Family portrait part six: mom and I skin the sweet potato stems

September 21, 2018 § Leave a comment

She tells me a lot of stories these days. Around the dining table–too tall for her body, she has to lift and fold one leg, essentially sitting on the chair as if she’s sitting on the floor around a 밥상–she recalls her past life as a child of the 60s. It means something else in postwar Korea, not the same as the Flower Power youth in the Stateside, though she definitely would’ve been a hippie had she lived through the antiwar decade. The long weeks of Christmas preparation like putting glitter on cards and going house to house at midnight singing carols bring sudden tears to her eyes during the morning lull before making breakfast for dad. Another day she tells me she thinks she’s become a pessimist and nihilistic in her prime years because of her oldest brother who unexpectedly lost his mental stability in college and attempted suicide multiple times, finally succeeding a few years into our immigration to the U.S. I didn’t know she read so many philosophers in her high school days. Today we sit around the table as she teaches me how to peel off the tough outer layer of these sweet potato plants. They come out mid to late summer, you can blanch them and sauté and make 반찬. She shows me where to snap off the leaves and skin off the lanky green and deep purple stems. I vaguely remember eating it in Korea. These are things you lose when you don’t continue talking and remembering, passing on stories that no one else should care to hear except that you’re family. Your brother is my brother. Your past is my past. We finish cleaning the vegetables for dinner, full of silence and comparisons between life/lives that once have been.

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Trump cannot fuck this up

September 21, 2018 § Leave a comment

Watching the words off the screen–the speeches of two leaders North and South meeting at Pyongyang, broadcasted–is beyond surreal. They’re saying shit I don’t know if my grandpa were alive would acknowledge as sane: We lived together as one people for 5,000 years and then apart for 70. We love peace, we must now move forward as one. We’re going to abolish nuclear weapons and all fears of war. With mere words 조선 한반도, Joseon (technically tis the historically more recent name for the Korean nation) peninsula, my mind is blown. Is one country really actually gonna happen? What, Kim Jong-un coming to visit Seoul? Can anything be possible?

A goddamn religious experience in the Royce Hall full of black folks on a Sunday night

September 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

Mahler renders a poem by Friedrich blah blah German dude, titled Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection). The last four lines are switched out by his own verses and set to his Second Symphony, apparently one of the most epic ones to perform rated by conductors in Britain. I had the pleasure of experiencing the full choir for the last two movements of the symphony, which closed the night of celebrating Dr. MLK Jr. called “Revolution / Resurrection.” It was the season finale of the Southeast Symphony, headed by an African American conductor and mostly with players of color–I’ve not seen a classical concert populated by so many black & brown folks. Amazing arrangements of the popular Negro Spirituals like “Wade in the Water” and “Oh Freedom” definitely challenged the notion of what constitutes as fine art, “cultured” or classical music and who can access them. The hostess throughout the night narrated important moments in the fight for civil rights as well as Black leaders pioneering in the white dominant space of classical music. What I remember most vividly above all was the five to ten minutes I sat there mute and tearing up, wondering, are you talking to me right now?

In light of the evening’s context, the struggle & the sacrifice of those who have exercised nonviolent resistance to the evils of systemic racism, and still processing my own thoughts on hope, the words of these long gone artists–in German of course, which is understandable as Mahler is German, but given the night’s disruption of whiteness I may have expected to hear a translation to vernacular English–hit me like prophecy from beyond the grave. Would they have meant the same to those whom the concert was supposed to honor? Were my feelings merely reflecting an internalized colonial vision of afterlife, resurrection, heaven? Or does this European work of art really still speak to the same God’s children waiting for the water to be troubled?

Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you My dust,
After a brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you, give you.

To bloom again were you sown!
The Lord of the harvest goes
And gathers in, like sheaves,
Us together, who died.

O believe, my heart, O believe:
Nothing to you is lost!
Yours is, yes yours, is what you desired
Yours, what you have loved
What you have fought for!

O believe,
You were not born for nothing!
Have not for nothing, lived, suffered!

What was created
Must perish,
What perished, rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare yourself to live!

O Pain, You piercer of all things,
From you, I have been wrested!
O Death, You conqueror of all things,
Now, are you conquered!

With wings which I have won for myself,
In love’s fierce striving,
I shall soar upwards
To the light which no eye has penetrated!

Die shall I in order to live.
Rise again, yes, rise again,
Will you, my heart, in an instant!
That for which you suffered,
To God shall it carry you!

I asked mother if God speaks to her in Korean

September 18, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’m learning for the first time how to hear God in Korean… up until now, from the very first time I began to interact with the Holy Spirit we spoke in English, always. I read the Scripture in English; I memorized verses in English; I journaled in English; soon I began to dream and hear the LORD in English, exclusively. There was a faint attempt at trying to speak to God in French… with my high school writing skill, wondering if a new tongue would mean something different. That didn’t last long. And only as of today, I’m talking to Him in Korean. Like praying out loud in my mother tongue. As if I’m talking to a friend. Which also is a relatively recent phenomenon. Then it hit me: If I been conditioned to interact with the Spirit only in the language of the colonizers, it’s gonna take some time to adjust and learn to hear back in my heart language. When the LORD decides to talk to me in Korean, which I feel like He will if I start talking to Him in Korean, it’s gonna take the same acclimation for me learning English. I’ll have to pay extra attention and use dictionaries and have someone to ask questions, who can help answer and interpret for me. I will need Him to speak slowly and repeat many times till I can repeat what He says myself. Right now we using Konglish, neither here nor there. I hope the motherland air helps me hear better.

Here’s a pitch for an article

September 18, 2018 § Leave a comment

I been reading an intriguing collection of essays by a Korean psychologist, more about that later. One particular one mentions another psychologist, Yi-Fu Tuan of University of Wisconsin-Madison, known for his pioneering research on “humanistic geography.” The way I understand it, the individual’s inner world is not only shaped by temporal narrative but also by spatial one, by the push & the pull of geographical locations. A quick Wiki search on his work is full of words that strike me as relevant:

Tuan is most interested in ambivalent human experiences that resonate with the opposing pulls of space and place, the intimate and the distant. His approach is suggested by titles such as Segmented Worlds and Self, Continuity and Discontinuity, Morality and Imagination, Cosmos and Hearth, Dominance and Affection, and above all, Space and Place. These existential dialectics propel people between a pole of experience characterized by rootedness, security and grounding, on the one hand, and a pole characterized by outreach, potentiality and expansiveness, on the other hand. These opposites interact: there is a certain distance in what is nearby and a certain nearness in what is far away. Therefore ambivalence is the norm when it comes to the human experience of dwelling in the world with its existential pulls between space and place, mobility and stasis, the distant view and embodied engagement.

I didn’t realize until I finished The Christian Imagination–by Willie Jennings, one of the most radically life-altering textbooks from my ethics class–that what I conclude as a vague nostalgia and homesickness could actually be part of the larger, global longing for place-as-identity, which Jennings argues has been stripped away by whiteness.

Why couldn’t I just read, theorize and talk to people about Korea in the Bay Area, or even here & now in Koreatown, Los Angeles? There’s something about physically placing yourself where you and your ancestors were born to look at perhaps the same things you’ve been looking at and be able to see differently, because you have become someone different in the process. And to see differently the same God, outside the white economic and literary and theological space, is what I am dying to do. The only way I will find out whether perspective(s) can change or memories have been altered or the future is indeed coming, is to be fully present as an embodied person living on the soil of my motherland.

Will a real hip hop head please stand up? (and school me)

September 16, 2018 § Leave a comment

First off, I cannot/do not claim by any stretch of the imagination the breadth & the depth of Korean pop culture, the intersection of hip hop and postmodern Korean malehood. But as I’m trying to listen to as many Korean hip hop artists as possible on Apple Music—which is already an elitist selection filtered by whiteness, for real underground hip hop in Korea would not make it on this streaming service much like the counterpart, or any other indie artists for that matter, in the Stateside—I notice the similarities in all the up and coming rappers. Whether they write their own lyrics or not is not the focus here though that’s an important artistry to consider when you wanna talk about authenticity, especially in an art form born out of countercultural and revolutionary pathos as hip hop. I find some Korean tracks flirting with the idea of social commentary, yet nothing substantial emerges except the typical bragging rights of the I’m-young-and-wild-and-the-best attitude sans the gang and gun violence culture. They all sound like Drake in a sense. A lot of the content speaks to the hookup culture, wanting one night stands with beautiful women to fill the void in the ever lonely genius male hearts, saying nonchalantly terrible things about sentimentality or affection or real relationships because the less emotional about anything you are, the better you prove your place in the hip hop game. I’m not sure what these youngsters are trying to prove (I say young because… 안 봐도 뻔해. They all in their 20s. The restlessness of Friday nights? Tis what we’ve all experienced in college and maybe immediately after; no one in their real adulthood considers this a serious conversation anymore. Please, we have better things to spend our energy on). But perhaps tis too early to judge since hip hop is still a relatively recent culture in Korea. They have to learn how to adapt not just the sound but the philosophy underneath that actually speaks to the history of masculinity and Korean land and relationships without appropriating. Imitation is the highest form of flattery? All genuine creative endeavors start with copying the form? I am strangely hopeful but at the same time find problematic symptoms of thee same misogyny and toxic masculinity in these “hip hop bangers.” And it still bothers me there aren’t many 30+ songwriters and artists who emote experiences beyond the infatuation and the crush and the sex drives and the heartaches. Gimme divorce, death of family members, mental illnesses, political corruption and repression, materialism and poverty, raising children and marriage struggles. Gimme something grown up. Till then, Jay Park, ZICO, Sik-K rotate 😦

September 9, 2017 draft no.2

September 15, 2018 § Leave a comment

In front of you I could never be prepared
For all the reasons–
The five thousand conversations in my head
Evaporate without color dissolving
Into white, that gush
Of sighs.

Exhale the past 168 hours of
Silence in the middle. I tease you without
Saying the words–always–
Waiting between the last time I have seen you
And the next time I’ll feel unprepared again
Smelling brine and salt
Tasting in my mouth what I imagine you
To be.

Feeling a little cold I’d like to be held,
Know what it’s like to be utterly undone
My idea(s) of
You rendered irrelevant, counted null too
Every contradiction before, and after,
Beautiful you.