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stuck between Kor and Amer

12 Dec

Recently, Macklemore’s song “Vipassana”, the tune and lyrics, has been rocking my mind. My thoughts danced to the tune and flow. Years of academics tell me I need to run them through dry outlines, revisions and double-checking and also I should OD on being OCD when I have these thoughts to muse: run them through the rat maze until their juices dry up into wrinkly, unpublished drafts.

And it does suck having an obsessive compulsive order when it comes to locks and digits. I circle around double-check my car doors and windows like an awkward merry-go-round. Also checking and re-checking that the numbers on my timesheet and paperwork are correct. Math used to be a childhood favorite but now at times fill me with dread.

I was with my mom yesterday in the store that sells glasses and the Korean owner was quick to comment on my fumbling mother tongue. I couldn’t but to feel self-conscious as a K-A – proud of my spicy fermented cabbage roots and my red-white-and-blue upbringing – but instead my identity has gone MIA.

Shot down by ethnocentric critics and self-doubt, it’s hard to reconcile my golden yellow skin and the cream filling inside.


figuring stuff out with help from above

25 Jun

Last week, I logged onto the public wi-fi at a local library and visited Yahoo!, which is one of my digital habits to get a glimpse of what’s happening in this world. I saw the homepage, which looked like it vomited most of its web 2.0 and leaving only html-only with links on the left side and a mesh of text congregating in the center. This was probably due to the website not playing nice with the wireless network. So I scrolled down to find something legible to read and came across this quote:

Your deeper brain is engaged with reality in a new way today — so make sure that you’re giving yourself all the time you need to figure stuff out. Your philosophical leanings start to shine through!

Thoughtful with implications of being thought-provoking. Was this something Lincoln or Gandhi? Nope. This was actually from today’s horoscope for a Taurus, and yes, I told Yahoo! my sign.

I would usually see the horoscope on the down-right side, and it would have one for another sign (Aries). I thought, “Might as well have something that’s my sign. Humor me.”

So I changed it to Taurus, and I would usually read the day’s horoscope more for my amusement than a legitimate means of asking The Universe of my purpose through daily updates, probably written by a psychic reader or an harried intern on prozac.

Except it was, you could say, relevant this time as I am gradually developing my life’s philosophy. You know the cliche, finding my place in the world as a twentysomething and answering again the “who am I” question so I could be confident to say who I am.


I know, such silly fortunes are to be eschewed much as possible and instead chew on something more substantial and meaningful, like cooking recipes and poetry. Yet I must admit that I do indulge in the occasional pleasure of the fortune cookie.

Unlike horoscopes, the fortune cookie is exciting because there is something special for you, like a Happy Meal or one of those “blind  boxes” containing a random figurine or a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. Of course, I know that I cherry-pick my slips of fortune that. “Oh, I don’t really see myself as being a leader” or “Yes, I do have a captivating style of my own.”

(The 21st century equivalent of the fortune cookie is the Emergency Compliment. Keep on clicking still you stop feeling crappy. Or submit one and then hope to choose it so you can be your own self-fulfilling prophesy, for the better!)

one subversive video game i played

11 Jun

A couple of years ago, there was a huge splash in the headlines about the negative influence that video games had on the youth. The one leading the charge was Jack Thompson, an outspoken activist known for making bold, sweeping claims.

Kind of like a 1950’s throwback of Fredric Wertham, who claimed that comics were harmful as noted in his book Seduction of the Innocent. He was able to persuade the public the dangers of this medium enough for him to appear before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee of Juvenile Delinquency. This generated unfavorable public opinion on comics and comic book publishers responded by printing the Comic Code Authority stamp on almost every comic book cover.¹ This assured that the work is approved because it follows a bunch of rules like depicting authority figures in a good light and not showing excessive violence.

Thompson, on the other hand, only prompted some hysteria but eventually it led to his downfall.

So if you were to probe for any subversive influence video games may had on me, there is one I recall. No, I didn’t follow the urge to have unprotected sex due to the hot coffee mod found in GTA: San Andreas, but rather it’s more peculiar.

I thought Joseph Stalin was a pretty cool guy.


When I was in elementary school, my brother purchased a strategy video game called Command & Conquer: Red Alert. It opens with Albert Einstein using a time machine to erase Adolf Hitler from existence, which then leads to the Allies facing against the Soviets during this alternate World War II. The player can choose to start a campaign as either side.

The Soviets have cooler-looking units to command such as a Grenadier and the Flamethrower while the Allies had the Medic and Thief instead…boring. The defensive structure you can build are memorable such as the Flame Tower that shoots a huge ball of fire and the Tesla Coil that zaps; both of them able to render the enemy infantry into pixelated crisp. And most of all, the units speak with a Russian accent. (In hindsight, why would the Soviet soldiers address in English when you’re commanding them? Okay, the targeted gamer is likely one who speaks English but humor me.)

It began with me imitating their accents while I was playing the missions. I enjoyed seeing Joseph Stalin’s mustache during those cheesy, overdramatic videos shown between missions. But then, the influence expanded from the private to the public sphere.

When my teacher assigned me to write a short biography, I chose to write about Stalin. So I wrote about his early life including him on the path to becoming a priest. I was also required to draw a portrait of him as well. I recall depicting him as a could-have-been holy man, and no, I didn’t draw any tanks in the background.

I wish I knew what my teacher thought of my choice while normal kids did theirs on Neil Armstrong and Babe Ruth, but I know for sure that I didn’t get sent to the principal’s office for being suspected of being a fourth grader with any Communist sympathy in the late 90s when he really just enjoyed the fancy units, the Russian accent and Stalin’s stache.


Thanks to my high school and college history classes, I now know how cruel Joseph Stalin was and some scholars even argue that in the long run Stalin had killed many more people than Hitler did. (Many of the people the Soviet dictator killed was his own people.) I wouldn’t have made friends if I told them about how cool Stalin was.

I do remember this one quote by Stalin that was shown in the game.

“One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

For a ruthless dictator, he made a somewhat poignant statement. Probably learned it the hard way.

¹The underground comix was an exception because the artists rebelled by producing their own homemade works with a lot more provocative yet thought-provoking content.

timestamp: one good habit to have

4 Jun

Whenever I write in my journal or draw in my sketchbook, the first thing I would do is scribble a small timestamp. For the journal, it would be date/time/place while for the sketchbook, it would only include the date.¹

I would use my watch to get the time, but if I don’t have it on me, my iPhone or a nearby clock would do. Should it be the unfortunate scenario where I’m unable or too lazy to get the time, I would make a rough estimate based on the time elapsed since I had last checked the clock. As long I know it happened at a particular part of the day, like early in the afternoon or late at night.

The approach also applies to the date as well, but rarely would I guess the date and leave it at that. I can’t stand to have an entry off by a day or two. (When I went to visit my relatives in Korea, I wrote KR+17 next to the timestamp in my journal as not to be confused what timezone I was basing the date on. I guess my temporal home is the Pacific Standard Time.)


I can’t pinpoint any particular person or event that caused me to have this habit of creating a timestamp, but one theory I have is that it must had developed from writing my name and date on my countless school assignments. (And no, I don’t write my name down in my journal and sketchbook every time. I still remember how to spell mine.)

As for the time, I must have begun adding it when I needed to clarify the entries written 11pm and 1am (i.e. the next day). It’s more out of a personal preference.

Writing the place is a recent innovation. As I began writing in my journal outside of my house frequently, I thought it would be nice to include where I was whenever I wrote. A spatial point of reference if you will.


While writing the timestamp came out of habit, there are two reasons why I have enjoyed doing so.

First, it helps me to put the entry in a time-related context. So while I have the hindsight to see how ridiculous or profound I was, one quick look at the timestamp and I could determine at what part of my life I was at, like being in high school or college. Like skimming through a yearbook, flashes of the past would pop into my mind and I would remember some unmentioned events that happened or unwritten thoughts I had when I wrote the entry. Like listening to surround sound speakers and catching those subtle riffs and whispers.

Second, I get to enjoy traveling along the memory lane with the help of the nostalgia-powered mental teleporter. Strange and yet pleasant how a string of numbers can evoke a glimpse of the past.

It’s convenient that blog entries, tweets and other social media fodder have the timestamp automatic and down to the second, but writing a timestamp in my own handwriting feels more personal and satisfying. Like I’m a Time Lord.

While I have my share of bad habits like poor time management, which I hope to will correct soon, I’m proud of having this good habit that had stayed with me since elementary school.

¹The reason why I only include the date in my sketchbook is that I might add more sketches throughout the day and to have each one with a specific time would interrupt the visual flow. As for the place, it doesn’t seem important enough to include. Maybe it’ll start happening down the road when I start drawing people and places more often.

the cardboard guilt trip

20 May

A few weeks ago, I had something to deposit at my bank, which was located at a nearby strip mall. Unlike the usual day when there would be plenty of empty spots in front, the parking lot was packed. Even all the green-colored 15 minutes only spots were taken. The grand opening of a Big Lot must have been the source for this unusual increase of activity.

I circled around the parking lot and a spot finally opened up, which was nearby the bank. I parked and just as I was about to exit the car, I saw something that made me uncomfortable.

A family was standing nearby the exit that led out the strip mall and into the street. Just to see them standing with their eyes transfixed to the direction of the cars going out, I knew why they were there. Actually, it was the cardboard sign one of them was holding that gave it away. So when drivers would exit the strip mall, they would be victims of a stand-by panhandling.

I took a deep breath, aware of the possibility of being approached by them, got out of my car and walked into to the bank.

After I deposited my money and left the bank, I was heading toward my car and the woman spotted me and let out a small shout. She left the spot where she was standing at and jogged down the small dirt mound. She approached me and began lamenting about her family having nothing to eat in broken English. I was taken aback by her facial features. The wrinkles etched on her cheeks and forehead, and three of her golden teeth glimmered as she pleaded. Yet it was her pitiful, sobbing tone that grated my nerves. Pleas for alms at point blank range.

Even though it was not my first time being solicited for money, the emotions that I felt were the same: repulsion, bitterness, and pity. Repulsion for her popping my peaceful suburban bubble, bitterness for her pulling my heart strings like it was a slot machine, and pity for the both of us, always perpetually always in need.

I asked her what was her ethnicity, and she replied that she and her family came from Romania. Then I asked whether her family had a home or not, and she said that they did, but they were running out of food and supplies. (That’s how interpreted what she was saying.)

Knowing that there was a Target nearby, I told her that I’ll be back and get them a gift card. I didn’t feel comfortable handing out cash, but felt compelled to hand something helpful that they could use it as they see fit.

I drove over to Target and went inside to buy a gift card for $25. Then I drove to where the family stood, and handed the card to the man, who I presumed to be the father. Both the man and the woman said God bless you (I don’t clearly recall if the child did say it too) as I turned onto the street.

Even after having given the gift card, I should have felt less bitter. I did feel less guilty, but still bitter. Maybe it was that nagging feeling in the back of my cranium that my compassion had been duped into giving, again.


This is not to be interpreted as a brief, heroic narrative of a dashing protagonist (thought you’re still welcome to consider me dashing, or quixotic) who went out to save the ails of an immigrant family by providing them with a Target gift card. The one who carried his share of the white man’s burden. Okay, that term coined by Rudyard Kipling doesn’t fly well for two reasons:

(1) This term has a negative connotation, imbued with imperialistic agenda from the past. Don’t make this phrase as a part of your swag because you’re just going to end up as a swog instead.

(2) I don’t think Asians are perceived as white, and to call it yellow man’s burden instead would sound quite racist as the yellow peril.


I always feel reluctant when people solicit me for handouts. I find myself walking the fine line between being too legalistic and too emotional when assessing another person’s needs.

The amount of the gift card may seem much, but at the time, I considered it decent enough for the family to get what they needed. To have the whole family panhandling in public. Now that’s quite bold if you ask me.

If they chose to be the few rotten apples who manipulate people’s sympathy for their own selfish gains, I hope their scheme will be called out. If they were greatly in need of some alms and took the drastic measure of begging in public, I do hope what I gave (and what other people gave) helps them much as possible.

I do hope it was the latter.

“i said it because i love you”

25 Apr

This is probably one of the sentences people say that I loathe the most. It sounds like it has good intention, but it sounds more like the person doesn’t want to admit his mistake openly while giving the impression of him apologizing.

Come to think about it, I don’t know other sentences that I would say I hate, maybe it would be “you smell like diarrhea.”

So the first time I heard the backhanded sentence happened back when I was in high school. A few of us guys from the church went with our youth pastor to a Christian weekend conference that was about an hour and a half from where I lived. While we waited in the Jack in the Box drive-thru for breakfast, I remember light-heartedly complaining about something, the food maybe? And the youth pastor snapped. What he said next remains hazy, and it was to the effect of “stop your complaining.” Yet it was the tone he used that stood out; it was like a split-second hurricane that came out of nowhere in the clear sky. Harsh and unexpected. Like bringing up a storm to knock over some Jenga blocks. All of us guys remained quiet until we arrived at the conference for the second day.

The following Sunday after the youth service, he walked up to me, made some small talk and then said, “D.L., I said it because I love you.” And a hug. It felt awkward because he had only been serving for about three or four months. At the time though, I felt confused and thought it was somehow my fault.

In the right circumstance, this phrase might be helpful. Maybe one of those heavy, poignant moments when someone has to tell an uncomfortable truth and does care about the person he’s telling it to.

Yet to say this phrase as a half-baked apology is like giving someone with a headache laxatives.