Monday, October 25, 2010

I'm sorry

How difficult is it to say that you are sorry? Especially to a lovely old lady like that. I found myself saying I'm sorry to her repeatedly in my head on Sunday when I met her. I didn't bump into her on the street or accidentally take her seat on the subway. In fact I didn't do anything to her at all except hold her hand and give her about ten deep hugs and each one screamed I'm Sorry
I'm sorry for all that she and the other halmoni (grandmothers) who live at The House of Sharing had to endure during their time as "comfort women" during WWII. The term comfort women was created in relation to a comfort station which in most Asian countries is a bathroom.A place where you could relieve yourself. Comfort stations were set up throughout Japanese occupied east Asia as placed for the men "to relieve their violent nature so that they could focus on fighting." The hundreds of thousands of women who were forced to live in these comfort stations experienced hell on earth every day for years. 
Every dot is a place where comfort stations existed.
The way that the halmoni imagined life.
This copper work represents the life that the halmoni wish that they had. A traditional wedding crown above her head. A husband over her right shoulder and a family over her left. Open loving hands. 

The way that life really turned out for the halmoni. Feeling impaled by bayonets that rise out of the Japanese flag. Traditional wedding outfits impaled and shredded. Hands unable to hold the dreams of peace and the pride in Korea.
The way life really turned out for the halmoni.
The Japanese government systematically used rape as a war tactic in a way that it hadn't been used before. Rape has always been and is currently used as a war tactic however the Japanese government actually set up rape stations for their soldiers. The woman in the video above is just one of thousands that was forced to "service" 60 or more soldiers a day. 
When I listened to her sing and saw her smile I just kept feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt.I have done nothing to hurt her. The Japanese government still has not issued a formal apology to the women that were used as sex slaves during WWII. Just say you are sorry!
The women just want an apology. They want Japan to admit what they did and say that they are sorry. The halmoni that live at the non government supported House of Sharing protest outside of the Japanese embassy every Wednesday. They have protested over 900 times since 1991 and the Japanese government still refuses to say "we are sorry."
A sculpture of the weekly protests against the Japanese government.
The halmoni have faced discrimination in Korea because of what they went through. Many of them were shunned by their own families upon their return to Korea. Of all of the women who went through the pain and torture only a few have had the strength to come forward and admit to what happened to them. They live together at the House of Sharing.
They have the courage to wear yellow each week at the protests so that everyone can identify them.

Pak Ok-son halmoni (my favorite) at a protest.

So I've realized that the only thing that I can do to make change about the past is to let people know about these women and what they have gone through. Many of these women were only 13 or 14 when they were first abducted into the world of sexual trafficking. They are in their 80's and 90's now and they know that the Japanese government is pretty much just waiting for them to die so that they don't have to make and apology. It doesn't matter what the Japanese government is waiting for because enough young people are ready to fight for the halmoni when they are no longer able to fight.The best way for me to let the halmoni know that I believe in their fight is to help them with their fight. 

This 93 year old halmoni loved the Moose Song
and couldn't get enough hugs.

Please read about the halmoni and tell everyone that will listen. The House of Sharing The next time you are feeling giving make a donation (international transfers really aren't that hard). Japan has to take responsibility for what their government did. Korea has to accept these women as citizens and humans and support them in their quest for an apology.
Rape is an act of violence!
It is unacceptable!
 End Of!

Trip to North Korea (almost)

This past weekend was  full of  Korean history for me so much so that I've decided to publish two posts to include everything I want to. On Saturday I visited the DMZ. This is a piece of land that seperates North and South Korea and has since they signed their peace trety over sixty years ago. Techincally the Korean war has never ended as the soldiers reiterated to us over and over as we began our tour. I had to sign a waver stating that i would not in any way interact with the North Korean soldiers regardless of weather they tried to interact with me or not. I also had to promise not to point, wave, smile, nod or do anything that may tempt the North Korean soldiers to say that I was threatening them and therfor had the right to kill me. Totally comforting right? I mean how close was  I really going to get to North Korea though? Plus I was surrounded by US and ROK (Republic of Korea aka South Korea) soldiers. Ohhh... This close? Wow this history tour just got way more real that the freaking cyclorama in Gettysburg!

ROK soldier standing guard in the front of the photo.
In the upper left hand part of the photo a North Korean soldier.
I am very proud of my artsy photo I must say. It was a really eerie feeling standing that close to so many soldiers. Not just North Korea both sides. All of the men had guns and the ROK soldiers were ready to go at any moment.

The ROK soldiers stand at a modified stance so that
they can break into a form of Korean fighting at a moments notice.

Next we went to see the Propaganda Village located in North Korea. It is called a propaganda village because it is basically a Hollywood movie set. No one lives there and the North Korean government used to play loud anti South Korean propaganda for up to 14 hours a day so loudly that it could be heard in the barracks on the army base miles away. 

Many of these have windows painted on. When they turn
on the lights on the top floor the light shows to the bottom floor.

In an effort to out do S. Korea, N. Korea put up this flag.
It however weighs 600 lbs. and is so big it can't fly and
has to be taken down when it rains so that it doesn't rip. 

Next we visited the 3rd tunnel.This is the third of four tunnels that has been found as a N.Korean attempt to infiltrate S. Korea. We were not allowed to take photos inside the tunnel but I'll tell you it was a steep slope in and out. North Korea denied that they made the tunnel however I myself placed my finger inside a dynamite hole that clearly faced South Korea from the North.

Nothing like a touristy photo op at a historical landmark.
Our last stop was a train station that is the last stop on the South Korean line toward the North.
Dorasan station was created with the idea that soon the peninsula will be united. It was very sad to see the sign with hope that the tracks will someday move forward stationary and aging poorly with the elements.
Not the last station from the South,
But the first station toward the North.
This will eventually lead to what is now the
capital of North Korea

This is a photo of the train facing toward
a place where the tracks are
currently blocked with cement and
barbed wire.

The trip to the DMZ was very informative and really a trip I encourage anyone who visits South Korea to go on. It felt very surreal to be surrounded by North Korea on three sides and to feel the struggle that has happened there for so long. All of the Koreans that I have spoken to really do pray for a united Korea and hope that it happens soon. What I really wonder is what will happen if and when the unification takes place. It will be combining one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world with one that doesn't have the internet. A country that eats pizza as often as gimbap with one that hasn't eaten. People who won't know how to drive, hail a cab, ride a subway or even fake speaking "south korean" well enough to fit in. The world is going to have to pitch in if a true unification is to happen. The North Korean defectors are not treated well here and have a very difficult time starting a new life. I hope that the unification does happen but in my experience preparation isn't exactly a Korean strength and I hope that the UN really understands how drastic of a life change this will be for Korea and all of Asia.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Walking in my sleep

I have been a sleep walker and talker my whole life. When I was little my dad found me sleepwalking and I was attempting to open a sliding glass door that would have ultimately lead to my death. Our home had recently had a deck taken off of it and had I been successful at opening the door I would have fallen about twenty feet. There are many other instances when I have woken up crying or yelling. I have had entire conversations with people both in person and on the telephone. My sleep weirdness seemed to get under control in the last couple of years which I attribute to finding an effective concoction of medication.
Last night however I had an experience that was very bizzare. I woke up because my body had crashed to the floor. I was laying on top of my fan trying to figure out what the hell had happened. As I came to life I tasted pennies which let me know my mouth had blood in it. I licked my lips and felt a small flap of skin sticking up. I tried to assess the situation as bed I could. I curled up in bed with some wet tissue on my lip. I later went to the kitchen to get a drink and saw that many ingredients of my fridge were on the floor on front of my fridge.  I do not know what was happening or what led me to fall. I know that I fell. I didn't trip. I have no idea what was going on but sleep walking is a crazy business.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I have to praise you

A couple of weekends ago I attended an outdoor music festival. This was not like the outdoor festivals that I am used to attending however. This was what my friend Colleen would refer to as Techno Bang Bang music. Global Gathering was basically 12+ hours of dj music pumping out a thick base with a razor thin light show. The only 2 performers that I had ever heard of were Fat Boy Slim and Justice. I was certainly more excited about the company than the music however in the end the music provided an excellent backdrop for a day full of laughs, jagerbombs, dancing with glow sticks and of course with my friend group surprises along the way.
Now that's a bottle of Jager!

Time for Laura and I to play with glow sticks.

Yep I was that girl. Dancing around with glow stick on strings
It was a lot of fun. I didn't hit anyone besides myself!

She really digs my glow stick skills.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who wants to die?

Watching the second England game in Bupyeong after Carl's
birthday party. When you live in South Korea the games start at
about 3:00 am. WooHoo!!

So this year was the World Cup held in South Africa. Since I am in love with British girl I became a fan. Yes, I will admit at first I watched the games to support her and her homeland but I ended up really liking it. I found that football is a really fun sport. The atmosphere that exists in a pub when one is surrounded by other England fans is a truly energizing experience. It was something I had never experienced in the states even though I have watch many many sporting events. The closest thing I have experienced is when our whole country will get behind an athlete during the Olympics. The adventure that began at the start of each game was electric. Everyone singing Queen and Oasis. Fans wearing a variety of England gear lifting pints in the air to toast the hope of a win for the three lions.  I wanted a tape of the joy that was taking place singing together with hope for the second half of the game. Pay attention to the end part of the video and you will see why I call this the "who might kill Cassie tonight" video. 

Land of 1000 Buddha's

Brittny, Buddha, Liz, Laura, Carl and me.
Pretty good for a self timer photo. 

Today My crew and I went to an awesome temple in Gongju, South Korea. this place is a relative secret to foreign teachers and other visitors here. It is known for being the home of 333,333 Buddha statues. It Is amazing. 

Some of the Gold Buddha's through the trees.
You can see the little Buddha's behind them too. 

This Buddha of good fortune had coins all over him.
Even in his mouth.
Hey get up buddy.

 It  is very cool to see these huge statues poking out all over the hillside. Or laying down in the case of this reclining Buddha.


My second favorite fatty!
 Fortune Buddha is my favorite Buddha. Not even because of the fortune aspect. Each time I see him I get a smile on my face. He's just so happy. 
  There are thousands of these chimes all over the place. When the wind blows it creates the most phenominal essence of peace and joy. 
There is no better way to wrap up a day with friends and Buddha statues of all sizes then to realize that the car in front of us on the way home had Jesus in their trunk. I don't want to say that my Buddha experience can be summed up with an 80's movie quote but in my best Patrick Swayze voice i'll say, "Nobody puts Buddha in a trunk."


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lost it all

Early last week I stopped at the ATM at my bank to transfer money to the USO account for my upcoming trip to the DMZ. I then went to the market and headed home. The next morning i realized that like some kind of bonehead I had left my wallet on top of the ATM and stuck my card in my pocket (which is how I paid at the market). I hurried out the door to the bank the next morning. They had not seen it. I was so upset. Although there wasn't anything in there of huge value there were some very meaningful things. I recently went on vacation with some friends and had ticket stubs. I had key chains made for Liz and me by a wood burn artist at the base of Soraksan Mountain and mine was in my wallet. I has a four leaf clover that my friend Cara had given me years ago.. laminated of course. Fortunately my US and Korean ATM cards were not  in the wallet. I was not looking forward to going through the process of replacing my Alien Registration Card (Alien Nation Card if you are my friend Dave). I just really felt like shit. I was so upset at myself for just not having my head on right. I know that people lose things all the time but dammit. I asked a couple of teachers at school to help me figure out what to do but no one could offer any suggestions. That night as I was leaving the secretary spoke to me in Korean but I was able to figure out that the bank had my wallet. The next morning I sprang to the bank hoping that at least the key chain and little note from Cara were still in there. I was also hopeful that my ARC card hadn't been lifted. I wasn't worried about the 50,000 won ($50.00). I recognized the woman behind the counter immediately. She helped me set up my bank account and while her English isn't perfect it is better than most. She explained to me that another bank customer had seen my wallet took it home and then brought it back to the bank that afternoon. Can you IMAGINE that happening in the states? Most people would see the wallet and either do nothing and leave it or at least take the money. This is very Korean. The honesty here is really amazing. At night when someone puts away their fruit stand people will just cover the stand with a tarp and a few rocks. last week as I prepared my children for their monthly exam I told them that I was going to read them the exam and we went over every answer. Not a single student in either of my classes wrote down the answers. Not a single student even thought about helping themselves to an easy A. When I asked them later why they didn't write the answers one of them told me that it wasn't honest. Wow. This is not to say that dishonest Koreans don't exist but I will say that I hope that as Korea continues to westernize they don't loose their honest base. I also want to thank the woman who kept my wallet safe I hope that if you ever visit the states someone shows you the same kindness.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

all in a year

A year ago I came to Korea for the first time. It was not only my first time living in another country it was my first passport stamp. I really jumped in head first for this adventure and what an amazing adventure it has been.

I used to only like super ripe mushy bananas
  and my food could never touch
I couldn't imagine a subway where my money didn't pay for turkey on wheat
   and I knew more about hail storms than hailing a cab
I used to only want Butch's wings, my dad's scrambled eggs and my mom's taco salads..
  well that hasn't changed but I crave gabli, gimbop and kimchi chigae.
I used to never imagine that i could be so far away from home
  and I would have never missed a wedding or the chance to be a bridesmaid
Now I know that home is anywhere that has the right cast and being an international consultant for a wedding can be fun too.
I used to only dream of the future when things would be better
 Now I understand how to be happy now and live each day each each day
I used to know how to love everyone else so much better than myself
Now I know that when you find the person that you love more than anyone it's because you finally love yourself.
I miss so many things about my life at home and I can't wait to eat some Vermont cheese with New York Apples and California Wine. I can't wait to drive around the back roads of Chenango County singing my heart out. I can't wait to listen to my dad and brother sing at the pub while everyone sings along. I can't wait to drink a bucket of margaritas with my sisters. I can't wait for dinner at Nina's with my other sisters. There are so many things that I miss about being home but there is so much of the world that i might miss if i were. Thank you everyone who has supported and continues to support me on this journey because as hard as it might be to hear I don't plan on stopping no I'm having such a  good time!

Hangin' with Snoop D O double G

I had a dream last night that I was smoking up with Liz, Carl, Laura, Anna, Melissa Agel, Liz Amati and Snoop Dogg. Snoop was laughing at us for singing this version of his song, although he sang along with us. Wow i would love for that to be reality!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Time to love one another right now!

E Pluribus Unum out of many one.
One people. One love. One Nation.
E Pluribus Unum out of many one.
The eagle under this message carries the power of peace and war in his talons. You cannot have one without the other. Without war, how would we know peace?  Without homos, how would you know you were straight? Without lesbian love, how would you know yours is deserving of a marriage certificate? Without gender, queers how you would know you are a “real” man or woman.  Without making a tape of a private moment in someone’s life how would those other two students have known that they were funny? If we really are ONE out of many then why are there still people without equal rights? If we are really ONE then why aren’t we all Americans? Why do we feel the need to break it down by pigment? If we are really ONE then we should all hurt when those without insurance have to decide if food or prescriptions are more important each month. If we are really ONE then we, should all feel sad that members of our country are denied benefits and the right to marriage because of the gender of their life partner? If we are really ONE then we should all make millions of dollars for talking about food, skin care, perfume and clothing brands we love. If we are really ONE then we should all feel the humiliation of what it would be like to have a photo of us, one the best night of our life doctored by a racist fuck and sent around to everyone it could reach. If we really are ONE then we should feel scared every night when we go to bed the way our troops overseas do, if they get to go to bed. If we really are ONE then we should all feel the embarrassment of having a tape of our intimacy posted online for anyone to see. I we are ONE then we should all feel awful that we have raised children that would make a sex tape of someone and that we raised a child who was so scared and upset about that tape that the only thing he could think to do  was take his own life. We are not a nation of ONE. We are a nation of many who have yet to understand ONE. WHOLE. TOGETHER.  Save the earth, burn crosses, socialize healthcare, don’t eat meat, eat a bison, ban guns, keep your guns, smoke pot, smoke cigarettes  drive a hybrid, drive a Hummer, watch football, watch birds, drink coffee, drink water from Fiji, protest the terrorist abroad, protest the terrorist in the government, have a baby, have ten but for fucks sake let’s all figure out how to live as ONE. We need to let the eagle fly with its talons at an equal height and let peace and war coexist so that we can coexist. We do not have to love everyone we just have to love our country. We have to love the UNITED States of America enough to respect our ancestors enough to become ONE out of many. When we continue to let our children die because they are afraid to stop being one of the many and become part of the ONE then we are not living up to our pledge. We are not being good citizens. We are not being good people. We are not being forward thinkers and we sure as fuck are not being good Americans!