Speaking up

I feel a little bit helpless again, and it’s the same helplessness I felt when I was hearing the stories shared by my undocumented immigrant friends. This time, the helplessness comes from hearing about the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

I feel very careful in writing about an incident and a community outside my direct experience. But I don’t want to be complicit by remaining silent. There are so many subgroups in America that live their daily lives in fear, and that is unjust.

I don’t know what it feels like to be an African American citizen in the United States. But I can imagine. I can observe. I can learn.

I grew up in a relatively-homogenous country, South Korea, where a sense of belonging was never in question but rather a given. My family then immigrated to Indonesia where foreigners and expats were treated with privilege and respect. Then we moved to California, a state so diverse that we were told we would be protected from racism that is rampant in other states. California did protect us from outright racism. But we were still part of a bigger system that left immigrants, especially the low-income, non-English speaking, in temporary or no status, vulnerable and in fear. My family and I made it to the other side after fourteen years, but I’ll never forget the fear and anxiety we felt during those years.

This fear is definitely not the same as the one that black community feels and voices. And yet, I feel that they are somehow related. And in suffering, I dare to say, these two communities (and more) are united. And if I had to use the word “against”, it would be to say against injustice and needless suffering in the United States and the world.

I promise to myself that when I see injustice or action that goes against my values, I will speak up. Even if it’s as small and meek as saying, “Excuse me, but I don’t subscribe to this view”. Just something to make the perpetrator of racism / sexism / any kind of fear-based behavior, uncomfortable enough to ask themselves some questions.

On the virtue of lazy mornings

In the past few days, I started to remember what makes me happy. It might be that free time has opened up over winter break. The students have gone away and with them the pressure to always be working. Solitude, which seemed so unbearable in the first day or two so much so that I ran away to my parents’ house to spend time with them rather than be alone, has once again become pleasurable.

The thing that gives me greatest joy is the hours in the morning, when I get to wake up relatively early and make myself breakfast. I will make my bed (rare), go downstairs to a kitchen that is unoccupied by my housemates (important), where I can make myself a bowl of oatmeal with nut butter and a soft boiled egg. I will enjoy this meal in absolute silence, uninterrupted by anyone, and read few chapters from Murakami’s memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. And I will remember again what gives me joy.

I don’t exactly know why mornings, specifically the “lazy” mornings when I can actually cook breakfast, are so meaningful to me. I think back to my undergraduate years at Berkeley when this habit of making breakfast started. It must have started after I read the “French Women Don’t Get Fat book. It feels embarrassing to say that I’ve read this book repeatedly over the last decade or so. This book is really a meditation on joyful living, as Murakami’s book is a meditation on running. I like these stories that talk about the mundane in specific terms. These artists and writers remind me that true joy lies within the smallest moments. And this thought helps me pause from relentless striving and reminds me that being an artist, which I want more than anything, is also living your life artfully with beauty, quiet moments, joy, wonder, awe… all the things that feeds one’s soul.

When I look forward to the future into the life that I want to live, I see myself waking up early to spend the early morning hours in solitude writing in a beautiful Maybeck House with tall ceilings and lots of wood with windows that look out to nature. And then the day would begin with a loud, busy breakfast with my family, then continue to meetings with other creatives to collaborate on projects. It would conclude in a long run in nature passing through quaint houses, little hills, small animals, brooks, and lots of trees. And it’s important to remember that this kind of life doesn’t require fame, prestige, or lots of wealth. It would be more about having the respect of my peers who are also creating, a loving family, luxury of time each day for myself, and moderate savings to live a healthy and balanced life while also being able to help others who are in need.

I don’t yet know how the confluence of my training in writing, producing, directing, and technology will come together to create this lifestyle for me. And maybe I already have part of this life, and all I need to do is remember to exercise it. What I can do now is wake up early to write, make myself breakfast, collaborate with lots of creative people, and go for a run even on a treadmill. This is a note to myself to do these small things even when I’m in a funk. To wake up early, make myself some good breakfast, write, converse and collaborate with interesting and creative people, and go for a run to refuel my soul.

Telling Our Stories

Angel Island Immigration Station in SF

Below is an essay I wrote in 2010 as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley for an immigrant student advocacy organization called Immigrants Rising. This piece was written and read out loud in front of the 150 guests at the “Day of Immigrants” event that took place on the Angel Island in 2010.

For my college application essays, I avoided the gloomy topics of immigration and living in a low-income family. Each of the college admissions books I read and internalized had an underlying theme: college essays ought to focus on the positive aspects of one’s life, with humor injected in between the sentences. I simply couldn’t do this with stories about immigration; my memories were too depressing. How could I inject humor into nights filled with anxiety when I overheard my parents arguing whether or not we should give up and go back to Korea, phone calls with my landlord to fight for the deposit she refused give back, or moments of panic whenever I thought about paying for college? I asked my counselor if I should write my college essays on these experiences. “Ten thousand other immigrant students probably wrote about overcoming adversity much greater than yours,” she replied. So I concluded that stories about immigration are all too similar, all too pervasive, and all too serious as a topic to be handled by a teenager. In the end, I wrote about how I played piano for the Alzheimer’s patients at the local hospital, how I won a motor-building contest during the summer technology program at MIT, and how I am the only service-learning teen-ambassador in all of Orange County. And all the essays I wrote came out detached and cliché, as if I was hoping my readers could fully grasp who I was just by looking at my shadow.

I wonder how many immigrant students feel as if we ought to bury our painful memories and underscore the humorous and hopeful moments of our lives. It is easy to write about wonders of a new land, the nice neighbor who taught you English, and the teacher who changed your life. But there is nothing harder than sharing your experiences of extreme anxiety as you sleep in fear of deportation, or the feelings of guilt and bitterness at making your parents pay so much tuition when they already work ten hours a day just to put food on the table. With happy events, words pour out like honey and milk. There is no need to worry that you might sound self-pitying, no need to recall unpleasant events that will drain you emotionally. But by focusing on the happy and hopeful events of our lives, by pretending we are the same as stable and happy middle-class American families, we unconsciously erase the sacrifices our families have made to get us to where we are today. We erase ourselves. Writing about past experiences, whether pleasant or unpleasant, forces us to reflect and re-evaluate the past and the present, as well as what we truly want to achieve in the future. So let us rely on words and their ability to capture even the most fleeting emotions, no matter how sad or depressing they are. Let us preserve our memories before they slip away into oblivion. Let us preserve ourselves.

Lourdes 2019

Serving as a stagiaire at Lourdes was a profoundly beautiful experience I can’t yet put into words…

Here are some pictures from the trip 🙂

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Waiting to register as Stagiare at Notre Dame de Lourdes

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Notre Dame de Lourdes in sunset before the Marian procession.

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Serving the pilgrims at the train station.

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Pretty town of Lourdes

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Our Lady of Lourdes at the Grotto of Massabielle

Ode to New York

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Everything about New York blows me away. The diversity of people, amazing art collection, bookstore with history and charm, delicious food, the lights of the Times Square and Broadway, music of the NY Philharmonic, impressive skyscrapers, historical buildings, parks with so much character. I can’t count the ways this city draws me and charms me. The four days I’m spending here turned out to be the best weather New York has had in a long time. It was preceded by a thunderstorm and temperature drops. The only side of New York I have seen is a city saturated in vibrant colors under warm and bright sunlight, and I feel impelled to to move here immediately.

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The city somehow injected me with energy and health that I haven’t had before. In two days it satiated the artistic paucity I felt for years. Surely it can’t be all roses to live here, but it’s unfair that I only get to see the best that New York has to offer because somehow I got lucky with the weather. I wonder if money would be a deciding factor in whether one enjoys New York or not… and I feel very lucky to have the means to go to the concert and not worry about starving for the next month.

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It’s eleven pm at night but I feel like I want to step out again, to gaze at the city from the top of the Empire State Building, to admire the Art Deco floors and the golden statue in front of the Rockefeller Center. And it’s amazing to behold the sight of Broadway and the Times Square… I wonder if you can feel lonely in the middle of all the warm glow of lights. I’m sure you can but tonight I just felt alive and happy to behold the sight in awe.

The ode to this city has been sung many times by writers (E.B. White “Here is New York), filmmakers (just see any Woody Allen film or hear him open his mouth), artists (Winogrand), jazz singers, pop singers, musicals, tv shows, etc etc. With all this hype from so many self-professed ‘New Yorkers’ and admirers of the City,  I thought I would feel blasé and I am so surprised to find myself so in love with a city and long to be with it as if it were a human entity. It’s a weird feeling.

So here is my ode to the great city, in the form of a blog post and couple pictures. And someday, I will have to move and work here and earn the claim to ‘know’ the city like a true New Yorker.

Italian Cinema Scores by NY Philharmonic

La Dolce Vita: The Music of Italian Cinema  New York Philharmonic

The program

My friend brilliantly noticed, while traveling in NYC in August, that NY Philharmonic was scheduled to do a night of Italian Cinema called “La Dolce Vita”, including a piece from Cinema Paradiso. It was a two-day event with amazing violinist Joshua Bell, vocalist Josh Groban, and soprano Renee Fleming scheduled to perform. The last day of this event fortuitously fell on the day of my arrival at New York City. So despite the jetlag from time difference and flying the red-eye, I attended the event at the Lincoln Center.

I guess I should disclose that I have an on-going love affair with Italian Cinema. I haven’t seen enough of Italian Cinema yet to qualify myself as an aficionado, but I find myself extremely attached to the ones I have seen. The one in particular is Cinema Paradiso, which captures the wonderment of childhood, and is steeped in beautiful nostalgia and melancholy over the innocence and naivete that often inevitably goes away as we grow older. But truthfully, these movies would mean almost nothing to me without the scores by Ennio Morricone (Cinema Paradiso, Once Upon a Time in the West), Nino Rota (Fellini’s films like 8 1/2, La Dolce Vita), and Luis Bacalov (Il Postino).

New York Philharmonic did this very smart thing where instead of playing the footages from the movie like SF symphony does to scores, they commissioned an Italian film director Giampiero Solari to create a visual screen play for the performance. I felt that I could really experience the power of music and its role in cinema without confusing which is influencing me more (was it the images or the score?!?!). Tonight, music assumed a leading role in the world of cinema and made it clear to everyone in attendance of its power in storytelling and provoking deep emotions that transcend time and space.

Joshua Bell performed as a violin soloist on the Suite from “The Anonymous Venetian”. It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and I think I had to actively fight the tears from flowing. His violin seemed to be telling a beautiful story, and all I could do was empathize with its melancholia, its vulnerability, its passion as the song played.

The piece I was looking forward to, called “Se”, from Cinema Paradiso, ended up disappointing me. Possibly because I have heard that piece on youtube so many times (possibly around hundred times) without the singers (and with Ennio Morricone conducting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FzVWlOKeLs). The singing somehow took away from what was already perfect, or that was how I felt at the end of that piece…

The NY Phil also played a piece from Life is Beautiful, and the gorgeous footages from the movie played (instead of the animation), along with the piece that ebbed and flowed, swelled with the crescendo and made our hearts melt into pools of emotions.

So these are the movies on my to-watch or re-watch list:
Life is Beautiful
Cinema Paradiso
Il Postino
Once Upon a time in the West
Incontro
Amarcord
Profumo di Donna
Juliet of the Spirits