Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Life as a One-Way Street vs. A City (A very long contemplation on my life decisions)

I recently applied to the KGSP program, which is an undergraduate/graduate school program in Korea. Foreigners can apply, and if they are accepted, they go to an intensive Korean language school for a year before starting school at a Korean university.
When I was working on the application, I had to write an introduction of myself and a "future plans after study" statement, as we do with many applications. As I wrote, I was reminded of the different self-introductions I have written in the past. Each one has focused on something unique about myself that I thought would impress the judges or the committee which saw my application, or would intrigue and satisfy the readers of whichever blog I was writing for. I've said so many things about myself. "I'm a writer, a poet, a foodie, small town girl, university student, university graduate, top student, average student, curious, simple-minded, I love Korean culture, I love Asian culture, I love music, I love Korean music, I love cooking, I love movies, I love blah blah blah..." none of which were totally true nor totally false at those stages in my life.
For my applications, I thought particularly about what I wrote on my Wordpress blog, "Mijeong in Jeju". This long introduction which was produced from a sort of melancholy nostalgia for my home and childhood was what I decided to present of myself for a blog targeting my hometown friends and their families. I couldn't use that introduction for my application. I thought for a long while about why not.
I filled out all of my paperwork, submitted it, and next thing I knew I was relating the same things I had written on the papers, like a recording, to a friendly Korean-American guy in D.C.. It was one in the morning on a Saturday for him, and he was asking me if "this was a good time?", and the two of us were laughing at the extreme time difference. The two of us were laughing at my experiences with culture shock. The two of us were laughing at my awful, halting Korean, which he claimed was impressive.
Man, sparks were flying with that interview guy.
The self-introduction I have learned to give to Korean people vs. Caucasian people is very different. I have become an expert at avoiding the things which raise suspicion, raise too much curiosity, force me to be completely honest.
Applying for KGSP made me take a look at what I really want in life. I think for a long time, I perceived what I am doing now as the only thing which I was capable of doing-I know this for a fact because I called my brother in tears during the application process to explain that I have no idea what the hell I am doing in Korea.
But I'll save that bit for a little later in this musing.
Anyway, applying for KGSP, looking up jobs for people with a "Korean Language and Literature" degree, having to confront the fact that a job in Korea aside from teaching English probably isn't going to happen, and laughing with that poor guy on the phone, sent me, in some convoluted way, toward the United States again. I started thinking about who I was and what I was before I left, and why I decided that I needed to leave.
It brought me back to my self-introduction. The way I introduced myself on my "Mijeong in Jeju" blog, the way I introduced myself to a drunk Korean-American boy at a party, the way I introduced myself to my grandmother's friends, the way I introduced myself to the English teacher at my school---they're all so, so different.
To Mijeong in Jeju, I talked about my parents, grandparents, background, and my general accomplishments. To that drunk Asian guy, I lowkey bragged about speaking Korean "really well" while slipping my hair behind my ear and laughing off his claims that I'm pretty enough to be a sorority girl. To my grandmother's friends, I carefully avoided the painful process of being picked on and ridiculed for my interest in worlds and cultures so far away from my own. To the English teacher at my school, I played down my talents and hobbies in an attempt to appear non-threatening, and immediately regretted it when I found my experience and qualifications being ignored at every turn.

None of these are completely true. Who I am is not just my parents, my abilities to speak Korean, my awkward interest in Asia, or my ability to compromise myself just to make sure I don't rock the boat.
The last couple of months allowed me to slip into yet another untrue version of myself, move around in it, and eventually come back to the place I was when I shredded that shell of myself and stepped into university life. The shell? My first boyfriend. The new place? Applying for graduate school.
Backstory that I hope isn't tmi and/or boring: I met my first boyfriend, the one I just recently broke up with and ranted about on instagram after drinking too much Malbec, three and a half years ago at a church in Seoul (I have said this sentence or a variation of it one time too many now). Before my first trip to Korea, I was a freshman in college who was obsessed with five things---1. Korean dramas and Kpop 2. Youtubers of a certain demographic (kevjumba, nigahiga, WongFu, Fung Bros., bubzbeauty, etc) 3. learning foreign languages, 4. Asian food, 5. English <---> Korean language exchange. The biggest and most enjoyable two experiences of my life at that point had been in my senior year of high school and occurred within two weeks of each other: going to Koreatown in Fairfax, Virginia (D.C. area) and attending Ohio State University's summer camp for linguistic scholars. At both of these times I had been on top of the world with my new discoveries, and somewhat drunk off the idea of city life and adulthood (I was sixteen at the time).
Korea was another step in this experience of mine, of living away from home and making my own decisions, and after two weeks in the country I met this nice boy who took me to the movies and bought me dinner, and suddenly became the roller-coaster ride of my eighteenth year of life. You see, I had never dated a boy. I had barely liked any boys; I wasn't interested in the guys who lived in my hometown. Nope, I was interested in Korean-American-on-the-phone-in-D.C.-with-the-cute-laugh-boys.
For more backstory: crazy things were going on in my life at that time. My high school best friend was slowly pulling away from her relationship with me as she deepened ties with two guys I disapproved of, which doesn't make any sense because I was basically doing the exact same kind of reckless things with guys, just less physical because I was too shy.
For example: The first guy I ever had a serious crush on was my friend in middle school-a blue eyed, lanky dreamer boy who would gmail chat me late at night and talk about nonsense with me until three in the morning, but whose family was abusive. The second guy I ever had a serious crush on was a mentally unstable half-Chinese boy who strung me along for nearly six months believing his outrageous lies that he was some larger-than-life Green Dragons-esque gangster mixed with Robin Hood's noble intentions and heart-stopping bravado. The third guy I ever had a serious crush on was a half-Mexican employee at my first workplace who smoked weed and cigarettes, drank too much, and, at the height of his mistreatment of me, called me a bitch and told me to fuck off...for simply trying to get him to do his crew work, multiple times.
Yeah, I was stupid.
My first boyfriend wasn't American. My first boyfriend wasn't even my boyfriend until this year, yet I began calling him that because it was easier to explain to people who didn't understand how someone could have such a huge crush on someone long distance. As a home schooler, though, I had never been around any of the guys I liked except the ones mentioned above-and even of those, only one of them did I ever meet frequently in person (the worst one, unfortunately).
It all ended when I returned to Korea and he did, too, and both of us didn't really talk the way we used to, and his maturity level far exceeded mine. While he was slaving away in a startup company, I was out with groups of American boys like the ones I watched on Youtube-high school or college age guys who would happily come along to go out drinking, eat bingsu, wander home through Sinchon, and hold my phone camera above my head for me so I could get a better shot of street performers. I had this feeling of free-flying youth and fun when I was with them.
When I returned to the U.S., the Korean guy and I broke off the great friendship we'd had, my high school best friend ran away from home thanks to her overbearing parents and a friendly guy who said he'd love her, and I had to both take care of my younger siblings while my parents were away from home AND look for her by calling the mentally ill boy who had screwed me over and left me in one of the darkest places I had ever been. The tears I had experienced because of these three people made me want to escape back to that culture I had experienced over the summer, and when I went to UVA, I found it. I learned how to properly flirt with boys just like those ones at the language camp, studied American college slang like a pro, became involved in clubs and organizations I cared about, took sociology classes and tried to be understanding while still not becoming a liberal, and eventually began to navigate the world of my own culture with ease and great satisfaction.
Then I graduated and went to Korea.
I reunited with the guy, had a huge fight with my /new/ best friend, and started an orientation which distinctly reminded me of that language camp years ago. I did the exact same things; I went out a few times with groups to drink, slept very little and went to classes all day every day, traveled to the seaside to drink some more, and developed more than a few miniature crushes on the baby-faced guys who happened to be there. Then it all ended, I decided to date the old guy anyway, and my life in Korea began.
Except, for some reason I felt like I was living in my seventeen-year-old body whenever I was around him. Remember cassette tapes, how you could rewind them (lol)? I felt like every time we met, I rewound myself to seventeen. I'd flash back to so many experiences that I thought I had left to rest; the time my coworker threw serving trays on the floor and called me a fucking bitch, and I went home and drank four shots of vodka and cried. The time my then-not-boyfriend called me in the middle of the night "just to talk for a bit", like we were filming some cute teen romance a few years too late (for him). The day of my graduation, when the rhododendrons were blooming outside my bedroom window and I thought myself to be unstoppable. I walked up and received my diploma from a community college in the middle of nowhere, with a 4.0 GPA and "UVA bound!" on my graduation cap.
However, while I was having my short, month-long trip down memory lane, the other half of this equation had other concerns. And those concerns were valid ones which were more relevant than mine; but those concerns also sent me down memory lane. Memory lane of the three men I had been interested in and mildly involved with at UVA-and unfortunately, those three men do not include "Drunk Guy Who Thought I Was In a Sorority", although all three of them were Korean (surprise! not).

Which brings me to a point in this bizarre narrative that probably has everyone wondering, a point which I have tried to clarify even to myself and never been able to, no matter how many self-introductions I write.
Why the heck do I like Korea so much anyway?
The truth of the matter is, I don't really like Korea that much. I just happened to fall into the niche of people who like Korea at some point in my high school years. I can say that for sure, going to Korea and developing a crush on a Korean guy propelled me in that direction, but I was never solely interested in Korea. I've seen a decent portion of anime and still understand a tiny bit of spoken Japanese, thanks to my middle school interest in Japan. At UVA I took more classes related to Chinese culture than Korean culture (if you ignore language classes). I could have literally gone anywhere with my interest. So the actual question is, why the heck do I like Asia?
The answer is complicated, easily misunderstood, and difficult to explain. For starters, I was interested in Asia as a child. I was curious for reasons I do not know. When my dad would watch Iron Chef, I'd show a very serious interest in the language being spoken on the show. Looking back I realize even my dad, despite his knowledge of foreign languages, was apprehensive about answering my questions, and probably didn't even know all of the answers to them. My mother, on the other hand, was my primary influence. From the books I read as a kid (does anyone remember "Hojo the Laughing Dragon"? Why did they even read me this book?), to the shows I began watching in middle school (I was a diehard FMA fan), to the boybands I became obsessed with in high school (Daesung from Big Bang was like the first man I ever saw, I swear), she encouraged my interest by relating to it. Her own experiences in 1980s America had made her quite open-minded, and her personality makes her insatiably curious about other people. She picked out "A Single Shard" for me in sixth grade, she listened to me rant about Fruit's Basket, she was the first one to say Daesung was a downright handsome fellow, and when I told her I was thinking about asking a nice Korean-American guy at language camp to watch some fireworks in Itaewon with our gang, she was the first to say "Do it, do it, you can date anyone you want. Sometimes, I wish I had." Not to reveal my mother's entire past, and not to say she isn't happy with her current decision, but my grandparents are fickle people who judge other cultures with a critical eye and shut down my mom's attempts to access other cultures "too closely" as much as they could (and they tried to do it to me, too, but I just trolled them too hard for it to ever be successful, hahahaha....).
My mother made me feel limitless, and limitlessness told me I could read anything I wanted, like anything I wanted, and date anyone I wanted.
Not everyone is limitless, and the four Korean men I've been interested in were not limitless (honestly, no one can ever be truly limitless). The most recent one made me look at my life as a one-way street where I had one destiny- "Korea", and the other ones seemed similarly so hung up on my race/cultural background that they couldn't see beyond their own insecurities (yep, I said it). Even as I graduated from undergrad, I was looking at my life as a city of winding streets, many avenues I could travel down, and new worlds and experiences I could explore. I still saw things as a sixteen-year-old before all the other things in my life happened. My dream job, my dream future, was living in a city in the U.S.A., working on research or language or teaching, continuing to see exactly how limitless life in my country could be. It did not include dating and marrying a Korean guy and living in Korea for the rest of my life, even though a lot of my friends seem to think this was my focus the entire time.

We can always, of course, turn our car around on a street and go back, even if it is marked "One-Way", but we run a significant risk. In my vulnerable state, that risk seemed frightening. On the first chilly day in September and the end of the Chuseok holidays, I woke up and went to lunch with my then-boyfriend in Sadang. We ate seafood jeon at a restaurant down a sidestreet, and I nervously couldn't decide if it was more inappropriate to be showing my shoulders in a Land's End tanktop or my jiggly thighs in short-shorts. My sweater kept changing locations as my heart kept changing cultures; shoulders or thighs, it made no difference. I couldn't properly exist in either one, and this dawned on me in the manifestation of words from the most tolerant, worldly person I knew echoing sentiments I expected to hear from my rural white American grandparents about culture and lives, destiny and love, race and mixing, and I must've appeared like I never considered these things in my life, because obviously he still felt the need to say them to my face. My six-month relationship looks more like a two-month exploration looking back, because once you've been boxed and your limitlessness destroyed, you feel more like a slowly rotting corpse than a person with a soul.
Perhaps my disillusionment with Korea began on that day, or maybe I was never truly that crazy about Korea to start with. Like I said, my dream future had very little to do with an extended amount of time in Korea. I wanted to experience Korea because I had learned Korean and the culture intrigued me. But as I continued dragging myself out of bed day-in and day-out in a relationship that felt lukewarm and a city that felt as entrapping as my hometown, I realized something about myself. I only start looking at something as a one-way street when I feel like the place I am currently at isn't filled with avenues and options. My one-way street was a relationship where I gave up 75% of who and what I was for a marriage, a new family, and a country where I would be thousands of miles away from my own family. Though I had repeatedly said I could handle it and I was fine, I realized with defeat that my pride, my love, and my fascination didn't matter; none of them were strong enough to convince me that this person was enough for me and living in this country would ever make me happy.
This made me question everything. Even as I filled out my applications for KGSP, I wondered if I could last three more years here. The thought felt like a disgraceful, sinful thing, considering how much I had talked and talked about moving to Korea. But even this goes back to my various self-introductions. At school, I'd tell people I just wanted to hang out here for a year, so I would seem both the right amount of adult and yet a little flexible. At home, I'd talk like I was making a career choice so my parents wouldn't worry and I could be a good example for my younger siblings. To my grandparents, I made it sound like I was escaping to never return, so they would eventually give up on me and stop telling me things like "he'll never like you because he'll want one of his own to marry" (because I really really hate it when people say disapproving things that turn out to be true, damn it).
After I broke up with him, I began working through this painful path of rediscovery and reminiscence that I'm afraid is a personality trait I won't be able to shake off any time soon. This is what I have come to; I am someone who is deeply, remarkably regretful that she didn't ever learn how to drive or attempt to live an adult life in her own country. Someone who actually misses trying to find a ride to Kroger to buy organic health food with her best friend. I am someone who has binged on those old Youtubers for the past three days because she got into an argument on Facebook about Asian-American actors, an argument she hadn't had in months because it just wasn't relevant to her life anymore. I am someone who once read about an American woman who married a Japanese man and entirely threw away her own culture only to discover what a mistake she had made thirty years too late--- and I am someone who swore that would never be her, yet almost became that woman simply because it was so hard to turn my freaking car around and drive through all the mistakes I had made. Hitting rewind while the tape was still playing created a horrifying cacophony of sounds but it was worth it, because now I know where I was and I know I wasn't happy there. I know I was actually so depressed I wanted to run away from everything, and I couldn't even complete the simplest of tasks like cleaning my apartment or going out to buy groceries, and I would drink an entire bottle of wine because no matter how low I was, I didn't dare breathe a word about my suffering to the man that I thought I loved, because if he found out how much I just wanted to go back to America, it was over for us. And now it finally is, and now I am finally limitless again, and I do not care who you are, how cute you are, your family background, how well we click as friends, or how well we click as lovers, or what the two of us think about religion, I'll never limit myself for anyone again, because I've done it a million times now and it's not fun.

This is what my self introduction would look like if I didn't edit it for the eyes of those who read it. My self-introduction wouldn't mention my degree and it wouldn't focus on my accomplishments (although I AM VERY PROUD OF THEM, thankyouverymuch). It would probably talk a lot about boys, because I've spent a lot of time around boys and I am not ashamed to admit it. I'd mention how I've somehow managed to get into crazy fights with both my best friends, and how only one of those fights ended in a repaired relationship (and I couldn't live without her). I would put in a lot of parenthesis, a lot of quotation marks, and I'd swear a few times and I would explicitly relate the things I wanted to explicitly relate and leave out the things I didn't wish to discuss. I'd be honest about how I feel about Korea, and still feel guilty that I'm not running around sparkly eyed over Korea like all the other "expats" I know.
 In my real self-introduction, I cease trying to pretend like I had a normal reason for becoming interested in Asia and honestly say that it began in earnest because the men are handsome and no, I don't have a fetish, because yes, it's possible to have a preference for a certain physical appearance. In my real self-introduction, I am not being coy or putting on fronts about my life or what has brought me to this point, and I am not caring about how people perceive that, including the people who are being discussed in this self-introduction.
At the same time, I only feel safe enough to post such an introduction to a low-traffic blog I've used for my poetry. Because I hate saying I have no idea what I am doing with my life right now, and I hate saying I regret my decisions, and I hate talking about how other people have affected me. But here we are, it's a new day, and maybe I can survive here three years, maybe I'll actually enjoy it if I look at it as more than a one-way street. Or, maybe I'll have to go through the one-way-street manipulative-jerk relationship all over again to eventually learn my lesson. At the present, however, I hope to rediscover the things I have missed out on, even if I have to wait a while to get there. Some people might dismiss these thoughts and this long essay as growing pains and perhaps they are, but I'm still young, and looking at myself as old made me feel like I would just crawl into a coffin sometime and die and that would be the cold, emotionless end to it all.
In contrast, these days, despite it all, I feel limitless again.
I don't think I can forget that feeling, no matter how far down the One-Way Street I have gone.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

New Faith

one day i will
awake from my sleep
and be that person
who you wanted to meet
bless your soul,
bless that sovereign place
frozen north, Midwest
where you once rested your head,
bless me,
who had no idea how to be
more than my broken self,
bless God,
bless His goodness and warm heart,
and powerful omniscience
Who takes me despite it all,
bless our love,
which has passed away
dead at the break of day,
bless the sun,
which has jarred us,
taken me from my long rest
burned my eyes with the image
of your departing shoulders,
and my ceaseless endeavor
to rediscover my soul
i abandoned,
bless my mistaken assumption
that i could survive
without my eyes, bless
my tired heart
which did flamboyant acrobatics
and then died
deep in the dark night,
bless our love
and put an end to it,
our posthumous twilight
needs a new faith,
a different name and
an unknown face.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


I was pushing your words
back down your throat
at every turn,
you tried to be an ointment
to our wounds, you perceived
my efforts to flash
flesh-colored bandages
and call them healed,
yet you could not be silenced,
your bravery greater
than my eloquent show of
I avoided your eyes,
their shadows falling on me
like a death bell tolling
our final meeting,
you were probably
the only one who
genuinely cared for me,
of all the events and
the misery I suffered,
your gaze remained
painfully honest, and yet I
still look away,
I can't bear the weight
of my own buzzing thoughts,
my own insanity that
keeps me awake at night,
and drags me up in the morning
like a resurrected warrior,
I hope you found your
peace of mind.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ode to "Crystalline"

I have an affection
for the university bus,
it's evenly paced screeching
so common and dull
interrupting your performance,
it brings you to earth
though you are weaving new
worlds with your hands,
the mere sight of you is still
beyond my ability to fathom,
those lovely nights
of that interim, when I strayed
from all that I knew
to think about you, quietly
the notes of your soul
are undone at the keys of your piano,
my most intense contemplation
even now, is so simple
"why are some people like this?"
though I know the answer.

Keeping Appearances

He looked good for me
twice in his life,
very unusual, I know, it
seems too few
for the length of our

His wavy black hair
brushing against my cheek,
by the stream
together in July,
is as good a memory
as we will ever have,

Though that first night
he gazed deep into my eyes
I think he grew tired,
his pensiveness gave way
to sleep, and 
his steps were heavy again,

So I just wanted to see
if he brushes his hair
and wears proper clothes,
he should look good
for someone,
more than twice.