University Symphony

Tonight I went to watch a concert by the University Symphony Orchestra. My friend Caroline Wong was the soloist for a concerto and I wanted to go support her (spectacular job tonight, Caroline!) I loved going to the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra concerts. I had several musically inclined friends back in Berkeley, and it was always a great time to listen to beautiful music and support my friends.
What I love about these amateur concerts is the chance to share in the deep love that the musicians have for the music. Most of these musicians aren’t going to be professionals performing in orchestras after they graduate. They are students with papers, exams, other student organizations, and countless demands on their time. Yet they put those things aside to create music together. In a way, they invite the rest of the community to take a step back from the relentless tide of work to relish in beauty, mystery, and dreams. Orchestra and audience, we together create a moment of ordinary wonder.

Friend of Jesus

A meditation on Good Friday:

One aspect of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion as told in the gospels that I find striking is what happened with Jesus’ friends, his closest companions. At their final meal together, Jesus predicted that they would all abandon him, yet all adamantly denied it. They all declared the strength of their bond, a friendship unto death.

Yet when Jesus was arrested, all his friends abandoned him. One of his closest companions, Peter, even denied ever having anything to do with him. I imagine myself in Jesus’ place, arrested and jailed for no crime, and all my friends abandoning me, fearful for their own lives. I can imagine myself becoming bitter at them for their betrayal, or perhaps mournful in myself, believing that I deserved to be abandoned.

Yet after three days, when Jesus returns to his friends after the resurrection, he makes no mention of what happened. Instead of coming against them with accusations or resentment, he comes to them with love. He even embraces Peter, saying to him simply “Follow me.”

This same Peter, who hid in his cowardice and shame, would give the first sermon of the church, wrote letters that are part of the foundation of the church, and would be killed for his faith. The other disciples, the friends of Jesus, would experience similar fates of martyrdom and exile. The love of Jesus transformed them.

I am amazed at the power of love to forgive, and am inspired to forgive others. Just as I have been healed, so too do I wish for the healing of others.

Insecurity and Pizza

This past weekend was Admitted Students Weekend for the law school. It brought to mind a memory from my experience at ASW last year.

After a very full day of activities, the law school had scheduled a deep dish pizza dinner at Gino’s East in downtown. Buses pulled up in front of the school and admits piled in. Somehow, I ended up with sitting by myself, next to the window. As the bus headed up Lakeshore Drive, I heard the chatter of excited admits all around me, including some unfortunate smack talk regarding Chicago sports teams. Yet I felt distant and disconnected. I was tired and worn out from a busy day, but I knew that what I was feeling went beyond simple introversion. Old insecurities were welling up within me, a familiar sense of not belonging. “You don’t belong here. You don’t belong with these people. You will never find the acceptance and connection that you want. You don’t deserve it.” It stunk.

However, I have lived long enough with these destructive beliefs to know how to respond. I told myself “Stop it. Don’t sit here in your self-pity and foolish thinking. Don’t wait for someone else to fix it. Make a connection!” I slid over to the other seat and said hello to the person across the aisle. That is how I met WuDi Wu and Amy Upshaw, two people that I honor and appreciate greatly.

I still have those same feelings insecurity from time to time. There are days when I walk through school and the same familiar lies come at me: “You don’t belong here. No one wants you here. Leave.” Yet I am thankful for a truth that is stronger than my insecurity, that carries me even when I feel weak.

Oh, and the pizza was pretty good (although I enjoyed Zachary’s in Berkeley and Oakland more. Yay Bay Area!)

Growing up with Korean parents: Korean dentists

One challenge in growing up with immigrant parents is navigating medical services. Growing up, my mom used to take me to Dr. Cho, the Korean dentist nearby. He had the benefit of being close to home and Korean, so my mom felt comfortable with him. However, his English wasn’t very good, which made going to the dentist rather miserable. I would sit in the chair, Dr. Cho hovering over me with all sorts of dental implements, not understanding most of what he said (my Korean wasn’t proficient enough to grasp his words.) I didn’t want to say I didn’t understand, so I would just nod and play along.

If you get squeamish over dentist stories, skip the next paragraph.

This language barrier wasn’t a problem until Dr. Cho performed the root canal. I still remember it as a very painful experience (lots of scraping). Several months later, I had a terrible headache with swelling in my jaw. I went to another dentist, who told me I had an abscess from an infection, filling my gum with pus. She numbed the infected area, put a suction tube in my mouth, and sliced the gum open, spilling the pus out. The tube got most of the pus, but it was a painful and disgusting experience. Later, I went to get the root canal checked out by another dental surgeon. He showed me an X-ray of my teeth. “See that little area? That’s your root canal. And see this small gray sliver? I’m not sure, but I think it’s a piece of metal. Whoever did your root canal broke off a dental implement in your tooth.” The follow-up root canal was relatively painless. Suffice it to say, I haven’t returned to Dr. Cho since.

I have heard stories about children helping immigrant parents to navigate services in English (6 year old kids explaining forms at the DMV, for example). More rare is how children try to navigate receiving services for themselves in their parents’ foreign language. This can often lead to confusing (and painful) experiences.

Cultural distinctions

I went to the dry cleaning to pick up my alterations. Usually, it’s staffed by a pleasant Korean woman, with whom I would chat about the weather. Last time, I was met by a middle-aged Korean man. He had a bit of a gruff demeanor. He started telling me about his troubles with the weather this past year. Then he said that his car had gotten “f***ed up” by the salt.

I was a bit taken aback. I think this is the first time I had ever heard an older Korean man use a curse word casually, in English, with someone he had just met (and a customer at that). I started to feel uneasy and left as soon as I could.

As I reflected on that encounter, I realized that I experienced some cultural dissonance in talking to this man. There are certain cultural norms that are part of how I interact with older Korean adults, centered around expectations of respect and civility (even the Korean words I use are different). I seldom interact with Korean adults who use salty language, and certainly not in English. However, I was still quite surprised by how much it affected me.

Today I went to a different cleaner, where I met an older Korean couple. They were warm and friendly, asking me about my family (I tried to explain what work my dad does, but I forgot the Korean word for “Actuary”). I really enjoyed talking to them. If the alterations turn out well, I’ll definitely go back again.