Friday, April 13, 2007

I Cannot Forget (Where It Is That I Come From)

But can be myself there in this small town?

With my 15th high school reunion rapidly approaching, my thoughts have turned more and more to the small town where I grew up. For the most part, my memories are very positive. Even though I felt I didn't fit in because my family lacked community roots (read: not related to anyone in the area), I did appreciate the opportunities a small town offered. When I left high school, I was a passionate advocate of small-town life. It was beyond my comprehension why anyone would want to put up with the overcrowding, pollution, traffic and crime one often finds in an urban atmosphere. When I left college, I recognized there were certain opportunities (concerts, museums, festivals, dance clubs, restaurants, shops) that cities had to offer and because of this, I actively pursued teaching positions in small communities that were close to larger towns.

That all changed when I moved to the metropolis of Seoul (population over 10 million). I fell in love with public transportation and saw the "car culture" of Kansas as an excessive necessity. I liked the energy of the city and there always seemed to be something going on. Living in Seoul significantly changed many of my attitudes and I've already posted about the many things I love about Seoul and Korea.

When my partner and I were looking at places to live in Canada, we felt drawn to big cities like Toronto. And while living here has definately been an adjustment, we already love many things this city has to offer. But like a homing pigeon, my heart is longing to return to where it all began. I feel that this community of over 4,000 holds the key to who I was, who I am and who I have yet to become. I look forward (with both dread and anticipation) to reuniting with the people with whom I spent thirteen formative years.

So in this nostalgic spirit, I'd like to commemorate this upcoming event with some fun facts! Enjoy!

tkaronto: the Iroquois word Toronto is likely derived from, meaning "place where trees stand in the water."
balotte: the French word Beloit is likely derived from, meaning "handsome ground"

4.0: square miles of Beloit
243.21: square miles of Toronto

4,019- the population of my hometown.
18,000- the population of my neighbourhood.
2,629,030: the population of my current city.

96.94%: population of people who look like me in my hometown.
73%: non-white population of my neighbourhood.
42.8%: Toronto residents who belong to a visible minority group

65%: recent immigrants of my 'hood.
0.4%: foreign born where I grew up.

2nd place: To Toronto for highest percentage of foreign-born population among world cities, (after Miami, Florida).

Ancestries in my hometown: German (36.0%), English (11.0%), United States (9.8%), Irish (9.0%), Swedish (3.2%), Dutch (2.4%).
Cultural groups in my current community: Sri Lankans (7.8%), Filipinos (21.9%), Chinese (8%), Italian (1%) and Black (11.2%).

150: languages Toronto's 911 emergency services are equipped to respond in.

1.8- the 2005 homicide rate in Toronto (per 100,000)
24.9-the 2003 homicide rate in Beloit (per 100,000)

78: the actual number of murders in Toronto (2005)
1: the actual number of murders in Beloit (2003)

1,623: total private households in Beloit
943,000: total private households in Toronto

6,685: same-sex Toronto couples (registered as permanent partners in the 2001 census)
3.24: Lesbian Beloit couples (0.2% of all 1,623 Beloit households)
1.623: Gay Beloit couples (0.1% of all households) (counted as self-reported same-sex unmarried-partner households) *Question: If one has a fraction of a couple, aren't they, by definition, no longer a couple?*

39.6 years: Median age of a Beloitian.
36.9 years: Median age of a Torontarian.

1959: The year Gene Keady started his basketball coaching career at Beloit High School.
2000: The year Keady won a Gold Medal in the Olympic Games in Sydney as an assistant coach for the Dream Team.
2005: The year he accepted a position of an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors.

Toronto is an important centre for the media, publishing, telecommunications and information technology industries.

11%: most common Beloit industries for males (agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting) .
10%: of Beloit male industries for males that sell supplies to the guys above.
24% most common Beloit industries for women (health care).

120%: Beloit's historical tornado activity that is greater than the overall U.S. average. (It is near the Kansas state average.)
207-260 mph: the most recent (6/15/1992) category 4 tornado near Beloit. 4.7 miles away from the Beloit city center, it caused between $50,000 and $500,000 in damages.

383: total number of students at Beloit Junior/Senior High School (grades 7-12)
89,000: total number of students in the 104 Toronto public high schools.

53: total number of students in my graduating class of 1992
8: total number of classmates I have kept in touch with over 15 years.

30ish: my guess of how many alumni will actually show up for this reunion.
15ish: my guess of how many alumni I will actually enjoy catching up with.

4.5: hours it takes to fly from Toronto to Kansas City (including layovers).
4: hours it takes to drive from Kansas City to Beloit (not including pit stops).

$152 (CDN): estimated loss in my paycheck as a result of two days off.
$333.26 (USD): cost of roundtrip flight ticket to Kansas City
priceless: the stories I'll have when I return!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Danifesto: Back to the Future

Herein will lie the depths of my wit and genius that I share with the world (or at least the few that care to read these ramblings). I must say it does seem a little self-centered, these blogs. However I'm hoping it will be a nice way for me to say/tell my little stories to friends and family w/o having to type them in an email over and over, or worse still, a MASS EMAIL. So I'm willing to spend a bit of extra energy to hopefully save time and effort in the long run. (taken from Genesis- the Danifesto debut, April 7,2005)

My brother gave me a really thoughtful birthday gift last time I went home! He had painstakingly formatted the first year (and a half) of Danifesto and printed them ALL out with different fonts and a table of contents to boot! Then he went to Kinko's and got them to put them in a little book for me! He decided to end the book when I left Korea (for the second and last time) in order to move to Canada (for good).

Reading over all my trials, tribulations and deep thoughts in between, a couple of things quickly became apparent to me. First of all, my posts have evolved drastically in terms of style and content. In the beginning, I posted the articles and words of others and while this still occurs from time to time, more frequently I have found my own unique voice and have been more confident in using it!

Secondly, the number of supportive and insightful comments from friends and family has slowly increased and taken on a greater role in my blog. I have become more aware of my audience and I think, for better or worse, my writing style demonstrates this. As I've said before, I'm grateful for the blessing of your support!

And finally, my layout has always been the same! So in celebration of the second blog birthday of Danifesto, I'm toying with some possible changes. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Feel the Rhythm of the Music Getting Stronger

(Dont you fight it til you tried it, do that conga beat!)

As some of you have heard before, Baptists and dance have not always been friends. I'll give my mother credit in this regard by telling me it was okay just as long as it wasn't "the most important thing in your life." It seems her father gave her a lot of grief about dancing and she didn't see anything wrong about knowing how to dance. Some the best memories of my mother are of her teaching me swing moves on our yellow and green kitchen linoleum.

In elementary school, one of the more bearable parts of physical education was learning how to square dance. However that was where my dance education stalled. At high school dances, it seemed the "anything goes" style was the name of the game and I just copied what looked cool at the time. And my primary excursions to gay dance clubs weren't much different (with the exception of dancing with people I wanted to dance with for the first time!).

When I moved to Seoul, I was invited to join my British friends in learning Scottish country dance. This was similar to square dancing in some ways. At first I was a little bummed about the importance placed on who danced the role of the "man" and "woman." But I figured who was I to question this style of dance formed over centuries of tradition (list of dances here)? While I was in Seoul, I went to the St. Andrew's Ball twice and had...well...a ball!

Soon after this I got interested in swing dancing and went to several weeks of lessons both on the campus of my school and at a swing bar in Seoul. It was great for improving mental acuity but again, I was disappointed that the male and female roles were so rigidly defined. Why are men in formalized dances always "leading" and women always "following?" There's nothing wrong with this per se. It just seemed kind of limiting to me.

So this brings my tale of toe-tapping to Toronto. One recent night out on the town, my partner and I stumbled into an amazing club called El Convento Rico. It's a mixed (both gay and straight people) Latin dance club. When people started dancing, we just sat with our mouths agape and watched with envy and wonder. That very night we got online to see if there were any Latin dance classes for couples like us. And lo' and behold, there were!

Rainbow Salsa is an extension of the 519 Church Street Community Center. Instead of having the men lead and the women follow, the instructors just divide people up into "leaders" and "followers." Since English was my native language, we opted for me to be the leader and my partner to be the follower. This way when moves are called out in the middle of loud music, it would be easier for me to react quickly.

All this dancing has caused me to think about the nature of relationships. I've heard people compare relationships to a dance, where one person is leading and the other is following. But I think this can change depending on the situation and the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals. Would a better metaphor for relationships perhaps be a dance class where people, regardless of gender, learned how to lead and follow and are equally comfortable doing both?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Those Cats were Fast as Lightning

Since January, I have been going to a Tai Chi class twice a week at my local YMCA. The teachers are really patient, encouraging and laid back and I've enjoyed the whole experience much more than I had anticipated.

Initially, I had no interest in Tai Chi at all. I was more into picking up Tae Kwon Do again. After I had torn some ligaments in my ankle, I stopped classes and then with the move to Canada, then back to Korea and then back to Canada AGAIN, I never went back to Tae Kwon Do. However, the YMCA didn't offer TKD classes, only karate (and that was for kids!) So that left me with Tai Chi. I reasoned that this would be a good way to get back into stretching and movement. In addition, I was more comfortable as a gay man in a Tai Chi class than having to worry about it being an issue in a Tae Kwon Do class.

I was surprised that my background (1st level Dan or blackbelt) in martial arts made such a difference in learning Tai Chi. There are basic principles like the transfering weight from one foot to the other and the positioning of feet at certain angles that are shared between the two disciplines. It quickly became obvious in our beginner class that this was something I had an aptitude for! Who knew?

I also fell in love with the language of Tai Chi. Most of the posture steps have names that are really poetic. Some of my favorites are as follows: Stork Spreads/Cools Wings, Blue Dragon Flies Up From Ocean Bottom, Embrace the Tiger, Ward off Monkeys, Return to Mountain, Parts Clouds with Hands, Parts Horse's Mane, Grasp Sparrow's Tail (just to name a few).

There are 108 different steps in the first form. I am proud to say that I have learned them all ahead of schedule (the beginner class ends in May)! So now we are going back to the beginning and refining each individual move. This means going beyond the first three levels (hand, foot and hip placements) and focusing on posture and breathing. The instructors have started to get insanely picky but it's all good. I know that they see that I'm ready to learn more. It blows me away that someone like me, so inept at anything body related (read here for more), can discover a motor memory that I never knew I had!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

He Works Hard for the Money

(So you better treat me right...)

All's quiet on the western front here at Danifesto. Apologies all around to my disappointed and disenfranchised readers and I appreciate all the celebratory comments from my last post.

So the job is good for the most part. I'm really enjoying getting back into teaching again. For me, teaching has been more than just a job. It even transcends the career label. Because I glean so much identity from this career, I truly feel like it is a mission. No longer do I have to shut out that guilty voice of conscience that whispers"You really should be teaching, you know" when I traipse by a school playground.

I have talked before a great deal about being created gay. In addition, I believe I was created a teacher. When I was a kid, I would hold summer school classes for my class of one: my baby brother. "Big deal!" you say, "lots of kids do that!" Ahhhh but do they spend hours making worksheets by tracing them off of their own from school? Do they make lesson plans scheduled to the minute? Do they try to think of new and interesting ways to teach math concepts to a kid who is three years younger and probably not developmentally ready to learn it?

At any rate, it was obvious to those that knew me, what I would grow up to be. I clearly remember preparing for my first Vacation Bible School class. I made carefully lettered posters and painstakingly prepared materials for arts and crafts. Later, I would be asked to be a church camp counselor and would gain more experience doing Bible studies. And from there things continued to snowball. I enrolled in Youth Leader Core which taught me not only peer counseling and leadership skills but also vital personal growth/faith lessons. I led discussions and Bible studies for my peers. Later in university, I leapt at chances to teach kids from primary to high school.

But now, as rewarding as teaching university students can be (no spitting, hitting or glue eating for example), I still miss the little kids. For starters, children are shorter than me plus they give more hugs. Furthermore, some of these university students are very attractive which can be distracting! And little kids are just more fun. They are goofy and spontaneous. They are both needy and enigmatic. Even though my humour is better received by my university classes, I still suspect I'm missing out on my calling: teaching elementary children.

Perhaps part of this is due to the fact that I also sense that I've been created to have children of my own. Ironic, I know but still it's there. I honestly don't know if this is in God's plan for me. I feel a little like Abraham when he was uber-old and some stranger shows up on his tent step to tell him he's going to be a father. Just like Abraham, my partner is also barren and has given up the idea long ago. So maybe teaching children fulfills that need for me on some level. I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that God has a twisted sense of humour and if children are in the cosmic picture, they will happen in a way so cool, I would have never imagined it.

One thing that I am struggling with now is how to reconcile my personal and professional lives. Just because I am protected (here in Canada) from being fired for being gay, doesn't mean that there would be no consequences for being "out". Twice now I've run into students in the city while I was with my partner. I was friendly but neither time did I bother to introduce him. (I know that in my culture this is considered rude but in Asia it isn't at all. All particpants were Asian except for moi.) But at some point, the subject of my personal life will arise (as it does with any teacher) and I'll have to make a decision. On which side of the closet door will my job/career/mission be better served?