Tuesday, 23rd of Movember – Singing out of bad news

I like to think of myself as optimistic, with a positive outlook on life and an indefatigably sunny disposition.

Wow, there’s been a lot of bad news recently.

Okay, the miners in Chile all survived and have multi-million-dollar movie rights pending from their adventure, and that is all surely a happy ending as of only a few weeks ago, but, at this stage, it looks like the guys in Pike River Mine back home in Aotearoa – New Zealand are not likely to be so lucky. As of this date, nothing has been heard of them, there is likely to be more gas than air in their tunnels, and they will be facing a lack of water and so dehydration will be a factor for anyone who survived the initial blast. There is room for hope, but markedly less than was apparent in Chile.

Last week saw more tragic death and accident on the roads for an unusually large number of cyclists in Aotearoa – New Zealand. There is, apparently, usually a spate of accidents to somewhat mark the start of summer and the return to the roads of cyclists, but never has there been such a sudden upsurge of damaged bicycle riders at the start of the season.

I am glad to read that there will now be an official ‘coroner’s inquest‘ into safety for cyclists on the nation’s roads. Many initiatives are being taken around the world recently, including new laws to encourage and re-educate automobile drivers to be more aware and careful, and in other cases to provide separate bike paths.

Personally, while the former is useful, necessary, and should be implemented as soon as possible, I also believe only the latter will really protect cyclists from injury. As one commentator observed recently, auto-drivers are at fault in 75% of cycling deaths, however, even when cyclists are at fault, the speeds involved in bicycle-car incidents often mean severe injury at least.

Finally, yesterday saw an artillery attack on a tiny town on an island near the sea-border line with North Korea. A couple of soldiers stationed there were killed, a number were wounded, and a collection of houses were damaged or destroyed. As far as the media are reporting thus far, the incident was entirely unprovoked. According to Korean online media, one of the two killed was a 22-year-old sergeant who had been studying at Dongguk University here in Gwangju.

I would like to say that this sad news somewhat balances out the good news of the reunions a couple of weeks ago of families separated since the war. Unfortunately, however, this latest incident just seems all the more out of context and frankly bizarre, following on as it does from the recent reunions. Perhaps there is more going on behind the scenes than is immediately apparent from within the media, as much as they are alluding to something to do with North Korea’s weekend unveiling of their uranium enrichment facilities.

The death of the young sergeant from Gwangju brings home to me how relevant international news actually is in this global village, and how tragedy can strike anywhere, at any time, regardless of culture. It also encourages me to continue to celebrate the fact that joy and happiness are also cross-cultural boundary breakers, as is music, as my students are again teaching me in classes this week. Many of them choose to present their final projects in song form.

I was surprised in class today (erghm.. yesterday now) that many of them chose to stand up and sing unaccompanied by ‘MR’ or musical recording. Others, not having an MP3 player of their own, merely opened their cellphones and sang along to the tiny tinny-sounding musical track seeping out of their hand-sets. Generally, they did very well, even including those who are not natural singers, of whom there are surprisingly few.

It is also interesting to see which classes – as according to major subjects at university – chose more commonly to sing, and which to write and deliver an ‘original’ piece of work, whether a talk about their own family, or a conversation closely modelled on examples in our text book. My Russian language major students clearly seem more comfortable singing, and more often in pairs or groups than students of other classes. In contrast, business students again seem a lot less confident about singing, just as they showed themselves earlier this semester when they mumbled their way through learning a couple of songs at the same time as my other five classes of first-year students who happily sang out to Neil Diamond and CCR tunes.

Still, whatever the case, I am glad that all students have the choice to sing, and thereby share this intercultural area of enjoyment even in a different and newly acquired language. Sharing music is not just a great way to learn a new language, but it is also a way to celebrate life, amidst whatever unhappy news we also share around the world this week.

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