CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Category — CYKim

Renee Cho Yeon Kim/ New York, Stop.


As a New Yorker, my typical day starts with an obnoxiously loud alarm. I wave my heavy arms to spot and turn it off without an attempt to open my eyes. I get out of my bed, take a quick shower, and finally check the time. I realize that I have a little more time to fetch a bagel from a café nearby my school. My mind gets busy. I dress myself up in whatever comes into my mind from the closet. I put on my shoes and stuff everything I see on the desk into my school bag. During those thirty minutes, I never stop to look back or think what I am doing. Officially, my unstoppable day as a New Yorker begins as I am merged into the street filled with other hundreds of New Yorkers who open their days just like I do.

For some reason, we, the New Yorkers, are living a day that is broken down into seconds. We do not hesitate to cross the street illegally, even in front of the cops who are staring at us, if we can save five more seconds of our day. Just to save five seconds to be in class earlier, ten more seconds to meet my friends, and thirty more seconds to get out early from school, or to do whatever else, I run all day long. Obviously, I’m not alone in following this draining pattern of life. New Yorkers do not bother themselves to see each other on the street and make eye contact. They do not have enough time to say “Hello” or “Good morning” to some strangers on the street with a smile. Simply, we do not stop.

When I first was assigned to do the Street photography project from IDC class, I wanted to find something philosophical through my camera lens. For a long time, that moment of inspiration did not come to me. One day, I was waiting for a street sign to change at Times Square. My mind went entirely blank from daydreaming, and I did not realize that the sign has changed. When I finally retrieved my consciousness, I was in the middle of a giant flow of New Yorkers. Suddenly, this odd feeling touched my mind.  Why do we never pause and see what other people are doing? Why are we always so busy and full of ourselves? I decided to capture the moments when New Yorkers are “forced” to stop in their days. I went around the city capturing people waiting for their buses at the bus stops or for crossing signs to change, and empty stores filled with darkness. Also, I took photos of New Yorkers busying themselves to surpass others.

In order to depict the “crazy business” of the city life, I decided to go to take photos at Times Square. It was an excellent choice, since that was the busiest and the most crowded place in Manhattan. I didn’t have any trouble spotting interesting subjects for my photography. However, the biggest challenge came from the technical limitation of my camera. I used a plain digital camera, which automatically did the focusing for me. Oftentimes, it wouldn’t let me adjust the focus for the angle that I wanted. It automatically cleared out the parts that I wanted it to make blurry. Otherwise, I played around with the shutter speed and light exposure values to have a dreamy, yet dynamic atmosphere in my photos. I decided to take photos at night so that I could play around with the light. I was generally satisfied with the photos, but some of the color schemes turned out to be little darker than what I expected.

The most interesting part of my project was that I was able to live different from the crowd for those short moments. I stopped when everyone moved around. I moved when everyone stopped. Through my lens, I could find hidden meanings of so many little things that we disregard each day. It was the significance of recovering our composure in our busy lives. In order to keep ourselves conscious of changes, we should be conscious of our surroundings first. This is the new definition of the city life that I could derive from my photography project.

December 14, 2010   No Comments

Medea: Simplicity, That Was All It Took.

There is the word that we often forget in our busy lives: “simplicity.” Overwhelmed by day-to-day technological and cultural changes, we continuously look for something new and flashy. We are so used to watching the enormous, delicate stage on the Broadway show and actors and actresses in stunning outfits. However, Medea reading directed by Mahayana Landowne at the Baruch Performing Arts Center on October 4th, 2010 made me to realize that the real potential of a performing art is not limited to the materials on the stage. By minimizing the stage devices and outfits, the performance proved that nothing else could outreach the potential of the performers.

Medea is an ancient play written by Euripides in the 3rd century B.C. It contains a deep depth of emotions of agony, betrayal and revenge. When I first heard that we were going to attend the reading, I was concerned. Without any stage devices or the appropriate costumes to imply the setting and time, how are they going to embody Medea from the Ancient Greece?  However, as soon as the actual reading started by Kathleen Turco-Lyon’s calm voice who played the nurse, I put aside all my concerns. I was instantly drawn into the passionate reading of the actors and actresses. Especially whenever the actress Denise Ann Pelletier, who played a role of Medea grasped the attention from the audience through her passionate acting. Every little aspect of her voice, gaze and even hand gestures, all became Medea herself. With her bare feet, she led herself and all of us into the real world of drama. Through I learned the beauty of simplicity.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Art at MoMa: Ambiguous, Abstract and Atypical

I am usually a grumpy country girl. Every morning, I start my day with pouring complaints and sighs when I have to throw myself into a packed F train. One thing that I appreciate in my life of a city dweller is having an access to the cultural enrichment. Overflowing with museums, galleries and performance halls, New York City is all about the culture. Amongst all the powerhouses of inspiration, there is one place that I actually love the most. At the Museum of Modern Art, you are not allowed to perceive the paintings as they are. Instead, you find a thought, an insight, and inspiration of different artists. Before I entered MoMa, my eyes sparkled with curiosity. What would inspire me today? I always ask myself the same question, but each time MoMa provides me with a different answer. When I attentively and creatively examined the works from the exhibition “Abstract Expressionist New York,” three words came to my mind for deriving my own definition of Art: Ambiguous, Abstract, and Atypical.

<1951. Enamel paint on canvas, 7′ 7 7/8″ x 7′ 2″ (233.4 x 218.4 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and the Mr. and Mrs. David Rockefeller Fund. © 2010 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York>

Art is Ambiguous: Abstract art finds its values from ambiguity. Among the paintings, today’s exhibition could be summarized by “rediscovery of Jackson Pollock.” Jackson Pollock was an American painter who significantly influenced other abstract artists by developing the action painting method for the first time. This was just general information that I had about him. I knew about his style of spraying the paints all over the canvas creating undefined figures, but I couldn’t appreciate his artwork before. I secretly grumbled whenever I passed by his paintings, “Hey, I did the same thing when I was in 4th grade art class!”

Nonetheless, something has changed this time. I could not arrogantly walk away from his painting. The one that stroke me the most was “Echo: Number 25, 1951.” I never knew Pollock’s painting blobs had this deep sensation in them. As if I were seeing a vibrant herd of horses on some oriental painting, all the ambiguous figures were weaved together and emitted a powerful energy. From his painting, I was able to find the first, simple definition of art: it is a process of creating something from nothing.

<1941-44. Oil on canvas, 27 1/4 x 17 1/8″ (69.2 x 43.5 cm). Gift of Renate Ponsold Motherwell>

Art is Abstract: Abstractism prevents us from judging the values of the artwork. The one aspect that I really love about abstract art is that there is no right or wrong answer for your own interpretation of the work. Most of them do not even have a title. For the ones that actually have a title, I tend check the title at the last minute: by doing so, I can freely think and interpret the artwork through my own lens. When I was looking at Robert Motherwell’s “The Little Spanish Prison,” I didn’t look at the credit to check the title. Somehow, the painting’s yellow and white stripes with one accentuated pink vertical block on the bottom reminded me of a prison cell. After checking the title, I was very happy. It wasn’t simply because I made the correct guess; but, I was able to connect my thoughts with the artist and communicate with him through his painting.

<1950. Egg tempera and enamel on canvas, 8′ 1/8″ x 8′ 9 1/2″ (244.1 x 268 cm). The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 2010 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York>

Art is Atypical: If we see an artwork like Barnett Newman’s “The Voice,” we arrogantly say, “A 4 year-old can even do this!” Yes, his painting is nothing but a giant white canvas with one indefinite line on the side. And yes, maybe a 4-year-old can imitate his painting after staring at it for 5 seconds. However, here is the real difference. You might have thought of the same idea, but you’re not the one who created this art. You are not the one who executed the same idea to share with other people. It seems very easy to be an artist, but certainly not everyone can become one. Whether the painting is consisted of seemingly meaningless colors, shapes and lines, its value for is in being someone’s exclusive idea that wasn’t originally expressed. A typical artist follows what other people think. However, an atypical artist listens to his own voice and expresses what he thinks.

I personally consider having a definite and unique style as the most significant trait of an artist. In that perspective, Pollock’s natural and vibrant flows of enamel painting on the white canvas reveal his creativity and philosophy as an artist. I also admire his audacity of executing his ideas even though knowing that people are going to insensitively degrade his or her artistic values for its simplicity and easiness. As I was approaching the newly derived definition of art, I became terribly lost. In art, there is no right or wrong answer. Each one of us has a different voice from one another, and we all have different perspective through our own lenses. I was able to make different approaches for deriving the new definition of art by encountering new inspirations from the exhibition “Abstract expressionist New York.” There is no one definition that can solely stand for defining art. When my opinion and the artist’s intention finds an intersection, that is the moment that art meets its fullest value.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Still Listens

<Still Listens, Acrylic Painting over Plastic Board and Cloth>

“What is the most powerful thing in life?” When asked to answer this question in an art and politics class at the Museum of Modern Art, I started to sketch a brain passionately. I believed intelligence is having the ability to wield power. Through this class, I observed how artists transmit their political views, thoughts, and inspirations by using their art as a medium. Studying political art exposed me to a broader view of the world. My initial thoughts of political art were that it must convey incomprehensible themes and controversial issues like racism. As the class progressed, I developed a sophisticated way of reasoning through my final project. I was able to obtain my third eye on examining a social issue free from establishing a fixation.

I chose to portray the theme of miscommunication between the people for my final project. Overexposed to the streams of excessive, unnecessary information from the internet and other sources, I suddenly realized my sensation has been dulled. After perceiving my dilemma, I started to examine our society in a different aspect. Surprisingly, I could see people raising their voices over insignificant things without even trying to understand each other every day.  Since communication is the fundamental tool for creating relationships among people and the building blocks of our society, I realized its profound impact was even beyond our cultural boundaries. The absence of sincerity, not the language itself, was the real bane causing social discord.

After I got the gist of the sketch, I decided to weave Korean culture into my work. My challenge was finding one focal point within two different cultures. I interpreted a Korean proverb, “reading a Buddhist bible to a cow,” which has the same meaning as “talking to a wall” in Western culture. I drew a cow wearing a mask, glasses, and headset to symbolize all sensors has been blocked. Then I cut the edges of the board as if they’re flowing into the headset. There was nothing particularly standing out as “Korean,” or “American,” but a newly intertwined culture of my own.

On the opening day of our exhibition, the diversity and richness of the viewers’ thoughtful approaches amazed me. When I was first asked what the most powerful thing is, I simply restated the well- known maxim: “Knowledge is power.” After ten weeks, I became aware that real power can be solely obtained by examining things in life in a creative and new aspect, and interpreting, feeling the world as it is.  Political art wasn’t obscure; it was simply a window that’s portraying us, reflecting our society, and showing the future. When I started to explain my final project, I felt more like an artists than just a high school student. I found a new sensation of happiness in the process of creating a work of art work and observing things in life in a different perspective.

December 13, 2010   No Comments

Sara Krulwich: A Photo that Defines Who I Am

If I had a chance to depict my life with a photo, which image would I choose? Even though my facebook profile album is overflowing with funny, yet meaningless photos of myself as a moderately reckless college kid, I could not come up with a definite moment in my life that would describe my personality, philosophy and dreams as a whole. However, Sara Kruwich is different; in my last IDC class, she opened up her speech about her career and life with a photo of herself.

In the photo that changed her life, 18-year-old Sara Krulwich was smiling in a giant Mexican hat in the middle of the football field at the University of Michigan. As if she had no idea that she was about to be dragged out by gigantic football players from the field for illegally invading the men’s field, her smile was perfectly calm and comfortable. Growing up as a teenager and a young woman in the 1960s, sexism wasn’t a phenomenon, but reality to Sara Krulwich. No women and dogs were allowed to enter the football field at the University of  Michigan. However, the University soon accepted a dog as its mascot. While women were still uninvited, the dogs joined the crowd on the football field.  “Why can’t I?” Krulwich asked herself, “If dogs can enter the field, I thought, why can’t I?” This was the question that reinforced her to be the front-runner for changing the history, generation, and culture.

From that moment on, Sara Krulwich became“the first” and “only” in her career path as a woman photographer. She was one of the first women photographers working at the New York Times. She was the only woman photographer who worked on the sports field among the hundreds of men. For decades, she saw the world through a different perspective. She was able to develop a sharp focus and found reality in drama through her photos.  With a smile, she asked us to be courageous and be ourselves.

Now it’s finally the time for me to face the previous question again. I do not know how long it would take for me to find the “right” moment, but I am going to continue to move on with the courage that Sara Krulwich gave me today.

December 11, 2010   No Comments

The Bistter Sea: Bitter-Sweet, Voyage.

One person lived a life which he would recall as “the Bitter Sea.” If we compare our lives as a voyage on the sea that would define ourselves of who we are and where we are heading toward, Charles N. Li’s voyage is made through consecutive strikes of Hurricanes. However, those hardships are hard to be compared with a natural disaster. Despite the situation that Li has to deal with, he is able to make decisions over his life. Both the environment and his own decision paves a way for him to achieve maturity as an adult.

Once growing up as a son of the wealthy Chinese government official, Li becomes a street kid in the slum unexpectedly. After spending a year at the foreigner’s camp in the Communist China, Li realizes he has been used by his ambitious father who aims to regain his political strength through his son. Bitter yet sweet, his life is a restless ride on a roller-coaster that does not have an apparent destination. This quaky departure is solely based on the rigid and disfigured relationship between his father and him. Filial piety’s influence in China is beyond its meaning of philosophy. In this father and son relationship, there are no exchanges of affectionate words or eye-contacts. As if they have made a contract, Li and his father simply acting out their own roles. Li takes a role as an obedient, diligent and smart student, and his father as a provider of food and shelter.

Throughout his life, all Li wants to earn from his father is freedom. Li recalls that his years spending in the slum are the most delightful and unforgettable memory of all times.

Later on, Li’s encounter to Communist China’s restrictive atmosphere of controlling ideas elevates his inner conflict of raising his self-consciousness. At the end, he is able to step out of his father’s shadow and face the world by himself.

The pivotal moment for Li turning into adulthood is when he comes back from the Communist China and decides to be independent from his father. He financially, physically and mentally detaches himself from his father’s influence. As he prepares himself for another enormous transition in life of studying abroad in the United States, Li is able to understand his father for the first time and finally forgives him. He even embraces his father’s never-ending political ambition. Li decides to mend his disrupted relationship with his father at the beginning of his new life.

I do not believe Li’s present self is drastically influenced by either Chinese culture or Communism. Every person bears his or her own burden of life. Through challenges, a person is simply learning how to move from the past or flow with it. Nonetheless, I greatly appreciate Li’s story because he is volunteering to be a role model who assiduously and audaciously steps forward to face destiny and eventually, finds himself.

December 11, 2010   1 Comment

The Scottsboro Boys: You Can’t Do Me.

A dim orange light directly projected the hidden heroes of the Broadway musical The Scottsboro Boys in the dark Lyceum Theatre. Several metallic chairs were bunched up on the empty stage as if they were implying the musical’s complicated dilemma of maintaining balance between depicting the gravity of a historical event and presenting entertainment to the audience. The illumination of the legs got dimmer as the light gradually faded away. Soon the entire stage was filled with all the miscellaneous noises of the city. When the light was finally restored, the audience was introduced to a crucial, but mysterious heroine of the musical. One African American lady in an ivory dress and heavy trench coat sat on one of the chairs. With this anonymous woman’s blank gaze at the audience, the Scottsboro boys finally drew their heavy curtains.

The Scottsboro Boys is a musical based on a historical incident that was taken place in 1931. Nine African American teenagers, who were traveling the northeast part of Alabama, were wrongly accused of raping two white women. Just like most of the audience there, I initially misread the synopsis and presumed that this musical’s potential was locked in the heavy atmosphere of depicting racism and clashes between different social classes in the 1930s. As the storyline progressed, however, I found that my initial assumption was wrong. The musical’s potential was not limited. The musical did stop at simply narrating the historical context on behalf of the innocent victims of the social prejudices. Similar to what the Scottsboro boys sang their song “Shout,” this musical was an astonishing debut of all the muted, forgotten, and ignored neighbors of our society.

The musical was able to project the voice clearly by minimizing the number of stage devices and allowed the audience to focus on the characters and the storyline from other visual factors. By doing so, it was able to make the audience to perceive the metaphorical meaning of the scenes better. The several metallic chairs and three giant frames were the only stage devices that were used in the musical. The scene after another, the chairs were bunched up and became a train, a prison cell, and often simply served their original role, chairs. The cell created by chair legs implied unfair treatment of the society toward the innocent boys behind the iron bars. Meanwhile, the huge frames on the back of the stage indicated the society’s paradox for its careless judgment of individuals according to its own biased standard. Also, it served as a metaphor for our cognitive rulers that we use everyday to measure others’ worth.

Even though the songs were encoded in lively beats and sung by performers with energetic choreography, the musical successfully maintained its sharp satire on the social prejudices against the African Americans. The best moment of this performance came at last when all the boys sang “The Scottsboro Boys” together in unison. Their faces were entirely colored in black except for their mouths. Everyone, whether they were freed from the wrong accusation or got executed, came together in one voice. In the middle of the song, the freed boys came up to the front and explained what happened to their lives afterward. Even though they could run away from the instant accusation of a false crime, most of them could not successfully merged back into the society.  In this scene, I was able to redefine my own definition of freedom: the society itself was the actual life-long imprisonment for the boys.

The Scottsboro Boys examined the significance of spirit of civil disobedience in our society. History is written in favor of who play by the rules. In that perspective, Haywood was the loser: he was the only person who refused to admit his false charge and chose death rather than pleading for life. However, the real irony in the musical is that the concept of power was interpreted differently. This time, or at least this musical was in favor of the losers and strived to retrieve their lost voices. Haywood himself became a resonating evidence of injustice by refusing to obey a false order.

Besides portraying the serious consequences of racism in the 30s, the musical also depicted discrimination against other social groups. The lady who first appeared on the stage did not speak any word throughout the musical. She either sat or stood in the corner of the stage as if she did not belong to anywhere. No one noticed her presence. When she knelt down to check if Haywood was okay after being forcefully pushed away by the prosecutor, Haywood waved her off. In the last scene, she sat on a chair in the dark all by herself again. A white driver demanded her to give up her sit.  “No,” she spoke for the first time, “No, I don’t want to move.” Setting up the “speechless woman” as Rosa Park was slightly too dramatic and easily predictable to some extent. Nonetheless, this predictable ending was powerful enough to recap and collect all the ambivalent emotions toward the incident.

Through the upbeat flow of rich jazz melody in “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey!” and Haywood’s deep voice in his solo “You Can’t Do Me,” the Scottsboro Boys presented a full package of different performance arts. Each character’s voice was unique, yet blended perfectly into unison.  After the curtain fell back again, I found myself remaining in my seat asking myself different questions. What freedom really means to me? Am I free in my world? What is justice? I couldn’t answer any of the questions out of my head. However, I suddenly realized how heavy the weight of freedom is that I carry all the time.

Image was taken from <,r:4,s:0&biw=1276&bih=624>

December 11, 2010   No Comments

Who He Was: The Second Interview

IDC Who He Was

My first encounter with Chulho started with an interview in Korea. About 10 years ago, I first entered his broadcasting company’s building with a light heart. We shook hands in a dark room filled with hundreds of TV monitors. In the middle of muted CNN, BBC, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and some European news, I asked him my first question with a shaky voice. I don’t remember exactly what the question was, but it was probably something very awkward and trite like “How are you?” I was so nervous about my first “official” task in journalism. I had an assignment for school to interview an adult who inspired me. At the time, I was a 9-year-old girl who wanted to become an anchorwoman. Ten years have passed, and that 9-year-old girl is attending college and that anchor from Korea is now an international civil servant working with UNICEF. With nostalgia of our first encounter, this time, I started our second interview with a smile.

My first question was “What kind of college student were you?” Chulho leaned back in his chair and smiled. As if asking me why was I so curious about his old, glorious days, he smiled again and again. After catching the sincere curiosity in my eyes, he answered at last: “Studious, for the most of part.” As he progressed into higher grades, he was able to distinguish different types of intelligence: “book-smart,” which was basically thinking and explaining things in life in an academic perspective and “life-smart,” gaining insight outside the classroom. I couldn’t help myself but to ask “Which one do you think would describe you better?” His answer, just like always, was very journalistic and moderate. “Well, somewhere in the middle, I guess?” We both laughed. I remembered that during the first interview, his mischievous humor and sharp talking points were the traits that I admired the most about him as a journalist. He hasn’t changed over the years at all.

Throughout our conversation about his exciting college experiences, such as traveling around the nation for the concerts of his Acappella group, I asked him why he chose journalism as his major. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “You are really making me think back to the younger days.” Since he was in junior high school, Chulho was always interested in languages, literature, and current events. He joined school newspapers and radio projects. Growing up as a son of a former career diplomat, he always enjoyed cultural immersion and encounters with people from different parts of the world. He called his decision, “a natural confirmation of both academic affinities and personal upbringings.” “Wow!” I exclaimed, “what a combination of words.” With playful nodding, he agreed with me. After finishing his undergraduate studies at Stanford, Chulho attended the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism to broaden his knowledge in Journalism.

I suddenly wondered, “Was there any shortcomings that he felt about journalism or media industry?” Chulho’s answer was simple, yet convincing. Media and objectivity were no longer on the same line anymore. Political influence, commercialism and all the hidden power relations behind the media created a slant and eradicated true objectivity. He added, “The emergence of first-person reporting (I saw this, I saw that) and how some media organizations spend too much time congratulating themselves on the jobs that they are supposed to be doing in the first place, can be a real hindrance to objectivity.” I told him that maybe the emergence of new, digital communication tools, such as Facebook, blogs, and Tweeter, are solidifying the trend of the first person reporting. “Certainly,” Chulho nodded, “you may argue that true objectivity does not exist in the first place, but I think it is crucial to keep it as a goal, no matter how elusive, whether it’s the traditional media or the emerging role of civic journalism.”

When I asked him when was the pivotal moment that changed his life, he recalled 9/11. It was a little bit of surprise for me. I thought he was going to share some heartbreaking episodes about the suffering children in Africa or (no surprise!) his decision to get married to my cousin. To my knowledge, Chulho himself wasn’t directly affected by 9/11. The only thing that I could recall was that my cousin followed him on his business trip and stayed in New York City that week. After a few seconds of pause, he began to share his story. He said “I was actually in New York City at the time having been sent on mission from UNICEF Afghanistan to provide support during what was supposed to have been that year’s UN General Assembly Special Session on Children.” By that time, he had been working for UNICEF for only about 4 months. This incident forced him to face the biggest dilemma both in his career and his life. As tensions rose and being quickly focused on Afghanistan, where his office was located, he was not so sure whether he should continue his career at UNICEF in this dangerous atmosphere. It was extremely hard to make a decision regarding “heading to Islamabad, Pakistan, where the main office was based, and eventually Kabul.” He continued, “It was a decision made on the basis that I would approach my work like a journalist, and with full support of the family.” Even though I wasn’t forcing myself to comprehend, I could sense how difficult it was for him to make a decision. However, he made a decision to stay on his career path.

After traveling and living all over the world, from Pakistan to Afghanistan and then to Uganda, this is Chulho’s first year working at the UN headquarters in New York City. To my question of his overall experience at the UN, he replied that it has been “truly fantastic.” He feels excessively privileged to have this kind of opportunity. As the interview was drawing to an end, I realized it was finally the time to throw some cliché questions to him. “Do you feel any regrets?” He almost instantly answered, “No.”

I finally asked him about our first interview. Even before I could finish my question, I laughed out loud out of embarrassment. He walked to the shelves and brought out an old photo album without saying anything further. Surprisingly, he organized all the photos that I’ve taken with him AND the old copy of my article that I wrote 10 years ago on the interview. Now it was really the time for me to run away. I desperately started looking for a hole –any hole that I could hide my terribly embarrassed self in. However, I decided to maintain my professionalism and asked him if he felt any different now and then about himself. He softly chuckled and said, “As someone with a little more experience professionally, and now of course a father, I do feel like I am that much older. But I am essentially the same person.”

As his niece, I finished my interview with a personal request of life advice.  His last words were very helpful: “You are doing great. Bon Courage!” I teased him sarcastically saying “that’s so helpful!” In fact, I wasn’t being sarcastic at all. It was the best advice for me. I always wonder if I am going in the right direction in life. Chulho is one of the people who guide me to see what I want to do in my life. He is the front-runner and I am his follower. For that reason, it was such a relief hearing that I am still “doing a great job” from him. He still remains as one of my best mentors in life and definitely will be for a long time.

December 9, 2010   3 Comments

QuadLingual Family

“Qu’est que tu veut manger maintenant?”

“Oh, Oh, Oh! I know, I know! How about… Ravioli?”

“ 또? 딴 건 뭐 없나? 그저께도 그거 먹었는데.”

“You should never complain in front of food! Do you know how many kids….”

“Okay, okay. Je comprend, mammon. Je suis desole. ”

“Wait, auntie. How do you say I will eat well in Japanese again?”

“ 음, いただきます.”

“That sounds funny, 이타다키마스?”

“Okay, let’s have a dinner! Who wants to say grace in Korean?”

Who is saying what? We normally don’t know while we are talking. Usually it is extremely challenging when four different languages are being exchanged in front of you. However, this is not a conversation taken place at JFK international airport or at some huge international convention. This is a typical conversation at my cousin’s house. One special thing about my family is that we ask questions to each other in four languages over our dinner table.  Normally, we also respond to those questions in different languages.

My cousin has a husband and two adorable girls who are 7 and 5 years old respectively. Most of the times, our conversation is in English. All the grown-ups in our family can speak English and Korean interchangeably. My cousin-in-law and I additionally speak French. Our conversation is often in Korean, but the girls are not fluent yet. So English is our first language for communicating. As I started learning Japanese and my niece picked up French as her second language at school, our conversation at the dinner table became more diverse and interesting both in a good way. Japanese and French children’s songs are now added to my nieces’ new soundtracks.

Despite the confused look that guests who are invited to our exciting “learn a new language” at the dinner table for the first time, our communication is processed without flaws. This complicated infrastructure allow us to be more open toward different cultures. Often we ask each other about the words or cultural customs that we do not know about a particular culture. For instance, since I am the only person who knows how to speak Japanese, I teach the girls how to say basic things  along with culture that I already learned from my Japanese class.

Also, the subjects we talk about usually affect the languages. There are certain topics that we can be more expressive in a particular language. When we are talking about our beloved family, we tend to use Korean to describe our affection toward them. I can express the intimacy better with other people by using Korean adjectives.  It feels more spontaneous that way. In contrast, when I talk about my lives in New York City, I obviously speak in English because it is more convenient to find the exact words that match with my emotions and thoughts as the New Yorker.

One of the major reasons why I cannot wait till I can meet my cousin’s family all the times is that I enjoy the positive feedback that we show each other. We encourage each other to talk and express him or herself in a diverse way. Often I mistakenly pronounce or phrase something wrong. No one picks on me for not saying in the perfect grammar or accent. As a family, we tend to treat each other with respect and encouragement. In this positive and supportive learning environment, I can practice different languages without being afraid of mistakes. Language is culture and culture is language. My family speaks four different languages and speaks of four different cultures. This is also our family culture.

November 23, 2010   No Comments

ICP: Walking through History

Photography is a coexistence of remembrance and reminiscence in our lives. Like the old black and white photos, memory and history are fused together to project moment through a unique angle. International Center of Photography serves as a storage of various moments of history: it collects and combines different perspectives altogether. The exhibition that I went last Thursday was “The Mexican Suitcase: Rediscovered Spanish Civil War Negatives by Capa, Chim, and Taro” and “Cuba in Revolution.” These photography exhibitions showed how media utilizes photography to control public opinion and manipulate prejudice.

Upon entering the center, we were greeted by a huge image of film rolls showed in a sectored box called “the Mexican Suitcase” in front the main entrance of ICP. The first exhibition contained photos taken by Chim (David Seymour) and other renowned war photographers, such as Gerda Taro, and Robert Capa, who eventually developed war photography as an independent genre. Their tiny suitcases were filled with more than 4,500 35mm negatives of the photos taken during the Spanish Civil War. This was the first time that they were openly exhibited after the films and negatives were lost and found few decades ago.

The most interesting perspective of this exhibition was that it put an emphasis on the influence of using photographs in media. Of course, some of the photos contained horrifying scene of violence, but most of them were depicting the people’s reactions toward the war. The original films and negatives were on the upper wall. Underneath them, there was a collection of magazines from different countries that used one photo to trigger different reactions from people.

Chim (David Seymour), [Two Republican soldiers carrying a crucifix, Madrid], October– November 1936. © Estate of David Seymour / Magnum. International Center of Photography. <>

One sector of the exhibition contained a photo, which depicted the Nazi German soldiers forcefully removing the treasures and art pieces from the Spanish Palace claiming that they can preserve them in a better condition. By using the same photo, German magazine praised their government’s generosity and respect toward Spanish culture, while Regards, the French magazine accuses the Nazis of robbery.  Even though, the same picture was used for both media, the title and article generated entirely different atmosphere. Media kindly blocked the people’s vision to generate their own interpretation on the photo.

Osvaldo Salas, Comandante Camillo Cienfuegos and Captain Rafael Ochoa at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, 1959. © The Osvaldo & Roberto Salas Estate, Havana, Cuba, Courtesy The International Art Heritage Foundation. <>

Downstairs, there was an exhibition about Cuban Revolution. Most of the photos were of portraits of the two leaders of Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. There were two photos stuck in my mind. One was of two Cuban officials, Commandant Cienfuegos and Captain Ochoa arrogantly standing in front of the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in their Cuban military uniforms. This uneasy juxtaposition of “the martyrs of communism” standing in front of one of the founding fathers of American democracy was both ironic and amusing at the same time.

Another photo was of Che Guevara’s stunned face with his eyes and mouth wide open. Before I read the credit and information below the photo, I didn’t know this photo was taken after his death. His expression was blank, but it was extremely hard to detect any sign of death in the photo itself. It was the moment when I felt the perception of reality was becoming vague. A photo, which is considered to be the most vivid record of history, could not explain the entire history by itself.

Throughout history, photographs were used as a dominant tool for polarizing opinions in favor of one side. That was my initial preconception toward photography. However, ICP exhibitions made me to redefine the role of photographs in our lives. If capturing the moment is a photographer’s duty, we, as viewers, are in charge of developing our own interpretation with open mind. We can either like it or hate it, but should not disregard the fact that there are always some emotions in our mind evoked by photographs. We should treasure such emotions and insights to avoid perceiving bias from the media.

November 9, 2010   No Comments