Thursday, October 28, 2010

Speaking American

There's nothing that makes you realize what you are quite as coming face-to-face with what you aren't.  In the past year I have discovered I am not North or South Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hakka nor even Aboriginal Taiwanese.  And as I have thrown myself into learning about these cultures, I have found many times I have asked, "Wait? Wha?" with practices, traditions and phrases that everyone else in that culture just 'gets' but leaves me scratching my head.  

And it has made me wonder, "Is America like that?"  I've grown up with the impression that because America is a melting pot of the world, the only way to have culture was to have a distinct genealogy that allowed you to carry over traditions from generations and countries before.  But the more I study about Asian cultures, the more I realize maybe America has a culture that I never saw before, in the little things that we do day to day that could leave others scratching their heads and wondering, "Huh?"  

Thanksgiving for instance.  It was the story of a friend of a friend of a friend... who had a TV film crew follow him to America from South Korea to see a real American Thanksgiving and the thought of a bunch of Koreans sitting around watching some American family eating dinner and playing Turkey Bowl football before the dinner and sitting around in a food coma afterwards that I realized, Thanksgiving is part of American culture and tradition.  (I mean think about it: Why Turkey?  Why cranberries and stuffing?  Why the Turkey Bowl and the food coma?) No matter when your genealogical roots came to America and how separate families bring in their own traditions into holidays and practices, we still have a culture that is our own and can be considered just as rich and interesting as other cultures.  

So I've compiled a list of Americanisms by no means comprehensive but definitely one that makes me realize that after spending a lot of time trying to fit in, sometimes its nice to just realize that you already do.  

1. Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!  - What we yell when playing hide and go seek and someone has been caught.  I have no idea what it means or why we yell it but we all seem to get it, and use it.  

2. Pin the tail on the donkey - A favorite game for birthday parties?  It's actually quite boring and we've all threatened to pin something/someone else accidentally instead.  But despite this, we still think about this game when it comes to planning parties, even if just in jest.

3. The Jeopardy Song - When doing any activity where eventually we're all just waiting for someone to finish writing their thought or thinking and its almost guaranteed that someone will start singing the jeopardy theme.  My roommate claims she's never even SEEN an episode of Jeopardy and she knows that song by heart. 

4.  The Seventh Inning Stretch to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame - Even friends who don't like baseball and are ready to go after one inning will wait so they can stand and, with gusto, sing.  And whoever thought an organ was a good instrument for a sporting event anyway?  Think about it.  

5.  Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin laid an egg, Batmobile Lost a Wheel and Joker Got Away - This could have its own separate list of things elementary kids make up and sing and yell to each other in the playground.  But when I was younger, I honestly thought that a friend of a friend of a friend in my elementary school had made up this song.  It seems a few of my friends from other sides of the country had grown up singing the same song and thinking the same thing about their peers.  We realize that there is a huge elementary school culture that somehow transcends location even though we have no idea how.  

6.  Be Aggressive, Be Aggressive, B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E - Last week at a high school football game, my friends and I were shocked to find we knew almost all the words of the cheers.  It seems that all schools tap into some mysterious cheer bank where you simply insert appropriate school and mascot here. 

7.  Groundhog Day - Really?  We take our weather predictions from a large rodent?  And yet, it goes on the calendar every year and we continue to all want to know if the groundhog really saw his shadow or not. 

8.  Happy Birthday!  - We sing the same song with the same silly variations at the end which various persons will insist on singing.  And making a wish before blowing out the candles on your cake?  Plus, we insist on cake AND ice cream.  

9.  It's X:XX, Do you know where _________ is? - Can you believe we got this from a public service announcement back in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's about child safety?  I showed up at my friend's the other day asking if she had her keys and everyone shot back, It's 10:30, do you know where your keys are?  I smiled at the joke we all shared.  We just 'get' it.  Other commercial jokes include Can you Hear Me Now? (Verizon) and Got ___? (from the Got Milk commercials)

10.  Hammer pants - Say hammer pants and everyone gets what the fashion statement is.  Isn't it hilarious that we attribute a specific look to people?  Imagine Elvis fans for instance and you immediately see the curl in the middle of the forehead with some man in a white and silver spangled suit complete with bell bottoms.  Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and others all have their own distinct identities that we just know.  

Please feel free to add your own. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crazy Head

Dear Flu, The World has stopped making sense. Because of you, I couldn't sleep last night.  Instead, I stayed up and read half a book all the way through (every other chapter). I made a new frienemy this weekend and I don't even know what that means.  Are we deep down really friends?  Or are we deep down just enemies?  Why can't I understand a thing he says? Kato went into a panic TWICE last night. 長谷部誠 was taken out of the game in the 59th minute and then his team ended up losing the game. I had a dream that I was taking a popular culture survey and I had to remember and critique significant events in the year 1983. And 韩庚's 女皇 (Empress) is stuck on repeat in my head. Is everything just fuzzy and confusing because you are here? Love, Me Currently Noticing: 我不知道該_______ (Wǒ bù zhīdào gāi)(I don't know what I should ________)  Currently Listening: 我喜歡,不,我愛 by Yen-j 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You Always Find What You're Looking For

Dear Self,

Do you remember on your mission when you couldn't tell foreigners from native Taiwanese apart?  And how when you did figure it out - thanks to your companion who would tell you - you would gasp in shock as though you didn't look in the mirror every morning and see a non-native Taiwanese looking back at you.  Of course everyone laughs when you tell that story.  Who could believe that a pale-skinned, freckled, reddish-headed girl from Illinois couldn't tell the difference between herself and her dark-haired, dark-eyed, non-freckled peers around her?
Yours Truly in Taiwan 2009, picture taken by Jim Chunhung Chen

Well, it seems, the confusion never ended since returning from your mission.

True story: You thought a friend in your ward had some Asian background and in front of his Asian peers and colleagues, you decided to ask him about it.  Of course, they think that you are as crazy as your companion did. They all laughed and then jumped up and pointed out the distinct differences between their eyes and his.

True story: Friend of your sister came up to her and asked her about her Korean upbringing.  It seems he thought that her parents were raised in South Korea and that they in turn raised their children in a Korean speaking home.  Of course, as you know, Isa does not look Asian.  She is as pale-skinned and freckled as yourself with the exception of blue rather than hazel eyes and blondish rather than darkish reddish hair.

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that is confused.


Currently listening: Say No by 韩庚

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hermits in Hiding

Dear Chosun,

I was thrilled when your soccer team came to play in the World Cup.  I have to admit I was curious to see what a real North Korean looks like.  And so I foolishly looked at every picture I could, looking in your faces, trying to get some glimpse of what your lives were like.  I apparently wasn't the only one who felt that way.

Of course the World Cup came and went and for most people, you fell back into the recesses of our minds as a defeated soccer team returned to your country that we knew nothing about.   But not for me.  My interest was piqued.

Well, yesterday, the big black hole that is you opened up just a little and let me see inside.  Granted, any account that I read about you will have some biases and will fail to give the entire perspective.  However, what I did see was enough to make me marvel and laugh and admire and cry and sorrow.

Is it true that in my lifetime, while I was learning Precalculus and worried about boys that people on the other side of the world were watching their modern conveniences slip into oblivion and their food waste away until corn husks and grass was considered a staple?  While I was wondering why the biggest worry in my life was my grades and my future, others were wondering if they would even have a future?  And I thought being 4 foot 11 was an insult - it actually was...while it lasted - but I never faced stunted growth because of malnutrition.  But not just the sad stuff, I  saw a people who in their own spheres still worry about school and boys and growing up.  I saw a people who endure much and still find that life has something to offer them.  I want to know people like that more.  I want to be like that more.

You see, for the longest time, I only saw you by how you were unlike me.  But now, I can see you for how you are not that different.  And one day, when your world opens up to mine, then we will begin to see things as they really are.


P.S. I must admit, it is slightly disconcerting to realize that I am older than your next leader.  It just makes me feel so old.

Currently reading: Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century by Oliver DeMille
Currently noticing: 怎麼會這样 Zěnme huì zhèyàng - How could this be? (I'm not sure why this is my new pet phrase) Also, new favorite: 不好,不行,不乖 (I made this one up but it's so fun to say!)
Currently listening: 國境之南 by Van Fan 范逸臣 (I'm not sure why his name translates into Linkin Park on Google Translate...I promise it's not the same)

Monday, October 18, 2010

One of Those Days

Dear Ninja-in-Training,

Thank you for that fabulous display of your skill with your plastic swords earlier.  I was impressed by how confidently you pulled them out from their place in your backpack as you looked around for possible enemies.  Of course that meant that you looked right at me.  And that you realized that I had been watching you the entire time that you had opened up the window to that dorm room and then threw your backpack inside.  I also watched as you awkwardly managed to get yourself in through the window while wielding your swords from potential attackers...i.e. me.  It was all very intriguing but I did want to ask: Aren't ninjas supposed to be so good that their stealth is undetected?


Currently reading: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Currently noticing: I make a really good third wheel...and apparently always have
Currently listening: Yen-j

Friday, October 15, 2010

Let's pretend it's success.

Dear Research,

After hours and hours and hours of frustration and advice such as, "Just push enough buttons," I saw a glimmer of getting some equipment to work.  Thank you for making my Friday!


(Pictures are forthcoming)
(Does it seem weird that I took pictures of a piece of equipment that works?  I know parents who take pictures of their kids for doing less)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Dear Self,

Getting your passport renewed is quite the adventure.  But I have yet to understand why/how you managed to look the exact same in this passport photo as you did 10 years ago - same hairstyle, same expression and everything.


Dear Makoto,

My trip to Germany was all planned and I just wanted to overlook the fact that between the last Bundesliga match in December and the first one in January, you would probably go back to Japan.  I could only hope that you would return a little early for practice.  Little could I forsee that you would actually be playing your next match in Qatar.


Dear Kato,

I tried to take good care of you.  And what did you do?!  Got yourself checked into the mechanic's 'until further notice'.  Do you really not love me that much?  I'm willing to pay your bills and everything.  Just come back to me and soon.


Dear Heechul,

The South Korean Justin Bieber?!  A quarter million followers on Twitter?! Really?  Do you know how hard it is to pretend to have a crush on you when I have no idea why girls really do have crushes on you?  This makes my pretend fight with my sister extremely difficult.


Dear World,

I don't know how you do it.  You can be perfectly cruel and perfectly miraculous at the same time.  You wage war, destruction and tragedy in the midst of sunny days and blue skies.  When my heart yearns to ache from all the hurt I see, then you give me something like the Chilean mining miracle that leaves me in awe.  And yet, when I wish to rejoice in the beauty of humanity, you seek to show me how much hate can be hurled around instead.


Dear Dreams,

Do not give up on me yet.  I have not given up on you.  I still think that my great can be worth something great, to someone, somewhere, sometime.  How much I wish to help and to serve and to love.  My heart is big enough sometimes to just burst.  Meanwhile, I trudge along with my feet of clay, walking, ever walking and waiting for and looking


Currently reading: Made in America by Bill Bryson; Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Currently noticing: 嫁給 jià gěi - marry (how could I have misunderstood those characters for so long?) 
Currently listening: Out of my League by Stephen Speaks

Monday, October 11, 2010

Perhaps Small Elephants Cannot be Finished

Dear Self,

Do you remember that scene in Anne of Ingleside when Anne tries to enter the room gracefully to impress Gilbert's old flame - Christine -  and she trips over the bearskin rug on the floor, and after a brief and seemingly drunken stagger across the floor, fortunately, but barely, lands face-up in an empty armchair?  I think that scene might describe your latest attempts at dealing with life.  Quite simply, you are a social klutz.

I couldn't find the picture of Anne breaking the slate over Gil's head but I figured the moment before might suffice.
Anne again getting herself into trouble.
It's not that you don't get the importance of stepping carefully through situations that involve people's feelings and hopes, fears, disappointments and heartbreaks but for some reason, something always trips you up and you find yourself staggering through the situation like a bull in a china shop and recover only long enough to realize that you've quite possibly turned the situation from delicate to downright critical.  And the only way people want to now deal with the situation to get you out...immediately.

Sadly, it's not like you aren't aware of others when you come crashing in.  In fact, it might be the very opposite.  You are all too aware of the wounds that have been inflicted or could be inflicted.  You are all too aware of how everyone in the situation feels and your empathy almost brings you to the point of incapacitation.  But somehow despite your sensitivity, something always gets you in trouble as you administer what may seem like emotional blunt force trauma to the patient.  So, why not just avoid the situation altogether?  Because you see so many around you suffering and your heart is too big - bigger even than your social two left feet - to just watch them struggle.  And somehow you keep hoping that even the most awkward of hands can do much to lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees.

But the hardest part is that after the dust has cleared, you still haven't said that you needed to say.  So let me, gawky teenager-like, stumble through what it is I came to say:

I love you.  Enough that I want you to be happy.  Enough that I would do anything to make you happy.  Enough to realize that I can't force happiness upon you.  You must choose it yourself.  And sometimes that requires work, communication, forgiveness and love.  If you do not choose these, and as you continue to persist in avoiding these, the reality is that consequences we do not desire are becoming our future.  Life is too short to doubt, to hold grudges, to fear.  But in these, you must choose for yourself.  I know I am not perfect and have possibly hurt you as well: Please forgive me.  Please let me know what you need.  Please let me help you.  I love you more than I can express.

Autumn at UVa, Charlottesville, VA


And while we're on the subject of Gilbert...Oh we aren't?  Well...

Still reading: Made in America by Bill Bryson
Currently noticing: Our rich heritage of Americanisms
Currently listening: 今生不再 by 周以豪

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Boys over Flowers...

Dear F4 Apartment ,

Did my life turn into a Korean drama?  Did I get a red card in my locker from you?  Well, as it usually goes, you give me the red card and everyone else makes my life miserable.  But you see, I moved to Mormon Row and the real F4 are, despite my initial impressions, far too nice to pull such a prank.  So you decided to take things into your own hands.  I see how it goes.

First there was the smoke detector - going off just as I was ready to get to work.  No problem - we can just turn it off.  But no, you insisted on going off nonstop until we decided it was necessary to pull out the battery.  So we pull off the cover and what do we see?  Cardboard telling us that our smoke detector contained radioactive elements and enough wires for us to realize that it was wired into the ceiling.  How long has that been there?!  The 60's?!  Do you know what it took to stop that little prank of yours?  We had to turn off the breaker for all upstairs power.  And then you went off again today.  

This lovely piece of work belongs in a museum

But you really outdid yourself with last night's prank.  Just as I had turned off the light and was settling into sleep, who should come into the parking lot but some man driving a large and loud souped up truck.  And then he proceeded to stand outside and yell the same profanity over and over until I wondered if the man had ever learned another word in his life...until I realized that the loud beat accompanying was a song whose words were the exact same as the words this man was demanding.  Needless to say, with the man yelling or Karaoke-ing or whatever it was he was doing outside our apartment, sleep was not forthcoming.

Most people could never manage past a week after receiving the red card without finally just leaving and giving up.  But not the main character of the  That's right.  You can give me whatever you can dish out and I will just take it and insist on living there.  You can't scare me!!! Take that!

Because despite your best efforts, I still love you, right down to your creaky floors and drafty doors.  And in time, don't you see, you too will come to love me.  And you'll do all sorts of things to keep me near your side, such as buying me nice cell phones and trips to exotic islands, or impressing me with your own private formula  car racetrack and hockey rink, not to mention your Lotus Europa S (yes please).  And if you would like, I'll take one of those men they always show off in the kdrama- just make him dangerous: considerate, independent, handsome and single.


F4 in their private soccer stadium
P.S. Tonight is Bar Review? I will not be intimidated.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Riding with Hitler

Dear 長谷部Katoさん,

You and I have come to know each other pretty well.  I know that you panic at the sight of snow and no wonder with your last winter.  (On second thought, aren't you from Wolfsburg Germany?)  And it's the end of the world for you when you get low on gas but not when your emergency brake is on.  I know that you get touchy on windy days.

Of  course you have learned some of my quirks as well.  Such as the fact that I often spend hours in absolute silence.  And that my stomach lurches at the sight or thought of deer.  You know that late at night, I prefer Korean music but on nights back from DC I prefer Khalil Fong.  More than anyone else in my life, you have listened with me to my Asian music over and over and over and over without complaint.  You have heard my frustrations, my dreams, my fears, my questions and my hopes.

You are the most faithful little friend a person could ask for and you always get me home safely even during that snow that you despise or those late windy and rainy days when you and I both wish we weren't on the road.

In the past two months, you and I have gone to Charlotte, NC 3 times, to Washington, DC 7 times, to Richmond twice and once to that random corner of Maryland between West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  5000 miles, over 80 hours together and mostly just us (and Hitler if we're using Beato's counting method).  We're both getting ragged and peaked around the edges.  While I am amazed that I have not tired of your company, eating up the road as our means of spending time together is rather losing some of its charm.  How about we try some other activities - movie watching or simply meandering down 29?

I've always wanted to know why there is a historic marker in Manassas entitled 'Rock Fight!'



Currently reading: Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson
Currently noticing: 城堡 Chéngbǎo - Castle
Currently listening: Hello by SHINee (Does anyone else think Primary song?)

Why Kato hates snow!

Monday, October 4, 2010

What Dreams are Made Of?

Dear Subconscious,

I know that you don't like to make up fantastical things - I don't ever remember being able to fly or jump over buildings in my dreams.  And conversations with people are usually pretty true to their real character.  But despite that, I didn't have much reason to complain.  You did give me that dream where the prophet told me I had to get married by the end of the day and I spent my time running around talking with all the guys I knew and trying to figure out if I could marry any of them.  And then there was the dream where I lived a Mission: Impossible type dream where I was being chased by men in risk of losing my life and found that my mole had been my 'loyal' chauffeur who terrified me by pulling a gun on me when I thought I was finally free.  Of course there was that winner dream where I was sister to SJ's  Ki Bum and he had to come save me from the crowds of some big city by riding on the back of his motorcycle because  I was the 14th member of the band and I needed to get to the concert in time.  Of course as the 14th member of a boy band that meant that I needed to pretend I was a boy so I spent the rest of the dream trying to find a way to dress in the women's restroom without letting any of the fans know that I was a girl...I don't think I ever made it to the concert.  Do you know how many 13 year old girls need to use the restroom before a concert?  But still I didn't complain.  Those dreams were all fascinating in their own way.  Where do you come up with this stuff?  I always wondered.

But lately, you have been letting me down.  Now granted it was entertaining a few weeks ago, when I dreamed that I was going to be late for my job at Gap and I asked my roommate to give me a ride but she refused.  I was really upset that I was going to be so late until I remembered that I didn't actually HAVE a job at Gap and woke up to go to my real job at the ARL.  (Is it possible you actually WANT a job at the Gap over rocket science glory?)

But today takes the cake!  There I was, in my dream of course, opening up my wardrobe to grab a pair of socks to wear to work and I found the missing sock to a pair and I was thrilled because in my previous dream I HAD BEEN FOLDING SOCKS AND FOUND ONE SOCK MISSING.  Really?! That's what I do in my dreams?  I FOLD SOCKS?!!

Disgruntled doesn't even begin to describe it.


I apparently don't have a lot of pictures of beds or sleeping.  And I don't think I have ANY pictures of me folding socks.  Who does that?
My wonderful bed in Taroko, Taiwan
My wonderful bed in Taipei, Taiwan 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Its the little adventures

Dear Self,

Do you remember that time that you and Melissa took an activity bus from Virginia, driving through the night to make it up to Maine by 9 am the next day?  And how you attended church with the Merrells in Boston?  And played the piano for their choir musical number?  Do you remember how you don't actually remember much of NYC because you were driving aforementioned bus on all those complicated roads and byways?

And then there's the time that you and Katie decided to make that 80 mile bike trip from Provo to Ogden.  Do you remember the early hour you left when friends got up with you to bid you a safe trip?  Do you remember crashing at lunch time on Temple Square and your exhaustion overcame any qualms you had about being there in your sweat covered clothes with your meager meal of crackers and water?  And how surprisingly the mountain was easier than the level section heading into Ogden?  And how the very first thing Doug said to you when he saw you at the end was, "I'm so glad I didn't do this with you"?

Do you remember yesterday how you traveled to Richmond twice in one day to pick up friends from airports?  And how the only times that there was torrential downpour was while you were on the road?  Do you remember those long hours when you just thanked whatever civil engineers in the world built amazing roads?  And how you found that Super Junior and CNBlue make good travel buddies but good friends make the best travel buddies?

Good times.


Sky over Charlottesville, VA
View of Richmond airport from my side view mirror