Wednesday, 24 April 2013

[I've] got the whole [of Asia] in my hands

You might think I'm mad considering the current situation with North Korea but.........I've got the whole of Asia in my hands for another year at least:

Insipired by the song "I've got the whole world in my hands," an American Gospel Spiritual.

Friday, 19 April 2013

It's a bright, bright, sunshiny day!

I woke up this morning right when I wanted (by no means a usual feat!). This was only the start of what so far is a fantastic day. The bus I was on was a spanking clean, new one with colourful arm holds extending from the ceiling. Furthermore, my bus got me into Daepyeong-ri with 20 minutes to spare which gave me time to appreciate the little walk that I have to where I get the school bus. The sun was shining brightly, the air was warm, and for the first time in a long time, I wanted to stop and smell the roses in a dusty town as I wound my way past closed businesses and just opening shops. I had one brief moment where I could actually see a "rose" as I was humming away to I can see clearly now. A little bird flew past me and landed just under a canopy that extended from a shop. Looking up I saw it's nest built into the wall of the building. I realised that I don't often take time to stop and smell the roses, or to look around me and see more clearly that behind the obstacles of the buildings and dust there IS something worthwhile to look at.

This has been a really nice week for me. I have gotten to spend quality time with some of the people I love most here in Korea. Whether they were short walks under the surprisingly warm night sky or long meandering strolls spent in laughter as we took photos of Cherry Blossoms and figured out how to do panoramic action shots, I've really had an amazing time. 
I never was someone who really believed that weather can influence you for good or ill, mainly because I do actually like rain and snow . However, as I look over the events of this week, I understand something that I never really noticed before: as much as I love rain or snow, neither of them really give me the sense of pure joy that sunshine can. My mood has been sunny, I have felt relaxed and I have somehow found time to do all the things I want in an evening that I wasn't able to get to in Winter: I studied, did some preparation for my classes, read, listened to music, walked, hung out with friends, and I spent time just being silly.

I have had some of co-teachers say to me recently,on different occasions, "Oh you look happy today". When they say this I wonder if I look glum all the rest of the time. I rarely feel glum and while I may not spend the whole day rocking a grin, I am actually happy or at least content most of the time.  I have a charmed life here in Korea and I want to show this but no matter how charmed it is, sometimes life is just life. It's boring everyday routines - I wake up, I get ready, I take the bus to school, I prepare for my classes, I teach, I eat, I chat with my coworkers, I teach some more, I prepare some more, I come home. My evenings generally follow a similar routine: I take the bus home, I walk home stopping sometimes at the bank/post office or convenience shop, I decide whether stairs or tunnel, I either prepare dinner or see who's free to eat out, I study, I clean, I watch tv or read, I email or chat to friends and family, I hang out with my friends, I go to bed. Let's be honest, Monday to Friday, my life, generally, is not that exciting. Nevertheless, I do enjoy it...but it is nothing that makes me go around grinning. However, when something happens out of the ordinary that I enjoy whether it is a western style lunch item that I wasn't expecting,  a school trip to Seoul, a package from home, or even just a really nice sunshiny day, the obstacles that prevent my content from showing through have disappeared and only blue skies of happiness are visible. I wish sometimes, that my content would shine through a little more so that my happiness when I have these little "wins" wouldn't overwhelm others!

So, you might think I'm mad to only stop and smell the roses on occasion. You might think I'm mad to be so surprised when my happiness shines through but I am glad that I am like this because by being content most of the time I having cloud free days all the time. When the sun shines so brightly that it removes all obstacles...those days, those days are just the icing on the cake, the bonus to an already great life.

PS This post was inspired by a beautiful, sunshiny morning and a song that can make one happy whether the day is sunny or snowy: I can see clearly now by Johnny Nash.



Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How can you say that your [version] is [truer] than ours?

Disclaimer, this blog post is about my impressions of the residue left on Vietnam from the Vietnam War. I will be including some photos that really affected me and as these are photos of victims of Agent Orange they are not pleasant to look at. I will post these at the bottom so if you don't want to scroll down to view them you won't need to. 

Imagine being in a dark tunnel, deep and winding. There is no light to guide you and you need to move fast around the bends crouched low so as not to hit your head, breathing in the dust. At points, your feet give way and you fall to a lower level and for a few steps you crawl forward until you hit  a wall. Reaching up, you drag yourself back to the higher level. Pushing forward, panic sets in as you hear the drone of the airplanes above you. Have they discovered this deep and secret place you and your village live in?

Before arriving in Vietnam, I didn't know much about the Vietnam war - the little I knew was garnered from TV shows/movies where the American veterans were being honoured. What else I knew was about the protests and  it was all from the American perspective. Vietnam changed that for me and opened my eyes to another piece of the truth.

On our first day in Ho Chi Minh, we visited the War Remnants Museum. I can't begin to describe just how profound an affect this had on me. I couldn't stay in one room because the images and words I was reading were causing me to feel overwhelmed. This room included photos taken by American and International photographers. Some included statements from former soldiers long after the Vietnam War had ended. The most disturbing of these photos was of some women and children which had been taken just moments before they died. The photographer left a statement with the photo that he knew they were going to die right after he took the photo and a result he wouldn't turn around to look back as he heard the shots.I had to leave and go sit outside. I just felt heavy as if there was huge weight on me that I couldn't shake.

Agent Orange was a pesticide that was sprayed to clear away the forests of Vietnam so that the Vietnamese would be easier to spot for American soldiers. What the soldiers spraying this pesticide didn't know was the effects this would have on them, their bodies and the families even to this day. The effect on the Vietnamese landscape, water supplies, natural habitats and lives is even more disturbing. The men and women who came in contact with this pesticide directly either were killed or maimed. In Vietnam alone it is estimated that number may be as high as 400,000 people. Sadly, it's effects did not stop there. Even now sterility and birth defects are a considered a common side effect of this herbicide. Since the Vietnam War around 500,000 children have been born with birth defects directly linked to Agent Orange.All this we learned on our first day. While there were some things that were obviously propaganda and contained some Anti-American sentiment, it was also understandable to us why this would be so. After all, America was the one that sprayed the country with this horrid pesticide that was still affecting them all these years later.

 When we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels a few days later we were shown an extremely obvious propaganda film that looked as if it was as old as the Vietnamese War. Whilst there, we got to experience life as a Cu Chi Tunnel fighter. We able to see the weapons and traps they used against American soldiers. Some of these were extremely lethal - doors, when opened let a trap fall from the ceiling full of spikes that you stab you in the chest and face. The most telling experience I had was here. We got to enter the tunnels which were widen for tourists. I had to crouch/crawl at some points, short as I am and at others I felt claustrophobic. In fact, I told my friend goodbye at one exit and went part way up the steps to breathe with the intention of not re-entering. However, this was something I wanted to experience. There aren't many chances where you can actually feel the way someone felt in a situation you have never experienced. I couldn't let that go by me. So I swallowed my fear and gave it my all and fought through what was increasing panic and being in a dark, tight place. Harder still was it to imagine that this tunnel had actually been widen so I could get through. I can't put myself in their shoes, not really. I don't hear the planes roaring above me, the panic seeping in as I wind my way through the tunnel knowing that there is a soldier behind me. I don't know what is to run blind through this tunnel, I have lights to guide me. I don't have to sleep in the doorway of a tunnel that is my home, blind in the darkness that seeps into my core. This was the life of the men, women and children of the Cu Chi area.

So you might think I am mad to have let what could probably be considered blatant propaganda to affect me so deeply. However, no matter how hard I try I can not escape the reality that this truth is there and that the American truth is not better that theirs. It's just another version that gives us their all - their piece of the story. Whilst there may be some lies mixed in with the truth some things that America did were truly awful. One only needs to look at former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey to know that it's too easy to let evil slip into our lives especially when there is the heat of the battle to influence you and allow you to commit terrible atrocities.  However, there is still hope, a chance that if America makes proper reparation for it's part in maiming the lives of people that America and Vietnam could one stand as brothers, shoulder to shoulder, who carry no arms.  My takeaway from this experience is that apathy is our enemy but a bigger one may just be allowing ourselves to be caught up doing evil in the name of doing right.

PS This post was inspired by what I saw and experienced whilst in Ho Chi Minh and visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels. I don't believe that this blog can ever give justice to how I feel about the Vietnam war and the terrible atrocities committed there and the effects they still have. I was listening to Mumford and Sons recently and their song "I gave you all" brought back to me some of my feelings and I realised that as strongly as I had felt whilst in Vietnam I had yet to really vocalise just how much this trip affected and changed me.
This post only records my impressions and feelings on finding out the Vietnamese perspective. This is not meant as a condemnation of anyone.