January 17, 2010



January 17, 2010

My grandparents have seven kids. And those seven kids got married and had at least two of their own kids - more or less in the same order as they were born. Eldest aunt had a kid first. Second Aunt had her kid, roughly the same difference in years between her and her older sister. I was third. Because mom is the third eldest Aunt. And so forth with some blurring among the younger kids but in good Confucian style, we knew our places not only in our own families, but in the greater family when at holidays my grandmother and grandfather were the head of the table.

For as long as I can remember our family has gathered at New Year’s and one of the cousins’ favorite things – besides the games, the karoake, and the adults urging college aged children to perform and sing songs, the feasting, and the jjul (bowing)- was receiving our sebeh envelopes from each Aunt & Uncle pair, flanked on both sides of my Grandparents, and reading what they’d written. They almost always attempted to write our names, mostly because they gave us money according to our age and didn’t want to mix it up. It irked my sister for years that she received half of what I did even when she graduated college.

Grandpa wrote the best envelopes. Over the years my sister Becky received envelopes that said, “Beggy,” “Libekah,” and once she was given an envelope that said, “Rebekah” but then our cousin Erica, who is the second eldest in her family but in reality closer to my age then my sister, got an envelope that said, “Bekki.” (Actually I want to say this often happened to my cousin who’d have a small identity crisis each time)

Throw in some great grand children, and I imagine my grandfather now spends a good hour before New Year’s, painstakingly writing out names on the envelopes. More than a few bear his earlier efforts, guesses would simply have a line penciled through, and it wasn’t unusual to have two or three different spellings or entirely different names crossed out on your envelope before he settled on one.

When I married a “Raul”, and resisted my mother’s best efforts to rename him from the Bible (How about Peter? Or John? John is best name!), my entire family came to believe his name was really Lau, and spelled it that way because that’s how they pronounced it. So when it came to my own kids I had little expectation that anyone would know how to spell their names, especially the eldest, Raul Andres. I was particularly charmed though by this year’s envelope from Grandpa, the sweet note, how he formatted it as though he were mailing it, and the mysterious Nou following Andre. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with all these envelopes I’ve saved over the years ... but each one causes a funny little pang in my heart, and one day I’m sure to weep over them.

January 21, 2010

John Yoo

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show: Exclusive - John Yoo Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

I've always been deeply troubled by what I call the North Korean aspect of our culture. It's the part of being Korean that lends itself toward extremism, authoritarianism and to some degree, self nihilism. Think: Korean student suicide, Self-Immolation -perhaps most famously demonstrated by the soccer fan who set himself on fire on international TV. So when I heard years ago John Yoo, the lawyer who essentially authorized 'torture' under the Bush administration, I was not at all surprised he was a member from my home church in Philadelphia, Young-Sang Presbyterian.

Our church, like most Korean churches, is conservative - in large part because conservative evangelicalism coincides exactly with Confucian and Authoritarian mores. Obey your parents? Of course. Obey God without question? Of course. And who will tell you what God wants you to do? The Pastor. Treat the Pastor like a mini-pope even though it's not part of the Protestant movement? Yes! And so forth.

Still I expected to hate John Yoo when he came on the Jon Stewart show to promote his book. It was clear to me Jon Stewart felt even more so. But I think we were all surprised to find John Yoo was not this self-satisfied, smug right winger but he was sincere, and vulnerable, and seems genuinely and constantly surprised at the level of anger directed toward him. And it hit me while watching him, that he was this smart, driven kid - the pride and joy of his parents and community - who did what he was told, just as he had been raised. I think on some base level, he believes he was serving God.

This was the kind of thing that left the deepest marks on me. We were founding members of Young-Sang, now one of the largest Korean churches in the States, and to some degree it has become a kind of ghost following me around, because where I am from will always affect me - even when I actively choose different things. It also marks me as being unable to left-wing knee jerk against conservatives or the religious left. In Brooklyn, in New York, I can't think of a less popular, less understood thing that to say you are Christian, or go to a traditional church. And even I have a certain impatience with young evangelicals, especially when I see they what they are up against - a kind of naive, extreme faith that they use to create certainty in their lives. And for which they pay heavily. But still, I have this deep empathy and love for Korean churches, for Korean parents, for this next generation that have created a kind of American-Korean 2.0 version of the church they grew up in - it has it's place.

« July 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 »