aapi, asian american, Essay, Korean-American, Literature, philosophy

The Thing That’s in a Korean Name: Goodbye “@aechjay”

I had the username “aechjay” since I was 15-years-old back in 2002 when I created it as a screen name for AOL instant messenger. I had been experimenting with lots of screen names since 1998. The one that I settled on was “aechjay” and it stayed with me for the last 20 years. I used it for all my social media sites since then.

“Aechjay” is the written pronunciation of two letters: “h” and “j.” This has always been like a secret code between myself and my most trusted individuals in my life. there are very few people in my life who still refer to me as “HJ” in conversations or in correspondences because today I go by “Grace.”

“HJ” are the initials of my two-syllable middle name, which was not always my middle name. It represented my given name at birth when first emerged as a human being on this earth in Busan, Korea. My father named me “Hyun-ju.” “Hyun” is 어질 현. It means benevolence. (It can also mean dizziness and chaos in some contexts though I don’t know the specifics of this function; but I love that meaning.) “Ju” is 구슬 주 and is used to describe marbles and pearls, denoting beauty, wealth, and royalty.

Hyun-ju is a very common name for girls/women in Korea. When I go to hair salons in K-Town, one of the stylists is usually named Hyun-ju. growing up, I ran into many Hyun-jus at Korean churches in New York and New Jersey.

“Hyun” is difficult for most English speakers to pronounce. It’s the same reason why everyone mispronounces the car company Hyundai. Ever since I moved to Brooklyn at age 5 with my parents, not a single teacher or peer pronounced my name correctly. They all had their own interpretation of how to pronounce my name.

Hyun became “hai-un,” “hyoon,” “hun,” or “hen.” Sometimes it became their own hallucinatory sound—some of which I can’t even recall. They would simply decide for me what to call me.

When my family moved out of Brooklyn to Palisades Park, New Jersey in 1995, I was suddenly in a densely Korean populated part of the state, and everyone could pronounce my name correctly. but this was brief. In 1999, my family moved back to New York but to Rockland County, New York, and not just any part of Rockland County but a notoriously very white part of Rockland County which was known around the county for being very racist. I went to Pearl River High School and my parents officially changed my name to “Grace” on school records but not on Paper with a capital ‘P.’ By this, I mean that my family and I were still undocumented. The school records, therefore, would be very inconsistent with where “Grace” was placed, but where it mattered like the yearbook or the attendance sheet, my Korean name “Hyun-ju” was always there.

I would be terrorized whenever teachers on the first day of the school year or substitute teachers when teachers were absent read my name aloud in class. They would say a foreign sounding word as they read my name which made all the white students laugh hysterically and made the few minorities in class cower with embarrassment and shame that they projected onto me and received from me, which had them maintain distance from me for a few hours or days or sometimes the rest of high school.

It’s interesting. The school I attended was all-white and mostly Irish but I learned how to pronounce impossible names like Deirdre and Siobhan without issue. We all did. It’s as if we had to. Hyun-ju was not a part of that possibility. Hyun-ju never received such privilege.

Actress Uzo Aduba went home as a child and asked her mother to change her name to an anglicized name. Her mother told young Uzoamaka, “If [white people] can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

But my Korean parents did not have such confidence. Asian parents rarely have such confidence. They went to their Korean reverend and asked, “What should we rename Hyun-ju?” The reverend said the most common name among Korean American girls ever: “Grace.” There’s even a documentary about it called The Grace Lee Project by Grace Lee.

“Grace” and “Hyun-ju” are both extremely common in both Korean America and Korea.

In 2002, I adopted “aechjay” as my screen name as a way to both hide my Korean name and be unabashedly transparent about it but in code. Korean Americans in my social circles knew what it represented. To everyone else, it was a mystery.

I kept it ever since but over the years, I’ve been seeing “aechjay” on more websites. When I tried to get “aechjay” as my pinterest username, it was already taken by some white chick named Hannah something. Why the fuck does “Hannah” need “aechjay”? She doesn’t. Everyone here can pronounce “Hannah.” There are even some Koreans named “Hana.” So, what the fuck? Why would you take that away from me, Hannah?

In 2004, my family finally got our green cards. In 2005, my dad got his US naturalization which allowed me to get it because I was just two weeks short of being eighteen years old. Had I been eighteen, I would’ve had to file for naturalization all over. I remember the officer at ICE saying, “You’re a lucky girl.” I don’t remember if she called me by my name. What I do remember is that she herself was foreign. She was Chinese American and had an accent. She was short, stocky and wore glasses. She looked like a boss behind that large mahogany desk in a black office chair with two white men and the American flag standing behind her. She is pinned on my mental vision board for the rest of my life.

Now that we had our Papers, we could go and change our names. Guess what? My whole family changed our names. Both of my parents had the same trauma around their names because of racism and microaggressions they endured since 1992. Imagine having to live with shame with your own name. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, because there isn’t. It is a given name with love, deep meaning, honor, and connects us to our ancestry. But once we leave that physical point of ancestral connection, that name becomes disconnected as well, and the Others in the Other Land treat that name as a foreign object just as they objectify us as foreigners and therefore object to our very being. Not having my name pronounced correctly is like keeping me on an eternal doorstep of the place I thought I was invited to. I stand outside that brick building, downstairs, in front of the door while I can see the bright light through the window upstairs, and can hear the bustling, the networking, the communicating, the calling of one another’s names with such familiarity.

I hate that I was ever made to hate my name.

I changed my name officially to “Grace” in the year 2009 as I was graduating from college. As I was leaving with that new name on my passport to travel abroad, I felt a sadness, like a loss. I kept “Hyun-ju” as my middle name even though this is technically a lie because “Hyun-ju” is what came first, but there I was prioritizing “Grace” just to accommodate America’s mainstream—America’s whiteness, America’s English, America’s colonial history and its Anglo roots.

Rage. Confusion. Confliction. Amputation. I was an amputee with a foreign object sewn onto my body so that I could more easily be identified and more easily pronounced by Others here in this country and in Other Western countries where I traveled to with my new American passport.

When I started teaching at UCLA in 2016, I noticed that students had the option to list their preferred name on attendance sheets to avoid precisely the trauma I lived with all throughout elementary, middle and high school. This made me feel a little better because this choice not only allows international and emigre students to have agency in what to be called, but also gives space to gender queer students who have a preferred name.

But when I saw that the college I was teaching at had the preferred name as part of their system, I felt a light tissue layer of anger lift from me, but I continued to feel the heavy, dull pain of my name deep inside of me. Not sure where. Perhaps my pelvis. Shaped like a bean. Magnetic. Dark blue surrounded by red. Reverberating in a very low frequency of self-inflicted shame, projected rage, and non-stop confused sadness.

In 2016, I went to the Margaret Herrick Library to look at Hollywood archives for a research paper I was writing on Asian American masculinity in 1930s movies. The white librarian there started to jot down my middle name as he was checking me in with my driver’s license. I corrected him and said, “You’re writing down my middle name. Grace my first name.” He said, “Oh! Hey, don’t be embarrassed of your middle name.”

I was so stunned that I couldn’t speak another word. Throughout the rest of my time at the library, I felt such deep conflicted rage at what he said. What right did he have to tell me how to feel about my name? And what right did he have to lecture me as a white man who never lived with the burden, terror, shame and trauma as I had who went through over a decade and a half of loops to get the Papers so that I could officially change my name to “Grace” in order to accommodate people precisely like him? What right did he have to tell me to not be ashamed of something when people like himself are the reason why I have this shame in the first place? What the fuck? Seriously. What the fuck.

I still feel so much anger when I reflect on this moment. Even as I type this, I just want to throw a heavy metal object at his head. Maybe something like an Oscar. “You don’t get it, do you?”

But in 2021, I started to reconsider it while meditating for long periods of time. I’m not aechjay anymore. I’m more certain of who I am than I was in my teen years and throughout my 20s. I’m not aechjay anymore.

I’m Grace Jung.

It’s how I get introduced before I get up on stage to a crowd of people—my audience—who laugh at my words and bring a feeling of elation, acceptance, applause and praise.

It’s how I introduce myself on my podcast K-Drama School in my monologues.

It’s how I introduce myself at parties, at auditions when I slate, and in emails when I make a cold-contact. “Grace Jung” is what I see in the director credits when my film screens at film festivals. “Grace Jung” is what I see on the cover of my published books.

I saw two old friends from my recent past last night. The woman T is a filmmaker. The man A is an actor. They are Koreans from Kazakhstan—a married couple with a baby daughter. I haven’t seen them in over five years. They are still both very beautiful and still emanating love for each other and for everyone around them. T said, “You’ve transformed since I saw you last. You have a whole new identity.”

T was not wrong. “aechjay” was so close to my heart and my being, but it was also tied to my sense of shame around my name which came with anger/hatred/mistrust which are symptoms of racism in this county.

In 2021, when I was meditating, I kept feeling this deep urgency to let go of “aechjay” but I couldn’t. I would start to change it as a username handle and then immediately revert back to “aechjay.” But since last week, I have begun changing it here and there.

Even my website, which used to be aechjay.com is now gracejungcomedy.com.

Our identities change when our relationship with our past changes, and as that happens, our spirit changes. It finds realignment with where we are physically, mentally and emotionally. I have made leaps in the last two years that I never thought I could. During that process, I shed the heavy metal bean inside of me, too.

For now, goodbye, @aechjay.

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Book, cinema and media studies, Essay, Fiction, Film, philosophy

When the Movie is Better Than the Book: Drive My Car and I’m Thinking of Ending Things

A week before my 35th birthday, I kept having a recurring dream involving cars and me losing something significant to me. I was sitting in the back seat of a boxy old red car, being driven by someone I did not know. I pulled out my keys, cellphone and wallet, and placed them on the seat of the car, which had stopped on the freeway. I stepped out of the car, then the car just drove away, joining the myriad of other cars. I started to panic because everything that was important to me was in that car and now lost. I knew where to go though. I went to the airport because, for some reason, I knew that the car would be at the airport. When I got there, however, the airport parking lot had hundreds if not thousands of other cars parked and I could not fathom ever locating this boxy old red car to recover my belongings. Nevertheless, I felt determined to find it, and I began my search. Then the dream ended. I dreamt a similar dream a few days later in a slightly different iteration.

Then one late Saturday night, I felt determined to go and see Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi—a film based on a Haruki Murakami short story called “Drive My Car” found in a short story collection called Men Without Women. I stopped reading Murakami books shortly after graduating college over ten years ago. There are many authors whose works I’ve stopped reading after college and it’s generally because I exhausted myself of their works by reading almost everything they’d ever written while I was in school. I read pretty much everything that Murakami published up until 2009, and I did the same with Vonnegut and Bukowski by 2010. Today, when I try to read works by these authors, I find myself losing interest almost immediately from the first paragraph in. It’s because I’ve lost interest in these authors. Even if they write anything new, it wouldn’t feel all that different to me because I feel as though I know their voice at this point, and it wouldn’t matter that they had anything new to say. It would be said in the same way. It’s like watching a Hong Sang-soo film. It’s the same film pretty much every single time. Even if I don’t see it, I know what I’m getting. And the window to access their worlds is now completely shut for me. This is not a sad thing. It’s just a shut window. I have other opened windows where my reading attention is now fully dedicated to.

That Saturday—February 19th—I was quite determined to locate a lamp. I had been eyeing this multi-headed, brass floor lamp from Target for a year now. My floor lamp had stopped working the night before, and I threw it out without any attachment because my heart was now set on this new lamp that I finally had a reason to purchase. I went to my go-to Target on Sepulveda, but they were sold out. I went to another Target in North Hollywood. They were also sold out. A staff member told me that the Target in Van Nuys—a location I was not even aware of despite it being the closest to where I’ve lived these last three years—had just one left in stock. When I went to that location, the one that they had in stock was the floor sample, and it was too big for me to fit in my car, so I left it behind. Instead, I purchased a way smaller lamp to tide me over till I could locate a floor lamp that satisfies me. Then I drove to Burbank to catch the last showing of Drive My Car.

My decision to see this film at such a late hour was very last minute but it came with some culmination. I had been thinking about seeing the film for a couple of weeks but I knew nothing about it. I only knew that there was a lot of Oscar buzz around it, and that it was based on fiction written by Murakami. While I do not choose to read Murakami, I am interested in seeing a filmic interpretation of his works since he is not the one delivering it. Perhaps this is a new way for me to access the authors I’d loved reading many years ago when I was a completely different person.

At the opening scenes, I was a bit shocked because the old boxy red car I’d seen in my dream was exactly what was on the screen. There’s an old red Saab in the film which I guess you could say is partially the film’s protagonist. It’s the subject of the film and the short story. The car. And one of the places that the car drives to is the airport. These are familiar coincidences for me. I’ve had precognitive dreams before, but this is the first time I’ve consciously witnessed a fusion between a film I’ve never seen before melding with my subconscious.

I was incredibly moved by this film. It’s a daring movie. Runtime is almost 3 hours. That’s bold. Even though I’m a film scholar, I hardly have the patience to sit through films longer than 90 minutes. If it’s longer than 90 minutes, it had better be a work of art. Drive My Car is a work of art. It is masterful and full of complex feeling. After seeing this movie, I immediately put Murakami’s book on hold at the library, and I finished reading the short story “Drive My Car” this morning. The fiction is far less interesting than the film, and Hamaguchi’s adaptation of it for the screen is a completely different and massive animal.

Hamaguchi developed whole new characters with whole new lives and entirely new circumstances for his film. Murakami’s short story is a very lightly etched sketch where the graphite meets the paper with the least amount of force. Hamaguchi’s script is an oil pastel drawing that covers every blank space of the page. Then let that oil pastel drawing sit over a hot plate. Watch the movements of the colors blend, meld and animate on the page’s surface. Then watch the waxy liquid rise and become full bodies with full movements. That is Hamaguchi’s film. The film version of Drive My Car has far more life, thought, question, and feeling than Murakami’s short story. The characters who resonated quite deeply with me are Yoo-na and Misaki. Yoo-na is not in the short story but she is the tender heart of the film. Weirdly, Hamaguchi’s film feels very much like a Murakami short story. The concept of Oto narrating stories in a trance-like state while having sex with her husband and her lovers feels Murakami-esque. The scene with Yoo-na leaving an impression on Kafuku with her sign language delivery in the audition feels Murakami-esque. When Yoo-na is later revealed to be Yoon-soo’s wife who was once a dancer but suffered an abortion which subsequently caused her to quit dancing and find acting feels Murakami-esque. And yet none of these details are in Murakami’s short story. They are all from Hamaguchi’s mind. Perhaps this is what makes a masterful adaptation–to adapt one’s stories into the voice of the author whose work one’s work is based on.

Part of the reason why I stopped reading Murakami is precisely this preoccupation with female bodies and sexuality as oracles into a man’s deeper understanding or knowledge of himself. I see this time and time again in Murakami’s books and stories, and by the time I was 22, I had had quite enough of it. It felt, to me, elementary and a bit exploitative. I wrote a whole essay on the topic which Thought Catalog published. While this hang-up on a woman’s sexuality as being mysterious is present in Hamaguchi’s film, it did not feel abusive. I guess because the stories that Oto narrates felt so allegorical, and serve such a concrete purpose in the film—a concreteness that Murakami’s stories tend to lack. Hamaguchi also melded Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya into his script in such a nuanced and fine-tuned way, more deeply reflecting the souls of each of his own script’s characters, that I was left impressed by his craftsmanship as a screenwriter. Hamaguchi’s film showcases how humanity reveals itself with great might in scenarios where it is grossly absent like when Oto dies and Kafuku develops a relationship with Takatsuki. Or how Misaki’s driving is perfectly smooth because she chauffeured her physically abusive mother around since she was in middle school. How Takatsuki’s acting gains human understanding and substance only after taking away a man’s life. How the theater company remains softly and coldly resolved to replace Takatsuki and go on with the show mere minutes after Takatsuki’s arrest and confinement, which finally draws out a human response from Kafuku who’d remained deadened to human emotions after the death of his daughter and wife.

The scene when Kafuku embraces Misaki and delivers lines of support that reverberate from Chekov’s play is cinematically and theatrically moving. Seeing Misaki play with the Korean couple’s dog as a way to express joy at Kafuku’s compliment of her driving and later seeing her with a dog of her own in Korea while driving Kafuku’s car brings such subtle yet lasting joy, like a distinct flavor in a soup that I can conjure time and time again years after I’ve had the soup but never being able to name what ingredient it was and never wishing to know.

 In the mainstream, critics and audiences frequently say that movies are never as good as the books but Drive My Car is an instance where the film outshines the story. It’s like comparing a star to a candlelight.

I’ve recently had another experience where the film broke all expectations for me compared to the book it is based on and that is I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a 2020 movie written and directed by Charlie Kaufman that is on Netflix. It came out in 2020—the same year that the world came to a full stop and I had all the time and mental capacity to rewatch the same movie over and over again trying to gain footing in it. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a challenging film but not without brilliance. It’s like trying to read a difficult book. It’s comparable to reading Kaufman’s novel Antkind which came out the same year that his film was released. I’ve been reading Antkind for four months now, and I’ve only now past the midway section. It is a difficult book but also hilarious. It’s Kaufman-esque in the way that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a difficult film. But I love this film for so many reasons, and after I first saw it, I rewatched it again almost immediately and a couple times more thereafter. Each time I watch it, I can see it with new eyes.

The film follows a woman played by the wonderful Jessie Buckley visiting her boyfriend’s parents’ house in a snowy wintery night, and that’s pretty much the whole movie. But it has so much strangeness and heavy beauty throughout. It’s hard to tell whose mental breakdown we are following because everybody appears to be having a mental breakdown. There is also a mysterious elderly male janitor spliced in there who we follow without being able to connect why we follow him. The film has a poetry recitation, a school musical, and a dance number. They all do the work of making the story more than what it is—a movie.

When I first saw Adaptation, I was 17. I didn’t know how the film was going to unfold but I was engrossed in it. My classmates started to yell in agony when they saw that Charlie Kaufman had a twin brother Donald Kaufman, and they said, “This had better not be a movie about a guy imagining his own twin brother.” The film is and is not about that very thing, and being that ambiguous is what makes Adaptation a brilliant film. Kaufman is an expert at using hackneyed concepts in his film yet skirting the hack part of it by making it completely and unpredictably new. That’s the service of the poem, the musical number and the dancing in I’m Thinking of Ending Things the film. I read the novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid which the film is based on and the book is far less luminous precisely because the ending reveals this lackluster hackneyed concept so brazenly. Yes. We’ve been reading a single man’s mental breakdown and ultimate suicide all this time. How jejune. But we never come to this conclusion or realization in Kaufman’s film version. No sure nail to the head is necessary. It is never ever necessary if it means the life of a far greater story and its characters. Kaufman’s film does hint at this conclusive possibility all throughout but it could be from anyone’s position—the boyfriend’s, the girlfriend’s, the old man’s, the father’s or the mother’s. Even the pig’s. Even the anxious teenaged employee at the ice cream shop. It doesn’t matter because the film is not about coming to a conclusive resolution. It’s an attempt at maintaining the film’s life, letting that resound and reverberate as questions, possibilities, frustration, sadness, joy, madness, or whatever else and holding it for as long as possible. That resonation continues to ring long after the film ends. It still rings. In that sense, Kaufman’s style is expertly Modern.

I think this is what makes a film so different from a written story. I’m both a writer and a filmmaker, and I sense their vast differences whenever I work on a new project. When I write, I write with such freedom, and the worlding that I produce feels like a privilege. When I make a film, it feels far more difficult to create the worlding because the pieces are so many and it takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain that world in the mind upon creation, but I enjoy it nonetheless because the end result is a true visual manifestation of what I held in my mind and so much more which everyone can see with their eyes and hear with their ears, grounding viewers into a singular collective experience which splinter off into various subjective opinions and emphases. When making a film, though, the writing is what takes place first. The script, yes, but also the artist’s statement, and the synopsis and the logline. The emails. The pitch. The convincing to get the capital. The words come first. The visuals last. Then after the visuals, the words return again, like it does here.

The difference is that the words can be transformed into the most unpredictable outcomes in a film whereas in a story, the words remain as those words, and the worlding that takes place in the reader’s mind is their own private ritual. This is also what makes reading a special activity. In the case with Drive My Car and I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I felt that the worlds that these filmmakers created for me as the reader of these stories far surpasses anything I envisioned in my mind, and for that I feel a big chunk of gratitude this very moment.

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aapi, Art, asian american, comedy, Essay, ideology

a meditation on mushrooms

my favorite pizza topping is mushroom. i like mushrooms’ sponginess. i like the earthy-alien weirdness they have as a flavor, and i like that they are not meat but feel like meat.

i saw a headline while browsing the web yesterday that said something like how mushrooms are the new “threat” to the meat industry.

mushrooms to replace meat! it’s only a threat if you have something to lose.

mushrooms are a sensible meat substitute. right before or during my monthly menstrual cycle, i eat a lot of mushrooms. the reason for this is because when a person menstruates, their iron levels drop, and mushrooms are high in iron. if you suffer from iron deficiency and are anemic, i recommend mushrooms.

as a child, i once saw my pet hamster eating soil when i let her loose in the grass. i freaked out but my dad assured me: “she’s getting iron.”

fungi grow from the earth which is chock full of iron, and therefore mushrooms are full of iron.

i accidentally overdosed on my microdose of albino shrooms this afternoon, and while stretching on my yoga mat, i caught a whiff of my feet which smelled like my yoga mat and the usual feet smell.

the fungus that grows on our feet is called “tinea pedis.” “tinea” is “ringworm” but it is not an actual worm. it’s a fungus. “pedis” is latin for “on the feet.” so athlete’s foot is caused by fungal-worms lol. the smell, however, is from bacteria.

but the smell reminded me of blue cheese, and why so many people are attracted to smelly things like blue cheese which supposedly stink like feet: mold Penicillium roqueforti which is what gives blue cheese that hue, and supposedly aids in immune health. the attraction to savory stink is a very mammalian response and connected to primal behaviors linked to eating and fucking.

truffles are usually found through the aid of sows—female pigs—who sniff out truffles because they trigger a hormonal response. the pungent savory scent of truffles remind them of a male pig’s saliva. when a pig goes hunting with her snout, she is actually looking for love and she winds up finding truffles for humans to shave onto their pasta which’ll enhance the price of that plate by an extra $15. the reason why we humans love truffles is for the same reason: we like the musky savory scent that smells similarly to pheromones. it’s similar to the reason why they put deer musk in perfumes and cologne. when we eat truffles, we’re simulating a love-response.

while continuing to stretch on my yoga mat, i realized that yeast infections are also a fungus. that fungus is called “candidiasis.” it grows not only in the vagina but also our mouths, throat, and guts. if candida enters the bloodstream, heart, brain, kidneys, or other vital organs, it can cause an infection and become deadly. how interesting how our bodies understand boundaries through infections and diseases.

about 80 different types of (currently found at this point in time) fungi grow on our bodies’ surface. how many different varieties of fungi grow inside our bodies? do the numbers of fungi vary depending on our environment? do our inner fungi have a vital function in our aliveness and, more importantly, consciousness?

are mental “illnesses” or “visions” caused by inner fungi which some people have and some people don’t?

i saw that new wes anderson film the french dispatch last night and i’m not sure but it reminds me of the editor of the paris review who also died. but when he was living, he was, supposedly, a very good and loving boss, and an eclectic character of high pedigree.

i know this only because i read a book called my korean deli which was written by a white man married to a korean american woman, and he wrote very fondly of that editor in his book because he was a writer for the paris review. when this book was first published, i was in the middle of writing my first novel deli ideology, and i remember telling the author, “you stole my book idea,” at the korea society when i met him in person, and he looked at me with terror, and i said, “i’m kidding.” but i was bitter. when a white guy writes about “his” korean deli, it’s a novelty and it becomes of a publisher or agent’s interest because it’s weird and zany. when a korean american woman writes about a korean deli, it’s just a memoir and therefore not interesting, and therefore not worthy of mainstream/white attention.

i published my novel in 2014–3 years after i read that white man’s book.

the deli i worked at definitely had a lot of fungi. the apartment i lived in during the time i worked at the deli also had fungi commonly known as “black mold” or “aspergillus niger,” which release mycotoxins that cause respiratory illness. sometimes the same black mold grows on food—fruit and bread–and when eaten, they can be harmful. aspergillus niger, however, is also the fungus that can cure infections in the throat, lung, mouth, ear, and skin in the form of penicillin v potassium. it is also used to treat sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.

the fungus that grows on rye, barley, oats, and wheat is called “ergot.” it is a psychoactive fungus that apparently plagued the middle ages, and for some reason, it is only associated with terror. i guess the middle ages were rough. set and setting mean everything before a trip, and if hyper-religious christian zealots are telling everyone that their souls will burn in hell, then i think i would freak out, too.

ergot, however, can literally kill people. it causes infections and illnesses. in some cases it causes convulsions. they call this “ergotism.” but ergot has medical uses for people like me who suffer from migraines. it can also be used to regulate our serotonin which contributes to our mood, digestion, sleep, sweat, and muscles. ergot is also used to treat complications after pregnancy.

ergot causes hallucinations. the most documented forms of hallucination in the middle ages (AKA “dark ages”) are of hell. the “witches” that were hanged during the salem witch trials were able to induce hallucinations because of ergot from rye.

this is all before “set and setting” became more mainstream, i suppose. if i only knew what i knew from my childhood christian life which was that god was to be feared because of the firey pits of hell i would fall into if i did not believe in his son jesus christ as my lord and savior, i think i would assume that i was dying in hell during my ego dissolution.

psychedelic hallucinations cause “ego dissolution” sometimes referred to as “ego death.”

while i’m sure ergotism was immensely uncomfortable for folks in the dark ages, i also wonder if ergot hallucinations are what re-awakened some folks to be able to see the light and envision the future ahead of them. shortly after the dark ages came the industrial revolution.

when i was meditating today, i saw countless numbers of fan/scale/feather shaped objects streamlined and coming down in a zigzag towards me, and i thought, all it takes is for someone to monetize this, and they’ll become millionaires.

i’m sure that hallucinations from those times led to mass-production, which, unfortunately, led to a slew of other problems primarily related to labor and health, and eventually the environment. these problems still plague us. we are still in the dark ages. we are still in hell.

back to ego dissolution: the “confusion” that occurs during this process stems from your “self” being gone. all the things you/i cared so deeply about are gone.

what is your name? don’t know.

where are you from? who cares.

what is this thing i’m holding in front of you? i don’t know.

what is anything? i don’t know.

what were you saying? it doesn’t matter.

what are words? what is breath? what is number? what is sky? what is memory? what is dream? who is that? is that a person, animal, memory, object, circumstance, color, line, shape, smell, thought, accident, purpose, intention, rock, sand, pebble, waterfall? why anything? how anything? so what?

in ego dissolution, you experience hell when you try to cling onto your ego/identity/desires/worries/values. but the moment you let go (surrender) you become one with the evolution of earth and experience the Oneness that dr. bronner keeps shouting about on the sticker of that soap bottle in your bathroom and kitchen.

Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann was experimenting with ergot in the 1930s to find cures for Parkinson’s disease (the cause of convulsions may have the answer to stopping the convulsions). on april 19th, 1943, Hofmann came up with LSD-25 which he accidentally consumed and fully tripped on while biking. 4/19 is Bicycle Day–the day before 4/20.

ergot’s existence goes back to wherever and whenever ancient grains existed, including the times when christ was tripping people out with fish and bread, walking on water, turning water into wine, raising the dead, and rising from the dead. including the times when buddhists and yogis were seeing visions in their egoless meditations. including the times of surreal art which goes back to the beginning of art.

ego dissolution is a lesson from fungi to let us know that we all die and become consumed by fungi, and return to the earth. ego dissolution is about absolving fear of death. it therefore makes sense to go to the place where birth/death starts/ends in order to remind ourselves of where we come from and where we go, and that this body is a temporary vessel we borrow, and none of it matters.

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aapi, Art, asian american, comedy, Essay, Gender Studies, ideology, korea, Korean-American, Literature, philosophy

the INTJ-female Korean American rationale

The first Google search engine result when I look up “INTJ woman” is an article written by a fucking MAN.

Can you believe that shit? The system is against us. This is why we’re always yelling at you or rolling our eyes and just not bothering. We just can’t be bothered. We must ignore you.

The rest of the search engine results for “INTJ woman” were articles all written by white women. I don’t have anything against white women other than I don’t (can’t) always relate.

This essay is about INTJ-womanhood as me—a Korean American woman with the INTJ personality type.

The thing about these Myers-Briggs personality categories is that they just offer a surface-description of personalities and don’t offer any explanation as to why it is (nothing ever just is [unless you’re on psychedelics or meditating very deeply or something]).

I am the INTJ personality type. INTJ stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judgment. It’s also referred to as the “architect” personality type.

I took this test about 10 years ago and had the same result whenever I took the test again since (2 more times).

I can relate to this personality type a lot. For one, being INTJ-female is the rarest. INTJ women make up less than 1% of all women. I’m bad at math but it’s like 4 out of every 500 women are INTJs (according to those other sources written by white people).

here’s a descriptive list of INTJ females:

independent

confident/assertive

eye-on-the-ball/focused

appreciates alone time (isolation)

not a good team player

doesn’t respect or trust most authorities

no-nonsense

type-A

creative thinkers

appreciates authenticity

are good leaders by design but does not want to lead most of the time

extremely private

hates incompetence

hates time-wasters

hates inefficiency

loves (good) art

loves newness/innovation

appreciates professionalism

appreciates good skill/talent

A weird Google search engine result for “INTJ female” is the question, “Are INTJ females attractive?”

What a stupid fucking question. Why don’t you cut to the heart of what you really want to ask which is, “Are INTJ females bitches?”

That really depends but if you ask me, I’ll say that if an INTJ woman is being a bitch, she’s being a bitch because the situation 100% calls for that reaction/response, and she is nothing but RIGHT.

INTJ women are efficient as fuck. We hate wasting time and energy on anything not worth our damn. So if we take the time to engage, we do it because we feel it is worthy of our engagement, even if it means giving someone a talking to, yelling, or expressing assertion and/or correction. But most of the time, we really don’t want to be bothered with anyone’s shit.

Why are we so bent on being corrective? Well, have you seen the world? It needs constant correcting and changing. We can see the mistakes, errors, injustice, etc. We see them very vividly and clearly. They torment us.

So when we speak up, trust that we know what we are saying/doing. Thank us for offering some guidance.

Even if you don’t think we are right, you will never ever change our minds. We will always wonder, “Why aren’t they just thanking us for telling them that they walked out of the bathroom with their skirt tucked into their underwear?”

You think that INTJ women are “insensitive.”

We are. We have no time for sensitivity. You know why? Because we see the bigger picture. We’re focused on getting the job done and not so much on anybody’s fucking feelings.

Does that mean INTJ women don’t feel? Absolutely not. I feel everything all the time. That’s why I have to ignore certain people when I enter the room or disengage a lot of the times. As an INTJ woman, I have a hard time not being a deep empath. I feel everything very intensely so I developed boundaries as a skill. This took many years to hone. I did it for my survival and my own sanity.

We’re intuitive and quick to judge not because there’s anything wrong with you but because we are highly sensitive. The irony is that we may appear insensitive. But whenever you see anyone being insensitive, you can bet your money that that person is acutely sensitive. That is, in fact, how the world is, and how most people are.

INTJs are not good team players.

Yeah, this is true. I don’t like being part of assigned teams that I had no part in creating. Even when I create my own team, I still find one or two players I regret adding (and they become reminders of my mistake/error, and I despise them for it even more).

I don’t like working as a group or in teams. Why? Because of the same problem mentioned earlier. I see how everybody is doing something wrong. I can see a faster path or direction but the rest don’t. And I have trouble communicating that politely—in a way that would not hurt anyone’s fucking feelings. I’m gritting my teeth trying not to say, “Are you stupid?” So I either shut down completely (disengage) or I speak up and watch people cry.

Noticing when something goes wrong and being attentive to it makes INTJ women great problem solvers but it doesn’t mean we can always solve the problem. The fact is, harmonium is required in a team mission. Feelings should not be injured. Ideas should not be shot down. But INTJ women are impatient and we have a hard time dealing with the “normal” slow-paced “warm-up” to reaching those goals. We’ll be rolling our eyes the whole way through. Even though a part of us knows that this is the right way, we still won’t agree with it or trust it. If an INTJ woman is particularly silent during group work, just know that she is doing everything she can to PRESERVE harmonium by not speaking up and damaging morale. Just thank her for that. She’ll contribute when she feels ready/wants to.

INTJs are not good with authority.

Yes. Of course we’re bad with authority. We don’t trust anyone but ourselves. How could we trust a fucking stranger who was randomly assigned to be the leader in our lives? Does it mean that we NEVER trust authority? Not true. We all need good mentors/leaders/examples/teachers. INTJ women have GREAT role models and teachers at all times. In fact, see who INTJ women look up to. You’ll learn a LOT.

INTJ women befriend many strong and successful women. We gravitate towards them naturally because they’ve already EARNED our respect as fellow successful women. They are living the life WE aspire to. So they are our respected leaders/examples, and when they say “go” or “sit” we will militantly oblige. However, if anyone who is an authority figure LOSES our respect, there’s a good chance that they will never regain it back fully in this lifetime. (Perhaps we can begin again in another lifetime. But as for this, it’s over.) There are jobs I had where I saw my performance dipping real fast in direct correlation to how much respect I had for my supervisor. No matter how much I tried or how much they tried, once the respect was gone, there was no bringing it back. Scary for some people but completely logical for fellow INTJ women like me.

Bosses have been baffled at my behavior and comments. If they tell me to do something that I don’t understand, I never do them. If I do, I’ll fuck it up. If they say something that offends me, I straight up tell them that what they said was rude (because it is rude to be sexist, racist, classist, stupid, etc.)

It’s not that we stubbornly wish to be this way. It’s that we have major trust issues. This difficulty with authority comes from experience. We’re not just anti-authority a priori. We have lived experience with untrustworthy authority figures be they parents, teachers, any adult, any older person, church leaders, politicians, bosses, etc. Call us jaded. Call us stubborn. Call us pitiful. Call us enlightened.

The fact is, all leaders have some dirt, and it’s a good thing INTJ women are here sitting with our legs crossed in the corner with a cigarette, side-eyeing some rich fuck who thinks they’re hot shit just because they think they have the right to be. We can’t even bother to laugh. It’ll exert energy onto an undeserved place.

For INTJ women, we don’t respect anything that insists on being a GIVEN. We need to see the goods, the work, the proof. We need to see it and feel it. And even then, as long as you have authority, there’s a good chance we still won’t trust you because the very notion of hierarchy is absurd to us anyway.

We’re just like, “Why aren’t you under a tree somewhere smoking a joint and coloring in a sketch book? Instead, you’re sitting here talking way too much about shit that nobody cares about and calling yourself a leader. Just buy some big shoes and call yourself a clown instead. That’s all you’ll ever be: A CLOWN. And a shitty one, too.”

INTJs make good/bad leaders.

INTJs have the make-up to become good leaders but we hate leading because it means we’ll have attention. The INTROVERTED part of our personality and our agitation with authority make us detest being leaders. We won’t lead unless it is absolutely called for. I noticed this about myself very viscerally when people asked me to co-produce live comedy shows with them. I would think about it and make a long as list as to WHY it would benefit me in the long run to do such a thing because producing shows is a huge fucking pain in the ass. I hate doing it. I hate my co-producer while doing it. I hate everybody while doing it. It’s a nightmare. Everybody sucks.

I did it twice, and I never want to do it again. Co-producing live comedy shows as an INTJ woman is a fucking nightmare. If you’re an INTJ woman, I think you can relate.

We don’t like it when a million parts are moving and people keep asking me STUPID fucking questions. Whenever anyone asks me a question, I almost always ask myself first if that question is stupid. 65% of the time, yes, it’s a stupid fucking question (why are they asking it?!).

It annoys me when people make me repeat myself (inefficient; shows that they lack listening skills). It annoys me when people don’t know how to help themselves (incompetent; shows that they lack problem-solving skills).

In this regard, we’d make terrible leaders, and we know it fully.

Good leaders are attentive and respectful of all questions and contributions. We fully know that we don’t have the emotional bandwidth to handle that, so we will naturally back out.

We’ll only step up as leaders IF AND WHEN a situation absolutely calls for it. And that’s not to say that we’re not bossy anyhow. We are hella bossy, and not fucking sorry.

INTJ women are not sorry.

This is true and not true. I am sorry all the time for the way that I am, and this is why all the blog posts you read on INTJ women say that “INTJ females are the most misunderstood.”

We can’t help but be who we are and how we are. Greater self-awareness and mindfulness help a lot but can only go so far when we start to feel like our own space is being taken up by others.

We are radically independent (like hamsters!!!). We are fastidious and quick (we love efficiency!!!). We like PARTICULAR people. We LOVE them. We dislike or are not interested in most people.

We are misunderstood because of this. And people think we are unapologetically bitchy or mean. Not true. The damage that our personality types cause do bring us grief but we’ll never show it or tell you to your face. We will tell our closest allies or our therapists or ourselves when we’re on mushrooms, and do what we can to adjust to your needs.

But we won’t guarantee it. Because we really fucking love ourselves for who we are and how we are.

I love myself so much and I am grateful to my personality type for protecting me at all times. This personality is an armor. That’s why INTJ women are so misunderstood. That’s why your stupid fucking question, “Are INTJ women attractive?” is the wrong question.

To assume that INTJ women are unfeeling, disassociating, insensitive, or lack insight is a grave mistake. We are hypersensitive, always feeling, fully in-the-know of how we impact people, and that is why we compartmentalize the way we do, and we do it by ignoring or not responding or withholding or whatever demeaning words you want to replace the aforementioned with.

We’re the rarest because we’re special, and we’re required in all societies. Having one of us in your corner is a blessing, so count us in your prayers every night, little babies.

But leave us alone to do our thing at our own pace. That’s the greatest gift you can give us. We’ll notice you doing this and grow lonely and come to you on our own. Respect the dance of push-and-pull (밀당). But don’t over-do it. There’s nothing we dislike more than affected anything (words, behaviors, art, conversation, etc.). If it’s not authentic and not called for, we’ll just be like, “Why the fuck is this in here?”

INTJ women are creative.

Yes, and we have to be. Creativity doesn’t just apply to the arts although I am an artist. Creativity applies to any kind of critical thinking. Whenever I work in groups and I see people thinking just one way, I lose my shit because I’m like, “Hello? Why are you not looking out the fucking window? There’s a bigger world out there.”

We manage our creativity by spending time alone to recharge, meditate, self-reflect, grow, heal, and listen to our “muse.” We need that alone time to hear our own independent/authentic voice so that we don’t repeat what others say (inefficient!!!) or offer a no-good idea (incompetent!!!). We’re the hardest on ourselves. If an INTJ woman hurt your feelings today, check in on her. She probably demolished her own feelings that same afternoon. You got off easy, kid.

“The INTJ Korean woman is a fucking weirdo and she scares me.

Yeah? So what. No one asked you. Sit down. Go read a book in the corner or something.

Being Asian American, I often encounter confusion, chaos, and offense as a reaction to who/how/what I am. I don’t believe in uncalled for politeness. I abhor despise small talk. I don’t understand hierarchy. Living this life in the female body as a Korean, Korean American and Asian American is tough.

The world expects me to be subservient, unopinionated, quiet, “respectful,” caregiving, emotionally available to others and not myself according to information they got from the dumbest places ever–wanna hear it? OTHER SCREENS. Projections imagined/constructed by filmmakers, TV writers, internet bloggers, etc–people who are not ME and have no business creating and projecting some hull of what I am supposed to be on massive mediated screens that you absorb and wind up believing (ugh–when the fuck will you learn?)

These non-Korean-American-female-INTJs with influence think they know something. Now is your cue to laugh: LOL. They don’t know jack shit.

I am the opposite (or completely off-the-wall something else) of all of that which was imagined FOR you by those who are NOT me. And I wasn’t always like this. When it came to those I really loved and admired, I poured all of these very limited affective labors (awareness, sensitivity, respect, dedication) onto them, and they all let me down. Sometimes the JUDGMENT side can be weak when it is tarnished by admiration or love (this is why we often times don’t adore or love or respect). ‘Tis a lonely life for the INTJ woman.

And our judgment protects us because of the pattern we noticed in our lifetimes which developed the mantra, “There’s nobody you can rely on but yourself.” And we firmly believe this despite its limitations which we know about already so don’t fucking come at me.

So say all you want about what your expectations of me was, and how I am blowing your mind right now. That just sounds like YOUR business.

I got my own to take care of. Any reaction you have in response to me is all about you, and it has nothing to do with who/what/how I am. I just am and I have my own reasons for it unrelated to you. So sit down. Go in the corner and read a book or something.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll re-post if I think of more INTJ-female related stuff.

If you’re an INTJ Asian diaspora woman, please share your experiences. Thank you.

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aapi, asian american, cinema and media studies, comedy, Essay, ideology, korea, korean drama, Korean-American, TV

new journal article publication on Johnny Yune

I wrote this back in 2017, submitted it to the Society of Cinema and Media Studies TV SIG’s essay contest, won, and now it’s published in the New Review of Film and Television Studies.

Check out “Recovering the TV career of Korean American comedian Johnny Yune” here.

I also made a video about his life and career a few months ago and it has pretty much the same content.

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Art, cinema and media studies, Essay, Film, ideology, philosophy

Ideology, FGM and Sembene’s MOOLAADE (2004)

I read about female genital mutilation (FGM) in an anthropology class as a freshman in college, and what I recollect the most is that one of the main purposes of FGM is to make sex unpleasant for girls in order to prevent infidelity—essentially, perform a painful circumcision on women for an ideology that suits the dominant group—the patriarch. But notice how in Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade (2004), polygamy for men is the norm at the village in Burkina Faso; women must remain faithful to one man and not enjoy sex, but men can have more than one wife and enjoy sex.

moolaade

While reading Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus,” I thought a lot about what causes harmful/oppressive traditions and practices to continue in spite of being inhumane. Althusser notes ideology’s “reproduction of production” and the agencies that allow this production to perpetuate. While watching Moolaade, I kept wondering why the male elders in the film persistently remained ignorant to the problems that were arising from the practice of FGM as a ritual for young girls in the village. As Althusser might put it, the male elders’ ideology does not “correspond with reality,” and as agents of reproducing the product of their ideology, they must uphold tradition (protect their ideology) and all of its rituals including FGM. For instance, when news spreads that the girls have run away from the “purification” ceremony, the men simply say that the girls must return to the ritual and have the performance done. When news spreads that two of the girls committed suicide at the well to avoid the circumcision, the men simply move on from the topic and avoid discussing it (meanwhile, the women of the village all gather in the night by the well to stand vigil). When Binetou dies from the performance, the men remain firm in their stance and express no remorse for the death of yet another young girl. While doing so, they cite Allah, and say that a man’s word trumps that of a woman’s, and so Colle must undo the Moolaade. Althusser’s diagnosis of a hurtful practice continuing in spite of its harms would simply be that this village is performing what any other Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) would perform, and that is protecting the actions and agents that produce the State’s ideology by putting it to practice, thus allowing this ideology to regenerate, perpetuate and reproduce.

Jacqueline Bobo writes in “The Color Purple: Black Women as Cultural Readers” that “traditions are made, not born.” Similarly, Althusser argues that ideology is a concept that is universally present in the minds of individuals and as a collective: “Ideology has no history.” If this is true, then it introduces the possibility that a new idea that gets upheld as an ideology can also permeate through groups and enter the collective consciousness to become the new ideology; as Bobo puts it, “When an articulation arises, old ideologies are disrupted and a cultural transformation is accomplished.” In Moolaade, this articulation begins with Colle first claiming a Moolaade for the girls who ran away, and protecting them. Then Colle is beaten in public before everyone in the village including the male elders. The transformation happens in the form of encouragement from the women standing by for Colle, telling her not to give up or fall down; this begins to materialize a new ideology by disrupting the old ideology; the tears shed by Amasatou while watching her mother get beaten is another disruption of the old ideology, where she would have done anything (buy new clothes, get her genitals cut) so that she could marry Ibrahima—a wealthy man of a respected family. This breakdown of the old spirit leading to an awakening for all of the village women is finalized in the film through the death of Binetou, one of the youngest of the group of girls who fled the ceremony.

When the women arrive at the center of the village—at the site of the phallic-looking mosque—where the women’s confiscated radios burn, the women confiscate the Exciseuses’ knives and throw them into the same fire; the women no longer need the radio to inform them of what is right and wrong; they hold that information internally, they have a voice to express what they believe in, and the willingness to put those beliefs into action. Furthermore, when the Exciseuses give up the knives, they become allies with the mothers—even for a moment; the mothers who suffered pain and loss stand together with the women who performed FGM and killed their daughters while upholding an old ideology: “An articulation results from a coming together of separate discourses under certain specific conditions and at specific times” (Bobo, 105).

Althusser says that an ideology “recruits.” Ideology functions through “interpellation” or “hailing.” It catches the attention of the subject through a Subject (mirror effect). In Moolaade, the Exciseuses finally recognize themselves in the mothers who suffered child loss and pain, and most especially in Colle—a martyr figure (like Christ, as Althusser might put it). The women in the village who previously stood with the Exciseuses later come to tell Colle that they “felt the blows” when Colle was being beaten before them, thus hailing them towards a new ideology. This cross recognition leads to what Bobo calls a “cultural transformation.” Bobo is not naïve, though. She says, “[Cultural transformation] is always in the process of becoming.” Ideology—new or old—can only exist when there are agents who keep it in function, and allow it to materialize.

In the second to last scene, when Amasatou tells Ibrahima that she is and always will remain a “Bilakoro,” her stance is as important as Ibrahima’s decision to accept her for what she is without trying to fit her into the outdated ideology—one that silenced and ignored the women’s cries against FGM; the union of these two will put the new ideology into motion through practice. Sembene’s maleness as a filmmaker is important for this film. The two men who express their support of the women’s ideology—Ibrahim and Colle’s husband—do so by physically walking away from the shade where the male elders sit; they each come to terms with leaving behind what ideologically defined their masculinity in order to find union and happiness with the women in their new ideology. This recognition from agents of the patriarch is also noteworthy. This alliance is also part of the articulation that Bobo describes, and part of the unity that must be “strengthened.”

(Originally published on UCLA’s FTVDM Bulletin.)

*There is a new film out entitled Sembene! (2015) which recently played at the AFI Film Festival. Check your local theaters to find play dates.

 

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interview with The LA Review of Books

Colin Marshall of the LA Review of Books interviewed me for my book DELI IDEOLOGY which was released last Memorial Day. Find it HERE.

We discuss millennials, Al Pacino, the military duty in South Korea that men are subject to, Virginia Woolf, Korean literature in translation, jobs, careers, life, evolution, and a bunch of other ponderous questions we ask or don’t ask while drifting through life. It’s a good listen. Thanks for tuning in.

You can find my book HERE. Thanks for reading.

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Art, Essay, Literature

lena dunham sadako Saturday, October 11, 2014

“Women of color come of age and have the same experiences Dunham depicts in her shows, but we rarely see those stories because they don’t fit the popular imagination’s rendering of Other girlhood, which is generally nonexistent in popular culture. At least there have been a few shows for black women to recognize themselves–the aforementioned Girlfriends, Living Single, A Different World, The Cosby Show. What about other women of color? For Hispanic and Latina women, Indian women, Middle Eastern women, Asian women, their absence in popular culture is even more pronounced, their need for relief just as palpable and desperate.” —Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist 

 There is a certain feeling that most diaspora Asians (Asian-American, Asian-Canadian, Asian-English, etc.) are accustomed to. It’s the feeling that whenever a conversation involving something or someone Asian by non-Asians occurs, that conversation is indirectly directed at you or about you; you’ve inspired it just by being in the vicinity of it; it’s happening because the participants want to engage you somehow, kind of/sort of; the participants want to see some kind of reaction from you so that they can add an element to their day in the form of enlightening entertainment; the moment will be added to their barometer to use for future reference, and you are a kind of experimental social study; these are the reasons why they are talking about sushi versus sashimi right now while standing behind you in line to get into the theater.

This kind of thing happened to me at a work function once. The filmmaker our company invited for a screening and dinner happened to be Korean, so my boss said I had to join. (He does things like this very often. For instance, when I recently criticized DocuSign’s silly way of offering prepackaged “styles” of signature for the signatory to choose from, I said it was “so American,” and my boss shot back, “Don’t say that. For all you know, this was originated in Korea.” This man has a PhD in art and literature. He also refuses to use the word “foreign” when speaking of foreign cinema because he deems the word “xenophobic.” He prefers the word “international.” His company also docks half of my pay to pay for all kinds of taxes because I am an American, but he still says shit like this to me.) At this dinner, I was seated at a table full of older white men and women. Everyone was super lovely. We talked about Pink Floyd, MoMA, Russian cinema, Iraq, theater, etc., and then out of the blue, one white lady–after a few glasses of wine–said to me, “I just love Japanese aesthetics. They just seem so minimal and lovely to me.”

I was confused so I just nodded at her without saying anything until the realization firmed up inside of me. As I continued to nod, I looked at her straight in the eye. Soon, the woman reached for her wine to take another sip, and began to turn red.

Another instance: Not too long ago, two white colleagues and I were standing in the hallway, talking about dogs and how cute they were. All of the sudden, out of the blue, the male colleague said to the female colleague, “It’s so fascinating how some Chinese cultures eat dog.” He said this in front of me but without looking at me. His remark was aimed at me but addressed the other colleague–the white female one, who didn’t have anything to say in response except for, “Yeah. That is really interesting.”

When this remark was made, I immediately felt myself distancing from the conversation–like a lone planet coming off loose from the solar system and hurling itself elsewhere, out there–some place else. While just a moment ago I was just as avidly discussing dogs and breeds, and at one with the other two–in tune, circulating fine. I was now clammed up, and didn’t feel like saying anything, and my mind began to wander the same few paths it always traverses whenever something like this happens to me:

I immediately assume that the conversation is happening because I am there and because I look/am Asian; the person who brought it up did it to bait me into the conversation somehow, hoping that I might drop some knowledge on whatever it is that he is talking about, add some constructive input, some textured analysis to the shallow discussion on the culture of dog-eating, or he is doing it to see what kind of reaction I might have: would I snap at him and insist that this is a cultural stereotype and that it isn’t true? Does he expect me to agree and admit to having tasted dogs? What exactly does he expect from me?

I went to an all-white school from age 12 through 18. I know how to pronounce names like “Deirdre” and “Siobhan,” even though I don’t have the slightest interest in knowing how to do it. In high school, I openly spoke out against the Japanese internment camps during World War II when we were learning about it in US history class. All the other white students in class raised their hands and said that the US was right to put them away because they were a threat to this country. Then they turned to me and said, “Why do you even care so much? You’re not even Japanese. You’re Chinese.” (I’m Korean-American.)

It was the same year when the World Trade Center was bombed. I saw quite a few white kids walk around in black T-shirts with Osama bin Laden’s face on it with a big sniper’s target pointing to his forehead. I found it distasteful but I didn’t dare say anything because everyone at the time was an emotional explosive. The teachers didn’t say anything either–the same teachers who had a problem with seeing kids make out by their lockers, or when I cursed off racist shitheads who said racial slurs. The same teachers who didn’t correct the students when they openly said that the US was RIGHT to put Japanese-Americans–Americans–away at internment camps.

I can understand a fresh-off-the-boat Irishman when he speaks. But these kids I graduated with in 2005 never learned how to pronounce my Korean name. They never bothered. They tried, but mockingly. When the teacher took roll call aloud and butchered my name, my face burned the fuck up red, and the kids laughed hysterically. And if there were one or two other Asian kids in my class witnessing this, they would clam up and look down at their desks silently, thinking very hard to themselves: “Don’t look at me or come near me, you name-diseased Asian girl. I don’t know you. Life’s hard for me as it is. Leave me out of it.”

I legally changed my name in 2009 right before graduating college. It took THAT long to do it. (My father was naturalized as a US citizen just days before I turned 18, so I became, by default, an American citizen, too.) So from kindergarten through my senior year in college, my legal Korean name was on everything, and I always had to take preemptive measures to keep whoever was going to take roll call from calling me out by my Korean name and saying it all fucked up–correcting them with an easier one to pronounce–one that is biblical and chosen by my parents’ reverend when I was age 11. One that is on my US passport today but the other one still haunts me every now and again whenever people can’t find my records:

Me: “Try looking up __________.”

Person: “Ah-ha! Found it.”

The persistence of these kinds of situation happen consistently throughout my life and has made me more accustomed to tuning people out completely when I feel a slight jolt of discomfort from a sensitive scenario (like the defector planet scene), or feeling an arresting sense of paranoia: I get tunnel vision, my heart thumps loudly inside my ears, and my whole body clenches. These instances have made me develop a condescending bias when it comes to white people who try to have a conversation with me about Eastern anything or Asian anything, and I look down on them, as if they were below me–dumb, ignorant and clueless.

All of these things are a form of defense. I see my defenses rise up at a distant attack’s most inchoate stages. I can interpret something as simple as two people talking about Chinese food into some kind of warped plan against me: I’ll think that I’m involved in this conversation, and that those two people forced me to be involved just by having it where I can hear it. Maybe my looks inspired the conversation. Maybe they want to ask me something about what they’re discussing. Maybe they want a recommendation.

These thoughts are obviously crazy, but about 80% of the time, my crazy thoughts actually align with the reality you and I exist in, only that my experience is hell, and your experience is just, “Today’s simply a rainy Saturday in New York,” and you’ll look at me with eyes widened, head frozen in place thinking: ‘You are so crazy.’

I was at a work-related party around this time in October. We were promoting a project created by a Chinese artist. I said that I really liked the artist’s style to a colleague in the room, and a white woman (my boss’ wife actually) eagerly asked me from way across the room: “Wait, what? What? What did you say?” just so she could hear what this Asian girl had to say about that Asian man. To see if anything would illuminate what she perceives to be so foreign and mysterious…

Crazy thought–maybe. But I know what I feel. And that feeling is defensiveness and anger at her misguided curiosity. My feelings don’t lie to me. They come before words do. There’s nothing more honest than that.

I recently finished reading Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl. It was an easy, entertaining read, and I liked how everything she discussed was quite ordinary. Nothing was really especially unique or particularly amazing. They were all ordinary events. What I admired was how she was able to give her ordinary events a platform and a prominent voice–a home-run bestseller. Good for Dunham. Not too many young women can accomplish something like this. My only take away from the reading experience is that Dunham was a very beloved girl. She had a strong foundation when it came to family, and she learned how to communicate well at an early age because of her social exposure and her childhood therapy sessions. Such privilege.

While reading, however, I experienced the same feelings I mention in the above. So I marked down every instance in the book when she mentions Asians, an Asian country, Asian food or places in the Middle East. Here they are along with my raw, immediate and deluded reactions to them at first-glance:

P. 30

“I try and look relaxed as pierced NYU kids and pink-haired Asian girls stream past me.”

1) Lena Dunham is afraid of Asian girls who dye their hair because the very act that they’ve turned their hair a color other than black means they are potentially volatile and aggressive. 2) Why did Dunham feel that it was necessary to mention the fact that the girls were Asian?

P. 34

“It was the twenty-page account of a young man very much like himself trying, and failing, to seduce an Asian girl who worked at J. Crew in Soho. Although the prose was unusual and funny, the story sat with me like a bad meal.”

1) Dunham is experiencing a bad feeling in her stomach because this Asian girl in her love-interest’s story is someone that the love-interest pines for, and Dunham herself is not Asian. This depresses Dunham. 2) Why did Dunham feel that it was necessary to mention the fact that the protagonist was pining an Asian girl? 3) Dunham wishes to be an Asian girl.

P. 44

“We went out to a twenty-four-hour Pakistani restaurant and, having been rejected, I was hungry for the first time in days.”

1) Dunham eats at Middle Eastern establishments when she loses an appetite. 2)’Exotic’ flavors bring back her desire to eat again.

P. 55

“Mike was the first person to go down on me, after a party to benefit Palestine, on my dorm room rug.”

As a college student, Dunham’s participation in activism was only to find boys who would give her oral sex.

P. 58

“When he turned around, it wasn’t Joey. It was Barry. Uh-oh played in my head like a loser’s sound effect on a Japanese talk show. Uh-oh uh-oh uh-oh.” 

1) Dunham has come across Japanese talk shows in the past, and probably watched it with a condescending or offensive fascination. 2) Dunham thinks participants of Japanese talk shows are inferior. 3) Dunham occasionally sounds out the way Japanese people speak in her head, or at least her writing voice.

P. 69

“As we sat, smiling and satisfied, an old Chinese woman passed and hocked a loogie on his shoe.”

1) How does Dunham know that the woman was Chinese? 2) Dunham felt it was necessary to mention that the miscreant was Chinese.

P. 75

“It was 1977, and they both lived downtown and ran with the same crowd of artists who wore Chinese slippers and played tennis ironically.”

Dunham finds Chinese slippers to be frivolous fashion choices. 

P. 91-98

*Dunham lists all the things she ate and logged at the time of her diet. A great deal of the food she consumed originate in Asia, including but not limited to Chinese broccoli, green tea, rice noodles, etc.*

Dunham believes Asian food items will help her to lose weight and look like the stereotypically thin Asian women who at past lover finds attractive.

P. 112

“I bought my wallet while high off my ass on legal prescription drugs in the Hamburg airport. It is decorated with clowns, cars, and dachshunds, and is uniformly beloved by children and Japanese women alike.”

1) Dunham equates Japanese women’s aesthetic sensibilities with that of children. 2) How does Dunham know that the Asian women who complimented her wallet were Japanese?

P. 139

“Three straight girls were experimenting with universal love in a corner at a party to benefit Palestinian rights and, when they offered me membership, I took it.”

Dunham’s Palestinian activism in college was primarily motivated by the desire to hook up with people.

P. 147

“‘Do you want a brother or sister?’ my mother asked me that night as we ate takeout Chinese off the coffee table.”

Dunham is well accustomed to the Chinese-American takeout cuisine. 

P. 153

“We were sitting at the dining room table eating pad thai, our parents out of town, as they often were now that we were old enough to fend for ourselves. Twenty-three and sponging mightily, I forked some noodles into my mouth as Grace described a terrible date with a ‘dorky’ boy from an uptown school.”

Dunham does not know how to use chopsticks when eating noodles. 

P. 157

“Did you know that there is a Colonial mansion in Brooklyn here a Japanese surgeon lives with his blind wife, or so I was told?”

1) Why is this something to write down in a book? 2) How is the person who told Dunham that the surgeon is Japanese sure that he is indeed Japanese? 3) Why is it important to mention the fact that he is Japanese?

P. 157

“Did you know that you can buy a tiny turtle with highly contagious salmonella in Chinatown that is so adorable you will want to risk it?”

Dunham believes Chinatown is the reason why its turtles have salmonella, but she doesn’t mind it because they are tiny and adorable.

P. 205

“In school, we are learning about Hiroshima, so I read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes and I know instantly that I have leukemia.”

1) Dunham is so self-absorbed that reading about Hiroshima doesn’t cause her to worry about the city that was bombed into oblivion by the US forces in 1945, nor the leukemia that is destroying Sadako’s young body. Instead, she worries about her self-diagnosed and fictitious leukemia. 2) The Hiroshima bombing does not mean anything to Dunham.

P. 228

” ‘Well,’ he said, ‘last week I was walking around late at night and I accidentally wandered into a gay bar and I met this Filipino guy and let him come to my house, and he fucked me in the ass and the condom broke and then he stole my wallet.”

1) Dunham felt it was worth mentioning the fact that the man she was beginning to dislike had had relations with an aggressive, irresponsible and criminal Filipino man. 2) How did the man Dunham had relations with know that the man who fucked him in the ass was in fact Filipino?

P. 229

“Is it a long line, like the Japanese girls lined up outside a newly opened Topshop?”

1) How does Dunham know that the girls are Japanese? 2) Dunham believes Japanese girls are vapid and eager women who are willing to stand in long lines outside of a Topshop that is yet to be opened.

P. 233

“Then I say something that would probably make the Buddha roll over in his grave: ‘I think I could be enlightened, but I’m not in the mood yet.’

1) Dunham has no respect for Buddha, although she borrows some of his practices such as meditation. 2) Dunham is not willing to become enlightened because it is too inconvenient for her. 3) Dunham prefers a mode of ignorance over enlightenment because ignorance is easier. 

I don’t know how long the paranoia will last. Not sure when the defenses will be lowered completely. Possibly never.

For dessert: Lena Dunham’s writeup about her trip to Japan.

Link