There’s one activity that I’ve been carrying on for almost 5 years now, that is to answer one question every day on my Q&A a Day, 5-year Journal. The questions vary from something as simple as “What did you have for lunch today?” to as philosophical as “What makes you happy?” I found it the easiest, if not laziest, way to keep a journal. I’m reaching 5th year now.
One night when my wife and I tried to answer it, I was fascinated by our completely opposite response of it — “What’s the new word you learned recently?” She couldn’t come up with one, I couldn’t come up with just one. She is native in both Japanese and English, I’m neither.
Every day I encounter words I don’t know. There’s hardly a day I could go by without marking anything on the book I’m reading. Even when watching TV shows on Netflix, I would have a notebook (or any paper like receipts of lunch in my pocket) at hands to note down the words or the timestamps so I can look them up later.
This linguistic journey isn’t always that smooth, there are rainy seasons. When I saw my wife flipped through a novel during a weekend while the same book took me about 2 weeks to finish, there was a taste of frustration, to be honest.
So why am I doing this - learning new words and writing in English while I could get by every day just fine? There would be no perceivable setbacks in my professional or personal life. When I started my Writing Spree April a few days ago, I stumbled on this question myself.
I remember how it was like in the early days. Though I had the English lessons during my school years, much like how everybody treated the second language at school, I passed the tests and then forgot about it - I had no desire or need of practicing it. It was until I joined my current company that I started to relearn English, roughly 7 years ago.
Below is what it was like when I tried to read Cooking Solves Everything by Mark Bittman and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
The 2 books were recommended in the company at that time. I bought them on Kindle. It was tough. I rarely went through a page without colorful marks. I’m glad now I recognize most of them, but still not all.
As the time of writing, I’m reading the book Don’t sleep, there are snakes by Daniel L. Everett. Over the years I’ve changed intentionally to physical books, but what remain unchanged is the “splash patterns.”
Judging by the numbers of marks, things don’t seem to be that different than 6 years ago. 😅 (and I’m too embarrassed to share aphoto of my wife correcting my writing - full of red marks on words, grammar, punctuations, etc. Her “writings” were more than mine, it was bloddy, you can imagine.)
Putting them together makes me even sadder as if no progress were made. I felt defeated. I couldn’t help but wonder:
Would there be a day that I don’t need to have a dictionary (app) around?
Why am I enforcing this hardship on myself?
Would there be an end?
Among all the reasons I could come up with — a way to see the world differently; explore different cultures; English is the worldwide common language; entertainment value (thanks to Holywood) — the very core of it probably is that I’ve found my voice in the language itself. A very different kind of “sound” than thinking in my mother tongue Chinese, as if I’ve found a hidden passport with new identity in the drawer that could fly me to a freeland.
Worth to mention that although I’m a Chinese Korean - I had been learning Korean from elementary school to high school and after that I once even had a partime job as a Korean-to-Chinese translator for 2 years - I never found my voice from it. Amazingly, it was familiar and foreign at the same time.
But I seem to enjoy the brand new encounter with English this time. I noticed there are times that it would be the dominant language in my mind. This kind of session usually comes after I embody myself in an English book or movie, also as of this writing. I love this narrative. It’s soothing, calm, and reflective.
It helps me classify my past traumatic stories - family conflicts, romantic relationships, identity issues. Because those events were recorded in Chinese as they occured, it was too violent, too emotional, or too embarrassed to look back and analyze them. The native language seemed to have a way too strong shock that would scare me away. But examing them with a different language, especially one that I have limited but handful enough vocabularies, helps me remapping those past dots into coordinations from a different perspective, from a relatively far distant where I feel safe and secure. This handicap works in my favor.
As of writing this post, it also forces me to think deeply and differently on this subject, probably I’m the one who gets most excited about this discovery than any of my readers (sorry!), and I have a good hunch that I’ll revisit it in the future when I get more insights of it.
Back to the question - would there be a day that I don’t need to have a dictionary? Nope. That day won’t come, and perhaps I don’t want it to come either - wouldn’t that be boring if I’ve mastered every single word? How can I answer the question in my 5-year diary then!? But seriously, much like the universe, knowing there will be unknowns means the adventure would never stop, so as the fun of it.
Bonus tip: as any language learners, we’ve got a unique advantage over others - while they might feel guilty or time-wasted after spending hours on Netflix, we could always claim it as our learning session, right? 😉
I haven’t been able to write anything here for a while. My recent trips, books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, stories I’ve been in. It’s not that I don’t have the time - I still managed to watch some episodes on Netflix, but I have troubles saving the attention for writing after waves of the day.
I’m ongoing a change of my career, and I’ve finally made some time for myself - a whole month to rest, relax, and reflect. So here comes the idea of a writing spree - write a post every day for 30 days, inspired by my friend J who had composed a song every week and carried it on for a year. Sounds fun, right?
Want to get the words out so I can hold myself accountable. This trick always works for me. I can control every minute now. No room for excuses. Let’s set the bar high.
As for the execution, I’m a big fan of having a system, a routine, a ritual for such project. The time, the place, and the pace all matter to keep me in the desired context without distractions, deep and long, like a diving in the deep sea.
For the time and place, I’m gonna live in the countryside myself to kick off the writing spree. Start a digital detox. Gonna bring lots of books.
For the pace, my daily writing rotation might be separated by languages - English, Japanese, Chinese and Ruby - my favorite programming language. That would cover a 4-day rotation, then maybe I’ll even continue the Creative Writing course in Coursera, or pick a theme and try to write a series of it.
That’s the commitment. We rarely get such opportunity, will do my best to make it count.
Narcos Season 3, I was skeptical about the show as Pablo Escobar, the main character of the previous 2 seasons, faded out and the Cali cartel bubble up to the surface. I was happy to be proved my concern was unnecessary; this season tastes surely different, it tastes great.
Among the new colorful characters, I think zooming in on Jorge Salcedo—later the chief head security of the Cali cartel—is a genius move. The show takes us to his life, his family, his desire, and struggles. We get to see how his morality was shaken, shifted, and shattered under extreme circumstances. How yet another good guy could do bad things. How a man with his words fell into his wife’s arm, like a vulnerable baby. It was an emotional journey, the backbone of the season.
Also, there are more of the Cali cartel “godfathers”—the conflict between the Rodriguez brothers; how power drives you to feed your ambition; how the once seemingly unbreakable empire got tore apart with the cumulative efforts of each individual who stepped forwards and risk their own lives on the field.
I especially love the limited scenes to Pacho—his past and pain, loyalty to the brothers and cruelty to his enemies. When things went south and a new gate opened for him, his true color emerged.
Lastly, salute to Javier Peña, the fighter who won’t bend to the shitty crappy “politics.” The world needs such people.
What this book is trying to tell is extremely simple: treat yourself as a programmable moist robot, build the system to control the inputs, so you can determine the outputs. Your time, focus, and energy are the fuels to keep you in the game, equip yourself with strategies with good odds, all you need to do is stay in the game long enough, success will find you, sooner or later.
What distinguishes it from other self-help books are:
1) The author is the creator of the cartoon Dilbert, that means you will get tremendous entertainment value from the book, guaranteed. It’s enlightening and humorous, the only non-fiction book so far that keeps making me laugh while also sharing something inspiring.
2) Thanks to his various experience in public speaking, business writing, and other backgrounds, I found the book extremely easy to read and persuasive (in a good way.)
I’m glad he stopped pursuing the career as a salesman, otherwise, I might have bought whatever product he’s selling. I’m so hooked as a reader for his humor and storytelling technique.
“Passion is bullshit”, “Goals are for losers.” Given that I’m right in the season of dumping the goal-and-passion-driven engine to my mental garage, this line hits me at the perfect timing. I’m definitely biased, maybe I’m seeking validation, but what it presents is worthy food for thoughts.
The culprit of goals, almost by definition, is that it sets you “in a state of nearly continuous failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out.” It pushes you to fight the feeling of discouragement at each turn.
A system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.”
For a cartoonist, that might be drawing one cartoon per day; for a writer, writing five hundred words per day. In contrast to goals, systems bring a steadier stream of low-grade highs. They’re guides to a fulfilling life, day by day, rather than enticing pictures of some grand end goal without instructions for how to get there.
It focuses on designing each action that naturally drives you to the next step without the need to use up your limited willpower supply. In another word, it’s kind of in the same family tree of routine, ritual, habit, and compass, but system gives you the vision of each component connected to the final outcomes, and it does sound much cooler right?
The concrete example of the author’s system: “Eat right, exercise, think positively, learn as much as possible, and stay out of jail, and good things can happen.” I know it sounds stupidly simple, maybe not that different than what your grandma told you when you were a kid, yet whether you can keep doing all of these throughout your life is the key. Design each step carefully so it drives you to the next action, and collectively it’ll increase the odds for luck to find you.
I have to admit that I do feel that he’ll success one way or another, if not Dilbert it may be other projects (just like Dilbert was one of them.) He’s seeing the world in a macro view, each time he applies his system, he gets a better chance of winning the game.
It reminds me of the Starcraft league (or any other sports leagues), you may get lucky to win one game, but to be the winner of the best-of-7 series, to beat the equally talented opponents, to advance through the seasons of, years of tournaments, you’ll not only need a good strategy, but also apply it, practice it, tweak it, maintain it, and reduce the required willpower to the minimum so it can be sustainable. All of these in a whole is the system.
The book covers a lot of topics: passion, goals, systems, attitude, talents, observations, humor, happiness, diet, exercise, and luck. I’ve never thought about that I would want to acquire skills like public speaking, persuasive writing, humor, and golf(!), but now I’m deeply hooked.
Thanks to the another book Irresistible that pointed me to this one.
Lastly, this could be a spoiler but, my favorite line of the book is this one: “Say something, you bastard!”, page 166.
I dream a lot. I know technically, we humans all dream when we’re asleep and it’s just a matter of whether you remember it or not. Still, I reinforce: I dream a lot.
Some of my dreams are bizarre in an inexplicable way, some are so vivid and immersive that I can’t stop replaying it in my head throughout the day. For such dreams that evoke an emotional response, I would like to share it with people and naively believe they’d be interested too, but I’ve failed every single time.
Sharing dreams are hard. Unlike real experiences, which we forge into a story form that consists of a proper setup, escalation, and twist in an intriguing way, dreams are literally up in the sky and out of our control.
Because dreams are non-logical, non-sequential, with lack of a kind-hearted narrator to fill us in, it’s hard for the teller to reconstruct, and also hard for the listener to capture the whole picture. It’s against how our brain pieces information together.
Simply put, dreams are unshareable.
Sure, we’ve got the powerful weapon when it comes to storytelling, “exaggeration.” We can choose to sprinkle some secret hot sauce to our dreams to increase its entertainment value. But I would know I’m cheating. Eventually, it’s me trying to share the experience, I may still cut some trivial clips, but I don’t want to decrease its legitimacy or lie.
Despite these natural flaws and how meaningless my dreams are to you, I’d still like to take on the challenge. Zero exaggerating guaranteed™, you have my word, but note that there will be no climax or closure or any forms of those things.
So here we go.
First one was an eerie happening. Two giant battleships suddenly appeared in the sky, as if they just blinked from other galaxies, some electronical particles were still left in its trail. Amazingly the battleships share 90% similarity to the Terran Battlecruiser of Starcraft (lucky me, I got the chance to see it “real.”)
People looked above fearfully, for a few seconds, the battleships just hung in there like the alien’s ship in the movie Arrival. All of a sudden, the ships started shooting the ground. I couldn’t believe it until I saw bridges, buildings, and people getting smashed by its laser beams. I could feel my heart pounding so hard, “OMG it’s really happening. Who are they?! Why are they doing this?!”
I tried to run, but got trapped by the laser beams, somehow it didn’t hit me but only around me, as if it wanted to keep me alive on purpose. I thought I was done.
The second one, unfortunately, involved one of my innocent female coworker/friend. As bizarre as it can be, I saw her in my dream half naked (and thank god, she was blurry). She didn’t say anything, she was just standing there, half naked.
Naturally, as you can imagine, I raised my hands (but hold on your imagination there), and flashed her my wedding ring and said in an emotionless tone: “sorry I’m a married man”, as if I were to speak the secret code to bypass a speech recognition system and unlock a door or something. It all happened within 3 seconds.
(Okay this is the last one, hope you are still there.)
It was my least comfortable setting. I was like the little yellow man in Google Maps, got dragged around involuntarily by an evil-minded kid, and just to screw with me, he dropped me to a random place on Earth. Then I opened my eyes. I was in the middle of a busy crowd, which was rushing towards the buildings ahead.
“Where are we going?” I grabbed one guy nearby and asked.
“To the exam, yo!” He shouted as if it was too obvious.
“What.. what? What exam? Where am I?” I panicked.
Then I realized, I was carrying a shoulder bag, and somehow I knew I would find a paper clue that would tell me which classroom to go take the exam, for which I knew nothing about! Why on Earth did I end up like this? What was I doing the whole semester? Where did the time go? It didn’t add up, how could I possibly remember nothing?!
I entered the classroom while scratching my head with all kinds of questions, then I realized: I didn’t even have a pen to take the test.
Blinkist is a service that provides summaries of a non-fiction books that you can read in 15 minutes. I gave it a try over the weekend and here are some first impressions.
It won’t be the dominant way of reading books for sure, but it can be useful in situations like the typical “don’t have enough time” scenario. These summaries are written by the staffs of Blinkist who love to read.
Also, I found that for some authors that I can’t stand their attitudes or repetitive writing styles, but they did make some good points in their books (like The 4-Hour Workweek), with Blinkist I can grab the core ideas with all the arrogance or repetitive shaved off.
It can also be useful for single-purposed how-to guides, like learning some tips on cleaning up the room, without reading through a whole chapter (or chapters) of the life philosophy of the author (if you’re not interested in at all).
During the free trial period, I picked up several new books and also some I’ve had read to compare and try to make a baseline of the evaluation.
The summary is of good quality, and I love the final “Actionable advice” on the last page to give you some guidance on what you can act upon right now, usually something small that you can start immediately.
Although it helped me quickly consumed some books on my to-read list, I didn’t proceed to subscribe. Something was missing for me, some key ingredients. It got me think what we actually gain from reading.
Whenever I start a new book, it feels like I’m on a new journey. I have this hope beforehand where it should and would lead me to, even though most of the time I won’t get exactly where I planned to be, the journey itself is valuable.
The materials presented in the way are good supplies for thoughts. They may not directly contribute to the point of the book or are trivial and off-topic, but it inspires me to ponder, to seek the answer myself. These “by-products” are missed if you’re running too fast.
It reminds me of the movie Passengers, where they found the meaning of life “during the journey”, not as planned after arriving at the destination.
Bullets are the backbone, but we may need more flesh.
I was gonna say it could be a good “addition” to my day-to-day reading activity. But what put me off was the lack of options of the pricing plans.
The subscription is $50 a year, with a $80 Premium plan that provides better functions like audios and sync. Interestingly you can’t pay monthly, need to be 1-year upfront. I wonder if they made it that way to prevent people from signing up just for 1 month and reading like a marathon and then just bailing out.
This “lack of options” led me to think I’m less in control (exactly the case mentioned in 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People). If it has had the monthly option, I’d probably sign up and forget about it and let it last for a year heh, who knows heh?
Nonetheless, I’d still recommend you to check out the 1-day free trial, especially with the App that can read it for you, and decide if it’s worth for you or not.
Having experienced obsessively refreshing the website and checking how many likes I got in the early days of Facebook, a hate-it-but-can-not-stop-doing-it behavior that I couldn’t explain myself, I hope that this book - Irresistible, would provide more insights on this topic.
With the question in mind, I started reading.
This is my “Peek into the Future” series of reading, a “sequel” of the previous book I read - “Thank You for Being Late”. Both books reflect on the issues caused by current technologies, while this one focuses on the behavioral addiction in smartphones, video games, wearable techs, emails, and so on.
It’s the first book I read that questions the ethics of design of video games, wearable techs, social networks and upcoming VR tech. After years of trial and error, designers have learned and become capable of engineering a system that could abuse the weakness of human being, a weaponized product through thousands of tests that could easily outpace our willpower.
Also, as a software engineer, my company as any other companies, want people to use our products simply, more. The more people use the better. No companies would say “it’s enough”.
But imagine this, if they use our products 24x7x365, does it improve their lives or rather cause destructions? If I were in a company developing a highly addictive service like YouTube or Netflix or World of Warcraft that keeps so many users hooked to a degree that they can’t stop even they want to, would I just blame them lack of willpower and self controls, or would I have this self-consciousness to say, “here we are abusing the human weakness, using it to our advantage, and it’s evil”? Quote the book, “There are a thousand people on the other side of the screen who job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.”
It made me think about the responsibilities as “the guy on the other side of the screen”, to re-examine the ethics when designing a product.
One interesting fact I learned and got surprised was that Steve Jobs chose to not give an iPad to his kids. Evan Williams, a founder of Twitter and Medium, bought hundreds of books for his two young sons but refused to give them an iPad. “As if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply.”
There are some great pieces in the book that showcased why too much time in front of a screen can affect a child’s empathy.
Cyberbullying, or even any other mean conversations sent through message apps, provides zero nonverbal cues, hence hard for children to build empathy.
“Screens” makes parenting easy. But the book calls for more.
Parents have always taught their children how to eat, when to sleep, and how to interact with other people, but parenting today is incomplete without lessons on how to interact with technology, and for how long each day.
After reading it, I imagined, if I want to be a role model for my kids in the future, how I should behave myself these days, and this book showed some methods.
When I was half way through the book, I can’t help but comparing it to the other book Grit (and I almost shouted out when it literally used the word “grit” once in the book!). For the almost same stories - like a long-time runner who runs everyday for nearly 40 years - in the other book it’d be modeled as the perfect role model of grit, but here it could be treated as a behavioral addict.
What’s the difference? It’s the mindset. If he pictures the exercise as a core activity to live a healthy life and chooses to do it every day, then it’s a display of true grit. But if he’s driven by the numbers/goals shipped from the wearable techs, feeling irresistible of breaking the streaks, forcing himself to go out even when he’s physically ill, that’s an addiction.
The most critical problem is, you won’t learn that much about what the book was titled to teach - ingredients of the behavioral addiction and how to engineer it. You’d get that kind of “aha” moments a lot, but each chapter is not explained in full lengths, and it rarely pieces them altogether.
It felt like the same cotton candy wispy knowledge I get from reading hundreds of articles on my phone but having trouble recounting what I really know now after all that consumption
(One review from Goodreads)
And after 10+ chapters of reviewing the history and revealing the components, you’d expect some sort of solutions or redemptions. Ironically, after criticizing addictive games all the way through, in the end it uses gamification at length as the suggestion to encourage and overcome some of the issues. Too thin.
Lastly, just a preference, but the writing is a little dry.
Where once you had to seek out new goals, today they land, often uninvited, in your inbox and on your screen.
(On the “like” button on Facebook) Users were gambling every time they shared a photo, web link, or status update. A post with zero likes wasn’t just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation… Like pigeons, we’re more driven to seek feedback when it isn’t guaranteed.
“I worry what happens when a violent video game feels like murder. And when pornography feels like sex. How does that change the way humans interact, function as a society?”
Wearable techs like the Apple Watch and Fitbit allow you to track your workouts, but they also discourage you from paying attention to your body’s internal exhaustion cues.
I’ve tweeted on the same topics before, and I still enjoy reading/watching them again.
This was directly mentioned in the book, I feel this is exactly the “system” I want to build into my life.
Instead of goals, live your life by systems. A system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.” For a cartoonist, that might be drawing one cartoon per day; for a write, writing five hundred words per day. In contrast to goals, systems bring a steadier stream of low-grade highs. They’re guides to a fulfilling life, day by day, rather than enticing pictures of some grand end goal without instructions for how to get there.
As for the continuous reading of the “futures”, I have these 2 books in mind particularly:
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It. A quick Ted talk to get the idea: https://www.ted.com/talks/marc_goodman_a_vision_of_crimes_in_the_future
The 100-year Life - Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, I don’t want to retire :)
Ready Player One, it’s a fiction set in the future where living in the VR world becomes the norm.
When I approach a security check in an airport, I often see some kinds of instructions in the front side to teach people what items I need to put into the trays.
It's one of the critical tasks that require our full collaborations to ensure the safety for all of us. So from the perspective of airport staffs, they need to teach first-time travelers and also remind experienced ones.
Hence the simplest idea is to show some flyers or guidances in the front side of the security checkpoint, and hoping people would read them.
Recently, in the Amsterdam airport, I noticed its tray design works amazingly.
The items you'll need to put are drawn inside the tray! It serves both as an instruction and a reminder at the right timing and right place. When you take one tray, it's right there to guide you.
(And plus it's twice big as the one in Tokyo!)
I guess the security checkpoint is the place where we could assume that people would come with the right mindset - to pass it, they will have to put the right thing into the tray to be examined (unless they want to get caught on purpose). Even for first-time travelers, they can get the picture while waiting in the line.
But not everyone pays attention to the instruction, no matter how well the illustrations are embedded, it still appears complex when it contains just some bold text, and we humans are lazy, we want simple stuff.
And here is the genius part of the placeholder design. All people will take at least one tray, that's the perfect chance to teach them, Not before, and certainly not after. They're guaranteed to see it. The placeholder provides such contextual guidance, that removes all unnecessary hurdles and assit us with zero cost.
I feel so fascinated about it.
"The twenty-first century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today's rate of progress".
That's the time we are living at, and the book takes you on a trip to walk you through the accelerations in technology, climate and market, how they are collectively affecting our lives and how we as individuals, organizations, countries and human beings should learn to adapt to this new pace of change.
I love 2/3 of the book.
No matter if you check technology news regularly or not, it's a quite well-packed content that can give you a real feeling of how life could be in the future, and what to do when technology accelerates faster than humans can cope.
Also, the story about folks in Africa, had to leave their home and head north, but stuck in the middle and probably can never meet family again, truly touched me.
Quoting the books:
Tell these young African men that their odds of getting to Europe are tiny and they will tell you, as one told me, that when you don't have enough money to buy even an aspirin for your sick mother, you don't calculate the odds. You just go.
no work in the village, went to the town, no work in the town, heading north. (And never ended up going Europe or back home)
And in the chapter "Is God in Cyberspace", it reflects issues about current social media like harassment, fake news, echo chamber, angry mobs, etc. It sets the context in the political situation, but I think it applies everywhere.
Our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It's as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.
It's the one chapter I do want to read again.
What I don't like much, firstly is the title of the book. To me it's a bait, "Thanks for being late" is also the title of chapter 1, and it doesn't really capture the whole idea of this book at all. As for the meaning of "Thanks for being late", I'm a person who doesn't like to be late, and holds a moderate tolerance of waiting for the late people, the title gives me too much "fake hope" or "fake image", "it's not something I imagined or something you promised", it feels like that.
Next is the slogan in the subtitle: "An optimist's guide to thriving in the age of accelerations", is not deeply explained. Some reviews in Goodreads also expressed similar thoughts, and his "return to Minnesota" perspective was long on nostalgia and short on being a "guide to thriving". I rarely say this about books, but I do want to take back my time on reading the 2 "Minnesota" chapters.
What I dislike the most, is the way he implicitly displayed as if only America is the "hero" country who fight against Russia, China and so on - so to keep the peace of the world and save from those "evils". Throughout the book, he set the scene in a global scope and did a good job analyzing the world nowadays, but in the end, as for the most important answer of how to cope, it suddenly srhinked to America only, what a waste.
That's the 1/3 I disliked but overall, I liked the experience, and that's the most important thing. It fed my brain and provided the opportunity to reflect technology as a whole based on my experience. Also took me to as far as Africa continuent, as close as inside Google's self-driving car, I appreciate the work and I got a lot out of it.
You might have heard lots of successful stories about kids growing up in families in which the parents speak more than one language, those kids mastering 2 languages effortlessly like second nature. To some extend that might even feel like cheating. Well, I can assure you one thing - you won't see that in this story.
I was born and raised in China, same as my parents; we are Chinese Korean - descendants of Korean emigrants who now live in China. There're about 2 million of us, mostly spread in northeast China. We're referred to as Chaoxian-zu (朝鮮族) in Chinese.
I was taught Chinese and Korean. I don't have any memories before 4 years old, but according to sound tapes from my early age, I was able to recite Chinese poetry and sing Korean songs. But my dad said I mix the two languages a lot, like attaching a negative prefix from Chinese to a Korean adjective, as if I thought I was speaking one language. Those days were easy. Little errors were not a problem, and my parents were happily celebrating my growth. That is one of the perks of being a baby.
My dad is the evangelist in the family who treats the Korean heritage seriously. The family tree of my dad traces up to hundreds of years, and he is so proud of it. Among the many fantasies he has for me, the least he expected was that I would not speak Korean.
Sadly, things didn't go well for him.
My mom always talked to me and my dad in Chinese. And I was surrounded by friends of Han Chinese (汉族, the largest ethnic group, statically 92% of Chinese are Han). I didn't feel any different. We played together, I had no problem speaking Chinese to them. That language already climbed up and became dominant inside of me.
My dad was more than angry, I guess I could call that furious, about me only speaking Chinese at home. I remember a scene vividly: I was crying at the dining table while my dad yelling at me, "No food for you if you don't speak Korean! Say it, say you want to eat, in Korean!" He realized that if he didn't do anything, I might end up in the other side he didn't want me to be.
For this, my dad had blamed my mom a lot. He said she was a bad example, of not speaking Korean at home and that was why I followed her path. Mothers have a significant impact to their children, and she should understand that. Thus, my parents fought a lot. I wondered why my dad married my mom in the first place.
I couldn't understand why suddenly I was not allowed to speak Chinese, when that was ok before. Although I could understand Korean without a problem, it was never the language I wanted to speak, as the only audience was my dad. Maybe that would be hard for a 4 year old boy to understand the importance of Korean heritage.
My resentment kept growing. More and more such encounters followed up, and it brought these questions to me: Why I wasn't just a normal Chinese, like the boy next door? Why I was born as a Chinese Korean? Why I was not allowed to speak the language I knew the most? Why must I suffer like this? When would all of this come to an end, if there is one?
I hated it. I hated it with all my passion. I even cursed my ancestor, more than once.
I desperately needed a way to channel that hatred.
Take one step back, it wasn't just me who struggled with this identity crises. How to avoid children from being swallowed by this "Han Chinese vortex" had been a major issue for my dad's generation. You know, we have our own languages, names and traditions, but we are clearly in the process of being "localized."
Chinese Korean who lived in the countryside fared slightly better than those in the city. In the city, Chinese Korean were spread among the dominant Han people and were outnumbered, whereas in the countryside, they tended to live together, similar to a tribe. That provided the strength to hold up the tradition, hence Korean was their day-to-day language. That was a significant difference.
My mom is from the city. That explains everything: her education, friends, work, social life and home language are all in Chinese. My dad is from the countryside, he has fought his way to the city (back in the day that was quite an achievement in China), and still kept the strong tradition, but that didn't unfold well for our family.
After I attended a Chinese Korean elementary school, where both Korean and Chinese were taught, in that specific order, I found more fellow classmates who shared the same pain. We city boys disliked the Korean lesson, we even made fun by calling it "The Demon," because the lesson name 어문 ("uh moon" - National language) in Korean, shares similar pronunciation 恶魔 (è mó - Demon) in Chinese. That was quite bizarre; where we could read and write in Korean, but never used it voluntarily to anyone or in any context, except in exams.
Visiting relatives in countryside was more than mundane but a painful experience. A simple greeting in Chinese like "Hello Aunt!" was considered inappropriate, disrespect and rude.
My dad was ashamed of my behavior. I became silent.
Then in junior high school, I realized that I didn't even know how to exchange greetings in Korean properly. Teachers didn't teach me these manners, and I couldn't recall if my dad had taught me how, or he if did I had shut the door to my brain subconsciously. I felt humiliated to ask, and indeed humiliated by him when I did ask. I could only bear the lectures from my dad every time. I wasn't proud of myself either. But I've got to tell you this, a twisted feeling emerged; there was a sense of victory whenever I saw my dad fired up. In my mind, I thought "You just say whatever you want, I won't get hurt by you anymore."
I guess I had already given up on myself. "I'm just a failure to you, alright then." That was the narrative.
My dad considered transferring me to a countryside school, where the students were less "Han-ized." Even though the education level was less vigorous, he still considered that possibility. About ten years later, when I already started my career as a software engineer in Japan, one day my dad suddenly called me and dropped a bomb out of nowhere: "Forget about your career, go to Korea for 2 years to master the language. How dare you throw away what our ancestors started centuries ago?! And end in your generation?! Such a shame! You're the disgrace to our family!"
I knew my dad had good intention, but every time he pushed me, he only pushed me away.
How does my dad picture himself back then? What is his identity? His physical form is trapped in China, but spiritually he always wants to be in our ancestors' home - Korea? Or has this Chinese-Korean forged into distinctive ethnicity that is neither full Chinese nor full Korea? I mean, who are we? These questions still pop up constantly inside.
Watching football was one of the few things I recall as "bonding time" for us. I loved to yell with him at every shoot, analyze the situation, celebrate victory and exchange opinions over the long-running league. Once, we woke up in the middle night to watch the 1999 UEFA Champions league final match. Bayern Munich led 1-0 the entire game but Manchester United never gave up; they scored 2 goals in the last injury time and became the champion of that year. That was my sweetest memory with him, we went absolutely crazy. In the end, he didn't forget to remind me that "never give up" spirit as a life lesson, but he had no way to hide that big smile from his face, as if we were in the same age, as if we were, friends.
The bonding through football was great, but when it came to Korea vs. China, it was totally different story. My dad rooted for Korea for sure. You know football casters tend to be super biased toward their national team - like Apple attacking Android at their conference and vice versa. I hated both. I hated the Chinese casters over-glorifying the team, and I hated Korean casters making fun of the Chinese players. I simply expected a great game out of the 2 teams, but my dad's zealous support of Korea made me extremely uncomfortable.
That wasn't the first time I saw my dad fighting against - I guess I could say - China (the country) and Chinese (the people). Growing with the same Chinese Korean friends from elementary to high school, I had no chance of experiencing discrimination from the Han people. But I did know swear words from each side to describe the other. My dad worked at a government organization, had countless encounters of being "showed the door" from some meetings because he is Chinese Korean. "Nothing personal," the head of the bureau kindly added. There were definitely some significant conflicts between the two groups, not that harmony I learned from school.
But my dad didn't blindly love Korea the country, or the Korean people either. There is a Korean town in Shenyang (my hometown) called Xita (西塔), where once my dad was invited as a translator to a conference for Korean businessmen. I remember that day he came home, his voice and body was shaking with insult and rage. "Those bastards think they're superior, they treat us like shit!"
It turned out that after a whole day of business meetings, the Korean businessmen wanted "night life entertainment," and they wanted my dad to take them to those places. "Sorry, I didn't sign up for this" my dad rejected. And that triggered their hidden contempt towards the Chinese, including us Chinese Korean, to the max. Those businessmen were only rich-in-money, some had lovers or even illegitimate children in China, and all night clubbing was the norm for them.
I've never sensed any desire from my dad that he wants to move back to Korea, even after his trip to our ancestors' hometown in Korea. I guess what lies in his core belief is the admiration and worship to the heritage and family tree itself, it doesn't necessarily tie to a place or a nation.
As for me, despite all of the hatred I held toward Korean, I was super proud of my name, the name my grandpa gave me, not that long before he passed away. I inherit this typical Korean family name 朴 (박, Park), and my grandpa looked through various dictionaries and finally picked up my first name 起煥. I love it from every possible way: the pronunciation in Chinese and Korean, the Chinese character, the meaning behind it, the balanced hieroglyph. The first syllable is kind of soft and subtle but the power is carried forward, and the next syllable gives it a delightful burst. It is perfect to me, and is perfect for me. I confess I'm a narcissist on this.
Then my journey of seeking my identity had its Chapter 2 after I went to college.
I started a part time job in the biggest Warcraft 3 game news website in China, I was responsible for finding and translating news from Korean websites to Chinese. I was super committed to it - I love the game myself and also love to be able to spread the information to more people with my own words. It fulfilled my desire of gaming and writing/journalism, Korean language itself was a mere tool for me.
Back in the day, there were no TwitchTV, no YouTube or any other live streaming things yet. Normally a big grand final match happened in Korea - the most advanced country in eSports - the world knew the result afterwards. One day my boss asked me if I could find a way to do it in real time. I found the editor's email form the Korean website, composed an email to him and introduced myself and the possibility of collaboration.
I was sure that my Korean business email writing was terrible, that thing I had never learned from anyone. And I wasn't sure if the editor in Korea would get my idea, or if he would like to take the request. There came the reply, so touching and full of excitements! He called me 교포 (Korean diaspora), and was fascinated by the idea 우리 (meaning "we" but stronger bonding) not just found each other but also were working on the same thing! He shared an internal account with me to watch the final match online. I was the only one who could watch it realtime outside Korea in the world.
Then the final game started. I wasn't translating. I was watching it and writing as fast as possible to "live streaming" the game, through plain text. Our website barely held up - entire Warcraft 3 fans in China were watching me. It was like the whole nations' football fans were listening to the radio for World Cup final match, only slower and the radio was the words written by me.
I was thrilled.
That first contact to the editor was the first time in my life, that I wanted to use Korean to start a real conversation with someone. Until then I was only obliged to speak Korean to my relatives, my teachers, in my school exams. That moment, when I truly connected with someone far away on the internet with the language I had been taught for 20 years, that was fantastic! It was like my built-in Korean genes had slept for the entire time finally got awakened, it was a deep and ancient feeling, I could tell the warmth flowing in my blood, every heart beat only pumped more excitements. That was such a profound pleasure, it showed me where my roots was, gently, softly and powerfully. It was absolutely beautiful.
It struck me permanently that I was hating the wrong thing. It was not the Korean language, in fact, I love it with my every single bone and gene!
I hated the way it was forced upon me, brutally. I hated it was presented as if it was some kind of sins if I didn't speak in Korean, I hated when I asked for helps but only got humiliated. I wish I could have got a better "sales pitch" - that demonstrates how beautiful the language is, with some patient for the little kid to catch up.
Now I'm living in Japan, I could imagine that kind of desire to pass down your heritage to your children, the language, the tradition, especially when you're the minority and in another totally different environment. If one day I will have kids, I hope whatever I'm carrying on will eventually enrich their lives rather than make it more complex.
(Children inevitably find their ways to blame their parents. That is absolutely true. But the intention of this post is not to redirect all my flaws, my inabilities to my dad. The purpose is to represent you the story, my story of how a Chinese Korean lived in China, the struggle, the doubts and somewhat the self realization.)