alcohol comparable to vodka.
Image Source
Had drinking in Korea merely been one or two beers, it would not have been that bad. Unfortunately Koreans take social drinking to the extreme. Drinking often involves drinking games and other group-pressure drinking. Hearing Koreans shout “one-shot”, i.e. gulping down your glass in one go, accompanied with the encouraging cheers, is not unusual. One's ability to “take a drink” is equated with being “strong”. I guess this is not a uniquely Korean thing, but in Korea it really seems to be a continued test and senior citizens going out with their friends do not seem to take it any lighter than when they were youngsters drinking themselves into a stupor. Seeing old Korean men ridiculously drunk is as common as seeing dead-drunk college boys.

Two older Korean friends passed out on the street
together after a night of heavy drinking. Or, at least,
that's my assumption of this picture.
Image Source

There is a small movement amongst upper class Koreans to drink wine. Since whine is so expensive, and since it is enjoyed slowly, wine drinkers tend to drink far less. Wine drinking in Korea is in many cases just for pompous show, like wearing a very expensive name brand suit, and going to art exhibits just for the pretence of appreciating art, but at least wine drinking is giving a way out to some Koreans who would like to socialise without getting completely knackered.

Soju advertisements usually involve a
sexy Korean woman, showing lots of skin
and curves, that enjoys to drink and party.
There is undeniably a sexual connection
made with drinking soju.
The thing that disturbs me the most about Korea's terrible drinking culture are the associated ethics that go with it. When Koreans misbehave while drunk, they are often excused. This is often true even when laws are broken. Here's another example of the shady morality of a drunken culture. So I once went out with a mixed group of foreigners and Koreans. One foreign girl got terribly drunk and started to behave awfully bad. She also became a danger to herself; constantly falling about and hitting her head. She refused to lie down and rest. Two Korean guys told me—and I think they are from different parts of Korea so this must be a common sentiment—that if she was a Korean girl they would just knock her out. They actually showed me the points where they would hit her. Being a martial artist I recognised the pressure points (temple; side of the neck; and somewhere else I'd rather not mention) and realised that these are indeed points to knock someone out with, so they are actually talking from experience. Did you get this? In Korea, it is common and acceptable to hit a rowdy drunk Korean woman unconscious. Eventually the foreign girl in our group did go to sleep without being knocked unconscious. The next morning she had no recollection at all of the previous night. Of course, nobody was angry with her for her misbehaviour—she was drunk after all. But the thing that disturbs me is that she could have been taken advantage of, i.e. raped, were she amongst a different group of people, and she would not have been any the wiser the next day. I'm wondering how often this sort of thing actually happens in Korea. In a culture where ridiculous amounts of alcohol consumption is socially acceptable and even socially encouraged, where drunken misbehaviour is excused, and where knocking out difficult drunk women is common (something I reconfirmed with some of my male students), taken advantage of an unconscious woman while you are drunk yourself, doesn't seem far fetched to me at all.

Luckily for this girl, Korea
is relatively safe.
Image Source

So why don't I drink alcahol? There are a couple of reasons really. The first reason I do not drink is as a statement. It is for the same reason I do not smoke. My father did. He smoked and it made him stink and I swore that I would not be like him. There was also a patch during which he drank and became aggressive. I remember clearly how my brother and I would hide (and sometimes throw away) his whiskey because of how we hated the way it changed his personality. It took him a while, but he eventually realised the negative impact his drinking had on us, so he stopped excessive drinking. I respect him for caring enough for us to choose us over the bottle. Nonetheless, the negative associations with alcohol was set, so I also swore not to be like my father, who continued to drink socially. Second, many people on my maternal side of the family are alcoholics. In particular my uncles, one of them my godfather whom I always looked up to. I saw how the drink had destroyed both their lives and their families and it disgusted me. It also came as a revelation to me that since I take after my mother's side of the family, I probably have a predisposition towards becoming an alcoholic myself. I know I have an addictive personality, so I'm not taking any chances. Later, when I became a Christian and accepted the scripture that says our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that therefore healthy living is part of our act of worship, I decided to live a healthy life style. This is in part the reason why I'm a (flexible) vegetarian, why I avoid frequent consumption of caffeine, why I exercise even though I often do not feel like it. Finally, I honestly do not like the taste of alcohol. I once tried to drink Amarula Cream, thinking that I'd at least enjoy the taste since a like fruity, creamy stuff. I do like cherry liqueur dark chocolates after all. Regardless, I had to boil the Amarula Cream for quite some time to get rid of the alcohol taste. Last year I was in a hotel by myself and there was beer in the bar fridge. Being alone I thought I'd just try it a bit--I'm far from anybody who knows me, nobody would know. I took maybe two sips and can still honestly say that I really dislike the taste. If it is indeed an acquired taste, it is a taste I'd rather not acquire.

I'm not against people temperately consuming alcohol. There are many people who seem able to enjoy it in moderation only. Although I do not, many of my friends enjoy a drink on occasion. I am, however, against drunkenness and am definitely against Korea's excessive drinking culture. I strongly believe that Korea would be much better off without this element in its society. It is complete nonsense that a person cannot have fun without alcohol, that one cannot be sociable without drinking. And if it is the case for some timid people who needs the bravado of the bottle, the severe price Korea and its families are paying because of alcohol is not worth it.

In this post I focussed on a very negative aspect of Korea, sure. There are, however, many other positive things about Korea otherwise I would not have lived here for nearly five years now. Korea is cool.