Sunday, December 30, 2012

Your glass is not a microphone

Etiquette tip while chatting with someone over food:

Let’s say that you’re meeting with a friend for brunch. You order Eggs Benedict, she orders banana pancakes. During your chat, you bring the cup of water to your lips. Just as you’re about to take a sip she asks you a question. You answer your question with your mouth right over the glass.

Please don’t do that. Take the time to take a drink of water, put your glass down, then answer the question. Time isn’t so pressing that you need to answer it right as you’re taking a drink. This behavior indicates that you are so pressed for time that you can’t slow down and enjoy the moment. Talking into your glass muffles your response so that she can’t hear you. It makes conversation more difficult.

Also, use a straw when you can. Those glasses aren’t always cleaned well.

Year's End

It is now 12:13 AM on 12/31/12 here. It is officially New Year’s Eve.

I’d like to write a reflection on this whole year to date later, but first I want to say something about this time of year. I hear people greet each other at this time with “Happy New Year!” in preparation for the season to come. There is certainly excitement about this time; we all face this new year with anticipation of blessings and good things (as well as unforeseen difficulties and trials.) We are all looking forward to what lies ahead.

Yet this is also an apt moment for reflection upon the previous year. While it is true that we live life day by day, experiencing every moment as it comes, we also have the privilege of memory and wisdom to guide us in examining and learning from the past. We can celebrate the previous year; even with all the hardships and obstacles, we have lived and have grown. In fact, it would be amiss for us to neglect this chance to consider the past twelve months, for before long age will cause our memories to fail us.

So Happy New Year, of course, but also Happy Year’s End. We’ve made it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Be patient

When someone else is engaged in conversation, don’t interrupt unless necessary.

A few weeks ago I was working in the church office on the Christmas Party. I asked someone there for some help in brainstorming ideas for food. As we started talking, another person asked me a question related to another project that would take place later that day. I responded, “Excuse me, I’m talking with this person right now. Would it be alright if I answer your question later?” He looked embarrassed and sheepishly said yes.

Please be considerate and not interrupt another person’s conversation. If you do need to interrupt, do so graciously. Don’t simply barge in with “Hey, what do you think of this?”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

You are a host

Bear in mind that when people come to your place, you are a host. Whether it is your home, your school, or your workplace, anytime you have a guest with you, you are hosting them. Tell them where the restrooms are, offer them something to drink, sit down and chat with them.

Of our closest friends and companions, we may say “Well, they’re like family! I don’t need to offer them anything because they know that what I have is theirs.” True as this statement may be, it can be used as an excuse for our own lack of thoughtfulness and initiative in extending hospitality. Calling someone family should not be a cover for laziness.

Take the extra step. Be hospitable to your guests. It’s only considerate.

General Napkin Etiquette

If you are at a restaurant with a cloth or very sturdy paper napkin:

Don’t unfold it and cover your lap. It’s not an apron, after all, and what you’re communicating is that you’re not competent enough in using silverware to keep food from splattering on your clothes. Definitely don’t tuck it into your shirt as a bib, unless you wish to be treated as an infant for the duration of the meal.

Keep it folded neatly on your lap. When using it, unfold it and use the fold for your lips. The goal is to keep the used part of your napkin unseen. Your neighbors on either side of you at the table would rather not see stains of the marinara sauce or blueberry compote spotting your napkin.

Dab, don’t wipe or smear. Wiping may have the unfortunate effect of getting the food onto the rest of your face and damaging your lipstick (if you’re wearing).

If you need to leave the table momentarily, put your napkin on your seat. Don’t put the napkin on the table. Putting the napkin on the table is a sign that the meal is over and you’re ready to leave. Place the napkin neatly folded on your seat; don’t toss it down unceremoniously. When you are leaving, put the napkin next to the plate, not on it.

Don’t blow or pick your nose or clean your teeth with the napkin. Go to the bathroom if you need to do that (and remember to put your napkin on the seat).

If the napkin falls to the ground, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask the waitstaff for another one.

If someone spills a beverage on the table (hopefully not you), it’s alright to use your napkin to try to help clean it up as you flag down the waitstaff. It is a minor emergency, after all, although it would be preferable to get a fresh napkin. However, if the beverage spilled on someone else’s clothes, ask the waitstaff for a napkin or get one nearby. Don’t try to clean off the iced tea on someone’s blouse with your chocolate mousse-tinged cloth.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dancers in Vegas

At the Vegas bachelor party for David, we went from casino to casino to take in the sights. We explored the opulence of Caesars Palace, scarfed down pizza at New York-New York, and caught the water show at the Bellagio. We stopped by the Venetian and decided to order some drinks at a lounge. We settled into our seats with our beers and watched the musicians set up on the stage. Guitar plugged in, mics set up, lights on. Then… “Just a small town girl, Livin' in a lonely world!” A Journey tribute band. Nice!

As the band played on, a middle-aged couple (maybe in their 50’s) came up and started dancing. Then another couple came up, and then another. Soon the dance floor was a sea of Hawaiian shirts and pastel cardigans, socks-with-sandals clad feet kicking it with Skechers Shape Ups. They were definitely grooving, pumping their fists and singing “Dooon’t stop… Beliiiievin’!!!”

These people, in their ordinary lives, are probably not very exciting. They are probably librarians or mail carriers or accountants. It’s been a long time since anyone has told them that they were sexy or suave or desirable (in general, they had very well-fed physiques.) Yet in that moment, on that dance floor, they didn’t care how silly or dumpy or awkward they looked. They were taken back to their youth and the crazy cool feelings they had about life, music, and each other. Love, nostalgia, and a healthy dose of I-don’t-give-a-crap-what-you-think-I’m-going-to-dance-my-heart-out came together in a flash of glory. Hold on to that feelin'

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Whenever a guest comes into your home, always offer them something to drink. Anything will do (water, juice, alcohol if appropriate). More than just the beverage itself, it is a simple act of welcome. You are tangibly providing a benefit to them for free; you are extending generosity, even in if it is only in a small thing. It surprises me how many people forget this.

Thoughts on being a parent

First, let’s set things straight. I’m not a parent and probably won’t be for at least a couple years. But a thought about parenting has come up.

I heard this weekend about a new Korean movie that was just released called Don’t Cry Mommy. A recently-divorced woman’s daughter gets gang-raped by some classmates in her high school, which causes emotional trauma leading to suicide. Since they are minors, the boys are given a light sentence, much to the distress of the mother. She then goes on a rampage to exact excruciating physical harm on each of the perpetrators in an act of vengeance.

I haven’t seen the movie nor plan to, but I do want to comment on how heartbreaking and fearful parenthood can be. When parents rock their little infants at night or watch them go to school, there must be moments of panic and worry. Will they be ok? How will they navigate the strange and at times disturbing social world of their peers? How will they live today? Will they live today? It’s horrifying that any parent even has to think about this, but it’s an unfortunate reality in this world.

It’s true that those who don’t have children will never suffer this fear. Yet they will also never experience the great joy of parenthood. True love risks dismay, distress, and heartbreak. True love is risky.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Help Explain This To Me

Can someone please explain something here?

Once in 7th grade, my math class had a substitute teacher. At the start of the class he started going through the roll sheet, calling names one by one.

"Joseph Adams?"


"Cindy Chang?"


He got to the name before mine.

"Shinya Idehara…what a cool name!"

"Here…uh, thanks."

"Joel Kim…what a boring name."


I felt confused and hurt. Why did he say that? Why did so flippantly insult my name (which, incidentally, was chosen by my grandfather, and thus is a link to my family heritage and is important to me). What possible reason could there be to say something like that?

Teachers, word of advice: Don’t do this. Don’t call your student’s name boring, especially if he’s in middle school and in that socially awkward, acne/chubby/clumsy, low-self-esteem-ridden time of life. Yes, it might be meant as a joke or to lighten the mood, but honestly. Don’t do this.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Note for D.

It’s been a long time. What are you doing here?

…No, you can’t stay. I thought I made that clear the last time. I told you that I was done with this, done with you.

…Listen, I’ve found someone else, alright? Someone better than you. Someone better for me in every single way. He is good to me.

…I don’t care! I don’t care. Look, I know we have that history. You were part of helping me make sense of things. When I was feeling so horrible about myself, you helped me to understand why. You put together the whole story for me.

Except that it wasn’t true. None of it was true, and I was a fool to believe it from the start. You lied to me, and you had me lie to myself. You had me believe that I was worthless, that I was useless, that I had no right to desire acceptance, love, or compassion. 

But his story is better. His story is good. His story is true. He has given me fine clothes, finer than what you had given me all my life. With him, I can fully live.

So listen, I don’t want to see you come around here again, alright? I’m with someone else now, and I won’t be letting him go. He won’t let me go.


ISA 61+3

Turning from sorrow

It’s said that we carry emotion in our bodies. Strong emotions may manifest in acute physical ways, and often in the same location. For some, they may feel rage burning in their bellies. Others may feel fear in their necks, still others might have their ears burn with embarrassment.

I carry sadness behind my eyes. Whenever I feel sad, I can feel this strong pressure in my head, right behind my eye sockets, as if something is pushing to get out.

I think of it this way: Behind my eyes there is a great ocean of tears. All of the strong emotions that I had refused to feel for so many years are locked in there. All the times that I have felt abandoned, misunderstood, alone…all have reaped sorrow and tears that I restrained myself from feeling. A restrained heart is an untouchable heart, and an untouchable heart is an unbreakable heart. The sorrows went unbidden and unacknowledged, yet the tears continued to gather and swell. Building, turbulent, controlled.

Then the storm comes, the wall breaks, and it pours. Oh, how it pours.

Then it stops, I get back up, and things go back to normal. For a while.

That, at least, is what used to happen.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stays in Vegas...

The Vegas trip was undoubtedly fun. It was my friend’s first time there. We went hiking in Red Rock Canyon, we toured the casinos (where his friend explained how to play craps), went to clubs, and hung out by the pool. I had a great time hanging out with the guys there.

The flight back was uneventful, and I was at the Macarthur BART station, waiting to transfer for the line home. I was musing over all the things that I had seen in Vegas: the desire, the ambition, the despair.

As I looked over Oakland, I thought to myself, “All those impulses I saw in Vegas are here too. The emotions, the hopes and fears, all of it. It’s just hidden from view.”

Las Vegas struck me as a place where the great drama of human experience becomes immediately visible. People go to Vegas to experience life, not to live it. Although I have been to other tourist destinations before, in Vegas tourism is the lifeblood of the city. People come to enjoy themselves, and in so doing, reveal their hearts.

I didn’t see too many churches in Las Vegas, although I’m sure they exist. I wonder what it’s like to minister in a city like that.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What happens in Vegas...

I was in Las Vegas last month for a bachelor party. It’s been a while since I’ve been there, and it was my first time with friends instead of parents. I’m not much of a gambler, so I wasn’t really expecting that to be a draw. Honestly, I just went for the people.

It was a philosophically invigorating trip.

The sheer scale of the casinos are amazing, with such grandeur, such incredible attention to detail. Caesar’s Palace, Mandalay Bay, Aria…they are all so opulent, so rich. The grand windows, the ornate carpets, the beautiful ceilings…

…and beneath all that? Portly retirees and foreign tourists fritter money away on colorful spinning dials and bad cigarettes.

You step out into the night air. The casinos tower above. Luxor with its spire of pristine white light. Paris, in its decadence and self-indulgent whimsy. The elegant Fountains at the Bellagio…

…then you go out into the street, and sullen people in neon shirts try to pawn off cards with pictures of naked women. They litter the sidewalk like so much wet-dream confetti (the cards, not the people in the shirts).

Las Vegas embodies so many aspects of the human condition. Ambition and inspiration in the exquisite structures. Avarice and cunning to fund it. Hope that draws gamblers for that one chance, and despair when all is lost. Spend even just a day in Las Vegas, and you will encounter the whole spectrum of human emotion.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What does that word mean, anyway?

I’ve been reading a book called The Happy Lawyer (in preparation for going to law school), and it’s really fascinating. I can write about some of my insights from the book, but it constantly brings up one simple question: “Are you happy?”

A simple question, but yet marvelously complex.

One contributor to happiness is sleep, which I’m about to partake in now. Good night!

Addendum: I just spent a moment pondering over whether it is “preparation for” or “preparation of.” Decided on “preparation for.” It sounds right, but not sure why. Hm. Well, a mystery for another day. Good night!

Second addendum: “Preparation for” is a prelude to an action (“going to law school.”) “Preparation of” takes place before a state of being (“law school” or more exactly “becoming a law school student.”) Sounds about right. Ok, good night!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Oh happy day!

Tuesday, May 8th will be my birthday. I will be 25 years old.

The story about my conflicted perspective on my own birthday is the subject for another day (although I will say that it’s been 2 years since my emotional breakdown, and I’m doing fine). It’s hard to believe that I will be 25 so soon. I remember when I was in high school and saw the young adults around me. I thought about how awesome it would be to become a young adult and have a more complete sense of direction, to be better at life. Now that I’ve reached that age, I realized that it’s not as effortless as it might have seemed. My room is still a mess, I have so many emails to go through, I am unemployed, and I’m still trying to figure out a direction in my life.

But I have grown. Even in this past year, I’ve become more confident and self-assured. I’ve embraced myself for who I am made to be in a deeper way. Even if I may not know fully what I want to do in life, I know more what is important to me (community, connection, understanding).

I wonder what I’ll be like when I’m fifty.

Friday, May 4, 2012

What is the goal?

I would rather be able to lift my child up into the air in my middle age than have recurring shoulder injuries from too much bench pressing.

I would rather have a strong back to lift heavy boxes when I’m moving than have bulging biceps that serve little useful purpose.

I would rather have a sharp mind in my retirement than suffer the ill effects of concussions while playing heavy contact sports now.

I would rather foster strong relationships with friends and family than spends hours training to run marathons.

I would rather be able to walk in the park with my wife in the twilight of our years than be stricken with knee pains from too much leg training.

I would rather be able to enjoy good sleep than wake up at an ungodly hour to train endlessly.

I would rather enjoy the richness and complexity of food than be obsessive over nutrient profiles, caloric intake, and other archane components of gastronomy.

I mean no disrespect to weightlifters, marathon runners, or any other athletes, professional or amateur. However, in a society that measures fitness according to incredibly stringent standards and bills the incredible physique of elite athletes as the rule rather than the exception, a degree of sanity is important.

I would rather live life healthy, well, and satisfied, than be constantly driven by a gnawing urge to reach some mass-marketed potential form.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

You have to be practical

Last week my family went to a Korean cultural show in Irvine. Tae Kwon Do demonstrations, traditional Korean drumming, hip hop dance. Last Sunday I saw a friend perform in a concert for his a cappella group.

In watching these performances, I started to wonder - Why do we have shows like this? All of the dancers, artists, and musicians in these shows were students. What practical value do these organizations provide? Would their time be better spent studying to boost their GPA? Learning coding languages to build useful job skills? Doing good works for the betterment of others? What good is it?

I started to think about all the benefits of involvement in performance arts (community development, fostering of creativity, strengthening of discipline), but realized that these approach the question from the same pragmatist angle. The real question that came to mind was:

What does it matter?

Yes, the time that my friend puts into practicing his songs could be spent on serving the poor. Yes, the hours that Sammy the dancer invests into choreography could be focused on studying. Other activities may confer a greater utility.

But life is more complex than a pragmatic perspective. All of these things are a celebration of life. We dance because we can. We sing because we can. There’s nothing practical about joy, exuberance, or happiness, but those are the things that people crave.

Practical works satisfy the body. Celebration satisfies the soul.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Future Loss?

Earlier tonight, I was looking over a few photos my friend put on Facebook. She had quite a few pictures of her mother. She had recently lost her mother to disease.

Looking through these pictures, I spotted one with my friend and her mom. Her mom looked so young then, so full of life. She looked kind of like my mom.

I had never lost anyone really important in my life. I’ve never been to a funeral fora family member or a close friend. My parents and grandparents are all doing pretty well, but I still can’t help but wonder what that will be like. 

The loss of a loved one is like heartbreak. You can describe it with words as much as you can, but nothing prepares you for the real thing. Reading or hearing about it is one thing; actually experiencing loss is another thing altogether. In that regard, it’s actually a lot like love (another area I know very little about).

What did you sing?

My dad’s younger brother and his wife came to visit us from Korea. During dinner last night, they broke into spontaneous song. My aunt carries a tune wonderfully; her singing voice has all the vigor and life of her ordinary happy chatter. My uncle’s voice is softer, yet filled with a steady courage. Soon, an impromptu karaoke session broke out around the table. My dad’s robust baritone (honed by years of church choir practice) sang out Japanese songs he learned from my grandfather (“hallelujahs” to “yokohamas”), while my aunt and uncle chirped away happily on old Korean pop ballads.

Then my mother brought out an old Korean music book, made her selection, and began to sing. My mother doesn’t have a strong voice, but she has a pleasant, demure tone. Her eyes never left the page; she remained focus. By the time I excused myself from the table, she and my aunt began singing duets together.

It’s like my parents tell me. It’s easy to take life too seriously. Sometimes, you just need to be silly and have fun.

~Edelweiss, edelweiss…every morning you greet me…~

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Let's not watch this one...

In my dream last night, a morbidly obese Samoan Satanist was adrift in the middle of the ocean, blathering obscenities to his adult love-child daughter. That movie ends by the daughter disemboweling him with a bladed implement.

What’s odd about this (as if it isn’t odd at all?!) is that specific words in that scene (Samoan, Satanist, disemboweling) were not things I saw, but words I remembered retaining in my mind as the scene was unfolding. These were dream specific characterizations.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Moving Day

There was a house where I used to live. Live? No, trapped really. The house had no walls, yet blocked me in. No doors, yet shut me inside. No windows, and no light. The house’s name was Sorrow, and I made my home there for a very long time.

I’m not sure when I moved in, when I arranged my things on the mantlepiece and put up my clothes and made a place for myself there. I just remember that I was there for the longest time. It was a strangely comforting place. Even in the midst of the terrible aching that was the constant theme, there was a disturbingly easy sense of familiarity. As much as the walls fenced me in, they were my walls. As much as the doors shut others out, those were my doors.

I had come to believe that the underlying theme of my life is constant melancholy and sorrow, and that any experience of happiness, joy, or fulfillment was but a fleeting illusory moment that will quickly pass away, leaving only the sadness that is my ultimate destiny, and that to believe otherwise is a naive attempt to escape from reality.

I used to live in a house called Sorrow. But I don’t live there anymore. I’m in the Lord’s house now. And it is a good thing indeed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Surprising News

Last night I had a dream.

In my dream, I was chatting with a dear friend (I won’t say who, but I already told him this story). We were sharing stories from years past, when he gave a long, defeated sigh.

"You know, there’s something that I’ve never told you. Never told anyone." He had a pained expression, and it was clear that he was speaking from a place of deep regret.

"Years ago, I was in a really bad place in my life. I felt so lonely and distant from everyone. So I went out, and spent money on…Well, I didn’t want to feel so lonely, so…I spent money on a prostitute. I spent money on sex."

He hung his head low. I didn’t know what to say. I had never heard him speak about this, and was honestly at a loss for words. Then he raised his head and continued.

"And now, I found out that I had a son through her. He’s here, actually. Would you like to meet him?"

He turned around and gestured behind him, and around the corner came…a baby kangaroo.

I said “Ah, I can see the resemblance. At least, as much resemblance as there can be with a kangaroo.” Then I woke up.

So did I just dream that a friend had a child with a kangaroo? Seems like it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Is it the paranoia?

Sometimes, I see the stream of different conversations and connections among people on Facebook, and get a bit jealous. It’s almost as if all these people are in on some fabulous social orbit, a higher level of connectivity that is just outside my grasp. It seems as if I am once again left out, disconnected from everyone else (is that just me or is it the paranoia?)

Then I realize, no, people’s lives are actually pretty dull, and there’s not much going on, and get somewhat spooked out by that.

But the reality is that life is beautiful, love is true, and that trying to make social observations at 1:00 AM off a social networking website is just silly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Small joy

One small joy in life is taking your laptop into the bathroom and singing along really loudly to songs playing through the speakers while in the shower.

I, I’ve been broken in

But I sure ain’t been broken down

I, I’ve been broken in

But I sure ain’t been broken down

Props if you know who this is!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why else would anyone study it?

I want to study philosophy again, just so I can make fun puns.

We can have a picnic in the park. Enjoy some Wittgenstein’s Linguini Turn, with Heideggeround beef meatballs. Have some Foucaultslaw on the side, and sip on some Raspberry Iced Ror-Tea. Afterward, kick back with a throwback to the good old days - Apple Augustini.

Lies muted

Dense fog covers the ground

Muffles the sky, stills the air.

Covers the sun, so its brilliance

Lies muted.

All that can be seen

Is its form, its harshness softened.

So obscured, yet so much more clear.

A paradoxical atmospheric observation?