Friday, November 30, 2007

The Biggest &#$hole in Korea

It seems that I just cant’ stop writing about religious stuff. Read along if you care to…

With the release of the new holiday children’s film “The Golden Compass” this coming Wednesday, it appears that Catholic Groups are up in arms in their view that the film (and the book series it is based on) is an attempt from a noted atheist author to “indoctrinate our children” into accepting atheist beliefs. I wonder if the phrase "indoctrination of children" was on C.S. Lewis' mind when he wrote about a certain lion hero rising from the dead.

The author of the series, Philip Pullman, is an award-winning author who writes for children, young adults and adults. His trilogy entitled “His Dark Materials” (of which The Golden Compass is the first book) is a celebrated fantasy tale. The third book from the series (“The Amber Spyglass”) became the first ever children’s book to win Britain’s coveted “Whitbread Award” as overall book of the year, regardless of genre. This is a feat that not even Harry Potter was able to accomplish, but Seamus Heaney’s (Ireland’s Poet Laureate’s) widely celebrated re-telling of “Beowulf” was. This just gives you an idea of the impact of Pullman’s work. The simplest way to describe the plot might be to say that it is a modern fantasy re-telling of Paradise Lost. But you should read to book and decide for yourself.

From interviews I've seen, it would be difficult to describe Pullman as anything other than an extremely likable, literate, intelligent and compassionate man. Nowhere is this more clear than in his writings in “His Dark Materials” trilogy. So I find it amusing that Catholics feel the need to spout their propaganda of fear every time something in popular culture comes along – be it a Dan Brown best-seller or a brilliant film from Martin Scorsese that shakes things up a bit and dares to offer a new idea.

Now, religious fundamentalists want to scare conservative parents away from one of the best works of fiction this century has produced, if only so they can keep them focused on the one grand work of (at least partial) fiction that they feel comfortable with. “All other fictions be damned!” In a world of exclusionary religions, regardless of any universal truths that any of them might carry, to the Catholic League, “The Golden Compass” may as well be the Qur’an. For those keeping score, Bill Donohue, head of the U.S. Catholic league is openly condemning the books and the film. The Pope (remember that guy?) has said nothing.

So, being excited for the release of the film version of one of the best books I’ve ever read, I was, I suppose, not at all surprised to see the controversy surrounding the up-coming release. If you really want to have a laugh at angry right-wing clown work, check out the Fox News report from a few weeks ago. It still amazes me how Fox News pundits continue to make asses of themselves while being blithely unaware of the fact that they are making their “targets” look like Einstein.

I was also not surprised to see this guy standing on a street corner in Itaewon – literally (“Western Town”) so-named because of the US Military base nearby. It is a district of Seoul that you might like if you prefer the companionship of Phi-Gamma-Delta during the times of year when Daytona Beach is a little too cool. It’s pretty much a hole, or what other Seoulites like to refer to as “the armpit of Korea” because it is a district with little to no redeeming cultural value, but it more than makes up for this by the addition of such swell places as “Hooker Hill”, or any of the ex-pat frat-boy bars that draw the exact sort of clientele I used to try to avoid on my way home on the Red Mile back in Calgary.

But in Itaewon I found myself a couple of weeks back as Steph and I were visiting a travel agent to book our tickets to Thailand for this Christmas. As we crossed the street, I heard some dude strumming madly on his guitar – not a particularly unusual phenomenon here in Korea, but this time he was saying something different. Between versus of a song I’d never heard before, he had the generosity to stop and explain his purpose for being there, and I quote:

“Our great God calls upon all people: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, to renounce their false God and accept the one true God – our Lord, Jesus Christ as your personal savior!”

…then it was back to the guitar strumming. I would also add that this man took the time to learn the same phrase in Korean, just in case any actual Koreans wanted to spend some time in Itaewon. Good on him for learning what little of the language he likely felt he needed to know. I was admittedly impressed, being that I’ve only taken the time to learn the necessities like “Thank-you” and “Hello”. Of course, my mission is much less divine than his. Perhaps all I need is more motivation for my cause.

I was, as you might predict, more than a little bit angered by this. Part of me wanted to go all Pete Townshend on his ass, or maybe treat him more like the Juicy Fruit guy. Smashing this joker's guitar would have truly been “sweet”. Another part of me wanted to hand him my copy of Richard Dawkins latest contribution to the literary world – at least that can be read in quiet. But the “better angels of my nature” prevailed.

I simply walked away from that place, into the National Museum of Korea. It was beautiful. We spend a couple of hours wandering the halls, looking at artistic and archeological contributions from all over the world – things passed-down from civilizations I couldn’t be further removed from. Some of these relics were of more interest to me than others. Some were pieces from times of violent conquest, and others were all about the opposite.

After walking through three massive levels of the museum, I finally came to a darkened room with only one piece inside. It was the Pensive Bodhisattva Maitreya, more commonly known as the Pensive Buddha. I sat in that room for half an hour. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It reminded my how valuable other ideas are.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Classroom Bachelorhood

A favourite essay topic to assign here in Korean classrooms is "would you rather be married or single, and why?". There are always a few creative answers. So here, uncensored, are three representative favourites from one of my senior classes. Enjoy...

Essay #1 - "I want to get married!"
Jacob, a nice, considerate young man, expresses his romantic side...

"Many people are single or married. Today many people divorce because they are fighting for personality. So, they do a divorce notice. I think it is very terrible. But when I married I will be married because I will be not do lead a lonely life, I will be go wedding trip and do newly-married life.
I married I will be married because I will be not do lead a lonely life. Some people are fighting for personality. So, they are divorce. So, they do lonely life. But I married I don`t do fight and don`t do lead a lonely life. I think to do this like, it won`t be do a dicorce. It won`t to do a fight.
I married I will be married because I will be go wedding trip. The wedding ceremony is finished go wedding trip. It is fun to go married people. Some people go Hawaii for wedding trip. I think it is good to go wedding trip because it looks fun to go.
I married I will be married because I do newly-married life. The wedding trip are finished do newly-married life. It is no lead a lonely life. It is fun to live a newly-married life. I think it is fun to do newly-married life.
The married life is good. I will be married because I will be not do lead a lonely life, I will be go wedding trip and do newly-married life. I like to do married life. I like married life!!!!!"

Essay #2 - "Marriage sucks!"
Damian - a sassy young man, extols to virtues of life in a PC room, rebelling against his parents and the freedom to read comic books whenever he damn-well pleases...

Most of people have married. Marry is some activity that we have to. But my guess is little big different. It's okay to don't have married. If we don't do married we just have no babies. I think they do married because of their parents. Their parents are yelling at them they are scared of them so they do married. I want be single because it is my life, I can't do something that I want and don't have pay much money.
It is my life. Why do I have to do married. I can choose my life not for parents. If I want be gagman I will and if I want be soccer player I will. I want live that I want. Any one can't stop my life.
I can't do some thing that I want. If I'm leader of my family I can't play game and can't burrow the comic books. I don't want that is not free. My creed is live that I want. If I don't I can't live because it is not my my way to live.
I don't have to pay a lot of money. If I'm not single and leader of the family, I have to pay food, clothes and otherthings. Then, I will burrow from oter people and parents. I don't want married because I don't know my future. I can be nice or worse.
We can choose our life like me. If you want to live true life, don't do what do your parents said. You will be always not good because you live in a lie life. Please don't think what do your parents said, just live what do you want. I want be single because it is true life.

Essay #3 - "Woman - where's my soju?!!!"
For anyone interested in a more old-school approach to Korean sex roles, check-out Patriarchal Jeff and his rosey approach to life with the old "ball and chain" - my apologies to feminists everywhere...

"Some people did marry and some people didnot marry.I think the marry is better than single. Because, if marry, the wife help me. Also if marry, we`re not lonely. Also, the spn or daughter make happyme.
I want to married when I grow up because, the wife help me. The wife do chores,and many thigs. Ithink wife is need person.
If I grow up but I don`t married, I will very lonely.However if I have wife, I am not lonely. I don`t want lonely, so I will married if I grow up.
If I married, my daughter or son make happy me. If I single, I will spend bor ing time.
I want spend happy time, so I will married.
Married is better than single. I see inthe newspaper, Man can have long life if man married."