History

Relenting to my dad’s insistence, I dragged my reluctant self to the movie theater at 9:30 PM to watch a movie called Assassin (암살), a movie supposedly dealing with Korea under Japanese imperialism. Besides the movie being critically acclaimed, I think my dad frankly wanted to experience Korean nationalistic pride by watching a historically Korean movie at an American movie theater.

The movie was masterfully crafted. The characters developed concisely throughout the movie, all playing their roles in the overall theme of the plot without overstepping the boundaries of other characters. Each character had an intricately-woven relationship with other characters that made the Japanese-Korean tension seem not so black-and-white; it introduced a shade of grey, if you will. Last, but not least, I appreciated the musical selection, which gently assuaged the constantly progressing story-line of the movie with its calming yet ominous orchestral backdrop.

Since the movie lends itself to a wide array of discussion entailing the post-Chosun dynasty in the Korean peninsula, many moviegoers in the theater seemed shaken up by the brutal truth of what perspired in Korea between 1910 and 1945. History has it recorded that the Japanese regime took control of Korea at the brink of Chosun Dynasty’s collapse with the help of pro-Japanese faction in Korea (what’s even more bothersome is that the sons and daughters of pro-Japanese faction members currently hold many of the governmental positions in South Korea). With the forceful signage of Ul-Sa-Jo-Yak, Japanese regime effectively took hold of Korea, decentralizing the Korean government, savagely killing Korean civilians in both Manchuria and in Korea, preemptively replacing much of Korean culture with that of Japanese, and mandating Koreans to pay patriotic homage to Japan at certain times of the day. The vestige of this imperialistic time period can still be seen in some of Korea’s dialect, fashion, culture, and nomenclature (my grandmother has a Japanese and a Korean name).

In retaliation to the heinous acts committed by the Japanese, many Koreans stood at the forefront of nationalism as Korean independence fighters. The movie, although using aliases, depicts some of these independence fighters who have tirelessly worked to promote security, pride, and welfare to the state that was on the verge of dilapidation. Some of these independence workers include Yoon Bong-Gil (disguised grenade as picnic food and destroyed a Japanese event being held in Shanghai), Ahn Joong-Geun (assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the then-prime minister of Japan), and Lee Bong-Chang (attempted to throw a grenade at Hirohito, the then-emperor of Japan). These activists were posthumously awarded the President’s prize, indicating the highest honor one could receive from the Korean government.

What I feel uncomfortable about is the fact that these men are immortalized in Korean history as the pioneers of peace and courage. Regardless of the circumstance and situation, these men killed another human being, and in the case of Yoon Bong-Gil, his grenade inflicted collateral damage on nearby civilians who had nothing to do with the Korea-Japan relationship. To achieve peace, these men resorted to violence. To prevent murder, these men murdered. And yet, these men were the paragons of justice in that time period.

Maybe this is why men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who preached nonviolent protest in the face of animosity, are imprinted in world history as symbols of peace. Because when hardship surfaces, peacefully resisting seems impossible, even ridiculous. For the independence fighters of Korea, they chose to fight back to Japan by means of force and espionage. Sometimes, I wonder if things would have been different if the fighters chose peace instead of violence, words instead of guns.

But history is like a book scribbled in with a permanent marker: it cannot be erased. Instead, we must look forward and learn from the mistakes we made in the past to prepare for the present and change the future. As I sat there watching the movie, I looked around the room and realized we were able to sit in these very places because there were people in the past that fought for our freedom and our sovereignty. I may not agree with the methods used to achieve the freedom, but then again, how would I know what the situation was like at that time? All I can do is pay tribute to those who died in our place so we could have a better life.

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Fate

If there is one thing I learned from today, it’s that the time you are dealt with in the present can affect the time you are faced with in the future. In a split second, the whole outcome of a given day can change, and we can’t do anything but throw ourselves into this current of change, letting it sweep us into a place that was unknown previously.

Today, I got into a car accident.

In a situation where urgency envelops our five senses, time seems to move as a snapshot of moments, a visual collage of still-frame photos hastily jumbled up into one. As the back of my car rear-ended another car pulling out of the driveway, the concept of linear time vanished, and I saw the moments of my life collapse in front of my eyes just as the back bumper of my car collapsed onto the ground.

There are five stages of overcoming grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Usually, I don’t appreciate this compartmentalization of feelings into five distinct categories, since one cannot fully detect what stage one is in. However, as soon as my car collided with the oncoming car, adrenaline took over and I vehemently denied reality like Peter denying his discipleship with Jesus at the brink of dawn.

But the crux of the accident came with the bargaining stage, where I suddenly felt betrayed by the very same world that born me into it. In that 30 second window of leaving my house and backing out of my garage, the forces of the world played a game of Poker against me, stacking the odds and manipulating the deck of cards so that I would be left with no choice but to rear-end the car.

And that got me thinking for a bit. Had I left the house 30 seconds earlier or 30 seconds later, I would never have crashed into the car, and I would have moved on with my day just like any other days: serene and accident-free. Of course, I decided to leave my house at the middle ground of those two time intervals, the other person’s car decided to pull into the drive way at that precise time frame, and the world decided to play a sick joke, rendering both our cars and our well-being damaged.

Now that I’ve had some time to gain composure and analyze the accident in retrospect, I find it startlingly peculiar how these two automobiles – these two entities – happened to be in the same place at the same time, undertaking the same action in a same particular pattern. For this car accident to have happened, the world had to be working with us so that it creates a perfectly timed, beautifully choreographed sequence of action. The world was the director, and we were the actors playing in its movie.

If the movie had a title to it, it would be “Fate.” Objectively speaking, there are tens and thousands of car accidents that happen every day, and the two agents that are involved in the car crash were also carried by the serendipitous encounter of two worlds converging into one. We say that time is a succession of moments, which is accurate to a certain extent. But these moments are comprised of every individual fate encounters we have, and the way we experience the world and our surroundings are orchestrated by fate.

On that note, I won’t blame myself too much on the car accident, as this was all a part of the bigger picture in the course of my life. One fateful accident should not overshadow the numerous other fateful encounters I’ve had that were positive, life-changing, and wholesome. So now, after 24 hours since the derailment of my car’s back bumper, I write in tranquility, knowing that there are many more beautiful happenstances waiting for me out there, whether that beauty turns out to be glorious or quite calamitous.

Quotes


“She seemed too fragile to exist; but that very fragility spoke of some frightening strength which held her anchored to existence with a body insufficient to reality…”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“To say “I love you” one must know first how to say the “I”.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“She was dazzling – alight; it was agony to comprehend her beauty in a glance.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned


“There were pauses that seemed about to shatter and were only to be snatched back to oblivion by the tightening of his arms about her and the sense that she was resting there as a caught, gossamer feather, drifted in out of the dark.”

-F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned


“And the dilutions of his letters with affectionate diminutives began to be mechanical and unspontaneous…”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned


“He felt that to succeed here the idea of success must grasp and limit his mind.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned


“They stood silently before each other for a moment, and she thought that the most beautiful words were those which were not needed.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“I don’t know which is the greater strength: to accept all this for you – or to love you so much that the rest is beyond acceptance. I don’t know. I love you too much.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“But to be conventional is the only abnormality possible between us.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“There is a kind of dignity in a renunciation of dignity openly admitted.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“No man can give another the capacity to think. Ye that capacity is our only means of survival.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“He wondered whether the peculiar solemnity of looking at the sky comes, not from what one contemplates, but from that uplift of one’s head.”

-Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead


“Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell.”

-Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s


“…our understanding of each other had reached that sweet epth where two people communicate more often insilence than in words…”

-Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s


“Oh, Jesus God. We did belong to each other. He was mine.”

-Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s


“You keep them a stranger, a stranger who’s a friend.”

-Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s


“If we understand that, and act on it, not only will life be more satisfying, right off, but our grandchildren, or our great grandchildren, might possibly see a different and marvelous world.”

-Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States


“And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”

-Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States


“However, [history] rushes on, as it always did, with two forces racing toward the future, one splendidly uniformed, the other ragged but inspired.”

-Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

Departure

On August 8th, 2015, at 5:00 PM, My contract with Explo was officially terminated.

As the clock struck its bell five times, co-workers around me celebrated in glee, intentionally yelling obscenities to further signify the end of a working period. It was joyful moment, definitely. The culmination of being at Wheaton College for the past 7 weeks all pointed to this particular moment, where everyone could bask in the glory and pride of having been through it all.

Time, relatively speaking, is a dizzying concept. In the matter of 7 weeks, something that felt so far away approached me in an instant, and something that seemed to be in an instant felt longingly far. I was thoroughly impressed by the elastic quality of time, and I found myself once again obeying its game of push-and-pull. But perhaps this relativity is precisely the reason why we tend to remember time as an instance in a specific moment of our lives. As I sit in the corner of an airport cafe writing this post, I can say that even though my experiences at Explo weren’t always positive, my time at Explo was wonderful.

To truly celebrate the end of an era, we (the people of Explo) drove to Providence, Rhode Island, to spend our last night together at Dave & Buster’s, an arcade-style restaurant that can accurately be portrayed as an adult version of Chuck-e-Cheese’s. With our heart filled with the possibility of what tonight could bring into our lives, we nimbly marched up the escalator and made our way into the entrance of Dave & Buster’s.

Inside the place, a luxuriously quaint venue was waiting for us, and we took that venue like Alexander the Great ceasing the land of Egypt. At this juncture in time, the concept of work-related hierarchy vanished into thin air, and we all gave up our titles that we so closely identified ourselves with in the past 7 weeks –  residential adviser, programming assistant, assistant dean, and so on. In that venue, we were just a person talking to another person, an individual conversing with another individual, a human soul interacting with another human soul. The beauty in the deconstruction of our identity was surely evident in that room, and no one could deny the fact that we survived the summer together and survived it quite gloriously.

As alcohol slowly warmed up our physical and social self, emotions started to intensify, motions became wilder, and words started to mingle into an incoherent slur. Being lighter than a feather, I only needed two sips of diluted vodka to feel the effect of alcohol on my conscience. It’s interesting how one realizes the change inside one’s body, but there is absolutely nothing one does to counteract this change. As alcohol slowly disseminated throughout my digestive system, I took the form of a debutante in the Roaring Twenties: overtly sociable and obnoxiously laudatory of others.

The night succumbed to the elasticity of time once again, and the idea of hours and minutes seemed to lose its function as a means of tracking time. Everybody was now in a state of inebriation, and you could not deny the cataclysmic shift in some people’s personality when they are drunk. At the arcade area, the effects of alcohol could be seen clearly; It was as if one could physically see profanity floating around in the atmosphere, waiting to be devoured by another foul-mouthed individual.

But inside the details of profanity and vulgarity, I could detect the untethered happiness of everyone. If a movie director walked in and shot a still frame of the arcade room, there would have been joy radiating from the frame. The smiles were genuine, the hugs were passionate, and the lives of everyone were being lived the way they should be lived. Looking on from a bar table, I could not help but solemnly grin at the visual manifestation of the end of Explo and – quite frankly – the end of our companionship.

All great movies have memorable endings, and this night was no exception. When the clock struck midnight, everybody faced the inevitable that they have all been avoiding since the beginning of tonight: saying goodbyes. Usually, I am unaffected by farewells, as I believe that our lives are the culmination of goodbyes and hellos we say in our lives, and that tonight is also an instant where my belief is validated. But my emotion could not be deceived, and I felt empty with each goodbye I uttered to everyone I met at Explo. I think that farewell is a tangible indication of the emotional proximity between two individuals, and each goodbye revealed to me just how close I was with some of these people.

In the end, however, farewells are what give meaning to the encounters we have with others. We remember things that we miss and things that are not in our lives anymore, and as I am writing this, I am feeling the void of Explo more than ever. But my time at Explo was beautiful because I got to say goodbye. So once again, we all depart back into another sphere of our lives, knowing that our spheres commingled over the summer, and that we commingled pretty damn tightly.

Religion

I have not been to church in 6 weeks.

First, it started off as a result of preoccupation with my summer job. Then, I reached a state of complacency where going to church did not seem as urgent as it did before. Now, my absence from church almost feels normal, as if I never went to church ever in my life. The effect 6 weeks can have on my spiritual well-being can be overwhelmingly transformative. 6 weeks ago, I attended two church services each Sunday, devoutly praying for my Lord and savior. Since then, my identity as a Christian has been compromised to the point where I am quite uncertain where I stand in my faith.

In a societal framework, however, I am transparently a Christian, and my mannerism all point to Christianity when I am engaged in a conversation with a church member. I have Christian friends, attend a Korean-American Presbyterian Church, keep a Bible of my own on my desk, and am a member of the Amherst Christian Fellowship. All these man-made coalitions to legitimize the status of our own Christian beliefs, I am a part of. And most of the times, we are so immersed in the moment of exonerating our sins to the Lord that we forget to stop and think about what we are thinking in these times of repentance, fellowship, and evangelism. To put in honestly, Christians devalue the concept of meta-cognition, and this paradigm needs to shift.

Couple months ago, I attended an unofficial praise night hosted by my church partly motivated by my desire to reconnect with my peers. When I walked in, the dim stage light and pious looks of my friends’ faces greeted me. In this sacred room where all my friends felt secure in the name of the Lord, I felt as if I stumbled into a foreign territory. Like a mirage on a scorching day, everybody in the room seemed so tangible yet so ephemeral to me. It took me a while to exactly pinpoint how I was feeling, and when I did, I refused to admit it to myself. But more than ever, I felt lost in that moment.

As the praise leader reached the apex of his worship, I looked up from my groveling self to look around the room. In the dimly lit room, I saw my friends kneeling down on the ground with their arms pointing towards the stage platform. Once my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, I started noticing the uniformity of everyone’s body positions. It was as if they were following a formula in the art of worship: one must have his/her knees bent, head bowed at a 45 degrees angle, arms raised ever so slightly above their comfortable positions, and mouth moving rapidly to incite the prayers in one’s mind.

I got scared and promptly underwent an existential crisis, in which I kept asking myself what everybody was doing in this room. Here we were, all methodically praising a deity that we believe in because of this idea called faith and this book called the Bible. I felt forlorn in this strangely cult-ish atmosphere and wondered if any other soul in this room felt the way I did: confused and disillusioned.

The fine medium between religious conformation and spiritual individuality is a difficult one to locate, let alone understand. There are so many instances where ordinary people (I do not wish to demarcate redemption to only sinners and criminals) find liberation through the form of religion or – in my case – Christianity. But today’s practice of Christianity seems to put such heavy emphasis on the nature of bureaucracy and homogeneity. In a sermon, there are rarely any listeners who raise their hands to ask questions about the sermon. Why is that so? It’s because when a listener asks a question to a pastor, it doesn’t translate to simply an individual talking to an individual but rather an individual speaking out against an institution. In a metonymical sense, the pastor is the church, and the church is the pastor. Vaguely 1984-esque, huh?

With all this being said, I always tend to gravitate towards Christian organizations and confide in my Christian friends more than my secular friends. I have qualms about the church – and any bureaucratic organizations in general -, but I also believe that people’s lives are saved and changed daily by the church. Five years ago, I remember a fight that broke out between my mom and my dad. I earnestly prayed to God that the fight will cease, and within minutes after my prayer, my mom apologized to my dad. So, on September 5th, 2010, I made a solemn acknowledgment to myself, saying I take Jesus Christ as my savior.

Maybe my criticism towards Christianity stems from how far I strayed away from this innocent attitude I had. As I grew older, my world got bigger, my vocabulary more complex, my thoughts more metaphysical, and my views more cynical. To quote The Little Prince, I would now be in the demographic of people that would see a hat and call it a hat, not an elephant engulfed by a boa constrictor. Coupled with this mental growth was the ability to ask more questions about my identity, and the first question I asked was my identity as a Christian. But if I dig into the essence of Christianity, it’s quite simple: God loved us so much that he gave his one and only son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins.

Christianity is a beautiful love story, and I wish the story stayed untainted and pure. I want to tell this love story to other people unabashedly and proudly.  I want to feel how I felt on September 5th, 2010. I want to relive the moment where I felt so audaciously compelled the proclaim my life to the Lord. I want to stop making deceitfully affirmative responses to friends who ask me how my walk with Jesus is. I want to accept Christianity for what it is and not what it became.

First step in solving a problem is to realize that there is one, and in the past 6 weeks, I’ve become numb to the convenience of not identifying myself with a religion. It’s time for me to start trying.

Language

If the world is an onion, one can peel off each layer by learning the languages of different countries. One can’t truly experience a culture until they have fully acquired the language of that culture, because within a language, that specific culture’s history is embedded in it. For example, in English, one would say “let’s go to my house,” since the word “my” is the fundamental indicator of the possession of a house. However, in Korean, one would say “let’s go to our house.” Even in this subtle change in diction, there is already a sizable implication that comes with it. The word “our” is the fundamental indicator in the Korean language; in other words, using the word “my” would not be correct syntactically in Korean. Just in this example, we can trace the histories of the two cultures back to their origins: Korea was founded upon a Confucian ideal, where filial piety and the idea of family predominates the culture. On the other hand, America fosters the concept of rugged individualism, where rags-to-riches stories and capitalistic spirit embodies the heart of Americans.

Once I understood the liberation languages can provide, I began wondering how cut off I am from the rest of the world both culturally and intellectually. There are over 180 countries in the world and roughly 6500 different languages are spoken, even though some of them have fewer than 1000 speakers. I, on the other hand, can only speak two languages fluently: English and Korean.

In a societal setting, my bilingual ability can be looked upon favorably. I can serve as an interpreter in a situation where both parties cannot fully speak each other’s languages, or I can thoroughly cross-examine both languages – English and Korean – and explore the different nuances both have. But there are only so many languages one can master, given the capacity of one’s brain to hold all the information. I once came across a video of a student named Tim Doner who could fluently speak 19 languages, including French, Urdu, Swahili, Spanish, and more. The initial moment of awe subsided once I realized 19 languages is infinitesimal compared to the 6500 languages, and even a polyglot like Tim could not decipher the world through the lens of our oral communication.

An interesting thought emerged while I was listening to a Chinese pop music the other day. I, being of Korean descent, know next to nothing about the Chinese language, except the fact that there are tonal aspects in the language which alters the meaning of words. The song was that of a typical rock ballad: the main vocalist spearheads the music video with a passionately desperate chorus while the instrumentalists complement the vocal line with an up-tempo beat.

In the song, there was emotion begging to be delivered and lyrics pining to be interpreted. But to a foreigner’s ear (me), the lyrics essentially amounts to noise. The reason language exists is to convert the sounds our mouths make into something that holds meaning in our brains. No matter how crisply the singer may articulate his words, I will not understand Chinese, and therefore, the lyrics won’t translate into something meaningful to me. But for a listener from mainland China, the lyrics will actually hold a meaning of some sort, and this “noise” that I hear will materialize as an idea for those that can speak the Chinese language.

The very idea of multiculturalism comes from this notion that humans have found a way to express their thoughts and their emotions in a completely different way both phonetically and syntactically. Language arose from our need to communicate, and this necessity became a cornerstone of human achievement. Ironically enough, our desire to communicate became the very reason why a Japanese cannot hold a leisurely conversation with a Brazilian, why English is now the lingua franca in a business meeting, and why I cannot understand this Chinese music I’m listening to right now.