March 10, 2010

What I've been working on

instead of writing blog entries. Here's a short piece, a first draft just finished today...

Continue reading What I've been working on »

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 17, 2010



July 4, 2009

In Spain ...

Sorry eggbop for the abrupt summer departure. Things were crazy at the end of the school year and we had a few sleepless nights before leaving for Spain. We get back for a few days only to turn around and leave to help prepare for Emo's wedding in Philadelphia! So... a few photos and hopefully one or two more check-ins until August. Hope everyone is faring well.



May 26, 2009

Enmeshment and the KA

One of the issues I’ve been exploring in my writing is enmeshment. The thing I trip on is that the idea is Western, with a base ideal that we are individuals first and foremost. Enmeshment is the problem between two individuals who can’t separate, hence “co-dependency”.

It’s an easy thing to see in the case of say, drug addicts, or enabling spouses, think Sid & Nancy, or women who can’t leave their abusive husbands. It’s more elusive in the long running genre of writing about daughters and their mothers, where it is often a battle of wills and daughters struggling to emancipate. It’s hard though to find this in Asian cultures – where the base ideal is the group, and the individual serves the family. The idea of teenage rebellion and departure from the family home at eighteen or twenty-one, esp. for a young woman, is foreign in Asian cultures where the idea of harmony is supremely valued, and ideally, a daughter is so cherished and valued there would be nothing for her to rebel against. (I know, this is an idealized example.)

As a KA I’ve seen a lot of conflict over this, where the Korean selves war against the Western parts of ourselves. KA families are torn apart by this, esp. by children who bitterly resent the Confucian authority of their parents ending in years of silence and anger. In Korea, this problem doesn’t exist in the same way. Anger of course is always a Korean issue, but the way KA’s, being born and raised here, internalize the Western values of being unique, independent naturally sparks wild against traditional Korean mores leading to a very real threat for KA’s who feel stifled, then oppressed, before in a sense fleeing for their lives.

Continue reading Enmeshment and the KA »

March 9, 2009

Sci-Fi Us, Part II

Hence, David Chang.

I was sent this link ages ago about the superstar chef and owner of Momofuku Ko, Ssam Bar and now Bakery and Milk-Bar. The profile is well-done and captures much of of his immigrant upbringing and I was asked along with the link what I thought about the article, about David's conflicted genius and his compulsions towards religion. And I could not come up with an articulate response no matter how hard I tried.

What came out finally was the blog post from yesterday and how David Chang to me is a poster boy of our generation. It touches on his obsession with perfection, his compulsion toward religion, his conflict-ridden psyche as well as his ability to deal with the madness of the professional world of cooking. Also, it touches on something close to my heart, probably a subject most sensitive to me recently - KA men and their identities. But that's another blog post entirely.

Can't wait to hear what you think.

March 7, 2009

Sci-Fi Us

A social anthropologist once said of 1.5'ers that our experience here was the same as if our children were being raised by our grandparents. That the cultural mind-jump was profound, spanning from an agrarian post-war mindset to post-post modern in one generation. There was more said about this but this statement captured it all for me...

It captures my feeling that we are a generation of time travelers, of sci-fi characters able to feel at home in a tin-roofed home with an outhouse in Pusan, S. Korea and just as easily go to our jobs manning a register in the inner city while spending our days in academia. We can receive our local prayer lady without batting an eye, she'd come in and pray over us in tongues and things might even become more christian-shamanistic and your mom will be in the other room getting bruised black and blue (what IS the name of that practice?) and you will be in the kitchen preparing the watery instant coffee doused heavily with coffee-mate thinking of what movie you'd like to see, and if there was time to do a Starbuck's run for a latte.

I think this is the main reason Korean-American's have been able to assimilate so quickly and so successfully, the reason why there were recent studies done on the absurdly high percentage of Korean-American's who have made their way into the top tiers of entertainment, fashion, and art including the more traditional model-minority pursuits of law and medicine. We are a generation unfazed by the speed at which our times are progressing, we can twitter/game/Youtube as fast as we can help our mothers get out of the weird illegal DirectTV deal a Korean man approached her with (my mom in PA got somehow hooked into New York DirectTV but only got about eleven channels total) - how many times have we had to write letters, call companies on our parents behalf starting with "My mother doesn't speak English very well..."

It also explains why a K-A college girl from Los Angeles on vacation with her mom was able to whisper/mime to us one night by the camp fire in Yosemite that all the Korean's she knew were f***ed up. Pure and simple. And it was the reason, she said louder, that she knew she would not ultimately marry a Korean guy. She looked at her mom, a cheery energetic sort who loved driving all over the country on these mini vacations with her daughter and her mom said batted her eyes innocently and demanded to know, Why you look at mommy ?

If you think about it, the east-west factor alone is pretty astounding. At the same time we have to be both inter-dependent and individualistic; authority revering and authority critiquing; thinking of other's feelings first and thinking of how we feel first; obedient and unique; financially enmeshed with your parents and family, and expected to earn your own way. The list goes on and on and I for one think it's no small link to the high percentage of immigrant K-A's and mental illness. Because it is an impossible jump, bigger than a move across an ocean and half the planet- it's a move into an other way of understanding, opposite to all the meaning Koreans had ever known.

I think of all the times I witnessed a profound culture conflict, from something as little as a customer who'd misunderstood my parent's manner for rudeness to as big as legal events where a beloved family member tried to show respect to the law with silence and cooperation, and how the legal system exploited this to profound damage. And like all sci-fi characters, because we're a unique generation, caught halfway here to there, we're marked by what we see and can't share.

January 3, 2009

Looking for one or two Olchengee

We're looking for folks interested in our Korean music group for kids, meeting in or near Boerum Hill. Times are being discussed so shoot me an email if you want more info. Meanwhile here are some of the songs we sing:

Olchengee Song (the Tadpole Song) - Picture both adults and kids on our feet acting out this song and you got a pretty good idea of our group.

Bear Family Song - One of our favorites!

Ands just because I spent too much time on YouTube and because Potty Training is still fresh on our minds:


(Okay so this is Japanese but the Korean Poop Song was too graphic even for me! Which incidentally my brother tells me is all the rage in Korea, a kid book about a Poop who transforms himself!)

December 17, 2008

'Tis the Season

I've had a few long weeks of no Korean thoughts which is one of the down sides I am finding to a Korean-related blog. The flip side is I am making headway with my longer writing projects with KA themes. In any case, I hope everyone's holiday season is going merrily or at least healthfully. I expect New Year's is a big deal with most of you and I hope we're not the only middle-aged folk excited about sebeh because we still get money!

October 23, 2008

12 more days!

Oh, I can't stand the tension! Can the election just happen now please? All the stories and comments people left two entries ago made me feel so proud and added to the overall anxiety of the Democrats screwing this thing up! Ahhhh!

In the meanwhile, two pieces in the NY Times today really moved me and I wanted to share: the first is titled 'Barack Obama for President and it's the NY Times endorsement for Barack. It is an especially articulate and devastating appreciation of the Bush legacy, in three short pages. The other is the op-ed by Nicholas Kristof, 'Rebranding the US with Obama', it gives us an amazing glimpse of what might be, how transformed the US could be to the world.

October 14, 2008

Via Satellite Internet


Just a quick check-in to say hello from Yosemite. We've been getting our zen on with all this crazy beautiful nature and actually contemplating doing a bike trail. We are that inspired.

And if anyone's interested, we highly recommend where we're staying, the Evergreen Lodge - friendly wooden cabins built up right into the trees in a beautiful old forest, excellent dining (rack of wild boar and local mushrooms!) and s'mores by the fire pit under the starry skies. The website does not represent well though but the basic info. is there.

August 12, 2008

Three questions I can’t wrap my mind around

1. Are Korean ‘eyejobs’ basically a form of internalized racism?

2. When Koreans (esp. family) tell you how fat you’ve gotten, oh every time you see them, – is it just plain rude or some ineffable cultural thing I’m missing?

3. And why is it homemade jajang-myun is never as good as the restaurant?? Do they use MSG? And why, when the restaurants are Korean run for Korean customers, don’t they just serve kimchee since the dak-kwong just doesn’t cut it alone? (Or am I the only one who craves it?)

*Eye jobs = Plastic surgery to create a fold in Asian eyes to look more Western. Very common, like buying new shoes. Nose jobs are almost as popular. For examples, see any Korean television show.

*Koreans will always greet you with a comment on your appearance, whether it’s as common as saying you are “yep-poh” which means pretty/cute/lovely, or if you’ve lost weight or just as easily if you look old or gained weight.

* Ja-jang myun is a beloved Korean dish of fresh cut noodles in black bean sauce. Because the dish was originally Chinese you must go to special Korean run Chinese restaurants to get it, and because the cuisine is supposed to be Chinese, they never serve kimchee but the traditional side dishes of raw onion and dak-kwong, a bright yellow pickled radish.

*Note: I’ve had two friends tell me recently their mothers make restaurant quality jajang-myun, I will amend this post once I’ve tried their recipes.

June 22, 2008


Finally made it to the Korean market in Jackson Heights and came home with these beauties. This time of year makes me long for the garden I had in LA and I just learned these melons are easy to grow at home...

May 13, 2008

brooklyn, new york

One interesting thing about our Korean music group is that all the kids except one are bi-racial. This means one of the parents, usually the mom, married caucasian or in my case Latino-Irish but pretty much looks caucasian, and an early irony a few of us chuckled over was how much we'd spent our youth breaking from Korean tradition and how now as parents we were trying to find a way back.

I've had the great opportunity to get to know some of the parents better outside the group and inevitably much of our discussion centers around what the group brings up for us - what our families were like, how we rebelled as kids, how much we actually understood of Korean language... my friend who started the group dubbed me as the most Korean of the group which shows you how low the bar is for us and just how complicated our relationships were with our identities. Nothing new of course we're classic 1.5'ers but what is new is that we are now parents and are suddenly conscious of the environment we want/need/are creating for our kids.

Social anthropologists have a classic model of assimilation for immigrants and as 1.5'ers we can probably find ourselves uneasily somewhere well past the first step of having lost our language and the fourth step of only the food from our culture remaining. I imagine if our kids marry Caucasian, it will not be long before their Korean heritage is completely buried and the thought makes me sad despite having no real regrets with the decisions I've made to get here. How much longer before we are like the west coast Japanese, many of them now fourth and fifth generation, their own histories not so much connected to thousands of years as a culture but newly forged, in decades really, and as American as anyone else.

Except that we are the new Americans. And that is my point really. I can mourn the loss of tradition (what I'm really mourning is my own childhood probably, my own eventual demise) but have it consciously inform the choices I make now.

It's the thing I love about Brooklyn - that most of us have chosen to be here and that we have self-consciously created our lives. I cannot imagine a group of people more aware of the choices they make, with an even greater awareness of how other folks live including the way we were brought up themselves. This of course is our own worst fault as well, often getting in the way of being able to relax or relate simply because we are in the same space but then I look at my kids- my eldest at three has memorized all the Korean songs phonetically and can just as easily switch to Spanish lullabies, and my younger son, who is still discovering food, can be coaxed out of a tantrum for the moment with some dried squid or seaweed- and I can't imagine them being allowed to be themselves in this way, so freely, anywhere, or anytime else. (okay except parts of the west coast, and vancouver maybe)

Little about it is easy of course, and I don't want to gloss over the many tensions that still exist, will always probably exist for anyone bi-cultured. ( I am still shocked when we go to Europe, which has always symbolized post-modernity and progressive lifestyles for me, and we are confronted regularly by folks who need to discuss our cross racial marriage, and not just discuss in general but discuss actually whether it's right or good and then the inevitable shrug, "But that's Americans - they marry anyone over there.") But for now, here in Brooklyn, we've managed to do one thing right.

April 24, 2008

bibimbop party!

We have a Korean music group for tots here in Brooklyn and had our first dinner together at our place, a bibimbop party where everyone brought one of the sides. It was great fun and something about the smells of bulgogi (that was my offering) sauteeing while little Korean feet ran about made me feel as though another unnamed something has come full circle in my life.


Choose Another Subject