Battle High School commemorates its first four-year students’ graduation

COLUMBIA — “It’s a bittersweet thing,” Battle High School Principal Dr. Kim Presko said at the graduation ceremony of the school’s first four-year students at Mizzou Arena on Saturday morning.

The new graduates of Battle High School, 307 of them, proudly received their diplomas, many with outstanding achievements during their high school days.

“We’ve had them the whole time we’ve been at Battle High School. They are instrumental in creating the traditions at Battle High School as well as some of the culture that we have,” Presko said.

Mekhia Thompson, one of Battle’s graduating students, said that the programs the school offers have helped her better prepare for her future after high school.

“I’m in AVID, which is a college readiness program. That has definitely helped me with gaining knowledge that I’m going to take to college,” she said. Thompson will be attending the University of Central Missouri to major in interior design this fall.

Kham Thang, another new Battle graduate originally from Burma, has appreciated the school’s diversity. “It changed me a lot,” Thang said. “We meet a lot of people from different backgrounds.”

Thang decided to be a medical assistant, which he did not think he would do when he started high school.

“The school changed a lot of my ambitions,” he said. “At first I wanted to be a graphic designer, but I changed it to nursing. I always want to help others so it is a great way to do that.”

According to Presko, the majority of the new Battle graduates will pursue higher education at colleges or technical schools, while others will go into the military or the workforce.

“Today is a happy day. Just anxious to see about their future successes and accolades that they will get,” Presko said. “They have such bright futures ahead of them.”

Supervising editor is Hannah Black.

Providence project expected to be done by fall

COLUMBIA — Long-planned work on Providence Road north of Stadium Boulevard began this week and will continue through the early fall.

The construction started Monday morning and will include new traffic signals, turn lanes, a sidewalk and crosswalks. The work was approved by the City Council in June 2013 and is intended to improve traffic flow on Providence and access to surrounding neighborhoods.

Traffic backing up from the intersection of Stadium and Providence often blocks access to and from side roads into the Grasslands neighborhood west of Providence and MU east of the street, city officials said.

Barry Dalton, spokesman for the Columbia Public Works Department, said there will be restrictions on left turns into some side streets without traffic signals.

“There’s a lot of traffic coming from Stadium and Broadway, so that’s a very dangerous turn,” Dalton said.

All lane restrictions on Providence are in effect during overnight hours from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. to avoid possible traffic congestion. Side-road access to Turner Avenue will be restricted until about June 15. The same will be true for Kentucky Boulevard and University Heights until about June 30, weather permitting.

This $4 million project is scheduled to be finished by fall to minimize inconvenience to residents and students.

“We’re doing this work over the summer to try to avoid as much as possible students’ being in school. There still may be some overlap but that’s part of the planning to try to do that in the summer period,” Dalton said.

Bryant Gaines, project manager for contractor Sam Gaines Construction, said he hopes the work will be done this September.

Specific project improvements include:

  • Installation of traffic signals along Providence Road at Burnam Road and Turner Avenue.
  • Removal of existing traffic signals at Providence and Rollins Street.
  • Construction of a sidewalk along the south side of Burnam Road from Birch Road to Providence.
  • Enhancing crosswalks at the signalized intersections at Turner and Burnam to meet or exceed current standards, including pedestrian signals.
  • Extending the southbound right turn lane onto Stadium from Providence Road.
  • Converting the intersections of Providence with Bingham Road and Kentucky Boulevard to right-in/right-out/left-in. The intersections of Providence Road with Rollins Street and Brandon Road will be converted to right-in/right-out.

No additional roadblock is planned at present but more side-street closures on Providence are expected during construction. Updates on the project’s progress are available on the Public Works Department website.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Hidden street poems are ready for readings in the rain

COLUMBIA — If you don’t usually go walking in the rain, you might want to make an exception.

Sidewalks in downtown Columbia have been decorated with hidden poetry, and, because the poems are painted on walkways with a clear water repellent spray, the words are only visible when the sidewalk gets wet.

The hidden poems, aptly called “raining poetry,” were placed by staff members at The Missouri Review, a literary magazine, in an effort to remind people of the purpose of the magazine and encourage enthusiasm for literature. In all, there are nine poems spray-painted around Columbia. The locations of the hidden poetry sites will be revealed, starting Thursday, through a live streaming event on The District’s Facebook page.

Each poem is matched to a location that connects in some way to the poem’s words or meaning. For instance, a poem outside of Hitt Records written by Victor Hernandez Cruz reads: “A piano is talking to you, thru all this, why don’t you answer it?”

Kyle Cook, co-owner of Hitt Records, said the hidden poetry is an effective marketing tool for local stores as well as a good campaign for the community.

“I am sure that it is going to make people stop right there in front of the store,” he said.

 

Supervising editor is Allison Colburn.

Korean Nail Salons: An Inside Look

Korean Nail Salons- An Inside Look
A Korean nail salon in Manhattan (Photo by Jiwon Choi for Voices of NY)

New Yorkers, who live in one of the fashion capitals of the world, love not only fancy clothes but also glitter on their hands. Nail salons are seen everywhere in New York, and more than half of them have long been run by Korean owners.

Even though many Koreans say that the industry’s growth has been gradually slowing down, Koreans operated 70 percent of the nail salons in New York City in 2013, according to an article from Korea Daily. There are about 30,000 Koreans working at nail salons in the New York metropolitan area – which makes them the largest employer of Koreans.

Sangho Lee, president of the Korean American Nail Salon Association of New York, cited Koreans’ dexterity as the reason why many have gone into this business. “About 30 years ago, when Koreans first started to open nail salons, they were quite new and unfamiliar to people in New York at the time,” Lee added. Earlier, most of the first-generation Korean immigrants usually ran laundromats or produce stores.

The Korean nail salon business in New York, with its competitive pricing, served as a foundation for the growth of nail salons in the U.S., said Suzanne E. Shapiro at a recent event on the occasion of the release of her new book “Nails.”

Shapiro noted that “the West Coast is more dominated by Vietnamese and around here in New York more by Korean business people. They were able to drive prices down and make nail services more affordable for women across all classes. It’s a fairly affordable way to express yourself.”

However, Korean-owned nail salons have been losing ground to other ethnic groups such as the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Latinos.

Anna, a Chinese-Korean worker at Pink House Nail on West 40th Street in Manhattan, which opened in February, said that Chinese nail salons are more specialized in brush strokes than Korean salons.

Chinese and other ethnic groups have been competing with high-quality services at lower prices. A customer at a nail salon run by Americans in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, said in an interview with Voices of NY that she tried many nail salons around the city and felt more satisfied with Latino ones than Korean since they worked hard and scrupulously.

Koreans, who used to believe they offered higher quality than other nail salons, now admit that competitors are catching up to them in quality, putting pressure on them. Their market share has dropped significantly over the past couple of decades.

An owner of a nail supply house in Flushing mentioned that even though he believes that Korean salons offer high quality, their work lacks artistic value.

“These days, I feel that Koreans are losing popularity because of Chinese and Vietnamese nail salons’ good services. Korean nail salons were booming about 15-20 years ago and I guess now they only have 60 percent of the market share,” he said. His estimate is lower than other estimates.

Since competition in the nail industry has been growing more fierce, many Korean nail businesses are remodeling their salons while others are offering new services. Some Korean nail salons, for instance, are differentiating themselves from Chinese ones by adopting luxurious interiors. Skyrocketing rent has prompted some salons to contemplate closing, but some decide to remodel instead as did one salon in Woodside.

Adding massage services at nail salons is a trend in the industry and usually they are much more expensive than a basic manicure, which means nail workers and salon owners can make higher profits.

It was estimated that a basic manicure, which usually takes 20 minutes, costs about $15 to $18 in Manhattan and about $10 or slightly more in the other boroughs, based on inquiries at nail salons in the city.

If someone wants to get a massage, he or she has to pay more than $80 for a one-hour body massage and about $90 for a facial massage in Manhattan.

The Korean American Nail Salon Association of New York has imported nail polish and other supplies from Korea through its annual event, the Nail and Spa Show, which introduces Korean nail products to New Yorkers. But one nail supply store owner explained that people in the U.S. prefer American brands such as OPI and Essie.

For employees of nail salons, the competitive pressures of the workplace are great. To begin with, if a person wants to work at a nail salon, he or she has to complete  250 hours of classes at a professional institute such as a nail school before taking the exam for the license. The owner of the salon in Sunset Park said that there were not many Koreans at a nail school she attended, and she suggested that some of the Korean nail workers may not be licensed.

Korean salon owners and workers alike may also face conflicts. Some of this is attributable to them having been raised in a patriarchal society and now being major breadwinners in their families in the U.S.

In her 2010 book “The Managed Hand,” Miliann Kang cited the example of a Korean nail salon owner, Charlie: “These dynamics are even more pronounced among Asian immigrant families, where traditional patriarchal relations are often resistant to the new economic roles for women and men that migration brings. Although Charlie can be viewed as a nail salon success story, she felt like a failure in her role as a mother and believed that her work extracted too high a toll in caring for her child and other domestic duties.”

Anna, from Pink Nail House, said in an interview that she was apart from her children in China because she was working in the U.S., and planned to bring them to New York for their education.

Still, she seemed to be worried about her role as a mother.

It is difficult for Korean nail workers to spend more time with their families since they work about 45 hours every week on average.

A Korean male grocery worker, who identified himself only as Yoon, said that he has spent less time with his wife since she started working at a nail salon. “We cannot spend much time together because we take time off on different days and she comes home around 10 p.m. every day,” Yoon complained.

Yoon added that it is more difficult for Korean men, especially those who cannot speak English, to find a job than for women. Nail salon workers usually earn more than Koreans at other workplaces.

Official statistics shows that Korean women in New York City make more money than Korean men, which is the opposite situation from that in Korea. Experts assume that the wage gap is one of the factors that cause conflict for married Korean couples.

Yoon estimates that the average wage for a nail worker is $80 a day, plus tips, for a workday that may be 10 hours long. Experienced manicurists can earn higher wages and much more in tips.

When one salon owner was asked about how much in tips her employees received, she replied that it depends on the person’s skills and efforts. “If you want to apply for this job, you shouldn’t think about tips and income,” she said.

Another problem for employees of salons can be having to do pedicures as well as manicures. A Korean worker at a nail salon in Woodside said she was very discouraged at first when she had to take care of other people’s feet, saying that “it is not an easy thing to do.”

In spite of these difficulties, why do so many Koreans in New York work at nail salons? Many say that there are not enough jobs for Asians in the U.S. because of their lack of English and special skills. From May 27 to June 2, ninety-seven help-wanted ads for manicurists were posted on HeyKorean.com, a website for Koreans in the U.S., which was about 15 percent of the total number, 671. Other ads were mostly for restaurant employees, guesthouse janitors, and other blue-collar jobs, which usually offer less money. Even though some well-paid white-collar jobs were posted on the website, they required higher levels of education and English proficiency.

“What other work is there?” many of the Korean manicurists ask.

Korean Orchestra of the Blind Performs

Korean Orchestra of the Blind Performs
Gayageum solo performance with Janggu (Photo by Jiwon Choi for Voices of NY)

“With their musical sensitivity and talents, blind musicians are by no means incapable of contributing to society,” King Sejong of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty reportedly said in 1431, when he decided to establish the national orchestra of the blind.

During the dynasty, which ruled from 14th to the 19th century, musically talented blind people received special instruction from the national department of music within the palace. The musicians, known as “blind Kwanhyun” (wind and string instruments), displayed their talent at many palace performances.

Six hundred years later, blind Kwanhyun was reinstated with the support of Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism in March 2011. “The ministry asked Siloam Welfare Center for the Visually Handicapped to launch the Korean Traditional Music Orchestra of the Blind as a model and revival of the Joseon Dynasty music,” Dongic Choi, director of the orchestra said in an interview with Voices of NY. The concert of the Korean Traditional Music Orchestra of the Blind drew more than 600 people to Carnegie Hall on May 3.

Although people usually think that it would be hard for the blind to play an instrument since they can’t even read music, Choi said that blind people naturally inherit a gift for it. “All sorts of emotions including, anger, sorrow, happiness, and joy are in the lives of challenged people. When those emotions are harmonized with technical skills of music, they are the utmost artistic souls,” Choi explained.

The concert included Jeongak, music played among the upper class, Minsokak, folk music, and traditional Korean songs updated with dynamic percussion and special solo performances, blending classical and popular music together. “Although Jeongak is traditional court music of a high level, many people rather like Minsokak as it is more rhythmic and fun to listen to,” said Choi.

After holding hands to get on stage safely, the musicians sat on cushions and started to play each instrument in harmony. From a well-known love song, Sarang-ga, to Man-pa-jung-sic-ji-gok, a military march, the sounds fascinated the audience.

After the duet percussion, Woolim, the audience broke into rapturous applause. The duo imitated the sound of rain, their communication and rhythm perfectly matched. The performers also showed the beauty of colorful Korean traditional costumes, hanbok, ranging from royal court clothes to modernized ones.

During a performance of Arirang, one of the most famous Korean traditional songs, some people wiped a tear from their eyes because Arirang embodies the sorrow and spirit of Koreans. The orchestra changed their last song to “Amazing Grace,” which they offered as a prayer for the victims of the Sewol ferry accident in Korea.

“We would like to give our prayers through our performance,” Garam Yoon, a performer, said. At the end of the concert, the audience rose as one in a standing ovation and started to sing a chorus of Arirang together.

“All of the performers have practiced hard to be on the stage. They have won many competitions with non-blind people,” said director Choi.

The orchestra plans to perform in several U.S. locations, especially at universities because there are many U.S. born-Korean students who don’t know much about Korean culture and traditional music. “We will introduce the beauty of Korean traditional music to Americans and make second-generation Koreans feel proud of their mother country, Korea,” Choi said.

Concerts are planned for May 6 at the Comfort Women memorial in Bergen County, New Jersey (at 12:30 p.m.) and in the evening at Columbia University. An online concert may be viewed at koreasociety.org. Click here for more information.

Bringing Jewish and Korean Americans Together

Bringing Jewish and Korean Americans Together
From the left, Linda Lee, Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz, Dong Chan Kim, Michael Miller, Se-Joo Son, and Dr. Arthur Flug. (Photo by Jiwon Choi)

Jewish and Korean Americans share many things in common, including great educational zeal and troubled histories from World War II, representatives of the two ethnic groups said at a gathering held March 31 in Bayside, Queens.

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents the 6th district in Queens, one of the most diverse in the U.S., hosted the panel discussion, which explored connections between the two communities. Many Korean and Jewish organizations participated. The meeting was held at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives of Queensborough Community College.

Meng said the event would be a good opportunity to promote cooperation between the two communities in addressing international and local concerns.

U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (Photo by Jiwon Choi)
U.S. Congresswoman Grace Meng (Photo by Jiwon Choi)

Speakers included Se-joo Son, the consul general of the Republic of Korea in New York, Dong Chan Kim, president of Korean American Civic Empowerment, Rabbi Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Linda Lee, executive director of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, and Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz of the Torah Center of Hillcrest.

“I am honored to take part in this intercultural dialogue. I was surprised by the Jewish community’s high civic participation and I think the community is a mother community of other communities, including Korean, when it comes to civic participation,” said Son.

“Jewish people are renowned for their creativity. Although the first generation of Korean immigrants struggled to support their families, the second generation is now successful in the U.S. We have to hold tightly true friends’ hands to create more harmony for tomorrow,” he added.

Faskowitz said that when he first heard about the panel, he thought back to his parents’ experience of escaping from Poland during World War II. “We should be brothers and keep this deep brotherhood,” he emphasized.

When the panelists were asked about key issues concerning two ethnic groups, Linda Lee pointed out the growing population of senior citizens and their welfare. “Korean community service here in the metropolitan area has a long history. There is a growing senior immigrants’ population and they are suffering from housing problems and poverty. Since Korean people have a language barrier, they need help from organizations like KCS,” she explained.

Faskowitz agreed on the importance of helping people overcome poverty. He said that the two communities should work together to solve the problem. “Blessing doesn’t feed people,” he said.

Dong Chan Kim brought up an issue of interest to Korean Americans – that the body of water commonly referred to as the Sea of Japan should alternatively be called the East Sea. He also talked about the experience of the Korean “comfort women” during World War II.

“Japan keeps denying their crime [of recruiting Korean women for Japanese soldiers].  And most of Japan-oriented names in Korea were renamed [with Korean names] after the World War II but not the East Sea,” he said. He also mentioned the planned reduction in the allocation of U.S work visas that will be granted to Koreans.

All the panelists concurred with the idea that communities should cooperate in the future. “Blend them together. And we have to look at the same issues together regardless of whether they are international or local ones,” Miller said.

Faskowitz also noted that students from diverse ethnic groups should work together. “That will make a beautiful difference,” he said.

Lee spoke of the stereotype of Koreans in the U.S. “People usually think that there is no poverty and hunger for Koreans, but there is, especially for elderly Koreans. What is even worse is that the government funding has been shifting from support for communities to other issues like health care,” she explained.

An Ancient Korean Kingdom Glitters

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There are two weeks left to see a striking exhibit of elaborately crafted gold and other items from Korea’s little-known ancient kingdom, Silla. This is the first time many of the items were sent out of Korea, and the special exhibit, which opened last November at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will not go on tour in the U.S. or elsewhere. The precious works will be returning to Korea.

The kingdom of Silla ruled Korea from 57 B.C. – A.D. 935. The exhibit focuses on the period when it flourished:  from the fourth to the sixth centuries, spanning both the pre-Buddhist and early Buddhist eras. During its peak, there was extensive trade with China and Eastern Europe, and the kingdom was ruled by many queens.

The exhibit has been a draw for Korean visitors, for whom it is a source of pride. For non-Koreans, the exhibit is an introduction to a fascinating culture that evolved from using gold for ornamentation such as earrings and crowns to forging the precious metal into Buddhist figures for worship.

Visitors to the exhibit first see a widescreen video of Hwangnam Daechong, a large grave of a king and a queen, then move through the exhibit, which provides a chronological narrative of the kingdom.

EnterSoyoung Lee, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arranged the Silla exhibit with the National Museum of Korea. (Photo by Jiwon Choi)

Before reaching the Silla exhibit, however, visitors must pass through halls with works from ancient Greece and Rome. The video of the Silla exhibit, visible from those halls, provides a window into the ancient Asian culture, notes Soyoung Lee, associate curator for the department of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum, who curated the Silla exhibit.

Lee notes that the exhibition attracts people using digital media such as a widescreen video and an interactive touch screen.

“I think it’s working. Passing by ancient Rome and Greece, audiences finally reach Korea’s golden kingdom, Silla, fascinated by the liveliness of a video of Hwangnam Daechong,” she said.

The exhibition consists of three main parts: Silla before Buddhism was flourishing, Silla as a global kingdom in Eurasia, and Silla under Buddhism.

A golden crown, ceremonial hats and gold earrings show the work of the early Silla craftsmen.

Says Lee: “You can find the golden ornaments which show the power of women of the time from the mountain-like tomb, Hwangnam Daechong. With the advanced digital media, audiences look closely at the construction process of the tomb and details of the ornaments.”

The exhibition also offers a new view of the Eurasian continent in the fifth century.

“Interestingly, the exhibits in the second part are not originally from Silla,” Lee notes. “The statue of a westerner, the Eastern European-style sword, the Roman glass, and ceramic bowls from China indicate that Silla had brisk cultural exchange and was a part of Eurasian countries.”

Ceramic tiles from Gyeongju National Park in Anapji in southern Korea are set the way they were in the park and slates for roofing are leaning against the wall.

“It feels as if you were in Gyeongju as you enter the hallway with a picture of Anap Pond hanging on the wall.”

The highlight of the exhibit is the gold and bronze Bodhisattva in a pensive pose, which is called “Mireuk” in Korean. Since it’s one of the most important national treasures of Korea, there was controversy about permitting the statue to leave Korea for the exhibit. “Despite the difficulty, it’s finally here to show everyone in New York the delicacy and beauty of Korean culture,” says curator Lee.

This is its second time to be displayed in New York after a 1970s exhibition entitled “5000 Years of Korean Art.” Koreans who visited the previous exhibition said that the Bodhisattva’s return reminds them of their early days in the U.S. and they feel proud of Korea.

Sixty percent of visitors from Korea to the Metropolitan Museum of Art have come to the museum for the exhibition. There has been a favorable reception not only from Korean visitors but also from non-Koreans. A trove of beautiful treasures, complemented by high-tech media, has demonstrated the beauty and culture of the ancient Asian civilization of Silla to thousands of visitors.

“Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom” continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until February 23.