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...

...it'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 him...you 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...like 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!