New York

It’s been a little under two months since I’ve made Brooklyn my home for the summer – specifically, Bushwick.

I have seen things and felt emotions here that do not quite translate into words. It may be because I am not really sure what words I can aptly use to describe them. Perhaps it’s because I refuse to quarantine my thoughts into words that seem too one-dimensional, thereby losing the color and the contour of my thoughts. Or it’s because I just don’t know the right words to use in these situations.

I’m working to take the pretension out of my writing. How does one write with integrity? How can I substitute honesty in place of my arrogance? I’m trying to resolve these inner tensions. Maybe I can write in a different style. A stream-of-conscious narrative, maybe? I hated reading Charles Bukowski’s Post Office because of the protagonist’s utter stupidity – which translated to him talking exclusively about his dipsomaniac tendencies – but I did enjoy the profound honesty imbued in the tone. Unabashedly stupid, but therefore authentic.

Back to New York. It’s a lively city. No wonder this place is called the cultural hub, a mecca for cosmopolitan millennials. I’ve been to so many cafes here – in fact, I’m sitting in one right now drafting this post. Instead of droning on about the wondrous wonders of New York, I think this writing space will be better spent with recording some of my favorite places in New York and why.

-Starbucks near Astor Place. Open until midnight, don’t really have to buy coffee if you enter through the side. Best place to get work done.
-Think Coffee near Union Square. Coffee is great here, spacious room with pleasant amenities.
-Idea Coffee on 28th. Their lightbulb-inspired drink is phenomenal; however, it is also on the more costly side. Buy them at your own expense.
-Caffebene  on 32th. I like this place, but their wi-fi started malfunctioning. Thus, I discontinued going there.
-The Bean on 1st Ave. Probably the most yuppie coffee shop in Manhattan. Got Ella Fitzgerald signage inside, and printers too!

-Take31 on 31st. Hipster Korean food with great ambience inside.
-Barn Joo near Union Square. Same atmosphere as Take31, but bigger.
-Shanghai Cafe in Chinatown. Dim sums are incredible, though it is a little bit disorganized – I would definitely come here by myself.
-Mulan in Flushing. Employees in Flushing take no bullshit – they will get things done on their time. Maybe I liked the unapologetic attitude of the waitresses that served us.
-Ray’s Candy Store near Thompkins Square Park. I always come back to this snug joint for some beignets and what have you. Ray is the man.
-Ivan Ramen on Clinton Street. Ivan Orkin, chef of Ivan Ramen, was featured on Chef’s Table for his dedication to ramen. He makes ramen aesthetic, not merely edible.

Recreation (for those seeking to culture themselves):
-Metrograph on Lower East Side. One of those indie movie joints that looks like it came straight out of a scene from La La Land. Wedged in between two brownstone buildings, Metrograph features independent movies at an affordable price. Bring your date, grandma, or just yourself to this theater, and pretend to know all about mise-en-scene, light contrast while watching a movie of your choice.
-Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. Been to this jazz club four times now. Great selection of music, even greater atmosphere. One of my favorite New York memories is ambling in here around 1AM by myself to listen to musicians from all over the city jam together.
-Mezzrow in Greenwich Village. Same thing as Smalls, except I got to meet one of my favorite jazz pianists, Johnny O’Neal. He’s a killer.
-Escape the Room in Midtown. Kind of forgot what the exact location is, but the intricacies of this particular Escape the Room is definitely worth a visit.



I just finished reading The Stranger by Albert Camus. The main character of the novel, Monsieur Meursault, ruminates on the meaninglessness of life as he awaits his execution in the French Algiers. Meursault is a stranger to social norms, and he satirically examines the absurdity of human emotions and customs when faced with a predicament eliciting these said responses. Meursault bemuses about the absurdity of human life as he is executed for killing the Arab man at the Algerian beach.

Perhaps Camus views life – and in tandem, death – the way Meursault does. Though I do not necessarily agree that human life essentially boils down to the absurd, it has gotten me to think more about death. We all know that once people are born into this world, they will eventually meet life’s end in the form of death. But have we really thought about the fact of life, the un-doing of life?

Death is one of the most ironic qualities of life. It’s the one resolute fact we are all acquainted with – that all humans die eventually – but we are surprised to no end when death actually happens to our loved ones, to those who are close to us, to friends, strangers, accomplices, colleagues, whatever. Why is that? Why is something that we are so familiar with also something that we struggle with the most?

Of course, many thinkers in the past (and the present) have attempted to frame death in their respective ideological frameworks. Camus’ endeavor with The Stranger is one example. Some resort to hedonism when explaining death, some to fatalism. Religion is often the answer to appease the worries of man. Many religions diverge in their doctrines of proffering the panacea to mankind – that is, what lies beyond death. In the most radical sense, some seek for immortality, though no one actually attains it. Qin Shi Huang of Qin Dynasty comes to mind when I think of this example. He was convinced he was immortal, until his son killed him.

But I digress. I write this post because the idea of death never entered my mainstream conscience until recently. I’ve realized that for me to get to where I am right now – age 21 and relatively healthy – I have had to evade death multiple times. People jokingly say that you’re risking death if you walk outside because you might be hit by a car, but there is a grain of truth to that seemingly improbable statement. We can’t choose when we die; rather, death chooses us. People hope to die a certain idealistic way, but I say that’s ludicrous and insensitive to those who’ve succumbed to death in unexpected ways. When talking about death, we are all clueless children.

So, then, is there a “correct” way of facing one’s death? I’m not sure, and I don’t know if I will ever be sure. I do think, however, that the best way to come to terms with our notions of death is to read literature on how others have dealt with theirs. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi is where I found solace. Kalanithi was a coveted neurosurgeon about to complete his residency at Stanford when he was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer. All his life’s achievement crumbled with one scan of his body.

If courage was to manifest in some form or another, I think I found it in Kalanithi’s encounter with his imminent death. His examination of his health was poignant but honest. He knew he had little to live, and he accepted that fact without pretense. Instead, he proceeded to write a eulogy to himself, a legacy that he would leave for his wife Lucy, his daughter, and his readers. I was floored and found myself reading his book over and over. Kalanithi is gone, but he is still remembered by many.

We all want to be remembered after we pass on. I want to be remembered after I die. If nobody remembers me, did my life matter? How will I be remembered as? What will I be remembered for? These questions float around my head from time to time, and there is no way of knowing concrete answers for them. This is why death is tricky.


I’m feeling the pains of growing older.

One constant fact of life is that life does not slow down for anyone; regardless of where you are in life, the clock ticks all the same. Resuming my junior year in college, I am feeling the relentless of time propelling me in twenty different directions. The great irony of life is that with its relentlessness comes an even greater sense of uncertainty.

More so now than before, I am realizing how the things that were so seemingly permanent in my life are actually quite fleeting. Ephemeral. Yesterday they are here to stay, and tomorrow they are gone without a sign.

The best thing that I can do, then, is to cherish these impermanent qualities of my life when they seem permanent. Life, in the end, is a culmination of memories stacked on top of each other, like Jenga. In the past year, I have experienced the impermanence of home, relationships, academic studies, and my identity. It’s laughable, just how certain I was of my choices, of my surroundings, of my social circle. Who am I to be so sure of my life without possessing any sort of clairvoyant ability?

I do not want to be self-critical, however. Of course, it’s good to have conviction in the things I do and the friends I have – we’re taught to be confident of ourselves. There is a point, however – and I think I am experiencing this juncture in my life right now – when everything that we were indoctrinated with shatters. Call it a post-modernist outlook on life, if you will. The only thing I am sure of is the fact that I am unsure of everything.

I am not downtrodden by this new revelation. I believe it’s just a phase one goes through in growing up and embracing reality. Because reality is impermanent, life, as a consequence, is impermanent. A feeling of liberation overcomes an individual once they acknowledge said impermanence. Life, finally, does not seem uni-linear: it starts looking like what it’s supposed to look like, a hundred rays of diffracted sunlight, all heading down the path of who-knows-where.

The Caffe Bene in Koreatown New York, where I am typing up this blog post, is louder than when I first walked in. The gentle sound of people conversing, which initially provided a nice ambiance, is quickly turning into a cacophony of K-Pop music, over-the-top study group conversations, and obnoxious laughter. Even within this space, I don’t feel annoyed; in fact, I am enjoying this uncoordinated ruckus. Maybe it’s because I know I am just a passerby, that these people will never know of my existence, that I am a part of this space along with others sitting around me, that the space I belong to in this very moment is nothing more than a sliver of impermanence I will experience in my life.

Or maybe it’s just a part of growing up.


Today concludes my three days and four nights trip to Japan. For it being my first solo traveling experience, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Tokyo. Here are some thoughts I want to jot down about Japan before I forget them.

Day 1: Asakusa (Sensoji Temples, Nakamise Dori) – Sumida (Tokyo Skytree) – Ginza
Day 2: Imperial Palace – Shibuya (Bunkamura) – Yoyogi National Park (Earth Day Parade) – Harajuku (Monster Cafe, Harajuku Street, Takeshita Street) – Shinjuku
Day 3: Tsukiji Fish Market -Daimon (Tokyo Tower, Zojo-ji Temple) – Odaiba (Tokyo Decks Beach, Diver City, Statue of Liberty) – Akihabara (Super Potato, Maid Cafe)
Day 4: Ueno

1. Japan is friendly.
Every time I asked for directions, Japanese people would go out of their ways to point me towards the right path. Amidst the mixture of broken English and Japanese exchanged between the two of us, I found a genuine sense of cordiality emanating from these Japanese passerbys. Without their help, I would have been a lost cause in the cobwebbed streets of Tokyo.

2. Japan is independent.
There is a social stigma in Korea where eating alone is looked down upon; however, that did not seem to be the case in Japan. Each time I walked into a restaurant, l noticed many eating by themselves and minding their own business. The interior of the restaurant was inviting to lone eaters – tables were organized in a hall-like fashion with chairs neatly pressed below the tables. I never minded eating alone, but in Japan, it almost seemed like eating alone was the norm.

3. Japan is paradoxical.
The juxtaposition of the old and the new is remarkable. I can walk down any given street and expect to see a newly brandished skyscraper right next to an age-old Buddhist temple. The most interesting of this said juxtaposition can be found – in my opinion – in Daimon, where the Tokyo Tower looms over Zojo-ji Temple. I can easily say Japan is a place where tradition and modernity blends in seamlessly, like two pieces of fabric interwoven together to create an interesting piece of clothing.

4. Japan is clean.
For the lack of trash cans in public, Japan is devoid of litters. I think psychology plays a big part in this cleanliness: because the streets were spotless, I felt a certain compulsion to keep it that way. Although, however, the city could use a couple more trash cans for the public to use.

5. Japan is musical.
Music abounds Tokyo. Whether it’s Hatsune Miku Vocaloid blasting in Akihabara or a woodwind quartet playing jazz standards in Ueno Park, one can always expect to hear good music in Japan.

Now that the excitement of traveling to Japan has subsided, I feel a wave of nostalgia settling into my memory. I wonder if it is Tokyo that I miss or the solitude I felt traveling alone that I miss. With the trip neatly folded into the top shelf of my most recent memory, I already dread the process of this particular memory slowly fading away from my mind with the passing of time. Though the details of the trip will become hazy, I know I won’t forget what this trip ultimately meant to me: a deep understanding – and a quiet appreciation – of my existence.





My Top 10 Movies (In no particular order):

  1. Oldboy, 2003 by Chan-wook Park
  2. Whiplash, 2014 by Damien Chazelle
  3. Good Will Hunting, 1997 by Gus Van Sant
  4. Le Rayon Vert, 1986 by Éric Rohmer
  5. Synecdoche, New York, 2009 by Charlie Kaufman
  6. In the Mood for Love, 2000 by Wong Kar Wai
  7. Roman Holiday, 1953 by William Wyler
  8. A Clockwork Orange, 1971 by Stanley Kubrick
  9. Life is Beautiful, 1997 by Roberto Benigni
  10. Up, 2009 by Pete Docter


*Last Revised 5/30/2018

Home (Pt. 2)

It’s already been a month since I’ve touched down in Korea. I’ve been going to school here, reluctantly gulping down the soju glass my friends offer, singing off-key in karaoke, and trying to blend in with the crowd of native Korean students.

Being a Korean-American (or Korean anything, for that matter) is like being homeless. As a disclaimer, I am using the word “homeless” in the most literal way possible: one literally does not have a home once one enters a culture distinct from oneself’s.

Thus, I am homeless in Korea and I am homeless in America. Koreans look at me in half-bewilderment, half-awe when I say live in Seattle; Americans ask me which side of Korea I am from when I say I grew up in Seoul.

I am rather numb to this treatment in America. I have found out ways to gently – but firmly – defend myself in situations of racial micro-aggressions. Many years of schooling have given me the opportunity to learn the history of Asian-Americans, contextualize my experience in that particular historical narrative, and ultimately gain a holistic understanding of why things have become the way they are.

Therefore, I don’t feel anger when I am confronted with insensitive comments. Most likely, the insensitivity arises from two choices: either the commenter genuinely is unaware of the implications of her words, or the commenter is a racist asshole. Whatever it may be, I recognize the inherent differences in the culture and world view of those I may deem racially insensitive. As long as the racism is not blatant, I am willing to forgo the confrontation and lightly critique the statement. Life would be too hard if I made a big deal out of everything that came my way.

But in Korea, there is no misunderstanding that I am Korean. I speak Korean, look Korean, go to a Korean university (at least for the time being), and fucking love Korean food. However, it is precisely my home country that I feel most not at home.

When I introduce myself to Koreans here, I have to brace myself for the inevitable relay of questions about my life in America. To compensate for the permanent label of “immigrant” I wear in America, I desperately sought to erase my American identity while I’m here. But the curiosity of Korean students, as harmless as they may be, all the more reinforces the notion that I am different from them.

No years of schooling can combat this empty feeling. No number of scholarly articles can completely do away the unfamiliarity. The country that was once my all has become a country I visit periodically for temporal comfort. How foolish was I to think that everything will be the same once I return.


I am sitting in a cafe with my half-empty earl grey tea keeping me company. I look around and I see other Koreans focused on their tasks. Some are reading, some are chattering, some are sleeping, and some are eating. I, like them, am writing this blog post in between my school work.

It’s a cafe full of Koreans, except it’s not.



Two stone buddhas, naked and unfed,
Face each other by the roadside. Come wind, rain, or
Frost there they sit unprotected. I envy them
For they know nothing about the pain of separation.

-정철 (Jeong-Chul), 1536-1593