Leaving Home for Home

Now that I’m approaching the second half of my summer, I should mention that I am no longer “unoccupied.” Through some research and word of mouth from the East, I have landed the internship that I’ve always longed for, in Korea where my dad resides. I am not perfectly clear on what I will be doing quite yet, but that should be getting back to me soon. When the international HR guy saw my resume, and he especially interested that I could speak French, so he recruited me on the basis of that. So, I am vaguely excited of what I will be doing, but more than excited to be in downtown Seoul for the job.

I’m also excited because I haven’t seen my dad in six months, and we will be happily united! I will also be seeing my best friend and hopefully some of the more encouraging family members who live there.

I’ve been doing some shopping to get ready to work in the office, so I picked some stuff out from Jcrew, Banana Republic and Zara with the mom. I am quite disappointed to say that there isn’t much to shop around where I live. Mom says it’s due to the recession. Ha. Go figure.

I only have a few more days here. I leave as soon as my summer term exams are over, most of which are for the exception of my comp sci exam. I’m not much of a computer geek, regrettably, as it is quite apparent from the unglitzy-ness of my website, but I was hoping to improve that through this intro to comp sci class. I don’t think it happened. But I’m quite proud to say that I find circuits and Boolian logic fascinating.

I will miss my dear mom a lot, though. Like most college students I started to see how understated her role is in one’s life. Maybe I’m starting to distinguish unconditional love and the rest of the other stuff. Yes, I’m quite the sentimental child, still.
I have a ton of accounting preview to do before school starts, which I shall resume on the plane.

Outside My Window

After a light nap that only required the peaking sunlight to awake, I pull myself up to see the house doused in yellow glow of the afternoon summer. It is the soft place between reality and dream where every sense is intensified, every imagination distrusted, and every sound echoing in a muted mellow way. Nothing moves, like I’m stuck in this jello compound.

I peak through the dusty shades—finger prints on the the top forth one where my hand always lifts it to see— a burqa from the outside, I furtively, not that I would be seen, glace across my pointy green lawn to see my neighbour sift through his mail. He seems Latino in his facial features, and the rest of his body’s plump and round. I cannot see his face now, for he is too far. He sits quietly on the bottom step of his house with the stairs that leads to the first floor (though his garage is on land level).  He is the only person that regularly sits out on his porch steps, except the children, just sitting there, looking from side to side like he’s expecting something outrageous to happen. Or maybe he’s just thinking about his job, or his wife.

A Few Thoughts on the Culture of Translated Books.

Where would we be without translators like Susan Sontag? I think translating is one of the most difficult professions with a lot of responsibility that only a true academia and culturaist can get right.

Kyung-sook Shin’s Please look after mom is a landmark in Korean literature in the global society. More specifically, it is a bridge between often overlooked Korean culture and Western culture. It is particularly a good bridge compared to other Korean and Asian-American novels out there because it is simply a good book, capturing what we would all feel in our hearts if our mothers were lost. In her eloquent prose with layering of voices of the concerned family members deliberates the deepest feeling we have toward family, despite our distant modern relation these days.

Please look after mom front cover image

Shin's "Please look after mom" English version

I have a lot to say about this book for its content and for what it represents. As one of the better translated books in Korean, thanks to very readable translation by Chi-Young Kim, the foreign readers are not alienated as translated books often feel, gathering millions of readers around the globe from Norway to the United States. It has even risen to top 10 books sold on Amazon. But since it is so approachable, I first wondered, were there any deliberate distortions in the translation (e.g. calling kimchi “fermented-traditional-cabbage”) alleviating the cultural gap? Surprising, there was not. I was able to confirm the authenticity from my own mother’s experience with this book, which I found most interesting. As the first generation immigrant, the culture she described was so familiar and close even in the English version. The direct translations of the food that is presented in the book (there are plenty of these as the Mothers’ domain is the kitchen—thus, a lot of Shins memories link her mother to the food she is having) for example, the traditional side dish is not translated to the Western equivalent, but written as ‘panchan’, which is really a hybrid between a side dish and a main dish which a regular Korean meal consists. The audacity perhaps fueled by cultural pride allows this kind of in-your-face translation we might not have seen a decade ago is what I love about this book. It would be very suitable to write about my own mother’s input here. My mother, as a late learner of the English language is a great lover of books. She is quite a bibliophile (I get it from her,) reading everything from English classics (she loves Dickens) to more modern art history fiction (the Judgement of Paris). She often regrets that her fellow Koreans are not reading as much these days. This lack of culture of reading goes beyond this generation, down to the young Koreans—a phenomenon often blamed on the fierce competition for time between reading and for Hagwon. Her feedback of reading this book was that she felt like she was reading in Korean when she really wasn’t. I think this says a lot about language learning. Culture should always be a part of language learning.

In an interview by Shin, she was asked to talk about the different kinds of response she received in different country about her book. She replied that she was quite surprised at the kinds of interpretations that existed out there, in the different cities and countries. Compare that to my mother’s feedback “I don’t think people (meaning you and me) who haven’t lived through the post-Korean war era in Korea would understand the message Shin is delivering.” Well, of course we wouldn’t. This is why this book is quiet necessary in the world. To at least touch the people who haven’t lived through the hunger stricken, security deprived time and place in the world through the universal connection that is feeling, the feeling for our loved ones.

But we would in the postmodernist view by Barthes (see Death of the Author). It reminded me of the time I was studying Theresa Cha’s Dictee. There was a picture on the front of what I think was a tablet with scribbles of Korean, which I could read, but what I had to translate for my classmates, for I was the only person who could read Korean there. I thought that moment in the seminar, all twelve students sitting around the table talking about a work that made absolutely no sense, (even to me) trying to make sense of it. And because it was not logically coherent (read—coherent in the same way), it was even more full of meaning. Suddenly I realized deconstructionism even without reading about it.

Theresa Cha's Dictee

Theresa Cha's Dictee

Even the students who were unsure where Korea was on the map were able to say something about the book. They weren’t just glib English majors, but they were able to reminisce about something form their past, or something they read because the text evoked the subtle feelings. I never felt more understood and included than during that hour of the seminar where no one was talking about anything in common but completely different things that meant something for them, but from the same source—the text.

Cultural anthropology suggests that race and ethnicity are a man made ways of identification, and not inherent. Eating pizza doesn’t make you more Italian. Most people blame cultural boundaries for their reason for not interacting with people different from them in cultural practices, belief and religion. But if a text such as Dictee could bring people together, doesn’t that just mean that we’re not trying hard enough to find common ground? That we’re trying to be too different from each other? Maybe this artificial group making is for our survival since we’re social animals.


What to Do During an Idle Month of Summer (without doing any extensive planning)-Part I

The above title is, sadly, an accurate description of what’s about to happen for the next month for me. After being in the air (flying) for about 10 times back and forth from Asia (Daegu and Seoul, Korea) to Europe (Paris and London) to the US last year, my family decided that it’s not time for another “one of those” vacations yet. C’est dommage. So this summer, to say the least, I am doing absolutely nothing exciting.

Well, maybe except for the following.

Part I: Books (for pleasure.)

The unfortunate truth is that college really doesn’t allow time for books outside of the classroom. There is reading for class, extra reading if you’re interested, spontaneous social happenings, practice (if sports is your thing)… Unless you go hide behind the fifth floor library quiet study hall desk, it ain’t happening. A huge grievance. So that’s why I have let loose to get my hands on these books.

Some of these coincide with my class readings, but at least they’ve earned my interest one way or the other.

I planned to read at least fifty books this summer, and I’ve only managed about 20. But it’s OK. I still have another month!

  1. Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City
  2. Marx, The Communist Manifesto
  3. Derrida, Deconstruction in a Nutshell
  4. Miranda July, No one belongs here more than you
  5. A. Huxley, Brave New World
  6. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
  7. Knut Hamsut, Pan
  8. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
  9. Margarette Duras, The Lover
  10. Paul Auster, The book of illusions
  11. The Western Intellectual Tradition
  12. Remnick, Lenin’s Tomb
  13. Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
  14. Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
  15. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
  16. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
  17. Kyungsook Shin, Please look after mom
  18. The Portable Atheist:Essential readings for the Non-believer
There are some others that I have not recorded, but I will update this list soon.
This is a pretty arbitrary list. I usually have a thousand book lists and about five books I read simultaneously because of  my greed to devour all the books in the world coupled with my laziness and Netflix, which can entertain me in a more empty calories kind of way.
If any of bibliophiles are reading this out there, please feel free to give me some good titles! I am quite lost without books these days.
But If you are lost in which book to pick, here are some links to good reading lists:
Granta, the Brit lit mag’s bookstore
Brain Pickings, true to its name. Always has TED like articles and book recommendations. Here is their latest book list from TED speakers.
Every summer I go to at least one book reading. Last year I went to Shakespeare’s in Paris to see Lethem and this year I saw Gary Shteyngart at the Strand. Where next?
screaming at the top of my lungs,


Holes and Spaces

Created for those moments where you look into my eyes (or just my face if you prefer to look askance) and I look as if I’m in my own bubble, simply “spaced out.” To fill you in for those incomprehensible phone conversations with the figurative “holes.” My raison-d’etre in digital format.

Yours sincerely,