Joseph Reyes

Artist

 

May 19


I met an old acquaintance of mine who had me spend time talking to his daughter. His daughter was studying in Canada but had to suddenly move back to Korea due to the coronavirus. Let’s call her Kelly. Now her education in Canada is in a bit of a limbo. She doesn’t know when and if she could go back to Canada to finish her senior. And worse in Kelly’s mind, she fears that she’s going to miss out on prom. Prom… Ah, to be young and naive. I asked her about her ideas about prom and it was interesting hearing how a lot of it is informed through YA novels and what she’s seen on her Netflix subscription.

I had to tell her that prom in Canada is called “grad.” And I’m not so sure about other kids, but I remember it not being such a big deal to Canadians, at least to me. I remember listening to ‘This American Life’s’ take on prom and one teacher said that it was the time when kids become adults in America. It’s when they dress up as adults, get treated like adults, are allowed to drink, and for a night, think that everything is possible. I remember my grad being a mixed bag. There wasn’t that much hype about it, but I do remember being in an environment where it’s all sort of a blank slate. High school hierarchy was sort off forgotten, tired facades were dropped, and for a night, I found myself socializing with people I normally wouldn’t hang out with. A couple of times I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, that guy ain’t half bad. I should’ve hung out with him more.”

Contrary to the critical hype, I actually went to grad twice. Both with the same person. My date wasn’t really my girlfriend or anything. She was one of my best friends at the time. I graduated one year earlier, so I took her to my grad and she invited me to hers. I was initially planning to invite a girl in my history class to grad with me. But when I called my friend for advice asking that girl out, I ended up asking her out instead. Interestingly enough, I believe the guy the girl in my history class went to grad with ended up marrying her. So that was all good for her. I never would’ve guessed that after seeing her all drunk with her future husband trying to nurse her back to consciousness.

I don’t really remember spending too much time with my date on either nights. I remember renting a limo once. I remember being drunk and getting kicked out on my second night. I remember not only do these events have liquor, they also had gambling, which is a really weird education/initiation for kids. It was like, “hey, in case you didn’t know the rules of black jack before you graduate, here you go!” I remember dancing with a girl whose name I believe was Jennifer Lynn Jenkins (I could be wrong). I always had a crush on her but thought she was too out of my league. She had beautiful long blond hair which seemed to just swish with every turn. I remember her having braces at one point, but then tried fangs in order to fit in. It was a thing back then, I guess. Anyway, for someone so attractive, she seemed to never really stuck with a crowd. I think it’s because she was the pretty girl who just moved from another school on her last year. Anyway, with the democratizing nature of the event, I was able to finally work up the courage and ask her to dance with me. She probably doesn’t remember it, but that was the highlight of all of my grad experience.

Outside of that, both events were mostly just hanging out and waiting for things to happen, just like what most teenagers do. We wait for people to arrive, for things to happen, for things to end. It’s not really exciting. Looking back now, aren’t teenagers dumb? We mostly spent our time waiting. I tell all of this to Kelly and that seemed to dampen the hype a bit for her. But I guess what really turned her the most is the fact that people are expected to have dates at grad. Well, at least that’s what media told her. A lot of people in both of the grads I went to didn’t really have dates. Or maybe they’re like me. I had someone with me, but she’s not really my date in the truest sense of the word. Anyway, most Koreans start dating at a much older age than Westerners. It’s not unusual to see kids in university who’ve never been on dates once. The pressure to have a date on one night in a foreign country with so little time must be daunting for her. But then again, she seems like a good kid. I’m sure some guy would ask her out given the chance.

Anyway, it was fun seeing how big a hype grad (or prom) is to a kid. It seems really foolish to me now. Heck, it seemed fooling to me even during my first year in university. But it’s interesting to see how kids’ minds are so different, even when they believe that they have become adults. Maybe it’s our minds changing significantly as we age, or maybe it’s just the wisdom (or cynicism) brought about by years of experience. I really hope Canada gets the virus under control soon. I feel bad for the young kids missing out on grad (or prom) this year. I hear that some schools are moving their prom events to August, but I’m not sure if that’s too soon for the virus to be under control and for such large gatherings to be safe. In any case, I hope next year, Kelly gets to experience this event which the media has been hyping so much for her. 

May 5


I love Japan. Prior to the coronavirus, I used to go there every year. Heck, I dress like a fake Hawaiian person, just like many people do in Fukuoka. But just because you love a country doesn’t mean you have to turn a blind eye to the many things that are wrong with the country. It’s infuriating watching the early coverage of Japan regarding the coronavirus.

First off, commentators and “experts” were opining that Japan had a low coronavirus infection rate due to the country’s culture of wearing masks whenever a person is ill and their general cleanliness. This implies that other countries were somewhat less clean, doesn’t it? Singapore was hard hit early on by the virus, and I would argue that Singapore is a much cleaner country than Japan.

I was watching a documentary about the virus in Asia and it irked me how Japan was being covered especially on the 36-minute mark. It just reeks of a superiority complex. And it doesn’t help that the French correspondent just fawns at the people’s commentary and doesn’t ask any challenging question. Which is another thing I find problematic. At the time of filming, France was having a surge of coronavirus cases. The French corresponded should be well aware of this. The French, much like most of Europe, didn’t take the virus too seriously, and was hard hit as a consequence. And yet, the French correspondent, like a proper weeaboo, just smiles and ignores the hidden danger of the virus. He even took his kids to a cherry viewing festival. No masks, just smiles.

The documentary is outdated by now, but it shows the willingness of people to give Japan all of the benefits of the doubt due to their love for things Japanese. Anime and manga are great. Sushi is delicious. The people are often very polite and can be charmingly quirky. But that doesn’t excuse many of the things that are wrong in the country.

The current government is horribly right wing. Abe often flirts with nationalist sentiments. Many Japanese are in total denial regarding war crimes and their involvement in World War II. They can be quite comfortable with blatant misogyny. Racism and xenophobia can often be excused as “cultural differences.” They are in denial regarding Fukushima. They seem to relish eating whales for no good reason. And these are just things off the top of my head.

I remember Takeshi Kitano once produced a panel talk show featuring foreigners called, “What’s Wrong with Japan.” It was unique because instead of having foreigners constantly detail how wonderful their host country is (Korean TV can be guilty of this), it asked foreigners what they didn’t like about Japan and how it can be improved. Instead of telling viewers what they probably already know and agree with (which can get boring and repetitive), it gave them a more critical view point. And the show wasn’t intended to be malicious. It was more about love and wanting some growth.

Anyway, going back to the coronavirus situation. Japan is still not testing as many people. They are also not very upfront regarding their infection and death rates. It annoyed me that even after a recent surge, I still occasionally see articles wondering “How is Japan getting low infection rates despite limited testing and contact tracing?” The love for Japan seems to have eclipsed some people’s logic. 

May 11


People need to stop talking about a “second wave” or “the next resurgence.” Outside of China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea, the world is still pretty much dealing with the first wave. It bothers me that people have been itching for businesses to re-open, to get their hair cut or their nails done, only after a few weeks. So much so that there are protests in some countries which could inevitably spread the virus even further. South Korea has been dealing with the virus and social distancing since February. The rest of the world needs to calm down.

South Korea has been enjoying a good record on getting infection rates down. The country had zero local infections for a number of days. Then over the long weekend, one person came from out of town to Itaewon in Seoul and partied in five bars and clubs. He ended up spreading the coronavirus to a number of people. Just this morning, the number was 52 cases. Unfortunately, the area and a couple of the clubs are popular among the gay community. So contact tracing will be extremely difficult. People would be more secretive about their presence in the area compared to how tight-lipped people were about their relationship with the Shincheonji cult during after the initial outbreak this year.

The incident highlights the greed and hubris of some people, both the business owners and the patrons. Club and bar owners have been itching to get people coming in. I realize they have bills to pay and everything, but this rush to open and fill their venues with people paying in often un-taxable cash has inevitably hurt their business even more. Now the bars and clubs are forced to shut down.

A bit of history. Itaewon is multi-cultural district near the army base in Seoul. A few years ago, due to the music video “Itaewon Freedom,” it became a very popular hangout spot not just for foreigners but also the locals. It caused a lot of Koreans to start their own bars and restaurants and even pushed out many of the foreign establishments which gave the area its distinct character. Later, with news that the army base nearby will be shutting down, real estate prices began to rise dramatically, and many of the businesses began to shut down as well. The place is now filled with buildings being torn down, presumably for bigger buildings to be built. Business hasn’t really been good for the area recently due to a Japanese boycott and the coronavirus. The place looks like a shell of its former self if you walk around during the day. Then a few weeks ago, ‘Itaewon Class,’ a popular webtoon-turned-K-Drama gave the area a bit of push, especially since the drama focused on upbeat nightlife and gorgeous young people. Unfortunately, I think the bar and club owners got ahead of themselves. Many clubs opened with sanitizers at the door and masks laughably “mandatory.” And now with these businesses being forced to closed, the area is dead both during the day and at night.

It annoys me how lame (yes, LAME) the people who insist on clubbing and partying during the pandemic are. Can’t they read the room? And yes, I’ve had my clubbing phase before, but I’m sure the minute someone tells me that masks and sanitizers are mandatory, I’d probably cool it a little bit. How fun could it be going out and partying wearing a mask outside of Halloween?! There are other ways to get laid! Or better yet, DON’T get laid. Stay in for a few days. It won’t kill you (It won’t kill your old relatives either). Even Pornhub is famously helping by providing their premium content for free. It annoys me still that with Itaewon bars and clubs closing, many are going to Gangnam and maybe even Hongdae to party. This is utter hubris. This is the Korean version of spring breakers in Florida.

And now people are on alert again. One of the infected happens to be US military as well. A few are foreigners. More than ever, people are talking about how many foreigners in the country seem to walk around thinking that they are invulnerable to the virus by not wearing masks. They don’t seem to understand that the reason why the masks and the whole sanitation and social distancing works is that if everyone does it, the greater the chance it will be effective. They can afford not to wear a mask because everyone else is. And that’s just being a selfish, ethnocentric ass hat. At least wear one because “when in Rome...” A collective effort is how Korea managed to get its coronavirus situation under control. It’s when actors stray from this collective effort that leads to an outbreak: the cult breaking protocol, and now with these dumb clubs.

It annoys me even more that the incident is probably reinforcing the stereotype of foreigners (and perhaps gay people) being too carefree or not being serious people. Just this morning, I was encouraged out of nowhere to tell my friends who went clubbing over the weekend to get tested. Huh?! Why me?? For years, people assume I have connections to the club/party scene simply because I’m a foreigner.

The thing is, even during the worst of the pandemic. I still went out to restaurants. I still went out to bars. But the establishments I go to are around my neighborhood. They are in the community which I would probably have contact with at some point since work was never really shut down for me. I don’t think it’s smart to travel, go to crowded places with other people from out of town or wherever, and inadvertently spread the virus. People still need to be wary of spreading the virus and not indulge in overly unnecessary risks.

So with Korea reeling and in a bit of a panic over the recent (hopefully) mini outbreak, why are other countries so confident that they can ride through it like more people won’t get infected? I realize companies want people working just so they wouldn’t cover their unemployment insurance costs, but other than that, how do you explain everyday Joe-Schmoe itching to go out there, get a haircut, and maybe catch the virus and kill grandma? There’s no second wave, folks. Korea, which is a model country in terms of the coronavirus is still dealing with the virus like it’s the first wave. Businesses are still hurting. People are still strapped financially. But with much of the virus still being unknown, it’s really best to just stick to social distancing and calm down for a bit. Get used to this new life for a while. I know, I know. It’s easy for me to say that while I still have a job. But, I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long and painful ride, and pushing life to normalcy regardless of the risks would simply make things worse. 

May 27


Re-listening to Malcolm Gladwell talk about Brian Williams and how memory often distorts over time, I started thinking about how distorted my flashbulb memories are. One example I wrote about before was a picture of me on New Year’s Eve when I was six years old. My face was covered in smoke. For the longest time I thought it was me and I created this memory of me enjoying myself at that time. That is, until I started remembering that I was sick at that time and there was no way I could’ve been out celebrating New Year’s at that time.

Anyway, Gladwell mentioned that our memories of key historical events tend to distort even within a year’s time. And as an experiment, I would like to list a few historical moments that would probably be distorted or disputed once I read it again after a while. Our memories aren’t perfect. We often distort and unintentionally lie to ourselves. These lies become our truths.

-COVID-19: I had a pretty bad and/or uneventful Valentines day. I remember going to Korean class after work. A couple of days later, things got really hectic at work as we scramble to cope with the effects of the virus infection.

-Park Gun Hye: I didn’t want to go to any of the rallies because as a foreigner, I was technically in the country by the graces of the government. The protests were not my fight. I did go once. I remember watching Park Gun Hye leave her home on television when she finally got impeached.

-Umbrella Revolution: I remember meeting several students who were protesting what was happening in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is my favorite city ever. To this day, it still upsets me what the Chinese government and the Hong Kong police have turned such a dynamic place into.

-Donald Trump election: I was at work and was quite disappointed that Hilary didn’t win. I was following the Young Turks and MSNBC on Youtube. What a shitty day! The Chinese girl working next to me never talked to me once all that time I worked with her. This is why I never bothered remembering her name.


-Fukushima: I was home. I remember being disappointed that the release Yakuza: Dead Souls was postponed.

-Iraq Invasion: I had a roommate at the time and he was giddy at the prospect of watching Saddam’s military get utterly destroyed in a matter of days. “Shock and awe, baby!”

-9/11: I was getting ready to go to school when I saw the news on television. I had a CRT television in my room and I remember seeing smoke come out of the towers. I was wondering if I should go to school or if there was going to be school for a while. Then I remember it was everything people could talk about in class.

-Y2K: I was in Hong Kong waiting for the apocalypse to happen. The city would’ve been a great place for me to be stranded in. Sadly, nothing happened, and I had to fly back to Canada afterwards.

-Napster/file-sharing: I remembering illegally downloading Radiohead B-sides in weird formats. At the time, I was also trying out different programs to send text messages from the PC to cellphones. The first person to ever introduce me to t he Internet was Mr. Hanuscuck from our tech and woodworking class. He mentioned “surfing the Web,” and even back then, I thought the term was dated.

-Death of Princess Diana: I was in a van with my mom and dad picking up my sister as she gets off from a shift at a hospital. I heard it on the radio. We were on our way to have dinner somewhere. I remember thinking about those paparazzis chasing her as if it was a Mad Max scenario.

-Rise of the Internet: I remember being in a student conference about this in St. John’s Ravenscourt. Some girl across from me was flashing me with her skirt during a discussion about the Internet’s implication in the future.

-OJ Simpson not guilty: I was in an art class. A classmate of mine was doing a poll of the class minutes before the jury was to be announced. Even then, I knew he did it but was not impressed or could not follow the prosecution’s case. I said, “not guilty.”

-Soviet Union Collapse: I was in school. There were talks about the new countries that were bound to be born out of the event. Around that time, our teacher had us debate communism versus capitalism. I was on the side of communism.

-Nintendo: God bless my mom for buying us a Nintendo system. I remember being the luckiest kid ever when she came home with it. Our first game was Circus Charlie.

-AIDS epidemic: I remember reading extensively about this on National Geographic. There were also TV specials about it, but the magazine article stuck to me. Oddly enough, I don’t remember thinking it was a gay disease.

-EDSA Revolution: I don’t remember much about it, just mostly the songs. My father was and is a pro-Marcos guy. Politics was not often discussed at home. I recall a couple of days being thankful that he came home in one piece.

-Iran hostage crisis: I was coming home from school when I heard the news on the radio. I was eating the driest and crumbliest cookie ever. A neighbor kid gave them to me as an apology for inadvertently stabbing my hand the day before.

-End of the Vietnam War: I remember when it ended, my uncle, who is a veteran, had a lot of opinions about it. I was too young to get involved so I just ignored it and mostly played with his model airplanes and helicopters. It was the first time I got to thinking about small scale models.

-The Cuban Missile Crisis: I was visiting my grandfather and he had the TV on. I wasn’t too interested in it and neither was he. I remember him grumbling that it was mostly an American thing and something that Canada shouldn’t bother with. He was preparing lunch at the time and reheating/remoistening a bowl of rice by adding some water in it. I thought it was odd.


-George VI dies: I was babysitting a neighbor’s kid, Courtland, and he was climbing on to my shoulder while I was trying to read the newspaper. I remember thinking, “We’ll be seeing a lot of this new Queen.”