Incognito Press

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Archive for the ‘china’ Category

New Dishes!

Posted by E on October 27, 2008

Ok, normally I wouldn’t think to write about something so trivial in the greater scheme of things as new dishes (there’s plenty of blogs out there yakking about daily little nothings, and when I started this, I didn’t want to add to web junk), but I have to make an exception here. I am absolutely crazy about my new dishes!

Over the last week I’ve been checking patterns online, hoping to find the right set – an elegant, old-world set that is elaborate but not too distracting, quality-made but not too overpriced. I mean, we’re talking about dishes here! I can’t believe Versace place sets are selling for $500! – for those of you who don’t know what a place setting is, that is really only 4 dishes – a dinner plate, soup/pasta plate, small plate, and maybe something else.

No matter how pretty a setting is, dishware at that pricepoint is going to be extinct pretty soon. Not even really rich people value dinner china over big-box electronics and fast cars. Grandma’s expensive made-in-England china will soon find its way onto ebay.

I normally really, intensely dislike Ikea. Other than a pair of bookcases, I pretty much can’t stand their stuff. Until now. My web search narrowed the field down to their set, and I fell in love at first sight. I was intrigued enough to go down to Ikea (and have some excellent meatballs and garlic bread while I was there, to soften the irritation at having to be there). In person, the dishes were even nicer. This is the prettiest set I’ve ever seen: the Arv Idyll collection. I only photographed half of the dishes, but trust me, the soup bowls and side plates are just as pretty.

And knowing my luck, they’ll be getting discontinued soon. So I loaded up. It’s the first set I ever get to pick – all of our other dishes from before were gifts, and while nice enough, I never really liked what we had. But we felt guilty getting rid of them. Well, until now.

My inspiration was the discontinued Bokhara set by Wedgwood; I wanted to find something just as evocative, but at a more reasonable pricepoint. And now, here they are. So, good riddance to the old dishware, and hello to my new and perfect plates! And the best thing other than their look – they’re made in Portugal, NOT China! Of course, I may be fooling myself thinking that simply because of that I’m saved from lead poisoning…LOL, time will tell.

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Posted in china, food | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Berlin, Beijing – behind the smoke and mirrors, a monster rears its ugly head

Posted by E on August 22, 2008

Berlin 1936 = Beijing 2008. I bet Leni Riefenstahl is rolling in her grave wishing she could’ve gotten a crack at filming this one.

How are they similar? In both cases, a hopelessly corrupt IOC awards the Olympic games to a savage totalitarian state, while the world turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed by that state.

Violations against open discourse started early: as foreign journalists began converging on Beijing to cover the Summer Olympics, restrictions began to be placed on journalistic freedoms.

Since China was awarded the Games, China’s Communist Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have continually given guarantees to the world’s media that journalists would have unrestricted access to the Internet.
Then, the Chinese Government blew that commitment into disarray when 20,000 journalists covering the August 8 – 24 Games in Beijing were told they would be blocked from accessing some Internet sites.

China has also designated 3 parks in Beijing for “sanctioned demonstrations”, promising that there would be room for protests, provided that those planning to organize a peaceful protest would submit a petition in advance. The result: people were rounded up and arrested instead. No protest ever took place.

Australia’s Media Alliance spokesman Christopher Warren was quoted as comparing the upcoming Games to those hosted by Nazi Germany in 1936. “This promises to be the most restricted Olympics, in terms of reporting the Games and its social and political context, since Berlin in 1936”.

Everyone who has watched the Olympics has witnessed pro-Chinese cheating, none more evident than in the gymnastics fiasco. Not only are at least two of the girls underage, but in my opinion it’s pretty clear the judges have been bought. Not surprising, though, since the field of gymnastics, like figure skating, is notorious for bribing and buying of judges.

China has spent in excess of 43 billion dollars (yes, you read that right) to showcase their superiority over (and shame) all other nations who have ever hosted an Olympics. You can rest assured that the message “We’re Bigger, We’re Better” does not stop with the theatrics of the opening ceremonies, to dubbed musical productions or with little girls who are considered too ugly to represent China and must sing below a stage.

The smoke and mirrors that cover an insatiable urge to beat all others will not put all its hopes on the shoulders of mere human beings. Just think about it – if you’ve gone all the way and spent 43 billion dollars on a show, what’s a few more paltry million to buy off some judges?

This is a country where you go to jail if you speak out against the regime. Where ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and murdered in the open. Where you must fit in, must not think for yourself, must become a robot for the State.

Communism and fascism are similar in that way: they curtail the freedom to be an intellectual, to have free thought, to breathe without looking over your shoulder. They curtail the kind of music you can listen to, the kinds of magazines you read, the choice of vocation, job, and career you may ever have dreamed to have.

These are nations where children with aptitude are kidnapped from their parents and thrown into provincial facilities where they are forced to train for 16 hours a day, just to show the State as powerful and full of glory. Gold medals are stacked upon the broken bones, wilted minds and ruined bodies of young people.

You can also count on the fact that pre-Olympic discussions took place, where Chinese judging officials have been not only bribed with better apartments and salaries, but also warned that if they brought shame upon China (by marking them less than anyone else), they would be deported to some gulag somewhere and would wish for an early death.

You think it can’t happen again? Guess what? It’s happening already.

Posted in censorship, china, commentary, communism, culture, freedom, germany, news, olympics, politics, tibet, war | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Canadian fencing sucks big time

Posted by E on August 12, 2008

 

While keeping score with the Olympic games in Beijing, I hardly batted an eye as the news flashed on the official Beijing scores site: one by one, each Canadian fencer fell, pretty much after their first or second bouts. It’s a bit of a deja vu, actually, a flashback to the last Olympics – in Atlanta and Athens – when Canada managed to actually qualify more fencers to go than even this year.

And then what happened? Well, you know. What always happens.
They go home after 1 or 2 bouts.

Sorry to break it to you folks, but the sad and unfortunate reality is that Canada isn’t known for producing quality fencers, which is why the best Canadian fencers go abroad to train (look at Sherraine Schalm), and why someone like Jujie Luan, even at 50 yrs of age (an old lady to some), can qualify for a spot so easily, within 15 months. Coaching is rife with favoritism, bribes used to be common (and not just here – look at the Sports Illustrated’s infamous expose of bribery and corruption in fencing – read it here) & Canadian fencing programs here need to come a LONG way before they can be on par with the Romanians, French, Italians and Hungarians.

Even the biggest recent name in Canadian fencing, Sherraine the epeeist, who was profiled on everything from Macleans to CBC to everything else, who got a sweet book deal and on occasion has been somewhat of a media darling around here, lost in her first bout during the 2004 Athens event. She’s up tomorrow in Beijing, and as much as I’d like to see her succeed, there are no others who have tread before her. No Canadians have ever won a fencing medal. Ever.

So, Elisa, tell us, why does Canadian fencing suck?

Well, first of all, we have to put aside the popular fantasy that fencing is a sport which can be played recreationally, like volleyball or ping-pong or shooting hoops. EVERY STEP of fencing is geared toward competitions. There is no such thing, honestly, as fencing for fun; from day one, enthusiastic, wide-eyed wanna-be fencers are shoved forward onto a slaughterhouse ramp of competitive bouting. You go to amateur bouts, then to “Open” national circuits, then to international competitions. It’s what it is. Even if you want to wage your own protest and say “Hell, I’m gonna fence for fun”, your opponents will be prepping for their competitions, so it is impossible to avoid the intrinsic cut-throat nature of this sport.

But back to why it sucks big-time in this country.

The hot story this Olympics was about Jujie Luan, a former medal-winner for the Chinese waaaay back when she was still a Chinese national, having been churned out by those infamous Chinese athlete factories – you know, where they pick kids from kindergarten, assign them a sport and ship them off to athletic facilities on the other side of the country, whether the parents consent or not. Well, Jujie has been in Canada for many years now – I even got to see her some years back, fencing at the Nationals – and because of the Olympics being set in China, her homeland, she came out of self-imposed retirement. Jujie is 50 years of age, but nevertheless, within 15 months she managed to qualify for Beijing. (She was defeated in her second bout, but that’s not the point). Not to take away from Luan’s story, since training for this caliber of event is remarkable for someone her age. But fencing is NOT as physically demanding as most other Olympic sports. This is why routinely fencers up to their late 30s still qualify for Olympics. In fencing you “peak” in your mid-30s.

I think what’s more interesting is that Luan managed to qualify for a spot on the Olympic team within 15 mths. Frankly, this doesn’t say much for Canadian fencing as a whole.

When you go back to look at my former schoolmate, Sherraine Schalm, you get to see that she has actually been training in Europe for the last decade; a few years in Paris, and more recently, the last four in Hungary. Why? How could such a well-publicized Canadian athlete not actually LIVE here?

Well, other than mediocre coaches, favouritism that is so rampant – where good fencers get pushed aside by coaches who would rather sleep with their students – as it happened at my alma mater, supposedly the best varsity program for fencing in this country (where Sherraine also first came to train), where we won first place after first place in the university games for nearly a decade. The truth is, Canadian Coaches tend to play favourites, which is what the Romanians and the Chinese don’t do – for them, fencing is a business, without emotions and without bi-partisanship. If you have the spark in you, they will work it out of you. That’s their job.

Secondly, and just as importantly, government funding for “lesser-popular” sports like fencing (read: not football, soccer or hockey) is simply non-existent. Athletes are somehow expected to fund themselves, their lessons, their living expenses. Grants are few and far between, and cannot be said to even remotely cover the travel expenses of attending world championships every year.

Therefore, the pool of potential gold-medal-winning fencers has been reduced to the coach-favoured and wealthy – those whose parents and family can raise or at least scrimp together the necessary funds for them to survive as they train. You must be both to last as a competitive fencer. And if a coach doesn’t favour you, and won’t train you for free (how many do it anyway? How many retired fencer-come-coaches can afford to?) and you have to keep paying 20 bucks per lesson, how many lessons do you think you can afford? It all adds up.

Of course, to be a GOOD fencer you have to live abroad, and by the time you factor in the cost of renting a shitty apartment in a double-digit arrondissement on the outskirts of Paris, (as several people I know have done) and commuting to a gym where your teammates, via the grace of the French government, have their own personal trainers and psychologists and adorn the posters on bus shelters, you realize you’ve been pretty screwed by the country you are supposed to represent.

Now how’s that for motivation? No wonder the sport is so pathetic in this country.

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Posted in canada, china, commentary, culture, fencing, olympics, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , | 12 Comments »

My Correspondence with a Tibetan Nun

Posted by E on August 8, 2007

tibetan-dolmakp.jpg

In light of the recent arrests by the Chinese authorities of a couple of Canadians who dared unfurl a Free Tibet banner at the Great Wall, I thought I would share the first letter in my ongoing correspondence with a 20-year old Tibetan nun.

I could write several articles on my thoughts about the Chinese government and their treatment of those who dare possess dissenting opinions. But many other bloggers are doing just that. So instead, I will let Dolma’s words describe the peaceful nature of the oppressed Tibetan people.

Dolma (not her real first or last name)  is a Tibetan refugee now living in a Buddhist nunnery in India. I began to sponsor her through a private arrangement where I send a small amount of money over to her twice a year. The yearly $120 covers her basic meals and necessities since she is all alone, her family living back in Tibet.

We write to each other whenever possible. This was her first letter, received at the beginning of this year.

My dear sponsor Elisa,

First of all, I am so thankful to you for accepting me. I am fortunate to get a new sponsor. I received your lovely letter and am so glad to hear about [.I am removing this part since it contains private details about myself.].

Regarding myself, I am Dolma ****, 20 years old. I have 12 family members. My father Lobsang is 45 years old. My mother Narwang is also 45. They are Nomads. I have one elder brother and eight youngers. Five of them are boys, and three girls. My all family are in Tibet. In summer, they live in a tent and in the rest of the years they live in a house. They have animals like – yaks, sheep, and goats.

In Tibet, our town is so beautiful. There are high mountains with beautiful flowers and rivers. The climate is so cold in winter, all the rivers become ice, etc.

How I decided to become a nun is…when I was a child, I listen and learn much on Dharma from our high guru (teachers) and my parents. When I became 15 years old, I thought it’s the best thing to learn and practice religion (Dharma) for whole life, to purify one’s mind and to help others through spirituality. So, I decided to become a nun.

But back in Tibet, we Tibetans have no rights to practice religion because the Chinese have banned everything. So I heard that in India, people can get opportunity to study and practice religion so I thought to escape to India.

I came to India by walk. It took 23 days to cross the high Himalayas mountains and to reach India border. On my way to India I faced much difficulties. Of course, I was afraid because, if once we were caught by the Chinese then they will imprison us for life. We walk whole night and when the sun rise we hide under a small cave waiting for night to fall. We crossed high snow mountain by walk. And most difficult was that after many days, our food which we carried from our home was finished and we have to go without food for many days. And on high rocky mountains sometime we didn’t even get a drop of water.

I came to India in Jan.2006 and first I went to Dharamsala to get blessings of his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and then I came to South India. I am now studying at First Standard, which is called 1st year of Dialectic, and we debate and study on that. Our annual exam is approaching, it is in June. After the Exam I will send you my result sheet. And tell you how it was.

My daily life in India is like: in my nunnery, we nuns study Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan grammar and poetry, Prayer memorization, English. Every day we get up at 5:00 am to attend Morning Prayer Ceremony. Then we go to Philosophy class; after that we play Debate in Debate yard for 2 hours. We eat lunch at 11:00 am. We take nap for 1 hour and after that we go for Tibetan Grammar class, then English class, and we do self-studies.

We take dinner at 5:00 pm, and at 6:30 pm we assemble for Prayers. At 8:30, we again play Debate for 3 hours altogether. Then we go to room, and revise our studies and we go to bed at 12:00. This is my routine.  My hobbies are: feeding animals, reading Tibetan stories.

Lastly, I will cease here with all my love, prayers and best wishes. I pray for your good health, success and happiness. May your heart be filled with all joys, and mind with peace. I’ve enclosed one picture of mine.

Take care and I am thankful for your kind help. Do write me if you get time. And send me your sweet letter. I am so happy to hear from you. Thanking you,

yours sincerely,

Dolma

If Dolma or any of the others would have been caught trying to cross into India on the mountains, they would likely have been shot to death.

On October 20, 2006, news reports out of Khatmandu described a horror scene witnessed by many Western mountain-climbers. Reuters Press wrote: “Foreign climbers described on Tuesday the horror of watching Chinese guards shoot at a group of Tibetans high in the Himalayas, killing at least one of them.

Three climbers from Britain and Australia told Reuters they watched the incident on September 30 in Chinese territory, close to Nangpa La, a mountain pass in the Mount Everest region. At least 10 Tibetan children were also taken into custody by Chinese authorities, one climber said.

‘We felt a bit shocked and upset because we came to climb the mountain and here we are watching people being shot,’ said British climber Steve Lawes, who was at the advance base camp on Cho-Oyu — at 8,201 metres (26,906 feet), the world’s sixth highest mountain. The area is about 20 km (12 miles) west of Mount Everest. There has been no official Chinese comment about the incident.”

The total disregard that the Chinese government has toward human rights within China itself and in Tibet requires condemnation – not an Olympic event and international whitewashing.

Since China began its occupation of Tibet in 1951, over one million Tibetans have been murdered in a genocide that continues to this day. Poisoning of crops and animals in order to drive away farmers, people taken away in the night and made to “disappear”, forced abortions and sterilizations of Tibetan women and gang raping of Tibetan nuns while in police custody, are just some examples of the ongoing crimes against humanity taking place in Tibet to this day.

A small number of Tibetans have been able to escape to India, Nepal and Bhutan, where they are free to observe their culture and practice their religion.

China has begun an aggressive plan to eradicate the remaining vestiges of Tibetan culture by relocating millions of ethnic Chinese into Tibet. The cultural genocide will ensure that within a few generations, the “Tibetan problem” will once and for all be a fleeting memory for the Chinese leadership.

Sadly, the West is helping to finance this genocide. China enjoys a significant trade imbalance in its favour that helps maintain and advance its military infrastructure. Multinational corporations have lobbied hard to prevent the issue of human rights abuses in China and Tibet from being a topic at trade talks. The politicians have obliged by turning a blind eye to the oppression and persecution of the innocent.

The only way that China will be forced to deal with Tibet is if human rights is made an issue at trade talks. It will then be in China’s own interest to deal with Tibet in a humane manner. However, as long as the international community puts profit above human dignity and freedom, the destruction of a vibrant people and their ancient culture will continue.

Posted in activism, buddhism, canada, censorship, charity, china, commentary, culture, freedom, globalization, india, letter, news, politics, press, religion, revolution, tibet | 6 Comments »

An Open Letter to a Future Mother

Posted by E on July 6, 2007

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

This entry started off as an answer to a woman who wrote that she wants to adopt, but doubts that she can find an “ethical” adoption agency. I put a lot of thought to her comment, and decided to write a response that I wanted to share with all of you.

Dear Amanda,
You mentioned that you had fears about finding an ethical agency from where you could adopt a child without feeling guilty about potentially “stealing” or “coercing” a birth mother. I want to take this opportunity to put your fears to rest.

I don’t blame you for being guilted into believing that adopting a child is somehow akin to kidnapping. There is a lot of propaganda on the internet where a small group of biased people are determined to compare all adoptions to the underground trafficking of human beings.

I need you to know that you have it wrong when it comes to the idea that expectant mothers are coerced or seduced by money and gifts to “give up” their babies. First and foremost, how can you coerce someone with expensive gifts?
If they are the type of individual who would take jewelry and a trip to Europe (as happened in a real case I’ve heard about) as a thank-you gift, then what kind of person is she to begin with??
Would you take a fur coat and a trip as price for your child?? Not if you are a “mother”.

There are women who want their child to go to a good family, and there are those (yes, they do exist) who will indeed look for profit. But the women who barter their babies to the highest bidder are not “mothers.” They are business women who profit from the pain of infertile couples.

There are – frankly – more cases of that happening, as you can see in the news and shows like 2020 and 48 Hours, than the other way around.
How can the receiving half of the adoption industry (namely the adoptive parents) be unethical and seeing the children as commodities, yet the mothers be victims who were coerced??

It doesn’t work that way. Most of the time, both parties (adoptive parents AND birth mothers) want the best for the children involved.

Yes indeed Amanda, adoption is a legitimate business, with professionals involved, i.e. social workers and lawyers. Calling it a “business” and implying that by definition it’s immoral simply because there are fees exchanged is ridiculous. All legitimate enterprises operate under a business model. Hospitals, schools, etc all are businesses – employing staff, doctors, lawyers. Making a business out of adoption by no means designates adoption as “unethical.”
If it WASN’T for agencies, I would be much more worried about the state of the children.

And by the way, let’s talk about the ethics of covering birth mothers’ expenses. These days, the feelings and emotions of A LOT of infertile couples are being manipulated because of short supply-excessive demand for children. As a result, a lot of people get second mortgages and work their asses off to impress young pregnant women who KNOW they are peddling a “commodity”. So just who is being taken advantage of here?

There are lots of well-meaning people who still see pregnant girls who wish to place their infants for adoption as the same naive waifs pre-1950’s Homes for Unwed Girls scenarios; please realize that in today’s world, the tables have turned. Women are much more educated about their rights. To think less of our capability to make our own judgement is to make us less than what we are: intelligent human beings.

The mothers who want to keep their kids, do – with support from social services, welfare, whatever. And the ones who don’t – get to pick the family they give their infants to. And yes, they do have their expenses covered.

But what is wrong with that? What some might call “selling” a child is to the rest of the world a way to recompense someone for her troubles. I mean, the woman carries the child for 9 months for another couple – why NOT have her expenses covered? Why NOT have extra money for food, or have her rent paid (as so many people have done)? Why NOT make her life as comfortable as possible?
If that is “selling”, then take it up with those birth mothers! They did after all agree to those conditions and accepted payment for their expenses. I somehow don’t think they see themselves as selling their children. Yet if they do, then they could hardly be regarded as “fit” mothers, can they?

In a perfect world, children would be WANTED, pure and simple. REGARDLESS of whether they were carried in a different person’s stomach for nine months.

You mentioned the fact that some adoptions can cost upwards of $30,000, and you couldn’t understand how that could be – unless there was something morally reprehensible about it. Or involved the sale of white children only.
So to address that query – the $30,000 fee is not just for white children. It’s for healthy children. People adopting Asian, Hispanic, Black or Bi-racial kids from overseas have had to pay that much, and sometimes more to adopt healthy infants.
Yes, fees would be much less if kids from foster care were adopted – but often they are not up for adoption, they are older, disabled, or have been traumatized by abuse and neglect. A lot of a-parents might not be prepared to handle such complexities, and they have read studies that show that bonding is less complicated with infants or very young children.

That’s not to say those children are any less valuable – but unfortunately, people may not have the emotional and monetary resources to care for traumatized kids over the span of a lifetime. I wish all those youngsters would find permanent homes, and in fact I wish the government would offer more incentives and support for people to adopt every child in the system. Perhaps if they felt they were not alone, potential parents might adopt more. As it is, it’s hard emotionally enough to adopt older kids in the “system”, and those efforts are compounded by “angry Adoptees” and other psychologically-scarred people who give a bad rap to all kids still in need of a parent.

Many people who are not adopting tend to confuse what the money is about – most of it has to do with paying social workers’ fees for those home studies, lawyers to process applications, fingerprinting fees, background check fees, psychological assesments – and in the case of internationals, having to fly to the country, stay a minimum number of days, etc etc etc. And then, yes, there are those agencies fees too. But remember, the $30,000 figure represents the ADDED cost at the end of the road. It’s not just the myth of a large envelope being passed under the table.

Certainly there have been some abuses of the process, as in any arena where there are strong feelings involved. Yes, some people have paid adoption brokers above and beyond what the adoption papers state; yes, money has found its way around the legalities of this normally well-regulated system. But those situations were extremes, the minority of cases that contravened the law and were prosecuted when the law caught up.

There have also been cases of birth parents who actively sought out “buyers” for their babies. Whether in the slums of Guatemala City, the villages of rural Romania, or a parking lot in New Jersey, babies have been sold – just as often by brokers as by their own parents.

But to be afraid of adopting because of extremes doesn’t make sense. You can’t judge a legal process like adoption by looking at those who break the law as representatives and ambassadors of that process.

The only country I know of where an envelope full of cash is demanded is China (about $3000). But guess what? Although the Chinese government undoubtedly profits from this “sale” of babies, there are no mothers who are being coerced.
Those mothers abandoned their girls by the roadside, in market stalls or on the orphanage doorstep.
That’s if they didn’t kill them first.

(And please, before someone tells me that the Chinese government created this nightmare of abandoned girls with their one-child policy, let’s not forget that the parents COULD have chosen to keep their daughters as that one child. Nobody held a gun to their head and forced them to throw their baby girl in the trash.)

So you see, Amanda, you can freely let go of your guilt and fears – all you have to ask yourself is: Will I be a loving mother? Will I be able to provide and nourish this child as if it were my own?
If the answer is yes, then welcome to the wonderful world of motherhood.

Posted in adoption, children, china, commentary, family, infertility, letter, life, love, mother, orphanage, parents, personal, pregnancy, surrogate, thoughts | Leave a Comment »

The Red String, and how we are all connected

Posted by E on July 4, 2007

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An ancient Chinese proverb talks of “an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet. The thread may tangle or stretch but it will never break.”

I believe that everyone you meet, you meet for a reason, and every experience presented to you is a challenge to be learned from. This is not a religious belief but a personal, albeit somewhat spiritual opinion I hold.

I also believe that a parent is not one who carries a child for nine months, but someone who carries a child in their heart for a lifetime. Someone who is there for the smiles and the tears, the temper tantrums, the loss of baby teeth, the first day of school.

Adoptive children and their parents are brought together because they were meant to be together. Because they are on a spiritual level, if not genetically, parent and child. They are connected, not through blood, but through love.

Lately I’ve received some venomous mail from birth mothers who were using the same boring rhetoric about how adoptive parents  are acting “entitled” and “arrogant” about taking “other people’s children” and separating them from their birth families. (Basically suggesting that adoptive parents are legally kidnapping babies from their mothers via a subterranean, demonic ring of evil adoption lawyers).

I was astonished at their accusations. I wanted to say back to them: “Nobody held a gun to your head. You signed the papers. You may have been a teenager, felt pressured, etc, but YOU GAVE UP this child. (Maybe due to social stigma, poverty, depression, or simply not being ready to have a kid). BUT when you did that, the child became SOMEONE ELSE’S CHILD.”

I don’t understand how anybody can deny being responsible for giving a child away.  So you didn’t feel that you could be a parent to the baby. Fine. So you went and gave up all rights to him/her. I understand that there were tremenduous emotions involved in that decision, but WHERE ON EARTH do these people come from, to act as if these kids were kidnapped from them at gunpoint???

I wish there was some degree of respect for the people who actually TOOK that parentless child and raised him/her. They didn’t rob a mother of her child. That child didn’t HAVE a mother! Birth parenthood ended when the papers were signed. 

Dismissing a child’s adoptive mother and father (their REAL parents legally, and the only family they have known) as nothing more than arrogant, “entitled” jerks who want nothing better to do than satisfy their sadistic urges to kidnap and mentally torture a child by forcing them to “conform”, is insulting not only to them, but to that child.

Do these birth mothers REALLY think that they are helping their relationships with those adopted children (if and when they’d happen to meet again) or their psychological well-being by expressing such open-faced hostility toward their mom and dad?

Regret, jealousy and rage for having missed the most important milestones in the life of the person you gave birth to ought not to negate or deny the love that this child received from someone else: his or her parents. I would be thankful that someone loved them.

I’m certain that not all birth mothers feel like this – in fact, perhaps only a small fraction have such strong feelings. So before everyone in the adoptee camp freaks out, please remember that this post is about that small margin.

The relationship of parent and child goes so far beyond the nine gestational months spent in a womb. It’s about love, magic, and a connection that is much more than blood type. A red string ties each mother with her baby, even if the child is born thousands of miles away.

Posted in adoption, children, china, commentary, culture, family, ignorance, infertility, korea, love, parents, pregnancy, red string, surrogate, thoughts | 19 Comments »

Expats, Writers, Degenerates and other Rarities

Posted by E on April 18, 2007

with-korean-students.jpgKorea, 2001

Sitting here a full six months after publishing my first book, I can’t help but reflect on my progression into a pool of mental stagnation.

From the euphoric high of finally holding in my hands a complete book and brimming with excitement over the next project – “Now that this is done, look how easy it can be! Let’s do it again! Now!”, to being torn at having to choose between different projects, and finally burning out inside my ideas while barely touching the keyboard. And so lately I have been revisiting much of my time as an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. Life was chaotic, full of stresses and joys that entwined into a symbiotic landscape inside my head, and out of that emerged the most fierce independence I have ever experienced.

I hardly put a pen to paper then, and the temporary act of relinquishing my masochistic need to create, that painful expulsion of memory into creative form, was blissful. I could feel “normal”, no longer propelled to stand apart from others, imbibed with my own secret stories. There was nothing to me but my suitcase and my resume. There was power in this hollowness of spirit. Albeit for a short while in the context of my life, I was free of the compulsion to create anything.

Within that hollowness there were many other life forms, all drawn to the East because, paradoxically for a place where so many natives are fiercely inhibited, it was the land of the unrestrained. I met teachers there who were drunks, expelled from their jobs back in the US and Canada, most who had no certifications whatsoever save for an online degree in TESOL that can be purchased with $400. Korean private language academies were so desperate for teachers they took anyone whose passport photograph conveyed as Caucasian and under 40. A sad but true fact. I was given return flight tickets, a very generous salary, and my own bachelor apartment.

That was the time for people of my generation to escape their student loans, minimal wage jobs and lack of respect – by taking the first offer from an Asian school who afforded you the title of honorable teacher. And yet while there, while seeking solidarity from others, I found myself in a minority of expats – I did not drink, smoke nor use occasional drugs, and well, just about everyone did just about everything. The attraction for male teachers was hooking up with pretty Korean girls. There were lots of them to fit the demand, very skinny and superficial girls who were drawn toward “Meegook” American boyfriends and preferably more than a couple.

And then there were the teachers who had other intentions, who were there simply for the children. I could see it by the void in their eyes and by their sheer inability to converse with other adults; these were people who would never hold a job back home. Eventually they would be fired in Korea, and drift along, from school to school, working without a legal visa, until they simply disappeared.

The appeal for social rejects and pedophiles to just disappear from their home towns, to be handed a flight ticket and a free apartment in a foreign country where children are so much more accessible, can be irresistible to that type of individual. It’s just too easy.

Although I may get some flack for this, I do believe there are more degenerate expat teachers with transparent “degrees” than there are genuine ones.

Asia is a haven for transient backpackers looking for quick cash and young grads who have a hard time finding employment after graduation. Standards for hiring are abysmally low – you only have to look presentable in a photo and speak English with no accent – not that the latter criteria is easily enforceable: I worked for an entire year with a French Canadian guy who could barely be understood by the foreign teachers. But he was nice-looking with blue eyes and was interviewed over the phone by a director with almost no English conversational ability.

During the time I was employed at my school in Seoul, out of seven foreign teachers, four were regular drug abusers who liked to chase their pot down with hard liquor. When Steve and Andy, two New York-based teachers, took their week-long holiday together in Vietnam and Thailand, they returned with a sizeable amount of marijuana and hashish. As they got high in their apartment, they laughed and shared how they managed to pull off such a feat – part of the stash had been smuggled in Steve’s rectum.

Aside from the “good” times, there were many things I disliked about my stint in Korea, but there was nothing I hated more, more than the crowding and shoving on the subways, more than the spitting and the open stares from ugly men, and that was the expats.

But as I sit here reflecting on my year and a half in South Korea, I am reminded of another type I met abroad. There were not many of them around, but the few who did come were wonderful, inspiring individuals who genuinely wanted to make the most of their experience. They loved the children and were warm with all the students, young and old, who entered their classrooms.

me in Koreaat a Korean festival in Inchon

I came across people like that at expat community groups who met in pubs and restaurants across Seoul. There were lots of gay people there too, and one of the groups I’d joined was Seoul Sisters, a network made up of lesbian Korean adoptees who had returned to explore the land of their birth, and Western women who were either teachers like myself or stationed at the US army base.

I met creative people who were artists, writers, photographers and far beyond such definitions, and had transformed their lives and experiences into art. Such individuals humbled me; they had the strength to be themselves entirely, to drop the interchangeable masks that most people hold up in front of their genuine selves.

During the times I was desperate and wanted to do the “midnight run” back home, I would go on the internet and read the personal accounts of others who were in my place. Isolated in Korea, sometimes the only places we could interact was through the internet. Some isolated teachers had their own blogs or contributed to message boards such as Dave’s ESL café, where just about every ESL-teaching expat eventually makes a stopover. Even after returning back to Canada, I continued to read the accounts of likeminded spirits, people who were not deterred, either by site monitors or the pressure of other teachers and bosses, from speaking truthfully about their experiences.

One individual in particular made potentially the biggest contribution to the Korea ESL experience, by keeping up a significant blog and writing a book titled Island of Fantasy that became published through Lulu, the same press I used for my own material. His experiences paralleled my own to such degree that I often felt as though in some way I knew him. Indeed, I could easily have ran into him since we were in Korea at the same time and frequented some of the same places.

Shawn Matthews was a brilliant writer, full of humour and sarcastic wit to satisfy even the most jaded of readers. When I finished reading his book I must admit to feeling somewhat jealous – he had beaten me to the punch line, he’d written the book I intended to write. He was around my age, and there he went, putting out a memoir that took words and experiences right out of my mouth.

Over the last year I thought of his book as I put together the final draft of my own manuscript. Although what I was writing was on an altogether different subject, I derived some inspiration from his adventures, and was very satisfied with myself after I finally published my own book.

So this brings me back to a few months ago, when I was trying hard to tear myself away from the writer’s block that had enclosed my new project. Suddenly, it occurred to me to look back on Shawn’s blog for some satirical inspiration. But as I looked it up on the net, I quickly discovered that it had disappeared. The blog was gone! What had happened to it?

I googled Shawn’s name and to my shock, found out that Shawn had killed himself a month before. This person I had not met but had become synonymous with my own Korean experience, with my own desire to be a successful writer, had taken his life by leaping off the roof of his apartment building in Beijing, China. He had been teaching in China over the last year and apparently over the later months became constantly jeered and harassed over the internet by other teachers who disliked his opinions. They had gone so far as actually call him a pedophile on some chat boards, which could impact his teaching career. This turn of events, coupled with his state of depression over a girlfriend and perhaps other personal matters, made him snap. So on May 23, 2006, this young man could not take it anymore and committed suicide.

My effort to process his death was surreal. It was a tragedy that so much potential be lost, be thrown away like that. And as I found myself crying for someone who had been so alike myself, I was suddenly given the lesson of worth. On a deeper, more significant level, this realization snapped inside my body like an chord, resonating louder, reverberating though my being. I was outside my own self, looking at this other person who was beautiful and talented and did not value his own life enough to preserve its magic. A young man who had everything going for him – his youth, his health, and a brilliant mind. All gone in an instant.
For the first time in my entire life, the message finally sank in. In the past I had come so close to being where Shawn was, to throwing away all the good I had but did not see it right in front of me.

And the other thing I did not see until recently: the very act of not writing, of not fulfilling my potential, as an act of defiance against my spirit. As a lashing out against my own sense of self-worth. For every day I do not create, I tear another page out of the manuscript of my own fulfillment.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s words never had more weight than today – When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.

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