Saturday, April 30, 2005

269 Ermine. With the emphasis on MINE.

My parents are moving out of my childhood home this weekend and I feel really upset by it. Here I am, in Korea, living my grown-up life with my new husband and all I can think about is my house in Fort McMurray, Alberta. We moved into that house in 1981. I was a toddler and only one of my brothers had been born. We grew up in that house, were teenagers in that house and visited it once we had left for University. My parents are retiring to Okotoks and I am really excited for them but I can't help but feel like a part of my childhood is gone forever. All that stuff that people say about "home is where the heart is" is only partially true. Home is also where the house is.

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Leap of Faith

Getting a haircut in another language is always an experience. After getting a Korean friend to write down what I wanted in hangul I headed off to the local beauty salon. The place was crawling with people. Mothers, fathers and little boys getting perms. I waited for about half an hour until I was instructed to "come 'ere" by the shampoo boy, who couldn't have been more than sixteen. His broken English was cute though and he gave me one heck of a head massage. They also put this creepy green Freddy Krueger mask on your face when you are getting your hair washed so your makeup isn't ruined. I kept wanting to sing "Music of the Night" but I managed to refrain.

After I was seated in the chair, the Korean scissor cowboy sauntered up behind me, armed with three hip-holsters full of scissors. He said a quick "Hello" and proceeded to cut my hair in a frenzied blur. When he was done he flicked up the back of my hair with a grunt of accomplishment, threw his hands in the air like a flamenco dancer and pranced off. It was fantastic.

And my hair looks pretty good too.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Saddest Zoo in the World

Today started out great and went downhill. I woke up this morning and Brian had bought me the coolest Swatch watch for our 8-week anniversary! It's really nice and was a great surprise. How good is Brian?!

We had to be at Ding Ding Dang early today because we were taking the kids on an outing to Dalseong Park, Deagu's oldest park. We arrived at school and got the hundreds of kids into the school buses and on our way. The weather has been really beautiful here lately and when we pulled up to the park (after 6 rounds of "The Wheels on the Bus") I was happy to see that all the flowers were in bloom. It was really beautiful.

How was I to know that nestled among the beautiful flowers and greening grass was the saddest site I have seen in a long time? In the park there is a zoo. That is apparently the main reason we were taking the kids to this park and so I had to be a part of parading the little kids past the animals. Animals in small, dirty cages. A lone elephant, eating what appeared to be dust. Three mangy seals in an empty pool. Lions and tigers with no space to roam, eat or find shade. A chimpanzee lying in the fetal position in the dirt. It was horrible. Even the kids, who tend to show a typically Korean lack of feeling for animals, were disturbed by what they saw. One of my students, Peter, remarked that all the animals were old and sick. Or suicidal I silently added.

Seeing the zoo made me so sad and I eventually gave in to tears standing across from the lions. Having seen them in the wild and the majesty with which they carry themselves, I couldn't handle staring and taking pictures of the sad, scrawny, tired cats.

It made me wonder a lot about humanity. On most days I have a lot of faith in people and in our capacity for compassion and kindness. But there are days, and today was one of them, where I can't believe some of the things we have done. How anyone could stand across from a primate, look into it's eyes that look so much like ours, and then laugh at their miserable condition escapes me. As a scientist, I know that humans are animals much like chimps, elephants or lions. Today I realized that we are sometimes more animal than human.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Where the Chips Fall

What the hell is coming to the world? A monkey named after an online Casino? That is far worse than naming your child "Chip" or "Bubba" - this affects an entire species...forever! What were these people thinking? Okay, so maybe it's funny for the first five minutes but then when you stop to consider what has actually been done and what idiots we are going to look like a thousand years from now, it's shameful. Obviously I am not in tune with the rest of the world. Gays want to get married? Sure, why not? The Pope? Sad but inevitable. Sports scandals? Don't care. But a monkey named after an online gaming site? Now that pisses me off.

It pisses off the monkeys too...they just don't know it yet. When they evolve enough to talk (and they will) there are going to be some very confused and angry talking monkeys out there.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The war is not over yet, but another battle has been won. I have to say, that this issue is one that really perplexes me. Maintaining the definition of "traditional marriage"? As far as I know, traditional marriage doesn't have room for adultery or divorce either. Should we make those illegal too? Maybe the Tories would try to do exactly that if given a "mandate" (hip new word for freedom to destroy democracy and the separation of church and state), maybe they can try to reinstate the traditional role of women, or the traditional role of minorities too.

I wrote a letter to Paul Martin to thank him for all the hard work he has done in defense of the right to marry. This is my letter, followed by the response:

Dear Rt. Honourable Paul Martin,
I am a Canadian citizen currently living and working in South Korea. I have been following the
issue of gay marriage in Canada very closely and know that your government will table legislation this week, legalizing gay marriage. I want you to know how proud I am of you, the Liberal party and of Canada. Our willingness to extend rights, protection and respect to all members of society is what makes us great. In an increasingly conservative political climate, it takes guts to stand up and do what you know is right.
You are making our country greater and opening doors for people who have been knocking at them for a long time.
Thank you,
Caroline E. Knox
Daegu, South Korea

Dear Ms. Knox:
On behalf of the Right Honourable
Paul Martin, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your recent e-mail regarding
same-sex marriage.
Please be assured that your comments have been carefully reviewed. Given his responsibilities for this matter, I have taken the liberty of forwarding your e-mail to the Honourable Irwin Cotler, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, who, I am certain, will also appreciate being made aware of your views and will wish to give them every consideration.
Thank you for writing to the Prime Minister.
L.A. Lavell
Correspondence Officer
Agent de correspondence
de la haute direction

Pretty cool, huh?

Anyway, it frustrates me to no end that the religious right and conservatives (who evidently have nothing better to do than run around trying to limit the rights of others) have engaged in a national letter-writing campaign and that whole churches will spend their Sunday school hours instructing five-year olds to write to the Dark Lord in Ottawa and stop the gays from taking over the world. The other side needs to say something too. That's the problem with being liberal, you tend not to get involved in other people's business. You tend to be more flexible and less stubborn. You tend to be less radical and therefore less vocal. Ultimately, you are less heard.

Incidentally, I interviewed Pat O'Brien (one of the loudest "defendants" of traditional marriage) several times about different topics and I found him to be intolerant and prejudiced, not to mention a little ignorant. He was opposed to sexual-orientation becoming protected under Canada's hate crime laws. That's right, he wanted to make sure that gay-bashing didn't result in harsher penalties. Because, otherwise, what would he and his friends do on a Saturday night?
He also spewed the same nonsense that homosexuality is a choice and that discussing it will make it a viable option for today's teens. Good Lord.

A shameless plug: Listen to my radio piece on gay rights in one Ontario school.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Straight Life

A friend of ours recently returned from a trip home to America. It's pretty common, so we hear, to go home and encounter some reverse culture shock. I know that for me it will be getting used to the consumerism, the prices and the portion sizes at restaurants. It will be hard to remember to say "Excuse me" and not to push my way through. Brian asked our friend what he noticed the most and he didn't even hesitate, "The rules", he said.

This surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. There are no rules here. You can eat, drink, spit and ride your bike wherever you want. You can smoke anywhere. You can choose to buckle up, or not. You can ride your moped on the street or on the sidewalk and whether you wear a helmet or not is entirely up to you. Most traffic rules are merely suggestions and there is really no police presence to enforce the few rules that do exist. Even tax laws, citizen registration and medical benefits appear to be flexible.

Sounds chaotic doesn't it? Like fires, mayhem and crime would run rampant? Nope. It's safe and overall, incredibly well-behaved. People don't vandalize. They don't really use illicit drugs. They do have a higher traffic accident rate but I'm not sure what the direct cause of that is. People don't really steal or murder (I mean, it happens but at a much lower rate than in Western countries) and kids ride their bikes all over the place and I haven't seen one killed yet.

There is the flip side of course. They are rigid and don't adapt well to change. They don't question authority. They are restricted by far weightier consequences than the law. They are deathly afraid of shaming the family. They cannot think or process anything as an individual and always consider the group first. There are no privacy laws and people share everything. Your employer knows all your banking and medical information and dictates what hours you will work. There is no room for you only for us. You, as a person, are insignificant.

When I first came here I liked having rules and I thought the Canadian way was the right way. Now, I'm not so sure. I have seen both sides of it and there is something liberating about knowing that you can do what you want. A sense of personal accountability that has been sanitized at home. The government takes care of us and I used to love it. Now I think it's all a little weird. Having said that, things over here are a little crazy too.

Like most things in life (not to make this sound like a plug for mediocrity) the best way probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Life

Sometimes you take a picture that you are really happy with. This is one of my recent pictures...I'm venturing into portraits and so far I'm loving it. I love how you can see every line and every year he has lived, etched on his face.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

The yellow dust from China is officially here...and it sucks. Apparently, the fine sand blows from 750 miles away, from the Gobi desert, onto the Korean peninsula and it has now settled in Daegu. I have been hearing that the "sand is coming" for the past couple of weeks but I didn't really know what to expect. One of my students said that it turns everything yellow. That's not true. What is true is that the air constantly feels like your driving down a country road behind a truck spewing dust in your direction...without the risk of a broken windshield.

I've always hated driving on dusty farm roads and now I live on one...for the next couple of weeks anyway. Apparently the Chinese have tried to cut down on the sand by planting grasses and plants in the desert but it hasn't exactly worked. It's a pretty big health concern here and in China because the sand is laden with heavy metals and causes eye and breathing problems. So, one asthma attack later, I might have to resort to the "asian face mask". Why not? I've already invested in a darth-vader sun visor.

On the bright side, Brian and I booked our tickets to Tokyo this week for June. We're climbing Mount Fuji! Me, Brian and the 20 pounds of sand we will have inhaled by then.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Terri Schiavo

What is it about the Schiavo case that everybody is so interested in? What qualified it to be a major news story...for the networks to devote hours to her story? I've been thinking about this a lot lately and have come to the conclusion that it's not actually a major news story...despite what you may see on the news.

Being connected to a feeding tube isn't news. Neither is dying (despite what I may have been told in journalism school). It's not even really an assisted-suicide issue because what happened to Schiavo wasn't assisted suicide. Had she had a living will, dictating that her feeding tube be removed, there would have been no legal reason to keep her alive. A recent Canadian case, where a terminally-ill man wanted to kill himself, didn't get near the coverage that Schiavo did...and it was more of a story. The story didn't lie in her parents begging the government to save their daughter's life...just ask any parent of a death-row inmate how much the TV cameras care. What's interesting is that the story wasn't even a case of a popular uprising, where Americans en masse, demanded that Terri live. This story was self-servingly orchestrated by the religious right and then amplified by the media. What I can't believe is how many news organizations bought into it. This pack mentality is the second worst thing to happen to journalism (with media consolidation being the first) and nobody even seems to have noticed.

There were stories in the Schiavo case, don't get me wrong. A closer examination of the Bush brothers' capital punishment history butted up against their ridiculous comments about "erring on the side of life" might have been a good angle. But that's just me.

In other news, Alternet does it again.