2014: From high to low to high again


Back in 2003, in accepting an award for Outstanding Youth Achievement in Vancouver, I made the following comment in my award acceptance speech:

We realize that the holiday season is much more than just gifts; much more than family or the observation of one’s religious beliefs. It is a time for us to think about the future and learn from past mistakes. It is a time of reflection, of resolution and of renewal.

On the whole, 2014 has been a year to forget, but to forget it entirely ignores the very reason so many of us come together to celebrate the New Year: an opportunity to start clean, to reset life and to look forward with a renewed sense of hope.

One year ago, I did just that! 2013 ended pretty terribly, and it was difficult to see how 2014 would be different. Friends helped me look toward the future with some optimism, which would help me a lot in the first couple of weeks in January, when I would travel to Edmonton to accomplish something almost everyone would have thought impossible.

Having been elected president of the Canadian University Press was the ironic high, as well as the curse that originated many of the lows of 2014. No one gave me a chance to win, but I got the job done. The feat was an accomplishment in and of itself, and the proudest moment of my year. It was the proof I needed that I could stand my ground in a battle of ideas. Though many had warned me of cronyism at CUP, it was only after my election as president was invalidated that I understood why so many had become apathetic to this once great cooperative. Though the situation was most unfortunate for me, there were many lessons to be learned from the experience.

My return to Vancouver in May began a period of uncertainty, as looking for work became a daily struggle. It was also annoying to have to explain why everyone was seeing me so soon after my farewell party of two months prior. It was a period that lacked a certain amount of focus. Though I had been looking for work almost everyday, for many of those days I had contemplated moving to a new city, like Montreal or Calgary. These thoughts ate at me, causing me to have more than a few sleepless nights.

The death of my grandfather this past summer only amplified the allure of a new city. The thought of being closer to home became more and more appealing, but having learned a few times the result of experiments in me moving back to my hometown, I eventually came to the conclusion that going back there was a waste of time. Even as friends were trying to push me to move back to Ontario, I resisted knowing that my family and I get along much better from a distance.

The summer months saw me achieve something of great personal significance for me: the realization of my 2014 new year’s resolution, which was to complete a full-length manuscript. The book is an autobiography which takes a look at my life in Canadian campus media in relation to what was going on with me personally. Though I had hoped to publish before the end of 2014, I am now looking forward to publication in early 2015. This was the “diamond in the rough” which was my summer.

Things only really started picking up for me in Q4, closer to the end of October. New people came into my life, and made me start thinking about all of the stuff I had endured throughout the year with others that may have been friends then, but were not fitting well into that definition anymore. I began to rediscover my love of the West Coast, and to return to a philosophy on friendship I had once employed, but since strayed from: “keep your circle tight — quality > quantity”.

This is especially true as I get older. This year in particular, many friendships have been tested, as they usually are when someone is down on their luck. Many have tried to kick me while I was down, employing this notion that I was somehow a “lesser” person because I was going through a difficult time. Fact is, I know who I am and I like who I am. This wasn’t always the case, but I can say that I’ve accomplished things most people around me are envious of and have only talked about doing. My accomplishments were not usurped from anyone, nor did they sacrifice any fundamental principles I hold dear. And yet, my circumstances have made it so that some people have tried to take advantage of my unfortunate circumstances and cut me down. But, as the African proverb goes: “The ax forgets, but the tree remembers all.”

As I look to 2015, I realize the road ahead will not be easy. I have many big ideas for the year to come, and am looking to make some waves in a number of key areas of my life. My book must be published; a second book must be written; a business needs to launch; finances need to come together; my health needs to be ameliorated; and my personal affairs need some cleaning up. All in all, 2015 will be a busy and, hopefully, successful year.

Though 2014 was a time that will not be looked upon all that favourably, I close the book on the year knowing that many lessons were learned, and 2015 needs to be an exercise in the application of those lessons. It had its up moments, but events beyond my control seemed to define how the year played out. Perhaps it is a lesson in keeping more control over the very things that impact my life. This also means a weeding-out of the things and people that offer nothing positive to the goals I wish to achieve in the next few years.

So as I prepare to jot down my list of resolutions for 2015, I’ll close as I usually do when I write on this night.

I have been blessed to meet interesting people, good people, from all over the world. My travels have brought me into contact with some pretty amazing people.

To all those in that circle; to all those who have extended a helping hand during a turbulent time in my life; to all those who have expressed their support and confidence in me; to all of you who are both publicly and privately my friends: to your family and loved ones, I wish you all the best for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2015.




Everyone talks of censorship, not of those sick and dying inside North Korea

It is typical for people around me to pick my brain on matters of regional politics in Northeast Asia, especially when North Korea is in the news cycle. I’ve never backed-down from the impossible task of trying to guess what the DPRK is up to, but in this case, I’ve declined to offer much in terms of an opinion.

My hesitation stems from the fact that the whole debate about “The Interview” being pulled from theatres and how Sony Pictures Entertainment has effectively censored free expression is the typical individualistic argument I would expect from North America. Having to explain to everyone that censorship shouldn’t really be the heart of this issue requires a Korean history lesson too lengthy to package into a response for a friend’s casual inquiry about this particular news item. But here goes…

It’s ironic that, especially at a time of heightened public awareness on the issue of bullying, that the entire world seems to be doing just that on a macro-level with respect to North Korea. Yes, their track record on human rights is atrocious; their behaviour towards the rest of the world continuously bellicose and their system of government (if we could even call it that) is long past its expiry date. Decades of diplomacy seems to have made little to no progress, and while diplomats undertake further study of how to breakthrough in North Korea, the general populace sits back offering little more than racist jokes and a few laughs, thanks to the free expression demonstrated by such films as “Team America: World Police” and the more recent, now-scrapped film starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

It is difficult to find someone who can intelligently discuss North Korea. Most of the stuff I hear when the subject is brought up is about the Kim’s poor taste in clothing or hair styles. That joke, much like the suffering of the North Korean people, has long passed its best before date. People ask me for my opinion on Korean issues because of my interest in its political dynamic. I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but having focused on this in my studies and having been “on the ground” — which includes a few footsteps inside the world’s most brutal country — gives me a bit more credibility than a lot of the fools talking about Kim Jong-un’s fashion statement.

Does pulling “The Interview” set a precedent? Does it start a sort of censorship on creative expression? Perhaps. Another film starring Steve Carrell has been shelved and a planned re-release of Team America in some US theatres has been scrapped.

Going back to my point about bullying: seems like North Korea has had enough of Hollywood defining them and they took a stand. The Sony hack seems to demonstrate that North Korea has the ability to do some damage, and Hollywood has now backed-down. It might be a while before someone sells the idea of killing a North Korean leader in film again, which makes sense to me, given that no mainstream studio executive would ever touch a film whose plot suggests the killing of a living US president, let alone a sitting commander-in-chief.

North Korea is a disturbed country ruled by a paranoid elite whose only day-to-day concern is their grip on power. A film which suggests the assassination of Kim Jong-un, regardless of whether it is cloaked in comedy, serves to only advantage the leadership in North Korea, who have played this as an act of aggression by “American imperialists”. It also kills any diplomatic progress (if any has been made through back-channels) with a new leader in North Korea who seems to be distancing himself from his father’s militaristic rule. I wrote a few weeks ago that Kim Jong-un seems more interested in the state of the North Korean economy than his role as head of the military, which is something positive in a part of the world so riddled with negative news. 

In summary, I couldn’t care less if this is censorship. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure it’s no different than others like it, containing the same kinds of Asian stereotypes and the overheard jokes about North Korea. While everyone in the world seems to be so consumed with the idea that Sony pulling the movie starts a trend toward censorship, my opinion is thus:

What about the people of North Korea? All of them, from the ones starving to death near the Yalu River or those rotting in the mines of prison camps.

For those of you who cry about this movie being shelved, you can still go check out a movie this Christmas day. You’ll still have your pick of film, and you may even luck out with the concession stands being open. Get yourself a pepsi and a popcorn — at least you’ll get to do that. The average North Korean person doesn’t even know what popcorn and pepsi is, and they’re probably more hungry than you are.

Adrian Hong, a writer for The Atlantic magazine, said it best:

The day will soon come when North Koreans are finally free, and liberated concentration camp survivors will have to learn that the world was more interested in the oddities of the oppressors than the torment of the oppressed.

You can read his take here.

While racial divide exists, police shootings stem primarily from Second Amendment

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. December 1, 2014

You can’t help but feel for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, now in the throes of a massive community divide. The killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in August rocked the city, and now, the police officer, Darren Wilson, responsible for the killing will not answer for it through any kind of justice.

A makeshift memorial to Michael Brown, the unarmed teen that was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. (Flickr user peoplesworld)

A makeshift memorial to Michael Brown, the unarmed teen that was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. (Flickr user peoplesworld)

I’m not qualified to offer a legal opinion on the grand jury decision on November 24 to not indict Officer Wilson, but will simply state that there are many notable flaws in the process.

There is no question that Ferguson suffers from a racial inequality, and while many believe that the killing of Brown was racially motivated, there seems to be a surprising lack of interest in perhaps the single-greatest reason Officer Wilson open fired on an unarmed teen. It’s the very same reason that prompts police to use lethal force throughout the United States.

The United States of America is the only jurisdiction in the world which provides a constitutionally protected right to all of its citizens to possess and use a firearm. The gun control debate is a decades-long fight between lobbyists and Congress, yet it seems to be ironically absent from any discussion of events in Ferguson.

Yes, it’s true that Brown was unarmed at the time he was killed. However, some need to place themselves in the shoes of Officer Wilson, patrolling the streets of a city that has protections for gun owners and gun rights entrenched in its constitutional law.

The debate would be over if it had been revealed that the deceased teen was in fact carrying a weapon. The fact that he was unarmed makes his death more tragic. On the flip side, the tragedy for Officer Wilson here is that he also needed to protect himself not only against the threat of bodily harm (as was heard in testimony before the grand jury) but also against the very real possibility that this teenager might have a gun in his possession.

The Second Amendment is responsible for the tragedy in Ferguson as well as countless other shootings across the United States. Those who profess their rights as gun owners do so by failing to accept the spirit by which the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was established. The Hobbesian worldview and the revolutionary nature of the American founders is evidence that the Second Amendment’s spirit was meant only for ensuring the freedom of its people from a tyrannical government.

There is absolutely no difference, with the exception of creed and skin colour, between those people who bastardize the spirit of the Second Amendment and those who bastardize the Islamic faith to rationalize the killing of innocent people around the world. It’s also ironic that those most critical and fearful of the Islamic extremists, to the point of being racist about it, are those same people so passionate about their constitutional arguments permitting them to “bear arms.”

In towns and cities across America, there is still the existence of racial disparity. The racial dynamic must not be overlooked, but the greatest flaw is the one that is least discussed in the case of Ferguson; that the right to firearms compels those in law enforcement to second-guess any situation they face, from the pettiest to the most serious crimes.