“Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.

Last week, Thursday was a major holiday in my world. The atmosphere was already high from the Olympics running in PyeongChang. And it was the Lunar New Year (i.e., “Chinese” New Year, which is a fine name for it if you’re actually Chinese, but pro-tip: maybe don’t repeatedly ask an Asian what they’re doing for Chinese New Year if they’re not, you know, Chinese). And on top of that, it was opening night for Black Panther. (Thank you to the marketing folks who realized that old people with early bedtimes get very excited about movies, too.) And not only was Black Panther just, you know, Black fucking Panther, but two schoolmates from graduate school had major roles in it, one of which was their first movie role ever.

Basically, Thursday night was the night of Turn The Fuck Up.

As you might have heard by now, this was a movie event where the hype did not match the reality – because what was expected was a movie that brought a black heroic narrative into the mainstream and didn’t fuck it up, and what was delivered was many steps above that.

(And here’s where I say: if you haven’t seen Black Panther, stop reading this and go see Black Panther because spoilers and also treat yourself.)

There are plenty of people with insights and opinions about Black Panther who know a lot more about the subject matter and/or film in general than I do. Here are a few of them:

My thoughts about Black Panther don’t really matter, to be honest. But what Black Panther means to me does matter, if only to provide just one more example to illustrate how wide-reaching the effect of this movie is.

I’m not sure how many other people who were little non-black POC girls in the early 1990s had this experience, but I remember poring over the American Girl catalog and trying to decide between Revolutionary War era Felicity, the settler immigrant Kirstin, bougie Victorian Samantha, and spunky WWII Molly. The Revolutionary War was already my jam, but immigrant stories touched me in a certain way and also Samantha had the best clothes. So I hemmed and hawed as I tried to decide which American Girl would be the one that went in my letter to Santa.

Then, Addy was released. And I went full Issa Rae:


I did, indeed, become an Addy girl and proceeded to be a Civil War history nerd for a good five years or so, which is a lot of time when you’re in elementary school. And not just within the American Girl oeuvre, either – I’m talking As Seen On TV boxes of historical flashcards, family trips to Gettysburg, hats. I eventually shifted over to the French Revolution, but for me, growing up in a white family in an overwhelmingly white community, Addy had started my connection to Black history. This didn’t make me woke by any means but, in hindsight, it raised my awareness and investment above the sadly low mainstream level.

Now, let me pause right here and emphasize that I have no claim to either the historical trauma of Black people in the United States of America or the present-day injustices still endured. I may feel drawn to increase my awareness and knowledge not just because I believe being an educated citizen is a moral duty but also due to finding a personal resonance, but it’s just that: resonance, not identification. Is there a Black culture equivalent of “weeaboo” that’s public-use-acceptable by non-Black people? I just barely dodged the former during the anime phase my adolescence, so I hope to hell that I would not be foolish enough to pull those tricks as an adult.

The relationship between Black American culture and Asian culture, both American and abroad, has long been interesting to me. While Asian-held anti-Black sentiments are far too common and I can guarantee that you’ll pretty much always peep one East Asian motherfucker at any given white supremacist rally, Eddie Huang (of restaurant and Fresh Off the Boat fame) is a current publicly-identifiable face of a notable affinity and exchange that has been going strong for decades. Korean hip-hop artists are coming to more prominence now (the artistic and moral integrity of the commercial music industry is another topic) and, well, the Wu-Tang Clan exists. Samurai Champloo. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

But curious to me in my specific experience, I think back to lunchtime during my freshman year of high school. My elementary school was so overwhelmingly white (at its most diverse point, the 500-student population had six non-white kids, myself included) that there really was no choice when it came to demographics, and my middle school was so small that my entire class fit at only two lunch tables (boys and girls, which I still regret in hindsight). But looking back at the start of my high school career, when I came in not knowing anyone to a class of 70-odd young women who mostly also didn’t know each other, I can’t help but wonder what led me to end up at, to put it bluntly, the Black lunch table.

It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision. But when you’re the odd one out, you often gravitate toward other odd ones out. And in many parts of the U.S., there is that little voice inside of you screaming to get out of that sea of whiteness.

(Jordan Peele was, in fact, correct about Get Out being a documentary.)

There was a lot that was conscious decisions and deliberate awareness in my anticipatory lead-up to Black Panther. It was a fact that the team was good and could be counted on to do good work. It was the fact that this movie was placing Black culture to the forefront in an unprecedented way. It was a fact that the teaser trailer had more women in it than the whole of the MCU. It was the fact that I had gone to graduate school with two members of the principal cast, one of whom was actually a year-mate with whom I’d worked on a number of shows. All of this meant that I signed up for ticket sales alerts months ahead of time and bought my opening night tickets for my second-choice showing as soon as I got home from work on the ticket release day in January because my first-choice showing was effectively sold-out after only four hours. I wanted to see a good movie, and I wanted to give my financial support to it.

I think that there are things that goes further back and deeper down for me, though. Continue reading ““Is it anything and everything you hoped for?” Black Panther, PyeongChang, and me.”

Listen to the tune that keeps sounding in the distance

This is the dream I dreamt…

I was carrying on with my own business in a small local town. There was a sense of impending threat. There was some sort of war going on, a factional one, and our community was at risk. We told ourselves that

But as we were walking through the forest, I looked up and saw a dark object in the sky, tiny and far away. From it came hurtling a bright spot that rapidly grew larger enough to discern as a fireball. It struck what probably was the next neighborhood over. I just knew that there was another one coming, so I began to run, keeping my eye on the sky – and sure enough, before I even had the chance to get much of anywhere, another fireball appeared, aiming straight toward us.

We all ran.

I was in a traditional-feeling, wood-and-paper-constructed shop of some sort with others, and we knew that after those bombings, the actual invaders couldn’t be far behind. There was a loud tumult outside, and I ducked into the bathroom just in time to see the ruling faction march in and begin rounding up my friends the shop people. I stayed tucked in the bathroom for a while.

When I peeked back out, my shop friends were being paraded back into the main shop area as prisoners and the invaders were being installed s the new bosses. I slipped outside and began walking briskly down the street. A white woman with a high quality camera was passing by, so I latched onto her and began asking her technical questions so that I would hopefully be less noticeable.

It wasn’t until after I woke up that I consciously realized that one of the strange things about the dream was how the people populating it were mostly Asian. And that spurred the realization of how that stood in contrast to what was apparently usually the case.

I thought about that dream as the airplane carried me from Osaka to Seoul, and I found that my personal anxieties (of not fitting in, of facing hostility) had disappeared when faced with the more mundane bigger picture. This was a people. This was how life went on in the face of nuclear geopolitics.

Descending below the clouds to finally see the bridges stretching across the Han River, a swell of emotion reminded me of my first international flight (that I could actually remember), when I was 20 years old and went to England to do research for an academic project. Back then, I’d been caught off guard by a fierce gut reaction to seeing the lights of Newark International Airport shrinking below me. I felt a strain on that binding tie that resists disloyalty, like I was abandoning someone and needed to articulate, if only to myself, that this was not goodbye, that I would be back. Now, I again felt something on a very physical level, a relationship between body and land, only this time, it was the surreal experience of making the return to somewhere I had never known.

I thought of the dream again a couple nights later. After spending the day swanning about in hanbok at Gyeongbokgung Palace, I’d found some maduguk for dinner (#goals) and was going to hop onto a bus back to the boarding house where I was staying for this leg of my journey. But when I got to the bus stop, I changed my mind, remembering that there had been an impressive statue in the large boulevard leading toward the palace.

And so I kept walking.

As I continued into the city, I heard music, amplified but live. It was a mesmerizing blend of traditional and wild, the spirit of jazz flowing through a drum and solo instrumental voice that would not allow itself to be called a melody. It was not far at all, still well within the sight of the palace where the wide boulevard was lined by art museums, that I discovered an outdoor concert, where the musicians onstage were powering a calligrapher wielding a giant brush who was painting hangul writ large. Indeed, I recalled, it was Hangul Day, the holiday celebrating Korea’s literacy of its own creation. I concluded that this must be some sort of public concert held in celebration.

I joined the crowd, standing on the plaza off to the side yet also right up front, because how great was that, stumbling onto a free concert? But as I stood there looking at all of the people, my dream returned to me, and all I could think of was watching those balls of fire in the sky, so tiny at first but growing larger and larger and larger as they approached their inevitable targets.

This is how I’m going to die, I thought.

As it turns out, I did not die at a hangul concert in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. And after that night, my dream drifted back into the realm of curiosity rather than looming as prophecy. How much of that really, I wonder, was actual Korean nuclear anxiety and how much was it an American import of the Las Vegas massacre that had occurred just days before? (Oh, the irony of my grandparents’ fears for my safety traveling abroad, I had thought, when the real terror lived at home.) Was it, like me, just some neurotic blend of the two?

A couple weeks ago, I had myself a two-show week at the Public Theatre. First, I was fortunate enough to see my friend Ceci Fernandez playing the lead role in Tiny Beautiful Things, regularly played by Nia Vardalos. While I wouldn’t call the play a life-changing work of dramatic writing, it was a wonderful, heart-expanding communal experience, like a church service comprised solely of homilies.

But what was unsurprisingly disturbing and yet, more prominently, unexpectedly affirming for me was Julia Cho’s’ Office Hour in the tiny Martinson Theater a few days later. This energizingly theatrical work explored the story of a college professor trying to get through to a student in her writing class whom her colleagues have warned her has all of the signs of a school shooter. Notably in this extremely American story, both the professor and the student are Asian.

On my way out of the theater following the play, two older white ladies walking in front of me were discussing the show between themselves and one commented about how she felt that all of the guns were confusing and distracted from “the cultural issues.”

Reminder: this was a play about a potential school shooter.

But I could only guess that the faces that woman was seeing could only belong one story, that of the “culture clash.” Indeed, in one conversation, the professor discusses how her parents didn’t want her to become a writer – ah, yes, of course, the strict and traditional Asian parent! Clearly this was what explained these two lives in crisis that we were watching. Whence could the rage – the rage that was so shocking to see depicted on stage but the existence of which was so viscerally, familiarly real – come but from that? Those people and their culture issues!

I left those people behind me but kept the story with me as I walked out of the theatre.

(You still have a little time left to catch both shows – Office Hour runs through December 3 and Tiny Beautiful Things through December 10. And while I highly recommend Office Hour, please do heed the production’s warnings about gunshots and gun violence.)

Sent Me Off to a Foreign Land

[tw: suicide]

When I was scrolling through Facebook (which means I was probably on the toilet, quite frankly, because that’s where my attempts to discipline my life by blocking Facebook on my computers have gotten me – you’re welcome, all of my friends whose posts I’ve liked throughout the day) and saw that the Love Life of an Asian Guy had posted the headline “Deported Korean-American Adoptee Found Dead of Apparent Suicide,” my first thought was “Oh no, what a tragic end to Adam Crapser’s ordeal.”

Turns out, this was a different Korean-American adoptee who was deported to a country he’d never known because his U.S. parents had failed to attain their child’s American citizenship. This was a man named Phillip Clay. Crapser attended his funeral. Crapser, just the other guy, in this case. The other guy — of how many others?

Adoption is just another way to create a family. Just as a biological parents can be insufficient in meeting the needs of their children, or even abusive, so, too, can adoptive parents. The idea that adopting a child automatically crowns parents with some sort of unassailable halo is toxic and insulting.

My parents were not great because they adopted me. My parents were great because they surrounded me with books and items from my birth culture, with my Korean-ness always in sight, not just when I looked in the mirror. My parents were great because they threw me a traditional first birthday party, so that I didn’t miss that rite of passage. Because of all of the summers of Korean culture camp, where despite the overwhelming whiteness of the rest of the year, I grew up thinking that I looked normal. Because they supported me in all of my weirdness, whether it was staging fashion shows in the living room or devouring an inordinate number of advanced level books or screlting Broadway showtunes 24/7 or hating to wear skirts or re-enacting the Paris uprising of 1832 in my bedroom (repeatedly).

I grew up with the naivety that being loved and holistically supported was the norm. As a child does, I assumed that my experience was simply the way of the world. It wasn’t until I entered adolescence that I slowly began to learn that even those who dwelt in locations and material conditions very close to mine sometimes  lacked what I appreciated but, nevertheless, took for granted.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been issues, some of them specifically adoption-related and some of them specifically cultural/ racial. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also gradually learned of the full humanity behind the family I grew up thinking could do no wrong (except when I got yelled at for reading after bedtime because it was always abundantly clear to me that I being unjustly persecuted). My political inclinations have been shaped by not only my own convictions but by an externally-sourced experience – how the world reacts to its perception of me — that they haven’t shared, and as I’ve become more active within our increasingly loud society, differences have become more undeniable.

There is so much in one’s life that is outside of one’s control. The family into which one is born and the family into which one is adopted are both games of chance. I bested the house and won big. I know that not everyone has, in families of whatever making.

Still, the notion that parents could fail their child on a matter of paperwork absolutely enrages me.

Beyond that, of course, are many other failures. The system of laws that becomes its own ends rather than the means to a just society that exists to support the well-being of its people. The cultural inflexibility to accept an outsider. The lack of mental health support for someone who needed it. But as far as I’m concerned, at the root of it all, the neglectfulness of those parents is tantamount to murder.

And on top of my anger for that man’s lost life, there is a completely self-centered part of me that is angry at those people for casting a shadow on families like mine, families who were great not for the act of making themselves but for everything that happens from that point onward.

Because apparently being American adopted and raised isn’t going to stop me from getting it on with the Asian family honor. Between that and all of my years in Catholic school, the Game of Thrones Shame Nun better keep one eye open on her job security.

So run and tell that

One of the oldest memories that I have – maybe within the earliest ten – is of watching Hwang Young-cho win the men’s marathon in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

I generally don’t remember that his name was Hwang Young-cho. I can’t guarantee that I knew what his name was then. But I remember seeing Korea win, seeing that man’s face as he crossed the finish line, triumphant and exhausted. And I remember being careful to justify it to myself that Korea was only my back-up team – my real team was the U.S.A.. I was fully prepared to defend myself should anyone question my loyalties. I’m pretty sure that I still expected to be President of the United States someday at that point (no one had told me about the natural born citizenship requirement yet), so it seemed like a very legitimate concern.

It’s a little funny to me that that memory is so vivid. I guess it was the combination of my first real introspection regarding national identity and seeing somebody Asian on television who wasn’t Connie Chung.

(The 1992 Winter Olympics had been full of Asians in Ladies Figure Skating, but Kristie Yamaguchi was safely American, so I hadn’t experienced any crises of loyalty. Additionally, those Olympics were more notable to me for how they led to me getting glasses at the tender age of seven: “Don’t sit so close to the television, Alyssa.” “But I want to see the scores!” “…this may be a problem.”)

One thing I never would have expected is that decades down the line, I’d be something approaching “a runner.” As a child, I was full of energy and enthusiasm, but my spirit was more willing than my body. I’d push myself to the point of nearly throwing up in gym class, because I was so competitive that I’d run to dodge or block or what have you, but my body wasn’t having it. I’ve never had recurring dreams, but my dreams have had recurring themes, and it was never too difficult to decipher the ones where I’d try to run and it would be like trying to move through cold molasses. What could that possibly mean, I wonder!

In fact, I can actually say that I’m allergic to running. I developed exercise-induced asthma in elementary school, where running would cause my respiratory system to close up (and then I’d start turning blue). And running, particularly in cold weather, causes me to break out in hives.

(As a side note, please believe a child when they say that they can’t breathe. In middle school, we did a Nature’s Classroom overnight camping program, which involved a good amount of very vigorous hiking and running through the woods. To this day, I remember a counselor’s reaction to my telling him that I couldn’t breathe being that I just needed to exercise more and “get past it,” so I should keep running. In hindsight, the whole business seems pretty ill-advised.)

Luckily, daily OTC allergy medication prevents the hives, and my body has gotten bigger, so while my airways still constrict, they’re large enough now that there’s still enough room for air to get in. Air is great!

More of an obstacle, for those who are newer to my life, are the Vague Muscular-Skeletal Issues that I’ve dealt with for decades. It’s always been weather-sensitive, and for a few years, it was just my constant, default state of being. Fortunately, it turned out to be largely controllable via lifestyle, but combined factors and extremes can still get to me. Today, for instance, with the sudden summer-like heat and oncoming weather change, I’ve felt like my muscles are made out of wet noodles that are licking batteries with their noodly, noodly tongues.

All of this is to say that I’m not exactly the picture of a natural athlete. But I decided that I would run. And today, I run.

Well, not literally today. Today, I’m an electrocuted wet noodle who has spent hours literally lying on the floor.

On many days nowadays, however, I run.

I have a few friends who are just starting to run, and so I’ve been brainstorming what helped me. Because given all of the above, I feel like if I, the person who is literally allergic to running, can do it, then many people can, even if they don’t’ seem to be naturally inclined. Of course, I must disclaim that I’m not a doctor or trainer of any sort, so I’m simply relating my own experience.

So now, the most exciting thing in the world: a person talking about their own exercise practices!

The golden rule: listen to your body.

With that in mind, the first step is the shoes. In fact, just this week… I got a new pair of shoes!


I mean, I really got them a long time ago, but I just started wearing them this week, but “I just started wearing these shoes this week after getting them on sale at DSW last year” doesn’t play off of a catchy song lyric. I buy running shoes regularly, though, because I know that I’ll need them. The appropriate shoes are paramount, and they wear out with use, so whenever I’m in a shoe store, I’ll see if they have a good deal on something that works for me.

Everything else you wear when you run may make you more comfortable, but the shoes are what can contribute to or help to prevent injury. And trying them on before being stuck with them is important, since so much depends on your individual needs. For me, I need to find shoes that support my slightly low arch, help to balance the fact that I tend to land on the outside edge of my foot, have enough cushioning to absorb my relatively heavy footfall, and are suitable for slightly rough outdoor road running. I’ve been able to get Nike, New Balance, and Asics shoes in the $65-$85 range that work for me well enough that they make me turn a blind eye to the unethical labor practices of multinational corporations. The only pair of shoes I had that didn’t work out well for me were Brooks – I was convinced by the fact that they were on sale for a good price, and my body regretted it.

Also helpful is writing the date of their first use on the inside of the tongue. Not only will they never get mad at you for forgetting your anniversary, but you’ll be able to keep track of how long you’ve been using them and be able to make a rough estimate for how many miles they’ve logged. The general recommendation seems to be 400-500 miles but the golden rule applies: listen to your body. I was starting to feel shin stress with my previous pair, so I knew that it was time.

When I’m actually heading out to run, starting with a warm-up is important. The goal of this is literally to warm up my body, so I don’t do cold static stretches. I cobbled together some dynamic stretches from various workout vids into a five-minute circuit, and then I power walk for about five minutes to get into the swing of things.

I’ve never used any sort of running app, like Zombies Run. This is probably largely due to the fact that I did not have a smartphone when I started running. But also, I do genuinely like to keep my senses and motion as free as possible, that largely due to the fact that I’m a paranoid motherfucker.

I’m also aware of the fact that “something is better than nothing” does not come naturally to me, so gameification often backfires for me – if I miss, it’s like when you don’t e-mail someone back for a while, and so then you never e-mail them again because it’s just too embarrassing. The app that I do use if the ResQWalk app, which allows you to allocate funds from a pot toward an animal shelter of your choosing by the power of your miles walked/run.

I have a regular route, and I’ve found that I do naturally “gameify” my environment. I run a timer while I run, and I develop “checkpoints,” where I can tell if I’m behind or ahead of pace. I’ll have spontaneous “mini-games” of pacing myself against another running that I’ve encounter or seeing how quickly I can catch up to a battalion of baby strollers ahead.

There is actually one other app that I’ve started to use: a simple interval timer app. Rather than running straight through the entire time, I alternate between running and fast walking. This allows me to be faster and more efficient overall, as my heart rate is still elevated during my walking breaks and my legs get a short refresh that lets me continue to run at a faster pace when I resume. I think that I had started out with something like 3:00 of running and 2:00 of walking; now, I do 5:10 of running and 0:55 of walking. I also adjust however I see fit, usually running an extra 30-ish seconds in my penultimate interval (and then having a shortened walking interval afterward).

Form is something to keep in mind. This was driven home to me by a friend’s WiiFit, the bastard. In my mid-twenties, I’d been having severe foot pain for a while. I bought more expensive sneakers, got supportive inserts for my other shoes, but I was still limping. And then the doggone WiiFit revealed that, while I stood quite straight from top to bottom, my left-to-right posture was terrible, with me heavily favoring one side. I felt so ashamed that I started a conscious effort to improve that… and lo and behold, that fixed what was, in reality, a back problem, and my foot problem disappeared.

So if you have a friend who has a WiiFit, I would actually recommend letting it yell at you for a while.

Another lesson of listening to my body came to me regarding my foot strike. I walk very heavily on my heel, to the point where I am a god of destruction when it comes to my regular shoes. I was finding that I was experiencing some shin stress from running, though, so I consciously adjusted my form so that I ran with a midfoot strike – rather than landing heavily on my heel, I hit, you guess it, on the midfoot.

I don’t have shin stress problems anymore.

I also try to reduce knee and shin stress by never running down hills that are more than a gentle slope. All of those buggers get powerwalked like a mofo.

And the strangest form issue that I’ve never been able to forget is that I once read someone that you shouldn’t clench your hands into tight fists, with the ideal hand form being like you’re holding single-serving bags of potato chips – a loose grip that won’t crush the chips. I cannot remember where I read this. I cannot remember what this is supposed to do. But to this day, I will be out running and my brain will suddenly shout as me “DON’T CRUSH THE POTATO CHIPS,” and I’ll loosen up my hands.

My cool down is much more extensive than my warm-up, because this is when I do my stretching. If I have the time, a full cool down session for me will run around 20 minutes.

I tend to plan the length of my runs mostly based on time. I aim to do 45-minute cardio sessions, so I’ll base my initial route off of that. From there, I’ll make adjustments as I get faster. I try to run three or four times per week, giving myself recovery time in between but keeping regular enough to make improvements. Again, listen to your body – if it doesn’t like high impact activities, don’t push it.

Drink water!

Eat food!

And again, listen to your body.

Sometimes it tells you that it’s an electrified wet noodle. And besides that being not terribly comfortable, it can be awfully frustrating. But if you’re pushing yourself to just do what you can… it’s often still frustrating. There’s no way out of that.

But a decade ago, I could barely jog two miles on a treadmill. These days, I run over four miles of hills on the regular. A decade ago, lying on the floor for hours was just another day. These days, it’s “an off day.”

Linear progress is not a guarantee. At any point, things could go back to how they were. Or go in some new, horrible direction. But it’s a marathon that I’ve got going here, and one where I feel like I automatically win by keeping myself open to all of the things that I pass by and through on the journey.

In My Own Little Corner of the Sky

In t-minus-4-months, it will have been thirty-two years since I first set foot in Korea.

Well, “set foot” isn’t strictly accurate, unless I dropped out of the vagina running. In four months from now, it will have been thirty-two years since I was born in Korea. In a much less hashtaggable period of time (eight months and two weeks), it will have been thirty-two years since I left Korea.

In just under five months, I’m going back.

I think that it’s a pretty common fantasy for kids that they’re secretly royalty or a Jedi or otherwise of some elevated lineage. I was too young to imagine a giant showing up and declaring “YER A WIZARD, ‘OWARD,” but let me tell you, as someone who was adopted, this fantasy was particularly strong. It wasn’t that I was unhappy in the life that I had – much to the contrary. It’s simple that for me, it wasn’t a conspiracy theory that my bloodline was not that of the ordinary life that I lived. It was cold, hard fact. And maybe I read too many books, learned too many myths of heroes who were bigger than their circumstances by virtue of their births, which were unknown to them. Even if I weren’t adopted, I’m sure that I still would have been very vigilante when I turned thirteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, alert for any sign that my powers were manifesting or a secret portal was opening or a messenger from another realm was attempting to reach me.

Looking around now, I’m not entirely certain that it happened without my noticing it.

While not having been completely devoid of low points, I have overall lived an extremely charmed life. I landed into a family that has given me incredible love and support. I was encouraged to develop skills and talents by teacher and mentors. I had the resources to attend amazing schools – both of which were the only schools to which I applied (yes, I am that asshole) — for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I see myself now in New York City, the city that I have always loved, with a life full of health, a career in the field of my choosing, and amazing friends.

And a little over a month ago, I received an email from a dear colleague inviting me onto a work project that would be traveling to Tokyo.

Having traveled for work a few times before, I jumped immediately to the practicalities: confirming that I would be able to postpone the date of my return flight so that I could extend my stay in the region. For a while. Because I was not going to get so close without making it to Korea.

The next thing I did was swear off drinking for the next four months for the purposes of wealth, health, and vanity.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the only “diet” I’ve ever been able to put myself on is my “don’t be a degenerate lush” diet, which is basically just not drinking alcohol and then being embarrassed by what a noticeably positive impact that has on multiple areas of my life. And for a journey like this, it just struck me as the obvious thing to do. (I did build in a couple of exceptions to my abstinence: it’s waived for anything that was planned before I made the snap decision to hop on the wagon and also if I’m being provided with the libations for free at a special event for work, which is what I like to refer to as “professional drinking.”) The reason that it’s only spanning four months is because I obviously need a month to make sure that my tolerance back to a respectable level. I mean, I’m going to Korea.

I’ve realized that I’m experiencing the emotional equivalent of the stereotypical “I’m going to my high school reunion and need to show everyone just how pretty and successful I am,” except that it’s a 32-year reunion and instead of a high school, it’s an entire nation-state that I need to impress by being aggressively intelligent, aggressively talented, aggressively attractive, and yet also independent and unbowed by conformist norms and thus aggressively interesting.

Which is all to say that I’m really trying to impress myself. To create a reason, to satisfy my narrative-seeking brain, that I have this charmed life, because if there’s a reason, then maybe it won’t all fall through, like part of me is convinced must happen.

Yet despite that, here’s my confession: there is still a part of me that isn’t one-hundred percent convinced that I don’t possess the power to fly.

The category of “In My Own Little Corner of the Sky” will record my exploration of personal history as I embark on a journey to my birth country of South Korea.

What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–

Oh gentle reader, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’d originally had some Ambitious But Sensibly Realistic plan to write one full post per week once school started, but then allergies killed my soul for nearly two weeks, leaving me scrambling afterward as I was swept up in the relentless socializing that is the beginning of the school year. During the course of which I was roped into working a show that had lost their stage manager and ended up being an awesome, epic and absolutely huge undertaking. I was generally working straight from 4:00pm to 3:00am for that last week, with classes during the day.

It wasn’t pretty.

But we had a giant snake puppet track all the way across the ceiling of the theater above the heads of the audience. No regrets. Take that, Phantom.

Aside from being debilitatingly busy — I’ve been mildly sick ever since we closed this past weekend, running a low-grade fever at night — there has been one thread weaving its way through from orientation before classes to me sitting here now.

As I was sitting there in the audience of the theater, waiting for the next person to talk to us about IT or turning our receipts into the business office or whatever else we needed to be re-oriented about for the new school year, I saw some of my friends a bit farther down the row crowding around the screen of one person’s phone. They were all watching some video, as the owner of the phone pointed out the mechanics of the dance moves happening. I was far enough away that while I could see the brightly colored clothing and energetic movements, I couldn’t make out who was performing or hear any of the music. Ah, well, I thought, another trend that I could only hope would be performed at some party or another at some point during the year.

I didn’t give it much more thought than that, though I noted its ubiquity over the subsequent couple of weeks, with even the producer for the show I was stage managing telling how she had gone home one night only to find her 18-month old dancing that dance which is all the rage for the babysitter.

On a completely separate track, my Facebook feed had been peppered by some K-pop Youtube video that apparently a lot of people had been watching.

It was only when the “Gandalf Style” parody was posted that I was hooked by geek bait and then, that lightbulb slowly began glowing over my head. And it took a while for my brain to integrate the information that this K-pop song and this raging trend that was sweeping through my friends and across the world were the same thing, finally culminating in shock.

The reason was this: based on the limited glimpse that was my first impression, I had assumed that all of the people involved in the song were white.

Continue reading “What a day! Fortune smiled and came my way–”

And that is the state of the arts–

Full confession: I got awfully verklempt this morning when I read about Gabby Douglas’ Olympic gold medal in the women’s gymnastics all-around. I don’t have television in my apartment (I do have a television, but it serves solely as a video game monitor), so the last thing that I’d heard about Douglas before the headline of her victory was how people have apparently been being haters about her hair. And then, not gonna lie, when I watched the video recap of her showing in the all-around competition, much to my surprise, a single tear might have threatened to fall from my eye.

I am a huge Olympics fan. Yes, yes, there’s corruption and corporate meddling and a shit-load of jingo-ism — and sometimes, let it never be forgotten, horrific, shameful tragedies — but the thing that the Olympics are never lacking is great stories. And my stars, but do I love a great story. And I’m really fucking weak for Inspirational Sports Movies and Burning Shounen Spirit, and the Olympics basically provide a 24-hour, real-life Inspirational Sports Movie for over two weeks with a shit-ton of Montages Set To Rousing Music, which are another extreme weakness of mine.

Getting into the spirit of things, when I was restarting Firefox because it had become a memory black hole, I noticed that there were various Olympic browser themes available and decided to change things up a bit in the spirit of the Games. The obvious choice seemed to be the United States theme, but there was also a South Korean theme available. Dilemma!

Now, in my younger days — i.e., before I was on the internet — I would have jumped at the chance to be decorated in something Korean because you didn’t find much Korean shit where I was from so you scooped that shit up when you had the chance. In the years after that, it would have been American, no question. And I mean, no question. You aren’t questioning me, right? Because I am so totally American. I’m here courtesy of the red, white and blue! U.S.A., ALL THE WAY!!

I’ve calmed down a little since then. Amazing how being more secure about an aspect of yourself — such as my American-ness — results in you being a lot less rabidly defensive about it.

Racial politics and national identity are a whole other can of worms into which I intend to dive headlong at some point — just imagine that delicious squishing noise in your head now — but today is not that day. That requires way too much work and it’s hot and I have a fucking headache and I have some serious online gaming to do later tonight. But it does bring me to the doorstep of something that I’ve had on my mind for the past month or so.

In early July, I heard about a production of a new musical called The Nightingale at La Jolla Playhouse. The show was based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor and the Nightingale, which amused me greatly, as the first production in which I participated following my undergrad graduation was a different new musical based on the same story.

More disappointingly, the way that I heard about this production was through the blog post Moises Kaufman Can Kiss My Ass & Here’s Why, where the writer points out a very glaring, facepalming-ly idiotic thing about the show: in a story explicitly set in feudal China, out of the eleven people in the cast, only one was Asian.

Since then, the outcry about the casting has been addressed by the creators — which, to their credit, is more than can be said of many others guilty of the same artistic gaffes — and in late July, as noted in an update to the original blog post, “La Jolla Playhouse decided to have a talk back to discuss the casting. [. . .] I would hope that the people who wrote anonymously and bitterly of the notion that Asian Americans would and should speak up, would pay particular attention to the fact that both the Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse and the Director of the play itself, Moises Kaufman, apologized.”

There are a number of articles linked in the edit to the post, as well as links to video of the casting talk with the creators.

Kaufman’s apology is in the second video (above), and while it’s great to really get a thoughtful, articulate and sincere apology, he follows it up with an explanation of the thought process that’s pretty bewildering to me, such as how in order to make the story mythical, they decided that they needed to make the cast “multicultural” (i.e., have a lot of white and otherwise non-Asian actors playing Asian characters).

This YouTube comment gets it: “How do we create a mythical land? How do we create the suspension of disbelief that will allow you to believe that a bird is real?” They have already done so by making this a musical theater piece and casting a human as a bird. They don’t need to do much else to convey fantasy. This should be a given.

It was around the time that I first saw the Nightingale post that I followed the link on a friend’s blog to another essay: Frustrations of an Asian American Whedonite.

Shouldn’t it be a priority, if you’re trying to tell a believable story about a Sino-American future, to include Asian characters? Isn’t it marginalizing to fantasize about a “mixed Asian” world completely absent of Asian people, especially when you live and work in a city that’s almost 1/8th Asian? [. . .] The issue isn’t Joss Whedon. It’s the blinders. All the blindspots that make it tough to understand problems that you’ve never or rarely ever had to personally deal with. The blindspots that make it tough to understand why, sometimes, race should influence casting decisions. That sometimes it should be a mission statement–or, at the very least, a priority.

But let’s back up a bit.

Continue reading “And that is the state of the arts–”