tempested_bird: (Go Gu Ryeo)
[personal profile] tempested_bird
There are an infinity of ways in which you can move from that spot over there to here. But have you figured out those movements in your head, or are we seeing your soul in motion? Even that fleck at the tip of your nail embodies your soul... the essential thing is that your movements, even when you're standing still, embody your soul at all times. -Kazuo Ohno

Last November, I had this dream.

Much of that was spawned from a long conversation I had with my grandmother about her childhood in Korea in the last fifteen or so years of Japanese occupation and into the Korean war. I grew up with my grandmother telling me stories about her family life, about my great-grandfather, and the very shaky yet strong sense of identity my grandmother had while growing up.

My great-grandfather was born in Pyongyang not too many years before the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty of 1904 was signed, which was the first of a series of Treaties that eventually lead to the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1910 and subsequent occupation. His parents died when he was not much older than 8 or 9 and he was adopted by a wealthy Japanese couple who had no children of their own. On the one hand, they were good people because they adopted my grandfather, but I am not sure of the circumstances surrounding the adoption and whether or not it happened before of after his birth parents died (this did happen back then). Nonetheless, he was taken back to Japan for a time where his adoptive father was a wealthy businessman. His father opened a branch of his business in Seoul, and so my great-grandfather returned to Korea as a teenager and within his father's company he was trained as their Korean-Japanese liason.

My grandmother was born in 1931, which was in the last 15 years of Japanese occupation in Korea. I knew she grew up during that era, and I also knew that she grew up Christian (her father was from Pyongyang, where there were many many Christians, so this makes lots of sense. He was born into a Christian family, raised Shinto by his adoptive parents, and then reclaimed his Christianity as an adult) until she was married. My grandfather's family has been Buddhist for many many many generations.

What I did not know until that conversation was that she could not read or write Hangul until she was 19. It wasn't until after she married at age 19 that she began to learn to read and write Hangeul and also converted to Buddhism. She could speak Korean, of course, but the language of her education was Japanese. I was not surprised, but I have no idea why such a concept had not occurred to me until she said so. It put a lot of things into perspective. My grandmother is not stupid, but her reading of Hangeul was always a bit slower while her comprehension was fine. The way she read, it always felt like she was very tentative as if feeling out something that should be familiar but it was as if one were engaging in an activity that should be familiar but with someone else's hands.

This also caused her to read aloud instead of silently rather frequently as well, which honestly never bothered me. My grandmother raised me, so I was always happy to hear her voice and listen to her speak. But her slow pronunciation and enunciation also helped ME to clearly isolate parts of speech and the language itself.

This has been on my mind quite a bit since that conversation, especially given that the last several years I have grappled pretty hardcore with the discourse of the activist communities while trying to navigate my own sense of identity and formulate a concept of where I stand and how I make sense of the world. It's an ever-shifting work in progress. All the same, crises of identity are pretty common in my brain and seemingly within the brains of many of the people around me as of late.

This has also somehow tied itself with my renewed interest in Butoh after learning of the death of one of the performance style's pioneers, Kazuo Ohno. (My favourite Ohno performance: Mother) It's an underground and experimental form of performance that is visceral, sometimes grotesque, and firmly rooted in cultural folklore. And I have had this desire to use elements of this performance format and aesthetic and create a piece about my dream and about my grandmother.

This has especially sparked in my brain lately, especially after one particular aspect of a play I recently saw, "Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven", where in this particular production the three Koreans were played by non-Koreans and spoke their lines in Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese respectively while wearing a more archaic form of the Traditional Hanbok, as opposed to the more modern ones. I know that in the play itself, the playwright specifies that the three Koreans are to be played by people who're either Korean, Japanese, or Chinese who speak their lines in their respective native languages. I was particularly fascinated by this because it drew upon two things for me: an acknowledgement of the changes brought to the culture through the occupation of both China and Japan in Korean history and an acknowledgment of the fluidity of culture and how culture shifts and changes over time and is not monolithic. With that play, there's also a lot more going on with the levels of sarcasm and what that particular choice means, but that's not for this post.

It got me thinking a lot about the concept of using the language of one's own occupiers to rediscover your own identity. And I want to use Butoh to explore this concept regarding my family history since my great-grandfather's ties to Japan also circle back onto me (I was born in Japan.)

There are a lot of people who struggle with this even now, people whose language of their education was that of their colonisers even if the actual occupation ended generations ago. They leave marks on their infrastructure, and those concepts worm their way into your brain until you cannot even think of yourself except in the terms that were imposed upon your roots. And then we have to rediscover our own languages as if reclaiming our own thoughts, piecing together our identities from the fragments we have left.

This concept of mine is still very much in its larval stages. There is still a lot more research to do on the technical aspects. There is a lot of history on which I will have to brush up, and this is also a chance for me to pull on mine and my mother's background of Korean folkdance. I want to incorporate traditional Korean instruments, particularly the 가야금 (gayageum) and 장구 (janggu).

But a lot of this stirs mixed feelings in me. I'm not entirely sure how to articulate some of them, but there's a sense of instability. The more I learn about my family and the more I root my family history in the larger parts of history, I gain a lot of perspective of how intercultural relationships affect one another and the lasting generational impact. In some ways knowing these things makes it easier to feel vindicated in many of my own life-long views about how to engage with culture, but it also makes me understand more and more the viewpoints of modern Koreans and the generations of Koreans who latched onto the German models of extreme nationalism as a way to reclaim identity. That helps me to be a little more compassionate and understanding towards the viewpoint even if I disagree with a lot of the practises that arise as a result.

Date: 2011-05-02 05:10 pm (UTC)
troisroyaumes: Painting of a duck, with the hanzi for "summer" in the top left (Default)
From: [personal profile] troisroyaumes
Thank you for sharing your grandmother's story. Also, I think your idea for a Butoh performance is amazing, and I'd love to hear more about it as you develop the concept.

I know that my parents' elder siblings were not allowed to learn hangeul at school, but I actually don't know my grandparents' stories at all, other than that my grandmother still knows how to speak Japanese. One of the things that I'm curious about is the time when my father's side of the family was displaced to Manchuria during the occupation (how my father ended up being born in China rather than Korea)--yet another way in which that cultural fluidity is marked in our family histories.

In some ways knowing these things makes it easier to feel vindicated in many of my own life-long views about how to engage with culture, but it also makes me understand more and more the viewpoints of modern Koreans and the generations of Koreans who latched onto the German models of extreme nationalism as a way to reclaim identity. That helps me to be a little more compassionate and understanding towards the viewpoint even if I disagree with a lot of the practises that arise as a result.

Ahaha, this so much!

Date: 2011-05-02 01:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] talonvaki.livejournal.com
That's interesting...Dave's dad was born in Korea but raised in Japan, and didn't even know he was Korean until his parents died and he had to go back to his family in Korea. He had a Japanese name, learned to read, write and speak Japanese, and then around age 16 or 17, basically found out his life was a lie and he was really Korean.

I don't know what that would be like...especially at that age!

Then, Dave's mom is half Japanese - her mother had an affair with a handsome Japanese sailor (I think he was a sailor), but she was raised entirely Korean.

Date: 2011-05-05 04:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tempested-bird.livejournal.com
As far as stuff that happened with Dave's dad, that's actually not that uncommon in Japan, especially since after Japan withdrew from the country, many Koreans were never repatriated (especially the scholars, engineers, and artists who were all relocated by force) and so there are generations of people living in Japan who're racially Korean but culturally Japanese who're finding out about it in their adulthood.

I went to college with a girl like that. She's racially Korean but was born in Japan, grew up in Japan, thinks of herself as Japanese, and she had a major identity meltdown because she found out that she was Korean and that her grandmother was still in Korea.

Another part of it is that during that time, a lot of Koreans also fled to Manchuria. So there are also generations of people living in China who're Korean or a lot of Koreans who were born in China but repatriated after the Japanese withdrew.

Date: 2011-05-04 10:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] necrophonic.livejournal.com
Your posts always give me a lot to think about, and it's easy to lose 2-3 hours to looking up a lot of the things you talk about, be it folk instruments or dance styles or languages or a time period in a country's history.

Your journal is like brain sex; always leaves the nerd in a person satisfied, always brings them back for more.

Or I guess that's kind of like brain heroine, but whatever...

The entire notion of culture is something I struggle with constantly. When I first went to a public school (I was homeschooled until jr. high.) I had quite a shock during a conversation among some other students about heritage. Some were from Mexican families, or mixed heritage families, one kid was Korean and in addition to being a fine artist was the first person who told me that Korean Surnames came first, etc... But when I said "My family is mostly of German descent I think, and some Scottish and random Scandinavian I think..." suddenly everybody started telling me I was a Nazi.

So yeah, my relationship with culture has always been... difficult.

But later on I took some sociology classes, which I enjoyed for the most part, despite some pretty heated arguments with the teacher, who's views I generally opposed in some fashion. But the thing that I was continually reminded of, in large part because I was taking a lot of philosophy and psych classes at the same time, was how there's a big difference between how we label things in our minds, and categorize our thoughts, and how things can actually be categorized in an objective sense.

When you apply that to culture it becomes nearly impossible to get any sort of firm grasp on things, because it's almost all conceptual in nature, but at the same time you get huge political ramifications that have a very dramatic and objective effect on the world and population. That's ridiculously complicated just to think about, let alone actually discuss or formulate opinions on.

So at this point I kind of sway back and forth between doing everything I can to strip myself of any cultural affiliation, and this desire to be deeply mired in some sort of all-encompassing tradition of sorts, something that is highly ritualistic and despite being completely arbitrary in nature, feels completely solid and transcendent.

Sometimes I think the biggest difference between people and computers is our ability to continue operating when we are faced with two entirely different sets of operational parameters as though nothing was even wrong.

Date: 2011-05-07 07:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tempested-bird.livejournal.com
Your journal is like brain sex; always leaves the nerd in a person satisfied, always brings them back for more.

Aw... thanks! I'm really very flattered by that. But I'm also glad that the stuff I write does inspire people to do more research. It makes me feel like I'm actually giving something back to people who're choosing to spend their time reading what I throw at my monitor.


Talking about culture is... difficult. You're right that it's doubly difficult in that a lot of this does live in the conceptual realm but has real world consequences. A lot of people are still feeling out the best ways to have constructive conversations about this, but one's own opinions also tend to be very informed by your surroundings, you other subcultures, etc... and it can turn into a big mess. It's a matter of finding the related patterns that keep getting repeated and seeing how people react to accept or reject those passed down/taught notions, I suppose. I could probably speak about this more cogently if I were more awake.

I kind of sway back and forth between doing everything I can to strip myself of any cultural affiliation, and this desire to be deeply mired in some sort of all-encompassing tradition of sorts, something that is highly ritualistic and despite being completely arbitrary in nature, feels completely solid and transcendent.

This is something that I think a lot of people go through. I could be entirely wrong and some people never go through phases where they reject the fundamental parts of their culture for a time, but I do think that this is something a lot of people experience. But the desire to be mired within a tradition comes a lot from the human need for community and connection. It's one of those deep core things that people use to help formulate their identities (which is also a concept that is fraught with difficulty.)

In relation to your story about being called a Nazi, when I was a kid - I got a real big first hand dose of that. In Buddhism and Hinduism, the swastika is a symbol of everlasting divine energy, so it is used a lot in religious symbols. So when I was a kid (probably age 6...) and before I started to learn about the Holocaust, I used to wear a gold pendant that had a medallion of the seated Amitabh Buddha with a swastika behind it. I damn near got mob-killed, and I got called a Nazi, and I didn't know why. I immediately went home that very day and started researching it. It was horrified that I would get called that (I'm 1/4 German, and I later found out that my great-grandfather was kicked out of the Nazi party because he didn't buy into all the bullshit they spewed and lost his eyesight for it), but I also remember being SO angry that someone would take a symbol that meant something beautiful and twist it into something so evil.

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An Approximation of a Cosmic Daughter

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