Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yesterday I went to "Korean Language Love Night" at the Korean consulate general in Toronto and it was pretty fun! And before I continue, no, it's not a speed dating service in which you can only speak Korean. Basically the night was for Korea enthusiasts to come together and listen to the consulate staff tell us how awesome Korea is and why we should be totally stoked about it! And we are! or I am anyway! 대한민국! boom* boom* boom* boom *boom*. So basically the consulate went over a bunch of interesting programs and stuff they offer, like the Talk program - anyone who is a university undergrad and wants to teach elementary students in Korea with sweet benefits NEEDS TO CHECK THIS OUT! (Talk program - Korean consulate general - google that yo!). The presentation culminated in a demonstration of the traditional Korean string instrument, played by the leading musician of Korea's traditional music association (it's got a different name but I can't remember it, sorry guys -_-) the Geomungo, which has a beautiful sound. There was delicious food - featuring massive amounts of bulgogi, kimchi, japchae, and kimbap. I also got some prizes!

 They were asking the guests questions about Korea with prizes if you got the right answer. The one I got was "Who was the mythical founder of Korea?" and no one seemed to know it, so I slowly put my hand up and said "Tangun?" and I got it right! For those of you who don't know, according to myth, Korea was founded by the son of the king of heaven whose name was Hwannung. Hwannung (for lack of a better word) "transformed" a bear into the first female human and they got together and made Tangun. Tangun started making the place and people that would eventually come to be known as Korea and Koreans. That is a REALLY simplified version, but it's the gist of it anyway. Some anthropologists think that's why Christianity was more well received in Korea than elsewhere in Asia because of the monotheist nature of their creation myth... anyway, to add to my satisfaction an older Korean woman next to me made an exaggerated sound of surprise at my getting it right and I got a free 2 gig USB key for my troubles. I love surprising people with knowledge, so satisfying! And the USB key itself is pretty snazzy.

I suppose its pretty "girly" looking with all those pastel colours, but ya gotta admit, its pretty with its traditional Korean motifs! It even comes with a little case, awe... and the key itself folds in and out, its even encased in mother of pearl! The other prize I got, which was given to everyone were these red ginseng candies.


Red ginseng tastes pretty weird if you've never tried it before, fortunately a friend of mine's mother gave me a whole bunch of red ginseng before I left Korea last summer so I developed a taste for it. Red ginseng is one of Korea's major exports. It's supposed to be super healthy and give you awesome powers and stuff... alright well, not so much, but its supposed to give you energy and keep your immune system up and aid you in your general wellness. I suppose we could all use some of that. One thing they mentioned at the event was that the Korean consulate is having a "I love Korea because..." film contest, where people must make a video explaining why they love Korea. There are some awesome prizes available - the first prize is a trip to Korea and a free K-pop concert. That would be totally fun and awesome, but I am, very likely (at this point) going to Korea for school in September for a year so I'm not too worried about getting over there. The 2nd and 3rd prizes are Laptops and Tablet PC's! WANT! -I'm in the market for a new laptop so I can make videos about my schooling in Korea, but I aint got no job at the moment, so I'll try to win one! Also, if your video is awesome they will use it for promotional tourism material! How cool is that? So basically you have to make Korean (sort of) propaganda, but whatever! I like making videos and I do love Korea for myriad reasons, so its not like I'm lying! Woo! Can't wait to get started!   

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Hyphenated

Here is a topic that I've always wanted to write about and was honestly one of the reasons I made this blog in the first place. This topic actually extends beyond East Asian culture and people and is really just part of, what I view as being, a larger problem with the popular cultural perception and ethnic association in North America. I am talking about the hyphenated Americans and Canadians in our society.
    Well, actually that's not entirely true, I'm talking more about the hyphen ( "-" this thing) itself that is commonplace in our society in distinguishing the cultural backgrounds of people and its problematic usage. I will be speaking primarily in a Canadian context, as I am Canadian and have lived in Toronto (Canada's largest city) all my life, however I am aware this is a major issue in the United States as well. What do I mean by the dreaded hyphen? I'm speaking of the hyphen used to distinguish "visible minorities" here in North America. Here are some examples - Asian-Canadian/American, African-Canadian/America, Chinese Canadian/American, etc. I think you get the idea. So, you may be asking, "What’s wrong with that? Isn't that all politically correct and whatnot?" the answer is probably yes, these hyphenated titles, by and large, seem to be widely accepted as being correct. However, the question we must ask ourselves is, how many times have you ever heard "European-Canadian/American" to describe a white person who lives in North America and speaks English fluently? Yeah... not too many times right?
     This all started when I was answering a roll-call in my first-year East Asian Studies course tutorial where we were asked to introduce ourselves and the countries that we came from to the group, as there were quite a large number of international students present. Well, about half way through the group, instead of listing their countries, people, who it was very likely, were born in Toronto, started saying things like, "I'm George and I'm Vietnamese-Canadian", "I'm Sue and I'm Filipino-Canadian" etc. Well that would be fine, only that the TA asked for the country of birth and/or citizenry not cultural background, which is totally different. In fact I was quite convinced that most of my classmates in our tutorial were Canadian-born Canadians either 2nd or possibly 3rd generation. Because of this I found it strange that they felt the need to emphasize their cultural backgrounds to the class despite being asked for their place of birth. Being the only "white" person in the tutorial, by the time it was my turn I said, half-jokingly, "My name is Alex and I'm European Canadian", suffice it to say, I got some funny looks.
     My problem with the hyphen is that it's used inconsistently. For example, if I had introduced myself simply as a "Canadian", I'm sure no one would have looked my way. To illustrate my point I will use an example. Let's say I have a "Chinese-Canadian" friend, both of whose parents are 2nd generation Canadians and the children of 1st generation immigrants. This makes him a third generation Canadian, however, he refers to himself as a "Chinese-Canadian" and it seems likely that most people would think rightly so. However, I myself am the son of an English immigrant and a Canadian-born, yet no one would bat an eyelash if I referred to myself simply as "Canadian." The question is, who is more Canadian, the 3rd generation "Chinese-Canadian" who is the son of two Canadian-born parents who happens to have Chinese background or me, the son of an immigrant and a Canadian-born with an English background?
       Regardless of what you think the answer maybe, people would certainly find it strange if I referred to myself as "half English" or "English-Canadian" yet I should think it would be expected of my 3rd generation friend, who can barely speak Chinese, and has never set foot on the Asian continent, and watches more hockey then I ever will in my life, to refer to himself as a "Chinese-Canadian". Why is this? Because, simply put, I'm white, and the popular idea is that, Canadians (and Americans) are supposed to be white. Not white? Here's a hyphen!
     So here's the rub. The hyphen, when used in this way, is really a racial marker. It serves to distinguish the "otherness" of those who do not match our typical perceptions of what a North-Americans should look like, i.e. white. We humans seem to be visual creatures. When we see something that LOOKS different, we isolate it, examine it, and categorize it. I would argue that many racial, sexual, and (sometimes) religious slurs as well as stereotypes are negative examples of this thought process manifested. I would also argue that the hyphen, is also an extension of this process, albeit much more benign. Still not convinced? Look at the term "African-American".
     This term is both culturally and geographically inaccurate. Part of the problem with the term is that it seems to apply only to those we distinguish as "black" people and tends to leave out North Africans, whom we often associate with Asia (i.e "Arabs" - from Morocco, Egypt etc.). Also how many "black" Canadians and Americans have actually lived in Africa? Many come from the West indies and come from families who have been living there for generations (a result of colonialism); many more have much deeper roots in Canada and the U.S. than many "white" families, yet they are marginalized by the hyphen whereas their "white" brethren (and sistren) are not. Strange no? Why is this? Because "African-American" is really just another word for "African-looking American" just as "Asian-Canadian" is really another word for "Asian-looking Canadian".
        So what to do? Do we get rid of the hyphen? Well, maybe we should, it’s not really serving any useful purpose is it? I mean who really cares where people's families come from? Is it really so important? So many questions! I can't answer all of these. As a generally curious person, I'm always interested in where peoples families come from, it’s just interesting to know. If that was the only purpose of the hyphen, to distinguish who came from where, that might be okay but the fact that it is only used for some people and not others makes it suspect. How come its strange for me to call myself a European-Canadian? White people come from Europe right?
          My point is that the hyphen should be used consistently, to include every visible "race" or should be done away with entirely. In its current popular usage, it only serves to create cultural barriers and to marginalize "visible minorities", in other words to "catalogue" people based on certain physical features that indicate ethnicity. Is it racist? Well yes, it certainly could be viewed as such. Is there really any profound cultural difference between me and my 3rd generation Canadian friend who happens to have a Chinese background? I very much doubt it. So why are we "branded" differently in the society we both share? Simply put, racism. No no, not the overt, in-your-face racism that most of us condemn on a daily basis, but the larger, more unconscious racism that is the by-product of thousands of years of cultural development and nation-building throughout the world, the kind that won't go away easily.
    I suppose the hyphen could be used to distinguish those Canadians and Americans who were born elsewhere and were once citizens of other countries but even then I personally, can see little reason why this would be absolutely necessary.

Anyway, that's my two cents! Join me next time when I explain why the people we often refer to as "Asian-Canadians/Americans" are often not as "Asian" as you might think. Stay tuned! or... bookmarked?

PS: You may have noticed that I used a lot of quotation marks on words like "Asian-American" or "black" when referring to "race". That's because I find these terms problematic. Oh... and no pictures, sorry : P        

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Exams are done! Finally I have time to catch up on some reading and Korean lessons, and video making and job hunting etc. etc. hmm.... not much of a break is it? Oh well, as I have learned from my astronomy class, everything is relative, even in physics! As usual I would like to take a moment to put forth the empty promise of me updating this blog more often - *put forth*.

 Cool. So! The other day I finally saw Empire of the Sun an excellent Spielberg film from 1987 about this little snooty British kid growing up in Shanghai as the son of a Taipan (look it up if you don't know what that is). The whole story follows his journey from being a privileged little brat to having to survive the cholera infested Japanese internment camps during Japan's occupation of various parts of China, Shanghai included, during WWII. The film is GOOOOOOOD. See it! It has wicked cast featuring John Malkovich and Christian Bale as a kid! It was his fist movie, and yes, he could act then too. It's Spielberg so every bit of the film is awesomely directed. The production value is awesome, characters are believable, references to Chinese and Japanese stuff is accurate. I took it be an allegory of just how much the WWII screwed up peoples lives in Asia, an often ignored aspect of it by us here in the "west" or "east" since I'm in Canada.

 In other news I finally got all my application stuff in for Yonsei and I'm just awaiting a reply from the University which should come in 30 days or so. Hopefully I've maintained my average and all that! Ohhh.... tense. In preparation for Yonsei I'm studying Koren super hard now and even enrolled in a free Korean class offered the Korean consulate here in Toronto! It's a pretty good opportunity, they teach pretty well and for free! Can't complain am I right? It's a bit out of the way though. My specific intermediate class runs on Saturdays from 1-3 in Richmond hill (near Toronto) which is really far from where I live. But it's free! so yeah.

 And finally I'm watching through the Once Upon a Time in China movies because I'm hoping to compile a video comparing the three Jet Li films. Gotta say, its pretty fun watching them all again. Well that's the update, I'll hopefully get around to writing an article again soon. Stay tuned! 


Monday, April 16, 2012

Last weekend I read the entirety of Mao and China in the Twentieth-Century World by Rabecca E. Karl in preparation for my upcoming exam on modern east Asian history. I certainly recommend it for anyone who desires to know the modern history of the country that some call the oldest in the world. The book is well written and very accessible as it tells the story of one of China's most prolific leaders in a way that is exciting and concise in just under 200 pages (just finished it over the weekend). Despite the relatively short length, the text does not skimp on the details, illustrating civil war, political intrigue and China's modernization in a colorful and engaging way. Be warned though, its not fun and games. From my point of view, the book portrays Mao both as an idealist and a severely flawed individual. By the end of the book I felt I was given further reason to believe that communism and humanity just don't mix. Either way, its a good read!

In other news, I finally got around to watching Zebraman, the 2004 Takeshi Miike movie. I'm certainly a fan of Takeshi Miike's on-screen craziness, having watched much of his library already, but for some reason I had never gotten around to seeing Zebraman, despite several recommendations from friends. I finally watched it and it was quite good! Its pretty tame for a Miike film, but the story is quite charming and follows an elementary school teacher who becomes a real-life super hero! But this isn't Kickass, or Super sort of stuff, the main character turns into a REAL super hero, powers and all! It's pretty neat. There's a lot of throwback to the Super Sentai or Masked Rider super hero shows that have aired on Japanese television of decades. With likable characters and a fun story Zebraman provides some good fun.

Apparently there is a Zebraman II out now but I haven't seen it yet. I'll let you know if I do!               

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I just finished watching the last two events of Asia's new fight promotion, One FC. If you read this blog at all, you may know that I'm a pretty big fan of MMA and though I watch UFC on a regular basis, I'm quite interested in the scene over in Asia as well. Having been a regular watcher of Japan's Dream promotion, and remembering that they haven't had an event in several months I checked their website to take a look at when their next event would be. What I found was some event called One FC x Dream in which well known dream fighters went over to Singapore to fight for a promotion called One FC. Having never heard of it before I checked it out and managed to find their last two events on the net and after watching both of them, I think there might be something awesome here.

Ever since the legendary Japanese fight promotion Pride FC went bankrupt in 2008 (or around that time) I had been looking for something to fill its place. UFC has gotten better and better in recent years and has acquired many pride fighters, however, Pride FC always had this vibe and element of spectacle that I just couldn't get from UFC. Asian MMA just feels different somehow in presentation and style and I missed that feeling that Pride FC once invoked. Though the Japanese Dream promotion has managed to be Pride's spiritual successor in that respect and features some great fighters, many of Dream's fights just don't have the energy and variety of the Pride days, featuring many grind-outs and static fights (as much as I'm a fan of Dream, I have come to terms with this fact). After watching One FC however, my hope in Asian MMA has been renewed!

One FC is a South East Asian MMA promotion that exhibits fighters from all over Asia. Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Russia etc. etc. are all represented. There's people from all over the continent. It's really a pan-Asian event with exciting fights however, its not limited to Asian contenders either, there are Americans and Brazilians as well. The rules are a bit different than UFC. For example, soccer kicks are allowed in an open guard and the ring is shaped more like a circle than an octagon which is kind of interesting. I have to say that this venue shows a lot of promise and variety. They also got Lene Heart (a woman who's voice is either the bane of your existence or the best thing ever) to do the announcing! Awesome!

A stare-down between Japanese fighter Tatsuya Kawajiri and his American opponent Donald Sanchez at the weigh-ins for One FC 3, I've never seen Kawajiri look so pissed off. 
Their next event is set for June 23rd and will take place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, can't wait! Hopefully One can go on to be the Asian equivalent of the UFC just like Pride was back in the day, keep your sponsors and make sure your management knows what their doing!!! Yay One!                  

Friday, April 13, 2012

The mad flurry of studying continues as I prep for two exams. Doesn't sound like too much right? Only two right? Well that would be my sentiment exactly, however, I got nominated to go abroad and study at Yonsei University in South Korea! This is totally awesome, however, it also means I need to keep my GPA up so I'm studying like a maniac with paranoia peeked. But anyway more on that later.

In other news, I made some maki! This is a pic of my first attempt at salmon and avocado maki last week. Turned out pretty awesome and tasty! I always remembered people telling me that making maki is supposed to be super difficult, and although those aren't the finest looking maki I've ever seen, I'd certainly say that its really just a matter of learning how to do it. Which, honestly, is not all that hard if you just follow the steps... but you don't have to tell your friends that, hehehehehe. Just remember, its all in the rice!

I also tried this beer! A friend of mine from Japan came over to Toronto for a month and stayed at my place for just over a week. He knows that I'm a beer aficionado of sorts so he brought me some Suntory: The Premium Malt's, a beer from Japan that isn't available here in Canada. Generally I'm a pretty big fan of malt beer, and this one certainly tasted premium! ...meaning that I though it was tasty. It had a malty, flavorful taste and a soft texture. It's pretty interesting to have a malt beer that goes down easy. So yeah, good stuff here I thought. Also the name invokes such mystery! "Malt's" is spelled with an apostrophe, meaning that its a possessive! So who's beer is it!? Yours or the malt's?! Good god! I love Engrish hehehe. This beer is also featured in every Yakuza game so I lost my sh*t when my buddy pulled it out of his suitcase! Thanks Akio!   

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

West of Hollywood 5 - finally out!

Gadzooks! I've been super crazy busy with year end exam fever!!! But that doesn't mean I don't have time to release the 5th episode of West of Hollywood, fresh with a new intro and format! Whoooooo! Please take a look, this time I review Project A, a good old Jackie Chan movie. The next episode will be a series review, perhaps Once Upon a Time in China 1,2,3 methinks and will be released after exams when I have time to make it!