Days of hope

This past Saturday, I was at UC Hastings College of the Law to interview law students for summer internships with my office. The interviews were part of the OneJustice Public Interest Public Sector Career. Law students from all over the Bay Area came to interview with scores of public interest employers. It was a busy day; I was interviewing students from 9 to 5.
As I was interviewing students, I was struck by their dedication and commitment to serving vulnerable communities. Several students grew up in low-income immigrant families, and had entered law school in order to serve people in their shoes. Other students did not have such personal experiences, but were eager to dedicate their summers to fighting for justice on behalf of others.
Not all of these students will go on to work in public interest after law school. Some will enter private practice in order to pay down their loans or provide more financial security for their families. But I believe that all of them will prove to be strong leaders for their communities.
Saturday was also the day of chaos and distress at San Francisco International Airport over the President’s executive order on immigration. While I wasn’t able to make it to SFO, I heard about many volunteer lawyers and protestors who went to the airport to support the individuals that were detained. I also heard about the lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Brooklyn and the temporary stay on the executive order.
In a strange way, then, Saturday was a day of hope. The news of the protestors and lawyers at airports across the country and the stories from these passionate law students lifted my spirits. There are dark days ahead. The world is full of fear. But I refuse to give in to cynicism and despair. There is life in the dedication and kindness of ordinary people.

Sick days

I’ve been sick the last few days. Shivers, aches, coughs, pain, stuffy nose. I’m better now, but it’s been a miserable week. I’m glad that I have sick time to stay home from work.
Times like this, I marvel at parents. Parents don’t get to call in a sick day. Well, maybe for certain situations, like co-parenting or having extended family or friends. But most parents don’t get a sick day from their kids. It was hard enough taking care of myself when I was barely functioning. I can’t fathom how I would take care of a child at the same time. And if the kid is sick too? Bad news all around.
So kudos to parents taking care of kids. And kudos to other caregivers, too, those of you taking care of sick family members or friends. I can only imagine how taxing and difficult that work is. Make sure to take care of yourself as you are able.
And be sure to wash your hands. I hear people are getting sick.

Kim’s Convenience

I learned about a great new show over winter break through my friend Milton Wu. It’s called “Kim’s Convenience”, on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), based on a play by the Korean-Canadian playwright Ins Choi. It’s about a Korean-Canadian family in Toronto that runs a convenience store. There’s “Appa” (the father), a stubborn yet warm-hearted man who takes great pride in being Korean. There’s “Umma” (the mother), a kind woman who keeps busy with the store, her kids, and church. There’s Jung, the 24-year-old son who has a sketchy past (he was kicked out from home when he was 16 for stealing from his dad), but has turned over a new leaf and is now working at a car rental. And there’s Janet, the 20-year-old art school student who still lives at home. The show also has a great supporting cast; I especially like Jung’s laid-back roommate and coworker Kimchee and Janet’s awkward classmate Gerald.

There’s some truly funny moments in this show that draw on Korean custom. For example, in one episode Jung “ddong-chims” Kimchee at work (to be fair, Kimchee was kind of asking for it). But Kimchee files a complaint of sexual harassment, and Jung has to explain to his boss what a ddong-chim is. FYI, ddong-chim (which means “poop needle”) is this thing that Korean kids do in which they put their hands together and poke each other in the butt. It’s a silly thing that kids do, and I would really hate to have to explain it at work.

But Korean culture shows up in subtle ways. In another episode, Appa visits a Hapkido studio with Janet. As he gets ready to leave, he bows to the teacher, Master Yang. Then Appa and Master Yang start doing that thing that Korean adults do, when they bow repeatedly while saying “annyoung-hee geseyo” and “annyoung-hee gasaeyo” (which means goodbye) and slowly backing away from each other. It’s a small point, but it really captures how Koreans behave.

What I also appreciate about the show is how it highlights the diversity of Toronto, especially with the customers in the store. In the same Hapkido episode, Appa talks to a customer who is a big fan of Taekwondo, another Korean martial art. The customer is a young man from Africa. I don’t know enough about African accents to guess where he came from, but I appreciate the fact that the writers understood that yes, people from Africa can also be fans of Korean martial arts. In fact, in the entire 13-episode season, I never saw a single Korean customer in the store.

However, I also appreciate that the writers avoided stereotypical tropes. In another episode, Janet starts dating Alex, a black man who is friends with Jung. You might think that the episode would be about how Appa and Umma don’t like that Janet is dating a black man, but nope. The central conflict is about Jung feeling weird about his sister dating his friend, a situation that everyone can understand.

For another example: In that same episode, Janet’s friend tells her that she should be more affectionate with Alex, since he is very affectionate with her. So later, when they are hanging out, Janet makes a point to kiss and hug Alex a lot. But then Janet says that she isn’t really comfortable with this level of affection. Now, Alex could have said “Oh, are you more reserved because you’re Asian?”, and then have Janet respond with the typical “I’m not acting this way just because I’m Asian!” approach. But the writers don’t go there. Instead, when Janet says that this level of affection “is nice, it just isn’t me”, Alex says “I never asked you to be anyone other than yourself”, and the whole “culture clash” storyline gets bypassed.

I also appreciate that the writers did not shy away from placing church in the show. For many Koreans, church plays an important role as both a spiritual and social hub, and the Kim family is no different, especially Umma. The show doesn’t make a point on whether religion is a good or a bad thing. Church is just a reality for the family. The church is also a surprising source of humor, especially with the rivalry and gossip between Umma and Mrs. Park.

“Kim’s Convenience” is a clever, funny, and heartfelt show about family, dreams, and independence. I wholeheartedly recommend it. The one issue is that the show is only available on Canada, and can’t be watched online outside of that country. So you’ll either need a VPN or another way to see the show. If you want to watch, let me know and I can help you out.

Learning from my mistakes

I’ve made a mistake.

I bought a Southwest Airlines plane ticket to go back to Oakland from LA. The flight was scheduled for yesterday, January 2nd. But a few days ago, I decided to drive up with a few friends on January 3rd. I wanted to cancel the ticket on January 1st (in case the driving plans fall through), and save the ticket funds for another trip.

Well, it’s January 3rd now, and I just realized that I had forgotten to cancel the flight. Thanks to Southwest’s no-show policy, the money is gone. It’s not a lot of money (just $100), but it’s still frustrating to lose it. I should have put a reminder in my calendar for January 1st to cancel the flight. I did that for my flight in December from Oakland to LA, but for some reason forgot to do it this time around.

But I realized something in this frustration: This is what many of my clients feel like all the time. They forget appointments or meetings and suffer the consequences. They lose track of documents or files. They can’t find the office where they need to go.

Yet my clients’ experiences are far more harrowing. I don’t have disabilities that limit my ability to get around or remember something. I am not homeless and don’t have to worry about my paperwork getting stolen. And what I lost was just $100; I didn’t lose my disability benefits or my housing or my parental rights.

If I make a mistake, the loss stings, but I can move on with my life. But for so many of my clients, their mistakes can lead to devastating consequences.

I hope that this experience helps me to have sympathy for my clients for when they mess up. And that I remember to make a reminder to cancel plane tickets.

Happy New Year!

The Korean way to say “Happy New Year” is “새해 복 많이 받으세요” (sae-hae bok mani baduh-sae-yo).
새해 (sae-hae) means “new year”.
복 (bok) means “luck” or “fortune”.
많이 (mani) means “much”.
받으세요 (baduh-sae-yo) is the polite form of 받다, which means “to receive”.
Translated literally, it means “new year fortune much please receive”. This is also why a word-for-word translation of Korean to English doesn’t make sense. And vice versa; a word for word translation of “Happy New Year” would be “행복한 새로운 년”, and we all know that that’s not correct.
I like the Korean greeting more than the English one (although I’m probably biased from hearing it all my life). “Happy New Year” seems to emphasize New Year’s Day itself, while “새해 복 많이 받으세요” is a blessing for the whole year. Moreover, receiving fortune in the year doesn’t necessarily mean that your year will be happy. By wishing “새해 복 많이 받으세요”, I am not necessarily wishing for your emotional satisfaction (although I am wishing for that), but more for your personal blessing.
In any case, “Happy New Year” and “새해 복 많이 받으세요” to all of you!