Thursday, December 30, 2010

Highrise: From Korea to Toronto - By Amber Kim

Reflective Essay - Highrise: From Korea to Toronto
By Amber Kim

Sam Gosling, the author of a recently released book called “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says about You,” asserts that just by looking at spaces or objects that are related to a specific individual, one can tell the observer about that person’s personality. In my house, my room is full of little ornaments that I like to collect. My little brother’s room is rather messy, but on the whole, it is quite tidy. My parents’ room is spacious and softly lighted. Overall, the place that I call home is cozy, comfortable, and warm. This indeed is my home sweet home, and where my heart is.  These everyday observations might seem mundane, but they truly came into a deeper perspective when I came across "HIGHRISE" - a ground breaking "360 degree" documentary available for interactive viewing at Canada's National Film Board website.

In a "highrise" in Toronto, Amchok, a Tibetan refugee, has found a place where he can call  “home.”  The ongoing documentary project, led by director Katrina Cizek, has continued over the last couple of years, and includes interactive activities for viewers - which serve to shed light on  the human condition within highrises around the world.  Through this experience, I explored Amchok's life, where he lives in a part of Toronto with a high ratio of immigrants.   His life touched me, and it's immediately clear that he enjoys more privileges in Canada than his homeland could provide him.  He can play his dranyen (Tibetan lute) whenever he wants to, be with his family, and is free from China’s religious and cultural oppression.

The apartment that Amchok lives in is uniquely decorated - like a small Tibet placed in Canada. The poster of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a flag of Tibet, and seemingly-made-in -Tibet carpets exist proudly in his living room. The clothes Amchok and his family wear, the songs they sing, and the instruments they play are all traces of the Tibetan heritage. Although Amchok lives in a foreign country, he preserves the culture of his origin vividly. In addition, just by looking at Amchok and his family dancing and singing together, their love is clear. Both adults and children seem to enjoy their life fully. They seem to be one perfectly happy family that is satisfied with the present moment. Observing them, I wondered if the common experience of going through the pressure under Chinese control and escaping it might be the thing that peacefully unites and strengthens them. While everyone possesses a strong sense of belonging and love of one’s true home, Amchok appears to go further.   But while all seems ideal, and Canada a safe-haven, their are issues confronting Amchok and many other immigrants like him.  "Highrise-ation" has continued to progress and create suburbs, which causes segregation in expanding cities like Toronto.   Available housing at affordable prices is an issue, and one has to wonder if cultures truly mix in such cases.  However, regardless of the social separation, Amchok, a Tibetan, feels happy to have a place to call “home,” which made me think of my own.

I began to ask myself questions.  What about Korea's highrises? According to Charlie, my American friend who is currently living in Korea, the highrises in Korea are like “Stalinist era apartment buildings.” I had never thought of them this way, but Charlie did point out the extreme state of uniformity of apartments in Korea. He added that it seems most of the apartments are built in “rows” as if they are strictly for workers to sleep in -  when not “working!” He added that Korean homes look isolated and sterile. Perhaps. But I replied by explaining that what should be examined about the highrises in Korea is the interior and the content of them, not just the exterior. 

Compared to Western housing, Korean homes are designed more for the utilitarian functions of family, rather than for impressing guests or serving recreation. I remember often seeing the saying “My door is always open” when I lived in America. The culture in the west is definitely more likely to open its doors, and to invite people in. Koreans are different. They perceive “home” as a very private place, not to be easily visited by outsiders. No matter how much a Korean dwelling looks isolated and closed off from the outside, the inside is completely opposite; rather, it is a place where dining, watching television, and chatting occur in the same space, thus more sharing and intimate.  Hideaways and privacy are hard to come by, and our culture doesn't stress a need for this.   There's an odd mix of exclusion and total inclusion, and the population density is an expression of it. Parking is a good example. 

My home in Changwon could be characterized by what I mentioned above about the general Korean highrise, but there is something more special to it. I find the uniqueness of the apartment that I live in to be the relatively small size of the building: my apartment consists of only five floors! Because my home is a low flat, and I live on the fourth floor, when I open the window, I can hear almost everything that passerbys talk about. Others may think that this is little bit disturbing; however, for me, listening to what is going around outside my home is as if I am reading different types of amazing books. I hear young girls gleefully laughing and chatting, drunken people shouting out loud about their discontent toward the world, and lovers enjoying their tug-of-war. The bustling sound outside my window has never been a distraction to me, but an energizer in my life. One more thing that I cannot possibly forget to mention is that a beautiful lake is positioned right in front of my house. This is the second special feature about my place. Nature exists right between the small gaps of the dense forest of buildings. Over seventy percent of Korean land is occupied by mountainous regions. Therefore, instead of building “out”, Koreans are forced to build “up”(although this is not the case with my five-story highrise.) The surrounding nature, a special feature of the place I live, gives me peace and joy.

I recall that no more than 10 years ago, I used to brag about where I lived, to my friends, because Ilived in the 25th floor, possibly the highest at that time. Now that new highrises are built more higher and in large quantities, it would look foolish to brag now. Sometimes, when I think about what a highrise means to people, I am heartbroken. These days, a highrise seems to be considered as a place where people sleep and live, rather than as a place with love and family. Therefore, seeing the case of Amchok truly delighted me, since in Amchok’s highrise, there was love, family, plus music. The time of hastily producing the same shape buildings is not a significant issue at present. Rather, what people ought to feel inside the highrises, and what needs to come across people’s minds when they hear the term “highrise” or “home” are the immediate matters in question to be resolved.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

After staying 10 minutes on a homepage…

"After staying 10 minutes on a homepage…"

HIGHRISE is a documentary project about human lives in diverse cultures and countries. There are 13 regions available to travel on the HIGHRISE homepage. Among them I chose Durdan who lives in Istanbul, Turkey. The story of Durdan in HIGHRISE gave not only information about her personal life, but also about the history of her society. Through the four things out of her window, which are letters, a front stoop, copper plates and a squat she explained hidden stories about herself and the life of women in Turkey. Especially about squat, there are some similarities with Korea, because of the historical background after the Second World War. On the other hand, some things were slightly dissimilar with me based on cultural difference.

In Istanbul, 65 percent of the whole population lived in self-built squatter homes. During the “gecekondu” ear, people started to build homes by themselves, then as apartmentization started people built apartment by floors from their hands. Durdan also built her house by herself after she bought one floor of the building. She started from raw concrete. The 1970s was a similar ear in Korea. Korean people started to change the traditional house styles: tile-roofed and thatched-roof houses to western style, brick houses. It was called the Sameaeul Movement to make a new village. This is quite different from Durdan’s experience. However, what I found these two countries had in common at that time was facing westernization. Turkey and Korea both found necessity to adopt western technologies to develop economically, militarily and politically after the Second World War. Therefore, they tried several ways to achieve that goal and the consequences of the change were quite successful, considering current GDP rankings of both countries. However, problems still remain. Most of the self-built squatter homes remain in an unstable condition in Istanbul, similar to the poor hillside villages in Seoul. They maintain an unfinished situation with rebars ready for building new floors, although there are no possible owners who have enough money to buy the floors. Moreover, most of the city’s self-built buildings are not earthquake-proof; Istanbul even sits on an active earthquake fault line.

Four million people of Turkish descent live in Germany. In Durdan’s case, Durdan’s parents died there, five of Durdan’s siblings live there and her son lives there. Letters on her table are from her son about his life in Germany. The reason for that isn’t specifically mentioned in the HIGHRISE. It might be because of the economy policy as it was in Korea. After the Second World War, Germany needed people to work for the miracle of the Rhine River. Because of the cheap prices, they used foreign workers. Generally they were Koreans; I suppose there were some Turks. Nowadays there are not many Koreans who remain in Germany compared to the past, but according to the last texts of Durdan’s letter story, there are some Turks who still remain in Germany.

Copper plates in Durdan’s house have a quite different story from the letters and the squats. If stories behind her letters and her self-built squatter homes are about the historical background of Turkey, then the story behind her copper plates is about personal experience. At first, copper plates in her cabinet look like these are for display, so I didn’t expect her story relates with the plates. Actually, the plates were shared with all her family members in her early years because of the economic hardship. They are kind of a trace of the past to her, similar to how paintings and plaster casts in my house are to my mother. Different from Durdan’s house, there are not many factors in my house which represents me, my family, my hometown, or Korean history and society. If there is one thing that could represent those things that could be the paintings and plaster casts as the trace of my mother.

Before I was born, my mother was an artist. She was not as famous as the names that usually cross one’s mind when we hear the word “artist,” but she had several exhibitions and continued her work. Although, after me and my sister were born and something happened to my father, she couldn’t continue her work until recently. Therefore, a lot of books about arts, easels, watercolors, oil paints, brushes, and plaster casts are left in my house, still dreaming of revival.
The front stoop is the thing that shows a cultural difference between Turkey and Korea. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the difference is the structure of the apartment. In Durdan’s self-built squatter house, there is a place between her floor and stairs. She uses this place for meeting neighbors with tea. She said that this is a tradition of Turkey, to make a place for greeting neighbors in front of the house. In Korea, there is no place for meeting in the apartment. People enter straight to their house after they ride the elevator or climb stairs. Comparatively, that is a desolate landscape.
Through Durdan’s story in the HIGHRISE, I learned a lot about Turkey, more than my first expectations. I also recognized that the stories of me, my family, my hometown and my country are hidden somewhere in my house and out of my window, although I couldn’t find much even after watching HIGHRISE. It was surprise to me to recognize the facts only through the model of the house that Turkey had quite a similar historical background for Korea, and yet very different cultures.


091124 MinKyung Jun

The capital city of Netherlands, Amsterdam, is one of the key transportation center including airport, highways, and railroads. Actually, there is an airport in Amsterdam in which a couple of plane crashes happened and killed many people. Zanillya, a woman who lived in Amsterdam for 11 years, introduce a part of Amsterdam, Bijlmermeer, as a peaceful region with lots and lots of trees. She states that there are roughly 138 different cultures in the area. These different cultures, people and the foods are what Bijlmermeer is famous for. In addition, it’s a free place where diversity of people is well recognized. People can practice any religious beliefs. Zanillya’s father, in particular, believes that these diverse religions are actually all one religion, so he has all kinds of religious items, including Buddhism, Jewish, and Star of Davis, at home. Furthermore, the vibe or free ambiance during the festival is so famous that many people visit Amsterdam. Zanillya likes music, poetry, acting, and a variety of entertainment. Her dad was an artist who wrote famous songs that had great hits as well. She likes to listen and make fusion music that combines 1970s discos, pops, world music, hip hop, and rap. The fact that her mother is Gypsy is one of the reasons she likes to make fusion music.
After seeing and listening to the description of Amsterdam from Zanillya, it seems to me that Amsterdam is a very free place where diverse cultures integrate wholly and lots of festivals take place. I liked the ambiance of liveliness of festivals where many cultures can be mixed together. In contrast, Republic of South Korea is a country without much diversity in cultures. Korea had stayed to have one ethnicity before the 20th century. As time passed and the globalization took process, more and more immigrants from foreign countries came to Korea. Some of them worked as teachers, others worked as employees in factories and most women got married to Korean farmers in the countryside or went to small restaurant to work as a waitress. As a result of these phenomena of globalization and immigration, the ethnicity became more diverse in Korea. Still, compared to other countries, the cultural diversity is very little. However, most Korean people are trying to be nice to immigrants and the number of immigrants is increasing constantly these days.
I’ve been living in the same town for 13 years. GwaCheon is a small, but very peaceful city to live without any clubs, with very low crime rate and a good system for children education. The good system for education is the main reason many parents with little children live in GwaCheon. For example, when I succeeded in getting admission from KMLA, the whole city congratulated me because the citizens were highly interested in education. There are four small elementary schools, two big middle schools, and four big high schools. I enjoyed my life in middle school because the educational system was very well-developed and it fitted well to me. Because Korea protects people’s right to practice religion freely, some people in Gwacheon believe in a heterodoxy called the God, the earth, and the sky. In the center of the city, there is a big temple for the religion where people pray and practice their religion. Many catholic and Christian churches exist, as well. There is also a Buddhist temple near Mt. GwanAak. I do not believe in any of the religion, so I’ve never been to any of them. Next to one of the Christian churches, there are the city municipal office and the national government building. It takes 10-minutes to get there from my house.
There is a small hill right in front of my house where many people climb for exercise. There are many different kinds of trees. I used to go there every day when I was young, but it’s not easy to do so these days because I became so busy studying. The residents in my apartment can enjoy not only the hill and the trees, but also the markets located next to the small hill. It’s easy for people to get items they need. I can see the hill when taking a rest and lying on the sofa in the living room. I can also watch television through huge TV screen on the wall. There are a few dusts on the air conditioner next to the TV. It seems like my family hasn’t used it for several months. In the middle of the living room, there is a small table which has nothing on it but a vase full of flowers. My family and I usually take time together talking on this table.
I spend my private spare time in one of the rooms, a small room where there are a desk and two bookcases standing next to it. I see a bunch of books stacked on my wide brown desk. Those books include Death of a Salesman, Great Gatsby, and The Color Purple. Behind the desk lies a black chair in which I can take a rest while studying. This is my room where I can spend my private spare time. The thing I like the most in my room is bed which has a big yellow pillow with teddy bear pictures on it, and soft comfortable quilt.
My bed and the trees near my house best represent me because first of all, the word comfort among many different characteristics best represents me. I am a person who can make others feel comfortable when they are with me. I listen to their secret problems and make good advice to them, and I believe that my bed and I have the characteristic in common. In addition, I love trees and the environment. No one can cast doubts on my love for the environment and effort to preserve it. In order to preserve the environment, I became vegetarian and enrolled in clubs to save the environment. Therefore, I believe that my bed and the trees near my house best represent me.

Here is the presentation I made about myself.

Home, Sweet Home - Sanghun Lee

It was the English Composition class when I first came across the Highrise website. The scenes of Johannesburg struck me. People were robbed in Johannesburg. They were robbed of their safety and happiness. As I walked back towards my dormitory, I kept thinking about the horrified faces that peered from behind the broken walls.

Room 404, Korean Minjok Leadership Academy's school dormitory. I look at the spider trapped in the double window. I open the window and let it in. Outside it is dark. I check my watch -- four o'clock. It should not be this dark yet. The hailstorm must have brought the clouds with it. The tapping of the ice on the ground becomes clearer and louder as I lean toward the window. Soon the taps are thuds, and then bangs echoing the front yard. Sounds like gunshots.

Gunshots. The echo of a distant gunshot makes the knives shiver as the family sits down around the chicken. Chicken is rare for dinner. This time it took two hours to do it properly, because water has been cut off in the apartment. The apartment hijacker who took over the owners has blocked water. The residents call him "Hitler". The family has been paying rent every months, though -- ever since the woman who lived alone next door refused to pay and died the next day. And just last month, two bodies were found in the apartment dump. And one with only one eyeball, too.

Out the window is an old building under renewal. This, too, was a hijacked apartment until the eKhaya threw out the hijackers two weeks ago. People say that the workers there found a debris of a skull immured in the elevator. There will be no more deaths, though. The eKhaya is bringing security. People no longer drink or do drugs. They do not throw objects out the window -- just this apartment. Soon peace will reach here as well. Bang, a gunshot.

This is the story of Johannesburg. Highrise of old buildings and maze of filthy streets, the haven of all criminals. Thankfully, I have never seen such violence in my hometown, never lived in such a chaos. My own town up in Seoul has dirty streets and dilapidated houses, too, but I heve never found terror in them. Instead, I have found beauty and peace.

My home, West Ichon, is an old place predominantly settled by the poor, much like Johannesburg. When I looked out my window, normally I would see an uneven line of old and dirty houses, in rainy days a dismal sight, but when the sun was high and the sky was blue, I would see a beautiful picture of a peaceful country village, one that the President could proudly hang on his bedroom wall. Just out the window on the opposite side of the house, I could see the Han River. Every once in a while when I woke up early in twilight, I would see the river that glowed in blue and the silhouette of skyscrapers that embroidered the horizon.

Indeed, the people there were peaceful. When the few students who live here headed off to school early in the morning, old ladies came out and gathered around an old tree and sat on the bench there to chat. Some others would take a walk. And I could feel the peace in my room. Just by looking out my window my troubles would fade away. My family enjoyed the peace there. We always watched birds that sat on the tree branches outside, and in autumn picked persimmons off the branhes to eat with dinner.

If my home is peaceful, the student dormitory in which I now live is active to its heart. Every now and then I hear voices shouting out pleasure and people singing as they walk in the corridors. In the morning, as early as six o'clock, people begin to wake up and run out to do their morning exercise. Morning is a lively frenzy when people fill the cafeteria, when they gobble up thier food and run back to their rooms, clean their rooms and finish their neglected homework. At night, people work their eyes on books or chat with their roommates. At nine o'clock, I can hear people singing and playing guitar and people having (playful) fistfights on their beds.

The dorm is the only highrise in this region. Cafeteria is the highest floor, so there I can see everything outside -- miniature people walking to classes, farmers beginning their work outside of the school's boundary, and cars passing by the highway. Small buildings, trees, and half of Mt. Deokgo. From the dormitory cafeteria I can see the entire Sosa. When snow comes, many people breaks the law to gather on the roof and meet the first snow of the year. Sometimes people go up on their own to see the stars and enjoy the peace and solitude. The dormitory supplies the students with everything from work to rest, and from sadness to happiness.

I do not live in slums where people disappear after gunfights; I do not live under hijackers who constantly threat the lives of my family. Artefacts are found in construction sites, not skulls. From my birth, I have lived in the most peaceful places (however poor), and I have never worried about drugs, weapons, and death that the dwellers of Johannesburg have to consider all the time. Never have I been thankful for my environment, however.

The spider that I just let in is busily building its home under my desk. Now that I come to think about home, I have always felt home a home. Out my window, the hail has changed to snow. Perhaps I should be a lot more thankful for my life.

Amy's Bookshelf

This is a presentation about books and authors that I loved as a child.
It also discusses how these books have influenced me.
After watching this presentation, I hope that you too think about the books that you loved reading as a child, and think how they have played a role in creating who you are today.

Out My Window - Two Houses, One Problem

           As the documentary director Katerina Cizek rightly points out, concrete residential buildings are the most commonly built form of the last century. You can literally see them all over the world. But although these buildings all look grey, boring and identical on the outside, they are full of diverse rich cultures on the inside. These high rise buildings are the “containers” of our human’s everyday lives. Thus the building is filled with culture unique to the country and the city it is situated in. In exploring two high rise building apartments of two very different countries, South Korea and Bangalore, it was interesting to realize how, in essence, the two houses are very similar. Not only are they the homes of relatively privileged people but they also symbolize a social problem common to most urban cities around the world. 

           Even at a slight glance, the residence of Akshadha and her parents seems to be extremely modern and luxurious. All the furniture in the living room and in the kitchen is of the highest quality. The TV screen on one side of the room fills the whole wall, a size not easily found in most houses even in Korea. Also, Abhishek, Akshadha’s father, is using a laptop, an electronic device that 92% of the Bangalore people not working in the IT industry probably cannot even dream of owning. The entire collection of cutlery in the kitchen is made out of stainless steel, and looks almost new. In addition, Akshadha and both her parents are wearing modern westernized clothes, and only in one of the short clips does Akshadha’s mother wear the traditional Sahari. 

            Akshadha’s opulent house, filled with modern technology and rich and lavish colors, creates a sharp contrast with the dismal environment in which the Dhobi’s work in. Dhobi is the Hindi word for Laundry Washer. They work in the basements of the apartment building washing and ironing the clothes of the people living there. They work in inadequate conditions as they have to stay in the underground parking lot all day and drink in the bad air created by the cars parked right next to them. In biting contrast with the modern kitchenware in Akshadha’s house, Vishwarama, the laundry washer, uses an iron which seems to be fit more for the 19th century rather than for the 21st. What’s more depressing about this picture is that Vishwarama’s young daughter lies on the cold hard floor with only a few blankets to cover her, waiting for her mother and father to finish work. For sure the bad air in the basement will not be good for the young child.

           The disparity between the rich and the poor can be more clearly noticed in the view seen through the window. Looking out of the window, the viewers can see that Akshadha’s house is one of a few high rise buildings within Bangalore. The rest of the buildings are relatively low, only about 5 stories tall. Akshadha lives in a gated high rise community where people from mostly the IT firms live. Although Bangalore is known as the Silicon Valley of India, in reality IT workers constitute only 8% of all workers in Bangalore. The rest, like Vishwarama, hold other jobs, mostly in the service industry, catering to this 8%. The buildings explicitly manifest this difference between the 8% who are wealthy enough to live in well-furnished well-protected buildings, and the 92% who barely manage to live in dirty and old buildings by working for the 8%. 

                      The problem seems to be getting worse in Bangalore. The construction sites which can be seen from the window are all in a halt. Akshadha’s father tells us that around 3,500 to 4,000 apartments were planned to be built, until all construction stopped because of the recession. He goes on telling us how all the builders are out of money, because while the prices of steel and cement are soaring up, there is nobody booking new flats. In Bangalore they call these construction sites “Ghost Buildings.”
           Exploring the pictures taken of Akshadha’s home and the view from the window and looking at the short video clips, it was very surprising that there were quite a lot of corresponding features between my house and hers. First, within the house, the furniture, electric appliances and the overall atmosphere are very similar. Both houses have a long sofa, table, dining table, TV and a simple shelf. The furniture in both houses is of dark color and the overall atmosphere is warm and relaxing. In addition, since both houses have a young child, there are some objects in the living room which tells the viewers of the existence of a child, such as a doll.

           However, there are some important contrasts between the interior of the two houses. In my house, lives my baby sister who is 10 years old. One of them  is that there is a piano and some plants in my house which cannot be found in Akshadha’s. Both the piano and the plants have great sentimental value for my family. The piano was my uncle’s when he was young. He gave it to me when I was born, and since I no longer play the piano my sister uses it. So it has been in our family for over 30 years now. On top of the piano, there are two big framed paintings. Both of them were drawn by me and colored by my cousins. In the first picture, all members of my family including my grandparents are drawn as mermaids. In the second, all members of my family are drawn as playing on the moon and the stars. The plants in my house were given by my grandparents. The tallest tree behind the sofa was a young tree when my parents got married. My grandparents gave it to my parents as a wedding gift, and over the course of 18 years of marriage life it has grown in to a grand tree.
           Another feature worth comparing between my house and Akshadha’s is the laundry. In Akshadha’s house the Dhobi washes and irons the clothes of the residents in the basement parking lot. Similarly, there is a coin washing room in the basement of our apartment. An important difference is that it is a machine which is doing the laundry in our apartment’s washing room. Taking into consideration Akshadha’s father’s laptop and the size of the TV screen, it is very strange that the Dhobis are doing the washing and ironing using very outdated tools. The disparity between the rich and the poor represented by the Dhobis is quite shocking and deplorable.   

           As it was with the view seen from Akshadha’s window, the view from my house tells us about the many social problems within Seoul and further on, within Korea. The most obvious problem is overpopulation. Seoul currently has a population of over 10 million people and it is growing every day. In order to accommodate this burgeoning population, buildings are being constructed wherever it is possible. There are even houses built directly below the mountain which is detrimental for the natural environment. In addition, due to this massive population, the roads are filled with traffic at all hours. This causes further environmental problems such as air pollution, a problem that Bangalore seems not yet to be struggling with. The view from the window of my house is mainly grey partly because it rained hailstorms later that afternoon, and partly because of the air pollution caused by the traffic.

           On the other hand, another problem is that the gap between the rich and the poor in Seoul is almost as large as its population. The buildings near the Han River are noticeably taller and grander than the buildings far away from the Han River. The buildings near the Han River are widely coveted because they provide a magnificent view. However, only a few minutes away from the Han River and the buildings are all tenement houses with much lower prices and poorer living conditions. The prejudice that Seoul is full of high sky-scrapers and tall apartment buildings shows only a part of the story, as there are still many people living in tenements a few kilometers away from the Han River. Just like Bangalore, Seoul is suffering from polarization between the rich and the poor.
           Two houses and two cities that are so different yet so similar. On the surface, these two houses and two cities do not seem to have much in common. Obviously there are much more high rising buildings and cars within Seoul, and obviously the furniture and interior design of the two houses cannot be the same. However, these differences are only superficial since these two houses and two cities are, in their essence, very similar to one another. For one, both houses host relatively financially privileged people. This explains the similarity in the choice of furniture and household electric appliances. On the other hand, both cities are suffering from a severe phenomenon of polarization, where the rich cannot even bear to live among those poorer than them, shutting these people out by gates. This widening disparity between the rich and the poor is not just a problem limited in Bangalore and Seoul. It is a problem common in all the areas that are becoming urbanized, and it is a problem which needs to be urgently addressed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Childhood, DK

When people think of high rise buildings, they think of fabulous lives that people who reside in that building would have. However, what about lives of people who build the high rise buildings? The clip I saw was from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Cambodia, which is in Asia, shares same cultural area with Korea with the religion, Buddhism. However, level of living in Cambodia is far behind than that of Korea due to its miserable history. Korea, also had tragic history but recovered fast, but Cambodia was deadlocked for a long period due to imperialism and political chaos. Therefore, it is developing only recently. The clip is the story of working class of Cambodia.
     One Cambodian woman appears and narrates her story; how she lives and how she works. She was formally a farmer, raising rice, but it became impossible since her cows died. Therefore, she makes her living by working in the construction areas. She makes $1 to $1.85 per hour which is not so much. She says her country needs more tourists to make more money and says Koreans or Europeans will live in building that she builds. She says she can live in the building for the short period before real owners move in for joke and says she would not able to afford this high rise building; she laughs while saying this. She says, “I want to live high up, so I can see far, far away.” she is not so rich, actually she is rather poor. She is working to construct a building that she would not be able to afford. But she laughs away her hard situation. I assume, this is possible because she has a hope. One man also appears in the clip. He says he is working in construction area when it is not farming season. He says he made a lot of friends, knowing each other for 4 to 5 years but he prefers to live quietly. He says it is hard to keep his lifestyle, living and working with people with different lifestyles together. He says he regrets that he stopped studying because of his poor family background. He says he likes Khmer style, which has harp towers and bright, more than modern style; It shows he misses the past and wants to return.
     When I was young I lived in Uijeongbu-si, Gyeonggi-do. I was born there, having lived there for my entire life until I was seven. My grandparents did not help my parents financially so they started from the bottom. My family lived in semi-basement; it was not a favorable place but I never thought of other places that I might live in because I admired that place so much. It was the only world that I knew. My father worked in office and my mother worked as well at that time. She was running video rental shop and my father helped her out after he returned from work. Knowing nothing, I was just happy that I could watch almost every movies and cartoon films. I lived in a small village where all the neighbors knew each other. Adults took care of children in town taking turns. It was acceptable for kids to visit neighbors’ house at any time. Elders took children to mountains and lakes at weekends, playing treasure hunt. We watched fireworks at night together when the near American Army Base set it off. Even I moved to near apartment and then to Bundang, it was precious experience in my life that I learned affection and care for others. The most important thing was that my family and I were happy there. It might not be appropriate to use the word “happy” since it is elementary word, but no word can replace it; we were just “happy”. My family had a hope and confidence about the future.
      When I was watching the clip, it reminded me of my personal experience and touched my heart. My family always wished to live a better life like the women in the clip wishes. My family worked hard and tried hard to raise our quality of living. We went travel frequently, learned scuba diving, ate healthy food, and so on. However, it is true that there existed time that we wanted to go back, just like the Cambodian man wishes. It was not a perfect paradise after we moved to Bundang. For me, Bundang was a totally different place that I have never experienced, so it was hard to make friend at first. I was lonely; it was hard time that I had no friends, having no one to play with. As time passed, I made friends, but I had to compete to survive. I not only had to study but also had to solve conflicts with my friends and so on that I would not fall behind. It was harsh for me even I was so young. My family suffered for reasons that I do not know. In this period, I felt like I lost some virtues that I had in Uijeongbu. My family and I wanted to go back to time we lived in Uijeongbu; it seemed that we had nothing to worry at there. However, my family overcame with problems that seemed insoluble. Now, I know the virtues that I almost lost; they are confidence and hope. I believe, with those, people can overcome any difficult situation like I did. People would achieve things that they wished, when they bear adversity with those virtues. I wish I could endure all the hardships afterwards and also the Cambodian woman and man could, laughing problems away like the woman did.

Amchok and Tibet, Me and Home

Out My Window is a new type of documentary that blurs the boundary between the producer and the audience. It describes the lives of people in different highrises, in different cities, in different countries through different methods. This is where I met Amchok. 

In a 360 degrees rotational music video, Amchok sings “Snowland,” a song he composed in Tibetan. Listening to his song, one can instantly tell that he is proud of being Tibetan. His longing for his country, his love for Tibet is deeply embedded throughout the song. To me, Tibet is a mysterious country. Although I like reading, I have never encountered a book about Tibet, much less been to Tibet itself. Seeing Tibet through Toronto was unexpected. Seeing myself, my home through Toronto, was even more unexpected.
Amchok is a musician who lives in an apartment in Toronto. His apartment very much resembles his character. It’s simple and warm with a touch of religion. Although not luxurious, the house is ornamented to the right degree.
To Amchok, music is not merely a hobby. It is a fundamental piece that makes him what he is. It is a gateway to meet new people, express himself, and keep his family in harmony. He sang in front of Dali Lama a couple of times as well. To me, reading is not a petty time killer. It is an escape route from reality. A door to the adventures and journeys I cannot experience first hand. Checking off each bullet from a list of things to complete each week, the days fall into a simple routine from school to dormitory, and back. Books serve as a spark in between the checks.
Beside his bed, there is a small model of a yak. Tibet preserved in a small figure. Back in Tibet, Amchok’s family was not well off. He lived in houses made of mud, which had no windows. In the summer when he lived in a tent made from animal hair, he would see animals through the fur. Motor vehicles could not be seen, except for an occasional airplane that would pass by once every two or three years. To be forced away from the place of memories, friends and family. To look out the window, and see a completely different world. I am under no such oppression, and no such power forced me to live in a dormitory; it was from my own choice. Nonetheless the words of Amchok bring a slight heartache.
Back home, I could see people, shops and buildings. I could look around, feel familiarity and be at home. Looking out the window here, over the borders of the school, I see endless waves of mountains, patches of crop fields, and the green block of the Pasteur Milk factory. It creates a magnificent picture during sunrise, sunset and snow, but I cannot help thinking about the streets at home; the highrises surrounding my home, the endless stream of vehicles and people. The houses gathered at the curve are the only sight of residence. The school dormitory is the only highrise within eyesight. Now, as I am used to the sight, instead of overlapping with the sights at home, its beauty stands out alone more often than not.
           Amchok, whose move had the opposite effect on the world beyond the window, sees 1000 towers, the residential high-rises of Toronto along the horizon. Looking at them, he wonders if there are musicians out there as well. McCandy lives in the highrise 20km from Amchok. He was made to move, and now the apartment he used to live in is empty. In the empty space, he plays the drum. Through it he feels reunited with the people around him.
I used to wonder who would live in the cluster of houses at the curve of the road. Whether there are students like me, studying, reading, and chatting with friends. The question of who lives “over there” has always been with me no matter where I live. Last year when our school invited the elderly living in Sosa, I finally met the people who live “over there.” The elderly resembled the rounded road on which the houses were located on. Both weren’t materialistically bountiful, but spiritually satisfied, and yet longing for love.
Although I am living across the globe from Amchok, he does not seem like a complete stranger, because in a way, he reflects me. Although I cannot sing or play like he does, I wrote my version of “Snowland.” For the home I am beginning to get used being away from:

 I am daughter of my house
A daughter who loves home
A daughter who is thankful for it

For each brother at home, I sing a song
A song sung through heart
When we reunite at home, I treasure time

For Home where my heart is, I sing a song
For Home where my heart is, I sing a song

I am daughter of my house
A daughter who loves home
A daughter who is thankful for it

For each brother at home I sing a song
For Home where my heart is, I sing a song
For Home where my heart is, I sing a song
For Home where my heart is, I sing a song
For Home where my heart is, I sing a song
For Home where my heart is, I sing a song

HeeJae- The World on the Other Side of the Fence

Sounds of a rice cooker giving off steam; lute tunes and drum beats reminiscent more of the East than of the West. Dyed handkerchiefs and flags with patterns that seem to be related to some tribe; a scroll paper with the image of Buddha and incomprehensible inscriptions; a little yak model sitting by the bed. These were not what I expected to hear and see in a high-rise in Toronto.
High-rise is a project by NFB that attempts to provide windows to people scattered over the world who live in the same dull-looking high-rises but who lead different lifestyles. When I was assigned to explore a Toronto household, I expected a typical white family, so I was surprised to see a place that hardly seemed to represent Western culture, save the TV. I soon learned that this family is one of the nearly 2000 Tibetan exiles in Toronto. Amchock, the father of the family, travelled on foot for a month to escape the Chinese-controlled Tibet. Perhaps many years have passed since he had settled in Toronto, but the atmosphere of the house seemed as if his true self was still lingering in Tibet. He seemed a discordant person in the midst of high-rises.
However, after listening to Amchock’s music, I realized I was wrong. As he began to play the lute and sing traditional Tibetan songs, the kids sitting on the couch rose up and started to clap and dance around. The wife tapped out the beat with her feet and two Carcassian men playing the drum joined in with the kids. Amchock sang in his own language, yet it seemed to speak to all the people and bring them together. Perhaps, this is what he meant by “moving the masses through words and melody.” I could imagine him performing in front of more than 30,000 Canadians before the Dalai Lama’s speech, speaking to the people through his Tibetan rhythm, and bringing his world and their world into harmony.
Amchock survived poverty through music and found happiness and harmony, but he must have led a difficult life as a Tibetan exile. However, just out of his window, there are thousands of more people facing difficulties as well. There are more than 1000 residential high-rises, but 80% of them are privately owned, and citizens have to pay exorbitant prices for the wretched buildings. The African American drummer in the film, for example, says he hated to move where he lives now, but had to because there are not many available places.
It reminded me of what I see out my window in Seoul. Looking eastward, I can see Mount Inwang and Mount Ansan surrounding the apartment, and a park that becomes cleaner and greener everyday thanks to the efforts to create an environmentally friendly town. Looking northward, I can see a playground that looked so big when I was young, but it seems so small now.
Looking straight ahead, there is a fence- the fence that divides the apartments and a series of shacks going up the hill. Then, there are stone steps, the only door to enter “the other world.” Going down the steps, there is an alley where stores constantly open and close.
When I first moved into the apartment with my family eleven years ago, I did not like the crowded shacks on the other side of the fence. They did not fit with the newly built apartments. They were an eyesore. I even wondered whether someone actually lived in them. Looking down on these houses from the veranda of the apartment, I thought, “Why not tear them down and build fancy apartments? Then, more people can live, and it would definitely look prettier.”
As I grew up, I began to understand the more complex issues that underlie the seeming disharmony of the presence of the shacks that form a village, collectively referred to as a “Dal” village. Primarily, Dal means the moon in Korean. I wondered why people would give such a romantic name to the tumbledown old shacks. Some people say it is because these shacks are mostly built on a hill that they nearly reach the moon, and others say it is because the people living there go to work early in the morning when the moon still dangles in the sky, and similarly return home late at night. However, Dal actually derives from the word meaning mountain or dirt, so Dal village, after all, is not a romantic name but a strictly realistic one that refers to shacks built on the mountain side.
The Dal village was created after the Korean War in 1953 when homeless people began to build temporary places with panels to settle down. Even after the high-rises began to fill the city, the people still remained since they could not afford the high prices of the apartments. However, with the urban redevelopment project, the Dal villages have been torn down and people were forced out of their homes. Now, only a few Dal villages remain, and the one in my area is among the few.
The two contiguous worlds, and two different lifestyles separated by a fence affected my childhood, although I was unaware of this back then. When I was nine years old, I invited a classmate, Won Jung, to my house. Upon entering, she exclaimed, “Your room looks like an art hall!” I thought it was a little odd for her to say so because to me, my room looked mundane compared to my other friends’. Then, we played house as usual. When it was meal time while playing, Won Jung said, “Soju* and cheonggukjang**, please.” I soon forgot about this incident, but as I recall it, I now realize the significance of it. I never saw my parents ordering soju and cheonggukjang, and it certainly is not normal for people living in the apartments. However, for Won Jung, who lives on the opposite side of the fence, it was something she was used to.
The plight of the people living in that Dal village and those thrown out of their homes had little significance for me. Four years ago, when the teacher assigned us to read “The Dwarf’s Ball,” one of the must-read Korean books that discusses the wretched lives of people thrown out from Dal Village, I could not sympathize with the characters because their stories seemed so distant and disconnected from my own. I did not realize then that the exact same thing has happened in my village, and may happen out my window in a few years.
Until now, when I look out the window, I paid little attention to the people living on the other side of the fence. The shacks merely seemed out of place to me. However, I am beginning to understand the reality of what I see out there and wonder what stories those people have. Lamentation? Misery? Just as Amchock survived through music and brought harmony, I believe the people over the fence also have something powerful and meaningful to tell in their lives.
I see embers of hope in their stories.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

OUT MY WINDOW - Life in Phnom Penh, life in Korea

A woman takes sleep, where only the skeleton remains, only with a small blanket and a light bulb. In Cambodia, a woman and Tola, the sworn nephew of her, live in a constructed building with humble minds.

While I watched the videos of them, I got to know how modestly they think and live. They are construction workers. They live in a building that they are constructing, with others who have been working with them for several years. The place is very noisy and dirty, with drilling noise and a lot of dust. But they do not complain. They appreciate that they can make money with their ‘blood and sweat.’ They are allowed to work more during weekends. Just the fact that they earn money depending on the time they spent on work, they feel happy and satisfied. ‘Being happy at the cost of their honesty.’ Although their standard of living is lower than that of More Developed Countries, their ways of thinking seem much higher and nobler that those of MDCs.

Their hobby is to look out the windows. The windows are the means for them to look at other people, think of their dreams, and remind of their past. Between two people, I found Tola to be similar to me, in terms of having interests on architecture. When he looks out the window, the National Assembly, among a lot of buildings, catches his eyes, since the decorations are just ‘so beautiful.’ He concerns more on the techniques used on the buildings rather than splendid fountain or loud motorbikes. He instinctively cares about the decorations of the buildings, and he regrets to stop the study on the architecture. The objects related to ‘architecture’ look especially shiny to him; as such things seem like that to me.

When I look out the window, I see a forest of apartments. I live in one of the apartments in our village, which is full of tens of apartments. Since I had a dream to be an architect, the distance between the buildings, a shape of windows, and the colors of the apartments have caught my eyes. Although there are so many apartments in my village, I do not feel stuffy. In the forest of the buildings, I can meet many people, I can hear laugh of children, and I can think of my dream. Staring at the stars enclosed by four buildings, I feel the stars are put in a pretty dish. Looking down a village market that is held every week, I am enlivened. When we make kimchi, we share it with front household. When they go for a trip, they never forget to buy our souvenir. Though some Koreans say that apartment town is suffocating, it is one of the best places in which I can feel happy and cozy. I am happy that I am living with my precious dream and nice people.

Looking out another window that is on the opposite side, I can see G1230, which is a kind of cram school. At 12 p.m. every day, I can see a flow of students coming out of the building. They look very tired, exhausted from overwork in both school and cram school. I feel sympathy toward them since I had attended G1230 for three years of middle school life. When I was walking to the academy, my feet were too heavy. Looking at the dark sky after the cram school, I felt something vague. Looking back, it is also a part of reminiscence. However, if someone asks me whether I want to go back or not, I’ll definitely say not.

Day and night, I can see lots of cars running along the wide roads. Tens of cars constantly go through the road. I also can see some scary motorbikes that are running with the speed of light. On the verge of the change from green light to red light, cars desperately speed up to pass the signal. Koreans, are, busy.

While I looked at many cars and buildings, I thought about my past, Korea’s past. Then I found that it resembles Cambodia’s past. Tola says that when he was young, there was no transportation he could take, so he had to walk all the way from his school to house. The speed of development has been fast in Cambodia. For the speed of development, Korea never loses. When I was a kindergarten student, there was no online game. Internet had not been developed well, so my brother and I only could CD games. However, now, only after about twelve years, Internet has been so developed that I can enjoy that anywhere, anytime. Also, for my village, there was no apartment when I was born. As I listen to Tola’s narration, I felt sympathy.

Although Cambodia is distant from Korea, though I have never met Tola & his aunt before watching the video, I could compare and share some feelings and thoughts with them, throughout the stories they told in a highrise. They live in a building that is not completed, and I live in an apartment. They live, sleep, think, and dream in that highrise, as I do here. Stories in the highrise were very nice chance for me to look at the lives of people who live distant from me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Out My Window - An Age-Old Problem of Inequality

Bangalore is the fastest growing metropolis and the leading IT exporter in India. The highrises in Bangalore lucidly illustrate Bangalorians’ cultures and lives. Although there are some favorable aspects of highrises, some of the downsides of exclusive development in IT are manifested through them. “Out My Window” project, which introduces many films about highrises of different regions, showed the lives of people living in Bangalore. As I watched the three documentary films regarding high-rise buildings in Bangalore, I came to realize that Seoul, the city where I live, has many aspects in common with Bangalore, in addition to some differences.

A baby named Akshadha and her parents live in one of the high-rise buildings in Bangalore. For Akshadha’s family, the building gives them happiness and pleasure, because they love looking out the window. Through it, Akshadha not only can see the office where her mother works, but also learns how to identify new things, such as monkeys, squirrels, trains, and birds. This pleasure giving aspect of highrises in Bangalore was impressively familiar to me, since I have a seven-year-old younger sister who enjoys looking outside the window of my house. Like Akshadha, my sister learns about nature through the window by observing the river, the mountains, and the sky. The fact that highrises in both Bangalore and Seoul can become the means of education and enjoyment for young children intrigued me very much.

Another striking similarity between Seoul and Bangalore is that both cities, although major economic and cultural hubs of India and Korea respectively, clearly manifest the problem of unequal distribution of income. Unlike the first documentary film that depicted the favorable aspect of highrises, the second documentary film vividly illustrates the dark side of highrises. In the basement parking lots of the high-rise buildings in Bangalore, laundry washers called Dhobis work for thirteen hours a day. Although there is an IT boom in Bangalore, only people who work in IT - 8% of the population – enjoy the privileges of the economic development; the rest of the population has not experienced any wage rises during the economic boom. The rest of Bangalorians hold other jobs, especially in the service industry, catering to this 8%. Only those who work in IT and receive high wages can afford to live in the highrises of Bangalore. Although Bangalore and Seoul are slightly different in that most Koreans live in highrises regardless of their wealth, there are certain highrises in Korea that are considered symbols of wealth like those in Bangalore. For example, the highrise I live in is an apartment named Tower Palace with 69 floors. Most residents living in Tower Palace are wealthy like residents in the highrises of Bangalore. However, just as the Dhobis work for the residents of highrises in Bangalore, sweepers and janitors work for the residents of Tower Palace, providing for a cleaner environment in and around the apartment.

The aforementioned documentary films all presented similar aspects of Bangalore highrises and those in Seoul. However, there were some differences depicted as well. The third documentary film revealed that the construction of the highrises in Bangalore has been in stoppage because of economic recession. In contrast to Bangalore, Seoul has constantly and quickly achieved economic development, thus building great numbers of highrises without any stoppage.

I live on the 32nd floor of Tower Palace, Dogokdong, Gangnamgu, Seoul. The height of my house allows me to obtain a wide scope of view out the window. The wide view of my window fascinates me with so many things that I can ponder upon. Through my window, I can see mountains, a river, and the vast sky. I feel fresh and energized every moment I see these scenes of nature. My younger sister takes pleasure in observing the outside view likewise. She usually likes to see adults and children jogging and walking along the riverside. When it snows, my sister and I can see snow covering up the whole world out the window, and this view makes us lose our words with awe.  

However, there are not only pleasant views out my window. The west side of my window is filled with numerous tall buildings and I feel suffocated by just taking a glance at the view. With only small bits of green, the whole view is covered with cold, dark, and grey highrises. Not only that, but there are also a few tumbledown old shacks I can observe through my window. When I first saw those shacks, I was flabbergasted by the apparent contrast that my house and those shacks exhibited. Furthermore, when I encountered the janitors and sweepers in the hallways of my highrise, I could not help but wonder how much they earn through their work.

Palace is not only the tallest residential highrise in Korea, but also has been regarded as the representation of wealth and luxury. In accordance with this reputation, the building is full of modern amenities, and most of the residents of Tower Palace have occupations with high income. Like Tower Palace, highrises in Bangalore show economic inequality among people. The films that highlighted this aspect of highrises matched with my own experience of seeing the shacks out my window and encountering the sweepers that work for the residents. “Out My Window” project had given me an opportunity to develop more insight into the age-old problems of inequality.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jiyeon Park
I hate you, but I love you.

           Mazen lives in Beirut, Lebanon. He participates in the ‘Out My Window’ project to introduce his ‘highrise’ house and the town he lives in. To explain briefly about the ‘Out My Window’, it is a world-wide project that many people show their houses in high buildings, and also introduce about cultures and environments surrounding their houses. Through this project, other people can access to other countries’ cultures easily. Beirut is now a highly urbanized city with numerous high buildings and hotels. However, according to Mazen, only 4 years ago, the Israel-Hezbollah War in South Lebanon devastated the whole city and killed more than 1000 citizens. He saw the whole process of bombardments, destructions and reconstructions through the wide window in his high rising apartment. He says that one day he saw severe missile attacks in his room and improvised music by copying the sounds of bombs and airplanes. When I listened to his music, though he played it silently with his little trumpet, I could feel the fear of the war.
            However, unfortunately, there were not many other feelings and experiences I could share with Mazen. I have never experienced a war in my whole life. Although I said that I could feel the fears of the war by listening to Mazen’s trumpet playing, it must be incomparable to what Mazen actually experienced. Furthermore, I cannot see any high rising buildings or urbanized structures around my house, a 12 story dormitory of Korean Minjok Leadership Academy. So there are no destructions or reconstructions that I can see out of my window. When I look out through the three square meter window in my room, half of the outside scene is filled with my school’s campus, and another half is filled with mountains, cultivating fields, and a few one story houses. Except for when the violent wind often blusters in the winter, I cannot hear anything from outside. Everything is peaceful.
Fortunately, there is one thing I can distinctly sympathize with Mazen. It is the ‘love and hate’ relationship with his house, which he explains through his painting on the wall. He said, “I hate the high rising buildings because they ruthlessly efface the painful scratches of the war, but I love them because I live in this high-rise, and this is my home.” Similarly, I have all hate and love feelings toward my house. Sometimes I wish to escape from the high-rise, but sometimes I feel lucky to live in it.  
My room number is 802. I have been living in this KMLA dormitory for two years. Every semester, I changed my room, so it is the fourth room. However, despite different roommates and different positions in the room for three people, there is no difference in the fact that I still live in one of the identical rooms in a 12 story dormitory building. From 6 in the afternoon to 6 in the next morning, I spend 12 hours in this building. At 7 o’clock, the dormitory inspector locks the doors of the entrance hall. Then, all students and the inspector himself are locked up in this building until the next morning.
At midnight, when everything is dark outside and only headlights of cars running on the highways are seen far away across the school, I often look out my window, just looking at the running cars. Where are the cars going? Why are they running on the highway in the midnight? What I see through the window is only a tiny little moment of the cars’ long or short route of driving. After the cars get out of my sight, I cannot know their destinations or reasons for driving. However, no matter where they go, I always wish to ride on one of the cars and just to go far away from this high-rise. Because I am only an 18 years old girl who left home just two years ago, I often miss my true home where I can stay with my family. Then I reproach the inspector for locking up the door, and complain about this high-rise confining me.
           What makes me stand all the hard work and confinement are my friends. When the dormitory inspector checks if we clean up our rooms well, she never opens the drawers. I do not think that she does not know what we conceal in the drawers. She may just overlook all the instant noodles, instant soups, tea boiler, and even portable gas stove and pots, which are banned in the school. Having been living in this high-rise for more than 10 years, she must understand our boredom of the cafeteria meals. As I eat three times in the same cafeteria, on the 12th floor of the dormitory, with the same chopsticks, the same plates, and the same salads, sometimes I feel disgusted to eat there. Instead, hamburgers, pizzas, instant noodles, and many other foods pop up in my brain. Then, I run to my room and pull out instant noodles and tea boilers from the drawer. Some friends go to my room bringing soups, instant rice, and hams. We sit around the room and have a small ramyon party.
           It was very funny and interesting to look inside Mazen’s house and also outside his house. I could feel the threat of war even though the Beirut city is now recovered completely. Furthermore, I could also largely sympathize with his love and hate relationship with his house.  While looking at Mazen’s project, I came up with my similar relationship with my dormitory house. Though locked up in a high-rise building and having no rights to enjoy my instant noodles freely, I love this dormitory because I can always meet my friends and play with them. While music is a main factor that makes Mazen to love his house, friends are the main reason for me. The friends are very different from other friends I have had in the middle school. To me, they are not just my friends, but my mothers and sisters. They console me when I cry, and sometimes they depend on me when they have hard times. I feel lucky to enter this school, and despite the slight lack of freedom, I love to live in the 12 story dormitory.