Being Humankind

It is no secret that this blog doesn’t only address how to go about daily life in Songdo, but rather, it goes where my mind does. We’ve talked about social issues affecting expats such as cultural appropriation and how shocking the treatment of women is in Korea and also the rest of the world but that’s not where the story ends. Amongst all our talk of feminism, it is easy to forget to take a step back and actually think about what feminism means, or, dare I say, should mean, in today’s world.

For me, feminism is primarily about choice and the freedom to exercise that choice. Let’s face it, despite the rollercoaster of educational paths and careers that I have followed, I now live a gender stereotypical life in Korea – My husband is the sole breadwinner and I am the homemaker. The important thing is that the decision to move was a join one. Flashback to our first wedding anniversary when he told me he had the job offer. My first question was ‘when are we moving’ followed by a sidebar ‘are you going to be ok with the fact that me being able to work there is a very remote possibility’. His first concern was whether I would be happy not being able to do the work I love. Whilst I miss it sometimes, I am great at keeping myself busy, and he is great at supporting whatever my latest project is (ed. within reason. My desire for flying lessons has been met with a most vague ‘we’ll see’. I think he is waiting for this phase to pass personally – see Mr. B, I’m wise to your tricks, I just let you think I don’t know differently.) I also know that if I suddenly decide I’m not happy here there are options we can discuss: me moving abroad to take on projects for a few months at a time, or us leaving to a country that we can both work in. Choice and freedom to exercise that choice. I don’t like the kind of militant feminism that demands every task be a shared one – if there are ten things to do, we’ll take five each if that makes sense based on our individual time commitments, rather than each doing 50% of each one. Everyone should be as lucky with the men in their lives as me – grandfathers, father, brothers and husband.

Anyway, as usual I digress. Yes, feminism is important and there is a long way to go for women but equally important, and more often forgotten, is, well, it turns out it is such forgotten concept that I’m struggling to even find a word for it – feminism for men is what I guess I’ll call it.  I’m genuinely worried for both my future-male-and-female children that the world they are being born into is far from ideal. I mentioned in a previous post that women do get the short end of the stick a lot so I won’t go into that again now, but it’s not all easy for men either. Men are often depicted as tough to the extent of being brutish, lads who drink beer and scare old people as they thunder down the street. There is an expectation that they will conform to societal norms and refuse to wear pink, won’t cry in public, won’t hug one another and generally remain aloof and distant from people around them. I mean, it would suck to be born into that reality right? And sadly, those in power do nothing but propagate the myths surrounding manhood.

I’m sure you remember when Mr Trump dismissed one of his many misogynistic comments as ‘locker room chat.’ There were many voices, one of my most favourite being Michelle Obama*, that argued that accepting such a dismissal was simply offensive to all the men in our life who wouldn’t dream of speaking about women, or any human, using the tone and words employed by POTUS. So to all those shouting that it shouldn’t be OK for men to talk like that amongst themselves (and yes, I agree that it shouldn’t) let’s remember that NOT ALL MEN DO.  And you know what’s apparent? Amongst all the noise (I use the word in the kindest possible way)  calling for #genderequality, it is those good, kind men, those fathers, brothers, husbands, sons and friends who don’t have a voice, or whose voice is discounted for the simple reason that they are men – viz: ‘How can you know what it is like to be discriminated against – you’re a man and its easy for you!’ Those men, however, are SO important if we are to ever achieve a truly equal, or anything close to truly equal – until men can push humans out of their bodies it won’t be totally equal – global society.

And it is here that we see the point of this post.  There are so many of these underappreciated men in our lives, in the world, that an attempt to help them speak out needs to be celebrated and supported. To this end, my friends in London have created “Being Mankind”  – a photo-illustrated volume that gives voices to the kind men who are real role models. Men who truly define what it is to be a man. Who can share their emotions and throw off the societal-demand that they always ‘be strong’ and ‘be tough.’ Who will be house-husbands in a world where housewives are the norm. Who we aspire to be like, or raise our children to be like. Who will always share the task of being human with women.

The book itself is a stunning depiction of several real-life stories that will take you through a gamut of emotions, and for every book that is bought, another is donated to a school where young men (and women) will have access to it and be inspired say no to outdated stereotypes in favour of being kind, confident and empathetic human beings. And the best bit – you can totally help!

In order to increase the print run of Vol1 and launch Vol 2 of the book, they’ve got an all-or-nothing-Kickstarter campaign that you can read about here that only has 3 days left to go. If they don’t reach their target, they don’t get any of the funding pledged to date, so it really is a case of every penny counts. Any donations, pledges or shares of the kickstarter campaign website are all welcome – you’ve got the links above, but here are the websites in full if you want to share them on!

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1914102455/being-mankind

Being Mankind Website: https://www.beingmankind.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beingmankindorg/

Let’s take a stand and make a difference that counts. #genderequality #beingmankind #beinghumankind #kickstarter

Being Mankind

*It would appear that the post script is becoming a more regular feature of my posts. Luckily I know you will only read on if you are particularly interested. Now Michelle Obama is a great feminist. Educated, ambitious and driven, but with everything she does oozing class and grace. I’m given to understand (correct me if I’m wrong)  that the First Lady (or First Husband) is required to give up her/his career whilst his/her spouse holds the position of POTUS and I defy anyone to say that this action is anti-feminist.  Never once did you get the feeling that she resented being the wife of  ‘the most powerful man in the world.’ I mean, she is his wife much like he is her husband. No ownership implied in the possessive pronouns, just a statement of fact – neither of them can be anybody else’s husband/wife whilst they are each others after all.  Rather, she supported him in his job and pursued the agenda for hers whilst together they raised two equally fabulous children all within the public eye. She didn’t eschew the need to look incredible at all times in the name of feminism and personally, I think she is everything a leader should be. If it were up to me #michelleforpresident2020 would be a given. Now excuse me whilst I go and think about my most serious girl-crush….

 

Sometimes…

Even I run out of things to talk about. So one of my tasks today was to write a blog post, but sitting here (well, lying here, as today I am adult-ing from my bed) I actually don’t have a lot to tell you folks about. My draft posts either (a) bored me when I was writing them or (b) need a lot more information than I currently have to hand to make sense. It isn’t like I’ve been sitting around Netflix-ing either. I’ve actually had days where I haven’t even put the TV on. I went to Singapore for a weekend to meet a friend *Hi Raj Mistry* and last weekend there was a Ski Trip organised by IFEZ to Pyeongcang – home of the winter Olympics 2018. At the start of February I finally signed up to PT sessions (with an English speaking trainer) and am working on my strength and mobility (and hopefully some weight loss as a bonus) but that’s not an interesting journey for anybody except my older brother and my sister-in-law (shout out to my personal fitness cheerleaders in Vancouver). I recently applied for a 6 month contract position as an events consultant, but more on that if and when I find out what the process is like. The baking has stopped in honour of our ‘get healthy’ regime but I’ll pull it out for special occasions. I continue to Instagram pictures of food. Oh, and I started a secret project that I obviously can’t write about because then it wouldn’t be a secret. Also, even when it isn’t a secret I am not sure I can write about it because, well, its complicated. Let’s forget I said anything.

I guess I could tell you a little about the weekend’s ski trip to Pyeongchang, but there isn’t a huge amount to tell. As IFEZ organize everything, the sum of your responsibility is to turn up to the G-Tower for the 4 hour coach journey to Pyeongchang and choose the activities that you want to do (Ski lesson, snow board lesson, just hang out etc.) On the return, we stopped at the Olympic Ski Jump venue which was awesome but my general lack of attention span means I didn’t listen to the tour guide and just wandered about and looked at things. The main thing I learnt is that this particular resort has a high level of English, so if you wanted to book a weekend trip there, it wouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. Here’s some pictures to keep you going:

Ok, one of my daily tasks from the trainer is to get out of the apartment and hit 6000 steps daily, so I better get going on that. Luckily, it is starting to warm up outside so the thought of a stroll through the park isn’t too arduous.

Happy Tuesday everyone – and I promise I’ll come up with more interesting things to write about soon!

Land of hope and glory? I think not. 

*Warning: the following post consists entirely of me ranting, so please navigate away from this page if that does not suit your current mood* 

I need to interrupt my love letter to Japan to share how I feel about America at the moment. I mean, what is going on people? Trump, and his goddamn wall, might be ruling the land, rape is being openly written off as “20 minutes of action” and the rapist is bejng given 6 months jail time, instead of up to 14 years, because of the potential impact it would have on HIS life?! ( Ed. for those of you who haven’t read the story: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/06/stanford-sexual-assault-case-victim-impact-statement-in-full). Er, hello.. we seem to have forgotten who the VICCTIM really is here no? 

Alongside this women are continuing to belittle the choices of other women, instead of supporting their right to make their own decisions – Hilary, I may not agree with your decision to stay with Bill but I sure as hell respect your right to make that decision for yourself. Where is the support people? 

Life in the good ol’ USA seems decidedly not good and I for one want to stay away.

I recently learnt that attitudes towards women in Korea are shocking – male privilege is rife and women are considered “second class citizens”. Violence against women is commonplace and largely ignored – those few people who bravely choose to make a stand are met with more violence and degradation. I thought that as the “wayguk” (foreigners) we could at least stand in support of those women here who don’t want to accept this as the norm and maybe give them hope that attitudes can be changed but when the “civilised west” propagates the acceptance of such behaviour, what good do a handful of us here have to foster a change in attitudes and beliefs. I’m deflated and demoralised (but apparently my ability to alliterate remains intact…) 

Not a perky post today but one that needed writing, if only to ensure that my poor husband doesn’t bear the brunt of my disillusionment. Suffice it to say, I have precisely zero hope of ever seeing America as a glorious land again… 

*Rant Over*

Top 5 Things About (my) Life in Korea

So to continue the series mentioned in my last post, I’m going to write about my favourite 5 things about being in South Korea. The 5 things are going to be particular to my life in part due to the fact that the first few months of our time here were too cold to really get to grips with the country and what it has to offer. I’m slowly discovering more and more but there is a way to go yet, so I’m keeping it ego-centric for now…

(1) Not Working

Yes, I know – this was one of the things that I miss about home but the other side of the coin is that I am really enjoying having this slightly extended break from pre-production/production matters. I have had a chance to explore some old hobbies – knitting, writing (both electronically and in my diary) and every day I come up with a new career plan that Raj, wearily, voices his support for – knowing that I will have a new plan the next day. I’ve had the time to meditate at least once a day – I would like to increase this to twice daily but Raj isn’t the meditating type and I have a tendency to fall asleep post meditating so in the evenings, I choose to hang out with him instead. (*Pats self on back for being a good wife*). I’m learning how to cook – and how to adapt a recipe to what is available in the local market, without compromising on taste. I would like to say that I have added working out to the list of things that I do now, but I’m not there yet. I bought a skipping rope and my sister-in-law has a bunch of at home work out videos on her website (www.rocofit.com) that I need to get to grips with. All in good time. I am sure that eventually I will want some kind of work to keep me occupied but for the moment, not having to work rocks.

(2) Learning a New Language

I like learning languages. I like writing and learning lists of vocabulary. I like the new grammar rules. I like trying o start a conversation and working those grammar rules in as I go. I’ve never learnt a language which doesn’t have a Roman alphabet (my mother tongue isn’t written, only spoken) so it is a first for me and I’m enjoying it. I know my Hanguel alphabet and I have lots of words that I am trying to learn. I am in the second semester of my class and sentences are making an appearance. I have class twice weekly and I try to be conscientious about doing my homework but it is definitely the toughest language I have ever tried to learn. Hopefully I will be someway towards proficient by the end of our tenure here!

(3) Making a House our Home

Here in Songdo, Raj and I have had the opportunity to make our very first home together and fill it with the things we like in a way that suits us. A lot of our furniture is from IKEA but we have all our trinkets and souvenirs from our lives separately, and our lives together filling the nooks and crannies. The coffee table in our lounge is perfectly suited to how to spend our time – a hidden section under the table where we can hide our laptops when dual screening is not an option (House of Cards requires concentration!) My little OCD mind has filled cupboards and drawers in particular orders and Raj is learning to follow the rules for putting things away – or leaving things out for me to do, which to my mind is better than it being done wrong. Although we’ve only lived in this apartment for 2 months it feels like a perfect little home and I’m already attached to it.

(4) Being a Tourist on my doorstep

I love wandering around my local area and actually looking at everything and taking it in, rather than the head-down-earphones-in-fast-paced-trot that was my go to walking style in London. I like taking pictures and using them on social media/my blog/just for me to look at. I like being a tourist and going on hop on hop off buses without having to travel for the pleasure of it. South Korea is never a country that I have known a lot about and I’ve learnt so much already and am looking forward to what there is to come!

(5) New People

So I know I wrote about missing having independent friends of my own age but I have met several of really nice and interesting people here and the hope is that as more people are hired, more families will be arriving here to increase our social circle. Little things make you bond (BACON! One of the local stores had a huge bacon delivery on Friday so Saturday saw a Bacon party at someone’s apartment. Amazing!) I’ve made random friends on various Facebook groups that I am now a member of, and, something that I never did at home, I interact with people on these various Facebook groups. I have a little community of people who offer tips and advice or just share in the my pleasure of having achieved something new, even if it is just a little win. I’m still in touch with my friends back home (thank you internet!) but there is something nice about a new bunch of people from different walks of life that I can now call friends.

Et voila. My top 5 things about living in Korea so far.

5 Things I Miss From London

I’ve been reading a lot of expat blogs – not just expats in Korea, but worldwide and there are a couple of posts that everyone seems to have in common:

  • Five things I miss from X (also known as least favourite things in X) [insert country here]
  • Top five things about X [insert country here]

So I decided to take a leaf out of their pages and today I will write about the things that I miss from London. There are the obvious things, that I knew I would need to have (TEA! English Breakfast Tea!) but as I had planned for those, they didn’t make the list..

(1) Ease of doing things

OK, so this isn’t a physical thing but at home, in pretty much any situation, I know where to go or who to contact for a quick fix. A current example is that my allergies are playing up, which means the corners of my eyes are super itchy which means a nasal spray is needed. At home, I would stroll into Boots, pick up my choice of spray and 2 squirts later, problem solved. In Songdo, I know which pharmacy I can go to (the one which involves the least amount of sign language) but I’ve had to prepare for the outing by looking up the active ingredients in the spray I would use, taking screenshots and Google Translating “Allergies” into Korean in advance. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that I have to do this every single time I need to do something ‘new’ it adds up . Hopefully tomorrow won’t bring the news that I need a prescription – otherwise 3 phone-calls later (me to the hotline, hotline to the hospital, hotline to me to confirm appointment) I might, if I’m lucky, be able to control my allergies in a weeks time…

(2) My own girl friends my own age

I know I am lucky to be living in an age replete with technology so I can email/WhatsApp/skype/Facetime my friends and family pretty much on demand – time differences are my only obstacle, but even then, if I want to chat to my mum, she’ll pick up anytime. And yes, there is a really nice group of girls here to hang out with (wine and dessert is universal after all) but the reason that they are within my orbit is Raj’s job. They are either his colleagues or his colleagues’ spouses (and typically, the latter tends to be older than me). But what I do miss is having pals of my own that I can call on for a night in or out or a good old gossip as need dictates. I am pretty sure my incessant rambling and heightened levels of crazy is going to be too much for Raj at some point or another… so all I can hope is that more families like us rock up in Songdo soon!

(3) The BBC

Or ITV, or Channel 4 or any Sky channels. I basically miss the kind of TV that is background noise whilst you get on with other things. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that we get Netflix here is a total lifesaver, but when I just want background noise, unless I play a series or a film that I have seen a million times, there isn’t a lot. Also, all the English is American English. I miss hearing a British voice or two – yesterday in Seoul, I almost gave myself whiplash when I heard a British accent on the metro. I was never an avid news watcher, but I always knew what was going on, simply through flicking through the free papers on the tube or having the news on in the background. Yes the internet is a great source of information but I spend a lot of my time on a computer as it is and I would enjoy taking my time offline wherever possible.

(4) Working

OK, this one is a double edged sword and will almost certainly be making an appearance in my top 5 things about Korea post, as it has been amazing having a long break (and as a freelancer, knowing that it is OK for me to do so) from the world of work and I am in a very fortunate position to be able to take the break. I’ve spent the time learning a lot of things that women of my mother’s generation would have learnt as a matter of course but was always too ‘unfeminist’ for today’s girl to want to spend her time doing. I’m teaching myself to cook and keep house and my limited sewing abilities are increasing which has all been quite enjoyable. I’ve also been able to indulge in my hobbies – knitting, writing, readingand general trial and error. Nonetheless, I do miss having a purpose outside of the house, where I can see an end result and know that my hard work created it. For the last three years, around this time of year, I’ve been gearing up to produce a Festival on London’s South Bank. Yes, the work was intense and hard and I invariably cried one day and fell sick immediately afterwards but when I look back at the pictures and feedback, I feel extremly lucky and proud that I was a part of it. My former colleagues are currently setting up this year’s event and I miss being there – including the hateful ‘profit and loss’ spreadsheets.

(5) Potato Waffles

Ok, a frivolous one to end the list – of course there are other things that I miss more but I have to say, I’m quite looking forward to having some Bird’s Eye Potato Waffles (they’re waffley versatile) when we go home over summer. Despite the fact that I am trying to be on a pre-London diet,  I’m looking forward to a Roast Lunch, Potato Waffles, breaded fish (or any kind of fish) and all sorts of other foods and food combinations that a peculiar Indian-English creature like me would enjoy.

So that’s that. I know most, or all, of these will be resolved given time but that’s where we stand for the moment! Here’s my parting photo.. a view of my old event from Millenium Bridge in London

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Travel Racism

A more random set of musings for today. Recently, I left a group on Facebook that was dedicated to women who love to travel. There were women from all over the world who shared pictures of their travel with one another, asked for travel advice and it was also a safe space to ask for help or advice – one girl’s story was that she had travelled far from home to see a guy that she had started seeing on a previous trip. Once she arrived, he was cold and distant and basically ditched her in a country where she didn’t speak the language and had nowhere to stay. Through the group, she met some other female travellers who took her in and gave her a shoulder to cry to get over the shock and from then on, she had a great trip.

So it couldn’t get better than a group that allows you to take a risk and share your passions in a non-judgemental way, right? Well that was my initial reaction.

In the last few weeks however, things took a turn for the nasty. It began with a self-proclaimed “Woman of Colour” (aka WOC)  posting a question about some prejudice that they had encountered on a recent trip and asking for advice and support. All fine. But then she post-fixed the comment saying that she didn’t want any responses from any non WOCs – i.e. white women. And understandably there was some backlash against this – at least, I found it understandable (and I fall into the WOC category.) If a Caucasian women had written about any prejudice, or how stares in certain countries made her uncomfortable (and I have seen this myself with blonde friends in the Middle East for example)  and said that WOC need not respond, everyone would have been up in arms.

All of a sudden, this group became a forum about whether it is OK to preclude one group of people (for any reason – hair colour, height etc) from answering a comment, if the poster of the question didn’t feel that they would have the relevant experience. From my point of view, it is never ok to categorically exclude someone. Even if their experience isn’t identical (and which two people’s are) it remains valuable. My mother taught me that if I don’t have anything nice or useful to say, then to shut up. So when someone asked where the best area to buy shampoo for afro hair in London was, despite being a through and through Londoner, I kept shtum. Likewise, when another girl asked about facing prejudice when travelling in certain countries, I responded that I didn’t feel that the prejudice was due to my being brown, but more just the view of women that was taken there – my brown male pals got things done easily without getting ripped off simply due to the luck that gave gave them a ‘y’ chromosome instead of a second ‘x’. This continues to be the case in certain aspects of my life in Korea. All I have to do is utter the magic words “I have to ask my husband” and anybody trying to sell me something backs deferentially away until the higher power in the house has spoken (little do they know that I have totally manipulated the stereotype to suit my needs and Raj would be perplexed if I started asking permission for, well, anything.. but that is a different story.)

It was a shame to leave the group but there was talk of a women of colour sub-group which I felt was even more divisive and against the spirit of the group as it was intended. Gone was the safe space, as well as the source of valuable travel information, but perhaps my newsfeed just needed a springtime de-clutter too…