Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

1 BS his birth
The Buddha for our age is Shakyamuni Buddha, born Siddhartha Gautama. His mother, Queen Maya gave birth to him without pain in a sacred grove. It is said that as soon as he was born, he took his first steps, and lotus flowers emerged from his footsteps. However although he was born into a great royal family, it was prophesised that he would either be a great king or a great ascetic. Fearing his son would renounce his earthly birthright for a life of meditation and poverty, his father built an enormous palace devoid of age, sickness, poverty, or unhappiness. The young prince grew up completely oblivious to sufferings of the world, and the king even dyed his own hair to shield his son from the march of time.

1 BS chana
But unbeknownst to his father, the prince yearned to see outside the palace gates, so he took his charioteer Channa to explore the places beyond his paradise.

1 BS sick<1 BS the last three gates
What he saw that night became known as the “four gates.” Siddhartha saw a frail elderly man, followed by a sick and emaciated man, followed by a corpse. The sheltered prince was horrified by the suffering he saw, but then his eyes fell on an ascetic.

1 BS asthetic
The contrast of this one night to the life of privilege and materialism he had always lived spurred the prince into action. He relinquished his princely life, left his young wife and son, and vowed to work toward the end of such suffering. He became an extreme ascetic, subsisting on a single grain of rice until it is said he was almost translucent. He devoted himself to renunciation with the same abandon he had lived his royal life of luxury.

1 BS sujata
But one day he saw a girl by the river. Named Sujata, she offered him a bowl of rice. Realizing he had been living in extremes, the Buddha ate the rice and vowed to find a middle path to enlightenment.

1 BS the temptress
But even the Middle Way was fraught with dangers. During his meditation, he encountered the demon Mara. At first, Mara sent his beautiful daughters to tempt and distract Siddharta.

But after he managed to overcome the women, Mara revealed himself in his full fury. Siddhartha faced his literal and psychological demon full on, and when he vanquished the great demon, he touched this right hand to the Earth to testify to his Enlightenment.

You may wonder why I have chosen to use the daughters of Mara fresco for my blog.

First, the pictures in today’s blog come from one of my favourite temples in Korea called Wawoojongsa (와우정사). Documenting renderings of the life of the Buddha is one of the many traditions we have when we pilgrimage. And it also reminds me of a particularly lovely day trip I took with Mr. Lee.

But beyond these reasons, it is also one of the most interesting renderings of the daughters that I have ever seen. Not only is the woman shown in her tempting beauty, but she is also revealed as the demon she is in the mirror.

When you experience a great change, such as moving to another country or entering a new life stage, I think you learn a lot about yourself. Your neuroses emerge – your prejudices – your flaws. They are all revealed before you when you see yourself from a new perspective. This has been my experience in Korea…and preparing for marriage…and in writing down my thoughts in this blog.

I also think this is the enormous challenge Canada is charged with every time a new community of immigrants lands on her shores. Every time settled Canadians are confronted with new ideas or customs, their self proclaimed notions of multiculturalism are challenged and hidden prejudices are revealed.

Perhaps even more dramatic is the change Korea is going through. From a relatively homogenous nation periodically subjugated to foreign rulers, Koreans are now traveling extensively, marrying outside their culture, and encountering non-Koreans in their daily lives on Korean soil. This constant interaction with ‘the other’ is holding a gigantic mirror to the Korean consciousness, and revealing a great many troubling things.

And like the Buddha for this age, our role is not be overwhelmed by our own or our culture’s inequities. Rather we must observe, examine, and set aside the horrors we see in the mirror in favour of a different reality.

But I am not a Buddhist. I don’t see the end of suffering as relinquishing desire or quenching the thirst which fuels the suffering. I think we hold this mirror up to our flaws, our inequities, our prejudices, our hidden ugliness, in order to recognize, admit, and change those things which bring suffering to others and ultimately ourselves.
1 us and 2 buddhas

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A blogger on a wedding site I frequent just posted this Marie Claire article. It’s appalling. The author wants to address the issue of ‘Asian trophy wives’ who marry older white rich men…but she also deals with Asian women in general who enter into relationships with white men.

It assumes white men are fetish predators and Asian women are passive (and materialistic). It fails to acknowledge the multitude of same-race May-December romances in society, and the article mistakenly attempts to show these relationships as a new ‘trend’ although many of the partners (Woody Allen-Soon Yi Previn, Rupert Murdoch-Wendi Deng) are hardly new news.

Of course on a personal level it also disturbs me that the multitude of WM-AF couples I count as close friends are so carelessly disregarded as white male fetishes of passive unthinking females.

I guess I’m especially disappointed to see this coming from a North American context. It’s common in Korea to hear such rubbish as Korean women are still disparaged for dating foreign men. Some female friends have been called whores or traitors for dating outside the perceived cultural and racial boundaries (justified by citing cases of women who became pregnant by departing American soldiers). There is also a group of Koreans…not to be named here…who stalk white men they suspect of doing drugs, teaching children outside of regular classroom hours, and gasp…..dating Korean women. The implication here is that Korean women are being blindly conned by white men into having sex to feed the fetishes of outsiders.

Are there white men with an Asian fetish? Hell yes. Are there Korean women with a white fetish? Hell yes. I’ve seen the sexually explicit notes female university students write their white male professors (who everyone knows are married). I know of men pursued by older female students despite explicitly stating time and time again that they have a wife and child at home. I know of Korean girls who sign up for English academy classes because they want their own trophy boyfriend or at least a ‘unique’ experience to brag about. But there are many more white-white, black-black, Asian-Asian one night stands, affairs, and trophy marriages. Furthermore ‘white’ and ‘Asian’ are ridiculously enormous categories. Are Vietnamese women really the same as Japanese women? Can we categorize Russian, British, South African, Serbian men into one large mammoth group?

Seriously, the only reason people obsess over biracial hook-ups and relationships is that a) they have racial hang-ups of their own b) with globalization our ranks are growing.

And then there’s the fact that the couples the author mentions are MARRIED couples. They are not fetish-flings. Some are strange…..Woody and Sook-Yi come to mind, but there’s a whole lot of other weirdness going on in that relationship apart from the bi-racial-ness! Perhaps these couples found an initial attraction based on a racial feature, but it takes a lot more than that to stay together, raise a child, and ride through the ups and downs of a long term relationship together (For the record, Mr. Lee and I initially became attracted to each other based on our mutual love for Arcade Fire and Stars).

And then there’s that other ‘fetish.’ When Mr. Lee announced to his parents that he was going to marry a white girl, there was definitely opposition. But in the wider world of Korean society we have never experienced discrimination as a bi-racial couple….we encounter wonder. This wonder is never from Korean women – it is always from Korean men – especially older men – who have a white woman fantasy. The relative absence of white women dating or marrying Korean men (or at least the public display of such couples) makes us all that more fantastic.

While bringing the cats home from the vet last week, a talkative taxi driver asked if we were married. When Mr. Lee explained we were getting married next year, the driver did something I’ve encountered many times – starred at me sitting in the back seat through the rear view mirror, gasped with his mouth open, and then clapped repeatedly while proclaiming congratulations!!!! (All this in the middle of the infamous Seoul traffic!) I have never experienced this reaction by myself. When students/taxi drivers/inquisitive shop owners find out I have a Korean fiance they look at me confused…but when I’m with fiance and it is ‘confirmed’ that we are indeed a real couple, there is joyful celebration by older Korean men for my fiance. This show of congratulation is most certainly reserved for my fiance. He has ‘somehow’ managed to ‘catch’ the elusive white girl (who may also have a magical pass to a resident visa in Canada…although FI is less excited about our intended return to Canada in 10-15 years than those around him).

The difference between how our relationship is perceived and accepted by Korean society is striking. I haven’t spent enough time in Canada with my fiance to evaluate how Canadian society understands us although a few have hinted that Mr. Lee must have an underlying motive to move to Canada (usually from the same people who can’t distinguish the South Korean economy from the North Korean economy). It’s fascinating that white women entering into relationships with Asian men are never perceived as oppressed/conned/exploited. There’s a cultural reason/perception for that..but I think that there’s also a gendered reason for that.

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