Posts Tagged 'Quaker'

Update

Sorry for not writing in so long!  I’ve been very busy during this holiday, surprisingly, and have not had much quality time to sit down and write a quality entry.  I do have one coming soon about me and reenacting, again.  There’s a new foreigner here in Jindo who went to a Quaker school, and she has caused me to think about that query again.  It’s such a complicated issue that I really tend to babble about it, but I will do my best to sound coherent, when I do write it.

Is stealing ever right?

So, I have a conundrum.

Now, of the various Quaker testimonies, the one I have had the absolute most trouble with is that of Integrity.  I am not a compulsive liar, but I tell tons of “little white lies” all the time, for no apparent reason.  One of my 101 goals is to go for two days without lying.  I suspect that it will actually be one of the most difficult goals on the list for me.  When I was a kid, I never cheated in class, but I used to do things like pick locks for fun, steal the belongings of friends and then see if I could return them without them noticing, etc.  I have always been an adrenaline junkie and I am very glad that I somehow managed to nip the thieving bug in the bud (in my year between highschool and college, actually), before it actually became a problem of actual danger.  Even still, while I have absolutely no desire to actually steal anything (I’ve never coveted something enough to want to put my liberty at risk), I do often pause, when looking at a given situation or item, and think about how I would do it.  I have spent years trying to squelch those thoughts to no avail, so I just try and make sure that it never passes the line from fantasy to actual plan.

That said, I have a conundrum.  Despite all of that coaching myself that “stealing is bad”, I think I need to steal a dog.  Yes, “need to”.  Yes, a dog.

You see, there was a stray who lives at a nearby temple, that Marc and I met.  He’s friendly, but has clearly been abused.  I fed him a few times a week for a month, but then went away on vacation, and was considering adopting him when I got back.  Well, I went to feed him a couple days ago, and it seems that someone has chained him up.  Now, I had previously asked at the 4 houses in the little hamlet to check and make sure he was nobody’s.  Yep, nobody’s.  So, clearly, someone must have decided they wanted him.  Sounds great, right?  Well, the problem is that as a stray, he was at least able to scavenge from the local restaurant, and drink from the river, in addition to the food I brought him.  His current owners, however, are not feeding him at all.  He is thinner than ever, and is ecstatic to see me when I bring him food and water (I sneak into their backyard almost every evening, after work).  I went by yesterday, and he had clearly caught a bird, and was eating the remains.  This dog is slowly starving to death.

So, I am now caught in this decision over whether it is worse to steal the dog, or to let it continue to be mistreated.  I definitely am leaning more towards stealing it, as it feels more like saving than stealing, but still.  It is a difficult decision.  Part of it is that while yes, I can continue feeding it in their backyard, once I leave Korea, or when I go away for the whole month of February, it will go right back to a slow path toward death.

I would love some advice or guidance.

My “Fashion”, or Lack Thereof: Some Thoughts on Plainness and Simplicity

So, I have been doing a lot of thinking recently about the way I dress.  Sorry this is so long, but I couldn’t think of an effective way to split it.

Here in Korea, the colors are very bright (as those of you who read my Korea blog may have noticed).  The traditional culture is generally very colorful, and people’s everyday clothes are also quite bright by comparison to the US, especially New England (where the general palette is slightly duller than the rest of the country, in general).  By comparison, I might as well be monotone.

I wear mostly black, grey, brown and blue (as a glimpse at my laundry line will tell you).  I have a few “desaturated” green and red clothes, but that’s about it.  Here in Korea, I have bought a few brighter shirts (I have a vibrant teal one, and an orange one, now) just to help me fit in a bit better, but wearing them feels a little unnatural.  On an average day, while I do not immediately stand out, clothes-wise, from Koreans, I do stand out a decent bit, when you compare me to an average Korean.  Even in the US, I have gotten many a remark on the small range of my color palette, and while I do not necessarily stand out in the US (especially in New England), those who know me over a period of time do tend to notice.

I also have never paid attention to fashion.  Not when I was a kid, not in high school, not in college.  There was a year between high school and college when I went a bit punk/goth, but it was a short-lived phase, and was a response to high school more than anything else.  For the vast majority of my life, I have generally only paid attention to function, in my clothes.  Starting in middle school, I decided that shorts that were more than about 3-4 inches above my knee felt immodest to me, and made me uncomfortable.  Since the mid-90s was a time of ever increasingly short (and tight) shorts and skirts for girls, I found that the easiest option was to start wearing boys/mens shorts.  Once I started doing so, I found them vastly more comfortable and practical, and I have never really gone back.  Sure, I have one or two pair of women’s shorts, but they only really get worn when I need the practicality of shorts, but need to look a little less like a grown-up tomboy.  As a whole, I focus almost entirely on functionality in my wardrobe.  I like garments that can serve more than one purpose, and they tend to be somewhat out of fashion (my wearing of knickers, for example), but not conspicuously so.  Marc once made the accurate observation that both of us, while we are not intentionally “retro”, do tend to dress in a bit of an older style in general (see: me, Marc, and the both of us).  I also tend to wear my clothes until they are unwearable.  I wear them until they have holes, and then I often will patch the holes and continue to wear the garment until it really is too ratty to wear outside (and even then, I often turn them into heavy-work garments).  I have yet to be able to bring myself to stop wearing my current winter coat, despite the fact that the cuffs are very frayed and there are small holes in the elbows, for instance.

I wear mostly loose clothing (not baggy, but not body-hugging either), as tight clothing, in general, makes me self-conscious.  When I wear skirts, they are generally relatively full, almost always of solid color, and are universally at least to my knee, if not longer.  Until recently, I rarely wore skirts, as I found them inconvenient and impractical.  I wore pants, shorts, or breeches (my name for shorts like these, which I wear quite often) all but one or two days a month, at best.  However, here in Korea most women don’t wear pants at work, and I have found myself slowly converting to skirts.  I wear them most of the workweek (sometimes every day, actually), and occasionally on weekends as well.  As with my everyday clothing, when I dress for work, I dress for functionality.  I wear mostly either plain trousers or solid color skirts that come to a couple inches below my knee, and either a solid color polo shirt or button down shirt.  If I wear a button down shirt, I invariably wear a vest or sweatervest, as a shirt like that worn by itself feels a bit like “undress” to me without something over it.

My clothing is also rather informal by most of society’s standards.  I do have “dress up” clothes, but I have only a few outfits of them, and they are very versatile garments.  In general, my “nice clothes” are still rather informal – for instance, for college graduation I wore a button down shirt, a tweed vest, and a grey wool skirt, with some casual oxford-type shoes (you can see the outfit here).  To me, that was “dressed up”.  I just simply do not see the purpose behind getting “dressed up”.  To me, a major reason for wearing fancy clothes seems to be trying to either A. attract the attention of the opposite sex or B. look better than others in the room.  Neither of those things matter to me.  Regardless of the fact that I already have a significant other, “A” does not matter to me because I am not a flirting type, and “B” does not matter to me either, as I have never particularly cared about seeming better or worse than my fellow man.  I am what I am, and that is enough for me.  I am secure in my place in life, and do not feel the need to appear as anything different.

Along these lines, I also do not wear jewelry.  For a few years, I wore a simple silver disc on a rubber cord (so that it would not be cold on my neck in the frigid Massachusetts winters) that I had made with the help of my father (who used to be a jeweler, ironically) and engraved with a design that was meaningful to me and served the purpose of reminding myself of who I am.  However, in the last year I even stopped wearing that, and now wear nothing.  With the exception of rings, jewelry generally makes me feel self-conscious, and it feels like I’m somehow “decorating” myself.  I don’t like the concept that I should have to decorate myself to make myself presentable to someone, so I tend to avoid jewelry in general.  That said, sometime in the next year I hope to acquire a simple, small pearl necklace, for situations where I do need to fit in a bit more with an upper class crowd.  I also do not wear, or even own, makeup.

I am also generally relatively modest.  It’s not that I have any issue with being sexy; on the contrary – I enjoy my body, and have my fair share of pretty undergarments.  But, showing large amounts of skin in public makes me uncomfortable.  Shorts more than a few inches above my knees make me feel like I’m wearing daisy-dukes, and spaghetti strap shirts make me feel like I’m wearing nothing at all on my shoulders.  I do often wear v-neck shirts, but any cleavage that results is purely coincidental, unless I’m out with my partner. 😉   There’s no religious reason behind this or anything, but I have just never really felt the need to show myself off to the general populace, and am generally vaguely uncomfortable when I end up doing so (such as wearing a bikini at the beach, which I do).

I have sometimes heard this general fashion philosophy/style of dress referred to as “Plain Modern” (generally in a Quaker context).  Most of the time, that term is used in a religious context, but for me, it’s just personal.  I don’t dress the way I do because I feel that it’s “wrong” to show more skin than I do, or to wear fancier clothing, etc, it’s just not something I particularly enjoy.  I enjoy dressing this way, always have, and I doubt that that will change.  Call it what you will, be that Plain Modern or nothing at all, it’s just the way I dress.

What this has all resulted in is that I have sometimes been mistaken for someone conservative.  Especially here in Korea.  I have now been asked by 4 separate people here if I am conservative, and my dress/fashion has universally been stated as the reason for asking.  Being a relatively far-left liberal, I am always struck broadside by this question.  There seems to be an attitude in our culture that focusing on function rather than fashion is a negative thing, and is seen as a focus generally only undertaken by very conservative groups (like the Amish, etc) because of something they read in the bible.  I have given this negative view a reasonable amount of thought, and the only cause I can really think of is that functional clothing is associated with lower (often farming) classes, and fashionable clothing with the middle and upper classes.  Thus, the idea that someone of the upper or middle class would willingly choose to dress more like the lower classes is mystifying to them.  I don’t dress the way I do to try and deny my class, or to correspond with a religious belief; I dress the way I do because it makes me comfortable and keeps me from being self-conscious, and keeps me focused on other, more important parts of my life.  Well, until someone asks me if I’m conservative, that is.

 

So, yeah.  Commentary?

By the way, for those interested, I have put together a set on flickr that shows a decent depiction of what I wore on a daily basis back in the US.  Many of these were before I got rid of most of my clothes, and so I have picked those which I feel are most representative:  My “Fashion”

I have figured out how to deal with evangelical Koreans…

Korea, for some reason or another, has a tremendous number of various sorts of evangelical Christians.  There are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses galore, as well as your standard run-of-the-mill crazy Southern Baptist you-will-burn-in-hell-for-dancing type evangelicals.  And man, they are really evangelical.  Very persistent, and very bold in stating their beliefs.  In class the other day, we were talking about Tibet, and I mentioned that I have met the Dalai Lama (I have, no lie), and one of the students blurted out “Some day I want to meet him and tell him that he needs to find God or he and all his people will burn in hell.”.  Those are her verbatim words.  I honestly didn’t know how to respond to such a thing being said in an academic setting, and so I just nervously changed the subject.

However, I digress.

I mentioned the high number (and high tenacity) of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses at the beginning, and that’s really what this (originally supposed to be humorous) post is about.  I get approached at LEAST 2-3 times a week by one or more of them (they often travel as families, and they all speak excellent English), and I have begun to find it downright irritating.

But recently, I have discovered a really hilarious way to deal with it.

They almost all start off by saying something akin to “Do you have a moment?  I’d like to tell you about my faith.” before they start off on trying to hook you or push their literature into your (generally unwilling) hands.  Well, I have begun to have a bit of fun with this.  After that first question/statement, they generally ask “Are you a Christian?”.  I have begun to answer this with “Well, I’m a Quaker.”  when they ask said question.  They almost invariably reply with “What is a Quaker?”, to which I reply…

“Well, do you have a moment?  I’ll tell you about it…”

The look of panic on their faces when they realize their own tables have been turned on them is priceless, and they almost always begin to stutter and then eventually leave.  Yay for beating them at their own game.  It has become quite entertaining, actually.

originally posted at Waygook Next Door

Meeting of Seouls (the pun, it’s killing me!)

I will write more about it later, but today I went to the Quaker Meeting that’s in Seoul.  Even though I had never met any of the people there, and hadn’t been to a Meeting in a long time, it felt oddly familiar (in a good way).

Some of the members offered to let me stay with them in the future when I come to Seoul.  Given the stress that sometimes results from my surprisingly hectic life in the backwater of Korea, I would love to be able to trek up to Seoul once a month or so to attend Meeting there.  The train costs about $35 each way, which isn’t bad, but the main thing that keeps me from going to various destinations is the lodging cost.  With that out of the picture, it becomes quite affordable.  Plus, once they move me back into my overly-large apartment, I will be able to have guests again, and I can return the favor!

Anyway, I need to go to sleep for now, but I will write more about it later.

Simplicity Part #2 or “The Great Purge”

As I mentioned in my post previous to this, the storage facility I had used to temporarily stash my belongings was 5x10ft.  It was filled solid, wall to wall, and most of it was stacked over my head.  Thankfully, I am a relatively organized person, so it was all in bins, and not loose, but many of the bins had just been filled willy-nilly in my hurry to move out of my dorm room at the end of college.

Seeing that wall of stuff was extremely intimidating.  I had about 2 days to reduce my belongings to be able to fit easily into my truck, so about 3/4 of a truckload.  What I had in storage was slightly over three truckloads.  When I rolled up the storage door and the mass of stuff was revealed, I almost felt nauseous at the thought of the task ahead, especially since packing and moving are both very emotional, sentimental activities for me, and getting rid of belongings even more so, so this was like the coup de grâce on my emotions at the time.

My initial reason for clearing out so many things was that I would have nowhere to put them while in Korea.  I couldn’t afford to keep them in storage, I didn’t want to burden Colin with more than a bin or two, Marc was still living at his parents at the time, and I didn’t want to take too much home to Texas, as I would just have to schlep it back up to the Northeast when I returned.  However, this changed.  Eventually, as I was traveling, I realized that I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to move myself entirely around in one vehicle.  It gave me a profound sense of freedom.  I realized that I felt tied down by my belongings, and that they had many times kept me from pursuing the snap decisions I so love to make.

One of the Quaker testimonies is Simplicity.  I have a complex relationship with this one.  To some people, I seem simple.  I don’t usually wear clothes with any sort of design, etc, and they’re virtually always functional.  I like the countryside, and the peace and quiet it provides.  I don’t like my life to be complicated.  I like living in small spaces.  To some, I seem complex.  I have many interests and hobbies, and always have my hands in several pots at once.  According to some, I even at times seem to have different personalities for different types of situations.  I have given this issue much thought, but not much has really come of it, unfortunately.

Simplifying one’s life is definitely one of the Quaker goals, but I have to say – that is not why I did it.  In fact, I’d say that it probably didn’t even enter my mind at the time.  Now, I will explain here that generally, when I am doing something “Quakerly”, I am rarely aware of it.  It is not a conscious decision to do something because it’s something a creed says I should do.  I do it because it’s what I feel is right at the time.  However, afterwards, I often end up looking at the situation and subsequently thinking “Wow, that was a very Quaker thing to do…” in hindsight.  This was certainly one of those cases.

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Before this, every single time I had moved, I had weeded out things by rummaging in my bins and pulling items out, or by setting aside items to give away/get rid of as I was shoveling everything into the bins.  As I stared at this tower of possessions, I had somewhat of an epiphany.

What if, rather than choosing things to get rid of, I chose things to keep?

I pulled out a bin at random, opened it, and dumped the contents on the floor.  It was clothes.  Now, I am not a fashion person by any stretch of the imagination, but clothes do hold a lot of sentimental value with me.  I poked at the pile of clothes with the tip of my shoe.  I saw something I knew I wanted to keep.  I picked it up, and put it back in the bin.  I knelt down and began to dig through the small pile.  I found a few things that I liked, but was unsure about.  I put them in a separate pile.  I found several things that I knew I no longer needed, and threw them towards a corner, about 6-8 feet away, out of my line of sight.  They were things that I had not worn in quite some time and would likely not be wearing again in the future.  Some were clothes that were heavily worn but that I had saved as “work clothes”, even though I always am getting new “work clothes”, as I am extremely tough on my clothes and they don’t generally last more than 2-2 years in a state fit for general usage.

In effect, what I was doing was a different sort of emotional sorting.  Rather than having to go through my bins and pull out things that I didn’t want to keep or that I felt I should get rid of, I was selecting things that I did want to keep.  Removing items is, by nature, a negative act.  It is a rejection of material memories.  Saving items, by contrast, is a positive act.  Rather than looking at my belongings and thinking “Well, X, Y, and Z aren’t important enough, so they can go…” I was thinking “Hm.  While everything here is important to me in a way, items A, B, and C are really the most important.”.  This simple difference between affirmation and devaluation was like a lightbulb had suddenly been switched on.  More like a floodlight, really, but I’m going to stick with the more common analogy here.

For many people, myself very much included, culling belongings is a very emotional task, triggering all sorts of memories and nostalgia (and often guilt – when’s the last time you wore that sweater your grandmother bought you?!) for them.  I have sometimes heard this referred to as an “emotional leash”, and I have always hated the negative tone that term implies.  Memories are a good thing.  They allow us to learn from the past (so that we may not repeat it!).  They allow us to take solace in times of stress.  Without memories, we would make almost no personal progress at all.

By using this method, I was able to get rid of somewhere between 65-75% of my belongings (well, those not back at my family home, at least) in two days of 3-ish hour shifts at the storage facility.  There were times when I kept most of what was in a bin, and times when I only took out a few items to keep and dumped the rest into one of my donation boxes.  By the end of it all, I had almost two truckloads of stuff to donate.  I ended up donating the stuff to a couple different charities, and all told, ended up with around $2500 in tax deduction receipts.  Considering how much stuff devalues when you donate it, that should tell you how much stuff there was.

I feel much more “free” now.  I know that I can pack up all of my belongings into my truck (or about two normal-sized cars).  I have virtually nothing that doesn’t get used on at least a semi-regular basis, and that has translated into me really thinking about my purchases these days.  I don’t want to have to go through another purge of that magnitude again, at least not for several years, and so I am taking preventative measures.  I certainly still buy things, but before I do, I think about how much I will use it, and whether or not it would have passed my prior test.  This has made a serious impact on how I live my life, and I feel that it is most definitely a positive one.

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Anyway, that’s pretty much it.  It didn’t come out as eloquently or as organized as I was planning, but that’s what happens when I write something over the course of three days!  I’d love to hear your commentary though!

Here, by the way, is a photo of me with the resulting pile of belongings.  That, right there, is pretty much everything I own (and two of those bins are reenacting gear).  As I mentioned in the post, originally that entire space was 5×10 and full to over my head.  In this photo it’s about 2.5 feet wide by 3.5 feet high by 7 feet long.  I’m standing next to it for scale, and I’m 5’0″.

 

Essentially everything I own...

Me and essentially everything I own...

Reenacting Post #1: Pacifism Amongst Wanna-be Warriors

This ended up being a lot more meandering than I intended it to be, but it should still be interesting. There will be another post later about other aspects.

One thing I have come to terms with over the years is that in reenacting (for those of you who have not read my “who am I?” page, I am a historical reenactor, as is Marc, my significant other), the environment is not exactly conducive to much conversation about anything political, etc. Most reenactors, with some exceptions of course, are pretty far on the conservative/right side of the political spectrum. Not only that, but they are pretty vocal about it, and relatively unopen to discussion. While I tend to shy away from discussing politics anyway given that I grew up as a liberal in Texas and learned to think without speaking, we do discuss history a lot at events, and that unfortunately can sometimes lead to a discussion of politics, as the two are inextricably entwined with eachother.

Marc likes to joke that “If you want to really know what it’s like to be the outsider at an event, try being both a Quaker and French. I’m about as pacifist as you can get, but I’m surrounded by people who love war.”. Now, we both love the *study* of war, and are fascinated by human conflicts, but we both are anti-war and pro-peace, and that is often met with a less than warm welcome. Marc deals with insults to his French-ness (“Who’d you surrender to today? Har har har!”) by mentioning that until WWI, the French were actually pretty badass, militarily, and in fact it is often argued that the colonists would not have won the American Revolution had the French not stepped in to assist. Given that these are reenactors, this usually shuts them up, as it appeals to their historical interests.

As I mentioned above, I tend to avoid topics at reenactments that I suspect will bring argument. Many, many reenactors are either current military or are vets, and they don’t take very kindly to an anti-war stance. I get around this often by stating that I do support the troops (I used to write letters, send packages, etc), but that I just feel that our military could be more efficiently used. This isn’t a lie – I do feel that it could be more efficiently used – I just neglect to say that my idea of efficiency involves removing most of the troops from the Middle East, except in areas that still need stability reinstated., and moving them instead to areas that they are needed, such as the Sudan and various disaster areas. I prefer not to create conflicts, and since I am often somewhat of the “publicity officer” for groups I am in (I often recruit members, I run our websites, etc), I have to maintain a relatively neutral public stance, so as to not offend the wrong people and have us starting to “not be invited” to events.

Some reenactors who are also military personnel have a more interesting stance – for instance, one of the members of Marc and I’s WWII Soviet group, Robbie, is a Marine reservist, and while he loves the Marines, he does not always support what they do, and in fact he’s quite a counter-culture fan. He’s not for the war, but he’s not against it either – he understands the reasons, but disagrees with the methods. He’s a reservist, but is such out of a feeling of duty, rather than a love of the military. His rebellious streak shows up in his reenacting persona, as he can often be found off in the background, complaining about our commander. Our commander is a former member of the reserve branch one of the various military branches (I can’t remember which), and he laments that he never got to “see action” before his enlistment expired. He ends up taking this frustration out on our unit, and he tries to stand at the non-existent top (we try to be a little more horizontally organized than vertically, unlike most groups) and complain that we’re not “military-like” enough. Newsflash: We’re not in the military, buddy. Sure, I agree that we need to learn how to be in formation properly, and commands and such, but I am not about to be ordered around by someone who is trying to relive a past he never had by bossing his friends around. In the field, we adhere to our various ranks, but when we’re just relaxing at the end of the day? Hell. No. While I may enjoy “playing war”, I certainly want the similarity to end there.

I have always felt a degree of discomfort around the majority of reenactors for reasons like this, but really, in the end, reenacting is far too big a part of my life, and I have been doing it far too long (almost 13 years now!) for me to give it up. It’s my main hobby, and a massive stress-reliever, and it would take something really, really major for me to give it up. Hell, I’m even a little deaf because of it, but that hasn’t even slowed me down.

Anyway. Another post coming soon about the conflict surrounding reenacting, which can often glorify war, and my personal feelings of being against war.