My White Identity?

I grew up trying to know what to call strangers that looked differently from me. Women hated to be called woman, lady, ma’am, female, girl, and preferred be called Miss. Older men became sir. Asians didn’t like to be called Orientals or to be mistaken for another Asian group such as Chinese or Japanese. Americans with dark skin were to be called African American until my friend told me he preferred to be called black. He didn’t like the term African American because he had never been to Africa nor intended to go. He was American, but if someone wanted to be specific they could call him black, but not Black with a capital “B.”

Okay, I thought I understood, until blacks my senior wanted to be called American. Not African American, not black American, simply American. They said putting “African” in front of American made it sound inferior to simply American: The Great American Novel, The Great American Hero, or The Great Black American Novel, and The Great Black American Hero. That extra adjective in front of America implies a level of separation between America and black people, almost as if they weren’t part of this country even though they did more than any racial group to build it.

I got it until I ran into a Jamaican that didn’t want to be called African American, black, or American. He was from Jamaica, associated all his culture from Jamaica, and wanted to be called a Jamaican. No problem. While in New Orleans I met a man who was biracial, a Voodoo priest (that’s what he called himself) who was Haitian, and so many more people that I thought this whole idea of calling someone based on how they look was ridiculous, but inescapable unless we all became American with room for add-ons.

Now I have white skin and people normally call me either white or American, depending on the company. However, my mom and older brother were born in Barcelona, Spain and since I was alive we always had two languages spoken in our house, Castellano and English. I knew my mom was different than my friends’ moms because my mom had a different accent, cook weird food, and didn’t speak to us in English. Sometimes people would ask me if I was Mexican, other times I was asked what I was.

“Hrm, I’m half Spanish and half American,” I said.

That confused them, and I was also confused because did that mean I was less of an American because of my Spanish side? Well, my mom moved my brothers and me to Spain when I was nine and there I discovered that she was speaking Catalan to her Catalan friends. Now my Spanish mother became a Catalan mother who was actually half Catalan and half Castellano. I started learning Catalan along with Castellano in school and eventually I forgot how to speak English. My younger brothers couldn’t speak English and couldn’t understand it either. To my Catalan friends, I was never Catalan, but American, which was weird because to my American friends I was never American, but Spanish American. It felt like I was nothing because I wasn’t accepted anywhere. Blacks called me white, Hispanics called me Spanish, whites called me American, if they were my friends then Spanish American, and everyone else told me to speak English.

You see, when I’m called white, it’s like I’m being told I only have one culture, the American culture. If I have never lived in Spain, and if my mom only made American food I would agree with them, but that wasn’t the case. I grew up making tortillas (not the Latin American kind) and arroz cubano. I had to relearn English, I was put into ESL classes until the seventh grade, and people have told me to go back to my country wherever that was. Yes, I have a white last name, a white face, and all that gives me access to white privilege, but that doesn’t make me just white. I have two cultures outside my American one, and I want my label to reflect that. When people try to jam me inside a box that I refused to check then it only cuts communication and ruins otherwise healthy relationships. I’m a white Hispanic with his roots from Spain and England, and I’m a product of globalization. Me saying that I’m not just white doesn’t mean I support white privilege or that I deny its existence. It means that you can’t judge me based on how I look because my background is more complex than that. You should always call people by how they want to be called and not call them by what you think they deserve to be called. If you do the former, you’ll gain an ally, but if you do the latter then you’ll lose a friend or maybe even a lover.

Laugh at my face when I show you my tears and you’re lost to me forever.

I became a Kundalini Yoga Instructor!

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt a tug by the universe to travel to India. It was like an urge coming from somewhere outside myself to visit this place. I didn’t much ignored it my whole life, since I didn’t have any means to go there, however, when I moved to Korea in August that urge became very powerful. I’ve been practicing yoga, off-and-on, since 16, but I never knew anything about kundalini until I arrived in Sinui. An ashram (Indian yoga school) was offering spiritual yoga courses and one of the classes being offered was a kundalini course. I looked into kundalini and discovered how powerful of  concept it was and I knew I needed to know about this principle.

*Kundalini is the dormant vital energy trapped in the base chakra, located at the bottom of the spinal column. It is believed that by awakening this energy through purification of the spiritual body that the power to become a genius, saint, or god becomes awakened inside you, hence, speeding up the evolutionary process in the human being.

Heavy, right? I became fascinated with this principle and decided that this was the yoga for me. I read several books by the Divine Life Society (Sivananda and Satyananda) that booked a $1,600 flight to Goa, India to study kundalini in an ashram. Now, it’s important to understand that this kundalini practice comes from Tantra yoga, or better said, it comes from Dakshina Marq (Right Hand) Tantra. In the West, there is a lot of misinformation about kundalini and its sexual exploits, which are found in Vama Marg (Left Hand) Tantra. So, if you say “kundalini” then they might automatically think of the left hand path, or their misconstrued idea of what left hand Tantra really is. I bring this up because I see myself studying yoga in the Himalayas one of these days, and I think it’s important to know where I’m coming from. Yoga, and life in general, is more of a spiritual practice then a fitness practice and once you develop an appreciation for the philosophy behind the asanas and pranayama and other limbs then you can have a more refine sense of yourself and your place in the universe.

It’s quite amazing how going with your intuition can give you amazing results. I’m very happy I went to Goa, India instead of an Asian country a little closer to Korea. I never would have visited India if I didn’t have that hunch and if I didn’t have that hunch I wouldn’t be a certified yoga instructor. Who knows how that will help me teach English to students in the future? I’m sure it will help and now I can even bring meditation techniques to increase concentration and alleviate stress. Sometimes in life, you just need to have faith in the gut and go where the universe pulls you. It is probably someplace you want to be, although, you just don’t know it yet.

Note:

I don’t ever intend to teach yoga. This training was more for personal development and spiritual growth. And if someone has never taken a spiritual vacation at least once then I highly recommend they go on one. The people you will meet along the journey is awe-inspiring.

Baldness and Acceptance through the Pompadour

At about 24 years old, I became inspired to grow a pompadour. They seemed so sophisticated and mysterious as if the pompadour knew a secret I was dying to know. Only one hang up, my thinning hair showed my scalp when the hair was lifted from the front. Then, I felt the top of my head sweat when I ate spicy food and soon realized that I was sweating from a tiny bald spot on the top. I began panicking about what I would do if I became bald. Oh my god! How can I become bald when baldness doesn’t run in my family? Not only that, but I also have a hairy back! Arghhh! Why was I the only one out of my brothers to be balding and have hair everywhere except my head? Poor me, or so I thought.

I fought like mad trying to prevent this balding. I tried speaking to my hair to make it grow, I consulted laser hair technicians, I used hair growth formula, and I even considered getting an operation done here in South Korea—a couple of my shaved-head buddies talked me out of it and recommended I just buzz it off. They raved how refreshing it felt to be bald and how they never had to worry about having a bad hair day, or spending too much time styling their hair. I ignored the something in me saying they were right because I didn’t want to be just another short, bald, and hairy man. I knew that perception creates reality, but  I didn’t understand that this perception of myself was breathing life into it.

When I used to work at Starbucks, I remember the girl baristas who would just hammer this regular who used to come in. He was good looking, but the girls always commented on how short and on how bald he was. It made me feel sorry for him and angry at the girls who couldn’t stop putting him down for something he had no control over. I also remember hearing girls and guys speak this way to hairy men, especially when their back hair floated in the gym Jacuzzi. These experiences made me fearful of becoming the hairy-bald man that so many people seemed to hate.

As a result of listening to these people, I’ve also come to hate those parts of me that I had no control over. Sure, I could lose weight, work on my personality and attitude, but I could never grow more or stop my hair from falling out… I tried to do those things though. I bought this growing manual where I had to take all these vitamins and do certain stretches. After the second day of all that nonsense, I told myself if a girl wanted height over character she could marry a ladder, and I overcame my height issue. Baldness was a little trickier because I also thought bald men were uglier than men with hair. This belief was social programming from decades of seeing the bald man nearly always portrayed as the villain, clown, or ugly dude. I feel society is slowing overriding this program of the funny, fat, bald man with the ripped, tough, bald man, which is still unsustainable in my view but a little bit manageable for us balding and thinning brothers.

I like that macho aspect of conquering anything through sheer physical force. It gives me this feeling of power that validates my existence on one plane of being. However, I also have this nurturing aspect to me as well that makes me want to support other people by being a source of mental stimulation through positive thought vibrations. This gives me this feeling of love that also validates my existence on several planes of being: mental, spiritual, and universal.

The problem with the tough bald man persona is that it does two things: First, it implies that only men can be a tough bald human and it excludes all our tough, bald sisters. Second, it makes men believe that “toughness” is doing a thousand pushups or shaving your face with a knife or any other sort of inane concept that jeopardizes men safety for macho bravado. On the flip side, if doing a thousand pushups or shaving with a knife is your form of expression then go to it, but believing it is every man’s physical expression is irresponsible and destructive thinking that lends vulnerable men in prison as they seek validation from destructive role models. Plus, physical toughness is only a support for mental toughness. No matter how big your biceps are if your mind becomes a victim to your opponent’s intimidation then you lose. No matter how beautiful society dubs you, if you’re not emotionally secure with yourself to handle your woman’s male-friendships then she’ll leave you for being too draining on her psyche, and vice versa.

I would love to have a pompadour, but I became inspired for it too late in the game and now my hair can’t physically support that style. Me still trying to achieve this pompadour regardless of what my body tells me is possible at the moment causes misery, which is the root of all attachment. Detachment is being happy, or being in a state of ease, with or without the pompadour, and for some of us, we must learn to be happy for all the people in the world who can sport this groovy style while we sport our own bodacious style that is sustainable for our bodies. For me, enjoying your circumstances is the only form of acceptance I recognize because if you can’t enjoy what you were, are, and will be then how can you ever be in a state of bliss while you secretly wish you had someone else’s life? This type of thinking causes grief and leads people away from seeing the beautiful sides of them; can the Sun see the sunrise or sunset it casts over Earth? Sometimes it requires inner reflection to realize the beautiful sunrises and sunsets you cast over other people, and one form of inner reflection is acceptance of the physical you.

Shave heads are not sexy because a few action-hero actors have them. They are sexy because of the honest character it takes to buzz off decades of history and move forward with the evolving you.

Korea’s BEST–Chapssal (Korean Donut) Edition

I’ve had my moments as an animal abstainer that I wanted to slap myself across the face and call it a day… frustrating is too kind of a word for what I felt. Accidentally tasting meat in my rice balls after minutes of confirming there was no meat (Hoksi, gogi issuseyo?), being questioned every single day about losing too much weight when everyone else is getting sick and fat, and fighting the stares from all the critics can tug at your mind. The stress you encounter can be so intense that you really need a quick de-stresser, so today here is the best thing Korea has to offer for vegans. Say hello to chapssal:

Glutinous Rice Donut--dairy and egg free.

Glutinous Rice Donut–dairy and egg free.

This deep-fried munchkin look a like is chewy like a soft chocolate chip cookie where the chips melt the second you tear it apart, but it has a bread-like texture  that doesn’t make the chewyness overbearing. Once you break the skin, hot red bean paste oozes out (if it’s warm) and complements the rice dough flavor by bringing out more of its flavor to the surface of your taste buds.

Inside of the chapssal.

Inside of the chapssal.

My school served chapssal during a lunch one time and that’s how I discovered this little gem; it also turns out that I have a bakery on my island, but the hours are fickle at best. If you visit Korea then visit any of the billion Paris Baguettes, Tous les Jours, or other chain bakeries, however, if you’re in Mokpo then you need to visit this place for the best chapssal that I ever had.

My favorite bakery in Mokpo.

My favorite bakery in Mokpo.

 

Fight the Shit with Smiles

Today, I will give you the most powerful technique in the world to handle all the shit in it. Here it is: Never stop smiling at the day-to-day shit that slaps you in the face. When bad stuff happens to you or to someone you know then smile, especially if you don’t mean it. Fuck being real, be what gives you success and the people who frown, cry, yell, scream, at their shit don’t succeed. If they had succeeded then this might had caused them to fail.

You only stop smiling when you are happy that the shit came to you.  When you are happy for real then you can stop smiling or maintain a neutral visage, but the second that shit pushes into your life again then start smiling.

Not a grin, nor a smirk, but a big, wide, oh my GOD, Duchenne Smile. Your aim is to blind the shit with your pearly whites or unpretentious coffee yellows–that’s keeping it real for me.

Don’t tell anyone about the shit because that makes their day shitty too. The exception is to that one friend, lover, or sibling that knows how to convert the shit into daisies. This person knows that the only way to make the shit go away is to create a garden and use it as manure where future daisies can grow and make you forget that the shit was ever there in the first place.

If you do tell someone about your shit and they don’t know how to convert it into daisies then they will only smear that shit everywhere. Now every one knows your shit and will talk about your shit every time they see you. They will even ask you how your shit is doing as if it were some shitty person. Fuck that!

Smile when it hurts so much that you can only cry and you think maybe it isn’t worth it. Smile when you don’t know anyone who can help you create a beautiful garden. Smile, smile, smile because only the Great can smile at their enemies and say,

“Thank you.”

Bowling Bar in South Korea (Gwangju)

A while back, I and several friends of mine decided to go bowling, but we had a teeny problem on our hands, we also wanted to drink. Now, in Korea normal bowling centers don’t allow drinks, which is strange since you can drink pretty much anywhere, including the street: Enter the Bowling Bar.

Bowling Bar in Gwangju, South Korea.

Bowling Bar in Gwangju, South Korea.

We did a little research and discovered that there are bowling theme bars that people can go to have a little fun alongside their beer or whiskey. When we entered the building everything was dark and neon and only slightly crowded. It was like going to a Cosmo Bowling event if Cosmo Bowling was every single day! Back in Michigan and Utah, I never managed to go to one of the Cosmo Bowling events at my local bowling alleys because I was always to busy with sports or conquering the latest Final Fantasy title… those were the days… yeah, so I never went and I was excited to finally try this glow-in-the-dark bowling out. The owners spoke decent enough English and we spoke decent enough Korean, so it wasn’t a problem ordering two games along with four bottles of Budweiser (beer in Korea is very limited, so no chocolate stouts). They then ushered our group of four into a waiting room because of a 15 minute wait. If I was to say the major difference of bowling in Korea versus America, outside how people bowl, is the waiting. Koreans love to bowl, or at least, they are always bowling when we decide to go. The first time we went there was an hour and half wait just for one lane, of course, the bowling alleys in Korea are a lot, a LOT, smaller than back home, but I still found it strange by how many people were almost always bowling. I thought bowling was dead in America because a lot of the old alleys were closing down and most of the time we had the whole place to ourselves and yet in Korea it is a booming Industry!

Here’s the waiting room in the bowling bar:

Free pool while we wait!

Free pool while we wait!

 

A glass window allowed us to see the other bowlers.

A glass window allowed us to see the other bowlers.

What happened when the guy turned off the lights!  Too bad we didn't have time for Beer Pong.

What happened when the guy turned off the lights! Too bad we didn’t have time for Beer Pong.

We were only up here for a couple of minutes, since our lane opened up faster than expected, however, it felt reassuring that if we ever decided to come back that any wait we might endure would be welcomed with a game or two of free pool.  We separated the teams into Americans (Michigan and Minnesota) and others (Canadian and Brit) and we played for rounds of beer. I’m not the best bowler around, but before I left for Korea, I went bowling every week for two months with my little brother and his friends, so I felt a little confident with my 90 point average. This is what happened during the first game:

Our scores are on the bottom--mine is the 85.

Our scores are at the bottom–mine is the 85.

Woo-hoo! It turned out our rivals were very bad. We decided to let them off if they bought popcorn, which they did, however, their bowling never got any better. While we bowled a dozen or two flat screens, hanging from the ceiling, played music videos.

Music Video in the bowling bar.

Music Video in the bowling bar.

Some of the videos were a bit provocative.

Some of the videos were a bit provocative.

Here’s what the bowling rack looked like, as you can see, it’s all neon bowling here.

Bowling Rack

Bowling Rack

Another interesting tidbit, Koreans have crazy bowling styles! They’ll run up to the lane and throw the ball with one hand, or slide with the ball until they release it– it’s fascinating to watch. I did run into a very professional bowler and he had a more orthodox style with a solid form (he bowled in the 200s), but everyone else was just focused on having a good time as they whisked their balls down the lane while balancing on one leg, although, only the men perform the outrageous stunts. The girls were milder.

The lanes don't have the usual marks like back home.

The lanes don’t have the usual marks like back home and they are very slippery! 

A friend of mine bowling with music videos playing above the pins.

A friend of mine bowling with music videos playing above the pins.

Korea has so much to offer that is so different then what westerners are used to that it feels like living in a mystical land with Korean rice donuts, cold and delicious makgeolli, and crazy bowling bars. Cheers!

School Lunch in Korea

I’ve stopped eating school lunch a month or so, and it has been mainly raw vegetables and fruit for me. Before then, however, I’ve had a lot of great food, including bibimbap, chapssal (Korean donut), and other delicious items. I felt a bit awkward taking all these pictures in front of my co-teachers, so I’m a bit limited in what I can show, but here are several pictures of what it’s like to eat school lunch on an island in Korea.

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My co-teacher's lunch tray with the meat--look at that high grade!

My co-teacher’s lunch tray with the meat–look at that high grade!

My tray without the meat. They gave me more apples.

My tray without the meat. They gave me more apples.

I stopped eating school lunch because all the rice made me really sleepy; I was dosing in the teacher's office.

I stopped eating school lunch because all the rice made me really sleepy; I was dosing in the teacher’s office.

I have more pictures somewhere and when I find them I’ll add them to this post. Just know that school lunch is nothing like school lunch in America with that awful poison they serve. The food here is fresh, whole, and nutritious. God Bless, Korea for their wonderful lunches!