When do you feel most Canadian? And if you could express it creatively, through any medium, what would you create?
It all started last year.
Vancouver District Students’ Council, a group of elected representatives from each high school in Vancouver, had launched a new event on May 6th, 2011, called VanCity Idol: a singing competition between the representatives from each of the 18 schools, being held at the enormous auditorium at Vancouver Technical Secondary.
Have you ever imagined being killed because of the colour of your skin and the clothes you choose to wear?
On February 26th, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead on his way home in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old watch captain of the neighbourhood, who had decided that the boy had looked “suspicious” in his dark hoodie and now claims that he had acted out of self-defense, has been charged with second-degree murder.
The TEDxKids@BC conference took place in September of 2011, and has since developed through a tightly knit team of youth and adult members. The team collaborate to plan TED conferences here in B.C. that revolve around the powerful ideas that are worth sharing, particularly from youth.
Rather than sitting around waiting for my parents to look after me, I decided to pick myself up and apply for scholarships. Not only does it allow me to help my parents take care of our financial needs, it also maintains my grip of motivation and the sense of moving towards a goal.
On Friday, December 2nd, 2011, hundreds of high school students from all over the Lower Mainland gathered at Vancouver Technical Secondary School for the International Human Rights Day Symposium, held by Canada ALPHA (Association for Learning & Preserving the History of WWII in Asia). The Symposium consisted of a series of workshops to raise awareness on atrocities that took place during the Asia-Pacific War (1931 – 1945) in advance of December 10th, International Human Rights Day.
As a History 12 student, I attended these workshops myself, with the most significant one being about Comfort Women. This was my first time ever learning about Comfort Women, and I was shocked by not only how horrifying the subject was itself but how little it was known to the world. The title “comfort women” was given to a woman who was forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese soldiers during World War II. Emperor Hirohito, the ruler at the time, had given these women as “gifts” to the soldiers to reward them for the service, as well as to prevent them from catching any sexually transmitted diseases with their spontaneous sexual activities and slowing down the proficiency in the war. The fact that he allowed the sexual slavery to take place and made it a systemic function is a critical aspect of the wrongdoings against these women.
The women, the majority of them from Korea and the rest from China, Indonesia and the Philippines, were either lured from their homes with lies of promising pay for housework or simply captured, then taken to the houses that were used for the sole purpose of serving the soldiers’ sexual needs. Each woman faced four to six men per day who treated them like animals as many of the survivors described, using unimaginable methods of torture and rape. The few that tried to escape were captured and executed in public, while many others died from physical and mental toil. The remaining ones were lugged around with the soldiers wherever they went, and received minimal medical care with the exception of the check-ups that were intended to protect the soldiers, not the women. The soldiers also refused to use the condoms that were recommended and provided, causing the women to undergo abortion multiple times and eventually lose their ability to have children. When the war ended, some of the women were abandoned atop mountains by the soldiers, and others killed off. The survivors lost their way in life, shunned from family and society and buried in shame and self-disgust.
My classmates and I were appalled. I was even more so, due to my Korean heritage. However, we couldn’t help but admire the courage and strength of these former comfort women, who opened up about what they had gone through despite the traumatizing effects that it had left on them. In fact, they express themselves proudly and publicly now, in weekly Wednesday demonstrations outside the Japanese embassy in South Korea. This demonstration has set the record as the longest demonstration in history, and held its 1000th demonstration on December 14th with an estimate of 1000 people, ranging from former comfort women and their friends and family to middle and high school students and visitors from all around the world. This event was also promoted via social media, encouraging people to tweet the Prime Minister of Japan about the issue. The passion and devotion of the surviving comfort women have captured attention internationally, with the United Nations and governments of several nations, including Canada, urging Japan to respond accordingly to the outcries of the former comfort women.
So what exactly are these women asking for? Acknowledgement and reparations. The former comfort women want the Japanese government to give an official and sincere apology for their past actions, and make amendments for what the women had to suffer. However, the Japanese government has responded by saying that the women volunteered themselves to prostitution and destroying much of the evidence that existed. The subject of comfort women is barely touched upon in the school textbooks in Japan, if mentioned at all. This is similar to the way that the Japanese government is dealing with other atrocities that arose during the Asia-Pacific War, such as the Rape of Nanking.
It is unimaginable how much damage the whole experience inflicted on the former comfort women. But even more unimaginable is their endurance and strength to survive such horrors and fight for their human rights to this very day. As the Wednesday demonstrations carry on, so does the hope that these women will bring justice one day.
Photo from www.c-faculty.chuo-u.ac.jp/
A perfect event for a family outing, a romantic date or a night out with friends! At Bright Nights in Stanley Park, you’ll find hot chocolate, fresh popcorn and roasted chestnuts,Â Christmas music performed by local choirs and bands, and a train ride to explore the two million lights lit up in beautiful designs all over the forests of Stanley Park. And of course, you can’t forget the new addition this year – the North Pole featuring Santa Claus!
Where: the Train Plaza gate (map provided here); parking is provided but limited
When: Dec. 2nd, 2011Â - January 2nd, 2012Â (excluding Christmas Day); Sunday to Thursday 3:00pm – 10:00pm, Friday and Saturday 3:00pm – 11:00pm
Cost: $9 for adults and $3 for children/youth (2-18) and seniors (65+); tickets can be bought online, via phone or at the gate
For more information, check out theÂ Vancouver Park Board page
As soon as I walked into the Union Gospel building on East Hastings Street last Saturday, December 3, 2011, the atmosphere changed. The room was filled with live music, along with conversations of hundreds of people from all across the Lower Mainland. There was an undeniable feeling of warmth and joy in the air, and as I stepped into the crowds to explore this event, I understood why.
Founded in 2009 by celebrity photographer, Jeremy Cowart, Help-Portrait is a world-wide phenomenon taking place in 46 countries around the world and for the third time this year in Vancouver. Its purpose is to provide free photo-taking and printing for those who cannot afford it, such as low-income or homeless residents of the Downtown East Side. The particular event that I visited relied on over 75 photographers, make-up artists, hair stylists, volunteers and musicians who willingly signed up to help out at the event.
This year, the turnout was almost double last year’s, with 700 attendees in total. The completely free photograph services, along with hot chocolate and sandwiches, had a much greater influence on its attendees than what I had imagined. The entire process began at the sign-in table by the door, with friendly volunteers, including one of our own team members, Ovey Yeung. Then over to the make-up and hair stylists, who dedicated their talents to doll up anyone who wanted to enhance themselves for their photographs. Zoe, one of the hair stylists, commented that despite the fact that they were doing all of this for free, it’s “rewarding because these people don’t have a lot of self-confidence. When they see themselves they are extremely grateful and happy.” One of her clients, a woman who could hardly speak English, showered Zoe with thank you after thank you after taking in her transformation.
After the beautification, one joined the line-up which stretched from one corner of the room to the studio. The studio was split up into two parts: the photo-taking area and the selecting and printing area. First came the photo-taking, with six studios decked out in lighting, props, and of course, photographers busily snapping away their smiling models. As soon as one finished this part he or she headed over to the row of computers and printers, where volunteers displayed the photos and printed the two that the attendee selected. These photos could be sent to any relatives or friends across the country with the free envelopes and stamps that were prepared by Help-Portrait as well. Ironically, this selection process is where the event truly happens. As soon as their bright selves appeared on the screens, these attendees – most of who are not used to examining their appearance while dealing with life on the streets – lit up in delight. As Winston Wong, one of the photographers, stated,
It shows how gorgeous and how handsome these people are, and how they actually exist.
It’s much more than simply choosing and printing the photos. It’s a confirmation of the importance of every single individual, no matter how hard life may treat them.
I couldn’t help but feel so merry around all these people, who had nothing but love to give out. The room was filled with friends, families, volunteers, photographers, and there was a constant buzz of spirited conversation. I spotted some people sporting Christmas gear, including a man who came fully dressed up in a Mexican outfit. It was a heart-warming experience and I could hardly stop smiling from the warmth that filled me to the brim and kept me company for the rest of the day.
For more information on Help Portrait, visit there website at www.help-portrait.com.