Artist

 

 

Joseph Reyes

July 18


It’s been a while since I’ve done a coronavirus update, so here it is. It’s been over two years now, and I still haven’t caught it. Knowing someone who’s caught it is much more common these days, so is getting over it without much complications. I think taking the vaccine helps, and the treatments have gotten much better. My sister-in-law here and her family caught the virus from a daycare center, and they’re all much better now. I got coworkers and acquaintances here who caught it, too.

My bestfriend in Canada caught the virus, too. She seems to be doing well, but it shows that the virus is still out there causing trouble.

And me, I’m still successfully dodging that bullet.

They’re giving out second booster shots now to people who want it, but only to a certain age. A lot of people didn’t even bother getting the first booster because not long after they made the booster available last year, they made vaccine passes no longer necessary.

For a while, cases in the country were down to around 10,000 a day, which was quite low. People have begun to relax more as open public mask mandates have been lifted, although it is still required in closed public spaces. Even in the office, I see people occasionally taking off their masks when sitting around their desks. It just doesn’t seem to be something people worry too much about anymore.

There are no more limitations to gatherings, nor are there curfews. Once again, drunk people roam the streets and ride the trains of Seoul late at night. That’s one thing I kinda miss about the pandemic. The people and quiet at night. That, and the obligation to finish drinking at 10:00. I know, I know. That’s early. But I’m getting old, and going out for drinks has gotten pretty expensive these days.

I’ve been able to go to the gym these days, too. Finally. I haven’t regularly worked out in two years. Just doing push ups and ab rollers at home. People still have to wear masks however, but I come in super early and I tend to work out without a mask on when no one is around. Shhhhh!

When it comes to traveling though, some people are still wary, while a significant number of Koreans are taking the first opportunity to travel that they can. Some countries don’t require negative tests nor visas to enter, but South Korea still requires negative PCR tests to allow people in. My sister will be visiting on September and she’s got herself a visa. So yeah, tourism is slowly making a comeback in the country.

Relations between Japan and Korea still haven’t been normalized however, and Koreans would still need to apply for a visa when traveling to Japan. Uncertainty regarding Covid and the situation with Japan made me decide to just stay in the country for now and just vacation somewhere I haven’t been to: Busan. I will be on vacation this week, and I’m hoping all goes well.

What scares me though is the current uptick in cases happening around the world due to the new omicron variant. Yesterday, Korea had 40,000 new cases of coronavirus in the country. Japan had over 100,000. I’m hoping this is just a minor blip and not something that would last. God, I remember when Korea was being hailed as a model country with cases less than 1000 a day. Now it seems we’re just as bad (or as good) as other countries. 

July 27


Been reading about DALL-E 2 recently. For the uninitiated, it’s an AI tool that generates images based on text prompts. So for example, someone can type in, “Woman buys blue toilet paper in Walmart seen from behind” and the AI will generate an image that matches that description. The technology is still in its early stages, and many of the results look funny during experimentation that some news outlets have tried to sell it as a fun tool to create memes. But some results look quite good and it’s scary how accurate the AI can recreate text prompts into images.

The AI tool is being sold as a possible tool to help people quickly visualize images. This can be anything from helping people with physical disadvantages express themselves to production companies quickly storyboard ideas. That second scenario sounds like it’s bound to make some artists redundant.

What surprised me about the tool is how good some of the pieces it generates can be. They look like someone actually labored and made art. AI can already generate written words to simulate real people. They do this well enough with millions of bots posting messages on Twitter and writing spam e-mail that they convince thousands of people with their authenticity. But now this DALL-E 2 could be doing the same thing, only with digital art and photography. It can make images that can move the hearts and minds of some people.

There’s already a debate whether some conceptual artists are actual artists (*cough* Damien Hirst *cough*), but with AI, anyone can type out any of their wild ideas and it’s up to the AI to make art out of it. Forget talent, skill, or training… all you need is a good idea and a bit of wit. How long before we see a group of artists calling themselves AI artists who never lifted a brush or a pencil all of their life?

I believe it was Picasso who said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” TS Elliott similarly said, “the immature poet imitates; the mature poet plagiarizes.” The DALL-E 2 and what it will eventually become is the ultimate thief. It will copy style and technique and appropriate it to whatever the user whims it to. I know someone who currently creates abstract digital paintings. He sells prints of his works. Now how similar would the works be if I used DALL-E 2 and entered “Swishy digital painting with soft pastel tones”? How safe are my works? “Busy ink drawing filling the page with an octopus hidden somewhere”?

Now, the makers of the program claim that there are safeguards which prevent people from making counterfeit images, using political figures, generating pornography, etc. But really, at some point this is all going to get duplicated or someone is going to find some sort of workaround. Next thing you know, we’ll have a convincing picture of “President Biden at a nude resort” floating around the Internet.

It’s simply too rife for potential abuse. 

July 13


When do people stop seeing their therapists? When do you go, “this is as far as we can go. Please wean me out of my meds and let’s have an amicable end to our relationship?” I’ve been with my therapist for more than a year now. My life has improved dramatically under his care, but I’m sitting here thinking, how long can I do this? How long can I be on meds? When does life become normal?

I do enjoy being able to talk my heart out to someone. And I find both his advice and the medicine very helpful. I was in a very dark place last year around February. Once in a while, I go back to that dark place, too. But our sessions have helped me cope with things and make it through just one more day. But a part of me hopes that one day I could be able to do without him be the well-adjusted individual I imagine most people my age are.

That, plus lately I’ve been hearing about the dangers of benzodiazepines. I know it’s probably not the benzos that made Jordan Peterson a lunatic, but looking at his latest rant, I wouldn’t want to be like him and would like to stray away from anything that might’ve contributed to his current state. He admitted to being addicted to benzodiazepines and struggled getting out of it. I missed a couple of days of my drugs one time, and I ended up with the worst headache ever and vivid nightmares. I take Xanax when needed and I don’t consider myself addicted to it, but I’m afraid that I’ll end up addicted to the other benzodiazepines I take regularly.

I actually keep a list of the changes in medication I’ve been taking just in case, which could be a sign of paranoia or obsession. Maybe I need more anxiety pills.

My wife wonders about my progress, but I think right now I’m in stasis. I’m in a place where I’m generally more okay than not okay. I get bad days where I really despise the person I see on the mirror, but there are more days which are more routine, peaceful, and I just go about with work and life. I’ll be going on a bit of vacation soon, and I’m hoping that it would help. But a part of me is a little anxious about it, too.

I used to see another therapist in Korea years ago, and she didn’t really care much about what I was talking about. She just prescribed me with meds and tried to drug the depression and anxiety away. I believe she over prescribed me because I found myself walking around like a zombie and needed drugs to both sleep and to function in the morning once I wake up. My doctor right now is much better, but I still wonder if I’ve been around for too long.

Or maybe being in therapy too long is more of a Korean thing. That’s still seeing depression and anxiety as a disease that can be healed completely, not a life-long condition that should be treated long-term. I’m grateful for all of the help I’ve received, but when my wife asks about my progress, I can’t help but ask myself, “why am I still not normal after all of this time? Why do I still need to see my therapist?”

I feel kinda guilty about it as well, because I mentioned to her that last week, I had a couple of depressed episodes as well as anxiety. I had to take Xanax a few times. This was a week when she did something incredibly generous, buying me a PlayStation 5, and thinking that would fuel at least a week of excitement and elation. And yet, the depression and anxiety still found a way to squeak themselves in to my life. She tried to make me happy, and yet I’m still in need of meds.

I just wish I was happier and things were better. I try, oh God, I try, but I still need help. But many things around me tell me that if I was happier and if I was content, then I would be crazy.

I guess the weather isn’t helping as well. I wish it would stop raining. 

June 23


I was on a path to getting my permanent resident visa here in South Korea. For a while now, I’ve been living in the country under a marriage visa. This visa has to be renewed every two to three years. This makes sense to me because it prevents people from scamming Koreans into marriage, then getting a divorce and after settling in the country. Unfortunately, it also gives the visa sponsor a lot of power since their spouse is literally in the country based on their whim. Fortunately, I’m not in that situation, but I still figure that I’ve been living in the country long enough that I should try for a permanent resident visa.

A couple of differences before I move on. A lot of teachers and professors here are on a working visa, an E2 visa. This is for foreigners to teach in Korea for a year. I used to be in the country under an E7 visa. This is for foreigners working in other white collar jobs. Both types of visas are working visas sponsored by the employers and only allows the visa holder to work for the employer and no one else. No side gigs, no personal businesses, etc. A marriage visa is F6. This allows a person to work for any employer and any side gig or business. This gives the visa holder more freedom, but the person is naturally tied to their spouse for sponsorship. An F2 visa gives the same amount of freedom in terms of employment to the visa holder. However, the visa holder must show proof of employment as well as salary, thus tying themselves to a financial state that they must maintain when they apply or when they renew their visa.

An F2 visa is awarded on a point system. Points are awarded based on age, salary, special recommendations, Korean language skills, etc. If you accumulated over 80 points, then you qualify for a visa. I’ve been stressing out for the past couple of weeks over my Korean and passing the TOPIK test, the Korean language test, in order to get more points. However, it is notoriously difficult and even if I do get a good score, it will only award me a few points. The category most people can get points on seem to be age and salary. The younger you are and the more money you earn, the more points you get, which is frankly counter-intuitive. There are not many rich young people applying for permanent residence. And by the time one is older and earns more money, they’ve already lost a ton of points due to their age.

But then I discovered that my school, the University of Manitoba, qualifies as an Excellent school, giving me an extra fifteen points. This qualifies me for an F2 visa even without taking any language test. Perfect! I started getting my ducks in a row, sorting out my diplomas, my financial records, employment contracts, etc.

Then boom, just as fast as my hopes were raised, my hopes were once again dashed. I simply do not qualify for a permanent resident visa. Apparently, people in the country under a marriage visa cannot apply for an F2 visa. I will need an E7 visa. I had an E7 visa before, but that was during my bachelor days. An exception can be made and F6 visas can be changed to F2 visas if the applicant was working in a competitive hi-tech field like nanotechnology or something. Not me. No, not me.

It just wasn’t meant to be.

My wife suggested that maybe I’m looking at the wrong thing. Why can’t I be like other foreign celebrities on television who have different visas and can vote and everything. First off, with voting, it sounds like they’ve been awarded citizenship, which I really have no interest in applying for. But I decided to look anyway.

F5 is a permanent resident visa awarded to people who have made considerable investments in the country, employ Koreans, and has mastered the Korean language to heights I could only dream of. A lot of the qualifiers also include recommendations by government agencies. This is a no go.

So that’s my adventures in trying to get a permanent resident visa. If you’re an English teacher or an office worker reading this. If you’re on an E2 or an E7 visa, as long as you’re young enough or earn enough money, you could very well qualify for an F2 visa. And don’t underestimate your school even if you didn’t graduate from an ivy league institution. Your school could still be Excellent and award you with additional points.