Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vocation vignette

I wrote the following for my church. They're pushing us to try to make us think about the ways our jobs and vocations are part of our worship to God. So...this is what I wrote. Mine went out to the church today. I've been feeling pretty blah lately, so I thought this would be a good exercise in trying to remember why it is I do what I do.
Hi! My name is Cheryl, and it is highly likely that we have never met. I have recently become a member of Immanuel after attending for the past 4 years; it feels good to be able to call this church my home now. So hopefully we will meet sooner or later. A little bit about me – I was born in Guam, an island U.S. territory in the Pacific (colonized first by Spain, then the U.S., then Japan in WWII, then the U.S. again).

Guam is a literal melting pot of cultures: because of its close proximity to Asia and its status as a U.S. territory, almost everyone is of mixed descent. For example – my mother is of Korean descent, and my father is of Filipino descent. As a result of this multicultural upbringing, I have a very distinct and often different worldview as it’s informed by 4 different cultures that are a huge part of my thought process and way of life.

I have many vocations like everyone else, but I guess my main vocation right now is teaching and educating young people and trying to empower them to think critically about the world around them. I teach first year English composition and Ethnic American literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I just finished grading my last paper at 5:00 PM on Tuesday, so I am in full summer swing!

My main focus in these writing classes is race relations and pop culture, and even more specifically hip hop. I wanted to teach a topic that the students could relate to, as opposed to starting a writing section on environmentalism or the musings of Foucault (not that either are bad, just not particularly interesting to 18-year-olds). I have always been an advocate of encouraging student voices in the classroom. When I was in school, I always felt shy about saying anything because I always thought, “What if I was wrong?!” By making pop culture and the media the focal points of my class, the students could then share their own life experiences and viewpoints and turn that into academic writing.

Writing, however, has become such a dreaded task in the classroom that it feels like I’m pulling teeth with my students, and I have often thought about how this field could be redeemed for the glory of God, especially in the capacity to which I teach writing, and I guess I can try to explain it this way:

As an English composition and literature teacher, my ultimate goal for my students is for them to become fully engaged scholars who can think critically. Our world is changing daily, and my goal is that by the time they leave my classroom at the end of the semester, they will have gained the necessary lifelong skills of being able to communicate effectively, analyze texts, and form cogent arguments about the information presented in the text. In many ways, I try to encourage my students to become more conscious of the world around them and to embrace so many of the different ideas and cultures which may or may not agree with their own viewpoints, which is a similar aspect that Immanuel encourages us to do with the community here in the UIC Area. My goal for each student regardless of how they perform academically is for them to see that they are bright, intelligent individuals who have important and valuable things to contribute; my goal is to love them with patience and the love of Christ while showing them that their opinions and suggestions do matter, and that those ideas can be transferred to the written word. I will be honest – I do not always succeed. I lose my patience, and I get frustrated when I have to repeat myself for the tenth time that commas are not periods. But I always try to remember the big picture in these moments: I strive to empower and encourage every student and show them that academic writing is, in fact, not impossible, and can very much be a powerful instrument of social justice and change. Ultimately, I want my students to walk out of my classroom feeling confident that they wield an incredibly important weapon in today’s world: the effectively written word.

My daily struggle in this job is learning how to be a witness in one of the most secular and anti-Christian environments. For a school that really attempts to embrace the ethnic minority and LGBT communities, UIC is a difficult environment for Christians. I have gotten into several uncomfortable situations with other students in the department after they found out I was a Christian. And since I teach a pop culture class, no one ever guesses or assumes I am a Christian. Sometimes I forget about being a Christian and just forge ahead with my own agenda of churning out anti-racist pro-social justice community activists (who can write well!). My biggest concern is that I immerse myself so deeply in these environments that I don’t even realize if I am compromising the Word of God. I really want to be able to be relevant, to connect with my students and know everything they’re talking about, but still be able to remember that at the end of the day, the only reason I do any of this is because God has called me specifically to this vocation at this point in time.

About a year ago in April, Nathan preached a sermon that has in many ways, changed the way I see my vocation. The main gist was that what should make your heart beat is living for something bigger than yourself. This is one of my deepest desires about teaching… and actually, just living in general, and I try to apply it every chance I get.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Korea v. China v. America

Gary and I are thinking of going to China for an extended weekend to visit my friend Ellen Mac0ratti. She married an Italian man who got a job in Suzhou, and moved my Park Ridge friend across the world. They might leave China soon though, so we are trying to see each other one last time--do the Great Wall, Tiananman Square, *sigh. I love to travel.

I have been browsing websites and the Chinese embassy website--it seems that Americans pay more than triple what every other country pays for a tourist visa. WHAT?!

Funny: Here is a question thread from the consulate webpage:
Mar. 19, 2009 06:55Mr.Jay Han(U.S.) said:
Please explain why American Citizen vs Korean Citizen single entry visa fee is big different from another? Currently I am residing in Korea and I want to visit China for a tour.

Mar. 25, 2009 02:30Mr.Zhongguo(China) replied:
America is a rich developped country.

Well, there you have it folks. It doesn't always ppay to be an American.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Memory of my mom part I: The Bomb

(I remembered this the other day. It happened many years back, when we were still living at our old house in Edgebrook Towers. Classic mom tale).
My mother received a cake-sized unmarked parcel wrapped in generic brown paper in the mail. So of course she then was convinced it was a bomb. Oh yeah, why target an up-n-coming young and brash politician, when instead you can terrorize a 68 year-old Korean woman who still pronounces naked as a monosyllabic word? She rendered her suspicions to me on yet another occasion where she had entrapped me into endless conversation/aka. life lessons in our kitchen. When I asked her what she did with the package, she lightly pattered off one of her “me-I’m so silly, but always still a genteel lady” laughs, while informing me that when she finally was convinced it was indeed a bomb, she calmly walked out into her backyard and threw it out into the great beyond with a rigor of a pro-baseball pitch. She said she got nervous and felt that at the very least, it wouldn’t be staring at her from the dining room table.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ten Random Things I Miss about Chicago

I WILL NOT INCLUDE PEOPLE because then the list and what I miss about them would be 400 pages.

1. Devon Avenue. I need to thread/wax my eyebrows and other parts, and Korea just doesn't have Indian/Pakistani women who will thread me for five bucks.
2. Garcia's/Sticky Rice. I miss good, cheap, authentic-ish Mexican/Thai food. I miss BYOB and homemade salsa and Pad Kee Mau and Patron-margaritas after I break up with yet another bonghead.
4. The Grind. As strange as it is, I think I've spent a third of my year at that cafe, using their internet and drinking expensive coffee made by the same hipsterish baristas who remember me and ask me if I've cut my hair when I have!
5. Singing. Although singing loud rock-bandy songs wasn't exactly my cup of tea, I really miss singing and making music with a buncha rowdy boys.
6. Lake Michigan. Not just looking at it, but biking to it and riding the beachfront trail. It's almost majestic with the skyline in view.
7. Teaching at Lake View. Although I will never go back, and I like taking this break from teaching, I miss feeling tired and alive.
8. Chicago's Craigslist. I feel as if I interacted with craigslist at least once a month! Furniture, free teacher supplies, part-time jobs, tickets to Great America, finding an apartment, so on.
9. Thad's apartment. All the pretty sunlight in the late afternoon, the musical instruments, his kitchen, watching back to back movies then sleeping over and having a lazy Saturday afternoon.
10. Taking walks around Northcenter/Lincoln Square. Tree-lined neighborhoods, the Chicago River, Welles Park, Lincoln street.

A nice walk down memory lane. Instead of working.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two websites


Here's an example:

The firm that I interviewed with decided to rescind their offer. I called my mom and she gave me a pep talk. Afterward, she sent me this text:
if one door closed try find another. still have window. still have roof. push them u will see the sky. sky is unlimited so are u. never lose your faith. not u. ur my chinese girl. love mom.

If you don't know at least one Chinese mom, this will not be as funny. This is my brother's wife's mom. Hilare. There are really funny tidbits on this website. Especially birthday cards. SO FUNNY. I just bust a gut laughing.


WHAT THE HECK!!! We shoulda started this blog. GOLLY. Well, her language is a bit flowery at times, but the points hit the mark.

Many of us were forced to drink this nasty concoction of mystery juice to cure ailments a simple Tylenol could have cured. Have a headache? Have some Hahn-Yahk. Oh, you're fat? Hahn-Yahk will cure that. A genital wart? Hahn-Yahk. You're short? Eat some spinach and wash it down with Hahn-Yahk. You're not married? Drink some Hahn-Yahk and pray to Jesus foo! This is why I never like to admit I am sick or am becoming sick. I am deathly afraid that my Korean Mom will find out and mail me a giant package of Hahn-Yahk. Guess what I have in my fridge at this very moment? An entire drawer full of Hahn-Yahk to cure pimples (see #19). Yeah. Pimples. The Hahn-Yahk should eventually cure me of my face. I love my Korean Mom.


Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday psalm

the sun
amazing warm touch on my face
brushing my cheeks
these subtle Spring kisses

today, my jeans feel snug
but for once
i don't feel unattractive or unlovely
i feel sexy
this taut fabric around my thighs
and curved hips
and my blinking brown eyes
blushed lips
earthy hints in my skin

this melancholy tune
reminding me
these bittersweet realities
together we breathe
of no grass green and empty streets
where the sun sets on us all

all of us
made of earth

we are not alone
we are all here
seeking for
everysingleone kissed
but not every one receives

let's hold hands
and feel and remember
let's learn of this
know of this
grow in this--all of This

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

suds and an Avian flight

sandlewood curling in the air
my screen tells me it's two degrees above freezing,
but open windows
it streams in
fabric sways
they stream out
i'm dancing to Bird's in this nighttime

enjoying the smell of lemony bubbles that mist into my face
upwards i climb
into this time
with heated hands
a sink full of nurture complete
i smile
it's one in the am--this is ok, right?
donning pink rubber gloves at one, two, or two and a half in the am?
violins violas voices lilting on
splashing stanzas
suds sing
bursting clink. this?
in the middle of the nighttime?

my ever familiar square black sky
downstairs trip twenty minutes ago--it was a stupid whim
스파크 still effervesces on my hands
but i love that i can choose
foamy stupidity
bah. at least another two hours to go
is anyone else awake in the world?
anyone else's hands have that fresh 스파클?
is anyone else listening to Bird's in this nighttime?

racing percussion
at times
piccoletting and a muted trumpet
there might've been a fiddle
or a eukele
and a darling alto
with some wistful whistling
harmonious melodious

tap the volume up
and open the windows wider
so others can hear
maybe someone will listen? bemused?
and maybe small smile
at Bird's
maybe they'll join this nighttime dance
my dance

or maybe they'll fly?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

the fear of being unprepared for class

i fell asleep at 6am reading sherman alexie's "the lone ranger and tonto fistfight in heaven." i was on page 20; needed to be on page 160. i just had the most LUCID DREAM.

i fell into a deep sleep and i knew subconsciously that i was not ready for class. i show up to my 9:30 class and someone is teaching it for me, my old morrison teacher who thinks i am dumb as rocks and still can't believe i teach at uic. i am grateful for her intrusion, though. she's carrying discussion while my ass is taking notes. i realize my eye makeup is not on, but my makeup bag falls into water and i realize everything is ruined including the mac eyeshadow that my sister gave me 2 years ago. i am sad. after class i head to a hotel to catch up on some reading. suddenly i'm on guam and i'm at the cliff hotel.

the lounge is open air and the tourists and locals are mixing and milling about when i see a car suddenly crash into the guardrail next to the lounge that overlooks the ocean, AND THEN another car hits that car and another car holding one of my students from my 3pm, is also in that car. the entire crowd (about 50 ppl) hang back in horror. i jump ninja style over the plants while everyone else starts to realize there are people hurt and also jump forward. it's like someone pressed pause and then suddenly pressed fast forward. one of the people hurt is a pedestrian who just happened to be walking, his spine contorted. i creep closer to get a better look; he is redfaced and crying. he keeps shouting at us and demanding why the ambulance hasn't come yet. i'm scared that no one has called 911 yet. also, i keep worrying if i was going to make my class.

i am so drained so i cancel class. in the midst of all this, my sister and her friend heena and our friend sunny ts@ng are staying at the cliff in a free room that a janitor accidentally left open. we're sneaking about!

during the car crash, all of their stuff gets wet, including heena's expensive louis vitton travel bags. i fish it out of the hotel fountain, but i cannot save anything. they are disappointed and don't seem to be phased by the people howling in pain in the car crash. after the ambulances come (which happens to be connected to an accordion-style bus, i hang back there and snooze in the free room for a couple hours, which turns into many hours.

then i am naked and walking across the halls of the hotel, arms across breasts for dignity in search of a bathroom. i really need to pee. and then i find a towel to drape across me, just as a hotel employee spots me. she asks me if i'm locked out; i nod but then realize i have NO IDEA where the room is. i lead her on a maze since i don't know the number of the room. the cliff hotel is adjacent to a pediatric cancer ward. i finally find the room and she lets me in, not realizing that we are stealing the room. my sister comes back and jack arrives too.

i put on clothes but still need to pee i realize. i walk around again and ask jack to hold the door for me for the room so i don't lock myself out. jack nods his head. i go to the cancer ward since a doctor is being extra friendly, and he leads me a huge room that has a toilet in it. i say thanks, lock the door and proceed to pee despite the fact that all the doors are glass and see through as a result. it's a weird toilet though and is shaped like a drinking fountain. i'm peeing on a drinking fountain which is squirting up water at me. i thought it was a bidet. two hotel employees are WATCHING me and laughing hysterically. they are young boys. i ignore them and finish peeing and then i run outside and drop everything i'm holding, including mail. they run up to me and try to steal my mail but i snatch it from them. they want my name, my identity to put a name to the face who was peeing in the water fountain-toilet in the glass enclosed room.

jack, who suddenly has turned into long island rapper, aesop rock, finally arrives and i tell him that they're trying to steal my mail; i'm still disheveled and trying to scoop up everything in my arms. jack grabs everything in one swoop, looks down the hall and tell them to f- off as they go running in the opposite direction of us. my hero.

then i end up rollerblading all over cliff hotel looking for an exit so i can make it to my next class.

i haven't had a dream this clear since i was 12 and floating around in a white dress above my backyard when the dogs still lived there.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

stumbling and meandering

today, i had to take a walk. i took the long way home from work.

thru the crowded now-familiar streets of Shinchon
i paused to smoke and watch people
my eardrums were blasted with waves of those collective voices and instruments i can't even identify

umbrellas of every single color and pattern imaginable protecting these individuals--these precious ones, against the lightly falling snow
dark navy, pink, barberry, oh Hello Kitty
why am i here?

canary yellow, blue stripes, another barberry
tramp tramp romp hop
uneven beat on uneven brick through a sea of winter coats
purple plaid, kelly green, dark green, evergreen
like a forest
i'm lost in a forest. how did i get here?
black black bright red polka dots?

bouncing lightly, skipping three steps and people stare
a smile and a raised eyebrow, eyes meet
tell me why i'm here.

orange, checkered, stripes, galore
swirling snow caught up in slices of streetlights
into open mouths, wide with laughter
my frosted eyelashes

twirl, skip, smile, brief curtsy
you're here b/c i want you here.

colored umbrellas
colored eyes
auburn ones that change colors next to vintage shirts
big childlike sweetly asymmetrical eyes
the bright blue ones
the dark dark brown ones
those guarded pained ones behind glasses

ah. right. but i want more answers.

when you're ready.

out of the masses. just me and music and this lopsided conversation. my body warmed while i trudged uphill. i enjoyed the light flapping of the faux fur fringe on the outskirts of my vision. the dark campus was a little friendlier as the snow brightened the night forest floor.

i flipped down my hood and breathed in the slightly green smells
fresh sharp winter on my cheeks

today. i'm really happy today.
just love. and be happy.

damp little cold kisses on my face
melting in my hair

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't Save the Drama for Michelle Obama

Forgive my cheesy title.

Forgive the cheesy writing. It's Vogue. Fashion mags-whatevs!

I love this lady. Talk about a high-profile woman of color presenting herself well. And if you read the 2009 one, she talks about White House entertainment including youth culture like... spoken word... Who's from Chicago?!

She's on the cover of Vogue next month.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A "Sarah Palin" Enlightenment

Sarah Palin scares me.

She wears really high heels and has high hair. She asks Joe Biden if she can call him Joe at the VP debates. She uses terms like "Joe six-pack." She "rrrrrr"s a lot. If you vote ferrr me and Senaterrr McCain... Maverrricks... But she has enlightened me with a perspective I refused to believe about The United States of America. Seeing her on television has made me want to try to see the part of America I refuse to acknowledge. Well, at least her minute of fame wasn't a TOTAL waste.

Growing up in the huge metropolis of Chicago, I've seen some shit as a Korean American. It isn't much compared the those of my students from the south or west side, but it hurt and it sucked and you always felt either silent, silenced, oppressed, misunderstood, angry, hurt, blah blah. But we were city folks you know? Most of the chink comments I received were from either Mexicans or Polish kids and we went right back at them with spic and polak. Whatever!

The only time I ever experienced Sarah Palin's "Real Virginia" or "Real Americans," that middle, working class America, was at my first job teaching high school English and drama in a small town in Illinois called Rantoul ("Rantucky"). People were really, really nice. I'm not hatin'. I loved Mr. Fitz (I think that was his name) who was this huge white man with a formidible mustache and once, although he seldom spoke without being addressed, asked my friend Adelaide (I convinced her to work there; I was tired of being the one Asian around) and me whether or not we watched M*A*S*H. Uh, yeah, sometimes. My brother really likes that show.

Mr. Fitz: Well, I was watching MASH the other night, and they were digging and they found this old clay jar filled with fermented cabbage. Do you know what I'm talking about?

I actually found this endearing. Aw, Mr. Fitz. He's so cute. He's trying to reach out. Connect to these Asian girls who make him feel like he has daughters. It's called kimchi, Mr. Fitz. They ferment it in refrigerators now. We now buy it at the Asian grocery.

Never mind all the racial tension at the school: white farmer kids versus black kids from Chicago who were sent to live with their aunties away from gangs versus kids of Mexican migrant workers who only stay for 3 months at a time versus half-asian and half-white/half-black kids (Rantoul used to have an airforce base)... Race was never addressed, even when the farmer kids started driving their pickups to school with little nooses hanging on the rearview. No diversity programs. International night was a joke.

I went to a bridal shower in a nearby town, Paxon. I was getting out of the passenger side and my friend was still in the car. A very nice, middle-American family approaches me and says, Arrre y'all open? I look at them. Blink slowly. Look extremely discombobulated. Follow their eyes up to the sign behind me: MING'S CHINESE KITCHEN. Yes, folks. I'm wearing a sleeveless shirt with slacks and heels, carrying a Coach bag and a frilly bridal shower gift, and I am also ready to fry your rice. Let me strap on my apron and pull out grade D pork. As my friend Cindy would say, "BING BANG BOOOOONNNNG..."

I say all this to prep for what I'm about to say.

While in Rantoul, I couldn't wait to return to Chicago, where people were "normal." I mean, I made some very good friendships at the school, and I am not ripping on them at all. There were many kind people in the town that made me feel like a good person and a professional and went through hardship and existential angst, just like the rest of us. So what if they all voted for Bush. Twice. But I still wanted to get the hellouttathere.

I'm pretty sure the Rantuckites voted for McCain, but I still have a hard time believing that there are THAT many people in the United States that could relate to Sarah Palin. How can the Republican party actually believe that there are enough voters or organizations or lobbying groups that she could reach? Couldn't they see what a caricature she is/was, and that the American public would see that?

Oh. That scares me.

I got into a silly argument with my boyfriend who teased me for overacting innocence, but I am genuinely incredulous about certain things in our country. I have a hard time really believing that when my old Rantoul co-workers send me forwards about Obama hating the troops or when I hear that a decent percentage of the U.S. thinks he is Muslim, that these "opinion holders" are actually human. This is a problem. If people say things that are outrageous or irrational to me, I "cartoonize" them and tuck them away into a brain-file folder. I think, No way. These Paliners don't really exist. Who knew? Chicago is a bubble. After all, we let Bill Ayers help shape the public school systems.

So basically, the Paliners don't believe people like me and those who live in big cities are really human, and I don't believe they are either.

Sarah Palin, tell us what to do! RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

by the way

can someone explain this random slideshow down at the bottom? because half of the bp girls have no idea where or what that is?

although...that looks like a place that i want to visit. RIGHT NOW. especially since chicago's six month winter has only just begun.

p.s. linda and i are finishing a 2.99 bottle of winking owl shiraz, courtesy of linda's favorite grocery store, ALDI. holler at the aldi wino!

Love Letter to My Life

A Love Letter to My Life

Sitting here listening to Jollie Holland and typing with my winter-cracked hands, I am reminded of what has brought me here. Woke up today and received the following letter:

My dearest Linda,

I am not the guy who had you shackled with so much aimless energy and anger that fueled a lifetime of partying, sleeping around, and enough bad poetry to fill up the volumes of the canon that once was, no thank-God longer.

I am not the homeboy, a student at a self-boasting school of inclusion and diversity, who upon reading a bigoted, angrily penned parental flyer, which asked to bring a halt to the GLBT club at the neighboring high school because “it caused a detriment to all the innocent youth”, dismissed it as Christian right-winged bullshit, along with all the other students and faculty.

I am not the person who told you that you would burn in hell.

I am not the person who let someone’s father die and then let you wonder if you could break up with your guy if your you-know-whos ever kicked the bucket.

I am not the person who allowed most of your friends to 1) be assaulted,
2) mugged,
3) become hardened cynics, 4) hate their parents, 5) be abused, 6) have autistic children and then truthfully wonder if they should have had them aborted when they realized during their pregnancies that their small miracles would miraculously never develop in the way that they hoped and prayed, 7) have been afflicted with cancer (at least one single person of every generation you have known or befriended), or 8) have so much worry and doubt that they kissed God goodbye.

In fact, I was the one who plucked you out of the gutter of miserable orphans, though you were supposedly the most miserable of them all, covered with boils, which earned you mercy points with your soon-to-be-and-only-existent parents in the world.

I am the one who reminded you of your lost days in college, which crept up in the attic of your mind when one of your church buddies confessed that she would hit the bars every weekend night back then, get bombed outta her mind with the careening girls around her, then stow away into the bathroom of every dingy bar and cry into the whites of her knuckles, lamenting over God. Only you didn’t know God then. Nor did you cry. But it might have helped if you did.

I am the miracle that happened when upon your inundation to the culture of believers, you were slam-motherfuckin’-dunked into OIL. You got there late, finally put out your cigarette, snail-walked into late registration, ignored the unfamiliar, sheepish halo of faces whom you were invisible to, and then tumble into an orgy of 1000 + people who were clasping their balmy hands tight with each other, weeping at a slow metronome beat to some shit you remembered singing at chapel in the fourth grade. And when you got over your culture shock and rammed your hands into your trusted friends, I am the one who reminded you that you could tear up too.

I was the one who broke your dear friends to their bloody knees, time and time again, to remind you that through these shattering moments 1) no one is immune and 2) the significant and irreparable force of the greatest organ I ever made, to remind you how to use it, no matter how un/navigated and tiresome it may have been, and let you know those were the best lessons of your life.

I was the one who whispered to you that you could get back on your feet, as long as you had your smokes and a Something to fill up your mind while you chastised yourself to get back to the Good Word, so that you would finally creep back into conversation with Me in either your bleakest or most peaceful moments.

I was the one who told you to come as you are, no matter your sexual sins, your sarcasm, your well-hidden pettiness, your haughtiness, your deep chasm of fearing parental death, of dying alone and too ill-forgotten, of your fear of not knowing whether you were too scared to live alone or to give of yourself too much, of wanting to live a remarkable life in a compromised, unremarkable way, of having too few boundaries with others and too many with yourself. I am the one who swept people into your life who actually taught you how to genuinely love. I am the one who knows every hair on your head, no matter how fake, braided, or dyed they may have been. I am the one who allowed you to tolerate 90.1 and introduced you to lively small-groups, who fed your fascination with the marginalized, who re-connected you with your family, who gave you the sense to point out the log in your eye when you kept jabbing at the splinters in your boyfriend, who reminded you that you could retain your sarcasm with warmth, who introduced you to Anne Lamott to feel less-crazy, less-alone, and to simply hunger. I am the one who helped you realized your mother did, in fact, have a sense of humor and just where did you think you got your sass from? And in kind, who did you think you developed your maniacal laughs and sneezes from, all 20 of them, if not from him? I am the one lifted you off your work-horsed feet and raw anger to gently place you in a cocoon of family, warmth, laughter and grace.

I am the one who chased you down your entire life, and still continue to do so.

With love,
Big G

there comes a time in life when a man must put on stretchy pants...'s for fun.

okay, so i know i'm the youngest of the bp girls (i feel like i'm referring to us as gasoline girls), but my body is changing before my very eyes...i no longer wear pants any more. at age 27, my waist has decided to disappear. so i have decided to do away with pants, which may or may not make linda feel slightly uncomfortable. hehe. as i write this, linda and i have four open tubs of ice cream on the living room table. i have already finished the strawberry container. one down--three to go.

hey, korea counterparts, can you send us some good korean food? those pictures are looking mighty fantastic.

ok on to more pressing and embarrassing matters: that elusive little thing called LOVE...or lust, or desperation. call it what you will.

we talk about it all the damn time: how we're hypereducated spiritual women of color who want to (dare i say it!?) change the world in some kind of manner, and are forever dating or pursuing men who seem to either not appreciate us or get us or just want to use us (well, i guess i should just say me). soooooo...suffice it to say, my ass has not had a boyfriend in ten years. my last boyfriend was high schooled out jeff, who at 17 told me that he loved me right before i left for college. i looked at him with dubious eyes, and said, "jeff, we're 17. we don't know what love is." and then we broke up.

but i lied! i knew what love was...or at least what i wanted it to look like, because i was secretly "in love" with a boy from guam for years, and i followed him to college ala felicity porter, who in a single act of desperation, drops her life plans to pursue a boy who barely knew her name. what were we thinking, felicity?! except i didn't have nancy on the tape recorder. hey we know where this story is going. i play the kling-on for about 6 years before waking up and realizing that his no was really a no despite all his nonverbal cues which led me to believe otherwise. and heartbroken, i started having yearly flings with random boys who would cross my path to dull the pain: the first, a 5 foot indian man who taught me how to properly smoke a cigarette (i wasn't inhaling). he asked me to be his girlfriend, and when i waivered for a second, he withdrew his request and a year later married his next girlfriend. DENIED! the second, a canadian med student, also indian. i felt like i was kissing a wet fish. that was shortlived. the third, an old reconnection from guam who was now a pothead law student in chicago--korean american. he kept insisting that he didn't want a relationship: just sex. i kept insisting the opposite. we parted ways after he gave me an ultimatum. i know--i really know how to pick the good ones. my friends just kept saying about the last one: WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU DATING A KOREAN MAN?

i met a boy earlier last year around february, and thought he was so cute and sweet and funny as hell, but after asking him out several times as i did the last three (coming on too strong? i thought it was the 21st century? hehe), realized that he thought nothing of me more than as a friend. i think i emasculate men, maybe? so i reluctantly gave up on men...again.

but umm...about six months ago, after my 27th birthday, fed up from waiting for loser guys who don't know what they want, and even grosser guys that i randomly met by chance, i decided to be proactive about finding a guy. i have decided that i don't believe in soulmates. or maybe i believe in multiple soulmates. there's more than one guy out there. thank you, free will. so after conferring with my roommates (linda being the yes-man said: WHY NOT? LIFE IS SHORT!), i decided to join the exciting world of online dating: EHARMONY.

i decided to go for the intellectual but CUTE route: my profile said that i was into "social justice, finding humor in every situation, helping people realize their full potential, live music, sugar...preferably in the form of cookies." cute? maybe not...ok. but i laid it out! i said, hey world, the most important quality i'm looking for is sincerity. my profile told strangers that they would immediately notice my quirkiness and that the 5 things i couldn't live without was God, my friends, my family, music, and of course noodles.

i was publicly searching! OH THE SHAME!!! how embarrassing! but wait, how thrilling! after filling out 8,000 questions about my personality, eharmony started pairing me up with random guys: some good looking, some...NOT SO MUCH. i kept hoping that no one would recognize me! but what an exciting world, where i can choose and pick the men that i wanted to date. the power was in my hands! the first guy that eharmony matched me up with was robert, age 34 from chicago.

eharmony said:

Something Robert wanted you to know is:
  • If you are looking for a real man that will treat you like a woman should be treated, than you have found that guy. If you are looking for a bad boy, I can do that, too, but I really do not want to. In other words, I am trying to have a mature relationship with honesty, love and loyalty, not one filled with games.
i realize as someone who's all about words, the smallest things can turn me off. "If I'm looking for a bad boy," you can fulfill that? Hmmm...not interested in finding out what that looks like. so, then i moved on to the next guy. there was brian, matthew, peter who were in the suburbs, but sounded like nice guys, but then they closed me immediately. what a shot to my self esteem! no power anymore...even eharmony was making me feel like the ugly girl once again.

then i stumbled onto brandon's profile who said he was "passionate about God's redemptive plan for humanity." hey, i'm all about redemption!

we emailed a hundred times back and forth about God, relationships, and social justice. he seemed extremely interested in me and sounded very passionate about life and God. but something about him seemed so strange: he was going to a training school to learn how to live in a world full of non Christians. and he felt like everyone should do it. am i crazy or does that seem counterproductive? he hated politics and pop culture. i gingerly told him that i taught a class on the connection between mass culture and politics. i could hear the silent "UMMM..." ewwwww...i think i liked the idea of a relationship more than the reality. he wanted to talk on the phone. i hemmed and hawed and tore my hair out, conflicted at the thought of having a boyfriend for the first time in YEARS. mary was there the whole time, cheering me on. linda couldn't keep any of the guys i was talking about straight in her head. to her, i only knew three guys: the lunch guy (the sweet guy who stood me up for lunch one day after asking him out several times. i was so humiliated!), the intense guy (brandon), and the asshole (my last fling). anyway, he never picked up the phone. :( so we emailed for a month before he started to flake out completely. i was frustrated, but maybe a part of me likes the chase anyway, so i moved on to the 20 or 30 guys in my queue that i had yet to look at their profiles.

then i found erik, who incidentally looked EXACTLY like one of my students!!! YECH! but his eharmony profile said: I am not into casual dating nor being with someone who still in love with their ex- it reminds me of the movie Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. I am excited about life and look forward to its experiences, good or bad. Having quirks and fears is a part of being human; I hope you have some just like everyone else does. :)

that doesn't sound so bad, right? unlike brandon, he wastes no time; he doesn't want to email back and forth. he immediately asks for my number, and impressed by his directness, i give it to him.

my friend susan decided she liked erik more: I like Erik a lot better than Brandon. Brandon is going to make you join his church and then ban you from wearing any corrective lenses because that's from the devil. Then he'll bring you to his captain at the HC to bring healing to your eyes. I am so not into Brandon.

Well, ichat with him. See if he's as intense as he comes off on email.

we set up a date for the following weekend. but before the date, i decide to follow susan's advice and called him for a little chat. the following ensues:

i find out that he is italian-polish. he looks...mostly polish. actually he looks like one of my students, whose name is also eryk. YUCK. his myspace page looks like some hippie weirdo's car bumper. there are multiple pictures of beagles as well as support ads for mentally ill and depressed people. a glittering .gif file of the american flag waves back and forth at me, asking if i'm patriotic enough for my country. it's like times square on crack.

the conversation was utterly painful. i listened to another version of aar0n hanf0rd, champaign's resident intelektwal snob, drone on and on for an hour about chernobyl's effects on people today(thyroid cancer!) and the fact that affirmative action should be done away with because people of color need to learn how to work for it. he asked me what my passion was and i told him my passion is helping people of color to achieve equal educational opportunities in our corrupt education system, which makes me a big advocate of affirmative action. I'm not sure he understood.

he asked if my mom was from north korea. I told him south. he's like, "COOL." he said, is she from see-ool? I said, "seoul" like "sole."

he asked me what my favorite color was (is this an interview?), to describe my best friend, and also asked "guam's north of hawaii, right?" WHOAAAAA.

he asked me where i am in chicago. i said lincoln square. he said lincoln park?
lincoln SQUARE

is that the loop?


hyde park?


so he mentions that he works for the tollway and he kept saying "i'm so overqualified for this job. everyone tells me to go to law school, but you know...I may work for the tollway, but I'M A STATE EMPLOYEE. all my paychecks are from springfield. i work for the state too, and so i told him "i think mine are too." he says, "no, but does david thompson sign yours?"


he asked several other questions, all the while whispering and wheezing at the same time, if that's possible. finally i couldn't take it anymore when he says, "hey, so sunday. where do you want to meet?"

so i decided to be straight and tell know...erik, i'm glad you called bc i realized you and i aren't a good fit. i actually think you're really smart though so if you ever come to the city, definitely call me and let's chill but yeah... i dont think it's gonna work

and he says, OK


and then i said THANKS FOR CALLING

and he's like OK
OK really pissed off. and really, how many times can you say "OK"?

he hangs up on me and then goes straight to eharmony and then said
  • I don't feel that the chemistry is there.
  • I want to pursue other matches at eharmony.
  • I think the difference in our values is too great
Reflections: i felt bad, but seriously he's against affirmative action and asked if my mom was from north korea. i mean, come on! plus he's so weird, and not in that weird-but-you-are-insanely-
cool way, just weird in the damn-your-myspace-page-looks-like-a-13-year-old-boys-page. I still feel bad for rejecting him.

Resolution: i'll nail this "i think you're a great guy" speech yet


So alas, my social experiment has ended. Eharmony OBVIOUSLY did not work out, and some things you cannot force.

ohhhhhhhhhhhhh...this post is way too long and disjointed. but for you ladies, i will keep writing. see ya soooon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

iRocs for brains

i don't have anything super substantive to say @ this juncture, so i'm just going to give a ridiculous recounting of a real life interaction.

let me preface all of this by saying that i'm not some kind of crazy bitchy feminist (or maybe i am?). i grew up as the only daughter (w/ 2 brothers) in a Korean American household. though that family structure may not seem to be something to blink about, i would guess that anyone who knows anything about Korean culture would know all about the...
submit damnit!--you're a woman!
respect your father!
did you greet the guests properly?
did you finish the dishes?
serve your brothers!
do the laundry!
you're peeling that pear wrong! ...
while my brothers idly watched re-runs of Mcgyver. i was a a little resentful.

this family history causes some of my hypersensitivity to gender rights and roles and wrongs. my claws extend sharply and are not easily retracted. i'd like to think it's b/c i like to think and debate and have there be some justice in the world for womankind.
it's a bit of a problem.
but, i'm still a girl. i'm quickly melted by a sincere compliment or sweet gesture and probably embody some of those sparkly pink stereotypes in my more vulnerable moments.

10 years ago, i had much more of a man-hating Black Widow persona, dressed up in tight sexies, exposed skin, fishnets, dark eyeliner:
come hither, come hither,
you stupid little boy

let me tempt you
and curl around your body
and taste your jugular vein with my tongue

i will brush your face with my innocent lashes
as i
leave you
with a hard-on

God. i know. unhealthy. pathetic. disgusting. embarrassing.
i realized a little late that maybe that wasn't too nice, but, i had a lot of issues w/ being subjugated simply because i was female. but let's be realistic here. i was not the only one w/ issues. that whole: "men are only after one thing" mantra is more a truism than not. you can actually observe the dopey desperation of men when they are in the throes of flirtation, hoping that maybe, just maybe...
i was a problematic person in a problematic system.

so it's 10 years later, and i'm newly single. (dating world? i'm not sure i remember what that is. what are the rules of engagement again?) i've imagined that i've grown and matured to some degree and have assumed that all those men my age had some similar growth?

enter iRoc. 38, single, Korean American stud who doesn't know the difference between there, their, and they're. he was the manager of the tattoo parlor where i was getting a tattoo to cover up a multitude of mistakes. he sent me a dozen texts after he had quoted me a ridiculous sum to get the tattoo. when he finally came down in price, he texted:
fine. i'll come down to ___ KRW. you'll owe me a drink for that.
mE: i'll owe you a drink? way to romance your clients iRoc. don't worry. i'm in.
no no no! romance? as a friend speaking to a potential client, i'll treet you well.

uh. huh? confused?
yes, iRoc. that's what i meant by romance... i realized needed to tone down my use of language. let's try monosyllabic responses.
(i know. bitchy.)

when i came in to get my tatt, iRoc was semi-inappropriate, but my girlfriends were there @ first, so maybe he was too ashamed to ~really~ put it out there. he did manage to puff out his chest and talk a little ghetto about all of his amazing (ridiculous) exploits. he kept surreptitiously glancing at us as he recounted. i think he was waiting for oohs and aahs from us females. he almost looked like a little boy--it was a slightly endearing.

being under the needle for 4 hours was painful--certainly worth a description @ some point in the future. anyway, after the ordeal, i was promised that i could come back and get a touch up after the healing process.

i came back alone for the touch up. i waited in iRoc's office while my tattoo guy (Kil Jun) was setting up. i might've been wearing make-up this time around or something, i dunno, but when he saw me:

iRoc: Mary! you're getting prettier every time i see you.
mE: arched eyebrow. huh? get outta here iRoc. i'm sure you say that to all of your clients.
iRoc: no--seriously. you're getting prettier and prettier.
mE: thanks iRoc. i'm charmed. he sat behind his computer while i cracked open a book.
iRoc: so can i ask you a pretty personal question?
mE: sure. shoot.
iRoc: when's the last time you had sex?
mE: did you really just ask me that question? i could hear snickering from the back where some famous tattoo artist was working on someone.
iRoc: i told you it'd be personal.
mE: uh... huh... when's the last time you had sex?
iRoc: last night.
mE: riiight. well. good for you?
iRoc: yeah it was. (this guy was a fuckin cartoon.) so, how come you're not having sex?
mE: i was just divorced. i'm not looking for sex.
iRoc: divorced, huh? well, people still need to have sex.
mE: sure. probably. we've all got needs.
iRoc: you got needs Mary?
mE: rolling my eyes. ha ha. i know you're joking around, but you've at least gotta buy me a drink before you're going to get anymore answers outta me.
(why did i say that?--i knew i wouldn't get anywhere if i actually engaged him about the 8 things that were wrong about his question.)
iRoc: i'll take you out to dinner. (?? uh??) i'll get you drunk and take advantage of you. (ah. there it is.)

Kil Jun (the tattooist) saved me from continuing this conversation.
or so i thought.

iRoc followed us into the room where i was getting tattooed and watched me grimace and wince as Kil Jun exploded his needle into the scar tissue of my old tatt. there was oozing black blood.

iRoc: does it hurt?
mE: yes.
iRoc: yeah... there was this Kyopo girl that came in for her first tatt yesterday and she was making sounds and faces like oooh oooh aaah. you know... like she was... you know...
mE: having an orgasm?
iRoc: yeah yeah yeah, girl. i took some pics of her while she was doing that.
mE: i'm not into that.
iRoc: oh man. i was into that. these guys here... everyday i come in here and i give them lessons about sex and i know they're learning a lot from me. (Lord, help us.)
mE: i'm sure they're learning a lot. Kil Jun was almost done. thank goodness.
iRoc: so, where are we going tonight? i examined Kil Jun's touch up and smiled my thanks @ him.
mE: i'm going home and doing some laundry.
iRoc: no, i don't think you heard me. where are ~we~ going tonight?
i stared at him. my head cocked to the side. i wondered if i should actually tell him where to go. no no no--i had kept it together for this long--i decided to play.
mE: are you trying to ask me out to dinner? take advantage of me? hurriedly, i put on my coat and shoes. i slung my bag over my shoulder and trudged backwards towards the door.
iRoc: how about i'll get drunk and you can take advantage of me?
mE: riiight. i kept up my slow Moonwalk. i'd get you drunk and next thing you know, you'll be waking up all groggy and be asking yourself: "where's Mary... and where the hell's my wallet?" i slowly pulled open the door. no sudden movements.
iRoc: he laughed. hey, yeah. i'll call you this weekend.

i didn't delete iRoc's number from my phone. i simply re-labeled it: "uh uh #III". i wish i could say that i exaggerated what happened here, but i can't.

what is wrong w/this world?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Han: My Mother's Seoul

Part of my year in Korea was in wanting to visit my grandmother. She is now eighty-six years old and still as feisty as ever. The week before I came, she went to get her hair cut and dyed—to impress me! She stands obstinate and proud at four foot nine, and still spends an hour ironing her slacks on Sunday morning before church. She hates it when I take candid pictures because she doesn’t have time to compose herself. She still wears heels and takes care of her dentures so meticulously that she’s had the same pair since the nineties. She likes the idea of the U.S. having an African American president. What a woman.

I promised myself that I would visit her at least once a month, which I’ve kept up so far. My mother hadn’t wanted me to come because for my entire existence, I have been her voice of English in a foreign country she now calls home. Most immigrant children understand this, that once you reach the age where you can speak English fluently, you begin to switch roles with your parents, speaking on their behalf, taking care of their phone calls, insurance, bills. Along with this, my mother has many ailments, and I found myself filling two in the same role: a receptionist and a daughter. I hugged her at the airport and started crying. Hard. She started acting like a mother for the first time in years: stroking my hair, telling me how I will find great success in Korea, how she was proud that her daughter was working at Yonsei University, how I’ll only be gone for a year, which isn’t very long. I nodded. How could she understand my guilt for leaving? Pathos of a Korean daughter.

During my first week in Seoul, I had dreams about my mother every night. Sometimes it was morbid, like flying home for her funeral; other times, it was just a typical interaction between us, like the one where I was poking her and giggling, and she was trying to ignore me until she exploded and screamed at me to grow up. I woke up weepy, nostalgic, smiling. On the first visit to my grandmother’s when I told her that I had been dreaming of my mother, she looked away, silent. Then she said, “I wonder if your mother dreams about me.”

My mother is the complete opposite of her mother. She has already had open-brain surgery, is a pre-diabetic, has hypothyroidism, always feels “weak,” and is obsessive compulsive (that one is my diagnosis). She is the only one of my grandmother’s children, the oldest, that lives in the U.S., and my grandmother hates seeing my mother in this pathetically ill condition. “You’re the answers to my prayers, Chanyang,” she says to me. “You’re going to be the reason your mother comes back to Korea.”

In the sixties, women weren’t encouraged to go to college. They were either pushed to get married or find a job that would help the family. My mother was the oldest of all her siblings, and she was different. My grandmother reminisced, “Your mother never stopped reading. I used to beat her for it! There were endless chores that needed to be done, and your aunt was the one carrying the load because your mother was hiding somewhere. Reading!”

She grew up in Muju, a very small town that is now known for being close to a frequented ski-resort. Since the town was so small, she was sent to Tae-Jon to go to high school, where she graduated as the valedictorian. People started saying that she had the potential to go further with her education, and her parents advised her to become a teacher. But she wanted to be a doctor. She can’t remember why anymore. My mother always wanted to be the best. Being second was shameful. This is why we clashed while I was in high school. Not only was I not even close to being the shameful second in my class, I didn’t care. I was busy playing basketball, singing in the choir, acting in school plays. I was a thorn in her pride, and we used to argue like we were remaking The Joy Luck Club. I never understood why she wanted me to be a lawyer and attend Harvard. Harvard?! I wanted to become a measly-salaried teacher for inner-city students!

My aunt, her younger sister, told me how incredibly smart my mother was, that even though no one encouraged her to excel in school, she had this inner drive, a determination to be the best despite the odds. While my aunt was busy thinking about saving money to buy her first lipstick, or learning her way around a kitchen and preparing banchan, my mother was thinking about Helen Keller and Abraham Lincoln, reading biographies about Winston Churchill and Gandhi. And despite the fact that she was a small town girl, she applied to Seoul National University. Korea’s Harvard.The sad part of the story is that she wasn’t accepted. Back then, a student can apply to one college per year. If she didn’t get accepted, she can try again the next year. After being the best all her life, she could not go the best university, and she felt too disheartened to apply again. Of course no one encouraged her either.

She went to work in a factory.

I actually feel thankful that my mother didn’t go to Seoul National. She would have probably married some engineer who was on the fast track to Samsung, and she would be working at Seoul National University Hospital, successfully overlooking a man like my father. My father, who barely graduated from high school but had a vision of being his own boss in the land of plenty, working with his hands and working hard—too hard.

Korean immigrant parents don’t share their thoughts, their aches, their wistful sighs with their children. Their dreams weigh heavily on their eyelids after a day of running a business in Chicago’s little Puerto Rico, or after a long graveyard shift at a post office on the south side. My brother and I never understood why she wanted us to attend Harvard. We assumed all Korean parents were outdated and neurotic. What child assumes there are reasons?

I visited Seoul National University today, and I was stunned. I knew this was not the campus my mother would have known had she had been accepted: students walking leisurely with trendy glasses and a dignified aura, a modern art museum and multi-leveled buildings, vibrant colors of the fall canvassing the widely paved streets. I imagined my mother forty-five years younger, nose buried in a book, her apparition almost passing me as I pull out my digital camera.

I came to Korea to work as a writing consultant for Yonsei University, one of Korea’s three “Ivy Leagues” as Korean immigrants in the States coin it. It seems doubly odd that after hearing “Harvard” throughout the years of my adolescence, and her own han in the unfulfilled dream of attending Seoul National University, that she wasn’t ecstatic about my appointment at Yonsei. I suppose at this point in her life, she doesn’t want Seoul anymore. She wants closeness. Warmth. She forgets the electricity of the possibility, the hope, the progress that buzzes around this epicenter of Korea.

I cannot believe how easy it was to land a job at Yonsei when I consider the complexity my mother experienced in trying to get into a university. I had learned some time ago how proud native Koreans were of their four seasons, but I can definitely capitulate to their pride when I am walking to work during this fall season, and the trees lining the path before me are magically changing into smatters of crimson and gold. I live in a natural, serene enclave in this overflowing city. This morning: Students hiking uphill to classes, taxis amuck with late students commuting in, a few foreign exchange students speaking to each other in the only language they have in common—not English, but Korean. The campus buzzes with possibility. I spend many a night amazed at how a country could develop such a considerable higher education system in such little time! The transient culture of Seoul is astonishing. My mother, who hangs onto her anachronistic views of the Seoul in her memory, would be dumbfounded; she doesn’t know the city that I’m taking in.

Generations. From my grandmother who lived during the Japanese occupation to my mother who grew up during the Korean war, Seoul has been the city of dreams. And me. Living and working in Seoul and breathing in what has morphed into a place that leaves the older generation incredulous. How fast this city has grown—on me! Taking pictures of Seoul National University, I realized my mother wouldn’t be coming back, no matter how much my grandmother hopes. She’s in limbo: neither at home in America nor in her go-yang, homeland. Instead, I am given the opportunity to see the Seoul my mother will never know.

My friend asked me if I wanted her to take a picture of me standing on Seoul National’s campus so I could show my mother. I shook my head--no, she wouldn't want to see it. It was me who wanted to know her.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Debut: Beautiful Plain

The four of us meeting and living together in an overcrowded, overlapping manner in our Chicago apartment on Belle Plaine Avenue was a godsend. Feeling different within a very monocultural subsociety (Asian America), we found each other and started to feel somewhat normal for the first time, maybe ever.

We're finally getting our blog started in an effort to chronicle our experiences and start our David Sedaris/Anne Lamott/Everyoneelseinthisdoggonecountry memoir-esque, comedic essay type of whatever.

Maybe no one will be interested in reading about our lives.

Good thing we have a little too much self-esteem.

Viva Maureen-and-Ceil!