Writing freely

Just something I wrote for my Qualitative Methodology class, based on the book by Kirin Nayaran “Alive in the Writing”.

“An argument that I particularly want to tell you about is one I had about a month ago with my mom. My mom, being the typical Korean mother – yes, sometimes clichés are based on truths – worries about everything and ‘meddles’ in every aspect of my life. Distance does not matter at all; in fact, coupled with the recent technology that allows instant messaging and video chatting almost anywhere in the world where there is internet, she devotes all her attention and time to particularly excel in both of these tasks (this, of course, is not what she thinks she’s doing). I have therefore learned from early on, and more specifically ever since I came to the United States, to keep her informed about what I do or feel on a minimal basis. One of those things I did not think she particularly needed to know was my brand new tattoos – three in total – that I got in the span of less than a year. I knew what her reaction would be if she found out – in her mind, getting a tattoo is the equivalent of an inevitable social and professional ‘shame’ and surely the next step someone with a tattoo will take would be to join a criminal gang or fall out from acceptable social norms into the depths of abomination. Unfortunately, another habit of hers is to text or call me on Friday nights here (which is Saturday morning in Korea and hence a good time for her to talk to me I guess), and unfortunately in this case, I do happen to enjoy some sort of social life on those days. Another unfortunate thing is that beer often makes me chatty and miss the people I left in Korea, which sometimes includes my parents. So all these unfortunate elements led to a Skype chat on a Friday night (midnight to be precise) when I happened to let my guards down and wore a T-shirt that showed the tattoo on my arm (the latest and the biggest one) when I decided to tie my hair. The two-hour ‘conversation/argument’ that followed suit was not a pretty one, to say the least. I had expected her to be angry, but I had definitely not expected her to actually be devastated and cry. I guess I did feel bad when I saw her cry (it wasn’t even that she was bawling, which I think I would have preferred, but silent tears that just seemed to fall down effortlessly and without her actually realizing), but my usual lack of empathy only gets worse when accompanied with beverages made of malted barley or wheat. I was therefore not in the mood to indulge her concerns about how tattoos lasted ‘forever’ (which is a fact I did and do know about tattoos) and her arguments about how society – especially the Korean one – was not ready to ‘accept’ me or my ‘quirks’ yet, and how this surely would prevent me from getting jobs or lead a ‘normal social life’ (I guess she meant ‘respectable’ by ‘normal’). I addressed these concerns by telling her that if people were willing to judge me based on what I had decided to do with my body, I wouldn’t particularly rejoice in working with or for them either. She then somehow linked this whole discussion with how I never told her anything – especially and specifically – about my love life, which I didn’t think was even near the point of this whole discussion, but that’s how mothers often work. My arguments about how as an individual and grown up, I did not have the ‘duty’ to report to her about everything that was going on in my life were useless. I was left disgruntled after the two-hour conversation because I had not prepared for this kind of talk at all and felt that I had not conveyed everything I wanted to say clearly due to my uneasiness in the Korean language and perhaps my inebriated state as well on some level. After two days of mulling over it, I resorted to writing her a five-page long letter, to which her answer was another source of frustration and exasperation, but perhaps I can talk about this one in another essay.”

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I paved my way with tears and a smile

Tears for every moment I had longed for the happy moments past,

And a last smile to my true and only friend for the past months,

Loneliness.

‘Close your eyes,’ It said,

‘For you have already witnessed the ugliness,

Enough to make you miss the beauty you have known.

Goodbye. You can let me go now.’

And so I did.

There was no abyss to think of, no fear to indulge.

The icy cold water of winter

That had been lingering beneath all along,

Calling me and pleading with me at times,

Pushing me away and warning me at some others,

Finally welcomed me in its warm embrace.

Peace was nowhere to be seen.

But there were no more tears to hide, no more smile to plaster.

My last selfish act

That would lead me to the perpetual state of selflessness.

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Let’s talk about ‘it’

I rarely talk about relationships, ‘the‘ relationship, the S(ignificant) O(ther) kind. About my relationships, or simply the concept of it.

Many reasons lie behind this conscientious choice of a lifestyle. Experience has taught me that those at the other end of ‘relationship talk’ – me, the good listener at your service – have a hard time enjoying it as much as the one that does the talk. Or maybe it’s just me and my incapability to sympathize. The very few times that I have indulged in this national pastime, actual reality has been very harsh to me. Talking about the potential future of a ‘this-might-lead-to-something’ has revealed to be a jinx, and I got the message. So no more, I decided. Relationship-talk often morphs into the worst kind of ‘girl-talk’, where ‘girlfriends’ incite you to build castles in the sky and interpret the slightest hand motion and word in a text into something that is clearly not. Let me be very clear on this : clearly not. Most of all, I don’t want ‘it’ to define who I am and want to have other fun, interesting things to talk about: me as my own person.

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This doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that I don’t spend a significant amount of my time thinking about ‘it’. At this point, wondering about ‘the love of my life’ or ‘my soulmate’ is just a waste of time, energy and brain activity. I need those for my studies, which, frankly, are more important than ‘it’. For now, anyways. I am more concerned about ‘my survival’, shall I say. Indeed, as it becomes harder and harder to have your close friends guarantee long-term companionship, whether it is because they, unlike myself, have found the beauty that is love, or because we don’t live in the same places anymore, I can’t help but getting more and more concerned about what could very well be a state of utter solitude and loneliness in the future. And, yes, as much as I do hate people in general, I realize that I, too, mere mortal, can’t survive solely on my own (although most of the time, I sure can) and this worries me.

This could totally be me some day. Not even kidding.

This could totally be me some day. Not even kidding.

The idea of having that one person who will always be on your side no matter what (or so it goes, theoretically, if we want to ignore the actual number of break-ups and divorces) has become even more alluring as I realize that there is absolutely no constant in my life (unless you count my undying devotion to FRIENDS). I have no idea what I will do when I finish my degree, where I will go, or sometimes, if I will, indeed finish my degree – in my most frustrating days. And I realize that at my age (I’ll be fucking 40 in just ten years), I should really have had these answers down.

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When I was younger, I was set on not getting married because I wanted to have the possibility to knock on every door – I didn’t want ‘my man’ to tie me down as I was sent as ambassador to country A or went on a UN mission to country B. (Yes, I had big dreams, once.)

And it’s ironic how now, I wish I had someone to ‘tie me down’, set some limits as to where I can be and what I can do.

So, so ironic.

And so as I’m sitting, by myself, at the school library, bored and exhausted from reading about democratization failures in Africa, I let my imagination drift, that a single, straight, dashingly good-looking, PhD male student, between the age of 30 and 35, not yet balding, not socially awkward, with the cute kind of nerdiness, will strike up a conversation that will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Or maybe just a non-weirdo. That will do too.

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(OK I could go on but I’m gonna stop now.)

What Women Want

This video enrages me. Among all the crap I’ve read and heard related to the Hollaback! video, I think this one makes the top of my list. Let’s for a moment set aside the fact that white men have been omitted from the original video and that the issue of race/color is one that has been made nonexistent, when it shouldn’t.

There’s a point in the video where the man interviewee says something in the lines of “Women love being complimented”. And you know what, that is absolutely true. Women love to be complimented, we enjoy when we are told that we are beautiful, that we have a nice smile, that we have a cute outfit that fits us perfectly.

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Yes, we love to be complimented, as opposed to men who obviously do not care the least bit whether they are complimented or not. They absolutely do not understand the concept of being told nice things; telling them their new jacket looks perfect on them, or that you love their new glasses will just be lost on them. Men are simply immune to those words, they are special that way. And yet, they go to great lengths to please us, us the ungrateful women, even when they do not really understand how compliments work. So really, I mean, we should nod and smile and say thank you like the nice polite girls that we are, I mean, that we should be, because, ladies, men have once again surpassed our utmost imagination and expectations to do things just to make us happy. We should be ashamed. Indeed.

All right, kidding aside, who the fuck doesn’t want to be complimented? I love it when my friends notice my new earrings or jewelry, I love it when my students tell me they love my jacket or my dress. And yes, I even rejoice, I have to admit, when my relatives/acquaintances tell me I’ve lost weight (although I do know it’s none of their business). But that is NOT the point.

What this nice gentleman does NOT get, and what all those men who say that these guys were just being nice do not get, is that once again, women are not given any choice in the matter. I mean, you would think we would be used to it by now, when choices have been made for us for centuries and when we’ve rarely been given chances to raise our own voices. But hey, that’s what we are, the women, we are crazy and hormonal, so we always want change. Geez.

When friends compliment us, there is an understanding, between people who know each other, that a safe space has been created between us. By being friends, we have, in a way, allowed each other to say a number of things that we would not allow to total strangers. That’s how compliments work. When the person saying them means them, AND when the person that is being said to takes them that way.

What men don’t get is that one guy may say, and believe with all his heart, “Sexy mama”, and walk away, but women will meet more than that one guy throughout her day and throughout her life. What men don’t get is that women have to live in constant fear when they are out in the streets. I don’t mean to say that fear overwhelms me the moment I step foot out of my door. I’m not saying that I walk out in broad daylight giving glances to everyone every step of the way, suspecting them to be potential attackers. But rarely does a day pass by, whether it is when I go home late at night, or when I jog through areas where there are not many people, or when I’m in a crowded bus/subway, when the scary thought of ‘What if…’ doesn’t cross my mind. And unfortunately, men will never get that.

I’m not saying that men never get attacked or harassed. They do, absolutely, and unfortunately. But not only the argument ‘Well, men get attacked too, so women really shouldn’t make a big deal out of this’ is a very bad one, but also and mostly, this is not the point here.

The point women want to make is, as it has always been, Why do men always have to determine and tell us what is good for us and tell us how we should feel and behave? Why does it matter that men meant it ‘in a good way’ when we are telling them we can’t possibly take them in a good way? Why do women have to listen to men tell us that we should feel flattered and not be an uptight ass about it? Why are men still allowed to be so entitled to say anything they feel like to women, regardless of how they feel?

I’m not saying that we should all stare right ahead when we walk in the streets and not share any hellos, goodbyes or thank yous. It is nice when a stranger, man or woman, smiles at you and you still feel perfectly safe, when you know that a smile back will not be construed as an okay for ‘Hey, now that you’ve smiled at me, you can grab my ass, please.’

What a beautiful world it would be, if we could all say hi or smile without fear, and share compliments that are meant as such and that can be taken as such. And the first step in making such a world is to develop an environment where women will have no reason to fear hellos and smiles. In that world, men won’t tell women to smile for them, won’t say demeaning things such as ‘Sexy mama’ or what not, won’t stare at their cleavages or behinds, and won’t follow them for 5 minutes. And to develop such an environment, maybe it would be helpful to listen to those most affected by this.

And we are shouting, loud and clear, that we do not want your so-called compliments.

'You're beautiful when you're docile and compliant.'

Epitome of nerdiness

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I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, one of my favorite ‘games’ as a kid was to ‘play classroom’ where I would be the teacher bestowing knowledge and wisdom to my 6-7 year old peers in the playground. Going through my journals from early on, I seem to have believed becoming an English teacher/professor was my calling. There were also all these English tutoring/camps I thoroughly enjoyed, amidst occasional tears of frustration because these lovely kids couldn’t get the simple performance of the Beatles’ ‘Hello and Goodbye’ right. Above all, people I have come to admire and look up to in real life have mostly been teachers and professors, ranging from my favorite teacher Tom at the English Centre in middle-high school, the Peace Corps Volunteers who gladly indulged our teenage presence on a weekly basis, to professors in English Literature and at GSIS at university. (Although, considering the number of years I have spent studying/being at school, this should not be too unexpected).

Yet I can’t help but being pleasantly surprised at my eagerness and enthusiasm this semester. Truth be told, I was indeed very nervous to teach undergraduate students (*gasp* not kids anymore!!!) and I could definitely feel and hear my voice shake that first Friday at 9 am in my first class. I forgot half of the things I wanted to say in my second class at 10 am and was still a bit careful in my third and final class of the day at 12 pm.

But as I read articles and papers and textbooks by authors I have read over and over for almost 10 years now (!), it’s like I’m reading them for the first time under a new light, because I get to be the one explaining them and sharing my own interpretation of things based on everything I have learned so far. While most of my students (yes, MY students!) have just begun to carefully and hesitantly tread the vast and tumultuous waters of IR, just getting to know the existence of theories like Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism, I cannot help but feel like I have a responsibility and duty to tell them what took me years to learn. I know I’m going to impose a huge bias on my part, but how can you not want to share all these exciting things? Things like Constructivism is cool, Feminist IR theories even cooler, IR is not just about politicians making a difference but also about individuals like Brandon from HONY (Humans of New York) who help you change your perspective on the very misunderstood and misjudged continent that is Africa.

I read Alexander Wendt and marvel at the numerous possibilities students nowadays could have to deconstruct their own world. I skim Samuel Huntington and imagine the different ways to criticize and point out the (very) few relevant points he still has. I devour J.Ann Tickner and admire the vast spectrum of IR she has to offer us. IR is cool, man. There, I’ve said it.

I go over my emails three, four times before sending them out, put words in bold and italic and colors to make them more fun and say things like “Next week’s reading looks very exciting, Tickner and Wendt are personal favorites of mine ;)”. Personal favorites? I never knew the day would come that I would use those words to describe IR-related scholarly articles. Could I be any nerdier?

I go over the short bio/introduction they had as their first assignment and the constant cynicism I seem to have nowadays simply melts away as I inhale their excitement, their hopes and dreams, their promise of changing the world, and their goal to make the world a better place.

Yes, I was like that too, once, when I was a freshman at university.

But what I remember most about my experience with IR as a freshman and throughout undergrad is, disappointment. Disappointment that all we got to learn was theories that in no way seemed to explain what was going on in the ‘real world’, like the war in Iraq, or boring details of agreements and wars before, during, and after WWI. Although I do know now that these are the necessary steps one needs to take to understand and study IR (and these kids will certainly have to face the same music as well), I want my classes to give them something I didn’t have when I was their age.

I want them to know that IR is not just about theories and history. I want them to see that theories are impressive and intriguing tools they can use and manipulate to understand the ‘real world out there’ and find their own solutions to the problems. I want them to feel, always feel, that yes, they can, and should, make the world a better place.

I’m just fooling myself, aren’t I?

Made by moi! This is what I do with my 'free' time...

Made by moi!
This is what I do with my ‘free’ time…

A response to #ALSIceBucketChallenge Haters

For the past week, my Facebook and Twitter timeline, and I suspect that of many others as well, has been filled with videos of people dumping ice water on themselves as part of a movement to raise awareness for ALS, also known as the Lou Gehrig’s disease: the #IceBucketChallenge. People all over the world, celebrities and non-celebrities, have been willingly soaking themselves in ice-cold water for the sake of this movement (thank god for them this became “a thing” in Summer). And just as any other popular movement, it has drawn as much criticism as praise; the main argument for the former being that it is a waste of water, a precious resource, which, among other people, “many Africans lack” and that could have been put to better use, like “saving poor African children”.
Yes, there is no denying that pouring bucket loads of water on yourself is, technically and literally, a waste. But no, I do not think that constitutes a valid argument to disregard the cause or the movement.
 
Sure, in an ideal world, people would donate money to fund better research in ALS without the Ice Bucket Challenge and hence without wasting away gallons of water. Unfortunately, in reality, let’s face it, we are preoccupied with our own little lives and our own little problems to really care for others’. In reality, there are just too many causes to support, from animal rights to proper health care, to even notice something like ALS unless we are personally involved in it some way or the other. Organizations that work based on donations know this too well. They have to focus their marketing strategies to not only raise awareness but also to make people  believe in their humanity and goodness to proudly pull out 10 dollars out of their pocket so that they can later boast about it on their SNS platform. This may be a callous way to put it, but that’s what it is. If all of us were capable of caring and actively contributing to the improvement of all the problems the world is facing without that extra push, the world would be a much better place. But we do need that extra push to be inspired and donate “out of the goodness in our hearts”.
 
The other part of the criticism I am very much uncomfortable with is that tendency of ours to always brandish images of “dying African children” for anything, really.
This picture has been circulating quite a lot among my FB acquaintances.

This picture has been circulating quite a lot among my FB acquaintances.

Whether it’s the death of a respectable man such as Steve Jobs (I have to admit, I’m guilty of this one) or the fact that more than 5,600 people are newly diagnosed with ALS every year, we always hear someone say “Yeah, but you know, hundreds of children in Africa are dying everyday.” I’m not denying that people are dying in Africa or that we should care less about them. But please, don’t strip “African children” of their dignity by making them the “go-to criticism” for everything. They deserve a little bit more respect than that. And frankly, regardless of your intentions, that’s quite a racist move.
 
Furthermore, why doesn’t Anthony Carbajal deserve our attention and empathy as much as any other “African child”?
What allows us to judge that one’s suffering is more worthy of our care than another’s? Are we so limited in our capacity to be concerned for others that we have to choose one over and in the expense of the other? Would it kill us to care for both? And before you voice any criticism, did you actually donate money to either cause?
It’s important and necessary that we should have a critical eye and ask questions first before accepting facts as they are. I am very much for that. But there’s a fine line between being critical and being, simply put, a hater. Let’s make sure that there is enough humanity and empathy left in us not to cross that line.
After all, the initial challenge of either dumping ice water on yourself OR donating 100 dollars to ALSA doesn’t seem to hold anymore. People do the Ice Bucket Challenge AND donate money.
The ALS community, like any other, deserves our attention for at least the span of a month or two. Believe me, not to be a cynic, but people will have moved on to another worthy cause by the end of next month.
And if what I’ve said is still not reason enough to support #ALSIceBucketChallenge, well… I’m sure you’ll be a big enough person to donate money to the association sans water and sans SNS recognition.
Plus I still think these videos are quite enjoyable.
 
 
 

A song for my fallen hero

This visit to Korea after a year spent in the US has been quite enlightening. I wish I could say there have been far more good things than bad ones, and believe me, I’m usually a “glass half-full” kind of a person, but I can’t.

True, the time I’ve spent with my good friends and the selected few moments I spent with my family brighten up the “good things” category as much as they can, but alas not enough for the whole two months. (As well as  the cute socks I got to buy – Americans, it’s high time you start making cuter socks! You’re depriving your own people!).

One -major- “bad” thing has had to do with how easily I get impatient with my mom. Dad has always managed to find different and various ways to annoy me, so that was nothing new, but this new “dynamic” I seem to have developed with my mom is not less than disturbing.

Like the good daughter that I am, I’ve decided to give some serious thought about this situation; and I’ve reached the partial conclusion that the reason I’m more annoyed, more difficult with my mom is the very same reason she was harsher and more demanding with me as a kid. Just as she wanted the very best for me because I was her daughter, I want the very best from her because she’s my mom.

This sounds cliche, but my mom was my hero for a very long time. Probably up until my mid-20s. But I guess that, even though that is when I became conscious that my mom had her faults; subconsciously, I didn’t really stop regarding her as my hero.

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Don’t you hate it when this is right?

Mom was the one who taught me that girls didn’t always have to dress up in pink and play with dolls. She’s the one who made me aware of my independence, my strength and my potential as a woman and as a person. She’s the one who assured me that I didn’t need men to “complete” me, that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be, including a successful, sophisticated, and strong single woman. And all this before I even knew the word Feminism existed.

Mom was also the one who taught me to always be compassionate and tolerant to others, especially those who didn’t have the same privileges I did. She’s the one who showed me that how just you can be towards those around you can define you, and not how much money you have. All this before I was even aware of what social justice, politics, or humanity meant.

Yet, today, she makes sly comments about my “inability to get married” (doesn’t matter that I constantly tell her it’s my “reluctance to get married”), and admits that she will feel somewhat safer knowing there will be a “man looking after me” (there is absolutely no reasonable logic behind this thinking). In those moments, I don’t simply see my “annoying mom”. I see a fallen hero of mine betraying me. I mourn my role model, my childhood Feminist hero, my Wonder Woman.

When she fails to feel for Ned and Felix in “The Normal Heart”  because they are gay, I can’t just brush it away as the same attitude thousands of other older Korean women probably have. I take it as a personal affront to the values of altruism, compassion and understanding my hero raised me with.

My hero was perfect you know.

But this woman, whose sole change and “mistake” was to get older, is far from being perfect. She has so many faults. And so I strive to mold her with my memories of her past perfection. I refuse to see that she is a mother (a Korean one on top of that) before being a feminist. I refuse to acknowledge that she is also a product of her time and customs, which didn’t even discuss, even less “acknowledge”, the LGBT community.

I guess I have to give up at some point, for certain things, and accept her as my imperfect hero and my perfect mother, just like she gave up trying to make me memorize all these Chinese characters when I was growing up. Oh but it’s hard…

After all, even superheros have faults, Superman did make the terrible mistake of wearing his underwear outside for the longest time.

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