Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why It Doesn't Matter That Kim Yuna Was Denied Some Golden Trinket

As most people know by now, Kim Yuna (which is pronounced Yuh Na, not Yoo Na, by the way) did not win a second straight gold medal. She did not become the third woman in history, after Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt, to defend her women's figure skating title in the Olympics. And all this happened under very suspicious circumstances that's reminiscent of what happened in 2002 Salt Lake City to Jamie Sale and David Pelletier.

But despite numerous articles in publications such as USA Today, Washington Post, The Wire, and The Atlantic about how unfair the result was, I'm not that mad.

Admittedly, I'm approaching this mainly as a fan of Kim Yuna rather than a fan of figure skating. If you're a die-hard fan of the sport, you should probably be very upset because not only was one of your all-time greats denied a historically significant Olympic achievement, but also because the conversation about your sport has now started to reopen the ugly wounds of Salt Lake City.

Yes, in any other Olympics that wasn't in Russia, Kim Yuna would've won the gold. A statement like that shouldn't be true. Most sports have some form of unwritten (and some actually written, as in ice hockey and line changes) home field advantage, but most of those sports are not judged sports. It's not as if a basketball or soccer team plays hard for a whole game, then a panel of judges arbitrarily determines the winner at the end. At most, a biased ref can only impact a small part of the game in such sports and hope that small part proves to be decisive. It's not the same in a wholly judged sport like figure skating.

Most people would say that Kim Yuna deserved gold. Yet she didn't get it. That should spark outrage, especially given the many questionable pieces of evidence we have on hand.

Kim Yuna said she would've died for a gold medal in Vancouver, and her emotional
outburst after her flawless free skate 4 years ago showed that

But let's look from the grand perspective of how it affects Kim Yuna. She already has a gold medal. Not only does she have that, but she also now owns two of the best and most perfect figure skating performances in Olympic history. The only reason that people aren't that awestruck by her in Sochi is that they've already seen her in Vancouver. She also apparently has never finished off the podium in her entire career. She goes out a legend, gold medal or not.

Furthermore, she herself seems to be the one most okay with what happened. While lots of her supporters and fans of the sport in general are busy signing petitions and whatnot, she's been nothing but gracious about everything. And I don't mean that in the sense that she's been defeatist and meek in some kind of stereotypically Asian way. Rather, she seems to be satisfied knowing that most of the world appreciated what she was able to do, and at her unmatched level now, some Olympic doubloon is not really going to make much of a difference.

To know that not even the highest honour in your field can affect the esteem people have for you... Now that's power.

Here's a touching and raw interview that looks as though took place right after the medal ceremony. It's a complex scene because first, the woman (who is older) seems to be thanking her for all that she's done as a national icon. This is Kim Yuna as "The Queen." Then right after, the same woman tells her that she's still the best, almost as a parent would to a child after she's lost a competition she rightly won. This is Kim Yuna as a 23-year old young woman, the person she's rarely, if ever, been allowed to be.

And towards the end when she answers the reporter's question, Kim Yuna says that she's not crying because she feels aggrieved about the results (though she must be to some extent), but mainly because she feels so unburdened that it's all over, that what she's dedicated almost all her life towards has just ended.

It's a bit staggering to think that you've peaked in your life's calling in your early 20s. A bit depressing too, if you think about it. But fortunately, I think Kim Yuna sees herself as more than "just" a figure skater. That is a wonderful thing because there are few things sadder than athletes who so define themselves through their sport that they're nothing without it. These are the Allen Iversons and Brett Favres of the world, the ones who can never let go and move on.

I'm just happy that she seems to be happy to finally be done with it all. Even though she loved the sport, it must have also been incredibly stressful and all-consuming, perhaps to the point where it gradually morphed into an obligation and duty rather than a joyful passion.

But even though Kim Yuna dominated her sport as Michael Jordan dominated his, she doesn't seem to share that same kind of near-sociopathic obsession with one very narrow aspect of life. That's a real gift, isn't it? To be all-conquering and remain human at the same time.

Jung Yong Hwa of CN Blue is one of her many celebrity admirers

I hope she takes some time off, then comes back to the spotlight to enjoy her well-earned fame and goodwill.

I hope she has a few "scandals" (Koreanspeak for anytime two people are seen holding hands or something) with some of the many Korean male celebrities who have proclaimed her to be their dream girl.

I hope she continues her humanitarian work and finds a new, perhaps even more fulfilling, life's endeavour in that.

I hope she lets her body heal.

I hope she continues to sing, make commercials, appear on variety shows, maybe make a few cameos in dramas, or whatever she wants to do.

I hope she inspires more Korean girls to not think that they need plastic surgery to feel beautiful and to take pride in their distinctly ethnic features.

Most importantly, I hope she says yes when I become distinguished enough to ask her out on a date.

Aww, so cute

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I am still a winter person, I think...

I never doubted that I was a winter person. At least when faced with the ultimatum of living in a place that's too cold or too hot, it was a no-brainer: of course, too cold! Hot weather is horrible. You have to take 4 showers a day just to not feel disgusted in your own skin. Most of your clothes become unwearable and everyone starts becoming very insecure about their bodies. Skin cancer is everywhere.

But perhaps I was guilty of romanticizing wintriness because I grew up in a place where it just plain rained all the time. Getting snow was something of a rare treat. Well, we've had way more snow up here this January and February than in previous years combined, I'm pretty sure. And I think snow fatigue is setting in.

The worst are the mornings because you wake up cold and you know that you have to walk all the way to school. Even if you take the day off and stay in your room, your toes are probably going to be icy as you sit at your desk and feel that draft wrap itself around your ankles. Or you could stay in bed, but then you'll fall asleep and accomplish absolutely nothing. You don't even want to get dressed because you're tired of wearing turtlenecks and scarves. It's like your neck is begging to be liberated from all this scratchy woolliness. But sorry neck, I can't grant you that wish.

When you finally do make your way outside, your whole body tenses up, especially your upper back and neck area. Your muscles are probably going to be sore from all this. Maybe that can substitute the visit to the gym that I was never going to make anyway? If the soundtrack of crunching snow and salt isn't that aurally pleasing, you could listen to music to pass the time. But you better have a good playlist ready because you're probably not going to be taking your phone in and out of your pocket to change songs since your gloves make your hands useless, and taking them off is just inconvenient.

At last, you're at school or wherever you wanted to go! But now, you're overclothed. Those leggings under your jeans that kept your thighs toasty warm now feel like sausage casings defrosting on summer's window sill. Your thick socks and boots mean that your feet will be swampy all day. Your scarf is just one more thing that you're probably going to lose unless you have your head on straight.

Oh but what's this above? It's children having a gay old time sledding down the hills! Let's go join them! But oh wait, I don't have a sled. What's that you say? Wrap a garbage lid in plastic and make one yourself? I'm qualified to do that! Except nobody wants to go with me, not even my roommates. I guess I could go by myself... if I had that irresistible urge to be the saddest sight in a 5 mile radius.

But I'm not just going to hate all day. Winter storms and polar vortexes do have their perks. Like that hot shower in the morning that stops your teeth from chattering. Or snow days that wipe out that terrible Thursday when you have a stack of classes in a row. Or how nice snowflakes look when they're backlit by streetlights outside your window. Or how a few inches of this white stuff can magically become your guilt-free excuse to not go out at night and instead, just read that book you've been shelving for too long or that movie that you've always meant to watch. Now that I think of it, Janus and her wicked stepsisters have probably been a big boon to introverts everywhere.

Yeah, still a winter person.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Prescription for Cinematic Amnesia (Movies I've Watched Recently), Pt. II

The Lover (L'Amant)

Some movies are borderline porn. Like, if you were having nice coffee chat with an alien and were trying to explain to it the difference between something like Pirates (aka that really high budget porn version of Pirates of the Carribean... not that I've ever seen it) and some very sexually explicit movies like The Lover (or Lust, Caution or Unfaithful or Last Tango in Paris), it may be really difficult to articulate the difference, even if you know that there is a difference.

I'm not saying this as something derogatory. In fact, Lust, Caution is one of my favourite films, and I enjoyed The Lover as well. The story here is very simple and the characters don't even have names. The Girl is a French teenager in colonial Vietnam whose family has lost everything financially, but they still cling to some level of social status due to their Frenchness. The Chinaman (seriously, that's his character's name in the credits) is a wealthy ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam. He's what you'd have called a "dandy" in the 19th century: a young man with no particular skills except in traveling and spending his family's money.

What's most interesting about this movie is the fact that while The Chinaman is significantly older and wealthier than The Girl, he is still beneath her in some way because she is French and he is Chinese. In colonial Vietnam, that makes a big difference and they both know it. In one telling scene, she asks him if he's ever been with a French girl before (since he was recently in Paris). He says only prostitutes, because that's all he's allowed to "have." So the movie is more complex than simply a story about an older rich guy taking advantage of a helpless teenage girl, but rather, how two people navigate a crumbling and shifting society using the advantages given to them.

Definitely don't watch this with your parents in the same room

2014 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

It's not only sad to think of all the movies you'll never get to see, but it's even more of a downer to think of all the documentaries, shorts, and animated shorts that you'll never watch either. So I took the chance recently to go to a showing of the 2014 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts. The shorts are very diverse, ranging in tones from sarcastic, creepy, charming, and cute. There's one set in a steampunk robot city where a citizen adopts a dog (Mr. Hublot), one about a witch and a cat who make friends while flying across the land (Room On The Broom), and one where two umbrellas fall in love (The Blue Umbrella).

My favourite was Feral because it was spooky and heartbreaking. It's about a wild wolf-child and the artwork is unique in a nightmarish way, reminiscent of a Francis Bacon painting.

Mmm, Bacony

The Squid and the Whale

Growing up, I always wished my parents were the type to try to relate to me and talk to me as if we were pals. But then I watch movies like this and thank god that they weren't. Yikes, could you imagine having the Jeff Daniels character as your dad? He's the type who'd sneer at you if you talked to him about some girl who didn't reciprocate your feelings, then go on to talk about all the hot chicks he had, or could've had, when he was your age. All while throwing around quotes from Saul Bellow and William Faulkner.

The Squid and the Whale is a movie about a divorce and how two sons (the elder one played by Jesse Eisenberg) deal with it. The parents are super-educated members (or wannabe members) of the literati who live in Park Slope and discuss the merits of A Tale of Two Cities at the dinner table. This isn't exactly the most relatable demographic in the world, but most people will be able to identify with the divided loyalties that the two brothers face. I didn't like Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, but this movie was better. Even though it was very autobiographical, it felt less like an exercise in self-obsession ("Look at me and my over-privileged wannabe literary friends because we matter!") and more honest and painful because hey, we've all known what it's like to love, hate, and be disappointed by our parents.

The corduroy signifies his "down with it-ness"


I've always thought that Mitt Romney was a good enough guy who was possibly one of those people who just wasn't meant to be a political leader. He may be a management whiz, loving father, and valuable member of his church community, but those things don't make you a good presidential candidate. Remember that it wasn't just Democrats who loathed him. It was his Republican rivals like Rick Perry, John McCain, and Rick Santorum who just despised him on a personal level. And it was London Mayor Boris Johnson who joined in on the anti-Mitt fun (after Romney's ill-advised comments on London's preparations for the Olympics) when he had no real dog in the race. There's just something about the guy.

Mitt rescues his image the best way possible, in my opinion. Romney is not inspiring because he doesn't have a greater vision other than the fact that he'd be great for America because he made a lot of money at Bain Capital. But that doesn't make him a bad person, and it's nice to see him surrounded by those who love him, as opposed to those who would love to see him fail (aka many fellow ambitious Republicans).

What most impressed me about Romney was how self-aware he is. Even back in 2006 or so, he's aware of his own weaknesses in terms of public perception, as he dubs himself the "Flippin' Mormon." Even after his knockout first debate performance that revitalized his post-47% presidential campaign, he calmly tells everyone that first debates are always won by the challengers and that President Obama will be way better next time.


I'm kind of a Jeremy Lin fanatic. Ever since he joined the Houston Rockets, I've watched almost all of their games, and as a result, I could tell you that in his first month or so as a Rocket, sportswriters were legitimately wondering if he and Harden could be the best backcourt in the league. But then he went into a funk, mainly due to the knee injury that sidelined him for the Knicks' playoff series against the Heat. He hit his stride after the all-star break, only to play very poorly (like the rest of the team) in Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. Then he got injured in Game 2, allowing Beverley to come in and play well. Then this season, Beverley was named the starter because he is tenacious defender and a good 3pt shooter, and Lin's skills were seen to be somewhat redundant when pared with James Harden's. Lin adjusted to the 6th Man role pretty well and even had some monster games that exceeded anything he did in his Linsanity run. He had a very bad January, however, the lowest of which came against a pair of losses against the Memphis Grizzlies. But then Harden got injured and Lin was thrust back into a primary role, and he found his groove again. Recently, he got his first triple double and is now back to balling as a 6th Man.

But Linsanity is about the beginning. For someone like me who's watched all the highlights and interviews on Youtube many times, there's nothing too enlightening about this documentary, but I do appreciate the greater social commentary provided by his high school and college coaches. It's also quite harrowing to listen to Lin and his family's account of the days leading up to that first breakout game against the New Jersey Nets, and how that was almost certainly his last chance to make an impression before he got cut permanently from the NBA.

It was outplay Deron Williams or go home, permanently

Over at Deadspin, they have this great series on the history of Black QBs in the NFL. I've always thought that Jeremy Lin was a natural successor to someone like Warren Moon or Doug Williams (former was the first Black QB to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the latter was the first Black QB to win the Superbowl). Nowadays, it's pretty common to see Black QBs. Russell Wilson just won the Superbowl and it's as though people forgot that he wasn't some White dude who grew up in Idaho. Many of the next gen young QBs are also Black: Cam Newton, RG3, Colin Kaepernick, and the aforementioned Russell Wilson. In fact, if you're a racist fan, you're pretty much having to pin all your hopes on Andrew Luck once the Manning-Brady-Brees-Rodgers group fades away.

In those Deadspin articles, they talk about older Black men who pinned so much of their hopes on the likes of Warren Moon and Doug Williams because they help inspire others, especially those of their own race, to confidently discard stereotypes that were so ingrained in our society that many people, even Black people, sort of believed in them. Because in the end, it's not about being quarterback or point guard; it's about being told that you're inherently incapable of doing something because of your race, and then making a fool out of anyone who told you that.

Anyway, very enjoyable and uplifting, especially if you haven't rewatched the highlights to death as I have. The interesting thing is that you could easily make another documentary about that weird offseason when the Knicks let him go, and that topsy-turvy first season in Houston when everybody expected him to fall flat on his face.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Things That Prevent Me From Being A "True Korean"

As a disclaimer, I realize that there isn't, nor should there be, a rigid definition of a "True Korean." In this case, I'm just using it to denote an identity that is formed by a series of common experiences shared by those who grow up in Korea. 

The thing you find out when you live for some time in your ancestral country is that while you may have felt very Korean (or Chinese or Mexican or Polish or whatever) back home where you were a minority of some kind, you're actually not that Korean when compared to people who were born and raised in that country. How could you be after having spent your entire life in another country and culture?

It's like that time in The Sopranos when Paulie goes to Italy for the first time. After a lifetime of complaining about America and how they're stealing all of Italy's precious gifts to the world (like "expresso"), he thinks he's going to finally be at home in Italy. But he sticks out like a sore thumb because he is, after all, a New Jersey guy more than anything else.

I think I'm pretty Korean for someone who, until recently, didn't spend any significant time in Korea outside of vacations. But there are certain things that, in my opinion, keep me "different."

1) I've never served in the military and won't ever have to

Growing up, every Korean male citizen knows that he has to devote 21-24 months of his life to mandatory military service, usually served sometime in his 20s. Frankly speaking, not all time periods in one's life are created equal, and your 20s are probably the years that you least want to sacrifice for something that probably seems to many as the world's longest hazing ritual.

By sole virtue of having been born overseas, I've never had to worry about this issue. But if I had, I could see how it would've affected my entire outlook on my young adulthood. There'd be this massive two-year black hole where I'd have to put everything on hold—whether it be studies, career development, creative growth, relationships—for... what exactly?

Of course, going through such things tend to create bonds between people, which is why I feel that I'll always be something of an outsider in Korean society.

Um, looks like fun! Buuuuuut I think I'll take a rain check

2) I've never gone to school in Korea

Korean schools are notoriously competitive and stress-inducing. Having never spent a single minute inside of one, I can't tell how much of it is true and how much of it is media sensationalism. But I remember my 2nd and 3rd grade classes mainly consisted of my teacher playing the piano as we sang along to The Sound of Music. A major part of 7th grade was a lip sync contest where, as part of our music curriculum, we dressed up like The Beach Boys or James Brown and performed in front of the school.

I'm guessing that most Korean schools don't have time for stuff like that. And this is not even considering the after-school schools ("hakwons") that most kids go to. Factoring that in, I'm even further removed from the typical Korean upbringing.

The closest I've come to Korean education is watching "School 2013"

3) I can't swear in Korean

A major part of true fluency in a language is being able to speak in idioms and slang. Paradoxically, a true speaker of a language should use it in all sorts of incorrect ways. Swearing is part of this familiarity with a language. If you ever meet someone who can't swear in English, chances are that he or she learned it from a book while listening to NPR and reading Dickens.

I can't swear at all in Korean, mostly because I've mainly used it to speak with parents and grandparents. It's even difficult for me to express real anger in Korean. At best, I can only muster up a kind of exasperated annoyance.

Can you imagine not being able to swear, or even express anger, when talking among your friends? Some people's relationships with their friends almost entirely consist of swearing and griping about various things. I like interacting in Korean when I can, but it's still a challenge because it's harder to naturally convey what I'm thinking and feeling.

My inability to swear in Korean would be severely restricting in times like this

4) My internet nationality is American

We spend so much of our time nowadays on the internet, which is a globe onto itself. And the internet could be divided into countries as well. As I am most comfortable with English as my reading language, I almost exclusively stick to English sites. But entire online continents exist in other languages too. Korean internet culture is extremely vibrant, though some would say viciously so. Yet because my reading level in Korean is not that great, I don't have easy access to this world. I am ignorant as to how people my age interact on Korean internet forums and websites, and thus, I'm not part of that online culture.

5) I don't understand inter-Asian rivalries

I remember when guys like Ichiro and Yao Ming broke into the MLB and NBA, respectively. I instantly became their fans because it was rare enough to see an Asian celebrity in America, much less an athlete. Nowadays, it's much more common, but when I was younger, that wasn't the case.

Ichiro and Yao were from Asia. So was I (ancestrally speaking). Therefore, I felt a strong connection with them.

But many Koreans in Korea probably wouldn't have, especially with Ichiro because he was Japanese and there's a lot of recent historical misgivings between Korea and Japan (plus, he's kind of a cocky SOB and talked smack about Korea in one of the World Baseball Classics...). Koreans don't necessarily define themselves as "Asian" because they're not a racial minority in their own country, so they don't have to adopt an inclusive category just to be visible and have some influence.

Gotta give him respect

But despite all this, I'm obviously more Korean than I'm not, and even though I may not have had the same experiences as someone who grew up in Seoul, my own experiences as a gyopo have something to offer to the collective Korean identity.