April 24, 2015

Why I Don’t Talk to My Sister

There may be many people back home wondering why I don’t talk to my sister any more, especially after she did such a great job looking after my Mum during my Mum’s final months. There may also be many people hearing that my sister isn’t speaking to me, when in fact the opposite is true.

Given my distance and lack of contact to people ‘on the ground’, I thought I’d put my side over. I’m not back home. It’s not fair that people will only be getting one side of the story. Also, what happened immediately prior to the funeral bothered me greatly, and I don’t think that’s fair either. I should have been mourning the passing of my own mother and, solely,  processing those emotions; not having to deal with my sister’s anger, uptightness, control-angst, hubris, misplaced sense of superiority, delusion, snootiness, snobbery, ego problems and hissy fits. But then, what did I expect?

A little background on our relationship.

One of my earliest memories of my sister is when we were maybe 5 or 6 years old.

There are only four years between all of us, my brother, sister and I. If I was six, my sister would have been four and my brother eight. I think I was maybe 6 years old and the three of us were playing in the kitchen, and my brother spilled a pint of milk and broke the glass bottle on the floor. My Dad heard this, and came in, a little annoyed. My Dad asked who did it, and despite my sister knowing and seeing who did it, pointed at me and said “Paul!” and despite six-year-old me pleading with my Dad and my sister, she stuck to the story and I was sent to my room or whatever. A small, seemingly trivial story, but, honestly, a foreshadowing of a lifetime of spiteful lies and weirdness.

Fast forward another few years, and us three, my brother sister and I, and some cousins, are playing on a slide, there was some horseplay at the top, and my sister fell off and broke her arm. I can still remember seeing her fall, spinning as she fell – it seemed to take forever for her to hit the ground, even though it was only around 15 feet.

I was 2 or three people behind her on the steps, but on returning home, and despite the pain of a broken arm, she was still able to summon the discipline to look everyone in the eye and tell them I’d pushed her off. A lie she carried on despite my protestations, and despite everyone there confirming it was an accident I was not, and could not, have been involved in. I don’t think she ever changed her story. I imagine she’s still disappointed the lie didn’t work.

Fast forward yet another few years and my Mum had allowed me to have a 21st birthday party at our house. Long story short – my sister pushed me (she’d do this crazy attack thing where she’d run at me backwards). I pushed her gently away, with a heavy emphasis on gently. She swooned and swaggered, looked over her shoulder, swooned again, and proceeded to throw herself down a full flight of stairs, backwards, risking, literally, her own neck. She would have been around 19 at the time. Luckily for me a host of people had seen her do this and, after establishing she hadn’t actually hurt herself, everyone just laughed at her. Again, she’s never admitted this, nor apologized. She probably denies it even happened despite all the witnesses.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s still telling people these kinds of lies today. “He pushed me down the stairs once… he broke my arm …he did this and that….”etc.

What did she say when I went to university as a mature student? “Well done Paul”? No. She screamed at me, through angry tears, “You’re only going because I went!!’ revealing some of her underlying psychosis. She cannot stand it if either myself or my brother ‘do well’ at anything. She thinks we’re just trying to beat her, stop her, compete with her – this competition exists in one place – within her psychosis. p.s. I've completed a Masters degree since. Not so much as a 'well done'.

It may seem, and this is very important, that I’m just dragging up small sibling rivalries from the past and holding a grudge, but the only grudges I’m holding are direct and dishonest attempts to discredit me – lifelong attempts, by my own sister! It may seem like trivial sibling stuff,  but I don’t know of any other sibling relationships where one has such a black-hearted opinion of the other they are willing to risk everything just to lie. It’s not healthy, and it’s not normal.

Dad’s Funeral

Before my Mother’s funeral in 2013, was my Dad’s funeral way back when we were kids in 1979. I’ve always deeply regretted, if that’s the right word, not being allowed to go as an 11 year old. It’s come up in conversation a few times over the years, and I know my brother feels the same – we are hurt that we didn’t get to say our final goodbyes at the actual funeral. The decision was made by older family members, so that us kids should remember our Dad how he was. I understand their motives – but I didn’t get to go to my own father’s funeral, and I’m still sad about that. I feel this is the worst decision anyone has ever made on my behalf, and I talked about it with my Mum and family more than once. She understood and was somewhat apologetic, but I didn’t blame her, it seems to be something of a family tradition on my Dad’s side. Anyway, my point is that this is a big issue for me and my brother, and so not to involve us, and not to do things in the traditional time-honoured way at my Mum’s funeral was, frankly, disgusting and thoughtless (towards us, her brothers) on my sister’s part. She says we should have been more involved ‘near the end’. I don’t know what more we could have done. We’re neither of us rich, my brother and I, and he lives 150 miles away, and I live on a different continent.

Mum’s Funeral

This is where the hissy fits kicked in…

My sister had arranged the entire funeral herself without consultation with either of her brothers. Honestly, who does that? Someone who a) knows it’s wrong and b) doesn’t care.

The service and everything else was to be in Harpenden where my sister lived, 150 miles from Mum’s hometown, 150 miles from where all Mum’s family lived, and 150 miles from everything. Now, my sister had convinced my Mum to move down to Harpenden in around 2007/8, and help my sister look after my sister’s two kids. My sister helped my Mum buy a house down there. My Mum was happy there. That’s no reason for the funeral to be there. She wasn’t to be buried there, and Mum’s whole family lived in and around Hull. The main reason that a Hull-based funeral was not to be, is that my snooty sister didn’t want her middle class husband’s family to have to travel to Hull (a very working class town)! So after we complained that the funeral service should be in Hull – she relented and agreed, but arranged a separate service in for the posher lot! In Harpenden. We weren’t invited. I’ve no idea what happened at it. Bar her husband, NONE of my sister’s husband’s family attended the Hull service. They had their own!

My brother asked where the (Hull) funeral procession should be leaving from? His house? Somewhere else? – my sister forbid any procession, and we were all to meet at the crematorium in Hull. Her reason, my working class, Hull born, dead mother, and I quote ‘would have been mortified to leave from there’. ‘There’ being Stephen, the eldest’s, house. Pure snobbery. No, my Mum wouldn’t, she used to stay there often. I think we know who would have been ‘mortified’.

I have no idea what’s on my own Mother’s gravestone. I was neither asked, nor told. I don’t even know what colour it is.

I don’t know when the ashes were taken up there to Scotland to be next to my father. My sister took care of all that. No consultation, no information, nothing. She just did it herself. We, other family members, weren’t invited.

So we didn’t get to take the last trip, with our own mother, because of my sister’s snobbery, and after all that happened over my Dad’s, which I’m sure she’s known about over the years. She arranged her own separate service. She didn’t consult me and as far as I know anyone else as to what to put on the gravestone. She didn’t invite me or anyone I know on the final journey. Oh, and she kept all of my mother’s belongings. Everything. Every photo album, every….everything. Were we asked? What do you think? Not that I care about having anything of material value you understand – I’ve never been a materialistic person, a fact that is well known throughout our family. But I would have liked to look through my Mum’s (and that’s the point – it’s MY MUM TOO), I would have liked to look through my Mum’s stuff one last time – and maybe take a keepsake, a photograph, a memento – perhaps even something that I’d bought her over the years. I wasn’t allowed of course! My mum’s old room at my sister’s house, where she moved into when her cancer developed, was cleared out and empty, with nary an explanation as to where my mother’s entire life went, or what was to happen with her stuff.

Despite what she may think, and have tried to alter over the years, our mother, and our father, loved all of us.

And that’s just a little background. Now. I’ve made some bad decisions in my life. There are stories you could tell about me that are true. Fighting. Car crashes. Drunken behavior. I once had a party at my Mum’s WITHOUT my mother’s permission, for example, and the place took quite a bit of damage. So I’ve no idea why someone would need a load of lies to make it worse. She’s really had a weird view of me, ever since she was old enough to realize she had to share her parents. I’ve never understood it. I doubt I ever will. It’s a pure undiluted hatred of her siblings, not borne out of any action (and heaven knows there’s enough of it) but pure undiluted jealousy and loathing borne of something, and I doubt I’ll ever know what. Being the youngest? Being female? Not being an only child? Feeling she is better than her two brothers? All of these things? Who knows? But you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface for this hatred to come spitting out. Even at our own mother’s funeral (or at least the arranging of it) hissy fits were thrown. “you’ve done nothing to deserve any say it what goes on”, “I never want to see you again after this” and so on.  She threw tantrum after tantrum when she wasn’t getting her own way. A civilized discussion became impossible when she knew all the arrangements she’d made behind everyone’s back may have to be changed.

And this is the over-arching point. My younger sister, out of nothing but pure spite, excluded her two older brothers out of arranging or having any say in their mother’s funeral because SHE didn’t feel they’d deserved to have anything to do with it. She used, one last time, our own mother’s funeral as a stick to beat us with. She used our mother’s funeral as a weapon, to cause us pain. An unmerited and disgusting act of revenge.

Having to deal with a foot-stomping sister who wasn’t getting her own way (but of course did) meant that I bottled up the emotions I should have been feeling at the funeral, and had to deal with my disgust and anger at her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she meant for that to happen.

Sister, you were great looking after our mother, and you’re a great mother yourself, but you have, throughout your entire life, been a hateful, spiteful, cunning lying bitch to me.

And that’s why I don’t talk to my sister. 

August 09, 2014

POMPC: Days 2 and 3, Summarised.

Albums listened to [one per day]: (Day 2) Black Keys 'Rubber Factory', (3) Thelonious Monk 'Straight, No Chaser', both of which I enjoyed. More album suggestions are invited.

Meditation [twice per day]: Once a day so far.

Exercise [new morning routine plus general extras]: Have been cycling FROM work (train avec bike to work  - next week I intend to start using bike in both directions). No morning workouts. Again, I will.

Dog walking [extra walk in morning, hill at night]: Managed full-blown morning walk on days 1 and 2, but actually clean forgot on day three! Haven't been up in hills in the evening as have had prior engagements, or weather has stopped us. Going camping tonight with dog, up a very big hill.

Reading [just, more/some!]: have done more, including an academic paper/chapter of a book an teaching English to Koreans. Reading levels have improved but could do more.

Learning Korean [10 new words, 3 new phrases per day]: have studied a little every day. Not quite met targets but still, an improvement on the norm of zero. Feeling quite motivated to learn more.

Money [150k per week]: I've spent, so far: (Day1) 26k on groceries, (2) 10k on household items from Daiso, (3) 34k on a restaurant meal as I met a former student of mine, plus another 5k here and there. Total: 75k.  Hopefully I won't spend too much over the weekend. Still on target for this one.

General procrastination [improve upon]: apartment etc is a lot cleaner. Still work to be done though on changing my computer/sedentary habits.

All in all, a decent start. I'm feeling a ot more positive and 'alive'. Let's do stuff!

August 06, 2014

POMPC Day One A Moderate Success

I had planned to do many things, and at the time of writing, 9.11pm, have done some but not all.

I DID walk the dog a good long walk before work this morning, which was a first. I DID eat my five a day (several bananas, a good handful of grapes, and a made a fresh stew/soup using cabbage, potatoes and carrots). I DIDN'T meditate before work. Nor did I work out before I left. Nor did I cycle to work. However, it was raining a little, though that's no real excuse.

I did take my bike to work on the train, and cycle home though! I also meditated at work - it's summer classes right now and my afternoons are free, so meditating is not a problem. It's deathly quiet, I'm almost certain to be undisturbed, and there's a big cushioned area at the back of my classroom. Perfect. So I did meditate. And I did cycle home.

I also learned my 10 Korean words today - all body parts. It was quite easy, and though my memory is not great, I think I've memorised them. I didn't get around to the three phrases, so that's a minor failure. Must do better tomorrow, and I will.

I listened, all the way through, to 'Blood on the Tracks', a Bob Dylan album. Whilst I was cooking a spicy sausage stew. So two success in one there. I didn't get around to writing, or painting either today, but I didn't expect to achieve everything in one day either.

I also have not read yet, but plan to read a chapter of something before I hit the sack. (Edit, didn't do - watched a TV show I 'needed' to finish).

All in all, not perfect, but an improvement on the norm, and something I hope to build on over the coming weeks.

Again, album suggestions are most welcome.

August 05, 2014

Paul’s One Month Positivity Challenge (POMPC), DAY ZERO.

I'm calling this day zero for several reasons. Firstly, I'm not starting until tomorrow because...

...there are one or two things I forgot to include in the plan yesterday, for example, MEDITATION. I plan to meditate every day. I've long believed in the benefits of meditation, but don't get around to it very often. The recommended 'dose' is 20 minutes,. morning and evening. That will take some time rearrangement.

I want to walk my dog better. He gets plenty of walks, but he could always use a little more. So now, rather than the brief walk around the block in the morning to relieve himself, before I head to work, he will get a proper walk in the mornings. He will also get a walk up the nearby hills once a day, weather permitting, rather than just the local park. This will double as a calorie burner for me too. And young Bonesy will love it. I've never seen any being more ecstatic than my dog up a hill!

I will cook more, better food. And I will try some new recipes.

On workdays, I will go to bed at around 10.30 each evening, and get up 6.30. My morning routine will include a long-ish dog walk, meditation, and a small work out.

I will cycle to work, which is about a half-hour cycle ride, most uphill.

I will eat healthier foods.

I will spend less time surfing the net, and more time being creative - which includes writing, and painting.

I will spend no more than 150 000 Korean won (about £75, $130) per week.

I will study some Korean every day - learning 10 new words and 3 new phrases each day. I can do this at work.

I will read every day.

I will listen to a new album every day.

In general, I will procrastinate less. I will have a get-on-with-it attitude. This month is about results.

I will keep a daily log here. There will be no doubt things that I have over-looked, not planned for, forgotten about. I will add or remove items as I go on.

Some days I will fail. Others I won't. But for one month I'm gonna try to live life as I'm supposed to.

Day one is tomorrow. I will spend the evening in preparation: tidying my apartment, arranging books, buying fruit and vegetables, downloading albums, resetting alarms and creating a suitable spot for meditation.

I wish myself luck. I don't need you!

August 04, 2014

Paul’s One Month Positivity Challenge

You’ve probably heard ‘carpe diem’ before (seize the day). I’m gonna ‘carpe mense’. Seize the month.

I’ve seen a few of these around on Facebook recently, and so I thought I’d do my own, tailored exactly to me.

So, what do I need to fix? Well, it’s hard to admit this, but I guess I’m kinda lazy. Not ridiculously so – I walk my dog regularly, and I often take the stairs instead of the escalator etc., but I spend too much time sitting in front of my computer doing not much, either at home or at work, when I could easily be doing something much more productive. I’m a vaguely creative person, and have a couple of writing projects on the go at the moment. When I say ‘on the go’, what I actually mean is I procrastinate around them. I leave them alone. I also have a canvas and paints, that have been waiting for me to use them for around 3 months. And a bike I rarely use – I could easily cycle to work. So there’s a start. Let’s do all of those above. Add to that – I want to exercise daily – I shall look up a simple daily exercise regime that doesn’t involve much equipment.

I’d like to drink less. I don’t drink that much, in that I rarely drink alone, at home, etc. But I probably spend more money on going out than I’d like to. I’m also a bit ‘spendy’ in general. If I think I need something I just buy it. I’m not a spendaholic, but I could do with a tighter rein on my finances. So there’s another thing. A budget to live by, for one month. I’m going to set that at 150k, for everything (about 75 UK pounds), per week. That doesn’t sound like much – but it’s plenty here in Korea. I should be able to live well on that, without trying too hard, and still go out here and there. I’m not going teetotal for the month; I don’t think a little alcohol will be of any detriment.

My diet is not that great. I eat a lot of, well, whatever I feel like eating or is put before me. Today I’ve consumed: some chocolate, a lunch of noodles (cold and quite nice too), a can of Coke, several coffees, and some cracker/cookie type things. None of this concerns me greatly – I’m not hugely overweight or out of shape, but I could certainly improve my diet by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. So here’s another one – I will at least have my ‘5-a-day’, for a month.

I’d also like to look better ‘on the beach’. I don’t go to the beach – beaches and sunbathing is the most fucking boring thing anyone could possibly do in my opinion – just lying there? Wut? I’d rather walk around. Anyway. I’d like to look a bit more buff. So I’m gonna work on that too. Every day, for a month.


I’ve lived in Korea for five years, and have only bothered to learn a smattering of ‘getting by’ phrases. I will study Korean every day for a month. I will learn 10 new words, and three new phrases every day. For a month.


I’m gonna listen to a new album every day. I’m not really an albums kinda guy, or artists for that matter – I’m a big believer in the power of the individual song. However, with a view to broadening my horizons, I will listen to a new album every day. For a month.

I will read some part of a book. Every day. For a month.

There are other things I have may have overlooked or forgotten about. I shall add them in as I remember them, or feel their inclusion is necessary. I will update my progress, or lack of it, here.


June 03, 2014

My Take on What Korea Needs to Do in the Aftermath of the Sewol Ferry Disaster

Is It Cultural?

There is little point in dwelling on the enormous tragedy and sadness of the Sewol's sinking other than to remember those lost. What happened there that day, or who is primarily or secondarily to blame, is not the point of this article. The point is, simply, what does Korea do now? How does it stop these things happening again?

That said, it's well documented that the captain and crew of the Sewol told passengers to stay in their cabins. The same thing happened on the recent subway train incident.

A witness said many passengers ignored an onboard announcement telling them to stay inside and forced the doors open, escaping on to the tracks.

Many are saying this is a cultural difference, one of obedience. It is a cultural difference, just not that one. The simple reason for both of these errors ('everyone stay put!') is that no one in charge knew what to do, because they'd never practiced it. Safety drills of any kind are simply not carried out here, anywhere, anytime. As many have said, it's cultural, and this is true, it's cultural alright, but not that 'culture of obedience' that everyone is citing, but the cultural disregard, nay, an almost flamboyant 'look at us, we don't need to' disregard of safety protocols that many Koreans simply do not think apply to them.

In Korea, the older you are the more respect you get, and the older you are, the less you have to abide by the rules, it seems. Old people walk to the front of queues, disregard traffic laws, even common sense ones like crossing the road, push onto the train while you're trying to get off, and so on. They too often have a general disregard for safety rules. It's a strangely Eastern thing. 'I'm old, therefore I don't need to look when crossing the road, you should be looking out for me'. I 'kind of' see the sense in it, but it also sets an example for the next generation. Younger people can't wait to be old enough to be rebels! In many ways it's the exact opposite of the West. Korea's elders are often setting, in terms of safety anyway, a very bad example.

Safety Drills

I've worked in Korean public schools for over five years, and not once has there been a fire drill. I've heard the school fire alarm go off once or twice, and have peeked out of my classroom to find that life is carrying on as normal. This, bizarrely, is also true of the air-raid style alarms that they run now and then, as a military drill, all across Korea. No one cares; people just carry on shopping and pushing their strollers around as if nothing is happening. Until the country starts to shed off its macho posturing, for that's what it is, of 'safety issues are for stiffs and bores and therefore don't apply to us', these incidents will continue to happen.

This flaunting of safety issues is summed up perfectly in the Chison-Ilbo - a Korean national newspaper:

Korea has to swallow its pride, and take action, and the action it needs to take is safety drills, and of course other safety checks, enforced by incorruptible regulators. To enable this, it needs a wholesale attitude shift that takes safety practice seriously. And it needs to do that now. I cannot understand why not a single principal, or vice principal, at any school I've worked at including the current one, has not instigated a fire drill. Do they not care about the safety of their children? Of course they do. But they are too proud to change, too proud because changing would admit that they've been doing it wrong all along. 'I can't take action that may save the lives of hundreds of children, because it might cause me some embarrassment.' Oh, it's cultural alright.

Another issue within Korean culture is hierarchy. For example, vice principals most often run the day-to-day business of the school, and the principal is more of a figurehead, or a kind of president, who deals with governments, ministries, education authorities and so on. However, the VP could never instigate such a policy change as having a fire drill without consulting the principal as this 'going behind his back' would cause great offence. Embarrassment and ease-of-offence are not simple traits to run together. I appreciate cultures have different forms of politeness and therefore offence, but surely children's safety comes first? You'd think so, but I'm still waiting for any school in my district to instigate a fire drill, because to change would be to admit imperfection. To change would be, somehow, somewhere, going behind a superior's back. On top of that, to instigate fire drills would at once be 'stiff and boring'. And so we reach a stalemate. A heads-in-the-sand stalemate. Until the next 'Sewol', or 'Sampoong'. Koreans are waiting for the government to instigate a policy shift on safety. They don't need that, they need to start from the bottom up and meet the government half way. Sure, the government could produce safety films, posters, and campaigns, and they definitely should do those things, but until Koreans shed this pervasive macho posturing of 'rules are for squares', then sadly, these things will continue to occur. Changing these attitudes though, so that safety drills take place, is the biggest obstacle of them all.

We have started a Facebook group, 'Get Fire and Safety Drills into Korean Schools Now'. Feel free to join. Let's pressure, gently, our schools into instigating fire drills. It's one small step that could stop the next 'Sewol' being your school.

March 19, 2014