Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Monsieur Butterfly-deconstructing Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Tony-award winning playwright, Henry David Hwang deconstructs the famous Madama Butterfly narrative in M. Butterfly or Monsieur Butterfly. This play is inspired by a true story of a French diplomat falling in love with a Chinese opera singer and having an affair with her for 20 years. However, the twist of the story (a true one!) is that he didn't know that his delicate Madame Butterfly was actually a man! Gallimard, the French diplomat, thinks he's Pinkerton, Puccini's antagonist, seducing Madama Butterfly. Song Liling or Madama Butterfly is actually a Chinese spy who plays the role of Puccini's protagonist and molds himself into Gallimard's construction of the Perfect Oriental Woman--submissive, mysterious, and sexual. Memorably, he asks his Suzuki counterpart "Do you know why women are always played by men in Chinese operas? It's because only men know how a woman should behave."

In the end, Song Liling reveals his true identity to Gallimard and he is subsequently arrested for treason against the French government by leaking information to the Chinese spy. (Can you imagine his shock? Song even faked pregnancy and produced a bi-racial son! Anal sex=fertilized egg???? You tell me.)

He goes to jail and finally realizes that while he thought he was playing the role of Pinkerton, he was actually playing the role of the victim, Madama Butterfly. He grabs a dagger and kills himself, completing the parallel.

This play was also made into a movie. You should check it out.

Some cool people I met

About a couple of weeks ago Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa came on our show. He was in The Last Emperor, The Mortal Kombat, and Memoirs of a Geisha among numerous movies. Contrary to his bad-guy image he had accumulated over the years in Hollywood, he was genuine and really sweet. We hit it off right away. We talked about our identity issues as Asian Americans and how we can create our own niche to feel at peace in such a convoluted and complex world.

I asked him how he came to be at peace with Hollywood only giving him racially stereotypical roles as an ass-kicking villain. He said he wanted to be in film and he took whatever opportunities that came his way so that he can make a difference from inside out. Now, he has enough connections in the industry to make films he wants to make and foster future generations of Asian American actors.

Here is a picture of me and Jihye, my co-worker with Cary-Hiroyuki.

This week, we had the legendary Korean film director Lim Kwon-taek on our show. He has directed Seopyeonje (서편제), General's Son 1,2,3 (장군의 아들), Chun-hyang (춘향전), and Chuihwason (취화선) for which he received the best director award at Cannes Festival. I love all of his movies especially Chuihwason. I am sure you can get his movies with subtitles on netflix and I highly recommend them. His works are masterpieces.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to talk with him very much but did get a picture with him.

The Korean Folk Village

Last Saturday, I had visitors from the States and took them to The Korean Folk Village. The Korean government has recreated this folk village to display the traditional life and culture of the Korean people. There are approximately 250 replicas of buildings of the different social classes (peasant, landowner, aristocrats) and a traditional market and restaurants. We also got to see the traditional Korean wedding, and the farmers' performances of traditional music and dance. It was pretty cool.

Here are some pics!

Farmer's dance and music

Korean traditional wedding

Korean traditional kitchen

My traveling backpack with straw shoes tied in the back

Me hauling water

Carrying water on my back

Monday, August 16, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Go get this book NOW! I loved this book. I mentioned this book earlier in my Spiritual Recovery posts, but I will briefly reiterate its premise.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a devorcee who goes to Italy to pursue worldly pleasure, India to practice spirituality, and Indonesia to balance the two. It's an extraordinary memoir of her journey as she regains her mental, physical, emotional and mental health and discovers a source of lasting strength and courage.

And of course, this book wouldn't be complete without a love story. She meets a Brazilian man named Felipe and when he first sees her (well, the back of her, to be exact) at a party, he says to himself, "That is my woman. I am going to do anything to have her." Wouldn't it be just fantastic to have your soul-mate recognize your backside and pursue you like a madman? That night, I prayed a very sincere prayer that this would happen to me someday.

Spiritual Recovery: Day 7, the Finale

Okay, I am late. I am sorry. Yesterday was the Sunday session of district conference. I didn't even try to prevent the boredom from consuming my sanity by telling myself how interesting all these talks are. Like I said, I am mentally allergic to church meetings. Give me their talks in print and I will read it and will probably get much more out of it that way. I am a reader, not much of a talk-listener. But I will try next time to really hearken unto their voices without drifting into the la-la land. Next time.

I am making sincere prayer and meditation a part of my nightly routine. It's helping me stay more in tune with God and have peace. It's really lovely to fall asleep in a state of total calm instead of thinking about boogie monsters and ghosts coming in through the windows (yes, I still suffer from these thoughts).

Anyway, here is Matthew Chapter 7.

This is a great chapter. But there was one verse that really captured the essence of my spiritual quest.

21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Understanding and doing the will of my Father in heaven have been the epicenter of my philosophical seism. Knowing the will and the workings of God is a tricky thing. It will be a life-long quest but I am on my way to being just a little closer to Truth. Blogging has helped me stay on track for 7 days and it looks like it has created a nice pattern for my spiritual growth.

Even though my 7-day blogging is over, it's only a beginning of my spiritual awakening. So, stay in tune for a better, improved Hannah!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spiritual Recovery: Day 6

I had friends over last night, which means I really didn't have much time to get all cozy and pray and meditate. They left after midnight but I did pray a sincere prayer although I don't remember much of it. I started to meditate but fell right asleep.

Today was district conference (a smaller version of stake conference). I think I am allergic to church meetings. Or I seem to suffer from ADD as soon as I sit down to hear someone give a talk. I thought about bringing a coloring book next time.

But I tried. Really tried to listen this time without feeling too ansty. And guess what? It helped me ponder about a few things that I have been lingering on my mind for a very long time. How does my practice of meditating and gleaning spiritual advice from Buddhism and Hinduism fit into Mormonism?

It's complicated to explain but I think all religions aim for the same thing and teach the same message in a different way despite their doctrinal differences. As for my allegiance to Mormonism, it has been a product of countless days of mulling over questions that have risen from my ever-inquisive mind. It has been difficult. It still is. How is it possible to fit all the truths of the universe into one religion that is prone to the imperfection of men? It's not. And I am trying to do the best with what I've got with the religion I have accepted as my own.

Anyway, Matthew Chapter 6:

This chapter has the Lord's Prayer in it. I practically sang this in my head. (Malotte's version of Lord's Prayer, just in case you were wondering.)

On top of this, this chapter includes one of my favorites scriptures of all time.

28. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.

30.Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

31.Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

32.(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

33.But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

34.Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

There was nothing more comforting than to know that your needs will be met as a dirt-poor grad student that I was not even a year ago. But I think this lesson could be applied to our emotional, mental and spiritual needs as well as long as we stay in touch with God. I am coming to believe that God is much nicer than I imagined Him to be.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Spiritual Recovery: Day 5

Last night's prayer was one of the most sincere prayers I have ever offered in a while. There were no residual bitterness, or anger trailing around at the tail of each phrase. Then I meditated again, this time with more ease and less restlessness. Instead of using a mantra, I just tried to become the observing awareness of my own consciousness. I can control my thoughts completely when I am in that state. I felt peace after I emptied my mind of useless, and endless chatters.

I am still reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and am thinking about joining an ashram myself next summer to practice meditation. I am planning to go to Nepal next summer for about a month before I return to the States to volunteer at an orphanage, so I could probably squeeze in a meditation practice before or after work while I am there. Maybe I'll even swing by India at the end of my trip.

Anyway, I feel like I am on way my to finding lasting peace although I don't know how all of this fits my Mormon faith. That part, I am still working on.

Matthew Chapter 5:

There is a lot in this chapter but ultimately the whole point of this chapter boils down to this last verse.

48. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

I read somewhere that the word perfect is a mistranslation for the word whole. Meaning, we don't have to be perfect because that's just impossible in this world, but immerse wholly with God and be perfected in Him. I also take this to mean that we are whole when we feel God's constant presence and our connection to Him.

Meditation has helped me greatly with this. Somebody said prayer is when you are talking to God and meditation is when you listen for God's answers. That sounds about right. Thinking about taking yoga again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Spiritual Recovery: Day 4

Before I went to bed last night, I tried to quiet the endless chatters of my mind before I offered the most sincere prayer I have given in a very long time. I thanked God for specific blessings I could think of and asked him to protect my family. And I tried to repent for all the bad things I did that day, but I really couldn't think of any except for maybe feeling irritated for being asked to do something I didn't want to do. Then I thought about the "right way" to repent as I have been taught in Sunday School. I have to feel Godly sorrow for my mistakes and have to have a change of heart. Frankly, I did not want to feel Godly sorrow for feeling irritable. Was I supposed to feel guilty about this? I was kind of getting ticked-off at the requirements of repentance. I can have a change of heart and resolve to be more kind in my thoughts but do I really have to beat myself up for it? I don't agree with this. But still, I was in the middle of prayer so I tried to dismiss this argument until the prayer was over. But the residual bitterness stayed as I offered my final words while Skepticism sat in the corner of my mind blowing cigar smoke my way.

Then something good happened. I tried meditating after saying my prayer. I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing, and repeated the mantra, Ham-sa, which means "I am That," over and over again until the internal chatters were replaced by a concentrated effort to empty my mind. I am really good at meditating for like 30 seconds. Which fortunately proved to be just enough for that night. I opened my eyes and felt a mist of peace showering down the room. I felt God in that present moment. And it reminded me that God is always there, wherever I am. He is constant in the backdrop of myriad variables of life. All I need to do is knock on the door of the present moment and enter.

I am much happier today. I have decided to not dwell on my past or future. I will try to stay present as much as I can.

Now, Matthew Chapter 4:

Jesus called Peter and Andrew "[a]nd they straightway left their nets, and followed him."

WOW. No "Who are you?," "What's your deal?" or "How can I trust you?" They just followed? I guess that's why Jesus chose fishers to be apostles and not lawyers. Humility is such a hard thing.

I was just thinking the other day about how to boost the level of my faith. In order to trust God, I need to know who God is. I need to know who it is that requires and receives my trust. Who is this God that beckons me to follow Him? And who is a better source than Jesus for me to learn more about God?

"25. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.

24. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.

25. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan."

Jesus was a very nice man so God must be, too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spiritual Recovery: Day 3

I went home last night and made myself a sandwich for dinner and turned on "Sleepless in Seattle." About a quarter way through the movie, I fell asleep and woke up again around 9 to get ready for bed and turned off the lights at at 9:30. I thought I would wake up at the crack of dawn since I went to bed so early, but I slept until the alarm went off at 8:20 am.

I have been feeling unusually cranky and irritable these days and I suspect it was due to stress and fatigue.

I feel much better today.

I read Eat, Pray, Love on my way to work. This book is about a woman's journey to Italy, India and Indonesia to experiment with worldly pleasure, spirituality, and to balance the two in respective countries. Elizabeth (the author)is in India right now and she is practicing Yoga-a method of meditation to find God.

She says:

"We're miserable because we think that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. We wrongly believe that our limited egos constitute our whole entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. We don't realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme Self who is eternally at peace. That supreme Self is our true identity, universal and divine. [A] Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus [once said]: 'You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not.'"

Or in today's colloquialism, "Duh! God lives in you, you dimwit."

I went through this phase of finding God last year and learned a very valuable lesson: That God exists in the present moment. It is only through the portal of being fully present (and not immersed in our thoughts about the past or future)that one can have access to the Divine. And Truth or parts of the Truth can be revealed only in that state.

With this reminder and a good night's rest, I am in a better state of mind to read Matthew Chapter 3.

When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptized of John, he declares: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance."

This phrase makes me think of my baptismal covenant and the necessity of a daily dosage of repentance to be worthy of the promises that were made to me when I was baptized. My nightly prayers have become automatic, ritualistic, and insincere. I should take a few moments every night to reflect, evaluate and identify the aspects of my life that needs an extra shot of the present moment. :)

Here I go.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spiritual Recovery: Day 2

This morning isn't as depressing as it was yesterday. But I feel tired and totally drained of energy. I just want to go home and take a nap.

I meet a really cool Kiwi hiker who wrote a guidebook on a Korean mountain range called Baekdudaegan. He totally flirts with me and I don't have the energy or the desire to flirt back. He offers to take me around the mountains he knows well (which is like every mountain in Korea). I think he is very nice but am not going to take him up on his offer. (My dad will be very disappointed but he's used to this kind of disappointments so it's okay.)

I have a little argument with my co-worker and now I am in a bad mood. Hopefully Matthew will be able to help me through this.

Matthew Chapter 2:

God seems to communicate important messages through dreams (well, at least to important people in the Bible). Joseph is told by an angel in a dream to escape to Egypt and when Herod dies, he is instructed again in a dream to come back. Those must have been very lucid dreams.

I am glad those communications worked for Joseph. I don't know how I would have responded.

I am still in a bad mood. Maybe, I'll go read some more when I get home. I am signing off for now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Spiritual Recovery: Day 1

I have been spiritually struggling the past year or so. It seems like life's metaphysical and epistemological questions regurgitate themselves every few years like a menstrual cycle. And I have been PMS-ing for a whole year.

I am not sure if it's any use to ask questions like: What in the world is really @#$%&! real? And how in the #$@*!@ world do I know what I know? I have been asking questions like these since I was 19 and I am still asking.

It's really physically and mentally exhausting to continuously ask such complicated questions especially as I relate them to my religious faith. So I laid these questions in the dungeon of my subconscious as if they didn't really matter and as if I could live happily without really addressing these questions. But I was really struggling internally. That went on for a year. Now my PMS has expired. I really have wrestle with these questions again and try to find answers satisfactory enough for them to go back to the dungeon until the time comes again.

During my sabbatical year from these philosophical questions, I also took a leave of mental absence from the spiritual and religious department. Now, I am trying to groove myself back in. But instead of taking the traditional route of thinking in circles forever, I decided to study the New Testament in search for Truth and blog about my spiritual experience/shift/awakening for 7 days.

Today is Day 1.

As I ride the bus to work, I feel depressed, sad and want to cry for no reason. I have Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love on my lap and wonder why my talents aren't recognized and why I am still poor. I struggle to get off the bus with my huge piece of luggage (I am house-sitting a friend's apartment for 3 weeks) feeling very sorry for myself that I don't have a hot boyfriend to help me carry this stupid thing, all the while questioning the meaning of my life. I grab a cab to take me to work. I arrive, sit on my chair and let out a sigh of relief.

Now, Matthew Chapter 1:

I am impressed by Joseph. How does he just wake up from a dream and accept the pregnant Mary as his wife? Just because an angel appeared in a dream? I wonder what his parents said about that. I wonder what my parents would say if I wanted to marry a pregnant man (if a man could be pregnant, that is). They would flip out for sure even if I told them that an angel told me to marry this man. Kudos to Joseph.

I think it takes a prodigious amount of faith and humility to do something so brave. Faith and humility go hand-in-hand but I realize that when you get crushed in life, usually faith goes down the toilet along with its buddy, humility.

I am trying to restore my faith and humility to surrender to the greater Omniscience in complete and absolute trust. It's an uphill struggle...

The Kitchen God's Wife

There have been books written about the generational and cultural gap between the 1st and 1.5, 2nd generation of immigrants. (FYI, 1st generation: born and raised in the Mother Country and emigrates to a new country as an adult. 1.5 generation: born in the Mother Country, but emigrates when she is young. 2nd generation: born and raised in the new country) I liked the stories told from the perspective of the 1.5 and 2nd generation because that is something I can relate to. But I also have read books and articles about the stories of the 1st generation of Korean immigrants who have emigrated to the States after having experienced the brutality of Japanese Occupation and the Korean War. But I always blamed the generational gap and cultural misunderstandings on the 1st generation parents because I saw the situation through the bias of my own experiences and unexpressed frustration. Reading The Kitchen God's Wife softened my heart and allowed me to see my parents in a different light.

The beginning of the book is told by the voice of the 40-something-year-old daughter and her complaints against her mother. The rest of the book (until the daughter's voice comes back in the end)is in the mother's voice telling her 2nd generation daughter about her life in China during Japanese Occupation, WWII, the liberation of China from Japan's grip, and China's subsequent emergence with Communism.

Through the stories, the reader, along with the daughter, gets to know the mother and is able to understand her history and the source of her "weird-ness" that her daughter is so embarrassed of.

It was a heart-warming story that addressed the prevailing problems between these two generations. I felt like I saw a glimpse of the my own parents' tragedy in The Kitchen God's Wife. My heart grew about an inch after I read the book.


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