Afterthoughts and mini-awards on the 86th Academy Awards

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Afterthoughts:

1. I just love to see Ellen back to Oscars. She is one of the few comedians in English speaking countries whose humour really resonates mine, including her obsessions in selfies, SNS, pizzas and delightful graciousness to others. She would be remain as my favourite Oscars host, no matter what.

2. It is still strange to see the ‘racial’ issues so hot around the Oscars. I don’t get why people make so much fuzz about the race of Steve McQueen, the director of the Best Picture winner, ’12 Years a Slave.’ What matters about Steve other than the fact he directed the Oscar winning film? What makes ‘race’ just an important criterion on the movie awards? …Yeah, it’s America, I almost forgot.

3. I’m glad to see American Hustle empty-handed. Not worth the fuzz, was the thought I had when I saw it. ;(

Here’s the mini-awards:

- Disappointing: Idina Menzel, Triumphant: Pharrell Williams.

- Best speech: Jared Leto “…this is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you. Thank you so much and good night.”

- Best filial love: Jared Leto who gives his piece of pizza to his mom.

- Best cameo: Edgar, owner and delivery man of Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizza

- Best joy: Steve McQueen

:)

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Best moments in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

As far as I can remember, the Olympic Games occurring every four years always fascinated me, largely due to its quintessentially global nature. It was just magical to see the athletes from all around the world competing equally and fairly, completely free from any political, ethnic, and geographical differences. However, having little interests in sports, I was not that keen to watch over the races and matches myself, except for those of a few major athletes who have been popularized by media. (Yuna Kim for South Korea, for example) All I used to do to enjoy the Olympics was merely searching for the medal rankings on the Internet.
But my feelings for this Sochi Winter Olympic Games was different. I was more than eager to keep track of the daily broadcasting schedules and staying up all night to watch the games to cheer for the national team. Maybe it was because I got back in my native land in thirteen years,
or because I had the time and means to do so. No matter what, the global games in such scale can be a great diversion from routine.
The last thing I cared about was the political concerns surrounding the Olympics, about the western efforts to discredit the Russian host of this Olympics. No matter what they say, this will be the first Winter Olympics I thoroughly enjoyed.

Here are several best moments I don’t want to forget.

1. Best Player – Victor An
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The personal history of the likely MVP of this Olympics is pretty well-known: born, raised and trained in South Korea, he represented his native country in 2006 Turin Olympics and won three gold medals but was later mysteriously excluded from the national team for 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The power struggles within the national sports associations are notorious in South Korea, so the short-track genius has chosen to go and settle another place for which he could compete freely. Angry over the corrupted officials who clearly mistreated an excellent athlete, the South Korean public compassionately supported An’s decision to be naturalized and represent Russia. With no ace to replace An, the South Korean male competitors flunked this Olympics, bringing no medal after a number of crashes and penalties. But the remarkable achievement of An (3 gold medals from 1,000 m, 500 m and 5,o00 m relay and one bronze from 1,500 m short track race) kept my eyes on the male short-track games. His emotional triumph after winning 1,000 m race brought tears to my eyes.

2. Most memorable race- Sven Kramer, Speed Skating 5,000 m
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I first laid my eyes on the speed skating races for the depending champion, Lee Seung Hoon, who this time was surpassed by the Dutch who took 23 medals from this category. The media labelled the male 5,000 m speed skating race as Kramer vs. Lee from which I learned the name of this unrivaled Dutch hero. From his race, I learned the joy of watching long-distance speed skating. It was stunning to see his remarkable race in which he magically reduced his lap time (32 secs -> 29 secs) towards the end, shortening the record by eight seconds.

3. Most controversial medal – Gold for Sotnikova, Women’s Figure Skating
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Yuna Kim’s successful defense of her championship was largely anticipated across the globe. I stayed up til four in the morning to watch her Free Program and hear her score of 144.19, five points short of the Russian Sotnikova’s 149.95 who snatched the gold. Well, the controversy around Russia’s home buff has been publicized from the beginning of the Games, so this result did not surprise me a lot. But it was clearly not okay with the rest of the world. There are evidence that Sotnikova’s skills do not surpass those of Yuna, and people are harshly criticizing the home advantage Sotnikova must have enjoyed. This case just proves how unpredictable the Olympics are compared to other international games. I know it is enraging sometimes, but this randomness is what makes the Olympics fun.

4. Most tearful moment – Asada Mao after Women’s Figure Skating, Free Program
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Asada Mao has been a longtime rival to the former champion, Kim Yuna, since their junior years. After she settled for Silver after Yuna in 2010 Vancouver, the media seemed no longer interested in their rivalry. Even so, Asada remained as the beloved skater in her native country, Japan, who widely anticipated her victory this time. However, Asada disappointed her supporters by continually crashing while executing her triple axel jumps in early in the Games. As if trying to make up the disappeared hope of getting on the podium after being ranked in the shocking sixteenth place in the Short Program, she masterfully cleaned her Free Program and burst into tears. Right at that moment, she was nothing but a soft-minded girl who must have suffered a lot by her steady decline from the top of the world.

5. Glad to learn the fun of – Curling, Team Pursuit Speed Skating
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I used to glimpse at the Curling games in Canadian TV but never cared to watch the full game until now, largely due to its complicated strategic gameplay. This year, the female South Korean team made their entry to the Olympics for the first time, but sadly missed the ticket semi-final by 3 wins and 6 losses in the Round Robin. But it was sufficient to drive the whole nation into the fun of Curling.
I discovered another joy in watching a formerly unfamiliar game called the Speed Skating Team Pursuits, a vigorous, thrilling race by two teams running their hearts out to take over the end of the other team from the other ends of the track. The fun of it is that you can never guess the winner until the end because they always reverse the leading team. In the third-place match, Poland surpassed Canada by two seconds in the end after racing behind the exact amount of time in the first six laps. A same thing also happened in the semi-final match between South Korea and Canada. It was another game that proved the Dutch supremacy in Speed Skating. I hope they would get pretty tired at Pyeongchang, so other nations may have some more chances. ;)

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Book #24. Night

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This is the second book on the Holocaust I taught to the advanced fiction class this semester. I was somewhat reluctant to begin Elie Wiesel’s gruesome Night right after finishing the Boy in the Striped Pajamas that shares the same background. But the memoir turned out to be a right choice after all. I guess the book more touched my heart than theirs, as far as God is concerned.

Before I let myself being genuinely impressed by the events depicted in this book, I sensed a fundamental doubt on the ‘authenticity’ of Wiesel’s narrative and also of the entire genre itself. You relive your own memory in order to produce and publish a memoir, and on what basis could I, a reader, assess the accuracy of that memories which must be as old as several decades? There are many episodes that I felt too dramatic to be true (the part about violin-playing Juliek was a good one, and I almost mistook myself reading a novel).
In a memoir, you are telling a story of your own as if it is some kind of fable that delivers some kind of moral or life lesson. And that story should have all the structures of a good story, the same old craps like the rising actions, climax, denouement, so forth. Surely, there must be significant liberty for the authors to fabricate in a cell and trying to reproduce your memories into a impressive, moving story.

Nevertheless, Night was a great experience for me for its stark contemplation of God in one of the darkest moments in history. It was simply miraculous to see the Jews, including Elie himself, still holding onto their faith in the midst of the atrocities against them, and it was so clear to see what they truly lost during that difficult time. It wasn’t their language, country or lost king or queen they fought for–it was God, the mighty force that encompasses all positive elements of a human life. There was nothing eviler in the book than the most pious Jews losing their faith in God.

The question of whether God exists even in the times of unspeakable extremities must be one of the fundamentally unresolved riddles. Compared to the fictional narratives such as Life of PiNight offers much more convincing discussion on God on the background of reality, no matter how solidly depicted. One thing I ascertained from Wiesel’s account about God is that whether metaphorically or spiritually, He is inevitably indispensable from everything that keeps us living: hope, love, care, friendship, loyalty, family, and so forth. Once you let go of the last shred of faith in Him, you finally ungrasp the last string of life, and descend into the bottom of the darkest valley of despair and death.

“…Man is too insiginificant, too limited, to even try to comprehend God’s mysterious ways. But what can someone like myself do? I’m neither a sage nor a just man. I am not a saint. I’m a simple creature of flesh and bone… Where’s God? How can I believe, how can anyone believe in this God of Mercy?”

…Poor Akiba Drumer… as soon as he felt the first chinks in his faith, he lost all incentices to fight and opened the door to death. (p. 76-77)

What can be more sorrowful than the Jews who realized no God presides over such a hell like where they are–the Auschuwitz concentration camp–and let go of their lives? It was truly a night in which the light of God has vanished. I believe Wiesel’s Night offers powerful rationales for both the atheists and believers on why we deny or believe in God. The answer really rests on the reader.

I would be very careful not to present Night as a religious work if I have a chance to teach it again. How can I discuss ‘God’ in a non-religious setting? I should work on it now…

 

Reference
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang. 2006

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Book #23. The Grapes of Wrath

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A good way for a non-American to comprehend this essentially “American” novel was to juxtapose scenes from movies. The premise of the Grapes of Wrath reminded me a lot of the documentary film about the American food industry I saw years ago. There was simply nothing in my world that unveil the stark truth about Corporate America other than the scenes of the weary-looking farmers who have been completely stripped of their dignity and control over the fruits they produce. To see them reduced as mere ‘clerks’ to giant companies was striking for my childlike respect for the farmers as a dignified occupation.

My official disdain of Corporatism that help me appreciate John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has been probably spawned right at that moment. My disillusionment of the positivism, heroism, individualism and materialism–what have been known as the traditional “American values”–that have been prolifically promoted in my favourite Hollywood cinema is not a strange thing, as I drifted into the middle of my twenties that coincided with the decline of neoliberalism. Ironically, the more I read the great American novels, the more I grow distant with the essential principles of that culture… That’s probably why I, along with the rest of the world, read American literature.
I was thankful for Steinbeck for representing unspoken contemplations of religion and justice I used to entertain in my head. Why would God matter if we fail to look after ourselves? How could I be completely happy if someone in this world is suffering for my happiness? Steinbeck’s version of ‘righteousness’ evident in many parts of the novel–especially in the character of Casy–was strikingly resembling my personal crises with God and the orthodox ideals of success in my generation. I couldn’t articulate my own criticism of such values in one of my political Science Tutorial or Bible Study sessions as well as Steinbeck did in this novel. The only difference between the author and me might be the ability to translate it into a literary masterpiece… Casy was literally speaking my doubtful mind when he confided why he gave up his ministry.
“I ain’t gonna preach… I ain’t gonna baptize. I’m gonna work in the fiel’s, in the green fiel’s, and I’m gonna be near to folks. I ain’t gonna try to teach ‘em nothing. I’m gonna try to learn. Gonna learn why the folks walks in the grass, gonna hear ‘em talking, gonna hear ‘em sing. Gonna listen to kids eatin’ mush. Gonna hear husban’ an’ wife a-poundin’ the mattress in the night. Gonna eat with ‘em an’ learn.” (128)
 Many people interpret the Grapes of Wrath as a call for socialism or collectivism. I cannot bring myself to relate it to any political discussions, as I don’t have to label my own morality with such a name. I don’t want to call it socialist when I pray for those in other parts of the world a little more than my own family. The Grapes of Wrath is an epic representation of Steinbeck’s own assertion of morality that has to stand firm even during the most difficult time in history.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books. 1992.

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2013 Reading Challenge Completed: 20 books

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I was not sure of my own reading capacity so I started this year with a humble number of 20 books. Well this modest number was decided mainly due to my eager for success. A lot went on since the beginning of this year, so I finally found time on my own since March.

Had I not have been in the teaching job, I’m not sure if I was able to accomplish this reading challenge, since 60% of the books read was compulsory for my teaching classes. I am going to increase it to 30 books next year.

I played with this list into several tangible subcategories:

Reread:

The Old Man and The Sea (first read in the 11th grade)

Miguel Street (first read in undergraduate)

The Da Vinci Code (first read in Korean)

Taught:

The Young Man and the Sea

The Ear, The Eye and The Arm

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Adam of the Road

Archer’s Quest

Ramona Forever

The Hunger Games

The Da Vinci Code

Maniac Magee

Ender’s Game

Where the Mountain Meets The Moon

Messenger

Leisure

The Pearl

Portrait of Artist as a Young Man

Miguel Street

The Old Man and the Sea

Matilda

Stardust

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

The Grapes of Wrath

E-books:

The Pearl

The Young Man and the Sea

Miguel Street

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Helplessly Childish To Keep In My Bookshelf:

Ramona Forever

Archer’s Quest 

Matilda (but I read it for leisure)

Glad To Meet:

Ender’s Game

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Most Challenging But Glad To Finish:

Portrait of Artist as a Young Man

Took Longest Time But Glad To Finish:

The Grapes of Wrath (2.5 months)

Looking Forward To Seeing the Movie Versions of:

Ender’s Game

Messenger (its prequel, The Giver is being made into movie so why not?)

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Seodaemun Prison History Hall

The notoriety of the Seodaemun (meaning the Great Western Gate) Prison may have been equivalent to those of the Auschwitz or Mauthausen in Korea during the first half of the twentieth century. To most young Korean-borns, it must be known as the site where Yoo-Gwan-Soon, a young, heroic female independence activist, was imprisoned and died at the bare age of sixteen. Even after the Liberation shortly after the conclusion of the WWII, the prison continued to be used to jail pro-democracy activists who resisted the authoritarian regimes. It’s living proof of the brutal human rights abuses during the colonial and modern periods.

I have been longing to visit this historic site ever since I read the biographies-for-children of the Korean nationalists who perished at the harsh treatments by the Japanese. Once there, the skyrocketing apartment buildings now surrounding the old construction gave me a weird feeling, but I was somewhat appreciative at the same time of the ongoing efforts to preserve such a historically meaningful site regardless of the commercial approaches.

The museum preserves and displays Seodaemun Prison signifying the suffering and pain of Koreans during the modern period. Here, independence and pro-democracy activists were jailed and martyred. Despite such a history of suffering, Koreans achieved independence and democracy. The Seodaemun Prison Hall represents the history of struggle to achieve Kroea’s independence and democracy with such indomitable spirit and potential. 

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The basement was where the worst forms of physical and psychological tortures and interrogations were perpetuated. Some of the tools and cells were preserved and displayed for the visitors to interact with.

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My favourite… The cells.

The halls were adorned with illustrated commemorations of the dying wills of the Korean nationalists.

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After nearly seventy years after the Liberation, the colonial history still haunts between the nations. You may have read from the newspaper about the increasing tension between the two nations in a number of issues. In my opinion, there are still a LOT to be done to successfully get over the humiliating history…  In the end, there is no justice to be done… It’s all about power. The Jews, now enjoying significant influence over the world, may have deserved to be sympathized and apologized for their past sufferings. Do Koreans have that same amount of power to yield the sincere apology from their past transgressors? I don’t think we are there yet.

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GyeoyungbokGung: Korean Royal Palace

Chuseok (Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving) is one of the major national holidays celebrated in South Korea. While I stayed in Canada it didn’t mean much, but since I revisited my home country after 13 years it was a wonderful opportunity to reunite with my relatives in Seoul.

Right after the day of Chuseok, I decided to pay a visit to several historic sites around the city. Gyeoyungbokgung is one of my dream destinations but I have never had a chance to pay a proper visit to the place until now.

For the Chuseok holiday, the place offers free entry to the visitors in Han-bok, Korean traditional costume, but I had to line up for about 20 minutes to get the pass.

Here’s a brief introduction to the site written on the ticket:

In 1395, three years after the founding of the Joseon Dynasty by King Taejo (Yi Seong-gye), the new main palace, Gyeongbokgung was completed after the capital of the new dynasty was moved from Gaegyeong to Seoul (then known as Hanyang). The palace was destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion of 1592 and was not reconstructed until 1867, the fifth year of King Gojong. During the Japanese occupation from 1910 to 1945, most of the palace was torn down; only a few buildings including Gyeonghoeru Pavilion and Geunjeongjeon Hall were left standing. An effort to fully restore Gyeongbokgung Palace to its former glory has been ongoing since 1990.

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Geunjeongjun, the Throne Hall.

So freakin’ crowded!!

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Sajeongjeon, the Reception Hall

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Gangnyeongjeon and Gyotaejeon, the King and Queen’s Bedchambers. I didn’t know they were just behind the Throne Hall and Reception Hall.

The Queen must know the king’s every move if her bedroom was that close to his working space.

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Hyangwonjeong, The King’s Garden

My favourite

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Gyeonghoeru, the King’s Party Hall (my translation;;)

One of the most well-known constructions in the palace. Please pardon my rough photograph…

You should reserve 24 hours earlier in order to get entry to the hall.

I was only happy with the gorgeous external sight.

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With my company, my first uncle!

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