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Short Thoughts

Published: Tue, 20 May 2014 16:22:34 GMT

Last Build Date: Tue, 20 May 2014 16:22:34 GMT



Tue, 20 May 2014 16:22:34 GMT

The third act of This American Life this week was really interesting. Story's about an African-American woman living in Paris. There are three things she mentioned about her experience there that I resonated with also, partly from my own expat experience.

First, she talks about how she realized that French don't see or treat black people in the same way Americans do, for both good and bad, and how that was a bit of a shock to her self-perception. I've related to this a little bit in the past couple years living the UK also. Because Asian-British are not seen in the same way that Asian-Americans are. I can't even quite explain the difference. I'm probably not even aware of the full difference. But for example, I find the Asians (I mean East Asians - not the South Asians Brits mean by "Asian") here are simultaneously more and less integrated. On the whole, I feel like their English language skills are better and they feel less like immigrants. At the same time, they feel never fully integrated. I'm doing a poor job explaining it, but it's a weird feeling.

There's also that the high-achieving areas aren't dominated by Asians here, and that also affects how we're seen. There's no Stuyvesant or Lowell or Whitney in the UK, good schools that by virtue of their quality became dominated by Asians. Not sure why, maybe it's just a different Asian population that ended up here. But it affects the perception. All this to say, I feel like Asians are seen slightly differently here than they are in the States, and it's a kind of odd, unfamiliar feeling.

The most interesting thing she says in the TAL episode is how shocked she is when French people say how American she is. That totally gets to the heart of the minority experience in the US. But I think for her, me, and probably most minorities, we never feel fully American in America, never fully comfortable, always feeling slightly like an outsider. It's shocking for her to be called American in character because she's never fully felt that way. And it's even more shocking to realize that it's true - she is American. I totally relate to that as well. I had a conversation with a coworker about this last night. But most people don't have enough bandwidth to categorize people by subtle distinctions. So when interacting with other people here, I kind of have to choose which category is most me, Asian or American. And to my shock, it's my American side. I'm totally American.

It's only shocking because in America, I think I'm categorized by others as Asian. If you ask me in America what category I belong to, there's no question - it's Asian. So it's an odd feeling to be categorized as something else. And to resonate with those different categories in both places.

The last insightful thing she said related to how, despite gaining fluency in French, she at times reverted to a bad American accent, specifically because she wanted to be treated like an outsider. And when she thought about it, she realized it's because there's a part of her that's actually more comfortable being on the outside.

I totally recognized myself in her comment and realized that explains a lot about me. And maybe that's another odd part of the minority experience in America. But I also find that I'm more comfortable being on the outside. For example, when there are too many Asians around (read: Cupertino schools), I feel uncomfortable. Jieun thinks it's a weird self-loathing thing. But I think the TAL gets to the heart of it more accurately. Whether it's from accommodation or whatever, I'm more used to being on the outside, so I'm more comfortable there. I prefer to be a minority. It's weird.

Holy Spirit Songs

Tue, 06 May 2014 14:10:12 GMT

One thing that struck me about the church we visited in Malaysia was that we sang a song addressed to the Holy Spirit in the second person. I felt myself feeling slightly uncomfortable about that, not because it's wrong, but because it's so rare. In fact I can't think of a single worship song that's sung to the Holy Spirit. There's Father, I Adore You and Spirit Touch Your Church, but both those songs start off by addressing other persons in the Trinity. Songs sung just to the Holy Spirit? Can't think of any.

My mindset towards the Holy Spirit and the charismatic has changed a lot in the past 15 years. Someday I'll talk about it.


Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:24:33 GMT

For no particular reason, thoughts on Crimea.

One thing I've liked about working in the Facebook London office is how international it is. So I've talked about the Crimea thing with Russians, Ukrainians and even one Crimean. It's really interesting to get insiders' views on foreign affairs; it's much different than just hearing things secondhand from the media.

In terms of what I've learned from them, Fresh Air had an interview with some expert and it was surprisingly accurate, or at least very much in line with what my Russian / Ukrainian coworkers told me.

The interesting thing is many Ukrainians find Crimea useless and annoying. They're poor, so somewhat supported economically by the rest of Ukraine. And their population is very Russian, which skews the entire nation's politics. Most of the country leans pro-West. Crimea leans pro-Russia. So there are not a few Ukrainians who think it wouldn't be that bad if Crimea left - they'd be getting rid of a drain on resources and a drag on forming stronger ties to the West.

The only thing they value in Crimea is some base or port, can't remember which. That base or port is valuable because Russia gets access to it in exchange for low natural gas prices. That deal is already off and Russia's gouging Ukraine now. The other concern is that Russia won't stop there. Crimea first, who knows what's next.

Another complication is that there's an ethnic Tatar minority in Crimea (that I think has the longest ties there), They're Muslim. And my Crimean coworker is actually Tatar. The USSR treated Tatars horribly. There's a real concern that Russia would do the same. So they're one group within Crimea that's very wary of going back to Russia.

It's also not true that Crimea is solidly pro-Russia, even among the Russians there. The election to join Russia was (obviously) rigged. The issue is that Ukraine is in some ways a better Russia. Russian is spoken everywhere, it's culturally similar, and there's actually a very free press and free elections. It's like Russia with more freedom. So even many of the Russians in Crimea are wary of joining Russia. But it's impossible to say how many because the election was rigged.

So it's a super complicated situation. Many Ukrainians don't really care about Crimea save the precedent it would send in losing it. It's unclear how many Crimeans actually want to join Russia. And in the middle of it all are the Tatars. So what should the EU / US do? Who knows.

Random Observation

Sat, 29 Mar 2014 22:59:39 GMT

At the grocery stores in the UK, there are no baggers, and they don't help you at all. Like at the old Pak N' Save, you have to bag all your own groceries. I kind of find it stressful, especially if I'm with the kids, managing them, paying and bagging everything without holding up the queue.

Bonds of Marriage

Mon, 17 Mar 2014 11:28:25 GMT

At church on Sunday, the vicar made an announcement of upcoming bonds of marriage, along with a proclamation that if anyone knows of reason why they shouldn't get married, he should be informed. Fascinating. Apparently, in the Church of England, this process is legally required - the announcement must be made in the parish they attend and in the parishes each one resides in - up to 3 in all. And apparently, the history is that this was done to make sure they're not already married to someone else, or to ferret out other such shenanigans. Probably made more sense when said parishes were the ones they grew up in all their lives and they knew them very well, as opposed to today in the city when everyone is so transient. But that's the law.

I'm guessing this is the origin of the US wedding tradition of "speak now or forever hold your peace", and to me it makes far more sense - giving time for people to object before the wedding as opposed to at it.

I'm still interested in how US wedding (and other) traditions came to be, because I kind of assumed they had their origins in antiquity but Brits find many of them bewildering.

Super Bowl, Identity

Mon, 03 Feb 2014 11:02:43 GMT

Hats off to the Seahawks. I hate them, but they were the best team in the league this year and deserved to win. As a 49er fan I'm just gutted because now it seems clear they were the 2nd best team in the NFL.

I cannot express how annoying the UK coverage of the Super Bowl was. The announcers kept making really bad mistakes: one repeatedly referred to Seahawks receiver "Daniel Baldwin"; the main (Scottish) guy claimed at halftime that Seattle was winning because Russell Wilson was "on fire". Uh, was he watching the same game? Seattle's D (and special teams) utterly dominated. That was the game. Sometimes we complain in the US about announcers saying dumb things, but the UK just takes it to another level.

I enjoyed Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner)'s tribute to Candlestick Park. It made me realize one reason why I love football so much: it's probably the first thing in my life that made me feel really American. Asian-Americans have these complicated issues of feeling split and mixed identities. In my early childhood, I was raised Korean. I spoke only Korean at home, ate Korean food, went to a Korean church. So I remember feeling really out of place when I first attended school.

But once I got in the 49ers, I felt a commonality with my "American" classmates. I might eat weird food, they might think my house smells funny, I might have a bad Asian bowl haircut, but we could at least relate with the 49ers. I think that bond with my schoolmates is one reason why football means so much to me.

Speaking of identity, I realized something interesting about being a Korean-American in the UK. Being here, I'm kind of forced to choose which side - Korean or American - I identify with most. And I was trying to figure out why that is. And I figured out it's purely for other people - like it or not, other people need some sort of framework to understand who I am. And here, most people don't understand the nuances of being Korean-American; saying that confuses how they understand me rather than clarifying. So I have to choose. And which one I identify with subtly affects how people relate to me. I would be treated differently in the office if I categorized myself as Korean. Not necessarily badly, just differently.

But I identify myself as American, because of the two, that's closer to who I really am. And here's the weird thing - since that's how I categorize myself here, I find myself acting more "American" here than in the US. Like, I think I'm vocally louder here. Still not at all loud, just louder than I would be in the US. Because I'm playing the role of an American. Because that's how I identify myself here. Because I need to identify myself in one category to help others understand how to relate to me. It's weird.

Anyway yeah, Super Bowl. In the local papers the Super Bowl got news coverage but I'd say roughly equal (or slightly less) than the 6 Nations Rugby Tournament. It's still seen as an American curiosity more than anything else. People who think London can support an NFL franchise full time are delusional.

Also, are the Winter Olympics big news? I feel like it's hardly mentioned here, probably because Great Britain is not that good at winter sports. If it weren't for the ads on US TV shows, I wouldn't even know when they were starting.

The Fall, Design, and Evolution

Tue, 21 Jan 2014 11:48:34 GMT

Andrew Wilson in Christianity Today about how he simultaneously believes "in the fall of Adam and Eve, the argument from design, and Darwinian evolution." I'm tend to not be public about this but I roughly believe the same thing, and have for a long time, like, since I was 14. I used to not talk about it because in my youth, a Christian saying (s)he was sympathetic to evolution was treated like a heretic. I feel like it's more safe nowadays because, as the article notes, many prominent Evangelicals now say the same thing (among them, John Stott, J.I. Packer, and Tim Keller). So at least I'm in good company.


Sun, 05 Jan 2014 00:25:07 GMT

Jieun initially loved Amsterdam, then liked it considerably less once she learned more about the Red Light District and the drugs. One thing I learned: "Coffee Shops" in Amsterdam are not coffee shops. Joshua wanted a donut, and in search of one, he and I went into what I thought (based on the sign) was a US-style coffee shop. I barely stepped in the door but my lungs are still recovering.

I don't consider myself super spiritually sensitive to geography, but I have had isolated experiences where I've had a sense of something spiritual about a place. The summer of '95 I spent in Daejeon, Korea, I felt like there was a spiritual light there. I had virtually no community or real access to worship that whole summer, but I still felt a spiritual depth. I felt the opposite the summer of '98 in China, that there was spiritual darkness over the area. I felt a darkness in Amsterdam too, that kind of manifested itself in weird dreams and a lot of difficulty sleeping that felt abnormal. Strange place.

Highlights were the canals and the Anne Frank Museum. The latter is haunting and enraging. Super crowded, but highly recommended. We visited the Charles Dickens House on Christmas and this was vastly different - it's one of those house museums where it makes a huge difference that that's where she actually was.

One thing that stuck with me though was kind of a random video of her father, who talked about his reaction once he was given and first read her daughter's diaries after her death. He was shocked at the depth of her feelings and thoughts. Of course he talked to her every day while she was writing them, and she told him how she was feeling and what she was thinking, but he had no real idea about the depth and content of her inner life. And what he says is that he concludes that parents don't ever *really* know their children.

That thought lingered, because I think it's true, and I already see that in my own kids. I know there's depth to Abby's thought, and I already know that there are ways in which I'm terrible at understanding her. And I know this because she tells me - there are times when she's upset, and when I try to get her to explain why, and she tries to, she frequently ends with "you can't understand". And it's true. Part of it is I'm terrible at understanding women, because Jieun says the same thing, and Abby also frequently says "only mom can understand" (or asks for Jieun straightaway). But part of it is more fundamental also, I think, in that parents can't ever fully know their kids. Jieun thinks this distance is appropriate, that parents aren't supposed to be friends with their kids or fully know them, but that their job is to love them and release them to independence. In any case, the idea that I already don't fully know my kids, and that I may not even be supposed to - that's something I've been thinking about.

One interesting about The Netherlands is that there aren't a ton of taxis around, so we rode a lot of mass transit. And combinations of them. To get back this morning we walked to the train station, took a train to Rotterdam Central (I booked flights via Hipmunk and didn't carefully check the airport. It was only when we were waiting for our flight at Heathrow that I checked to make sure that the "Rotterdam" listed on our flight status is in Amsterdam and discovered to my astonishment that it's not), a bus from Rotterdam Central to the airport, a plane to London, then a taxi home. 5 modes of transit in one morning. Nuts.

Abby's Questions Of Faith

Tue, 31 Dec 2013 11:27:13 GMT

Abby’s starting to reach an age where she has questions about faith. And I’m not quite sure how to address them.

The other night, she asked about how she can figure out if God is real, or if He’s not real, or if some other belief is true. I’m not aware of anyone else in her class being Christian, and her best friend’s family is atheist. If she were older, I would have went with an apologetics approach, about how history and (in my opinion) logic testify to the truth of the Gospel. That’s just how I tend to think myself - I think I’m unusual in that my faith has always been stronger in my head than in my heart. But that doesn’t work at all on someone so young. In the end, I went with sincerely asking that the Lord speak to her heart. And she’s been actively pursuing that. There was no children’s program on Sunday so they were in the main service, and when at the end our vicar asked if anyone is waiting for something and wanted prayer, Abby went to the front and received prayer to hear God’s voice.

I hope that works. But curious how other parents approach their kids’ questions like these.


Fri, 01 Nov 2013 14:03:16 GMT

I spent the vast majority of my life in the Bay Area, and it's fair to say that for most of my life I lived in a bubble. When I first went to Houston, I remember being surprised by random things. Rain in the summer! Humidity! True megachurches! Lots of really overweight people! It expanded my worldview, especially in challenging things I previously took for granted as being universal since I had no reason to think otherwise. That's one thing I love about travelling - being challenged to reconsider what's normal.

One of my main hopes in living in a different place for a while was to experience more of that, especially in regards to faith, to distinguish what's truly universal about Christianity and what's cultural. And I think that's happened somewhat. I find myself being surprised by little things, and sometimes surprised that I'm surprised, if that makes any sense.

One thing I've realised is that my Southern Baptist roots run deep when it comes to drinking. As you may or may not know, drinking (and dancing) is pretty much verboten for Southern Baptists. I didn't have a touch of alcohol before I turned 21 (save for a handful of communions at Catholic Masses) and even afterwards, very rarely drank as it felt vaguely wrong. Over the years I've changed quite a bit and now appreciate a good drink, and I'd hardly consider myself a Southern Baptist anymore, but that influence is apparently still there, because I was shocked when I came here. The attitudes toward drink are completely different from my Southern Baptist upbringing.

I think where I'd arrived in my own mentality is that drinking is fine but still in some sense "secular" and shouldn't be mixed with Christian activity. They don't have that hangup here - drinking is fully integrated with church activity. I had read before about C.S. Lewis's favourite pub but I don't think I ever really internalised what that means: they drank while talking about (at least part of the time) Christian things. That's how it is here. At church, they'll advertise get togethers at pubs. At church events, there's alcohol. At a recent church leaders' retreat, there was wine and scotch. Maybe that's not shocking for some, but it was for me, which again, made me realise my Southern Baptistness.

One thing that blew my mind: we went to this retreat over the summer for the the Holy Trinity Brompton church network called FOCUS. Good worship, good teaching. Got a prophetic word prayed for me that I'll write about some other time. But every night starting at 10, they have this thing called Out Of Focus, which is basically like a club, with alcohol and dancing. This is at a Christian retreat! Southern Baptists would have a heart attack. I never quite figured out if Out Of Focus is an indirect reference to beer goggles. I don't think so, but I wouldn't be surprised. But yeah, alcohol is simply no big deal here.

Because it's so ingrained in the church culture here, my attitude and behaviour toward drinking has changed as well. Even Jieun is drinking more now than she ever has. Neither of us to excess; quite moderately, actually. But the attitude has changed a lot.