So apparently it took a pandemic for me to get an Instagram account. It’s over @shiningathetop – which might have you wondering why I’m not at the usual carotidartistry. Allow me to save you from what I’m sure would be endless sleepless nights of wondering. At the root of it, of course, is the fact that I resisted getting an account for so long that both my traditional username (which, for the record, I’ve been using since I needed a new, non-embarrassing handle for the resurgently popular Les Misérables messageboards in 2012) (no shade to the other account here, you got there first, it’s fair play, I should have known better as a former LiveJournal user) as well as any variant on my professional name that wasn’t excessively Early AOL Chic were all taken. So I was stumped for a bit, until my brain turned up a question that artist Chloe Rozo once posed, which asked that if you were to get a dream tattoo, what would it be? Now, I am far too commitment-shy to get a tattoo, but I’d considered the question and spitballed a geometric abstraction of the meaning of my birth name, something that I hadn’t thought about in a long while.
The meaning of my birth name is, as you might have now guessed, allegedly “shining at the top.” I say “allegedly” because neither accuracy of records nor cultural competency were particularly hallmarks of the international adoption scene of the mid-1980s. But where’s the fun in letting rigorous accuracy get in the way of some good personal mythology? So, no, while my very healthy ego has been supportive to me during these trying times, this isn’t based (entirely) in my sense of personal superiority. There’s also a lot of personal stupidity and pig-headedness. Realizing that this name was available to me set me reminiscing about the opposite of quarantine and the ultimate in distance: my trip to South Korea in 2017, after I’d finished working on an opera for the Japan Society at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.
It was my first time returning to Korea since birth, and I knew that one of the things I needed to do while in Seoul was go hiking around Bugaksan. Simply due to the dates of the job, I was arriving at the tail end of chuseok when many attractions would be closed, so I’d planned that I’d go whenever the first day of good weather occurred. That ended up being my first full day there. So, with no experience with the transit system whatsoever, a three-year-old’s grasp of the language, and no actual hiking gear, I set out from my adoptee lodging house, got off the bus too early, learned the hard way that google maps doesn’t work for walking directions there, and had already walked for heaven knows how long before I even reached the entrance of the park. Up I went, climbing so many stairs, passing signs warning about wild boars, climbing more stairs, and then running out of stairs but still having farther to climb, all the while reliving my childhood memory of the martial arts instructor at Camp Mujigae telling us how taekwondo has so much kicking because Korean people have strong legs because they had to climb so many mountains. I honestly had no idea where I was actually going, just that as long as I could still go up, I’d keep going. And then at some point, sweaty and dusty, literally climbing hand and foot up rocks, I reached a peak. I ate my convenience store kimbap and then just sat alone for a long while.
Based on the map I found when I came back down, I somehow deduced that it was maybe Bohyeongbong Peak, but honestly, I don’t really know. I was very informed and civilized for the rest of my trip, dressing up to go to the palace and visiting many museums and participating in many other cultural pursuits, but somehow, stubbornly walking along the side of the road to get to a park to climb up a mountain past the point where the path stopped – without specifically aiming to, I feel like I started out that journey with peak me. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing for me to be keeping in mind.