Thursday, January 31, 2008

Over the Hills and Far Away

Driving around the city a few nights ago, I realized something I missed about my old country life in Korea. There was a time when I lived in a small farming village. Behind my apartment was a mountain I would traverse to get to my place of work. At dusk, the sun would gently sink into the rice paddies, nourishing the earth with its milky light. And then it would grow dark. Really dark. The gentle woods of the mountain took on the gnarled hedges of an ancient labyrinth. At first it felt like Mr. Hyde had cast a spell--I wonder why I just didn't take the bus. But in time I grew to trust the moonlight, and when the clouds came out, I put my faith in the mountain itself. I knew it would never betray my footsteps. Here in New York, I'm sure I've never felt quite as secure and sure-footed on the city's well-lit streets and concrete pavements, where all the cops stand guard to protect against the forces of darkness. Only in the country does the darkness empower.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kenya, My Kenya

The situation in Kenya has lost all sense and civilization. I am heartbroken to read today that the ethnic warfare has taken on a life of its own, pitting the Kikuyu, the tribe of business and power, against everyone else. It seems that no lesson was learned from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 when up to a million Tutsis lost their lives at the hands of the Hutus. Can you imagine 750,000 Latino-Americans being slaughtered on the streets of Los Angeles and then swept into the La Brea tar pits? What about 1,000,000 African-Americans mass-murdered in New York City, dumped into sanitation trucks and buried in the Staten Island waste fill? Kenya was supposed to be a bastion of peace and stability, where the numerous tribes forged together as the economic engine that powered East Africa. And yet today I read it was all just a myth. That ethnic tensions had been simmering all along. That the tranquility I saw eleven years ago in Nairobi was just a facade. Indeed, the pictures of Kibera, the slum where I taught math, show that nothing has improved for the poor. Discontent is rearing a head with blood in its eyes. Where once there were arms that stood to welcome me, now there are only hands wielding machetes. How could it all have been such an illusion? No one who looks at me--a picture of health and strength--would ever think that I harbor a deadly virus within my bloodstream, one that's been forced into remission for the moment but waits silently within my brain and organs to strike. I look into the mirror today and see the failure of Kenya and humanity.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Moves Like a Butterfly

There is nothing like a good tennis tournament to put a guy MIA. This year's Australian Open --the self-dubbed "Happy Open"--did not disappoint one bit. Staying up to watch the matches live at 3:30 am doesn't get any easier as you get older, but they were worth it. And besides, I have always felt a strange kind of power in the wee hours of the morning when I think the rest of the world is asleep. For me, the player of the tourney was Russia's Maria Sharapova who won this year's crown for her third Grand Slam title over Ana Ivanovic of Serbia. For those of you who are not tennis fans, it was a very different story last year when Maria got her butt soundly whipped by Serena Williams in the finals, 6-1, 6-2. Some players would have had a hard time recovering from a drubbing like that, but Maria decided to use the loss as a springboard. To fly higher. She claimed to have trained very hard in the off season and it showed. Her movement, usually restricted to the baseline, saw her stepping out of her comfort zone as she came to net far more often to put away points. That meant coming up with shots you don't associate with her, like a slice backhand on the approach to net. This year it wasn't just all about power, it was about a plan. If in 2007 she was a caterpillar inching from side to side in the back court, this year she was a butterfly. A lot of people can't get past the blond hair and green eyes, which is a shame because you see something far more attractive when you do--passion for the game. And that's what puts her far ahead of the game. Well done, Maria. Good luck at the French!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ah, Little Britainers!

It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I've found so much to laugh and smile about in the BBC comedy series Little Britain. Starring the insanely talented duo of Matt Lucas and David Walliams (no, not Williams, Walliams), the show first aired in the UK in 2003, and I would never have heard of it but for my Polish friend Adam who once lived in London. It was at his place that I saw the clip that hooked me into watching all 3 seasons on YouTube. The two actors play a breathtaking range of characters including delusional transvestites, paranoid homosexuals, hypocritical overweights, comatose salespeople, delinquent mothers, ignorant academics, tawdry aristocrats and every garden variety of pervert you can imagine. It's a crass humor that nonetheless reeks of intelligence, the kind that would never pass American censors and go right over the head of American viewers. So I was really surprised to read that this year will see the start of production of Little Britain USA. I can't imagine the show being as devilish as the British version, but we'll just have to wait and see. And it will be an eyeful. And a mouthful. Like I said, it won't be everyone's cup of tea. Especially when the show demands that you do everything with it except, of course, drink it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Kaleidoscopic Week

Aunty passed away last week. She was 73, and had lived most of her thirty years in America right here in NYC. Toward the end she went to live with a cousin in Chicago, which is where the family laid her to rest. There were all sorts of reasons to feel sad: she was one of those Asian parents who sacrifices everything for the happiness of her children without thinking of her own; she never got to see a reunited Korea and return to the small village in North Korea where she had been born; not to mention the cancer had given her so much pain. For those of us she left behind, there was the melancholy realization that the events of life will tumble on. Like the pieces inside a kaleidoscope. But not as colorful. Nor as shiny. And much more broken. Much harder to distinguish reality from reflection. The tumbling of consciousness never stops until it's time to return to the earth. And yet Aunty's death did provide a momentary glimpse of real insight. Perhaps it was a picture of heaven. When Grandfather passed on, I saw a noble soldier who had lost his life on the field; with Grandmother, I just cried for hours, she who had carried me on her back when I was a child. But with Aunty, I felt hope. That there's got to be a perfect life after this broken world. Aunty had never seen America before boarding the plane in Korea in 1977. But still she got on it, fully believing it would carry her to a better place. I hope she was dreaming of flying before she took her last breath.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

No Regret

Last night I finally got around to watching No Regret, the 2006 Korean movie about the tortured relationship between an 18 year-old orphan who works in a male brothel and a twenty-something son of a rich businessman. Straight folks were up in arms about its graphic scenes and taboo themes; the gay ones, about how cute the two main characters were. A lot of what I saw, incredulously, was a reenactment of my own sordid past. How I used to frequent the brothels to ease my loneliness. How I became attached to one of the guys who claimed to have no family. How I let him move in with me for a while. In hindsight, I wish I could have done more to hold on to him. Not because he looked well in the Jilsander clothes he favored, or that he was tall and handsome with a strong physique. But because he genuinely seemed to be alone in his life. As I was, but couldn't bring myself to admit. Which is why our relationship never had any chance of succeeding. I told him he had to leave my apartment. He ended up taking refuge in a Buddhist monastery. Some months later, I got a call from him. He said he wanted to see me again, to see how I was doing. But he was the one dressed in a monk's garb with his head shaved. And I was the one feeling that the stranger taking tea with me was my own confused shadow. If only I had known then what I realize now. Love isn't always about finding someone who makes you happy. Sometimes it's about being with someone who simply understands your sadness.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Galactic News for January 3, 2008

Major activity was reported from all quadrants of the Earth today. In the Americas Galaxy, the Northern Alliance began its bizarre, quadrennial ritual of burning hundreds of millions of dollars to select its Supreme Leader. Although too early to predict a winner, the one called Barack Obama has emerged as the early head of the Democratic Faction while the Republican Assembly has voiced approval for the one known as Mike Huckabee. It is Obama, however, who is of special interest this year for a father who terraported from the Kenya Cluster in the Africa Galaxy. Speaking of which, telecameras pointed at the Kenya Cluster revealed a fifth consecutive day of rioting, looting, raping and killing in this normally stable zone, triggered by the announcement that the incumbent leader Mwai Kibaki had rigged the election there to retain his stranglehold on power. This terranaut was particularly shaken by the events as he had terraported to the Kenya Cluster eleven years ago to see its famed giraffes and elephants roaming the mighty grasslands--he could never have imagined this kind of violence between the Luo and Kikuyu who had made his journey such a memorable one. In the Hawaii Belt, a display of calming light colored the skies as its inhabitants kicked off a season of golf in Kapalua. More beautiful lights will flood the southern firmaments when the Australia Galaxy begins its summer festival of tennis in a few weeks.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Running With Kites on New Year's Eve

I never thought I'd follow a post that touched on Pakistan with one on Afghanistan, but here it is. Since my deportation back to New York four years ago on New Year's Day, I've spent every New Year's Eve alone in contemplation. But not last night. Last night I had the excellent company of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, 371 pages that stayed with me for about nine hours, and then left calmly and quietly at 5:30 this morning. No raucous. No police. No hangover. Just a lingering, if not slightly painful, memory of Hassan and Amir, two Afghani boys whose friendship shattered at the age of 12; whose lives were then spent trying to put the pieces back together again. It was one of those stories I felt had been written just for me, that the author was trying to tell me: there really is a way to be good again. Since contracting HIV, I've counted too many days when I thought my life would never amount to what it once had been. And yet, somehow I also realized that I had to find a way to make my life useful again. To effect reconciliation within my family. To repay a debt to an old family benefactor. To bring hope and optimism to students who might feel otherwise. But I am still not a selfless person, not in the way that Hassan was. Far from it. There is still a great deal of ugliness and pettiness in my life. Insecurity. Longing. More than anything, I understood last night that I want to have someone in my life to whom I can say "for you, a thousand times over" and dare I hope for this new year, someone who would say the same in return.