High, lifted invisibly
The temperature is perfect: the exact degree of invisibility. My grandfather, on my mother’s side, is either smiling at me or has just hugged me goodbye. We’re standing on a sidewalk by a large avenue, and I don’t notice any cars or other pedestrians nearby. Is it late summer or early fall? There are big trees planted at purposeful intervals and a dappled-ness to the light on the ground. We’ve had lunch together and traveled either by car or train to this spot closer into city center. My grandfather is maybe wearing a gray cap that also features in a photograph my mom has of him from a few years later. I have just asked him, “Where are you going now?” For some reason, I guess I hadn’t asked him that already. He tells me he is going to meet friends to play ba-duk (ba-dook?), something I don’t know.
This is a snapshot of a memory whose accuracy I cannot verify. But it is alive and vibrant, as if my grandfather were still in Seoul right now, off to play this “badook.” Read the rest of this entry »
I saw a woman at the Atlantic Terminal subway station over the weekend. Sam and I first heard her shouting profanities — “Bastard! Motherfucker!” — at someone farther down the platform. Her voice approached as she demanded directions to Prospect Park from someone near us. She was unsatisfied with the answer she got, though, and approached someone else nearer to us to ask again, and I could hear that inwardness and self-focus so peculiar to panic: “How do I get to Prospect Park!? They said take the B/Q, but the B/Q isn’t running! So how do I get to Prospect Park!? I just need to get to Prospect Park!” Read the rest of this entry »
Around the time the American public was learning about the abuse of Dr. Christine Blasey by current U.S. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a friend from college sent the following personal email to me and a group of her friends. This was around summer-fall 2018. I had not been closely following news coverage or editorial speculation on the trials, and her email encouraged me to dig a little deeper into the unfortunate events. Her comments, anchored in love, perhaps empowered me, perhaps made me feel like here was the grounds upon which I could enter a topic already surrounded by frighteningly selfish agendas I didn’t want to read.
I asked my friend if she had published these thoughts somewhere, and/or if I could publish them anonymously here. Her message modeled for me both testimony and advocacy — a powerful, high-potential and difficult kind of communication that I believe is possible in each of us. I also thought it was yet another compelling illustration from this friend of deep compassion and integrity — a combination of virtues that I believe requires great courage.
Published with permission: Read the rest of this entry »
When the dominant culture behaves immorally, the way the United States was about the war, civil rights, and freedom of public expression, you begin to feel betrayed. That feeling started crystallizing for me while I was listening to Mario Savio. Somewhere along the way, in our country’s rush to industrialization and consumerism, it began to feel like America had lost its humanity… American culture in the 1950s and ’60s was simultaneously corrupt and puritanical, very closed-minded. I could tell it was about fear, for sure. But the people of the Free Speech movement Movement were speaking my language; their message felt right. And the reason it felt right, I think, was that my parents had taught me certain basic values: morality, empathy, frugality, love of nature, love of children… Those were all values adopted by the counterculture — because, sadly, they had been forgotten by the culture at large.
– Alice Waters, in her memoir “Coming to My Senses” (2017)
When I was a sophomore in college, I went with a close friend to Alice Waters’ famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Oakland, California. We had heard of its role bringing unprocessed food back into restaurants and its founder’s role rebuilding the national prestige of farmers. I can vividly see the scene through my 19-year-old eyes: a wooden table in front of me and my friend, a small plate before us boasting toast, covered with mushrooms and greens. We honestly weren’t full after that meal, though it was the most expensive lunch we had that year. Still, I left it with the glow I often feel after approaching something historical. I remember leaving the restaurant, squinting my eyes under a bright sun, and feeling like we were stepping back into reality after a dream. As if I were starstruck. Read the rest of this entry »
There was first a single door frame. It may have been holding an actual door, but if so, the door was open wide enough to be unseen. Surrounding the frame on all sides was a vacuous expanse. It was clear that the space represented other optional directions to go, like the place in “The Matrix” where Morpheus shows Neo the endless options for reality that humans can choose. Read the rest of this entry »
I really, really, really appreciated this a couple Saturdays ago on the train and very much want to take hip hop/techno classes (and whatever else is helpful) so I can be like this guy and get on a subway with a stereo and dance for those one or two passengers who would wholeheartedly enjoy the show and intrusion of loud music like I do. I’m also shorter and Asian and therefore a currently unconventional street dancer, so I wonder if that could win a jaded New Yorker’s attention. Even more, I’d like to take those dance classes with my beau, and I wonder if we’d get even more eyeballs as a partner act. Read the rest of this entry »
Getting to know you / getting to know all about you / getting to like you / getting to hope you like me…
Haven’t you noticed? / suddenly I’m bright and breezy / because of all the beautiful and new things I’m learning about you / day… by… day…
Anna Leonowens in Rodgers & Hammersteins’ “The King & I”
Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
Henri J.M. Nouwen
I believe it was middle school that I began learning about multivariable equations—equations where there was more than one variable and unknowns x, y and z to find. The only way to uncover their real values was to look at a second or third equation also provided on my worksheet. This level of algebra was a step up from 2x=4: one variable, one equation, elementary. But with multivariable equations, it wasn’t enough to solve for x to understand the rest. Thus, complexity was introduced. Years later in college, I met a fellow student with a very different academic outlook than mine. He was majoring in mathematics, and I was flummoxed as to what topics he could possibly be studying for four entire years. Math was so straightforward, I thought! What more was there after calculus, I wondered? He then mentioned “The Theory of Zero” was one of his classes at the graduate level and proceeded to explain things that I can’t remember because they connected to absolutely nothing that existed in my brain then (or now). But I was surprised and instantly fascinated. I recall that moment as a succinct example of what it means to not know what I do not know. I think it’s important to note here that I myself had stopped learning mathematics after precalculus, which makes it unsurprising that my mind could go no further than that.