Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lisa's Thoughts on Ebola & Western Media

I feel like our cultural selfishness has never been more obvious than in the way the media circus surrounding the spreading of Ebola has been reflecting it back to us. Why are people freaking out? A few have pointed out that it seems strange we are not nearly as concerned by other much more common causes of death. The psychology of the current hysteria is simple and sad:

Because we are selfish. 

We are only worried about ourselves. Because, unlike Malaria or TB, Ebola does not have well-tested and widely available treatment. Holy Shit, if it comes here... it can actually get ME. It can actually break through our bubble-wrapped state of protection, our psychological distance from the rest of the world, from the most common killers in the world - the ones that only really threaten your life if you were unfortunate enough to be born in a poor country. The majority of coverage has really exploded since a man died of Ebola on North American soil. That's when we decided shit was real. Over 1 million people die from Malaria each year and most of them are children under the age of five years (Unicef). It's estimated that almost 1 million died from TB last year (WHO). "In low-income countries, nearly 4 in every 10 deaths are among children under 15 years, and only 2 in every 10 deaths are among people aged 70 years and older. People predominantly die of infectious diseases: lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria and tuberculosis collectively account for almost one third of all deaths in these countries." (WHO) 

But we won't be mobilized to demand our politicians take action if we have the medicine and the infrastructure to keep us safe here at home. And accusations of action or lack of action on the part of our politicians to stop these (preventable) deaths won't be highlighted by national news organizations. Because it's not about saving lives, we don't actually care about the death toll unless it includes someone we know. We ignore, we say its not our problem, remain unphased and uncritical of why our politicians choose their international aid recipients and their battles based not on saving lives, not on supporting the kinds of infrastructure and education that could literally save millions of lives, but on economic opportunity. 

The truly sad, scary thing is that, if a reliable form of treatment and/or vaccine for Ebola is developed soon, we will once again succeed in isolating ourselves. We'll feel safe and we'll go back to our regularly-scheduled programming and forget that the same lack of infrastructure and access to health care is still in place in much of the world. Some estimates say that the number of infected by Ebola will top 1 million by December 2014 (BBC). Now that we've had a fresh chance to be faced with our fragile mortality (and what it feels like to live somewhere where there is no medicine to treat you), we will actually keep the pressure on our politicians to do something? 

Or will Ebola become the next Malaria once the pharmaceutical protections are in place here at home and we no longer feel personally threatened?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Big Adventures in Small-Scale Farming...

The view from where I sit? From my current location at the dining table of a 29’ travel trailer parked on a small hill – I see tall cedar and pine trees and beyond that, a lush green pasture backed by a small mountain. There are several such mountains on all sides of Ranfurly Farm, nestled in Turtle Valley, near Chase, British Columbia - our new home for the next 5 months. We (Derek and I) arrived here from Calgary AB around 5:30 pm on Thursday, May 3rd, following a marathon 4-day road trip across the country to get here (Day 1 – Thunder Bay, ON to Winnipeg, MB; Day 2 – Winnipeg, MB to Saskatoon, SK; Day 3 – Saskatoon, SK to Calgary AB; Day 4 – Calgary, AB to Chase BC). After a whirlwind month of moving, packing and preparing for this farming adventure, the trip was actually a nice break in a way. When we would reach out destination in the evening, we could actually relax a little, not run down another “to do” list or complete a few hours of chores. We had the pleasure of staying with Derek’s relatives in Saskatoon and Calgary, who fed us wonderful meals and gave us a comfy place to lay our weary bodies down for the night. Even Mokah, my finicky cat, seemed grateful and at ease in their homes. On Day 4 of the trip, Derek let me be a passenger most of the day so that I could enjoy seeing the Rockies for the first time without crashing the car because I couldn’t keep my eyes on the road. We’d had gray, rainy weather for most of the trip, but thankfully it cleared up enough for us to have some great views of the snowy peaks and rushing rivers of western Canada. We saw mountain goats, deer and a large black bear on our way to our final destination. Words could not express the relief we felt when we arrived. Mostly, because we were shocked that we had actually arrived. We could hardly think at all except to unpack our bags and know that we did not have to get up and drive anywhere the next day. We probably looked and seemed like zombies but our hosts warmly greeted us and fed us a delicious dinner of beef curry /w chick peas and homemade cheese. It was the perfect meal for the end of a long journey. Derek and I have decided to jointly blog about our new adventure on a new blog. You can follow our journey at: I may periodically post here still, but the majority of our new farming adventure will be there. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Road Home - Thoughts on Leaving South Korea Pt 2

Blink. Five Months Later. Whoopsie.

Ok, so working on recounting my days leaving South Korea. Last Entry I spoke about my last weekend up to the point where I returned to my apartment to cry and finish packing my things.

I stayed up until 3am repacking my suitcase, figuring out what else would have to go in the mail. Checking and double-checking all my tickets and documents. Around 3 am I went down for a few hours of intermittent shut-eye. Mokah was agitated, she knew something was up. I only ever packed my bags when I was leaving for weeks at a time, and in the past that meant she stayed at the apartment while friends looked in on her. This time though, she was coming along for the ride.

Here was my intinerary for the travel home:

8:00 am - Train from Suncheon to Iksan.
10:30 am - Bullet train from Iksan to Seoul.
12:00 pm - Shuttle Bus to Incheon Internation Airport
1:00 - 3:30 pm - Supposed rest time before flight.
4:00 pm - 10 hour flight from IIA to Vancouver
Massively confusing time change while in the air....
2:00 pm - Arrive at Vancouver Airport
3:30 pm - Flight to Winnipeg Airport
6:30 pm - Arrive at Winnipeg Airport, greeted by Mom and Sister and hit the highway for 4 more hours before arriving in Dryden ON.

These are rough estimates of the times. All told, we were in transit for about 30 hours, start to finish.

My dear friend Lindsay arranged to drive me to the Train Station and it felt so good to have a friend there to see me off. Mokah was in her carrier and not happy about it, but once on the train, she seemed to settle. All told, Mokah was an amazing traveler. The only time she was vocal was when were in between modes of transportation and understandably so. My hands full with a large suitcase and a smaller carry-on suitcase, her carrier was slung over my shoulder by a long duffle-bag strap and was left to bounce against my hip as we jostled from place to place.

It was on the train to Seoul that I realized that I had failed to get to a bank and withdraw the final amount of my funds from my account. Now, you may be asking, "Lisa, why on earth didn't you do that the day before? Or a few days before?". Well my dears, for once the culprit was not my own procrastination, but rather the procrastination of my co-teacher. Her complete lack of planning led to us to run around all day like chickens with our heads cut-off doing paperwork and getting my visa extended by 3 days so I wouldn't face a fine leaving the country. Because she did not file my exit papers sooner, it meant that some of the money my school owed me (reimbursement for travel costs) were not sent to the bank until Friday afternoon and thus, not being put into my account on Monday morning.

No problem, just have to find a bank machine on the way and pull out the rest of the funds. Here's the funny thing. My travel costs put my bank account balance at around 1.2 million won (roughly $1000 CDN). Most Korean Bank Machines only offer notes in 10,000 won denominations. And this machine only let you pull out 300,000 won per transaction. To get my money, I had to pull 300,000 x 4. So there I was in the middle of a busy train station pulling bricks of cash out of an ATM. 120 bills stuffed into my purse. I felt like a gangster. (To this day, there is still about 45,000won sitting in that account, by the fourth transaction I was so nervous about someone robbing me I forgot to grab the last little bit).

The shuttle bus to the airport was uneventful. I was the only passenger. I closed my eyes, but couldn't sleep.

At the airport, an Army guy (I don't know his rank, but he was grey-haired and had lots of insignia on his uniform) helped me with my bags. I felt good. I had 3 hours before my flight, so far everything was going according to plan. Once I got on that plane, I would be home free. Upon checking my bags, I was informed that I needed more paperwork from immigration downstairs before I would be allowed to check my bags. And Also, my suitcase was overweight and I would need to go to customer service to pay the extra weight fee. They let me leave my bags at the kiosk and Mokah and I headed for Customer Service. Then down to the immigration office. Everyone was very helpful, but all in all it ate up most of my relaxing time. I needed to be through security at least 1 hour before the flight left. Once I had gotten all my paperwork sorted and my bags checked, I grabbed a very fast final bowl of bibimbap.

Going through security was one of the things I was most nervous about. I knew I would have to take Mokah out of her carrier and carry her through security. If you know anything about my kitty, then you know she is a skittish cat. And she has a "panic now, ask questions later" policy when it comes to new people/situations. I knew,if she got loose in that airport, I would never ever find her. Thankfully, Mokah's panic default is to run and hide in a safe place. Besides her carrier, the only safe place Mokah had when I dragged her out of the carrier in the middle of a busy airport security check-point(while the security attendant pulled the carrier in the opposite direction) was me. The only real struggle she made was try to stick her head in my arm pit. And once the carrier was free of the scanner and she could see it, she was pulling for it.

Once through security, we had about 20 minutes before our flight would be boarding. I took Mokah into a handicapped washroom, where it's basically a private room with a door that runs floor to ceiling. I though Mokah would want to pee or eat something, but nope not interested. She only stretched her legs for a moment and then returned to the safety of her carrier. I quickly gave her a sedative and we headed to our gate with about 5 minutes to spare.

Korea Air is an excellent airline, I must say. Their staff are always super polite (unlike Canada Air where the staff all seem to be bleach-blonde harpy's from crabby-bitch island), the food is excellent and the flights always seem to be on time. I felt some relief as the plane took off, though I wistfully watched out my window until I could no longer see the coast of South Korea. Mokah was passed out in her carrier. I could relax a little.

I watched that documentary "This Is It" about Michael Jackson's last concert. I dozed.

About halfway through the flight Mokah's meds wore off and she up in a panic. I pulled the carrier out from under the seat in front of me and tried to calm her, but upon hearing my voice, she decided to start clawing through the plastic mesh to get to me. I quickly headed for bathroom and was able to let her out of the carrier for a little bit. She was still a bit unco-ordinated and managed a face plant or two before she settled into my lap and purred. Then there were angry knocks on the door.

Apparently, a little line up of older koreans with full bladders had gathered outside my door. Mi-ahn-hapnida!

Mokah was fine for the rest of the flight. In fact a stewardess came over and complimented how quiet she'd been. I felt kinda proud of my crazy cat.

Arrival in Vancouver was fairly straightforward. Though I was running on very little sleep and something of a walking zombie by this point. I had no trouble getting mokah through security. And once I located my gate for my last flight to winnipeg, we found another washroom with a wheelchair sign and mokah again got to stretch her legs. This time, she was not eager to return to her carrier though. Still not interested in her food or relieving her bladder, she searched and sniffed every nook and cranny of that bathroom. And upon discovering the waste bin mounted in the wall, she promptly jumped inside it. Must`ve seemed like a great hiding spot.

I don`t remember much of the flight to Winnipeg, I`m pretty sure I was comatose for that one.

But I do remember the excitement I felt getting off that plane. I could NOT wait to see my mom. And sure enough, coming down that escalator there was my mom and my older sister waving Canadian flags and holding a big "welcome home!" poster.

We had made it, my cat and I. There was nothing to do now, but relax on the ride home. But first, a stop at subway for a proper sandwich.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Thoughts on Leaving South Korea

It's a new year. Boom. Just like that. 3 months have past since I left South Korea and returned to Canada and my small hometown in northwestern Ontario. I'm almost ashamed at how quickly I have re-acclimatized. I no longer wander dazed through the grocery aisles, completely dumbfounded by the sheer volume of choices, all written in a language I can understand. I've begun to take eating a Subway Sandwich for lunch or grabbing a tea at Timmies for granted. Even the snow and the cold does not bother me. It feels as it always has, like the way winter should be. I do hate North American TV commercials though. I've several times gone to bed grumpy and realized it was simply that I watched some TV and it annoyed the hell out of me.

I do want to spend some time in reflection on how it was to leave Korea, and how it felt to first return home and how it feels now. I don't know how many entries it will take me. But I do intend to make good on my promise to avoid writing entries that take you your entire lunch break to read, so there will be more than one.

During the last two weeks of my time in Korea, I began to feel anxious. There was a big part of my conciousness that did NOT want to leave. I found myself wistfully watching the city go by on my bus rides home from work; the same familiar stops, passing the fruit and vegetable vendors, crossing over the river that divides Suncheon, winding around the roundabout by the train station, reading the names of the love motels in Hanggul and trying to figure out what the English transliteration actually was, and I would be seized by the thought that soon I would not be passing by these people and places as part of my daily routine. Soon the Homeplus, and the Choeun Plaza and the samgypsal restaurant we always went to and the fruit truck guy with the limp who I always bought my oranges from would become unreachable and far away. A small ball of emotion would wind up tight in my stomach, and I wondered, "Am I making a big mistake?"

As I always do before making a big life change, I started to have nightmares about going home: I can't find my plane tickets, I forgot to get all of my money out of my bank account and don't realize it until I'm back in Canada, I arrive home and all of my old friends don't like me anymore(so my expat friends arrive out of nowhere and throw me a party - thus, I shouldn't go because everyone here loves me and what if the folks back home have changed their minds?). Lots of irrational subconscious fear bubbling up and waking me with a start.

I started taking down the artwork in my apartment to force the bareness of the walls on myself, the reality of moving out. I threw a "garage sale" and started emptying my apartment of everything I wasn't shipping or taking with me on the plane. All in a very conscious effort to prepare myself psychologically for leaving. I know myself very well, I procrastinate like crazy and if I didn't start doing these things two weeks in advance, I would find myself 8 hours before my train leaves in hysterics trying to do everything in one night. Even so, I have to ask my friends to come and physically sit on my couch so that I will focus on packing and cleaning and not twiddle away the hours online or whatever else will effectively waste my time.

Chuseok happened to fall during my second last week of classes, giving most NEST's a
full week of holidays. While most of my friends took the opportunity to zip over to Japan or Malaysia or the Phillipines, I stayed home in Korea. I knew that is it was a financial necessity. I'm simply couldn't afford to spend a bunch of money on a trip two weeks before flying home to unemployment. But it was also an emotional and mental necessity. I needed that time to get last minute details sorted out, loose ends tied and just get some rest. I could feel my nerves becoming raw as the time to leave drew nearer. On Chuseok, I went to the centre of the South Korean peninsula with a few friends to go for a very wet and chilly hike at Sognisan National Park. At the end of the week, I went to Chogyesan provincial park just outside of my city and hiked the mountain ridge between Seonnam and Songwan Temples on my own. Not once did I feel lonely. The next day a disappointing attempt to locate Namwon Hot Springs turned into a really charming trip around the Namwon Folk Village. I had checked everything I could off my list, and done plenty of hiking and local tourism. That uneasy feeling will go away now, right?

During my last week of teaching, I got many sweet letters from students and kind gifts from co-workers. We held a volleyball game on Wednesday, and Kwangja made sure they saved me some pizza, which she had specially ordered for me since I don't really like the spicy raw fish salad type stuff they always get. After the game, my principal, vice-principal and a male co-worker took me out for a delicious galbi meal and we laughed and talked and sang together over the bbq. On Friday, the school cancelled my classes so that I could spend the day running around like a chicken with my head cut off getting administrative loose ends tied up with my co-teacher - loose ends that were present because she is also a procrastinator apparently. As the day wound down and I started to say real goodbye's to my Korean co-workers, I waited for emotion to overtake me. I wanted it to. I wanted to be released from the anxiousness that had been building for weeks. I wanted to feel nothing but anticipation for the flight home. I wanted to feel nothing but excited to see my family and old friends and hometown again. And to be sure, I felt sad, I felt sentimental. But no tears came.

That night, I went to the Jinju lantern festival. It was a perfect way to end my time in Korea. The Jinju Lantern Festival was the first festival I attended in Korea, it was my first introduction to Korean culture in its many forms. And it remained the most beautiful festival I ever attended while in Korea. The realization of my last weekend in Korea was with me, like a fog I could not get out of. I had accepted it. And yet the uneasy feeling remained with me.

Saturday was the night of my going away party. I had designated it a "James Bond Themed Party" in hopes that all my friends would get dressed up and I go home with some great photos. They did not disappoint. We went to dinner at a Vietnamese Roll restaurant that has amazing food. I was shocked by the number of people that came. So was the restaurant's owner. As we ate dinner, as we got ready for a night out on the town, as we began to enjoy ourselves at San Antonio's, as we sang our hearts out at my favourite noraebong, it was dawning on me the reason my anxiety was still clinging to me. I loved Korea, I loved my tiny little Shit-tae apartuh, I loved my school. But I could be at peace with leaving them. I could let them go. What I could not really accept, what my heart would not let me feel at ease with was leaving these people. The phenomenal group of people I have been so fortunate as to become friends with while I worked and lived and grew in Korea. I owe so much of that adventure, and my own growth to them. I have met many kindred spirits in my life, but never have I found so many all in one place. I've never felt so nurtured and accepted as by these people. And leaving them, that was truly scary and truly heartrending.

Even as the night wore on into the morning, and people began to call it a night, I delayed the inevitable: "We'll meet for coffee tomorrow, no need to say goodbye now!"

We did indeed meet up for coffee, and I managed not to cry until the very end of that last social gathering. Once the damn was broken though, I needed to get back to my apartment for a good cry. Despite all my best efforts, there was still much to do before I would be ready to leave in the morning. So, with many mixed emotions I kept one eye on the clock as I cleaned and packed up the last of my things.

to be continued....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Scientific Certainty

There are definitely some interesting cultural influences happening in the practice of medicine in Korea. (Ask me to recount my friend's J's tale of the birth of her daughter in a Korean hospital sometime, holy moly!) Another friend of mine has had severe allergy problems since she moved to Korea in the spring. She posted on FB the her doctor's top 5 reasons that explain why she is sick:

1. I am homesick
2. I live alone
3. I eat Korean food
4. I am emotional and aggressive ?
5. Canada does not have 4 distinct seasons.

Perhaps a definitive answer, or the ability to test for a definitive answer was lost in translation. Oh Korea!