Friday, February 17, 2006

Filial Piety

Until I moved to Korea, I had never heard this phrase before. However, in the Land of the Morning Calm, filial piety is a frequently used phrase for a very important value in Korean culture. Loyalty to your parents means going home every Chusok. And then at Lunar New Year Koreans show their filial piety by full bowing. And after your parents die, your duty doesn't end either. Like many Asian cultures, Koreans go visit the graves of their parents and even grandparents and full bow. They also set out food and drink for them, somewhat like Mexicans do for Dia De Los Muertos.

Filial piety is something I instantly indentified with when I moved to Korea as a value that I also share. I didn't realize that this value was unique until I started talking to others. For example, as soon as it turned February, I knew that I needed to buy a Valentine's Day card for my parents and grandmother. I was surprised to find out that many adults my age don't do this for their parents.

Additionally, I feel a duty to honor my parents on their birthdays and on Mother and Father's Day. This example is perhaps more common among my peers. Since my parents both have birthdays in April, sometimes I just send one gift for them to share. A couple of years ago, I sent a really nice goose-down duvet. This year I found a beautiful piece of celadon pottery in the village of Ichon, that I'm praying will be delivered unbroken!

Every August, my brother and I try to send a card to honor the marriage of our parents. Once every five years, we try to give them a nice little gift. For example, last year on their 40th anniversary, we set them up in the quaint village of Parkville, Missouri with a stay at a B&B and dinner at a posh restaurant.

Ever since I left home in 1992 to attend Ottawa University, I have tried to call home to my parents every week. Granted, there were times when I was traveling in some country it was too difficult or expensive to make an international phone call. And there were times when my stupid phone card ran out of money or the phone lines were down. However, these weekly conversations (usually around an hour or so) were really good for us to keep in touch and share what was going on in our lives.

Where does my filial piety come from? Well first of all, I do love, admire and respect my parents. I have always wanted them to be happy and proud of me. Second, filial piety is one of the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses. "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Ex. 20:12)." It was interesting to me that this was the only commandment that also included a promise of a reward.

Over the years, there have been times when my duty as a son conflicted with my duty to myself. I found that sometimes in honoring my parents that I dishonored myself. I agonized over the lies of both omission and submission. More and more it seemed that our relationship was more about what I perceived they wanted as a son and not who I was or what I wanted. It occurred to me that in my life, I was rarely asked what I wanted. So I started to get to know myself without guilt or apology.

When I did come out to my parents, I framed the conversation in terms of our unhealthy relationship and my desire to be more honest and open with them. That was a really hard day for me but definately a turning point in my life. After that, I continued to talk honestly about my life, not to hurt them but rather to open the door to any questions or comments they might have.

It hurts me that I haven't made them proud in this regard. In a sense, they are in the closet as well when it comes to talking honestly to their friends and family about how I am and the issues I've been dealing with. What I really hope will become apparent is that my parents will see my filial piety as not just my duty but also my act of love, an encouraging sign that I still care and want to be connected. And I will continue to honor their lives and relationship, not just in the tangible ways mentioned above but also in leading a life of faith, integrity and love, values that I learned from them.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Teach Me Engrish

Being a Caucasian minority in Asia, most Koreans assume (correctly) that I'm American and I speak English. Conversely I assume that Koreans don't speak English. When this assumption turns out to be wrong, I'm very surprised.

The other day I was walking down a deserted street by myself carrying groceries and thinking about what I should blog about next. All of a sudden the cutest little Korean girl who couldn't have been more than four years old, ran up and threw herself around my knees. She looked up at me and said "HI!" I looked around to see if we had an audience or something, it was just so surreal. I smiled, said hi back, entangled myself and continued on my way. About a block away I hear her scream "HOW ARE YOU?" I laughed, said I was fine and waved goodbye.

Korea is a country that has dedicated itself into being "international" and part of that translates into learning English. Because of that drive, I have a work visa and a job with one of the hundreds of private institutes (hakwons) that teach English to children up to high school students. In addition there are thousands of private tutoring lessons with college students and adults.

This weekend I went to five live music clubs and in most of their sets, they had English covers. We danced to "Twist and Shout," "Play That Funky Music," and "Got to Be Real" to name a few. In the dance clubs we go to in Itaewon, the music usually features English lyrics, although they tend to be repetitive and completely silly at times.

English is placed on clothing and many items found in stores. Buses and subway signs and maps feature English and Korean both. It's gotten so out of hand, I've been told that there is now a law requiring Korean writing (hangul) to be somewhere on store signs! The downside of this prolific use of English is that it often is misspelled or grammatically incorrect ("Konglish") with hilarious or bizarre results!

It's surreal to me that the language that a Chinese person and a Japanese person use when they meet is my language. By some bizarre twist of history, my native tongue has replaced Greek, Latin and French as the international language of communication. I look around me at all the incredible efforts to learn English and count myself equally lucky that it came to me so easily. Additionally it's refreshing to live in a country that doesn't feel culturally threatened by bilingualism! I eagerly look forward to moving to an even more linguistically international environment this year. Diversity makes a country stronger, not weaker!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

This is the House that Sam Built!

I've written before on this subject. However after reading a little 64 page book called Brokeback Mountain and getting the DVD today from the same great friend who loaned me the book, my mind keeps going back to this story. I first learned of it when my friend recommended the documentary Tying the Knot. The following story I recently received in my email.
There are so many injustices in our country(USA). It seems senseless that the leaders of our country have no problem with one that could be so easily solved. But don't just take my word for it- read on and come to your own conclusion....Would your marriage really be threatened if these two men had been married?

December 31, 2005
Partner's death ends happy life on ranch
2 decades together mean nothing in Oklahoma law

By Jessie Torrisi
Columbia News Service
On the face of it, Sam Beaumont, 61, with his cowboy hat, deep-throated chuckle and Northwestern drawl, is not so different from the ranch hands in Ang Lee's critically acclaimed film "Brokeback Mountain," which opened in Indianapolis on Wednesday.

More "Romeo & Juliet" than "Rent," "Brokeback Mountain" challenges modern perceptions of what it means to be gay in rural America.
"Listen," the character Twist says to del Mar as part of a dream that goes unrealized. "I'm thinking, tell you what, if you and me had a little ranch together -- little cow and calf operation, your horses -- it'd be some sweet life."
That pretty much describes the life Beaumont had. He settled down with Earl Meadows and tended 50 head of cattle for a quarter-century on an Oklahoma ranch. "I was raised to be independent. I didn't really care what other people thought," Beaumont said.
In 1977, Beaumont was divorced and raising three sons after a dozen years in the Air Force when Meadows walked up to him near the Arkansas River.
"It was a pretty day -- January 15th, 65 degrees," Beaumont said. "He came up, we got to talkin' till 2 in the morning. I don't even remember what we said." But "I knew it was something special."
Beaumont moved to be with Meadows in his partner's hometown of Bristow, Okla., a place of 4,300 people. Together, they bought a ranch and raised Beaumont's three sons. The mortgage and most of the couple's possessions were put in Meadows' name.
"I had two dads"
During the day, Meadows worked as a comptroller for Black & Decker. He'd drop the boys at school on his way to work. At home, Beaumont took care of the ranch, feeding and tagging cattle, cooking and cleaning, and once built a barn.
"As far as I was concerned, I had two dads," said one of Beaumont's sons, now 33, who requested anonymity. He was 2 years old when Meadows joined the family.
"Dad helped with schoolwork and all the stuff around the house, taught me to ride horses and milk cows. Earl used to take me to the company picnics and Christmas parties. He bought me my first car."
Most of their friends, Beaumont said, were straight couples, women who worked at Black & Decker, "teachers and doctors and lawyers," and childhood friends of Meadows who often came to dinner at the ranch.
"People treated them fine," said Eunice Lawson, who runs a grocery store in Bristow.
But in 1999, Meadows had a stroke and Beaumont took care of him for a year until he died at age 56.
That's where the fantasy of a life together on the range collides with reality. After a quarter-century on the ranch he shared with his partner, Beaumont lost it all on a legal technicality in a state that doesn't recognize domestic partnerships.
Meadows' will, which left everything to Beaumont, was fought in court by a cousin of the deceased and was declared invalid by the Oklahoma Court of Appeals in 2003 because it was short one witness signature.
Unequal under the law
A judge ruled the rancher had to put the property, which was appraised at $100,000, on the market. The animals were sold. Beaumont had to move.
Because Meadows had no biological children or surviving parents, his estate was divided up among his heirs. When the ranch sells, the proceeds are to be divided among dozens of Meadows' cousins.
"They took the estate away from me," said Beaumont, who said he put about $200,000 of his own money into the ranch. "Everything that had Earl's name on it, they took. They took it all and didn't bat an eye."
Every state has common-law marriage rules that protect heterosexual couples. If someone dies without a will, or with a faulty one, his or her live-in partner is treated as the rightful inheritor.
But only seven states currently give gay couples protections -- such as inheritance rights and health benefits -- through marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships. What's more, Oklahoma last year amended its state constitution to ensure that neither marriage nor any similar arrangement is extended to same-sex couples.
Today, there are roughly 90,000 gay couples living in small-town America, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, and more than 5,700 in Oklahoma.
Last year, Beaumont moved to nearby Wewoka, Okla., to a one-bedroom place with 350 acres for his horses, white Pyrenees and Great Dane to roam. He said he was continuing to fight the cousins, who are suing for back rent for the years he lived on the ranch.
Copyright 2006 All rights reserved

After thought- Something struck me after reading this story again before I posted it. These men thought they had covered all the bases. They had a will. They didn't have any agenda to change things and didn't ask the government to do so. And had one of them lost a Y chromosome, the state of Oklahoma would have protected what our society would define as a marriage: long-term commitment, owning property, recognition by the community and even raising children. I read some more and found out that these two guys actually BUILT this house themselves! I honestly don't know how those cousins can sleep at night knowing full well that they screwed over this old man (and to top it off they want back rent!!). It's times like these that I honestly hope in a hell in the afterlife. Justice on this mortal coil is severely lacking at times!