Saturday, November 17, 2012


i'd like to think of myself as someone who can appreciate a wide variety of things, more so than the average person.  however, there is one area where i'm definitely deficient, in the realm of art.

i am not a visual artist in the traditional sense of the word.  i have never had an experience at a museum (and i've been to a shit ton of them) that did not result in me bemoaning the amount of walking that had to be done.  (yes even the louvre and the palais du versailles was not exempt)  i just never got art.  sometimes it's kind of nifty and cool, but cubism, impressionism, realism, surrealism, expressionism, pop art, it's all foreign to me.  i can't appreciate it.  i just don't have that gene, my sister got all of that from me.

because of this, i can accept that people have limitations.  we all do.  so when people say that they like in n out better than shake shack, i understand that their palette of taste has limitations, that they just don't have the ability to appreciate a higher quality of food, just like i can't tell you the difference between a monet and a van gogh.

i'm not the biggest foodie.  i'm a picky eater, so my tastes aren't as eclectic as some of my foodie friends.  however, i do believe i am a burger connoisseur.  i eat burgers high and low, far and wide, and i try new burgers any time i get the opportunity.  there are a few burgers i have yet to try in new york, but i will definitely put those as events on my list of things to do.  but in the medium-speed food category, (let's face it, neither shake shack nor in n out, despite its misleading moniker, are fast), there is just no comparison.

of course, that doesn't stop people from trying.  a foodie blog did contend that shake shack indeed won a side by side taste comparison (although such a comparison is technically impossible since both franchises do not exist in a nearby area together):

and my own blog entry 3 years ago:

and my yelp review on shake shack written earlier this year:

people say that i'm biased, that because i'm from new york, i'm gonna like shake shack better.  and they also admit that the bias works both ways, that californians would probably like in n out better, but that they are essentially equivalent.  this is just not so.

since moving to LA, i've probably had in n out about 8-10 times or so.  that's an average of once a week.  so i know their items well, i've had them plenty of times.  their fries are horrific if you don't get them animal style.  their shtick revolves around the animal style-ness.  but animal style is a gimmick.  it is a trick that masks the overall blandness of the actual important part of the meal, the meat of the burger.  the meat is just not that good.  i've actually had to eat wendy's or mcdonald's once or twice because i was tired of in n out as a burger.  it just isn't a good regular option, i would say i go to chick fil a more often that this place.  chick fil a is awesome.

until today it had been 75 days at least since i had my last double shack burger.  since i had my first shack burger, it's probably been the longest i've been without one by far.  i expected the same juicy goodness i've had with every shack burger i've had in the past 6 years.

from what i experienced, i finally understood the old adage: distance makes the heart grow fonder.  i literally turned to my shackmate, david tae, and asked him, "was this always this good?"  he responded, yeah it's the same old shack burger.  i couldn't believe it.  it was even better than i ever remembered.  having in n out burgers so frequently killed my sense of what a burger should actually be.

it was freshly cooked as we went to the UWS location late night, with few customers around, so the temperature was popping hot, where it was almost burning my tongue.  but the juices that flowed out of the meat made the pain well worth it, as i savored every bit of the burger in my mouth.

i actually couldn't respond to my shackmate's conversation he was having, as i had to use my entire mental faculties to enjoy all that the food was offering to me.  there was a moment of silence as i had my "anton ego" moment.  it truly was an orgasm for my mouth.  when God said, "let there be hamburgers", this is what came out of his fingertips.  a juicy double shackburger.

i do not get any such enjoyment from an in n out burger.  but now i am enlightened; i understand.  people have certain limitations to their enjoyment of different aspects of life.  just as i cannot appreciate a finely painted mona lisa, i have come to accept that some cannot enjoy the masterpieces that shake shack churns out daily.  now instead of feeling indignation when people think in n out is better than shake shack, i merely feel pity.  pity that they will never experience the joy that i have experienced, that their capacity to understand the universe of hamburgers is limited to a cheap thousand island dressing.  pity that their misplaced loyalty to their childhood burger joint has blinded them from the truth.  pity for the meaninglessness their lives must contain for not having experienced the full justice of a shackburger.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


there is nothing but the hum of the engine and my parents snoring that indicates any semblance of life in the dark nebraskan country side.  driving nights on the road across country is a lot more dangerous and scary than days, especially in these backroads.  as a result, nights are my shift, as my lasik enhanced eyesight gives me an advantage in the darkness over my parents' aged vision.

the sky is filled with nothing but emptiness and i can't help but wonder where i'm going.  driving into the blackness of the unlit pavement feels like getting swallowed into nothingness.  the silence and the absence of outside stimuli forces my mind to fill itself with things of the past, and sometimes i can't help thinking about someone, how i partly never wanted to leave the northeast a decade ago to stay close, how i didn't want to move to atlanta for a job after college, how when finally we were on the same 13.4 mile long island, we couldn't be farther apart if we were on opposite sides of the planet.

i check the odometer and the gps for progress.  miles whiz by by the tenth, but crawls slowly by by the tens.  no big deal though, as i've driven for over 500 miles nonstop before, under the same silver 2004 toyota camry LE under my feet.

it's only been a couple hours since we left the denny's.  the parents love the denny's, cause of its all american menu and cheap prices.  i can't help but think of the breaking bad fifth season premiere, and arranging my bacon into my age.  i'm an older person now, nearly turning the page on my twenties.  by this age, i thought i'd have things figured out, but here i am, driving into this nothingness and wondering what the hell i got myself into.

i think about happiness, and how i could've charted my life in that direction.  there's so much i could have let go of in order to pursue that avenue.  i thought of several possibilities that could've led to a traditionally stable and functional life, that would've made sense.  i wonder if i would really be happy in those scenarios, and ultimately decide that i would have felt trapped and wondering.  the pure pursuit of happiness ironically leads to disappointment, when you realize that it's fleeting.

i'm not going to fool myself into thinking that i will be happy if i am "successful" in my endeavors out here.  happiness is not what i'm searching for in this career path.  but i can't help but think to myself, what the contingency plan is if i "fail".  in a sense, it doesn't cost that much for me to try my hand at this career, one in which the majority of people aren't fulfilled by, whether artistically or financially.  i am in a economically advantaged position to pursue it.  but in terms of opportunity cost, there's plenty of pressures telling me that i'm being insane.  finding myself in my mid-late 30's with no professional career to speak of is a daunting possibility.

my mother has her own aspirations for me, becoming an academic and saving this nation from economic turmoil from the reigns of the past couple of federal reserve chairmen.  but i could name a host of other career "options" that i could go into that would be considered safe, practical and even meaningful.  more of a sure thing.

most of the real actors i've talked to, the ones that work at it and are serious about it, tell me that you can't go into this business unless you think it's the thing you were born to do.  i believe that that sense has been within me for a long time, i've been told that i'm hypersensitive to things and that i have a flair for the dramatic.  but at the same time, because of the uncertainty in the whole industry, everything you do is a step a faith.

my thoughts bring me back to the road i'm driving on.  my faith is in the united states and nebraskan governments and my iphone's waze program, trusting that i'm not driving into a brick wall or off a cliff, racing along at 80 mph.  i sigh as i pull into the 4th holiday express, and mutter to my parents that we're here.  i wonder to myself briefly how they must feel, thinking how they spent their youth surviving the darkness of life just to watch their son plunge into darkness headfirst.

whelp, can't turn back now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


A couple weeks ago, I visited a friend of mine who's also a professional poker player.  I went to his place of work in Charles Town, West Virginia.  Personally, I had one of the most horrific runs of my life and lost a decent amount of money.  In the long run, I'll be fine, it was just a nice reminder of why I didn't do this kind of a thing for a full time job.  I think being a pro would decrease my life span by 10 years.

I ended up talking to another player sitting next to me, as he started chatting it up after he took a few thousand off me in a standard kings against aces all in preflop scenario (FML).  People seem to be more friendly when they're winning off you than when they're losing, I've found.  Anyhow, he got to telling me a bit about his life, where I found he was independently wealthy (so not from poker).  I found that he was a bit older than I thought (I think he was around 47, but I thought he  looked like he was in his 30's).

He told me he loved playing poker, and that it was one of the main activities of his life.  He hosted a private game in his house, with an actual poker room, dealer and security, where he'd invite friends to play.  I voiced some sympathy for his marital issues (he was recently divorced from a second wife, with whom he had kids), but he said he wasn't too concerned about it, being content with seeing his kids early in the week, and playing poker for the rest of it.  "Poker's my life now!", he proudly claimed.

Now I'm not judging anyone's lifestyle or what they find makes them happy, but it seemed kind of odd to me that he was genuinely content with the way his life was at his age, just playing poker for most of his life as a hobby.  I guess his life is definitely in a better spot than most people at his age, but it just seemed empty.  I guess most people's lives can be empty in some shape or form, there are plenty of wealthy people who do other kinds of pointless things with their lives.  But perhaps because of my experiences with poker and how I feel about it now, the hollowness was more clearly illustrated to me.

I definitely want to be more thankful and content with my life, but I don't know if I ever want to do it without a sense of purpose.  It is hard to find both purpose and contentment, I guess.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Death and Taxes

I think about mortality almost everyday.  It's kind of strange, because in my personal life the concept is so foreign, as nobody close to me (knock on wood) has died yet.  The closest feeling I can approximate is when someone you're close to becomes so far away from you that it's almost as if they had died, because either they've changed so much that they aren't really the same person anymore, or you know that your paths will never cross again.  Yet everyday, I wonder about my impending death and how I believe it will probably come sooner than my life expectancy.  I wonder if my life were to read like a story.  Would it have a definitive arc, a beginning, middle and end?  Would the ultimate time of my death "make sense"?  I think it would be the most satisfying for me if I knew that when I died, it was because it was just in the right moment in time.

I suppose my idea might be a strange one; you always hear that there's never the right time for this kind of thing to happen, loved ones will always mourn the dead, even if they were over a hundred years old at the time of passing.  But when people mourn, I always remember what a Sunday school teacher told me when I was in 4th grade, that people are really mourning for their own emptiness that follows a death.  I wonder what my reaction will be when someone close to me does eventually die.  So far however, I've had trouble mourning, mainly because the people that have died in my life were a bit removed from my personal proximity.

A little under two years ago, I posted about my feelings about my father's mother here:

and her funeral here:

My mother's mother passed away last week.  It was kind of surprising because we had just seen her a year and a half ago in Korea, and she seemed pretty healthy, but she had just been diagnosed with late stage cancer I believe a half year ago, and I suppose at 88, anything can happen relatively quickly.  As with my other grandparents, I wasn't really moved at all by her death, as she was pretty abrasive with my sister, mother and me whenever we visited.  But I could see why she was that way, her husband died 33 years ago when she was 55, and had to take of her polio stricken daughter (my aunt), who still lived at home.  She also took over the family business and as most of her children departed for America, I could see how she could become somewhat hardened emotionally.

I think the biggest sadness I felt for my grandmother was for her life, rather than her death, because of the state of her affairs when she passed.  Although she was a successful real estate businesswoman, I don't know if that ultimately brought her what she desired, as I have a strong suspicion that she felt somewhat abandoned towards the end of her life.  She definitely gained respect, but perhaps at the cost of love.  Of course, being a proud Korean woman, she would never admit such, but it's something I think I observed from talking with my sister about family.

I sometimes read about deaths on CNN, where young people die from some freak accident, or rare illness that comes out of nowhere, and how "tragic" it was.  I almost consider posting some of those stories on the wall somewhere to remind myself how fleeting life really is and to encourage myself to take advantage of the time I have now, to give myself the impression that I'm freerolling on life right now.  I sometimes think to myself, "Damn if I were to die today, it would really suck because I think that the 28 years I lived don't really make for a good story."  Is that the thought that pops into people's heads whenever they attend funerals for young people?  Do they bemoan the incompleteness to the dead's overall life, instead of the fact that he "didn't get to do xy and z" or that "they will miss him dearly"?  Is there any solace if a young person passes but would consider his life to be complete?

A few months ago, my best friend almost got himself killed or permanently paralyzed because of his own stupidity.  He luckily escaped unscathed, coming probably inches to tragedy.  I suppose this event brings the idea of "carpe diem" to the forefront more vividly than any news article, and is probably even infinitely more salient to my friend.  And I would think he would agree that he would be disappointed as well if his life were to end at this juncture, not just because of the thought of the prospect of death and leaving behind loved ones and whatnot, but because of what he's capable of doing for the rest of his life.  And I think God would probably agree as well, which is why he spared the gak from impending doom.

Living day to day, it's hard to keep that kind of idea in focus however.  Forward thinking you always think, "Oh I'll have time for that later."  Wasting time is so easy.  It takes a lot of effort to not waste time.  And I don't necessarily mean keeping life busy, but more making sure you take the time to figure out what you really care about and doing things that show those values.  Personally, it's definitely been a struggle, but I am thankful for the opportunity to kind of look at life from a bigger picture lens from time to time, and to try to realign myself with what I think is important.  I just hope that the feeling of purpose comes sooner than an untimely demise.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 5)

1 Corinthians 1:25 - "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

"The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!"

- Robert Burns

the following may or may not have fictional elements added in or subtracted keep you wondering what actually happened, of course.

warning:  this entry is long.  it could be tl;dr.  perhaps i will write a cliffnotes version sometime.

Lancaster, PA Summer 1997

As an adolescent boy, there's a muddled period where one may mistake being in love for many different things, from a close friendship to a physical feeling in one's loins.  But one thing is for sure, an adolescent boy's heart doesn't fear falling in love, whatever that may look like, as it has not yet experienced inevitable moments of heartbreak.

As a logical and somewhat already cynical teenager, I had already become somewhat misanthropic.  I expected the worst in people, partly because it seemed like most people shat on my face and gave me their worst growing up.  I grew up feeling like I had to prove something to people.  Because of that, the idea of love, let alone love at first sight, seemed like a baseless one to me.  I rolled my eyes at stories like "Romeo and Juliet", based on a bunch of 13-14 year olds who killed themselves because of a relationship that spanned a few days.  It also didn't help that my self-confidence in social scenarios was at an all time low.  I remember turning down this cute girl at a dance in middle school because I thought she was asking me to dance as a practical joke.  (Looking back, I don't think she was.  Drats.)

My perspective all changed one night when I was at nerd camp.  It was the last night and there were dance festivities, and fortunately, since everyone was a nerd, there were no inhibitions of trying to look "cool".  Everyone was getting into the night, singing, dancing, having a ball of a time.  Then it happened.  It was a typical scene in a hackneyed movie plot, the popular girl who's actually secretly a wallflower was hanging out with her posse of friends.  But in that one moment where she wasn't totally engaged with the rest of her group, her gaze slowly drifted towards mine.

Although she was pretty cute, it wasn't like she was particularly beautiful, but in that moment she might as well have been the only girl on the planet.  There was just something about that second where a few feet away, her eyes just locked with mine and all this information (or imagined information) transferred as if we could see into each other's respective souls.  From that look, I believed that I knew everything about her personality, that somehow I knew that she was down to earth, free-spirited, warm-hearted, and sometimes liked to spend time indoors with a good book on a rainy day under the glow of a candle-lit lantern.  That second in time was bliss in itself, there was no commitment, no relationship, no words, just that moment frozen, where the imagination could lead to infinite possibilities.  It felt almost criminally pleasurable to be in that moment.  And I was thinking what the hell, it's hard to look right at you baby, so here's my number...

But then my inhibitions took over.  The time to act had passed and I broke eye contact.  I had been given a trip to the free throw line and I didn't even bother to take the shot.  I spent that entire summer going back home wondering what I could've done differently, and wondering if a moment like that would ever come back, where the magical feeling of being in love was that simple and easy.

Of course, now being more than twice that age, I can tell that boy that he was being stupid.  "You only lived 13 years of your damn life and you're already regretting things you haven't done?  STRAP IN AND PREPARE FOR THE RIDE, BITCH."

But to this day I've never felt that way, however fleeting it was, about anyone else.  It made me believe and hope for something mystical pure and exciting, and that belief in and of itself can become a dangerous thing, when you realize that sometimes you're just chasing after ghosts.

Durham, NC Fall 2002

I can remember thinking that there were a lot of trees.  My parents and I drove had driven through the forest of Duke and I was a tad apprehensive about the surroundings.  I had never visited campus prior to applying to the school, in fact, I knew little about it before applying except that my cousin had went before and their brochure and packet looked interesting enough to apply.

Being a northerner, it's almost a culture shock to come down south, even though it's technically the same country.  To be sure, Duke is somewhat shielded by its college campus bubble, but everything just seemed slower, the demographic was a bit whiter, but I suppose the air was a bit cleaner.

It was truly a harrowing experience for me, as I felt like a fish out of water.  I didn't know anyone at Duke, and honestly, unfamiliarity is not my cup of tea.  I didn't think it would turn out like this, seeing as this was the only school I applied to that was not in the northeast, but alas, it seemed that the way I envisioned things were going to be different from how they were.  I was somewhat somber as I knew most of my friends would be staying in a general 250 mile radius away from New York, and I felt like I was getting booted off the island.

(in creepy Michael Emerson voice): "It's what the island wants, John, it's what the island wants."

There was one friend I knew living in North Carolina, who had graduated from Tufts University that year.  He was the older guy from my home church that everyone looked up to, because he had his life "figured out" at that point, having success in his field of computer science and landing a good job out of college at IBM.  Early on, once I had landed, I had a dinner with him at a nearby Chili's.

We chatted over dinner, mainly about his college experiences, and what to expect going in.  Then I asked him why he came to NC to work, as IBM had plenty of other offices in more attractive locations.  He told me that he came here specifically because it was different than what he experienced, that it was an opportunity to grow as a person.

I didn't know what he was talking about back then, but a decade later, I think I get it.  Being too comfortable doesn't allow you to see outside of yourself too often, and I've found that you don't really change for the better in those kinds of scenarios.  Going to Duke was an experience I may not have wanted, but it was something I needed.

San Juan, Puerto Rico Fall 2006

Life was changing at a pace I wasn't ready for.  It was weird to wake up and realize that you're a millionaire after being just a regular kid a few months back.  I was determined to live life as "normal" and treat the score as a one time deal that I'd just put away.  Despite that, I felt a lot of overwhelming responsibility and pressure, as if I had to justify myself and my circumstances.  The new people I met treated me differently, I suspect, than if I was just another person.  It felt a little isolationist to be identified as "the poker guy" when I felt I was so much more than that; it was hard to make deep connections with people.

But I was looking forward to coming back to New York, because I saw it as a place where I could get back to home, a place of a familiarity.  But instead, starting a job as a consultant, I was being shipped off to Puerto Rico from Sunday to Friday, and although my team members were friendly enough, I was not happy about moving to a totally new place and having virtually no friends and no stability for most of the week.

I was unhappy my first year, there was an incident where I was accused of visiting suspicious websites at work, when that was simply not the case.  The client we worked at had some sort of software that red flagged a poker forum website I frequented, and apparently it came up as malware.  The story then ballooned into a rumor where I was caught for either playing poker and/or watching pornography at the client site.  I was almost fired my first few weeks at work because I was reading forums and updating my fantasy baseball teams at 2am when my computer was busy performing model calculations.  I found this to be pretty fucked up.  My next year and a half at the company had this cloud over me because of this incident as a result.  Looking back, fuck them.

Because of another dramatic incident that happened around the same time, I was at the brink of clinical depression.  I spent a lot of nights in my hotel room lying on my bed alone, listening to the piano version of "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera that the maids would leave in the CD player.  Sometimes, I'd even go out to the beach alone (that's one good thing that damn place was good for) and walk for a bit.  It was very emo.

One of my sister's friends from Harvard was on my first project with me, serving as somewhat of a mentor for me.  She helped me get through those times by speaking up for me and supporting me throughout the transition into real life.  One morning on the way to work, as I was voicing my doubts about the path I was taking, she told me that she believed my sister and I were capable of great things.  She told me that all this was a growing process of finding what I really wanted.

It would be later on that I did not consider my bosses to be doing great things in the world, and finally decided that I did not want to remain in that industry.

Orange County, California Summer 2008

Between me and my new friend that I met in Las Vegas, we must have lost close to 100k that summer playing silly poker tournaments.  Although I had made a decent amount from cash games in the months after I left the finance world, losing a car or two's worth of money wasn't a fun experience, especially when I was technically unemployed.  I decided to spend a few weeks afterwards in California to take my mind off things.

I hadn't been to the LA area since I was in middle school doing that cliche Asian tour of the Grand Canyon, LA and Las Vegas.  It was very...chill.  I stayed with a friend from church in the Diamond Bar area, who had some friends that we would hang out with on a day to day basis, and it was very relaxing as we mainly went to the beach, house parties, ate some in n out burgers etc.  I spent a lot of that time wondering what life would be like on the west coast, what it would look like actually living there.  It was a good way of getting away from the hectic past two years.

That summer I had also been considering pursuing acting, and being LA, it was natural that my friend suggested that I move out there.  I was still unsure and on the fence, at the time I didn't realize how much the industry permeated the city.  Since my family and friends all resided on the east coast, the prospect of moving out to LA was even more daunting than the previous experience I had moving for college.

But I couldn't escape the feeling that something felt right here, thousands of miles from familiarity, for the first time in a long while, I felt something close to being...happy.

Columbia University, New York Winter 2009

I walked away from something I had held onto for years.  A glimmer of hope slowly faded like a glowing ember in the fireplace.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was something that was for the better, and that's not just me saying that to comfort myself in hindsight.

In these kinds of moments however, events have a way of burning themselves into your mind permanently.  You remember that you were eating chicken, that you spill hot chocolate on your right arm, the feel of the light snow and cold in the air, and you remember every word being said to you, and you hold on dearly, because you know they could be the last.

Out of that moment there was one last question I remember that stuck with me.  The question posed to me was, "What is your greatest fear?"

I thought about it for a bit, but not too seriously, but my gut response was that my greatest fear was that at the age of 50, I would look back at my life and want to do it any differently.

She told me, "So promise me that you won't."

I promised.

- - - - - - - - - -

If someone were to assess my talents and skills, they would probably say that my competitive advantage lies in quantitative and conceptual knowledge, that I would probably be best suited in some sort of mathematical oriented field.  It's somewhat true, and I get it when my mother believes that I would be better suited to pursue a career that would lead to being someone like the Federal Reserve Chairman of the United States.  And who knows, maybe I will come back to something like that in the future.

But if there's anything I've learned from my life, it's that no matter what I planned or pursued, there's been an unseen force that's been guiding it in another direction.  The pursuits that I thought were to be wise, or innocent, or pure, ended up being poisoned by my own misdirection.

All my life, I've hungered for control.  Control for where I was going, what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to become.  Part of it was because I felt like I had so little control in my childhood, because I was sacrificing it in exchange for control I would have over my life later on.  There was a sense of entitlement, that I had somehow deserved to be in control.

And this clinging onto control has led me to failure multiple times, and will probably lead me there many more.  And that's what's scary about going into acting, because there's precisely no knowing of what will happen.  It's out of my hands, it's out of my control.  Qualifications and everything go out the window, and it comes down to how much of life can I showcase to the world.

But I do have the belief that I do have a lot of life.  I was shifted to a lot of different places, through college, work, poker, and other travels, so that my path was laden with people from all different walks of life. From my above average sense of recall, I have been able to synthesize that into my own experiences.

And though I don't know ultimately where this road will take me, I want to act because I believe it is the next step of my growth as a person, the step that God will lead me to.  It is ultimately up to Him whether I "make it", but even if I don't, I'm starting to find the mentality that it's not the result but the journey that matters.

- - - - - - - - -

That being said, I'm going to miss New York.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 4)

as noted in a previous entry about 24, the course that intrigued me the most in high school was us history.  not only is the united states the most powerful nation in the world, shaping much of the history in the past 150 years, its story is in my view one of the most compelling.  much of the conflict and strife in america has come from differences in points of view and its political structure.  it has almost been a great social experiment to see how people interacted, sometimes united and other times not, in running this country.  in no way am i suggesting that the way things have played out in this country have lived up to its ideals, but i believe that this country was the birthplace of the idea that everyone's voice should be heard, and that everyone has a story, in the tenet that "all men are created equal."

i am convinced that the entertainment industry thrives and continue to thrives in america because of the way our culture is engineered.  our freedom of speech and amalgamation of different cultures all over the world provide a constant source of conflict, which in turn create a wide opportunity for storytelling.  forced interaction between different groups of people is no better illustrated than in new york city, where thousands of groups of people congregate in a small 5 mile radius.  it is no coincidence that new york is considered by many to be the cultural center of america, and perhaps i am slightly biased, but i consider it to be the cultural center of the world.

living in a place like america, and more specifically areas such as new york, forces you to look at the viewpoints of many different kinds of people, as opposed to an area where the population is a bit more homogenized.  isolationism is easy when you view people who are different as "other", those people with stories you can't relate to, because you've never heard them.  when you live among the "other", you start to understand more where they are coming from.

of course i personally have my own biases, growing up in a specific korean household living under certain socioeconomic standards, but i do think that to some extent, that whenever i view conflict between different groups of people, i try to list all the different arguments of each side, and try to understand where each party is coming from.  there are definitely stories of people i don't understand, and probably will never fully grasp, but that's one of the reasons i want to be acting and in the field of storytelling.  film and theater have been the medium of our time today where ideas are disseminated, a video going viral can attempt to advertise to the masses about strife in africa, or present the story of a kid being an entrepreneur with a lot cardboard and tape.  

i want to be able to educate myself about other people's stories, by playing and writing about different characters.  right now i have a vague idea about humanity, the idea that there is something similar to all of our stories, and that at the heart of it, any one person will have some sort of inkling what it is like to be any other person in the world.  in acting, i want to find humanity in others, and hopefully in turn help others to do the same.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 3)

"we wasted all our free time alone..." - owl city

i had a conversation recently with a friend of mine about who was the more intriguing character, batman or spiderman.  he did have some good points about batman and how the joker was the perfect foil character, engaging in constant psychological warfare that transcended just pure violence, and how batman struggled with redemption and guilt during his superhero career.  while this is all good and dandy, how many people can really relate to that kind of trauma?  spiderman was designed by stan lee to have problems more similar to what ordinary people face.  it felt more like if a normal person were granted super powers, how would they integrate it into their normal lives?  it was more of a reflection of trying to find the type of hero within ourselves, whereas characters like batman have a more inner struggle.

and don't even start with superman, his character might've worked in the all american ages of the post world war ii/cold war era, but nowadays his story just really sucks.

there's a few scenes in my life that stick out in my mind that highlight what i struggled with most growing up, similar to spidey's struggles of rejection, inadequacy, and loneliness.  i remember a time coming back home from school in 5th grade and sharing the revelation to my mother that i "had no friends".  i don't even remember how exactly i felt during that time (and it probably was an exaggeration of some sort, or caused by some event that happened at school), but looking back, i kind of just feel bad for my mom, she put a lot of effort into making me feel accepted, but at the same time she knew intuitively that being overbearing in terms of my social skills could be counterproductive, and sometimes let me learn things on my own.

i didn't have spider powers to help break out of this flux however (though i definitely pretended that i did, many a times), so during my childhood i had a lot of time to myself in my more formative years, creating an environment where my mind was in constant thought and imagination.  i remember instances that are a bit too embarrassing to share where i would immerse myself in pretend situations that really didn't exist, i suppose it was very calvin and hobbes-esque the way i imagined things for myself.  it was partly a coping mechanism, escaping reality, but i think part of me just enjoyed being in that state of mind.

this was the reason i loved watching movies whenever i could.  my favorite movie, the matrix, was just amazing because it combined the elements where you could totally buy into it, yet still retaining a fantastical nature about it.  i watched the movie probably around 100 times, read philosophical articles on it, looked for to no avail for the slick nokia handphone they used, and obsessed until i remembered not only the entire script, but memorized all of the choreographed fight scenes and replicated the dodging bullets maneuver as i could.

i think a part of me always wanted to be an actor because it affords you the opportunity to be someone else or something significant.  but the first time this desire became really visceral was when i was in college, when i saw the movie, Moulin Rouge!.  i remember just watching ewan mcgregor belting out to nicole kidman, and thinking to myself, "that'd be an awesome part to play."  it was the first time i wanted to be in a movie, but not how people think of being in a movie, like being in a movie for the sake of being in a movie, but like being IN the movie, where the characters and the experiences would be marvelously and wonderfully real, where one could be a hero, super or not.

i feel that if i could have that kind of acting experience, day in and day out, i will have "made it" in my mind, no matter what the circumstance.  there's an "acting high" that we talked about at the studio i trained at, and that's the essence of what i think all serious actors want to capture, to really be in the moment of the scene and the story.

Monday, February 13, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 2)

i realize that these entries may start to become more personal, but i guess i have a lot to get off my chest.  hopefully you won't get bored by the details and will find this to be somewhat insightful, as i work through my own psyche for myself.

a lot of people who meet me for the first time probably put me in the category as a softie, someone who gives up if something isn't going well initially, but i consider myself one of the most persevering people i know.

in acting, they say to be prepared to be rejected a multitude of times.  i feel that throughout my life, there has been rarely a time when i wasn't rejected, and just had to find some sort of strength to continue on.

although it hasn't been exactly clear my entire life, i have been groomed to be a performer, where i was continually put in situations where i have been judged for what i could do.  i remember daunting situations throughout my life where i had no idea what to expect, resulting in some victories and some defeats.  among them:

- a math competition for 5th grade koreans in NYC area (knowing none of them who all probably knew each other) that i managed to win after being put in it randomly last minute by my mom
- become an all state orchestra alternate for an instrument i hated playing
- becoming a first time representative of our high school in a national chemistry olympiad where i think i got crushed (another side reason i love the show breaking bad)
- sing on stage for the first time in high school for a competition
- step on stage with the chorus not being a member and not knowing any of the songs as a prank
- skip school to perform with a band at a friend's high school like a rebel without a cause
- be the new leader of a praise team that had lost 5 of its main members the previous year as a first time member by learning how to play guitar, singing, and leading a bunch of first time band members to a congregation that mostly didn't give two shits (and occasionally, i bled on guitars)
- face parents who i had "failed" after getting into 3 of 9 colleges i had applied to (with all of their frenemies' kids getting into choice schools along with a certain sister who slipped through the cracks into harvard)
- getting together a group in college to perform in the greatest asian rock show ever
- managing to get a job as a management consultant somehow out of college after having no internship or real work experience
- have the gumption and the gamble to risk ten grand at the age of 22 in order to play in my first live poker tournament, which ended up being a 14 hour a day, 8 day gauntlet of glory
- enroll in an acting studio with no previous training or knowledge of acting, performing in front of my peers every week

i'd say that these are some events that shaped who i am, developing some of my talent and tenacity for being put into pressure situations.  i was at first a reluctant performer, being forcefully thrust into the spotlight by my parents or other forces, and experiencing some balance of success and failure.  but i think after a while, after gaining confidence of my abilities and strength, i began to relish times to shine.  i had pride in what unique things i had to offer.

for anyone, i think it's good to have a desire to perform at a high level in whatever career they choose.  i think that as i worked at my job, i started to realize that i had no desire to perform well in the career i was in, and found acting and other performance art to be something that i just wanted to do, something that existed in my gut. the events in my life have given me the experience and the hunger to continue to excel.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

the reason i want to act (part 1)

this will be a new series in which i examine why i want to become an actor.  as i'm currently in LA, figuring out whether i will be moving here within the next few months or so, i figured it was a good time to reflect.  the reasons are many and i will try to expound on the most important reasons to me one by one, as a reminder to myself on why i'm doing this and why i should press on when the odds look like they're against me.

it was weird because today, as i was renting a car again to get around town (you really can't get around without one), the dude who was getting my information was like, "so what do you do for a living?" and for the first time without hesitation, i was like, "i'm an actor."  i talked to an up and coming known asian actor as i was here who commented on saying that statement without having anything to back it up feels kind of asinine, but i think shying away from it means that i don't believe in myself.  of course, the feeling of looking silly when saying that comes from viewing so many hoards of people with misguided bravado in this kind of town who overestimate what they're capable of, and don't have a good sense of self awareness.  i think i pride myself in knowing and constantly updating my assessment on my capabilities.

yesterday, i watched jeremy lin play against the utah jazz, scoring 28 points and dishing out 8 assists, with the knicks B team in play.  a great night no doubt, following up his previous night with 25/7/5.  my opinion of him is on the fence, i don't know how far he will actually go, but i do believe that this is the first time that i might have changed on my prior position on the guy.

before his "breakout" games (i put that in quotes because the jury is still out on whether he can consistently provide this kind of output), i was pretty annoyed at all the love jeremy lin was receiving by the asian american community.  it is a superb achievement making the NBA, and not a thing to belittle by any stretch of the imagination.  but the constant lin updates on social media were a bit nauseating, to say the least.  my main point of contention was that people were treating this as if he had "made" it, overemphasizing any little success that he enjoyed.  it was as if they were saying (this is my view, it may not be true for all) although you're warming the bench playing garbage time, this is the extent of what asians can do, you made it.

as i watched highlights of jeremy lin in the past few days, i could not help but think how infectious it was cheering for him despite my cynicism.  he is pushing the frontier of what society thinks of asian americans, and i praise him for his hard work and not giving up mentality, getting it done against stronger and faster guards by just making solid plays and not making stupid mistakes.  i'm no NBA scout, but maybe the reason why we don't see hyperfreak athletic asians in the NBA that can do all those crazy dwyane wade-esque moves is because those asians that have the potential to be those kinds of players never believed in themselves because of the limits society placed on them, and instead honed in on "safe" opportunities, opportunities that society told them they COULD excel in.

in my talk with the other actor, he iterated the same thing about asians in entertainment as well.  he expressed his belief that the reason that there aren't any great asian american actors right now is that maybe the best actor is out being a doctor or something, because he never had the confidence to pursue his dreams.  this is not saying anything against other professions or anything, and each person has their own path, but as an asian american, you can't help but feel that sometimes your choices are limited in terms of what you can achieve, because you don't see anyone like yourself doing the things that you want to do.

it was only in high school when i started to pursue my passion for performing, rawking on geetars and making scenes in public on a regular basis.  usually a quiet kid growing up, i forced myself to change in pursuit of a girl and become many times more expressive.  after that change, i discovered that i had a talent for becoming a character, becoming at times things that i was not, and at other times, having the ability to show people who i was at my core, the rawness underneath.  that i believe is my talent, being as real as possible, cutting away the bullshit.  that is not to say that i am constantly in truthful mode, because of social norms, i'd probably be viewed as insane if i did that (though i'm already viewed as such from some more uptight people).  but it created within me an ability to be a chameleon in a variety of circumstances, being able to take on very many personas depending on who the audience was.

but it took an ass kick out of the corporate world 4 years ago to make me think, "huh, maybe i will try this out."  and maybe it was because i did see some of my contemporaries making strides in the entertainment world that inspired me.  i know that early on in my process, i was inspired by the artist, priscilla ahn, someone who left for LA at the age of 18 instead of being safe, someone with a lot more courage than me.  maybe it was the william hungs of the world and that caricaturized asian on the "2 broke girls" show that convinced me that there needs to be someone who can change how society views asian americans.

before i wanted to become an actor, i DID envision myself as wanting to be one of those people that changed this view of "our kind."  when i grew up, asians were never really in the media as "normal Americans".  we were never represented in the stories of our time, and consequently our culture.  it was part of the reason that i feel like as an asian, we were on the outside and we don't fit into American culture.  it almost felt like since we didn't see ourselves in tv, movies, or anything in mainstream culture, what we felt and what we thought did not matter.  it almost gives reason to the statement that wesley yang makes when he says:

"Here is what I sometimes suspect my face signifies to other Americans: an invisible person, barely distinguishable from a mass of faces that resemble it. A conspicuous person standing apart from the crowd and yet devoid of any individuality. An icon of so much that the culture pretends to honor but that it in fact patronizes and exploits. Not just people “who are good at math” and play the violin, but a mass of stifled, repressed, abused, conformist quasi-robots who simply do not matter, socially or culturally."

when i see other asians in america, he's right, i don't see a human being with human thoughts and human emotions.  i have somewhat bought into this societies view of us, even though i see myself as totally counter to that stereotype.  i want to change this.

i hope to be someday as big an inspiration as jeremy one day.  as he inspires future NBA asian american stars, i hope to be one of many to inspire asians in america to be able to express themselves.