Saturday, 17 July 2010

Your roots will follow

It's always nice to remember where you came from, even if you're not sure where you're going.

My lovely aunt sent me the sweetest e-mail greeting today. I mentioned her in a post I wrote after visiting India in 2008. She's in her mid-70's and still managed to find the perfect e-greeting for this random Saturday message. Her tech-savvy-ness is beyond impressive!

There was no purpose or special occasion for the greeting. She just wanted to say that she was thinking of me, and that she was proud of me. I was pretty taken aback, as I wasn't expecting to hear from her until my birthday. Her words were like sweet poetry -- something that I've always known comes very naturally to her. My aunt knows just what to say and when. I love listening to her and reading her letters.

In a few short sentences she reminded me of all that I've overcome in life, and of all that she hopes for my future. As I lay on my bed while the rain hit the pavement outside, I couldn't help but feel absolutely guilty. I think about her often and I miss her a lot. I'm not sure why I haven't stayed in touch. It's not like I don't have the time. I guess I just wasn't thinking. As soon as I'm done this post I will be writing to her. But before that, I should mention one thing that came up in the message.

"When will the experiences of your Goa trip materialize?" she asked.

I wasn't sure what she meant when I read the question at first. But after spending the afternoon thinking about it, I remembered something. During my short visit with her, she was keen on me writing a series of articles about a pressing issue in Goa at the moment -- a beautiful post-colonial state that's being exploited by tourists with a lot of money, and a government that's more keen on pleasing them, rather than preserving the rich culture and heritage that makes Goa so unique from the rest of India.

I never did end up writing those articles. But now I feel the need to do.... something.

I've been keeping updated on the changes, however I'm no longer a citizen of India. I haven't been for a very long time. Still, as you know, fragments of my heart are floating along the Arabian coast and memories of Goa cease to disappear with time. Though I'm not physically present, my roots extend from that small, coastal state. I'll always be tied to it, regardless of where I end up on this planet. I mean, here I am, in Seoul, Korea, thinking of a country I lived in as child. I only spent three weeks in the state as an adult, but I remember the distinct changes in the landscape, the priorities and most of all, in the environment.

My aunt is an active member in the community. Despite age and dwindling health, she still finds the strength to wake up each morning and trudge to the capital city and work for the causes she believes in. A critical one that she's involved in is empowering women in local villages to educate themselves and stand up for their rights. This is a big deal, as a lot of women in rural parts of the state still live with the old mindset that they simply go from being daughters and sisters to wives and mothers. And, should the unfortunate occur and their husbands pass away, they confine themselves to their houses and wait their turn to dive into the great abyss.

She really does amaze me. I'm grateful to her as she's the link to my roots. My aunt reminds me of where I came from -- of my ancestors and history. She sees purpose in my existence and believes that I can enforce change. I'm flattered, but I hope an idea or opportunity surfaces soon.

Looks like it's time to put on my thinking hat.

As Winnie the Pooh says, "Think, think, think..."

Love you, aunty M!


Image courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Dear Life

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

- Mark Twain

Dear Life,

You've been keeping me on my toes for almost quarter of a century now. Literally, you had me convinced I could run before I could walk. What's with that? I guess it's what set the whole 'you're older than your time' issue in motion.

But, I'm grateful to you. You've never left me for lack of entertainment. Just when I find myself getting bored, you always manage to throw another adventure into my path. Even if I'm tired and want to sleep for days, you manage to keep my mind racing with thoughts and ideas at a mile a millisecond. Sometimes they lead to massive brain cramps, but mostly they inspire me.

You've taught me lessons after the fact. I've tripped, stumbled and bruised my way to this moment in time, but I've (mostly) learned from the falls. You've made me stronger with each obstacle and have ensured that I have the power to overcome even my deepest and darkest fears. Don't get me wrong, I'm still nursing some of these battle scars, but I know I'll get through... because of time.

Life, you've taught me that time is neither linear or infinite (I guess I'm stating the obvious here, huh?). I have a few windows to jump through and a handful of doors to open in my adventure on this planet. And the most recent lessons have taught me that I HAVE to take chances and fly through them. Doing so will ensure that I'll always know I tried and trudged forward with faith, regardless of the outcomes.

I've learned the importance of having hope. It's the fuel that humanity runs on. If there was no hope, we would have all given up on just about everything by now. Even doctors, engineers and scientists - people who mostly work with definite answers - will admit that they believe in possibilities. Thinking positively about the future means that hope is a key ingredient in their thought processes. And it should be... for all of us.

I've learned to be grateful for moments of love and blissful perfection - even if they're momentary. Experiences where you feel like you're floating on clouds of happiness and can touch the sky mean such moments do exist. And if you've experienced them, you should be grateful, because not everyone does. I guess I'm one of the lucky few... even if just by moments.

I've learned to appreciate your sense of humour, Life. Seriously, you're a regular clown when you want to be. I mean, just when you have me believing I'm on a steady and sturdy path, you decide you're bored and put a boulder in my way. And what do you do next? Well, you watch while I work my way around (and mostly through) that giant rock. But I'll give it to you, you somehow always provide me with solutions on how to get by. So thanks for that, I guess. I'm glad you're amused at my expense!

Lastly (for now), thanks for making me into the kind of person who feels truly, honestly and deeply. You've given me senses that are triggered by the heart over the mind. I sometimes wish it was the other way around because perhaps my journey would be easier that way. But as it stands, I'm happy with the way things are for now. Living like this lets me see and experience the goodness, beauty and love in this world with genuine light.

I love openly because that's the only way I know how. And thank you for bringing kindred spirits into my life who also see things the way I do. But mostly, thanks for the ones who think differently, because they've taught me a lot as well. They've definitely made the journey that much more interesting.

So, here's looking forward to what you've got planned for me next. Bring on the lessons and adventures, because really, who ever liked taking the straight path anyway?



Image courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, 8 July 2010

L is for the way...

Jimi Hendrix once said, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."


He, in a single sentence, managed to sum up my struggles with the state of the world we live in. Before moving to Korea, I would spend many moments reflecting on why people focused on the negatives in our society, rather than embracing the positives. I would stumble across pages and pages of past journal entries where my teenage self wondered why people found it so difficult to see the beauty in our world.

I realize now that it's so much easier to focus on the negative, because we're always surrounded by it. There's no doubt that the media broadcasts the horrible things happening in our world in much greater and frequent detail, than the moments that present hope.

Think about it -- how often have you turned on the TV or radio, only to listen to news about murders, disasters, robberies and death? How often have you stumbled upon or clicked on stories over the Internet that depict the shallowness and vanity of our society? There's so many websites and blogs that are simply dedicated to highlighting all that's wrong with our world.

It makes it pretty easy to focus on the negatives when those stories and moments become ingrained in our subconscious, huh?

The experience I described in my previous post got me thinking about hope. The naysayers and those counting down to doomsday have megaphones attached to their thoughts. And we (even if it's unintentionally), give them the attention they crave.

Feeling quite alone in my manner of thinking, I started searching the Internet, hoping someone out there shared my (and Jimi's) beliefs.

In my desperate attempt to find at least one proper blog dedicated to preserving hope for humanity, I came across this website. Love Gives Me Hope is a site dedicated to the invisible moments -- the moments you only think about once they've passed, before you realize how precious they were. These are the moments when you say to yourself, "All hope is not lost."

There's people out there who believe in the power of paying it forward. They don't broadcast their experiences and doings over megaphones and tweets. They simply love and treasure life. They are the optimists in our world who do simple gestures without expecting anything in return.

They show their love through acts of kindness to strangers; through love for the environment and our planet; through simple value for the gift of life.

Love can move mountains! I believe this from the bottom of my heart. Even when I find myself feeling defeated and jaded from life's battles, I'm always picked up when I experience or hear about acts of kindness and love... in any form.

We all encounter them more often than we think. Yet somehow, simply because of the way our world's programmed, we can't help but overshadow these precious moments with those of pain and negativity.

Yes, there's a lot of despair and suffering in the world. And yes, we might be spiraling towards a global disaster that might be beyond our control. However, if we spend less time thinking about all that's happening past our reach, and use more energy trying to make a beautiful difference within our radius, we might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Just some thoughts for the evening. Thanks, Jimi! Thanks, dear readers!


Wednesday, 7 July 2010

You can take the future

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope, with anything
I was serenaded by a stranger, this morning.
It's funny how life holds you together when you think you might fall apart at the seams.

I was running late for work this morning, having slept very badly the night before. Well, more like I came home from work, passed out, woke up at an odd hour in the night, stayed up for another three hours (thinking and thinking and thinking...), then fell asleep again at 3 a.m. I had to be up at 6:30 this morning. Let's just say I was out the door with 10 minutes left to spare.

Anyway, I was desperate, so I hailed a cab to drive the five minutes it took to get to work.

"Anyonghasayeo, ahjoshshi!" I said with a flustered smile. "Uhh.... Hongpa chodeunghaggyo, jusayeo."

He smiled and nodded his head and drove off. While in the cab, I started fishing through my bag to make sure I had everything I needed for the day. Laptop? Check. I had to finish the worksheets for camp. Cellphone? Check. Wallet? Check. Papers...

"Eodie nara?" he asked, while looking at me in the rear-view mirror. He was asking which country I was from. I learned to answer this question within my first week in Korea. And interestingly enough, it mostly came from cab drivers.

"Canada," I said.

"Ahh... Vancouver Olympics!"

"Yes." I felt as though I'd had this conversation a thousand times, so I was about to put myself on auto-pilot.

But instead of saying anything else, he nodded his head and looked at the road again. I found myself drifting off into my thoughts, when I heard him quietly humming to himself.

"... pushing through the darkness... hmmm hmmm hmmm... I believe in angels..."

"Abba?" I asked, with a knowing grin.

"Yes! I have a dream. You know?" His kind eyes smiled at me and he continued, a little louder. "... something good in everything I see. I believe in angels, when I know the time is right for me.."

Then, I found myself singing the next words with him, "I'll cross the stream - I have a dream."

We reached our destination, and as I proceeded to pay and get out of the cab, I couldn't help but feel lighter and happier. I was so grateful to start my morning off this way. I mean, here I was, in Korea, singing an Abba song with a cab driver in his 50's, and we were actually smiling at each other. I couldn't make these moments up!

"Have a good day, lady!" he said, as he drove off, singing to himself.

I found myself standing on the sidewalk yelling back at him to have a good day as well.

And as I walked the short distance to work, I found myself humming those lovely words that picked me up this morning, "...I believe in angels, something good in everything I see..."

So thank you, ahjoshshi. From the bottom of my soul!


Tuesday, 6 July 2010

If I Ever Needed This Moment...

Have you ever had one of those nights when you simply long for some lazy peace and quiet? When all you want to do is curl up with your thoughts and just... be? Do you like jazz? How about the sound of rain hitting the pavement while the thunder rolls in the distance? Do you love escaping into the glow of a cozy fireplace... but don't have one?

Well, my friends, do I have have a treat for you! The other night I found myself on StumbleUpon, clicking away at random links and pictures, trying to kill some time before bed. A few minutes into my Internet coma, I found myself on this reddit post. WAIT! Before you click the link, please read on.

The post is the perfect answer to all the questions listed above. Essentially, the poster has enabled you to get all three of the elements needed for that perfect mood, with three simple clicks.

Dim your lights, get comfortable and open three tabs on your favourite browser. Then click the links listed on the website, opening each in one of the tabs. The three videos will play together, creating the perfect ambiance for relaxation and ease.

It was a fabulous experience for me -- it was hot, humid and absolutely muggy outside, and my mind was racing with thoughts that didn't belong there. But with the lights turned down and my computer sitting at a distance, I was able to get the tranquility my soul needed at that moment. It took me out of my Internet coma and sent me to a happy place.

And if you REALLY like it, the site even instructs you on how to loop the videos so that they play for longer than the time allotted.

Check it out, and tell me what you think of "Time to Get Classy".


P.s. There's a ton of comments on the post for the link provided... don't let that distract you.
P.p.s. You're highly encouraged to use this 'mood' for other purposes as you see fit.
P.p.s. Don't forget to relax!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Sicks and Sticks

I'm all for cultural sensitivity. In fact, after having lived in three very different countries in my lifetime, I can say that giving people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their traditions and customs comes quite naturally to me.

However, an incident at my workplace earlier this week made me seriously call some of these so called 'cultural norms' into question.

It seems that in Korea, teachers are revered as higher powers. They take the role of parents while at school, monitoring students' behaviours, grades and habits. And by the same token, these students can approach the teachers and make similar requests of them as they would with their parents. They run the gamut from "Teacher, can you buy me lunch?" to "Teacher, give me your phone number so I can call you when I have problems."

While the teachers help guide these teens down the right path, preparing them for high school and university, they are also given a lot of power -- especially when it comes to discipline.

I was well aware when I first moved here that punishments involving hitting the students were not only practiced, but condoned. I owned it up to the fact that this was part of their culture -- a tried a true method that no one seemed to question. Having lived in India for the first part of my life, I realized this was the norm within a lot of eastern countries. As a child, I too was on the receiving end of many flying sticks, rulers, and sometimes, even my own compass case. Again, I chalked it up to the values and discipline methods of that society. And I would keep this in mind as I'd sit in the teachers room at my job in Korea.

From what I've noticed there seems to be one main disciplinarian at my school. He's an older man, who sits at the opposite end of the staffroom from me. He's respected by the staff (despite many not liking him), because of the years he's devoted to this school. Even though a lot of people tend to question his practices (as noted during numerous school lunches with the female teachers), no one dares to say anything to him for two reasons: first, he's a man, and second, he's got tenure.

On any given day, this teacher uses his stick about a dozen times at least. It seems like the punishment for arriving late at school is the same as the one students receive if they're caught cheating on a test -- a brutal beating on their knuckles and calf muscles, for as long as the teacher deems fit.

I never condoned this form of punishment, nor will I ever. I believe there are other ways to get through troubled students and teenagers, without resorting to physical violence. There should be degrees of punishment, and a student who arrives late shouldn't have to pay the same price as a student caught smoking on school property. Apparently I'm the only teacher who thinks this way at my work.

I suppose I'm wondering where's the line between cultural norms and corporal punishment? How far is too far, and at what point do the people witnessing this say, "enough is enough!"?

On this particular day the teacher had made his way across the staffroom and proceeded to lay into a couple of students just two feet behind me. I couldn't help but wince and shudder every time the stick made contact with their skin. The sound was unbearable and I couldn't even turn around. I just sat there, crippled, as he took turns with each of them. From my understanding he had caught them cheating on a test, and had brought them to the staffroom to be punished. At one point I heard a crack, and I realized that the man had actually managed to break the stick on one of the students.

As this unfolded, a few teachers mulling around the busy staffroom looked at me apologetically. One young, male teacher even came up and said, "You think this is wrong, I know. I am sorry...". However, not a single teacher, male or female, stepped up and said, "Enough!"

I should state here, that I've seen some of the female teachers hit the students as well. Bearing in mind that I work at a girls middle school, this seems less brutal than what usually transpires with that one male teacher. The female teachers are maternal, and discipline coming from them stems from a place of concern and worry. Their punishments involve things like kneeling in the staffroom with their hands in the air, or cleaning the classrooms after hours. And sometimes, a single, well-placed slap for the ones caught messing up time after time is also quite possible.

But no one ever resorts to what this man does. And it's apparent that none of the teachers agree with it. Yet, in the entire time I've been here, no one has said a word.

So, I understand it's a cultural thing. I've brought this issue up with friends who've said it's part of Korean society and that I need to learn to be OK with it. So why is it that I can't? I've seen both sides of the coin - studying in India and experiencing teachers hitting students for failing tests; and studying in Canada, where a mere misplaced look from a teacher can mean lawsuits and parental wrath.

What is it about Korea's patriarchal society that allows such behaviour to be considered the norm? It's not normal... it's archaic and vicious. Especially when it's a man doing this at an all girls school. And the fact that it's a society where people know it's wrong and still feel they can't say anything? Well, that says something. If Korea hopes to be a global leader in the 21st century, they really need to start looking at some of the things they deem as 'normal'.

I know a lot of you will have something to say about this post, so please feel free. I'd love to know your thoughts on the matter, so I'm opening the topic up for discussion. How far is too far when it comes to disciplining students in schools?

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