Human Acts – a review

This year from May 18 to May 27 will mark the 40 year anniversary of The Gwangju Uprising. During this period, Gwangju citizens took up arms (by robbing local armouries and police stations) when local Chonnam University students who were demonstrating against the martial law government were fired upon, killed, raped and beaten by government troops.The event is sometimes called 5·18, in reference to the date the movement began. The number of lives lost is still a matter of contention, as many deaths are reportedly uncounted and hidden. It is this event, and the aftermath that provides the main theme of this book.

If all you know of South Korea is BTS, skincare and BBQ, this will provide quite a shock to the system. I, for one, was shocked that I knew so little about Korean history, and the hard journey that the Korean people went through in order to reach democracy and some small part of justice. This journey is one that is still ongoing but once you know of it, you can see it embedded throughout the current social and political atmosphere today. The echos of the Gwangju Uprising still ring on. This book was not easy to read; not because it was poorly written, but because the experiences, stories and images portrayed in this book were so shocking and upsetting that I had to take day long breaks between reading in order to emotionally recover and pull myself together. This is not light, bedtime reading. You will continue to think about this book for months after.

The many victims of the factual massacre, are portrayed by the fictional character of Dong-ho, a young boy who looks for the corpse of his best friend, a spirit tethered to a pile of rotting corpses soon to be set ablaze without burial rites, the mother of a dead boy, an editor trapped under censorship, a torture victim remembering her captivity, and, finally, a writer, attempting to piece together the scattered remains of these other victims. The bodies, the complaints, the questions and the hurt grows too many. While the bodies are moved to the school gymnasium, where they slowly begin to rot and decay, the stench of the injustice done in Gwangju permeates every page of the book.

As I read, I felt the strongest sense of synesthesia. Whenever the next traumatic event occurred, through the writing of Han Kang, it was almost like I felt it too. I experienced or empathetically emulated the sensations being described. It was… uncomfortable to say the least. Writing her own review on the same book, Annalisa Quinn writes that “Mercy is a human impulse, but so is murder,” and I agree. While there are so many examples of human kindness and human mundane-ness, there are also many examples of human cruelty. Human acts are both innately good and innately evil.

The seven chapters of Human Acts describe the breaking of humanity for seven people. The essential goodness of other people, the stability of government, the sense that we are safe inside our skin, only to realise that to be human means “to be degraded, damaged, slaughtered…” This is the fate and the action of what it means to be human. we degrade, damage and slaughter and we are degraded, damaged and slaughtered.

While there are undoubtedly many translation errors or changes that mean one doesn’t experience the true effect of Han Kang’s novel, it is still a wake up to a serious gap in people knowledge and understanding of South Korean culture and history. Its an unfamiliar story, but it is yet somehow familiar in theme; we know pain, we know loss, we know fear, we know betrayal, we know hope and we know survival. I wholly encourage you to read this book, as well as Han Kang’s other works like The Vegetarian, but failing that I encourage you to learn about the history of Korea and to begin to fill the gap in your knowledge when considering the acts of humanity from around the world.

Ladies! Let’s celebrate ourselves

Recently it was #InternationalWomensDay and my feed was FULL with posts of women that people found inspirational. It was awesome. I saw familiar faces, I learned about women I’d never heard of before, I saw beautiful art, I read empowering and heartening stories and posts. I felt truly proud to be a woman because of the other wonderful women I was seeing and learning about.

But there was something I didn’t see this weekend. I didn’t see women celebrating themselves. I saw women praising each other and recalling the many MANY achievements and capabilities of women, but hardly any mention of their own accomplishments and abilities. And this baffled me.

Why, as a whole, but especially women, are we not allowed to celebrate ourselves? Why is it seen as arrogant to say “Actually, I’m pretty damn brilliant”? Because, we are. Each and every one of us. And we shouldn’t have to wait for someone else to tell us so. We should know it ourselves, and we should feel able to claim our brilliance.

A good example of this is a conversation I had with a friend today (who I won’t mention by name but if you’re reading this I love you lots and this is just an example not me criticising you okay cool love you bye). She recently received a very high grade for a test she was quite nervous for, and when I congratulated her, her reaction was to immediately say ‘I was just lucky’. She lessened her achievement. It was like something was stopping her, something wasn’t allowing her to celebrate herself. And because of this train of thought I’d been considering since Sunday I responded to this dismissal with something along the lines of “NO YOU’RE SMART AND BRILLIANT AND CELEBRATE THIS” and we then spent the next few minutes reaffirming her intelligence and her achievement. She felt the confidence and the space to say “yeah! I’m smart”.

There are so many instances where women are made to feel ashamed for pride in themselves, or to be made to feel guilty for achievements, or made to lessen themselves so as not to gain too much attention (or the wrong sort of attention). And often when women actually try to confidently speak of their abilities, achievements or passions, *some* men will belittle, question or shame this confident declaration. And that needs to stop. What also needs to stop is women dragging down other women, or seeing women as competitors that they need to beat, apposed to supporting, raising and praising each other.

This lessening of ones-self isn’t something that’s unique to one society or country. I’m fortunate enough to have female friends from all over the world, and every single one of them has, at some point, lessened their brilliance because they felt they couldn’t embrace it. I want to send one message through this post today. CELEBRATE YOUR BRILLIANCE! Wholly, fully and without shame. If you’ve done something your proud of, say so. If you’ve achieved something and it makes you happy, be excited and share your excitement. If you have no other outlet to do so, leave a comment on this post, or send me an email, or leave a comment on one of my social media posts and you can bet your ass I’ll celebrate with you. Who would actively turn down a reason to celebrate? A crazy person that’s who!

If you have a friend, a loved one or a colleague who isn’t allowing herself to celebrate herself, encourage her to do so. Don’t make it another source of shame or guilt, but instead take the first step by celebrating her and then say “you can join in too. It’s okay to celebrate yourself.”


If you want more updates from me, please follow my account @Connieunkiga and to see more about my blog @Connieunkigablog

Creativity, productivity and memory; the BIG and the little.

So in one of my classes this year, I taught about the skills that you can learn from performance, performance techniques and performance training, one of the most significant of these being creativity. In this particular class, I introduced the idea of big ‘C’ and little ‘c’ creativity. Big ‘C’ creativity is eminent creativity which is reserved for the great, the renowned and the famous. It is something that many may aspire to, but few often achieve. Little ‘c’ creativity is the everyday creativity, which can be found in and achieved by nearly all people.

Creativity is what sets us apart from other animals, its what helps us to learn and to adapt to new situations, it encourages independence of thought and a willingness to take risks and seek new perspectives. It is also seen as a way to perceive new relationships, make new connections, and generate new ideas. Creativity helps to bring about the next, newer, better thing. We are creative through the memories we gather and what we learn from them, and the things we make and our productivity.

Alongside all the goals and all of the things I’d like to achieve, I want to be sure that I allow myself to celebrate the BIG and the little things that I do and achieve. Big and little ‘c’ creativity, and big and little productivity and memory. As some of you know, I already have a website called ‘Little Victories‘ where the main goals are to celebrate the big and the little victories that we can all experience in everyday. I’d like to start noticing many of the other things we experience everyday alongside the #LittleVictories.

While it’s good to have BIG goals, little ones are just as important and just as worth noticing. Often the end of the year people reflect on the past 12 months. I see so many people posting how much they regret things in the last year, or how they can’t wait for the year to end. And even though there may be many personal reasons as to why this year wasn’t perfect, I want to sure to celebrate the things that were pretty darn great. I produced many amazing things, like my first YouTube video, more lessons than I can count and numerous blog posts. I was able to create and make things that I enjoyed and that others enjoyed too, and I made so many memories and was reminded of previous memories that I had through the things I experienced this year.

2019 wasn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. And there are so many things that I’d like to improve or develop. But there were lots of awesome things too. I think it’d be a great practice for us all to remember the good stuff, both big and little.


If you want more updates from me, please follow my account @Connieunkiga and to see more about my blog @Connieunkigablog

A New Year & a Fresh Start

Something that I’d really like to get back into the habit of doing, and actually expanding and committing to, is using goal setting to reach targets and see things change and develop in the way that I’d want. I feel it’ll be helpful for me, not only to help me plan and live practically, but also so I can see how far I have come from when I first set my goals. An example of this would be how 2 and a half years ago, I started to learn Korean and began planning my first trip to Seoul, and this time last year I was making my final preparations for my move to Seoul to live and work here. In between these times, I have of course achieved many other things too (my masters degree, teaching university classes, attending a DMZ peace conference etc) but there are many other things that have kind of fallen to the way side. And I’d like to achieve more on these areas too.

On the other blog page that I manage, Little Victories, a post was recently written about setting goals. Part of this post, written by the ever brilliant Emilie (whom I fondly like to refer to as my girlfriend who lives in Canada) included the 7 categories that goals should fall into. These categories are work & career, financial, spiritual, physical & health, mind & intellect, family and personal & social. When I first read this, before I even posted it online, I realized that there were many areas where I hadn’t been setting goals, nor had I realized that I should be setting goals for them. The Spiritual, Social and Personal areas in particular where areas where I hadn’t set goals before. I just had them as an area of my life where I hadn’t measured or
noticed in the same way as I’d measured my finances,
intellect or career.’

So, in an aim to start the next year right, I’d like to make a fresh start and a fresh new list of goals I’d like to achieve. As I also studied goal setting as part of my Public Relations, I will also be trying to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) and as part of setting these goals I want to share my goals with you, my lovely readers, and as always I’d like to hear your thoughts on my goals, and maybe even some goals you’d like to achieve in 2020. So, lets get this goal setting underway:

Work & Career

– To teach an additional 3 hours each semester
– To volunteer one day a week with the nearby school for mentally disabled children
– To produce an English Language Musical by the end of the year
– To tutor a minimum of 5 students a week
– To discuss the Mental Health Support systems in place at my university and potentially encourage teacher/staff training ready for 2021.

Not only do I want to take on further responsibilities as a teacher, but I also want to develop how I can contribute to my community, not only as a teacher but through my other callings as well. While I have learnt a lot about teaching this year, its surprised me how much I have often ended up back at, what I believe, to be the very basics of Mental Health support (and education) for my students and peers. I’d like to develop this, and see how my University’s goals match my own.

Financial

– To live comfortably each month, while saving money towards an apartment ( minimum of 300,000 )
– To repay the money I have borrowed over the last 2 years within the coming year.
– To no longer fear talking about money, and to prepare for my future.

eeeeeeeehhhh this may be the most difficult element for me. Money, spending and saving has been a difficult topic for me for most of my adult life. I tend to not think about money until it was too late, and when I was a young adult I developed a bad habit of spending money whenever I felt sad, anxious, depressed, guilty, afraid or ashamed, which often lead to more of the same feelings because I’d end up with no money. I have become a lot better with my habits regarding spending, but I would very much like to do better. And I’d very much like money to not be something that is fearful for me. I don’t need or want a lot of it, but I’d like for it to not be something that I only think of negatively.

Spiritual

– To attend Church every Sunday for the 11 o’clock service
– To give tithe every month and donate to the charities chosen by the Youth group
– To attend the morning and evening prayers with the Seminary students twice a week.

I know this isn’t the case for everybody, but for me, my faith is a key part of my development and my emotional, mental and spiritual well being. No matter your belief, belonging to a community and trying your best to help, nurture, love and give to your community, as well as other communities can greatly help you in so many ways and of course, more importantly, helps others. I love my Church fam, and I like how I’m challenged and cared for by my Church community. I in turn want to challenge and care for them. For me, the liturgy of Church, the pace, collective focus and worship of the Church is as soothing for me as meditation. It’s restorative. It’s something I want to strengthen and grow.

Physical & Health

– To exercise a minimum three times a week for an hour at least
– To cook more meals from scratch and eat less fast food/convenience store food
– To loose 100 lbs (45kg) or to hit a UK size 14/12
– To be more loving to and about my body, by saying affirmations about myself every morning and night.
– To try and get 8 hours sleep every night and to wake up before 7:30 every day.

I keep on saying I want to loose weight, and every now and then I will loose a little, but then I either get demotivated for some reason, or it just falls out of habit. I don’t want to look like anyone else, I don’t want to look ‘perfect’. However I do want to be healthier and I want to feel stronger and more well. Exercise, weight loss and physical activity helps with mental health, it builds your immune system and therefore means you’re less likely to be sick. Other illnesses related to unhealthy lifestyles are also linked to my family. I’d like to get into healthier habits while I’m still young, so that once I’m older it will be easier to maintain. My sleep pattern has been truly terrible this year, and it’s really effecting my mental health. I love my sleep, I need my sleep, and when I sleep I sleep so deeply it’s very difficult for me to be woken up. So I can’t nap as I will sleep through alarms, thunderstorms, earthquakes… trust me, it’s really happened. I really need to sleep at a set ‘bedtime’ in order to function and be productive.

Mind & Intellect

– To read more books (2 a month)
– To read more academic articles and studies regarding mental health and well-being, as well as teaching and education theory
– To go on walks and take pictures once a week
– To use Yoga and meditation in the evening if and when I feel anxious or cannot sleep
– To keep a ‘Little Victories’ journal that I write in every evening
– To study Korean for 1 hour every day.

As someone who cares a great deal about improving the Mental well-being I should work hard to practice what I preach and work towards strengthening my own mind and my intellect. I obviously want to improve my Korean, being in Korea and all, so I want to study more, but I also want to study more about mental health, mental illness and mental well-being as well as teaching and education. I also want to care for my mind when I start to feel overwhelmed. I often get my most anxious at night, as that’s mostly when I’m by myself, when I start to overthink and worry and is also when I’m most tired. And even though I’m tired, my anxiety will make my heart beat fast, will trigger my fight-or-flight response, will fill me adrenaline and is also the reason why I’ll develop headaches, stomach aches or acid-re-flux. To combat this I want to start journaling again and I want to practice yoga and meditation to relax, stretch and sooth my body and mind. I also LOOOOOOOVE reading, and hate the fact I’m not reading very much these days. So I want to read more and engage my brain in an entertaining but relaxing way. Yes Netflix is also relaxing, but it’s now engaging in the way that I want or need sometimes.

Family

– Video chat with my family at least once a week.
– Write a letter to my grandparents at least once every two months.
– Try to keep in contact with my wider family every month.
– Have a minimum of £1000 saved for tickets to the UK for visits or emergencies

So I’ll try my best not to be too sad or whatever while I write this (ㅠㅠ) BUT I obviously miss my family a tonne, being so far away, and this is gonna be a kinda difficult area of my life to develop… because I’m literally on the other side of the planet from my family. But, what I can do is keep in contact with my family to the best of my ability. So whether that’s sending them letters or gifts, calling them or video chatting with them. Because of money and my work, it isn’t feasible for me to visit my family much more than once a year, so I would like to be able to be sure to make whatever time I can spend with my family as special as possible.

Personal & Social

– To organize social plans with my friends every week
– Make 1 trip somewhere outside of Seoul every month
– To speak more Korean when I’m socializing, even if I get it very, very wrong
– To find some clubs or groups where I can socialize
– To be more open and comfortable with the idea of dating (don’t hold your breath though)

– To try and keep in contact with friends and strengthen my existing friendships as well as starting new ones.
– To start to purchase clothes and items that will last and that I really like; to curate my dream wardrobe
– To regularly commit to doing more writing and creative projects

On top of everything else, you might think that there’s nothing left to set goals for. I didn’t think there was much left to aim towards. But, we’d both be wrong, fortunately. As well as making sure I plan to work hard, in all aspects of my life, I should equally plan to play hard. which is why this is the longest list from this whole post. Recently in one of my classes, my students highlighted how important it was for to learn the value of work-life balance. Prioritizing my personal life, and the things that make me happy, the things I enjoy, are just as important and the thinks that will ‘improve’ my life.

So these are my goals for 2020. I hope I can achieve as many of them as possible, but I also wont beat myself up if I don’t do it all, or if I don’t do things perfectly. After all, I’m only human, and all I can do is my best. And my best is more than enough.


If you want more updates from me, please follow my account @Connieunkiga and to see more about my blog @Connieunkigablog

Remembering why…

Well, we’re here. The final month of December. 2019… she’s been a wild one. There’s been big changes, and new experiences and routines that I’ve had to adapt to and adjust to. To be honest not just for me, everyone in my life has gone through big changes this year, and its been fascinating seeing friends old and new develop and grow. But because of these changes, I feel I’ve neglected other aspects of my life, and I’ve forgotten why I was making these changes in the first place. This blog for example, I honestly do feel bad that I’ve not been writing as much. Not just because I’m letting you (my readers) down, but also because I love writing and by not writing regularly I’m neglecting one of my favorite personal activities.

This first year living in Korea is of course a huge learning curve for me. I have to learn how I fit into life here, and how to best fulfill my duties here. But there are things I’ve forgotten to do along the way. Not only have I forgotten to prioritize the things I enjoy, but I’ve also forgotten to prioritize the things that will strengthen my skills and help me to fulfill my goals.

With what’s been making headlines in South Korea recently, and the stories I’ve heard from friends, colleges and students, I’ve been really reminded of why I came to Korea in the first place. Alongside this, this time of year reminds me again as to why mental health, mental health support and mental health education are so important. Not just in one place, but everywhere. As this year begins to come to a close, I’d like to post each week explaining the importance of mental health, mental health support and mental health education. To end this post I’d like to share two images that I recently shared on my social media, regarding mental health.

And remember to always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, or mental health issue. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this or any other non-medically approved blog or site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, or that you may be a danger to yourself or others, call your doctor or local emergency number immediately.


If you want more updates from me, please follow my account @Connieunkiga and to see more about my blog @Connieunkigablog