By In essay, Korea, Olympics

If I’m an Expert, Something is Wrong

I sat uncomfortably on a small stool in front of a green screen that would end up depicting a still image of central Seoul. A small microphone poking out of my shirt enabled me to speak to a news anchor in Beijing about the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, specifically about the inter-Korean geopolitics at play. As I talked about the implications of a joint North-South women’s hockey team or the 1988 Seoul Olympics or being cautiously optimistic or something, a banner appeared on the screen with the words “political analyst” written across it. Fair enough: even if the nomenclature was a bit hoity-toity for what I actually am, I was, in fact, analyzing a political situation. As I continued to speak, the screen jumped to a picture of athletes from North and South Korea holding hands as they walked together for the opening ceremonies. When the screen came back to me, the title beneath my name had changed. I was officially, for those few fleeting minutes, an “expert.”

That’s when I knew there was a crisis of expertise…

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By In basketball, essay, Korea

Away Games

The first time I questioned my decision to move from Hawaii to Korea was, not surprisingly, winter. Back home, cold doesn’t happen without consent. Not so in Korea. If my first winter in Seoul taught me anything about existential threats from the north, it’s that Siberian winds make daily life a lot more unlivable than any nuclear artillery. I took fatalistic comfort in knowing that if North Korea ever attacked, at least we’d all die together. I felt just as helplessly unprepared for the winter, but I had to face the cold on my own.

I was lucky, for that reason and others, that I knew Jay—that’s the Englishified version of Jong-il (yes, like Kim)—and that he was sympathetic to the plight of a warm-weather waygookin (foreigner) living in a blustery Asian city. I was luckier still that he’s a basketball fan and was willing to scoop me up from work to watch the showdown between Anyang KGC and the Seoul SK Knights in the Korean Basketball League. I hadn’t seen a live basketball game of any sort since college, but it seemed like a better way to deal with the miserable cold than my usual routine of hibernating in my apartment and overeating…

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By In essay

From K-pop to HI-pop

K-pop is Korea’s most visible and wildly successful export. The contemporary conception of K-pop — melodic dance jams with glitzy production and hip-hop sensibilities — was born in 1992 when the group Seo Taiji and Boys performed their song “Nan Arayo” on national television. A blend of dance-ready rhymes in the verses and smooth vocals on the hook, “Nan Arayo” is widely considered the first modern K-pop song. Within 15 years of its birth, K-pop would become a global multi-billion dollar industry.

It’s tempting to look at K-pop as a model for the Hawaiian music industry…

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By In essay

The Weight of Departure

I decided to swim in the storm.

After living in landlocked Seoul for four years, I refused to allow a measly tropical storm—the meteorological category right under hurricane—to ruin my weeklong vacation back home in Hawaii. Storm categories are determined by average sustained wind speed, and while tropical storms aren’t strong enough to peel roofs off houses, they do get names. This one in 2018 was assigned Olivia.

Officially, storms are named to clarify communication between scientists and everyone else, but the act of naming clarifies other things, too. Names become boundaries by which we see shape. Naming helps to make sense of powers unseen yet undeniably felt, forces like the wind that, until their inexorable exit, are in a perpetual state of arrival…

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By In basketball, essay

Basketball Taught Me How To Live

It happened again one night when my fiancée and I were walking home from work. One second we were side by side, mid-conversation about our days, and suddenly she was alone in the darkness. I dropped abruptly, as though I’d been hit by a sniper. Andrea took a few steps before noticing I was on the ground behind her. I was holding my right ankle and biting back curses into muffled groans.

It wasn’t my first sprained ankle. The pain was familiar, the procedure instinctive. I untied my shoelaces, then retied them extra tightly to put pressure on the impending swelling. I pushed myself upright and took a few cautious steps, finding the pavement with my heel before rolling the rest of my foot flat to the ground. I limped and hobbled the rest of the walk home. We looked like an elderly couple whose wish to return to their youth had been granted, but were still stuck in the fragile habits of old age.

There was no reason for the accident, and there were no mitigating circumstances. The pavement was smooth—no cracks or uneven surfaces, no loose rocks or tree roots breaking up the concrete. Nor was darkness an issue. Between streetlights, headlights from passing cars, and the insomniac fluorescence beaming out of storefronts, I could see just fine. I have only the boring excuse of physical frailty. I’m 30 years old…

Read more at Human Parts

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