Ah, what a pity!

I was talking to my parents about marriage. I asked, “Hypothetically speaking, if I married a black woman, how would you respond?”

My mom said, “Oh, we would be OK with it. We know that it’s up to you. We’d prefer a Korean woman, but we would be OK with it. Our extended family might have some problems, but you don’t see them often, so you don’t have to worry about them. But the difficult part would be people at church. They would say things like ‘Ah, what a pity. She has such a lovely family, a good job as a pharmacist, two excellent sons. But she has a black daughter-in-law. What a waste!'” (The actual phrase she used was “안됐다”).

I asked, “What would they say if I married a white woman, or a Chinese woman?”

“They would say ‘It’s too bad that he didn’t marry a Korean woman, but still, it’s OK.'”

My dad chimed in, “Korean people can be pretty racist.”

Part of me is tempted to start dating a black woman, just to kick sand in the eyes of the Korean church folks. But that’s not a good reason to start a relationship. “Hey, want to go out so that we can force my home community to confront their hatred and bigotry?”

Marriage can bring two warring communities together. Marriage can also lead to great strain and stress. In the end, the Montagues and Capulets ended their feud, but it didn’t really work out well for Romeo and Juliet. Oh yeah, they dead. Spoiler alert.

But I am thankful for my parents’ openness. As my dad said, “You can’t control your kids. If you try to control them, they will slip away, and eventually you will lose them.”

This is a hypothetical conversation. Maybe I’ll marry the perfect Korean woman that will put the Korean church folks at ease. Maybe I’ll marry a black woman. Maybe I’ll never get married. But I am thankful that I have the freedom to dream and explore and wonder. We’ll see where that freedom leads me.

Thanksgiving 2016

This will be my first Thanksgiving in the Bay Area. The last three Thanksgivings, I was in Chicago. Plane trips back home to LA cost $400 one way, which was difficult for a student budget. I appreciated having Thanksgiving with the good folks at Church of the Shepherd, especially Tiffany and Dave Borycz, who graciously opened their home to us.
 
Now I’m in California, but my younger brother is in Philadelphia and won’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. So instead of paying out the nose for airfare on heavy travel days or taking vacation time to go home, I decided to stay here and wait to see my family in December.
 
So I’m thankful that I have friends and family all around the world. And as much as the last month, year, or decade may have been full of hardship, tragedy, and discord, I am glad to have a day dedicated to giving thanks. This is not to forget the problems and pains in this world. The holiday of Thanksgiving itself has a bloody history; I know that it is a bitter day for many Native Americans. Thanksgiving’s painful history is a part of America’s painful history; America’s painful history is a part of humanity’s painful history.
 
But just as an individual life is full of fear and feasting, joy and jealousy, mourning and munching, so too is the life of a people. Let us remember to lament. Let us remember to console. Let us remember to dance. And let us remember to give thanks.
 
Also, looking forward to some pie. I eat salad every day so I can have multiple desserts for Thanksgiving.

Dress for comfort

I tend to dress more formally than most people. My typical casual outfit is a button up shirt, a sport coat, slacks, and leather shoes. I seldom wear t-shirts, don’t wear jeans, and don’t own any flip flops. This is just what I choose to wear.
 
I tell people that I dress for comfort. When most people think about comfort, they think about physical comfort. They think of sweatshirts and sweatpants, loose material and easy fit. But comfort can be defined in different ways.
 
I learned this lesson while I was at Google. Let’s say my boss comes to me and says, “A big client wants to talk to someone on our team. Can you come do a presentation in an hour?” The last thing that I want to do is feel out of place with my overly casual dress. In the same vein, I don’t know who I will run into on the street, so I want to maintain a neat appearance s much as possible.
 
Some may say that it is vanity to think about clothing. And it’s true that clothing is just stuff. Really, it’s not the most important thing in the world. But clothing is part of our visual language. In choosing the clothes that we wear, we communicate to the world before we even open our mouths. If you don’t put much thought into clothing and just wear whatever, that in itself is a choice. It’s an opportunity to shape someone’s opinion of you right from the first meeting.

Rules of baseball

A few weeks ago, I was over at the home of my friends Kerwin and Heather for dinner. I started chatting with their six year old daughter Katherine. Katherine told me that she was really excited about the Cubs being in the World Series.
 
Me: “So Katherine, you must be a big fan of baseball, right?”
 
Katherine: “I am! I love baseball!”
 
Me: “You know, I don’t know much about baseball. Could you help me understand some of the rules?”
 
Katherine: “OK…”
 
Me: “Great! First off, why are there so many dragons?”
 
Katherine (giggling): “What?! There aren’t any dragons!”
 
Me: “Really? There’s no dragons? Then what do all the knights fight?”
 
Katherine: “The knights?!”
 
Me: “Yeah! The knights with their horses and their shiny armor, riding around the baseball field. Why are they there if there’s no dragons?”
 
Katherine: “There’s no knights!”
 
Me: “Really? What a weird sport.”
 
The conversation continued like that for a while. Evidently when the pitcher throws the baseball, the ball is not actually on fire, and the giant nets in soccer aren’t for catching giant bugs. Katherine and I had a blast talking about the absurd rules of sports.
 
I saw Katherine yesterday, along with her friend Kezia, who is Dado and Bernee‘s daughter. Katherine said, “Let’s talk about gymnastics!”
 
According to Katherine and Kezia, the balance beam is not actually a laser beam, the vault doesn’t involve leaping over a moat of dinosaurs, and the floor routine doesn’t include jumping over lava pits. Truly, kids say the darndest things.

Waiting for my real life

I saw my dad onstage at a play.
 
Not literally, of course. I was at a performance of “Yellow Face”, a play by David Henry Hwang (of “M. Butterfly” fame) with Jensine and David Ho. One of the characters was Henry Y. Hwang, David’s father. The elder Hwang had come to the US speaking virtually no English. He started a laundry business, became a CPA, and went on to open Far East National Bank, which did major business in China.
 
Henry Y. Hwang loved America, and not just because of economic opportunity. He loved Jimmy Stewart and Frank Sinatra. When faced with adversity, he quoted Sinatra, saying that he would do things “My Way”.
 
In one scene, Henry Y. Hwang is telling his son David about why he came to the U.S. “David, when I was in China, I knew that this wasn’t my real life. My real life was somewhere else. It was in America. I was just waiting for my real life to begin.”
 
My dad expressed similar sentiments. When he was living in Seoul, working at a bank right out of college, he was miserable. He longed to move to a new place, to find new opportunity, to really live. He diligently studied English (my father has only a faint trace of an accent) and made his way to this country. He loves the wide open spaces and ample parking and diversity of peoples. He loves Trader Joe’s and the neighborhood Lebanese bakery and Netflix. He loves America.
 
Watching “Yellow Face” felt like watching part of my dad’s story. In a way, it helped me to imagine life in the U.S. from my dad’s perspective. To imagine the longing for real life to begin.

Jaded

A: “After this election, I just got so jaded.”
 
B: “Yeah, it’s been an intense year.”
 
A: “Luckily, I got a good deal.”
 
B: “What?”
 
A: “10 jade necklaces for $600! That’s amazing!”
 
B: “Truly, this is the worst of all possible worlds.”

Super Powers

Long post. TL;DR at the end.
 
Before I went to law school, I came across this blog post:
 
“Being a lawyer is usually tedious, often difficult, and almost always stressful, but it’s the next best thing to having superpowers. Because when you need a lawyer, really need one, and don’t have one, it makes a huge difference.”
 
In my experience, I have found that to be true. If you are a tenant facing eviction, or a person with a criminal history trying to get a second chance at life, or an individual hoping to escape from a domestic violence situation, you face extremely difficult hurdles. So having a lawyer on your side is a tremendous help. This is especially true if you have mental disabilities, or are indigent, or homeless. The most vulnerable members of our communities, who need the greatest legal assistance, often go without help because they cannot afford an attorney.
 
Now of course, lawyers need to be careful to avoid a rescuer mentality. For one, lawyers need to set up good boundaries with clients, especially those who have multiple issues. Lawyers aren’t therapists, or social workers, or medical professionals. Moreover, lawyers need to recognize that all clients have independence and agency. Even the clients in the greatest need are still able to do things for themselves. Lawyers are meant to serve as the advisers to the client, not the captains of their vessels.
 
So today is my radioactive spider bite, my power ring moment, my Mega Buster time.
 
Because even though I’m not Spiderman, the Green Lantern, or Mega Man, today I’m a little bit closer to the next best thing.
 
(TL;DR I passed the California bar exam. “Like” For Great Justice!)

Traffic Court

Tomorrow, I’m going to San Francisco Traffic Court.
 
I don’t have any traffic tickets. I haven’t driven a car since 2005. I’m going tomorrow as part of my job. My organization works with homeless individuals who have received quality of life citations, such as sleeping on the sidewalk, jaywalking, and urinating in public. These low level citations go to Traffic Court. We are working on making the process less onerous for homeless people.
 
Let me explain the process so that you see what I mean. (1) If you are homeless and receive a citation (such as for jaywalking), the police officer writes you a ticket and says, “Show up to court by the date on the ticket”. (2) You show up the first time and go to the first floor clerk, who says, “Come back for your arraignment in a week”. (3) You come back a second time to see the judge, who says, “We are only processing these citations on the second and fourth Friday of the month, so you’ll have to come back this coming Friday.” (4) You show up a third time, meet the DA, and receive a form to have the citation dismissed if you receive certain social services, such as staying in a homeless shelter. (5) You go back to court a fourth time, submit the form, and the citation is dismissed.
 
You need to go to court four times in order to get the citation dismissed. Even though it is a simple process, there is no way to submit the form online or by mail. And if you are disabled, working, taking care of someone, or otherwise unable to get to court, you could very well miss your court date.
 
It used to be that when people missed their court dates, the court would issue bench warrants for their arrest. Police officers generally ignored these warrants, saying, “We have better things to do than arrest people for sleeping on the sidewalk.” But now, folks who miss their court dates are issued $300 civil assessments. Moreover, once the civil assessment is in place, the person needs to pay the underlying citation as a “bail” in order to get into court. Thus, even if you are eligible to get the case dismissed by receiving services, you need to pay the citation fine first to receive the services form. The citations start at around $150. Most homeless people can’t afford that.
 
So now we have many homeless folks burdened with court debt in the form of citations and civil assessments, ruining their credit. If these folks ever try to find a place to live, the debt can severely impact their chances.
 
Some may say, “Well, they broke the law, so they should face the consequences.” But if you’ve ever jaywalked before, you’ve broken one of these laws. Moreover, many of these laws (such as sleeping on the sidewalk) are directly connected with homelessness. These laws and citations ultimately make it more difficult for people to not be homeless.
 
I know that people don’t like seeing homeless folks lying on the sidewalk or urinating in public. It’s unpleasant. But homeless people need to sleep. Homeless people need to relieve themselves. They don’t have any private place to perform these essential functions, so they do them in public. It’s unrealistic to believe that making these activities illegal will somehow get people to stop doing them.
 
So I’m going to Traffic Court tomorrow to observe what’s going on.

A True Christian!

A: “A Christian should always have the peace of God. A true Christian would never get upset or angry or sad.”
 
B: “So if a Christian gets upset or angry or sad, what does that mean?”
 
A: “It means that they are lacking in spiritual maturity. They need to repent of their faithlessness and turn to God.”
 
B: “So if a Christian got angry at people in a public place, or wept tears because of a loss of a friend, or became burdened with emotion in the face of death, they would be lacking in faith?”
 
A: “Correct. They need to ask God for more faith.”
 
B: “Because Jesus got angry at the moneychangers in the temple for desecrating a place of worship. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. And as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion, he was in great anguish.”
 
A: “Well…but Jesus is different.”
 
B: “That’s right. Jesus is different. That’s what the word ‘holy’ means. It means ‘set apart’ or ‘different’. And Christians are called to be like Jesus. The word ‘Christian’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘follower of Christ.’ So a Christian is to be different, just as Jesus was different. So if what Jesus did was different than our own expectations of how we should act, we follow him, not our own expectations. Or would you say that Jesus was lacking in faith?”

On insecurity

“Do you think that you intimidate people?”
 
That was the question posed by my counselor. I went to see a counselor during the last quarter of law school. I had been feeling pretty crummy and wanted some professional help. I had told him that sometimes, I felt disconnected from people.
 
“What do you mean?”
 
“When I see you, I see an articulate, handsome, intelligent, well-dressed, and confident person. I can imagine some people feeling intimidated by that and feeling like they can’t get close to you.”
 
“Well, I guess so. I never really thought of it that way.”
 
This conversation came to mind because a friend recently asked me if I was dating anyone. When I said no, he said “That’s surprising, because you’re a catch, although I don’t think you realize that.”
 
You know, I spent a large part of my life believing the exact opposite thing about myself. I felt incredibly insecure and unhappy with myself. I treated everyone with kindness and treated myself with contempt.
 
Confession time: I once wrote a “Better than me” list. It was a list of all the guys I knew who were better than me in this or that category. This guy is smarter. This other guy has more money. This friend is more handsome. This dude has much more interesting things to see. I imagine that many of us do this exercise in our heads, but I wrote it down.
 
Why did I do this? Because sometimes it’s easier to give in to the lie than fight for the truth. You get so tired of fighting, that it’s tempting to say “OK, you win.” It’s tempting to stop hoping for happiness if you believe that you will never be happy. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but at least a hope that is dead can’t be crushed, right?
 
To be sure, I am much healthier now. I attribute my healing to God, family, community, and simple maturity. Here’s a couple things that I learned:
 
1) My identity is not centered on my relationship status. I am single, and have been for pretty much my entire life. Yet my sense of who I am does not center on my singleness. I have a full and satisfying life. While I do desire companionship, that desire is centered on a pursuit of a fuller experience of life. To put it another way: Life is awesome, and if I pursue a relationship, it’s to help make life even more awesome.
 
2) Objectively speaking, I have many positive qualities to offer. I think it’s appropriate to describe me as a thoughtful, kind, intelligent, understanding, and mature person. I possess a certain degree of physical attractiveness, and try to keep physically fit. Sure, I can be a bit formal sometimes (I’m not all that spontaneous and fun), and I have a lot of student loan debt (which I’m managing). But overall, I’m a good choice.
 
3) I don’t need to be ashamed of my history. Some people may mock me for my minimal relationship experience. That’s fine; if people believe that denigrating me for my personal life is a good use of their time, I would advise them to reexamine their own life choices. Certainly, I have experienced a great deal of loneliness and regret, and I still do from time to time, because old habits die hard. But as someone who believes in redemption, I believe that my story isn’t over yet. I believe that God can take the sadness that I have experienced and turn it into joy. In fact, it’s already happening.