everything is political.

today, dr. christina blasey ford testified about her sexual assault by brett kavanaugh in front of a senate committee — and, well, the whole damn world — and, while it was encouraging and inspiring to see, once again, the courage of a woman to stand up for what she believes is right, even though she knows the system she’s up against is too powerful, it’s been an ugly day and a disappointing one. kavanaugh’s confirmation is an inevitability (or it feels overwhelmingly so), and the sham that was the 2016 election continues to reverberate even now, almost two years later, in this sham of a hearing.

but that’s not what i want to talk about, not right now.

this morning, i went to work and opened twitter and glanced at the news, then i opened instagram and started scrolling through my feed and stories and explore page. now, tonight, with my dog at my feet and crisp night air sifting in through the windows, i feel the need to put down in a post what i said in my instagram stories this morning. (they’ve also been pinned to my profile.)

to put it shortly: food is political. books are political. fashion is political. and, if you’re a public account, whatever your niche, the greater your following, the greater your responsibility to speak up and be clear about what you stand for.

i’ve been open about how my patience for instagram, specifically for influencers on instagram, has been dwindling, and it kind of blew up today as i was going through my feed and my stories and seeing the same old — book hauls, exorbitant product unboxings, fashion parties — and largely silence about the goings-on in DC. maybe there’d be a token post, a screencap with a quote, nothing personal given. maybe there’d be a tiny gesture, just enough to squeak by safely, so the poster could have something to point at to say, look, i’m paying attention! here’s something that’s been circulating on the internet that fits with my brand! i’m not saying that people need to be posting about political and social shit non-stop all the time, but today was particularly jarring, this blatant disconnect between food/books/etc accounts and dr. ford’s testimony and the GOP’s disgusting responses.

it’s also been jarring given that it’s banned books week, and we’ve been seeing plenty of photos of banned books, which makes the silence from prominent bookstagrammers ring even more because those books they’re so keen to show off have often been banned for telling stories of people whose rights are under threat today, whose lives kavanaugh’s confirmation makes even more perilous.

and, yes, i do mean lives, actual, physical, mortal lives, because don’t delude yourself for one goddamn minute that people’s lives aren’t at stake here..

because lest you forget, women die without access to safe abortion. they die because of sexual and domestic violence. they die because their pain is dismissed and ignored because they’re women and women’s pain is diminished, not heard and taken seriously.

queer people die because of violence committed against them, because they have the audacity to exist and love. they die because they’re so bullied, so dehumanized, so isolated that they take their own lives. they die because they’re chased out of their homes, cut out of their families, forced onto the streets with no support system.

people of color die because of racism, because the color of their skin carries prejudice and stereotypes that erase their humanity. they die because they’re denied refuge, even though they came to this country to flee violence and deportation means they will be killed — there is no doubt about that. people of color die doing the work in this country that white people, no matter how desperate, will never deign to do.

these are all things those banned books are about because writers write in response to the shit that goes on in the world. those banned books people are stacking so proudly, so prettily, were written to illuminate something about the world because writers know — books exist in dialogue with the world, because nothing — NOTHING — exists in a vacuum. you cannot separate art from the political because art is political, just like you cannot separate food from the political, not when it is the political that mandates what kind of food is made available and accessible to which groups of people. don’t forget that this country produces enough food to feed all its people and more. it is the political that means so many people, so many children, in this country go hungry.

so don’t give me your excuses, and don’t you dare sit there trying to claim that food isn’t political, that books aren’t political, that you can somehow detach yourself from the political. have the decency and courage to make it clear where you stand because silence is damning and privilege is an ugly thing that reinforces this toxic, patriarchal, classist white society that is meting out incredible amounts of harm to women, POC, queer people, immigrants, people of faiths other than christianity.

when you have a platform, whether it’s to a following of a few thousand or hundreds of thousands or millions, and you refuse to make it clear where you stand, your silence makes you complicit.

[AK] now, where were we?

hi. i’m sorry i’ve been away. and that i disappeared after that last post, no checking in even to say that, hi, i’m okay, i’m still here, i’m doing better.

i’ve been neglecting this space, and that hasn’t been intentional. the summer has been a difficult but busy one, and it’s been a fruitful, productive one. i’ve been taking a memoir workshop online through catapult, and, every wednesday evening, my heart has been swelling with gratitude and love because i’m in a great cohort, and this has been an exciting journey overall, this whole foray into creative non-fiction, which also just wouldn’t have been possible without this blog space and without instagram.

there are changes afoot, though.

two weeks ago, i set my instagram to private and transitioned a different instagram account into a public one. i’m changing the way i approach content here in this space, though i don’t know yet what that will look like — or, really, more accurately, what that will read like. the new public instagram will focus mostly on books, some food and travel scattered in there but primarily books; i wasn’t planning to keep a public instagram page again yet; but i want to continue advocating for great books and, particularly, for great books by asian diasporic writers and that requires a public space.

i do want to transition this space away from the largely, intensely personal and shift gears a little to focus more on books and travel. that doesn’t mean the personal will disappear because i don’t believe it’s really possible to write well about books and travel without the personal, but i don’t know quite how i mean to practice any of that, just that things are shifting and changing, and that’s exciting and scary and, frankly, necessary.


so, let’s talk books — or let’s talk reading.

i haven’t been reading that much this year because the reality is that i just don’t have as much time and energy for reading as i used to. this summer, particularly, has been a busy, agitated one. my boss at work has been giving me more to do, having me take accounting classes online, so every single day is incredibly disheartening and challenging because i feel dumb as rocks at work. i know i’m not dumb; i have a good brain; but it is not one that does well with financial or economic concepts, which is somehow not acceptable to admit, coming from a world where the mindset is don't ever give up on things we deem worthwhile and "practical," even if you destroy yourself in the process. i think a lot about that quote that says something about putting a fish on land and it’ll think it’s a fool because it can’t walk — i feel like that, and i feel like that every single goddamn day because i’m constantly reminding myself, you’re not dumb, you’re not dumb, you’re not dumb. just because you don’t get accounting doesn’t mean you’re dumb. it's okay not to get this shit and admit that.

it’s too bad i waste so much brain space and energy every day.

that’s one reason i haven’t been reading much.

the other reason, though, is a much better one — i haven’t been reading much because i’ve been writing. i’ve been trying to write.

earlier this summer, i finally launched my food zine, the things left behind, and i post to that twice a month. i’ve been trying to figure out how to do an accompanying newsletter to that. i’ve been editing an essay that looks like it might have a future (omg!). and, like i mentioned earlier, i’ve been taking a memoir writing workshop, which means … i’ve been writing a memoir-in-essays.

all that pretty much explains why this space has gone neglected for so long. i feel bad because my last post was pretty intense, though i don’t feel bad for posting it, for filling it with sadness and anger and fury at a judgmental, condescending world that takes lives. i do feel bad because it’s a heavy thing to leave at the top of a page for so long, to leave without following up to say, hey, i’m okay. i’m still here. i went through a bad depressive, suicidal episode earlier this summer, but i got through it with my puppy, my therapist, my meds, my people, and social media.

and so we go on.

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i went to alaska this summer, and i’d intended for that to be my “comeback” post, but it just won’t write. alaska was beautiful, and the trip was fine, but it was also complicated in the way that personal shit is complicated, and there was an ugly dramatic lead-up to the trip that didn’t need to happen.

i also wanted to write about that bullshit SCOTUS cake decision, but i haven’t been able to sit down and parse through my feelings and write down my arguments in a cohesive way.

i also wanted to write a post about glossier and skincare and beauty … but, again, these words haven’t been coming, and i haven’t been able to sit down and try to find them, not when i’ve already been doing the emotionally intensive act of writing a memoir. and so i’ve been thinking — how can i best use this space? what sorts of stories should i tell here?


i’m drafting this in mexico city, and i’m here for a few days. i’ve been looking forward to this trip for months, making lists of things to eat and bookstores and libraries to visit, and i was hoping for it to be a full-on creative holiday, except i couldn’t finish my accounting coursework, so i’ve had to bring it with me. i’m not happy about that, but i didn’t get to it in the lead-up to this trip because i was writing — i have the structure of this memoir-in-essays scaffolded, and i have a few pieces drafted, and it’s in the hands right now of my catapult cohort. i was also working on my posts for my food zine. both these things were due the day or two before my flight, and i’m stupid proud of how much writing i did, how much my output can be.

anyway, so, i’m in mexico city, and i have my accounting coursework that i’ll do in the evenings with beer and mangoes and snacks, and, to be honest, i’m typing out this last bit of this post on the flight in. i’m planning on checking in at my airbnb and going straight for tacos and churros, maybe making a quick pitstop first for water and mangoes at the market that’s supposed to be across the street from my airbnb.

the next few days will hopefully be a blur of food and architecture and colors, all of which i can’t wait to share. it’s a good opportunity to figure out how to tell stories of travel.


i’m doing a fair amount of traveling this fall actually. in two weeks, i’m home in brooklyn for the brooklyn book festival, then i’m planning on hopping up to the bay area at the end of september or in early october. i’ll be in austin at the end of october for the texas book festival and then in portland for 36 hours for the portland book festival. my family’s going for either our usually extended family gathering in baltimore or a smaller extended family gathering in boston during thanksgiving, and that’s a trip that was going to end in boston, anyway, so, wherever the family gathers, i’ll be in boston for a few days at the end of november.

all of this travel is only made possible by the fact that my mum has kindly given me many of her miles and points. and hurrah for airbnb and friends who so kindly let me crash on their spare beds!

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nix what i wrote above — i’m writing this last bit of this post in a cafe, and my phone has 5% battery left, and i need to make sure to have enough to get back to my airbnb. i slept like shit last night, partly because of an uncomfortable bed, partly because i don’t sleep well in new places in general, partly because i just don’t sleep well in general. apparently, the altitude here makes sleep harder, too.

this isn’t supposed to be a post about CDMX, though, so maybe i’ll just end things here. or maybe i’ll throw in some book talk while i’m here and while i’ve got you because i have been reading, just very little and not as often.

i read porochista khakpour’s sick (harper perennial, 2018) on my flights to and from anchorage, and it was my online book club’s pick for july. i’m afraid to report that i didn’t love it, that i tried hard to love it but couldn’t, found it fairly shallow and hard to track sometimes because there's a lot in there and because all of khakpour’s boyfriends sound like the same person — he’s always white, always privileged, always has some familial connection to lyme. i did love the rare moments when khakpour becomes more reflective and offers thoughts on her experience instead of simply relating her experience — though, yes, i acknowledge and agree that there is huge value in a woman simply narrating her experience with chronic illness and with being a woman with chronic illness, her physical pain dismissed unless it is somehow linked to the psychological.

that said, i’m not the biggest fan of memoirs that are just narrative tellings because i personally look for more. i want self-reflection, self-awareness, and maybe that’s a lot to ask for, but i wonder what the purpose is in a memoir otherwise — memoirs that simple recount narratives and focus entirely on one’s self feel often like navel-gazing, which maybe sounds more cynical than i actually intend. and, also, which is not something i necessarily think khakpour is doing in sick.

i also recently finished sakaya murata’s convenience store woman (grove, 2018), which was short but so, so smart, deftly capturing the workings of a japanese conbini and commenting on japanese society overall. i don’t know how other people have been reading this novella, but i found it pretty uniquely japanese, that, while there is a universal application, maybe, to the points murata makes, she is specifically addressing japan, directing her criticism to that society.

personally, i find books like convenience store woman and, even, han kang’s the vegetarian interesting because they’re books in-translation and they read (to me, at least) as fairly unique to their respective societies and cultures — and that’s interesting because, clearly, someone in the west found them interesting, too, connected with something, though, sometimes, i wonder if that’s more to do with exoticism and that sense of the Other, which, again, maybe sounds more cynical than i actually intend.  i find there’s a shit-ton to explore when it comes to translation; there’s so much we should question about how books are chosen and decided upon and who these gatekeepers are.

i mean, we should be examining that shit all the time, even when it comes to the books we’re reading that don’t go through the additional hurdles of translation. there’s a reason mostly dead white men are the authors of books we’re taught are “classics” and “the greats," and that's bullshit.


i've also been reading nicole chung’s forthcoming memoir, all you can ever know (catapult, forthcoming 2018), but i haven’t finished it yet because i’ve been sitting on the last twenty pages. i don’t want this book to end because nicole’s writing is just so full of heart and love and wisdom and grace, and i’ve been going around saying this all over social media, but i’ll say it here, too: if you read one book this year, let it be all you can ever know. it is just so. freaking. good.


there are other books i’ve been reading recently that i could talk about, but i think i’ll give my thumbs a break and leave y’all with photos from alaska instead. i wanted to have longer posts about alaska, but i unfortunately keep coming up blank. there will hopefully be a few mexico city posts, though — if anything, there will be quite a few added to the food zine!

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how to live a life.

this post has proven to be inordinately difficult to write, and i’ve drafted it multiple times, then thrown away my draft every time. part of it is that i feel the need to write this well. the other part is that i am still terrified every time i talk about mental health because i can’t talk about mental health without talking about my mental health and i’m currently looking for another job (or more freelance work — either one), and i can’t help but fear that my openness about living with depression (for starters) will make me an undesirable employee, full-time or contract or freelance or otherwise.

i write against that fear, though, because that fear is responding to the very stigma i’m fighting to pull apart and eradicate. i write against that fear, too, because i know it’s stupid — i have a full-time job that i show up to every single damn day, that i do the work for, that i then go home from and do all the other work that means something to me. i work a full-time job, and, still, i create content for this site, do freelance writing and editing projects, read, cook, care for my puppy. i work a full-time job and do all that stuff, and i wrote a full-length novel-in-stories.

my mental health has never stopped me, so i don’t understand why i should shut up about it just because a hiring committee has a warped view of it. so here it is.

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it was 6 am in los angeles when i learned of anthony bourdain’s death by suicide.

i was pulled to the side of the road, scarfing down a bowl of oatmeal because i was running late to soulcyle and needed to eat something so i could actually make it through the workout. as is habit, i opened up instagram, and the app opened to a black square, a new post by david chang, nothing but lyrics in the caption.

a black square means some kind of grieving. the comments said it was anthony bourdain.


the first weekend of may, my parents and i drove down to riverside to pick up a puppy. i’d been looking for a dog to adopt off-and-on for about two years now because i wanted my parents to have a dog, and i’d intensified my search last year, trawling the internet and searching for adoptable dogs that fit our criteria: small, hypoallergenic, young.

my parents wanted a bichon because my aunt has two bichons, but i didn’t want to go through a breeder because i don’t believe in the need to breed dogs unless for very specific purposes. it’s hard to find an adoptable dog when your search is so narrow, though, so the search went on. we went to see other dogs once or twice, getting closest with an abandoned litter of poodle/terrier mixes that almost passed muster, except they still shed too much.

and, then, i came across a post on craigslist for a bichon puppy. he was 8 weeks old. we didn’t know his story then, but there was a phone number, so we texted and called and arranged to go see him and bought a crate and bed and food and a toy and bowls just in case. it turned out he was with this older couple whose sister had a bichon pair who had had a puppy, and they’d been keeping him alone in the garage, this little eight-week-old floof-ball who’d only very recently been weaned and removed from his mother, who shook with fear when i first picked him up, easing into my arms as i scratched him and let him lick me.

he didn’t cry or throw up or pee the entire 2-hour ride home.

we named him 곰 (gom, with a long-O, korean for “bear”).


when i first heard of anthony bourdain’s death by suicide, the first thing i felt was sadness delivered as a punch in the gut, but then the next thing was anger. deaths by suicide make me both profoundly sad and profoundly angry, and it’s not anger directed at the one who has died by suicide — no, i can understand him, understand how acutely he must have hurt to take his own life — it’s anger at the world that allows this to happen and then sits in judgment when it does.

i firmly believe that we should not be losing lives to suicide, that we would not be losing lives to suicide if society, if people as a group could get its shit together and stop actively and willfully stigmatizing mental illness, depression, and suicide and enshrouding them in shame — and, if you’re opening your mouth to argue, but, na, it’s not fair to blame other people for people taking their lives!, let me stop you right there.

(i’m going to talk specifically about depression and suicidal thinking here, but this goes for any kind of mental illness.)

depression, as it is, is a silencer. it locks you in isolation and solitude and makes you curl up inside some dark corner in your brain, and it shuts you off to the world. it shuts you off to yourself. it taps into your mental reserve of all the negative shit anyone has ever said to you, picks out the things that target your softest spots, and blares them on loop on maximum volume, so that you know you’re worthless, a failure, a loser who deserves to be alone because who would love you, want to be with you, when you’re a burden and don’t bring anything of value or worth?

then add in the condescending, judgement shaming by the people around you and by the world-at-large, and there's where why i have zero tolerance for shame.

it is not anyone’s responsibility to keep people alive, but it definitely falls on people’s shoulders if they’re benefiting from and contributing to a system or a worldview that directly harms others. you might think this is a stretch, but that’s complicity, whether we’re talking about racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia or, hey, the shaming of mental illness — and mental illness is part of a system, and it is about power and who gets to tell their stories and the stories that get to be told because that all has to do with acceptance, with what is deemed acceptable and not.

as in pretty much every other situation involving a marginalized group, i don’t really care to hear from people with “normal” brains about mental health because no matter how many academic papers you read or how many “mentally ill” people you know or interact with, you will never know the unique hurdles and struggles the mentally ill face. on a related note, it actually really pisses me off how many narratives we have from people who have lost people to suicide, not because they’re writing about their grief but because they’re trying to tell the stories of the people who’ve died by suicide, like writing these stories will somehow answer that question “why.”

(to be blunt, you’ll never find an answer to that question.)

it pisses me off because it makes me think how much of a difference it would make if people would learn to listen to the mentally ill, the suicidal, the depressed while we’re alive. sometimes, i understand why mental illness might scare “normal”-brained people so much; mental illness, after all, feels so unknowable because brains are still so unknowable; and i kind of, sort of (not really) get that fear of the unknown. that’s all an excuse, though, and it’s one that we’ve accepted for so long, perpetuating this notion that the mentally ill should be feared, that the “crazy” should be avoided or locked away or hidden away, and look where we’ve ended up — we live a world where we’re losing lives we shouldn’t to suicide.

and don’t get me wrong — you do not have to be famous or well-known to be a life worth living and knowing and valuing. you do not have to be a public figure or influential or whatever to be a life that should not be lost. as much as i mourn the loss of public figures like anthony bourdain, choi jinsil, lee jonghyun, i also mourn and fear for the lives of “regular” people, and maybe part of me admittedly mourns for all of us more, fears for all of us because the truth is it doesn't matter how much you have or how well you're known — the loss of any single one of us to suicide is one loss too many.

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going back to complicity, though: see, every time you laugh at a joke about mental illness or suicide, you reinforce shame. every time you write someone off as being crazy, you reinforce shame. every time you dramatize a situation by saying, oh, i’m so depressed, or oh, i’m so anxious, every time you conflate moodiness to bipolarity, you reinforce shame.

because, hi, words matter, and, when you render something laughable, you suck it of meaning. when you diminish something by making it banal and everyday, you suck it of meaning, and, more than that, you remove from it the seriousness with which it should be treated.

depression is not sadness. it is not the blues. it is not a mere emotion you sit with for a while and move on from with ice cream or friendly faces or whatnot. depression is a debilitating illness that totally alters the way you see the world and affects your ability to function. sometimes, on good days, it just makes living harder. other times, on bad days, it makes everything impossible — and here is where i protest the opening to this blog post, despite the fact that i wrote it: i do not need to be a high-functioning depressive in order for it to be okay for me to talk about this.

i’m going to pivot a little here to something i hear a lot about suicidal thinking because it’s connected. there’s this idea that people who are “really” suicidal won’t ever talk about it because they don’t want to be saved. sometimes, yes, it is the case that we won’t talk about how suicidal we are, though there are often a lot of reasons behind that — maybe we don't want to be talked out of it, maybe we don't want to be condescended to, maybe we're sick of being asked "why," maybe we don't want to talk, period, maybe we just don't trust you. whatever the reason, that has nothing to do with how suicidal someone “really” is; if you’re thinking about dying, if you’re thinking about ending your life, if you’re thinking about a plan and figuring out steps to achieve that end, you are suicidal, and talking about it, voicing your fears that you might take your own life does not suddenly delegitimize the fact that you are suicidal.

because, hi, i’m suicidal. i’ve been severely suicidal for the last six weeks. and i’ve been making myself talk about it. if you want to question if i’m “really” suicidal or not, then, well, fuck you.

and that’s where we loop back to the fact that i do not need to be a high-functioning depressive for it to be okay to talk about this, just like i don’t need to live past this suicidal episode for it to be okay for me to talk about it. honestly? screw survival narratives. screw this idea that we need to “survive” shit to be able to talk about how shitty it was. screw this mentality that we have to have some kind of message to share in order to talk about this shit we live with.

because honestly? sometimes, this is it. sometimes, the really cold, brutal truth is that we don’t survive. and, if anything, that is why we need to tell our stories now, in this time that we are here and we are alive.


we brought our puppy home as i was sliding back into a suicidal, depressive episode, and this puppy has been keeping me alive these last few weeks. i was talking to my therapist about him the other week, and she made the point that emotional service animals aren’t considered emotional service animals just because they make us happy — they’re emotional service animals because we need to take care of them, and taking care of them is one way of caring for ourselves.

in other words, self-care looks like a hell of a lot of things.

it’s true, though. on days when i can’t get myself to care for myself, to get out of bed or shower or eat, my puppy still needs to be taken out to potty, fed, and played with. my puppy needs to be bathed and groomed, his teeth brushed, his nails clipped. my puppy needs to be taken to the vet, and he needs to be taken on car rides to meet other people, other puppies (now that he’s vaccinated) because socializing and traveling are essential things he needs to learn.

caring for him makes me care for myself because i can’t care for him without caring for myself — and, while we’re talking about self-care, let’s talk a little about what we can do if we’re living with mental illness, whatever it is. (though, again, because depression is the topic here, i’ll specifically refer to that.)

i firmly believe that treating depression is doing everything. it’s going to therapy (if able) and taking meds (if needed). it’s learning to be honest and open about the shit that’s going on in your head — you are your best (and, sometimes, honestly, your only) advocate because what you’re feeling, how you’re hurting and despairing and giving up, those things are knowable only to you, and no one can help you unless you speak up first. it’s exercising, going outside, getting sun and fresh air and feeling the goddamn wind on your skin. it’s seeing people, even if all you can do is sit at the end of the table, nursing the same cup of coffee the whole bloody time. it’s caring for your pup, your cat, your plants. it’s doing something nice for someone, and, y’know, yeah, sometimes, it’s looking at the shit going on in the world and writing an email or donating to an organization or retweeting something to give it a boost.

trying to dismantle depression is doing everything you can that might work.

personally, i see my therapist and take meds and meet with my psychiatrist every few weeks. i take care of my puppy, and i make pasta by hand and blanche and peel a stupid amount of tomatoes to make sauces and remake the same goddamn potato brioche over and over again even as it keeps failing. i listen to a lot of moody music. i cry. i go to bed early even if i can’t sleep, and i do pilates and soul cycle, and i say yes to everyone who’s kind enough to ask if i want to get food or coffee and stop by a bookstore. i try to reach out and ask people if they want to get food or coffee and stop by a bookstore. i reply to all the DMs i get on instagram, and i go on long drives. i follow my crush on instagram and smile every time she does (or i used to, until that started making my depression worse, so i unfollowed, which is also something i do to care for myself, unfollow people who make things worse). i do everything — hell, i even go to work. i go to my shitty disposable day job that i hate because that sticking to that routine is, in itself, a form of fighting the suicidal depression i live with.


usually, i’ll draft these posts and edit them, but this is just going up before i can sit here and overthink everything. this isn’t a post i really intended to write (i’m trying to write a post breaking down the bullshit SCOTUS decision on the colorado cake case), but i don’t know — this has been weighing on me the last few weeks, and the last few weeks have been difficult.

so, hey, i’ll leave you with this: be kind to yourself, and be kind to the people around you. depression doesn’t discriminate; it doesn’t care how much you have or don’t, how much you’ve earned or haven’t, how famous you are or are not; and a little bit of kindness goes a long way. you never know what someone is going through just by observing her/him/them, and no one will ever know what you’re going through until you give voice to it, express it in words, and try to be understood.

there is no shame in living with any of this, and living with a mental illness doesn’t make you any less human. it doesn’t make your life any less valuable, and it doesn’t make you any less worthy of love or respect. you are just as human and precious and wonderful as anyone with a “normal” brain, and you’re here on this earth at this moment because you should be. i firmly believe that.

so here’s a stupid number of photos of my puppy because he's adorable and makes me smile, and here’s that thing i’ve been saying over and over again and will keep saying over and over again: stay. stay because you deserve to be here. stay because you are someone to be proud of. stay because you are fully deserving of love and kindness and generosity. stay because you are fully human. stay because only you can be who you are.

do whatever you to do to stay alive, and stay.

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here, who you are is enough.

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i was going to post a series of blog posts from my weekend back home in new york two weeks ago, but i’m still not quite sure how i want go about doing it. do i want to go day by day, so it’s like a series of daily blog posts that go through my days in order or do i want to do one giant recap post or do i want to do this or that or this or that — and part of this dilemma has to do with finding myself in a creative rut, and another part has to do with my desire to keep evolving.

last year, when i was last home, i did a series of daily recap-like blog posts. i have a history of struggling (or just flat-out being unable) to do the same thing twice.

usually, when i think about blog posts, i think visually first. i think about the visual story i want to tell as i go through my photographs and edit them, and i lay the post out first, creating a draft with a title and arranging my edited photos. sometimes, the first draft works, and, then, i can go about drafting the words to go with it, but, sometimes, i need to mess around with it, rearranging things, removing some photos and adding others, etcetera etcetera etcetera, until i’m happy when i scroll through it and have an idea of the words i want to write to accompany it.

this time is weird. i lay out my visual drafts for all five days, and i’d normally be happy with them, but i want to do something different.

so i’m typing out these words first, hoping this post coalesces somehow as i vomit words onto this google doc.


being home was great, and it was so, so freeing because a literal weight lifts off my shoulders every time my plane lands at JFK. this time was a little weird because i had so much anxiety and nervous energy and stress leading up to my flight, and i took a red-eye, which i swore never to do again, so i landed at JFK at 4:30 in the morning, got a shitty bagel and even shittier coffee (more like coffee-flavored water) at dunkin donuts, and sat around, catching up on the korea summit and waiting for a more sane hour to head over to my friend’s apartment.

i knew i was home because i could feel that lightness, that ease in my body, in my bones, but my brain was so groggy, it was like, whaaaaat, where are we again? are we even awake?

it took a two-hour nap for my brain to catch up with my body.


maybe the flipside to being home when home isn’t where i currently reside is that i have to leave home after my allotted time, and leaving is always hard. i’m not shy about my loathing of los angeles, and i’m not apologetic for it either because, sometimes, some of us have cities that belong to us, just like some of us have cities that have meted out so much damage and harm and pain that it is impossible for us to be there.

los angeles is the latter city to me. it’s the city where i was broken down, my sense of self and identity reduced to my weight and size, the city where i learned to hate and despise myself because i wasn’t thin, and, if i wasn’t thin, i couldn’t be pretty, i couldn’t get a job, i couldn’t be loved. it’s the city where i learned that thinness was first and foremost, that i couldn’t be good or wanted or acceptable as long as i wasn’t a size 0 — or maybe that’s unfair of me; maybe no one expected me to be a size zero, exactly, but my size 14, my size whatever-i-was-before-i-started-thinking-about-my-body was not okay.

i was not okay.

i spent much of my adolescence and young adulthood wanting to disappear my body and, in connect, disappear myself, and maybe that sounds like nothing of much consequence to you, but that kind of toxic shit bleeds into everything. i didn’t date. i couldn’t apply to jobs. i avoided social settings and meeting new people who might look at me and be repulsed and i didn’t want to see that on stranger’s faces when it was bad enough to see that repulsion on the faces of people i knew, people who were supposed to love me. i wore a uniform of long pants and long shirts and dark colors, all day, every day, and i grew up in the valley where temperatures hit triple digits during the summer. i wore long pants and long shirts and dark colors even then.

i avoided any and all kinds of conflict, and i never sent back a wrong order, and i always apologized, always, always, always. i hated flying. i always sat in aisle seats, so i’d never have to ask someone to move or have to crawl over someone. i avoided concert halls, auditoriums, anywhere with that tiny-ass stadium seating and non-existent aisles.

i never gave myself the permission to write or to pursue the things i was actually interested in, like a grad program in comparative lit. i repressed all my interest in and love of food. i learned to count calories instead, hate myself when i didn’t work out, beat myself up mentally whenever i ate something i “shouldn’t have.” i feel so freaking lucky i didn’t suffer from bulimia; i don’t know how i avoided that fate; but, somehow, i did.

there was all that, and then there was my inability to stand up for myself in the workplace, to say, i want this position, and i am fully qualified for it, to express interest and speak up. i’m lucky i never had any employers who took advantage of my spinelessness, but, sometimes, i stop and think of all the opportunities i lost simply because i didn’t have the confidence in myself to believe that i deserved this job or that, to put myself forward as a capable person instead of shrinking back in silence and self-deprecation.

you could argue that that isn’t just because of all the body shaming, but i’d tell you to stuff it and shut up when someone’s telling you about her damage. maybe she knows it’s complicated. maybe she knows it better than you because it’s the life she’s lived.

maybe she knows better than you because she knows who she was before the body shaming started and she knows who she’s become after she fled los angeles and started to heal.

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part of me wonders often if maybe i shouldn’t be turning some of this into personal essays and submitting them to publications, but i’m also at a point where i’m wearied and bruised with the whole process. i’ve got an e-mail sitting in my inbox right now, and i should open it, but i’m 99.9% certain that it’s another rejection from another agent because the preview is too formal, too distant, and i recognize that tone. thank you for submitting this, but. you’re a strong writer, but. i like your writing, but.

i don’t take it personally because i know not all writing is for everyone and not all writing is for everyone, anyway. i know that rejection is part of the process. i know writers have walls of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rejection slips.

at this point, i just want something. it’s been ten, lonely-as-hell years of working on a book, trying to find it a person and a home, and it’s been ten years of thanks, but. and maybe this is where being plugged into a community of writers might be helpful or to have some kind of mentor or something — but i don’t know. i’m starting to think, wow, what a colossal waste of ten years. where do you go from here when this is all you have???


two saturdays ago, my parents and i drove down to riverside to get a puppy. i’ve been looking for a dog to adopt for over two years now, more seriously in the year or so i’ve been back in los angeles, and i finally found this puppy on craigslist, a two-month-old bichon that an older couple was trying to rehome. we had no idea if we’d be coming home with this puppy, but we got all the basic essentials — a crate, bed, food, toys, bowls, snacks, a collar — and drove down two hours, our fingers and toes crossed.

we brought him home that night, and i cradled him as we drove back up, and he was calm and curious, alternating between napping peacefully in my lap and climbing all over me to see out the window, to sniff behind my head, to curl up against my shoulder. my father played some yo-yo ma, and the pup perked his ears and looked around, wondering at the sound. we were stopped in traffic, and the pup sat up, watching the lights from opposing traffic bouncing off the car ceiling. he didn’t pee or vomit or cry, and he didn’t shake either, bouncing up for kisses and demanding more scratches.

we named him (gom, with a long O), which is korean for “bear” because he looks like a bear and because my father’s nickname as a child was “bear” and the pup is technically for him. technically, gom’s supposed to be a companion for my parents. of course, though, gom’s become more and more mine, that right thing at the right time.


what a colossal waste of ten years.

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i’ve been thinking about bodies a lot because, while i was in new york, i thought a lot about why i love it so. new york is a city that has always been kind to me, yes, but it’s a difficult city, one that wounds and wounds deeply. i had to leave because i couldn’t “make it,” because i couldn’t find a full-time job or enough (better) freelancing gigs, and it’s an anxiety that’s a constant source of stress, that i’ll somehow find my way back but, still, be unable to “make it.”

that requires the faith, though, that somehow i will find myself back.

the truth, though, is that i ran out of faith a long time ago, and i still don’t have much of it at all. i don’t believe things will change, just like i don’t believe that anything i’ve worked so hard for will come to anything — and maybe all this currently feels dangerous because i’ve been thinking of deleting all my book files, just to put some kind of final end to all this stupid endeavor, except that does make me feel bitter, all this time, all these years, all the sacrifices and reckless decisions just to end up nowhere.

except no one forced me to make said shitty decisions, and thus the cycle of self-loathing continues.

it’s all connected, though, writing, bodies, life, hopelessness, my state of mind. some people like to connect my depression with new york, like it was new york that wrecked my brain, and even i can’t deny that the financial stressors of the city contributed to my descent in 2016. that’s a grossly and condescendingly simplistic correlation, though, because my brain was one that knew suicidal depression long before i moved back to new york, and i clearly remember the first time i thought i’d take my life. i was in middle school. i was kneeling in the middle of my room, leaning on my chair.  i didn’t know much about anything then, thought a x-acto knife could do enough.

i’d carry this through college, gain back a ton of weight my first year in college because that was the only way i could cope, could pretend i was okay, and, then, in december 2009, i’d try again, hate myself for not being able to cut past the pain and for that sliver of hope inside me that said, stay. stay alive. just stay. and then there would be spring 2013, in my second semester of law school (my mother still doesn’t seem to get it; i withdrew from law school to save my life), and then may 2015, december 2016 … and then, who knows, the longer i stay in california, the greater that threat becomes.

because i fled los angeles in 2012, broken and damaged with no sense of self and no ability to speak up for myself and who i was and what i wanted. i spent five years in new york, slowly, slowly, slowly healing, slowly and painstakingly piecing myself together and learning to be kinder to myself, to value myself, to be okay with myself, and, by 2016, even with the suicidal depression and anxiety fraying the threads of my entire self, i was at least a human being then, one who was maybe splintering and falling apart but knew, at her core, at least, who she was, what she was capable of, what she wanted from her life.

and then i had to come back to los angeles, back to a place that continues to make it clear that i am not good enough, not thin enough, not soft-spoken enough, not hetero, christian, gracious enough, and all i can say is that there’s a lot of shit in the world and a lot of shitty people, but, still, nothing makes me angrier than people who berate girls and tear them down for their looks, for their weight, instead of building them up and teaching them to stand tall — their bodies are good enough. they are good enough.

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i don’t know why i wrote all that. i don’t actually have that much anger about my past, about what i was put through, because it’s the past and what’s done is done. that doesn’t mean that i stop carrying the effects of such intense, intentional body shaming, though, and that doesn’t mean i no longer have to deal with all the consequences from it. and the fact that i am the one who has to carry the damage means that i want to (and get to) speak out about it, in the hopes that, maybe, if you’re body shaming your kid or your friend or your whatever, even if you have “good” intentions, maybe you’ll take a second to pause and think about what you’re really doing to that person you claim to love, and, maybe, just maybe, you’ll stop before it’s too late.


in new york, i try to see everyone i can. i inevitably can’t because i’m there for five days and i also need time and space for myself, but i see everyone i can, getting meals and coffee and drinks, talking, laughing, catching up. i miss this. i miss having people. los angeles has always been and still is a supremely lonely town.


the first time i cried in therapy, we were a few months in, and i’m surprised it took so long for me to cry. my therapist and i have talked about a lot of crap, too, from body shaming to identity to the stagnancy of my life, but it’s when we start talking about people that i crack.

i think you’re lonely, she says.

sometimes, i wonder, if i weren’t lonely, if i hadn’t grown up lonely because that’s also a natural by-product of wanting to disappear your body, if i hadn’t been so lonely through my college years and early young adulthood, would i even be writing here?


there are a lot of cautions when it comes to writing so personally in a public space. i, too, wonder about this, and i worry about it, too, the kind of impact such stupid honesty might have. i wonder if this space isn’t an additional reason i can’t get a job, but, then, i think that, and that annoys me, this idea that i should hide or be ashamed of this shit i’ve gone through, the shit i live with, like you haven’t gone through shit or live with shit, either. what makes you so much better? you’re no better or more a human because you don’t take meds or get around without assistance or deal with normal levels of depression and anxiety. actually, i kind of think people who look down on people who take meds, need assistance, and live with mental and/or physical illness are kind of shitty people, and i don’t want them in my life.


because that’s related to shame, isn’t it? we’re made to feel like we should be ashamed because we’re not in “perfect” health. and maybe that’s the thing about love — it’s impossible (or, at least, very difficult) to believe in love when there is shame attached to it. like, my cousin is getting married in korea this summer, and no one’s enthused about going because it’s july and korea in july is hot and humid hell, but i’ve volunteered to go because i can swing by japan on my way and because, well, i have my reasons.

i’m not going, though, and it’s not because of financial reasons or work reasons or anything.

my body is too big for korea, and i don’t speak deferentially, demurely, and i don’t eat prettily, and, thus, i would bring shame on my family.

how can you believe in love when that supposed love is so ashamed of you?

what is love even then, and is it worth much at all?

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i did open that e-mail, and it said exactly what i thought it would.


on my first day in new york, i get my hands on an ARC of crystal hana kim’s forthcoming novel, if you leave me. it’s a sweeping historical novel set in korea, starting during the war and spanning into the early aughts, and we follow a few characters, though the main character is haemi. she’s a first daughter and an older sister to a sick, much-younger brother. her father has died in the war. she is to be married and have children, and she isn’t educated because she’s a girl, no matter the fact that she has a sharp brain and a desire to learn.

she marries a boy her mother approves her, and he’s a boy from seoul, but he isn’t the boy she loves. she marries him, anyway, and they have children, all daughters, and they’re not exactly hurting, not financially, after the war. her husband is a landowner; she’s a housewife; and one of the things kim gets at so well is the toxicity of an intensely patriarchal culture, one that represses its women and embeds toxic masculinity in its men.

the scary part of all that, maybe, is how all of it is still so relevant today. while i was reading if you leave me, i knew it was a historical novel, but i never stopped thinking about korea today, about the patriarchy today, about the expectations placed on women to marry and breed and defer to their husbands and give up their ambitions and wants for the sake of their families and accept their husbands’ infidelities and egoes and violences because men are men and what are men to do when their wives are pregnant or nagging or demanding? all women have to do is care for the children and cook meals and stuff. that’s nothing like going to work to provide for the family.

women’s work isn’t "real" work.

that sounds like antiquated thinking, but the thing is it’s really not.


maybe one thing that’s changed this year is that i’ve learned to hold my sadnesses close to me again. i’ve never really been the confiding sort, never really prone to open up directly to people, and i’d made a few shifts in recent years to become more open, less closed up.

over the last few months, though, i’ve felt myself retreating, and part of that was very conscious but another part instinctive. when i hurt, i bristle, and the truth, maybe, underneath my reticence, is that i don’t trust anyone to hold my sadnesses for me. i don’t trust anyone not to turn that hurt, weaponize it, and use it against me.

the other thing, though, is that i’ve grown fatigued of being questioned all the time, of having to explain why i’ve got so much fear and anxiety or why i hate los angeles so much or why this, why that, and then being talked down to. i need god, i need to get over it and just learn to like where i am and just this or just that, like it’s all so simple, so easy, as basic as snapping your fingers and voila — everything is sunny and bright, and i’m not having nightmares of being trapped and unable to go home most nights.

and i don’t trust people to hold my sadnesses for me when their lives are progressing just fine, and that’s on me. i remind myself all the time that what we see, whether on social media or even of the people in our lives, is only a sliver of a person’s reality. some people look like they lead perfect lives on the surface — a supportive spouse, a home, a career — and we can never know what’s going on behind that veneer — but, even knowing that, even telling myself that every single freaking day, it’s hard not to look up from my sinkhole and think, how nice. how easy it must be for them.

and i know — i’m sure some people must look at the surfaces of my life and think the same.

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what kim does so phenomenally well in her novel is get at the nuances of how a patriarchal society affects its people. she hasn’t written a book that’s screaming about toxic masculinity or misogyny or gender inequality; she’s simply written a book about a part of the world, painting a picture of these people’s war-torn lives; and kim does it all with a lot of love.

she doesn’t judge her characters even when they behave badly, reactive to their culture, maybe, some might argue (oh, that was normal back then), but that doesn’t mean she withholds criticism of the society that allows for such behavior. if you leave me doesn’t make bad male behavior okay, and neither does kim use culture as an excuse for said behavior — and maybe this is something i liked so much about the novel, too, that she’s able to do this without writing an overtly socially aware, socially critical book.

that’s not always the easiest thing to do.

and maybe part of that is to do with the fact that misogyny isn’t just about gross acts of violence. gender inequality isn’t just about a pay difference. it’s also in the quiet comments that maybe go unheard, the snide little putdowns that, on their own, might roll off you, the very idea of gender roles, that a woman is meant to be a mother and a wise and a man can do whatever he wants, so long as he provides for his family in the most basic ways. it’s in the desperate desire and continual attempts for a son.

and kim gets at all that, and you might miss it if you’re breezing through the book, if you don’t know what to look for — and, hey, isn’t that kind of like misogyny/gendered crap in real life? if you aren’t keeping your eyes open, if you aren’t willing to look, you can gloss over it like it’s just a natural part of culture, too.


i also love how the story is told; we hop between narrators but move forward in time; and kim maneuvers us deftly over decades.

maybe my main criticism might be that the first-person narrations aren’t really that varied, that all the characters really kind of sound like the same person, even haemi’s daughter, her voice more an imitation of a child’s voice than a child’s voice itself. in another novel, this lack of differentiation might have (and has, in the past) bothered me tremendously, but i can’t say it did all that much in if you leave me.

which does make me wonder a lot about reading and how subjective it is and how that subjectivity varies even book to book, even if the reader is the same. i think about how i can’t quite pinpoint what it is that i look for most in books; my answer tends to be vague — strong narrative voice, fully-fleshed characters, interesting story — or maybe that’s not vague at all, leaves a lot of room for details and difference. a book with plain prose and fully dimensional characters will generally always be more compelling than a beautifully written book with flat, cliched characters. a compelling story will outweigh weak writing. a unique, vibrant narrative voice will bring out different, interesting notes in the most common story. maybe the rule about good story-telling is … there are no rules.


if you leave me is published by william morrow books on 2018 august 7. this ARC was not sent to me by the publisher.

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this post is all over the place, and it’s not the post i intended to write, though what i was intending to write, i don’t really know. in some ways, it’s kind of been a way to process the devastation i feel churning quietly in me, to mourn, in ways, the death of me, of my ambitions, of my dreams. i’m still thinking about deleting all my book files. i’m thinking about not even backing them on an external hard drive first. i’m trying not to feel the empty void in me — the loss of my faith in my book is infinitely more devastating than the loss of my religious faith in 2016.

what a colossal waste of ten years.

take my breath away.

something i’d love to do more in my near future is travel internationally.

my list is always changing; i want to go back to japan, backpack through vietnam, road trip around korea in the autumn. i want to go to london, edinburgh, brighton, make a pilgrimage to where plath is buried and experience the moors that inspired the brontë sisters. i want to go to barcelona — oh! barcelona! — and copenhagen and berlin, and i want to go to johannesburg, cairo, marrakech.

and that’s only the tip of my list.

for now, i try to narrow my list, focus on priorities — where do i want to go first? i’d like to go back to japan within the next twelve months, and i’d also like to go to london in the next twelve months, too. i’d like to go to spain in the next twenty-four — and vietnam (and maybe singapore and malaysia while i’m down in that part of the world) — and all of this still feels impossible and unattainable because (01) money and (02) time and (03) money.

i can’t complain too much, though. i’m going to mexico city in august.

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in 2012, i went to japan for the first time and spent three weeks backpacking on my own. it was my first solo international trip, and it was the first trip i paid for all on my own, saving up months of shitty below-minimum-wage law office wages and sitting on those funds for the following academic year, refusing to touch that money because it was going to be for japan and the two weeks i was planning on spending in korea after.

i planned and arranged the trip myself, at least as much as i plan or arrange anything. i called a korean travel agency to book the cheapest flights i could, and i blocked out my days, planned out my cities. (a year later, i'd get these cities tattooed on my wrist.) i made reservations for hostels for my first few nights in tokyo, purchased my JR pass, bought a ticket to the studio ghibli museum. i learned how to get cash at the 7-11 ATMs using my usual bank of america debit card. i got books on japan, read them, marked up what i wanted to see.

all the planning in the world can’t exactly prep you for the realities of traveling, though, and especially of traveling alone in a country whose language you do not speak.


all that said, i am not a planner. i like flexibility, and i tend to make a plan so i’ll have something to fall back on, not so i’ll have a plan to follow. i booked hostels a few days in advance, so i could have the flexibility to, say, stay in sapporo a few more days instead of heading down to kyoto because i loved hokkaido so much and wanted to do more exploring. i often had no set plans for anywhere except to take stupidly long walks, eat all the food i could, and just soak everything in. i spent a fair amount of time in cafes, drinking matcha frappes and writing in my travel journal and working on a story.

that’s not to say that i didn’t go to museums or shrines or whatnot — i did my fair share of sightseeing — but maybe the thing i’ve realized about myself is that i love the meandering part of traveling. i’m not a frenetic see-everything-i-can-because-i’ll-never-be-back sort of traveler. and i know that’s because of two things: (01) i recognize that i can’t see everything, anyway, so i don’t see the point in burning through energy that way, and (02) i have enough privilege to have some measure of faith that i will be able to come back someday.


it took me a good week to get used to traveling alone, and i still don’t think fondly of tokyo because of how overwhelming those first few days were. i cried quite a few times, in a cafe in shinjuku station, on the train, in a bathroom in a hostel, cried because i was lonely and wanted someone to talk to. there’s nothing like traveling to make me wish i had a partner, someone to travel and see and eat the world with, and i think that sentiment really started when i was in japan alone, feeling my aloneness pressing in around me.

and yet — i’d do it all over again. i’d travel alone again, no question about it. i learned a lot about myself when i was in japan, and i learned a lot about my ambitions, my dreams, my goals. i learned a lot about my curiosities. i learned a lot about my fears, too, and my failings.

when you’re stuck with just yourself for three weeks, you have to look yourself in the eye.

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the truth is that you can’t talk about travel without talking about money, about privilege. i don’t mean to imply that you need to be swimming in money (or privilege) to travel because you don’t, but that doesn’t mean that travel and money/privilege don’t go hand-in-hand.

practically, travel requires dispensable income. it requires being able to take time to take vacations. it requires having enough access to extra money and leisure time that a passport is worth its $110 fee.

i recently had to renew my passport, and the process was simple and no-nonsense, yet it reminded me so much of my privilege. it was simple to get passport photos taken, to fill out the form, to send in the $110 fee with my form and about-to-expire passport, and the only thing i worried about was that it might get lost in the mail, this old passport or the new one i’d receive.

and then there’s the fact that “the united states of america” emblazoned on my passport still affords me a certain degree of safety, and then that the possession of a passport of my home country means that i don’t have to be afraid to cross borders because i know that i’ll have no problems re-entering the US. i’m free to complain all i want about how long it takes to enter my own goddamn country.

i used to take it so much for granted, though. i got my first passport some time around middle school when my parents wanted to take me and my brother to korea for the first time, and, of course, at that age, i wasn’t thinking about anything at all, just that we were going to korea and we were going to see our grandparents and that was kind of it.

i don’t remember much about that first trip either, except that it was cold (it was december) but there was no snow (not until the day we left) and we couldn’t find clothes that fit me because my limbs were too long. i remember walking to my grandparents’ apartment in ilsan with my brother and being stopped by an elderly gentleman who kind of meanly wanted to know what language we were speaking (english).

i remember going to dinner with a bunch of relatives i didn’t know, and i remember them watching the way i used chopsticks. you’re not supposed to cross your chopsticks; we call it “애기 젖가락, ae-gee jeot-ga-rak” for “baby chopsticks” because, when you get older, you’re supposed to use them the proper way, chopsticks held parallel, the bottom chopstick held in the cradle between your thumb and index finger, the top maneuvered by your index and third fingers. it’s easier to eat that way, to pick up granules of rice. i came back to the states, shamed and determined to learn the proper way. i couldn’t demonstrate what baby chopsticks look like to you anymore.

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a passport doesn’t mean you always feel safe, though, just like you don’t have to cross international borders to feel the color of your skin or the gender you present or the sexuality you do or do not demonstrate. often, the most uncomfortable spaces i find myself in are comprised mostly of korean-koreans or korean-americans because those are the spaces that often remind me that i am neither/nor, that i occupy some liminal space in-between. the city in which i’ve felt the most uncomfortable is charleston; i’ve never before been so acutely aware of my asianness; and i go to a lot of book events. i still can't shake the oddness of being in a city, a region, where plantations are being whitewashed and romanticized as beautiful wedding venues when they were run by slavers, maintained by slaves who were brought here to this country, traded like animals, and refused basic, decent humanity, all of which continues to have real-life consequences today.

and i don’t think i’ll ever forget standing in a biscuit shop, asking the white woman behind the counter what i should see while i was there and having her respond, as friendly and cheerily as could be, that there were all these nice, artist stands at the old slave market, not blinking an eye at the bizarreness of that statement.

the confederate flag flew over the south carolina state capitol building until 2015. nine african-american churchgoers had to be slaughtered for people to reckon with the disgusting racism and history that flag represents.


when i talk about travel, i don’t mean to sound snooty, and i hope i don’t come across that way. i don’t book travel easily, and my prioritizing of travel means that i don’t indulge on other nice things — i don’t buy nice clothes or expensive bags, and i’m agonizing right now over a $60 moisturizer (damn you, drunk elephant). i buy more books than maybe i should, but i buy most of them for discounts (without resorting to amazon or book depository, if i can help it), and i don’t eat out at fancy restaurants more than a few times a year. (i do occasionally splurge on a nice kitchen item, maybe once or twice a year.)

when i travel, i don’t stay in hotels, opting for airbnbs (aiming for $50 at most a night, usually coming in at $30-40) and crashing with friends whenever i possibly can. i don’t mind hostels at all, though i do definitely spend a lot of time scrolling through all the reviews because, while i don’t need luxurious spaces, i do like clean spaces. i try not to take cars, try to walk or take the subway (if available) everywhere. (buses make me so, so motion-sick, so those are a last resort.) (cars make me so, so motion-sick, too, so that's another reason i try to walk.)

because, i mean, sure i’d love to stay at hotels, and i’d love to hang out on resorts, and i’d love to have the option to take lyfts everywhere, motion-sickness be damned, but i don’t have that kind of money and don’t anticipate that i ever will.


i still want to go back to charleston because it is a beautiful city and the food scene is incredible. i wonder what that says about me, if that says anything about me at all, this willingness of mine to walk into spaces that are openly hostile to marginalized people. like, i want to go to singapore, but homophobia runs rampant there. LGBTQ people aren’t given the same legal rights as non-LGBTQ people. same-sex marriage isn’t recognized. it’s illegal for two men to have sex.

i want to go to morocco, and homosexuality is illegal there, too.

i want to go back to korea, but i do not have a body of which korea approves.

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the truth is that i was supposed to be in korea for two weeks, but i fled after ten days. i got horrible food poisoning the night before i hauled my ass to incheon to put myself on standby, and i couldn’t even enjoy that airport because even drinking water made me run to the bathroom because of diarrhea.

do not eat shellfish in seoul in august.

as disturbing as this sounds, i’m used to being shamed about my body. i’m used to koreans giving me That Look, and i’m used to being called names, to having my chubbiness and fat pointed out, to being given unsolicited advice about how to lose weight. i’m used to korean waitresses giving me diet tips while they cook my sam-gyup-sahl.

korea takes things to a whole other freaking level, though, and i admit i buckled under it. i noticed all the up-and-down looks strangers would give me as i went up the escalator, stood on the subway, walked down the street. i didn’t bother going near any kinds of clothing shops because i knew what would await me there. i didn’t go into any cosmetics shops, except for once when i was literally hauled in with a friend by the fake-cheery shopgirls outside.

i hated myself for it, for my size, for the humidity and heat that made my already big body swell and retain more water. i hated myself for not having tried harder to lose weight before i came to asia. i hated myself for being so sweaty when all the skinny korean girls around me were walking around in perfect makeup, perfect hair, not a drop of sweat to be seen.

i didn’t gain any weight in japan because of all the walking i did, but i lost weight in korea because i felt so self-conscious eating — and then i got food poisoning, which lasted for a week after i came back to the states.

and, yet, i’d go back. i’d go back to korea in a heartbeat.


maybe the benefit of not speaking the language of the country you’re in is that you aren’t privy to the gossip of people. i speak and understand korean, so i know what’s being said to me, about me, but i don’t speak or understand much japanese, so, if anything was being said, it was beyond me.

i was determined to go to okinawa when i was in japan, and, while i was flying down to naha, i figured i might as well fly further down to ishigaki. in ishigaki, i took a ferry out to taketomi, a tiny little island off the small little island, and i rented a bike, went to find the beach.

it was hot, so hot, and humid, and i didn’t have enough water on me. i also didn’t have an actual map on me, figuring i’d find my way somehow, and i did eventually, parking my bike under trees and walking down the path to the most incredible white sand beach and the clearest, bluest water i have ever seen.

there were families around, but it was mostly empty, and i got a coke from the little truck (a cold soda is so good on a hot and humid day, something about the coldness and the fizz and the sugar) and walked a little ways down to where it was more secluded. i didn’t have a bathing suit or shorts because i didn’t wear bathing suits or shorts then, wanted to hide my body in long-sleeved shirts and long pants, but i rolled my pants up as high as they’d go and waded out to as far as i could go.

i still think about that day. i still want to go back.

when the sun and heat became too much, i went back to my bike, cycled back to the bike place. the owner gave me a ride in an air-conditioned shuttle to the ferry, and, as we waited to board, clouds began to roll in. in japan, in the summer, rain comes in an instant, and, by the time we were back on ishigaki, it was starting to rain, heavy drops slapping against the warm concrete.

i ducked into a random soba shop because it was there, ordered a set of soba with a maguro-don. it was the best meal i had in japan, and i went back the next day and ate the same meal a second time.


(i don’t remember what i took these photos on, but they’re from 2012, and they were not shot on an iphone or on a “proper” camera.)

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