Best of year

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Quality Reads from 2019

Throughout the year I read a lot of stories online, posting my favorites on Twitter and Facebook at the end of each month (or, more accurately, somewhere between the beginning and middle of the following month).

Here’s a year-end list of my picks, whittled down to the stories that stood out the most.

The Decade Comic Book Nerds Became Our Cultural Overlords by Alex Pappademas, GEN
Deep-Sea Mining and the Race to the Bottom of the Ocean by Wil S. Hylton, The Atlantic
Alienated, Alone And Angry: What The Digital Revolution Really Did To Us by Joseph Bernstein, BuzzFeed

We Are Living in Hideo Kojima’s Dystopian Nightmare. Can He Save Us? by Gene Park, Washington Post

He Never Intended To Become A Political Dissident, But Then He Started Beating Up Tai Chi Masters by Lauren Teixeira, Deadspin
The Glass Floor is Keeping America’s Richest Idiots at the Top by Michael Hobbes, HuffPost
Bong Joon-ho is Weaponizing the Blockbuster by Inkoo Kang, Slate
True Ghost Story by Tim Kreider, Human Parts

Donald Trump Is Not Going To Let This Hurricane Thing Go by David Roth, Deadspin
Malcolm Gladwell Reaches His Tipping Point by Andrew Ferguson, The Atlantic

The Anthropocene is a Joke by Peter Brannen, The Atlantic
The Adults In The Room by Megan Greenwell, Deadspin
Dear Gun-Rights Advocates: Hey, Congratulations! by Tim Kreider, GEN

Manly Wedding Rings for Tough Guys Who are Dudes by Dan Brooks, The Outline
I Was a Fast-Food Worker. Let Me Tell You About Burnout by Emily Guendelsberger, Vox
An Epidemic of Disbelief by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, The Atlantic

Why Should Immigrants Respect Our Borders? The West Never Respected Theirs by Suketu Mehta, The New York Times
The Man Who Was Upset by David Roth, The New Republic
Redemption Songs by Krish Raghav, Topic Magazine

Teenage Pricks by Alex Pareene, The Baffler
The Night the Lights Went Out by Drew Magary, Deadspin
The Pink by Andrea Long Chu, n+1

I Get One Last Lent With My Mami. I’m Using it to Learn Our Family’s Capirotada Recipe by Gustavo Arellano, LA Times
They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To by Albert Burneko, Deadspin
Why We Spend Our Brief Lives Indoors, Alone, and Typing by Tim Kreider, Medium

The Making of the Fox News White House by Jane Mayer, The New Yorker
As pigs await slaughter, strangers offer water, love, and comfort to the doomed by Gustavo Arellano, LA Times
After the Tsunami by Matthew Komatsu, Longreads
Psycho Analysis by Andrea Long Chu, Bookforum

Student Debt is Dragging a Whole Generation Down by Anne Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed News
What the Crow Knows by Ross Andersen, The Atlantic
The Trauma Floor by Casey Newton, The Verge

Impeach Donald Trump by Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic
You Can’t Get There From Here by David Roth, Deadspin
The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives by Robert Caro, The New Yorker

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Some Things I Wrote in 2019

I was going to say that 2019 was weird, but I’m getting the feeling that every year from here on out will be weird in distinct yet similar ways.

This past year was one of the most stressful and multiply frustrating ones ever. At the same time, it was easily my most professionally successful year. I wrote the best, most diverse work of my career thus far — which I suppose isn’t saying much given the fact I’ve only been doing this for five years but at least I’m moving in the right direction — and wrote for more publications than any other year.

As always, all those words would have been relegated to a blog or stuck ricocheting around in my head if it weren’t for the editors who helped me and the readers who validated their help.

So without further ado, here are Some Things I Wrote in 2019.


Basketball Taught Me How To Live
Human Parts, July
–An essay about basketball, the impermanence of youth, death, and my crappy ankles.

The Weight of Departure
Talking Writing, September
–An essay about tropical storms, illness, and the tension between moving on and leaving behind.

From K-pop to HI-Pop
Ka Wai Ola, October
–An essay about what the Hawaiian music industry can and shouldn’t learn from the success of K-pop.

Climate Change is Sabotaging the World’s Most Dangerous Canoe Race
GEN, November
–An essay about how climate change is affecting the Molokaʻi Hoe.

Away Games
The Under Review, December
–An essay about life and basketball in Korea, and what it means to be home.

Sherdog Column

Man, Myth, Legend
–On Cain Velasquez and the necessity of believing in your own delusions.

Owning the Narrative
–On how commentators affect our perception of fights, and how “moving forward” and “Octagon control” are empty criteria for scoring fights.

Words of War
–On how the Conor McGregor-Khabib Nurmagomedov beef exceeded the ordinary ugliness of promotional trash talk.

It Is What It Is, and It Is Beautiful
–On how the ugliness of the sport can sometimes be equalled by the beauty to which it is capable of ascending.

13 Ways of Looking at Fighting In One Week
–Probably my favorite column of the year, where I take a page from Wallace Stevens to look at how ridiculous MMA is.

MMA’s End Game
–On the complicated nature of deciding when to end a career.

Following Fear
–On the role of fear in fighting, and how it fuels some and leads others to self-destruct.

Cutting Losses By Cutting Winners
–On the contradictory messages the UFC sends to fighters about winning.

Why Do We Interview Fighters?
–On why most fighter interviews are pointless.

Cub Swanson and the Moment He Needed
–On how Cub Swanson, who was often on the losing end of other fighters’ big career moments, finally had a big moment of his own.

If you enjoyed this, I did the same thing the last few years.
Some Things I Wrote in 2018
Some Things I Wrote in 2017
Some Things I Wrote in 2016

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Some Things I Wrote in 2018

So there were like, at least three years crammed into 2018, right? Remember the winter Olympics? Or when Black Panther was in theaters? Those happened this year. I know. Though 2018 seemed indifferent to the linearity of time, here we are at another end of the calendar. The future arrives with or without our consent, and sometimes, without our conscious awareness.

I can’t lie; this was an up-and-down year of writing for me. I wrote a lot more than I have in recent years, though a lot of what I wrote never ended up anywhere. I published in a couple of cool new places, but also had a story accepted by one of my favorite publications only to be killed a week later. (Said publication still paid me a kill fee, which was nice of them).

Perhaps most importantly, I made the conscious decision to focus on nonfiction moving forward, as it became unavoidably obvious that my fiction just isn’t very good. That alone was a tough realization to come to, but a liberating one as well. Like I said: mixed bag, this year.

Still, I consider myself lucky that people spend any of their finite time on Earth reading my work, and I try to keep that in mind through the ups and downs. Here are 15 (!) things I wrote this year that I’m most proud of, for one reason or another:

North Korea’s Olympic Delegation to South Korea is a Huge Deal
Vice Sports, January

In the run-up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, I talked to a North Korean escapee about what it meant to see the country of his birth compete in his new country of residence. In an offhand comment, he mentioned that while he served in the North Korean army, his superiors told him the 1988 Seoul Olympics actually happened in Tokyo. In 2018, the Kim regime publicly sent athletes and high-level diplomats to the Games. A lot can change in 30 years.

The Main Event
Left Hooks Magazine, January

I went to a regional MMA promotion in Seoul, and the fights became a meditation on my life as an expat. The action in the cage mirrored the oddities and challenges of being a foreigner abroad. The full version of this essay was also published in the 40th anniversary issue of Bamboo Ridge literary journal. I read a few passages from it at the book launch.

Lessons from the Hawaii Missile Crisis
Summit Magazine, January

Usually, living in Seoul means that people back home are worried about me whenever North Korean threats become especially bombastic. But earlier this year the roles reversed, as my friends and family back home spent 38 minutes believing a ballistic missile was inbound. The episode was cause for reflection. For 38 minutes, Americans felt what it’s always like to live in either of the Koreas. 

The Cathartic Zen of the Cowboy
Sherdog, February

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is one of the most interesting and enigmatic personalities in all of combat sports. I explored just what it is about him that makes him such an endearing figure. Beyond being a busy and exciting fighter, his yawning sense of ambition and desire to spend his life joyfully is particularly resonant with fans. 

More Than A Fight
Sherdog, March

Ever since Colin Kaepernick made people mad by saying police shouldn’t murder black kids, the “stick to sports” sentiment has come back into fashion. The phrase is silly and self-defeating; sports and politics are inseparable. I look at how money is used to corrupt in MMA, focusing on Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. The final sentence is one of my favorite closing lines I wrote this year.

Every Crazy Thing Leading Up to the Cursed UFC 223 Event
Vice Sports, April 

Conor McGregor hadn’t defended his title in a year and a half, and there were two contenders that were clearly a cut above everyone else. So those guys fight and a champion is crowned — simple, right? If only that were the case. Even in a sport as insane as MMA, the lead-up to UFC 223 was one of the most acutely ridiculous weeks ever.

What It Means to Make A Mistake
Sherdog, June

 There are always unsavory characters in sports, specifically in combat sports. But when Greg Hardy — unrepentant domestic abuser and overall villainous ghoul — started to get a big promotional push by the UFC, I thought it necessary to explain that not only was the decision to sign him gross, it also violated the very ethos that makes fighting virtuous. Also one of my favorite closing lines of the year.

Stay Weird, MMA
Sherdog, July

Fighting is an undeniably strange sport. It’s barbaric yet technical, morally indefensible and absolutely exhilarating. As the UFC continues to do all it can to make MMA mainstream, I took some time to look back on its seedy, back-alley roots, focusing on a regional fight that was absurd and hilarious and, in a distinctly MMA way, beautiful.

The Ultimate Goal: Sports Diplomacy and Inter-Korean Peace
CGTN, July

During the winter Olympics, I went on CGTN news to discuss the inter-Korean geopolitics of the Games. Here, I expanded on my interviews in writing, taking a historical look at how South Korea has used sports for successful diplomacy in the past, and why the attempt to do so with North Korea this year may possibly yield different results than previous efforts.

The Daddest Man On the Planet
Sherdog, July

Daniel Cormier, the asterisked light heavyweight champion, won the heavyweight title, earning him the title of “The Baddest Man On the Planet.” It was an incredible moment for a man who tucks his shirts into his sweatpants. Here, I take a look at his life story — including the murder of his father and the tragic death of his daughter — to understand why fatherhood is so central to who he is as a fighter and a person.

Score One For the Good Guys
Sherdog, July

Truth be told, I had forgotten about this piece until I started sifting through my columns this year to compile this “best of” list. This is a fun one, though. It contrasts the allure of the “bad guy” trope in combat sports with the impossible innocence of Sage Northcutt, the golden retriever of professional fighting.

Breakin’ da Mold
Summit Magazine, August

Before the internet or MTV existed, hip-hop traveled 5000 miles from its New York birthplace to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I traced the story of how hip-hop went to Hawaii, and how Hawaii went hip-hop. This essay was, by a wide margin, the most laborious thing I wrote this year. It took nearly 18 months of interviews and research and revision to come together, but I’ve wanted to tell this story for a long time, so I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to do so.

Joint Resolution
The Classical, August

Moments into his rematch with Demetrious Johnson — possibly the most dominant champion in the history of the sport — Henry Cejudo rolled his ankle. Twice. In his first fight against Johnson, Cejudo had perfectly healthy ankles and he got destroyed within a round. This time, in spite of his flimsy ligaments, he managed to pull off the biggest upset of the year. Here, I look at Cejudo as a fighter and person by ruminating on the importance of ankles.

We Are Who You Thought We Were
Sherdog, October

Perhaps the biggest MMA story of the year was the post-fight brawl between Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib had just trounced the biggest star in the sport, but that wasn’t enough: he leaped out of the cage and started attacking the Irishman’s team. A lot of performative outrage in the MMA community took place in the ensuing days, but lost in the noise of it all was the fact that most casual observers of the sport were more shocked by the brutal, bloody bout that happened right before. Regular face-punching fans didn’t even think twice about that bout, so commonplace is that genre of donnybrook. It was a reminder that MMA how it actually is, without any extracurricular shenanigans, is still an off-putting and questionable sport.

Just A Moment
Sherdog, November

Chan Sung Jung, aka “The Korean Zombie,” had fought a hell of a fight against the flashy, youthful up-and-comer Yair Rodriguez, and was up on the scorecards after four rounds. The fifth round was more of the same, and Jung was a lock to win the decision. Then, at the 4:59 mark of the final round, only one second left, Rodriguez pulled off the most spectacular knockout of the year, reminding us that the instantaneity of MMA makes it genuinely special.


That’s a wrap for 2018, everyone. Words can’t express how grateful I am for everyone who reads my stuff, especially those of you who hit me up through the site. It’s always a surprise, and almost always a pleasant one. Here’s to bigger and better things in 2019!

PS: I also did this last year and the year before, if you’d care to take a look.


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Some Things I Wrote in 2017

I never really know what my “best” work is, or if any of it is good to anyone other than me. (People keep letting me write things, so I suppose that’s a good sign.) I do, however, tend to like certain things I write more than others. Here’s a list of 10 pieces I wrote in 2017 that I liked the most.


January, Eastlit
Stranger in a Familiar Land

This is the only piece of fiction I published this year, about the delirious, exhilarating newness of living in a foreign country, and how quickly that feeling can erode. It’s, uh, totally not about my experience living in Korea or anything.


February, Sherdog
A Meditation on Ethics in MMA

I waxed philosophical on MMA, talking about sportsmanship, the unspoken ethics of trash talking, and how we’re supposed to process it all as fans. Plus, the opening sentence of this piece is probably the best sentence I’ve ever written.


March, Sherdog
The Other Side of Anything Can Happen

The UFC hit on something deep with their advertising angle that “anything can happen” in a fight; people want to be surprised. But “anything” can mean shitty things, too.


May, Sherdog
Nostalgia is a Hell of a Drug

There is a vocal, ever-present group of MMA fans bemoaning the state of the sport and how it has fallen from its previous peaks. That’s true in some ways, but the complete opposite is true – MMA is better than it’s ever been – in more significant ways.


June, Sherdog
The Cost of Combat

The death of Tim Hague brought to surface a number of important questions that we must ask ourselves as fans and patrons of violent entertainment. This was my attempt to reconcile the ethical dilemma of combat sports with their undeniable allure.


June, Sherdog
Something in the Water: The Past and Present of Hawaii’s Warrior Spirit

Since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament, fighters from Hawaiʻi have been visible on the biggest stages of the sport. Hawaiʻi has been the most represented state in the history of the UFC, with 15 professional fighters for every one million residents. The next closest state — Iowa — registered about nine and a half per million people.

Why Hawaiʻi? What is it about the “Aloha State” — this small, unassuming archipelago nicknamed after the Hawaiian word for love, compassion and kindness — that lends itself so seamlessly to the most unabashedly violent sport in the world?


August, Medium
Man’s Best Reflection

A personal essay attempting to answer one of the oldest, most important questions known to man: why are dogs so good?


August, Summit Magazine
Seoul, From the Ground Up

It can feel helpless to be a citizen of Seoul. The shadow of international war looms menacingly overhead, yet the everyday stresses of living in a fast-paced, high-tech megacity tend to take precedent. Political tensions rise and fall, but life keeps marching on.


October, Sherdog
Violent Meditations

Almost yearly the conflicted nature of the word “violence” becomes a discussion in MMA circles. This year, the sport’s most visible media member, Ariel Helwani, took umbrage with the idea that the UFC promotes itself as violent. Personally, I think they should market the sport for what it is, and it is nakedly violent. It’s honest advertising, but more importantly I think people should be more aware of the violent intersections in all facets of life, and watching MMA might be a good way to do that.


October, Medium
Spooky Spooky: A Definitive Timeline

If you haven’t heard of or watched the Spooky Spooky videos, there’s something wrong with you. If you have watched them and you haven’t read my exhaustive, in-depth analyses of them, you’re missing out on worlds. There’s levels to infectiously catchy, seasonally-themed kids songs.



Much appreciation to everyone who took time to read my work this year. It means everything. Special shoutout to those who contacted me through the site; I’ve enjoyed the correspondences, even the ones heavily laden with curses. Bigger and better things are in store for 2018.

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