Beautiful Catastrophe


There is something quite unnerving about revisiting statistics for an event which is long in the past. You could look at it as a way of validating the pedestal a particular event holds in time, which may be important. Or you could see it as a way of glorifying something truly horrific, and is likely never to happen again at least not in many lifetimes to come. It is with these perspectives that I clicked on The Fallen of World War II, a digital montage visualising the war casualties between 1939 and 1945.

…more at fallen.io

First up I should say that this is a slick and impressive display of the true cost to generations after the war ended. For major countries it is hard not to see how this war effected them. Often the dialogue surrounds the victors, and the price they paid for so called freedom (because, you know, the US and Britain were invaded and ruled for a brief period. Oh wait). Perhaps with the use of this video you can get a strong indication of how other countries really suffered. Indeed a quick scroll through the comments on Vimeo will show the level of appreciation of the maker’s visualisation.

Yet, I can’t really applaud this interpretation beyond the actual aesthetic, as there are far too many concerns raised here. This is especially important as this year sees the passing of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and we will be reassessing this past in the coming months.

It is well worth noting, and I do have The Fallen of World War II to thank for this important point, that to have fought in the war, veterans now would be at least in their late eighties, many would be in their early nineties. It is highly unlikely that there are many remaining, regardless of what country they fought for, and soon there will be none remaining. It is with this in mind that we need to take more care about how we interpret acts in history.

It’s very easy to do a statistical analysis of a historical event. With World War 2 it’s is particularly convenient as primarily we are discussing the actions of armies, together with their large bureaucratic arms that detail the specifics of each and every recruit, from all those who survived to all those who died. Knowing all this information, like the average age of new recruits, the amount of people who signed up from a particular town or the amount of Sagittarians that died on a Tuesday in 1942 serves a function which distances us from the ultimate tragedy of the Second World War.

The names of some of the people who lost their lives during World War II (Image courtesy rootsweb.ancestry.com)

I’m kind of a geek when it comes to reading over figures and statistics in history. I’m interested in populations, costs, quantities, and pretty much any other detail which can be extracted. But statistics, whether disputed or not, are merely numbers. To turn the millions of people who died into levels on fancy a bar chart does not settle easily with me.

There is little difference in this elaborate display of colours and stickmen to a chart with the countries listed in alphabetical order and the number of casualties detailed beside them. Creating a graph that shows how many people who died rising epically into some digital stratosphere still holds the same level of shock as when the number 20,000,000 is printed. Short of celebrating one’s own ability to create a quite beautiful display, it doesn’t make the lives that actually make up these statistics any less or more valuable.

British troops arrive on Normandy beaches signifying the beginning of the Battle of Normandy which saw over 400,000 soldiers killed.

What I struggle to accept though, looking at the larger picture, is that for all these people who did die, how do we celebrate their story? Does Ireland, a country that suffered only slightly in the war, deserve to be any less remorseful about the events which took place in Europe and Asia? How does a country like Russia or China, two countries that lost a catastrophic number of people, actually account for these lives? These are places we can find it difficult to imagine life in during those times, but grief like love is a universal factor, we all suffer from it to a comparable level. To me it seems that these people’s histories, and the sheer size of their tragedy, have been forced into statistics before we could ever understand them truly.

We are fortunate that the rich television history of the twentieth century has documented many of the ways in which life was lived both on the battle fields and at home. Recently we have been extra lucky to see more real-to-life interpretations, or as real-to-life as we are willing to be trusted with. Story telling brings us closer to the sadness wrought by the sudden death of a comrade, or the brutality of a shrapnel injury.

It is a story that seems to have been ignored. The countries which suffered the greatest loss of life decided to forget what happened. Can you blame them? Even a country like Poland rarely discusses this. Indeed it is not a surprise that the war is not a topic of conversation on every German’s lips, but I can be sure that those people are more aware than anyone of the history their nation created. I wish the same could be said for Japan.

As for the gaping hole in the generations of Russian and Chinese people who had to have been slaughtered to have perished in the quantities they did, what narrative or remembrance can we learn to truly understand a greater significance of World War II? I would hope we can create one which is not dominated by fancy graphics and data, but by realities wrought in the death and destruction of individuals whose fate was decided by men in offices in search of some class of glory.

 

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P.S. Describing every German soldier who fought and died in the war as a Nazi is an unfair accusation. You wouldn’t say that all the Russians were communists, and all the Americans patriots, or whatever.

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This Could Be (one of) the Last Time(s)


The fact that I live an apartment on the twentieth floor is not news to this blog. This high position allows for a fine, if not a little post-apocalyptic at times, view of Suwon on all but the most weather beaten of days. I have grown fond of taking photographs of the many perspectives this home of ours provides. There aren’t many opportunities left for me to do this. 20140606-193730.jpg After four and a half years here in Korea, which is essentially the whole life cycle of this blog, we are returning to Ireland to live. 20140606-193754.jpg Things you need to know: This is an indefinite move. We really aren’t sure where we will eventually settle down. 20140606-193806.jpg We will never leave Korea forever. We will be back. This is a certainty. Just don’t ask me when. It’s going to be a crazy change, and we are excited, terrified, happy, and of course sad to be making such a move. This is a life changer. 20140606-193825.jpg Before we came back to Korea in 2010 we moved country four times in a year and a half. We’ve enjoyed the stability. I’ve really enjoyed writing here about life in Korea, and I know many of my regular readers are here for my writing about Korea. I hope that you will join me as I document life in Ireland, when I find a minute to spare (of course). 20140606-193840.jpg So that’s my big news, in case you’ve been wondering. So with that in mind, here’s a song.

…And a post-apocalyptic-ish sunset

20140606-194035.jpg

 

P.S. I hate packing/moving country almost as much as I hate K-pop. It’s going to be a blast!

Learning to Read and Other Skills


It’s still amazing to me how many people are unable to understand text. Now, I don’t mean the people who are actually illiterate, which is a genuine concern, I mean people despite being able to read cannot actually understand what is being said and the context and content fully. Such people are the type who have been gifted with the ability to actually read, unlike so many deprived of the skill, but who cannot use it to living a fulfilling life. What’s more is that these same people apparently feel that they are above those who do not have the same level of intellect and opportunity to advance in society. I’d say it’s a cultural superiority, but that would be polite and aiding their pseudo intellectual commentary. I think it’s best to label them as trolls.

Let’s find some definitions for trolls:

A troll is a supernatural being in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore. In origin, troll may have been a negative synonym for a jötunn (plural jötnar), a being in Norse mythology. In Old Norse sources, beings described as trolls dwell in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves, live together in small family units, and are rarely helpful to human beings.” – Yee Olde Wikipedia

An evil troll, Torok, the transformed state of the ex-husband of an old friendly witch named Eunice St. Clair, has chosen her apartment building to be the heart of the restoration of the world he once knew. To do this he uses an Emerald ring, and takes possession of a little girl named Wendy, whose brother Harry immediately suspects something wrong. Torok, often in the form of the little girl, goes into each occupant’s apartment, hideously transforming people into plant pods.” – IMDB

The savage trolls of Azeroth are infamous for their cruelty, dark mysticism, and seething hatred for all other races. Yet one exception among the trolls is the Darkspear tribe and its cunning leader, Vol’jin. Plagued by a history of subservience and exile, this proud tribe was on the brink of extinction when Warchief Thrall and his mighty Horde forces were driven to the trolls’ remote island home in the South Seas during a violent storm.” – World of Warcraft

Of course each of these explanations is as likely as anything you’ll find on the Urban Dictionary or wherever else.

Now, this here lovely site doesn’t get much in the way of trolls, or indeed comments at all, and for the most part comments are nice and congratulatory. If I’m lucky I get an inquisitive one or two. Then I get a few comments every so often to one or two of my Korea criticism links, which are apparently quite high on a ‘I hate Korea’ Google search, at least that’s what I’ve been because I haven’t checked – which is probably an indication of how much I care.

In one particular post I have a number of comments which all relate to the fact that my site is a forum for hatred and that it’s OK to just blast out criticism, and I mean really nasty and narrow focused attacks on pretty much every Korean ever born – which includes my wife and daughter – and I’ve given up authorising those comments. I did go through a period initially where I allowed them, but I changed my mind because it is something that I actually feel pretty strongly against, and that’s essentially the belief that Koreans are the bottom feeders of the earth and everyone who has ever met anyone who knows anything or nothing about Korea should be told this. I could go on but I won’t. To give you an idea of the level of intellect we’re dealing with here, allow me to share with you a recent comment which I still have yet to delete:

Fuck Koreans. Everything about them sucks ass, and if you wanna see what happens to the world when Korean idiocy is left unchecked….North Korea…Nuffield said. I know for a fact MANY comments on this forum aren’t making it because several of mines haven’t, and I have a friend in busan who couldn’t post either. Too much truth in his post maybe. Bring on the comments, I don’t give a good god damn. I hate Koreans, most of my friends hate Koreans, and here in Australia, my neck of the woods, most of the people in my community don’t like Koreans either. A kid came to my university from South Korea, and no one liked him. He would get the same criticisms…racist, pig headed, closed minded, arrogant, superiority complex, lack of common sense, poor manners, lack of courtesy, rude in general and annoying to be around. Fuck Koreans. I have visited SK for a month, and it made me hate them even more. My school should stop allowing these fuckers to come here, all they do is sit in their annoying little groups “tee-heeing” about shiny objects and what some asswipe k-slop bugger is on about. The Korean asswipe in one of my classes actually tried to explain to us why Koreans are a superior race, and that they are pure by blood…not according to my research. At any rate, fuck korea, there I said it. And I’ll copy and paste this to word, so I can re-post if this doesn’t make the forum.” – Aussie who hates korrie (2014)

Of course, Mr/Ms AWHK doesn’t realise that WordPress is pretty well equipped for tracking down gombeens who can’t read the context of a post but who feel that the comment section is where their true calling in life lies. With that in mind I popped the IP address of the above into an IP finder. I’ll leave this here and you can make your own assumptions.

Untitled

Anyway, this post is about an inability to read and what concerns me is that seemingly educated people, as I assume all these people are, feel that they are above an entire nation of people yet they can’t even understand a blog post. “But it’s the internet” I hear you quip, and yes you’re right I should set my standards a little lower.

With that in mind I’m going to finish with another lesson in how to read, or how not to read.

As I teach English writing here in Korea, one thing I’m always certain to do is to reiterate the necessity of confirming and knowing the sources where you get your material. I’m not against using online sources at all, in fact I encourage it as there is great variety in the internet. Of course there are problems with encouraging reliance on the internet. We do find ourselves sinking into our own personal information clique. Here we feel that without criticism we can read and post and read and post whatever we like without ever crossing paths with an alternative voice. Twitter is a perfect example of this, and if it weren’t for having friends who I really know (and vice versa) who share a variety of opinions and news articles, from preachy Godist stuff and unrealistic out of context idealistic quotes from people I’ve never heard of heard, right up to the usual conspiracy theory and American politics we all love to slobber over in a fit of middle class apathetic rage, Facebook would be the same.

So it’s important that when you read a blog or website you’ve never come across you should click the about page. If you have the time whilst lazily bullying yourself about the internet some more articles from said website might be worth your unbridled scrutiny also. But I can see how this can be difficult for some, who may have concerns for conserving their wrist’s energy.

Again my poor misfortunate blog was left open to scrutiny. Again some genius, this time a clever fella ‘Wayginkorea’ felt he was more adept at internetting than your humble author, not that I am a master or anything. Fortunately, at time of going to press, even Reddit defeated its evil ways but I think I have some of my fellow Korea based bloggers to thank for a down vote or two.

On that post that this individual was so displeased by, a defense if you please. I get it that my poem and recording of it didn’t resonate so strongly with other people, but since the actual tragedy so much has come about that the poem’s message has been completely swamped by the controversy surrounding the actual tragedy. If you asked me the kind of people who decided they knew so much about the accident and Korean culture and are only nodding their heads into whiplash with I-told-you-sos will find something like this only abhorrent. I myself do my best to stand out of the way of truth, and just try to accept the current.

This was an account of something I did on my personal blog, so if you didn’t like it go back and read teacher blogs about how little Jimmy couldn’t control his wee wee and then spelled kuntin kandy instead of cotton candy. Life, my friends, is not all about everything meeting your own standards.

The thing is that gets to me is that there’s a great market out there for absolute Korea related vitriol, but you won’t find it here. It’s not that I don’t have things to complain about that stem from life in Korea, and it’s not that I wouldn’t be in a position to rant on and on and on about them. Because I could. In fact I’ve about three or four half finished drafts of such vitriol which have seen the sobering light of a night’s sleep and have remained where they belong. Perhaps someday they will materialise as some class of content but for now they are merely writing practice.

I don’t see any point in ranting in hate here, or in any class of media, be it online or in traditional formats. It serves little function, and even in front of real live people the distance and use is relegated to just pissing more people off. I’m not suggesting the internet is a place only for happy stories and cute puppies, which some people actually enjoy. But there is a place for anger and unless it is serving a purpose that will effect change I can only see it as a waste of time, yours and mine, and a reason to be more angry about nothing in particular. An English written blog about an individuals life in a very foreign country is an example of where anger is a waste of time.

If anything my beloved but few readers, when you read, read deep. Read more than just the link. As long as the internet is open there will be more than just a link to click, and with that more information, images, reactions, and perspective more can be gained. Find out for yourself, and don’t let some moderator or Google search decide for you. Don’t be afraid of your mouse, or your eyes, or spending a little extra time to work out where you really stand on some bull shit argument some half-wit blogger posted on the internet.

Forced Recap: Chiang Mai 2014


Instead of being reminded by my regrets, I should be reminding myself by the way I wish to remember. It has been over two months since myself and the rest of my clan returned from our two month stint in Thailand. When we were there and after we returned we were sure that it was perhaps the best time we have spent together as a family. We gained a lot of confidence in ourselves as parents, learned a lot about our young daughter, and at the same time had a great time constantly exploring Chiang Mai. Up until the past week or two it has been almost a distant figment of my memory, and on most days it barely registers as something that we believe has marked our lives forever.

Granted when we left we knew that we had stayed our welcome and had to depart to the normality of home, work, bills, and of course Yeongtong. We did probably spend too much money, and believe it or not two months of sitting around not working can in fact get a little boring, even when you’re in Thailand. Of course we occupied ourselves but after Herself’s friend who came to visit during the month of February we saw the last few weeks as a wind down period before we headed back to Korea. And then disaster kicked in.

This is Chiang Mai

It was a disaster averted I can confidently assert now, but at the time it was my biggest challenge travelling anywhere. +1, our little angel, broke out in a really high fever. We treated her as best we knew, firstly with some paracetamol based medicine, then when a warm bath, and she seemed to be ok. However, later in the day her temperature sky-rocketed again, so we did the same but this time as we bathed her she turned blue and started shivering so much that she was practically shaking from left to right. We quickly threw some things in a bag and went to the Chiang Mai Ram hospital, which was fortunately nearby. +1 was diagnosed with pneumonia and was quickly admitted and then treated. Thanfully after a few days she was discharged along with a big box full of antibiotics to ensure the infection stayed away, and in case in her temperature rose again. It is probably this which shook us so much that allowed us to want to return home to Korea as quickly as we hoped. It was a scary moment, no doubt, but the fortunate no brainer of investing in travel insurance beforehand allowed us in the end to only worry about our child’s health, and not on the further widening of our travel purse strings.

Yet for that moment, which we all recovered from, we still turn to each other and kind of ask ourselves, ‘what about Thailand?’

The Three Amigos

Staying in Chiang Mai together for a long period was something that myself and Herself had promised ourselves for years. Ever since we first were seeing each other and rendezvoused with a charge and jump into each others arms after the last flight from Bangkok touched down in Chiang Mai on day in mid-September, 2006. Herself knew Chiang Mai well and looks back on it fondly. She spent three months learning traditional Thai massage there the winter before. Her memories were still fresh and her enthusiasm to show her stomping grounds was fervent. We came back to Chiang Mai in 2012 briefly on a quick visit to Thailand and again had a blast (read about those adventures-ish here), although we skipped up to Pai and then down to Koh Chang as well to give out trip some needed variety. This time we spent the entire two months in Chiang Mai.

Perhaps though we are doing the reflecting thing wrong. We came back with huge suitcases after one of those awful night time flights which give you about four hours sleep and an early morning arrival in Seoul. This would possibly be easier if we weren’t hauling around our toddler who, as is always the case in these situations, is on a much different sleep pattern to the encumbered parents. We dumped our bags on arrival, pulled a few needed things out, then shoved the suitcases into the spare room and didn’t look back at them for another month at least. I went back to work the following Monday, while Herself struggled to fall back into the routine. Yes, routine, the death song of any wild aspiration. It was cold, the air was crappy, we needed to go to Homeplus, and we really looked forward to getting out to the east coast as soon as possible. At least we had a car though.

Change

Many people use their holiday pictures to refresh their memories, and I suppose we could have done this. I can’t really, as I’ve uploaded them all to my ageing laptop which is now in my office in work. Constantly shutting down as it over-heats, I can’t even contemplate how or when I’ll get the chance to comb through the 30 or 40 gigabytes currently stored on it. I want to. I need to. In fact, we need to. It’s a classic case of information overload, taking so many pictures that you completely forget them. It’s not enough to say that I really enjoyed learning how I could use my camera, it’s time I actually pulled out all those images and did something special with them, other than plaster my flickr page with albums from markets, which is about the height of what I’ve done so far.

On my bookshelf next to my computer which I write from now there are six photographs of myself and Herself. Always these pictures look at us, and always they are smiling. There is one from our wedding party at home in Dunboyne, two from our actual wedding day, a picture from my masters graduation  (a qualification I earned with her welded tightly to my side it must be said), and three pictures from our forever memorable honeymoon in Turkey. This is how we should celebrate our events, not by posting albums and updates on the internet, but in front of the places we pass the most each day. I always try to print some photographs but rarely find a suitable place to see them. Perhaps what I should really be looking to do is not find better things to photograph, but to find more wall space, without which I might end up with no memories to really to celebrate.

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Some previously uploaded photo albums from my two months in Thailand can be found here:

Chiang Mai streets Part 1

MAYA

CMU Art Museum

Chiang Mai Sunday Market, January 5 2014

Night Bazaar, February 2014

And if you click this link you can see all my albums from Korea, Thailand, Ireland, and more…

Buddha’s Birthday at 반야사


The nearest Buddhist temple to our place is just across the road. In fact I pass it every time I go to work. It’s small and hidden up a small hill behind ample tree cover. In fact you’d miss it completely if it were for the multicoloured lanterns which line the street from early April, lanterns which are of course in anticipation of today, Buddha’s Birthday.

I’m inclined to think that Buddha’s Birthday is one of the nicer holidays in Korea, where the majority are made up of celebrations for independence and the constitution and such like. Granted that they are all important, but they are in some respects new holidays. Celebrating the Buddha has been going on in Korea for a long time, and maybe something of the history has rubbed off on folks.

Buddhism has been practised in Korea since around the fourth century, and was welcomed in both the Three Kingdoms period and the Unified Silla period. During the Chosun dynasty, while not entirely ostracised, much Buddhism was forced to the side and practice was reserved in secluded mountain areas. Today this could be why many Buddhist temples can be found on hills and mountainsides – or it could be that they are just nice places to have temples.

We’ve been coming the 반야사 for a few years, and it is a different place to the usual mean and impersonal streets of Yeongtong. I don’t want to say that people change when they step on to the green grass looking out over the many high-rise apartments across the horizon, but there seems to be a different attitude. Courtesy is one thing that is in abundance, and smiles, and conversation with strangers. The chanting from the loudspeakers and the moktoks steady hollow tapping has a positive influence on even the sourest citizen it would seem.

To add to this, the sun was shining down warming the small tree protected garden of dry grass and multicoloured lanterns. The colours were lined in neat straight rows, each lantern recognising a donor and that a prayer would be said in their honour. To the side lines of white lanterns were representative of those who have passed away.

The stone pathway which dissected the garden, halfing the garden, with the temple to one side and the a large open area filled with mats for sitting on the other. Here people had gathered in family groups and were sitting and chatting while enjoying the temple food. This was a simple mountain or san-chae bibimbap  – essentially, fresh greens, some bean sprouts, mushrooms, a kimchi, and of course red pepper paste known to everyone else who isn’t a fresh off the boat tourist as go-chu-chang.

We have been celebrating Buddha’s Birthday in Korea for as long as myself and Herself have been a couple. It’s kind of a thing we like to do. Before we would go to Gangwon-do and visit a small temple Herself’s mother used to go to. Again, it was a similar set up without the nice grass, but admittedly the food was better (it is Gangwon-do of course). After that we’d usually go for a walk through Odaesan National Park, for more food and of course the beautiful Seogumgang Valley.

But none of that this year. Lovely Yeongtong was on the cards, and in fairness it didn’t disappoint.

 

For more photographs from Buddha’s Birthday at 반야사 please take a look at my set on Flickr

 

Did you celebrate Buddha’s Birthday? What did you do?

Is there any local festival specific to your home you’d like to share?