Category: travels


There’s something very magical about the largest cities of the world; whether it’s in Asia, Europe, or North America, every time I’m in one, I’m inspired by the energy of the citizens, enthusiasm of travelers, to a point where I’m completely content just to walk the streets and watch people go about their day. I’ve felt this in Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and now finally, New York City.

Of course, out of all of these, New York is probably the only place in North America that can compare with the other “major” cities of the world in terms of sheer size and pace. The entire downtown of Seattle could probably fit in one East/West strip of midtown Manhattan, and it was incredible seeing endless rows of skyscrapers knowing that there are just as many rows behind them. From the Avenue of the Americas, to the Canyon of Heroes, to Broadway, New York doesn’t disappoint when it comes to showing you how big Manhattan life can be.


NYC also had the unique feeling of being the Mecca for all things that matter in the mainstream America. San Francisco has it’s tech niche, Seattle has music and art (and some tech), but get to New York and make it big; that is, success in America. Whether it’s in finance, performance, international politics, tech success, culinary mastery, fashion, entertainment, get recognized in New York and it’s the world giving it’s cheers. I’ve got to hand it to New York for being one of the world’s living, beating centers of human existence. I wonder if I would perceive it’s glory if I had grown up there, but for an outsider, taking my first real taste of the city, it’s truly something else, and a place that everyone must see.

That said, in the midst of all things grand, it was still the little, human things that got to me most; The hardworking street vendors closing up their shops; the crazy hobos spreading their the world-is-coming-to-an-end FUD; NYC subway crews smiling (or not) at people passing by, and so on. Instead of being a statistic in a city of nearly eight million souls (something that many from smaller towns seem to fear), each seemed to be raised up by the combined energy of the city.

The most awesome thing is, despite having spent nearly 5 days in New York, it feels like I’ve hardly even scratched the paint; there’s so much I haven’t done there that I know that I’ll have to be back. A month, or maybe even a year. I haven’t seen the nitty gritty yet that I know is out there, perhaps just off on another block, and I wonder if I’ll eventually be disillusioned by what I perceive now to be grandeur, but I’m pretty thick-skinned, and my passions die hard.

And once again, I come back to my life routine, having witnessed something awesome, and inspired by something grand–work is a little more meaningful here, and I’ve been reminded about why I love to travel.

At Times Square, January 15th, 2010 with faithful travel companion @serenastyle
At Times Square, January 15th, 2010 with faithful travel companion @serenastyle

Okay, so that’s enough of my summary, I’ll post more details next.

Thoughts on American citizenship

I just got an email from my company’s Global Migration team about U.S. Naturalization Workshops they’re hosting. I laughed for a bit and then smiled at the fact that this is relevant in the company and then that something like this would be offered for free. It would be a 30 minute session, 1:1 with a naturalization attorney to discuss the family situation, and the process (there’s a LOT of process).

Then I realized that this actually applies to me too. For those who don’t already know, even though I’ve lived a total of 18 years (out of my 24) in the United States, I’m still technically a citizen of the Republic of Korea. Sure, I’ve been a visa holder, and now bear a Permanent Residency, but in some ways there’s always been some sort of invisible barrier, or mark that subtlely reminded me that I was still an outsider. Growing up, this wasn’t something that really seemed to matter, other than being a mental note and a BIG inconvenience when applying for colleges, jobs, etc. When I first came back to the U.S. in 2000, I as a J-2 dependent, under my dad’s J-1. J-visas, I believe, are for foreign contract workers, without the intent to immigrate; in other words, not allowed to apply for permanent residency. At some point, I shifted to R-2 under my mom, and had it until moving to PR status. Yes, what an honor; I am now a resident alien of this country, and have my fingerprints in some database in the Department of Homeland Security. Yay.

Not surprisingly, I’ve always felt that my relationship to the U.S. government and the country itself was a bit conditional; despite growing up taught that my story is one of many millions, and virtually every person with an immigrant story in their family history (yes white people, you fall into this category too–gasp), yet something seems to happen to those people bearing the U.S. Citizen title, and enjoy privilages not available to the millions of other non-citizens living in this land.

Let me say in advance, that I don’t quite use the terms “American” and “U.S. citizen” interchangably. I know U.S. citizens that haven’t spent more than a few weeks of their adult lives in this country, and certainly don’t relate to the culture, as well as non-citizens that are working for the political campaigns, pay dues to the NRA, and have kids in American public schools. Who’s the more “American” one of those two?

Most people don’t really think about citizenship this way–they’re either born into one country or the other, and they don’t bother doing anything else. If they choose to stay in the United States, they’re generally happy about it enough, and their citizenship status to care. Even activist Americans that seem to treat the term as if holding a little bit of shame don’t deny that they’re Americans. For most people, it’s really simple–it’s something associated with the country you happen to live in; it’s something you’re born with, and no more changable than the culture you live and breathe. Having spent 2/3rds of my life in this country (and probably 90% of my formative years), and yet still not being a citizen, I’ve always thought of the concept very archaic, and with regards to the process of changing citizenship, it’s filled with rules that I never really bought into logically. As a teacher, what do you teach a kid that’s learning about Thanksgiving in school, if there are non-citizens in the room? Do you call them out to recognize that they’re different, or that this history doesn’t apply to them, or teach that there isn’t anything different, and that many cultures come together to make this country? My second grade teacher (Mrs. Halversen, Willard Elementary; Evanston, IL–if you ever see this, you’re awesome!) chose the latter, and it seemed to make sense; for natural-born and naturalized Americans, as well as foreigners and hybrids like me.

Well that’s great when you’re growing up, or in college, grad school, med school. You’re paying money (or your parents are in the form of taxes) to get an education, and people will generally assume that you’re a contributing member of society. Growing up, many of my friends were in a simlar boat, and that made it very easy to discuss the challenges, and work through the ambiguous. Besides, our pride for Naperville North, the Fighting Illini, and Chicago was far more feverent than this abstract concept of national pride. Much of that changes if you choose to work, and take those skills/knowledge that you gained while in school to make money in the great U, S of A, like I’ve chosen to do. Sure much of the multi-culturalism is there, but now that taxes, elections, and societal impact are concerned, it seems to matter so much more what color your passport is. I believe I’m contributing to the larger world, but I’ve definitely been privilaged to have grown up, and to work and live where I do.

Do I consider myself American? Haha, that’s a tough question. Historically, I’ve said no, and understood that my status made me somewhat different. Do I consider myself Asian-American? Absolutely. The feelings, privilages, and difficulties as well as my story fits very closely. Is citizenship tied to it? It probably should, more than it does, but I feel my experience would have been the same even if I had been born as a citizen. If my parents I had moved to Chicago a year earlier, I would have been a natural-born American, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As for citizenthip, despite the fact that it should be the ultimate representation of your heart’s loyalty to a culture, usually, the reasons why someone is one or the other is completely arbitrary, and influenced far more by practical reasons than one’s loyalty to the words of Francis Scott Key.

And you know what… I think I’m okay with that. Kind of like software patents, it’s an archaic system that’s broken in so many ways, that it might as well be scrapped. But it provides some value, and in a noisy world where we need to label and generalize to live and make sense of things, it helps a great deal. It’s not a problem that many have to even think about, my parents certainly didn’t, and my kids probably won’t–but as a very small segment of the story, I feel a need to write about my experience. I’ll do that some day. In the mean time, I’ll check out this workshop =).

Thanks Global Migration team!

Entry 2 – 7/7/2009 – Korea, Korean, and Koreans

The more time I spend here, the more I realize that there is so much that I don’t know about the place, the language, and the people that I had called my home for 7 years. Having spend half of my elementary years and nearly all of my middle school years here, I often feel that I can speak authoritatively about the experience, yet there’s still so much that i didn’t experience while here, and didn’t experience; I don’t think I was ready to, nor willing to do so for fear of losing my American-ness. Things are a little different now; I’m very much established in my Asian-American culture, yet woefully out of touch with the things that make the Korean-American experience unique.

Life here in Seoul is facinating, and I realize that even though I might not understand it all, it’s very much a part of who I am. Despite the sense of “being in a different place” that I feel here, it doesn’t feel at all alienating, or foreign, and the more I spend here, the more I remember that there’s a lot to learn and like. Having travelled a bit over the years, I can finally note a lot of similarities and differences to the cities in Asia, Europe and the U.S. Seoul is definitely a lot more like Beijing than Shanghai, similar to Paris in the sociatal and political spectrum, and vastly different from any American city I’ve been to. You don’t see little kids playing at city parks without adult supervision well past midnight in Seattle; or junior-high girls walking in pairs late into the night across a major city center. It’s such a different kind of city than anything in the U.S. that you just have to see and live it. The size/scale/and proximity of everything forces people to live where they walk and work, and the city, isn’t just a place to go, but it’s very much a part of who they are. I like it here 🙂

Here, I don’t mind the cigarette smoke, the drunk old men on the street, or even the poor beggars petitioning for money as they go by. The old Confuscian heirarchy of society which I had been so strongly against when I was young now suddenly makes sense–and the sense of respect for your elders and your fellow man is so so beautiful to me now. The respect for people working for the public service, janitors and street cleaners even is so strong, that it feels like a society that just works. Despite the income disparities, and corrupt politicians, the overt view is one of a capitalist society balanced with a societal need to support each other. It’s very beautiful in what it can be, and something that I wish I could take back with me to the U.S.

That’s not to say that Seoul is not without it’s flaws; the lack of individualist expression and the fad/mob-mentaltiy to everything puts me off a bit, though I think this is more out of fear of expression than something that’s engrained in people. It’s like the whole popular society revolves around what the “sociatal leaders” say, and these “leaders” tend to be whoever gains the mob first. Trends rise and fall quickly, and despite the stability of the cultural heirarchies, the more transient lifestyles of people tend to change on a whim. The Americas and Europe seem to handle this a little bit more maturely.

Anyway, overall, I would love to spend a year or two out here, understand and contribute my peace to the world here. There’s a lot that I want to learn, and whether I like it or not, it’s a reminder that there’s much more to *being* than me, my hobbies, and my job: there’s also perspective of where you are, how you fit into the people and environment around you, and the world at large–something Aristotle knew very well, and something that’s been missing from my life for quite some time.

My grandmother’s passing and service was a very powerful reminder of the importance of family, parents, and heritage. I had never been to one before, and knew nothing of what it was like outside of movies and books. It was something that I feel unworthy to describe with words, and I won’t even try.