The Battle for Clout

Social media is devouring the world, especially vulnerable teenagers desperate for gaining more clout (likes and followers). We may still be underestimating the harmful effects of social media apps on the young. Joe Rogan had a great YouTube episode with a professor who showed a direct correlation in the steep rise of self-harm and depression/anxiety rates among teenage girls since the boom of social media (FB +Instagram) in 2011-2012, when kids started using iPhones.

The reason may be that social media has brought strangers and neighbors closer together than ever before. But that heightened visibility doesn’t always equate to making more friends or feeling closer to people. Oftentimes, it breeds envy and contempt. It’s allowing yourself to be open to all kinds of content from strangers and neighbors popping up your in face all the time. And what do most people want? Attention. Likes. Approval. Fame. Success. And in the pursuit of that, the Creators might have actually lost the “needs” of its audience in mind. I wish Creators were posting content that the people NEED … instead of just posting to get attention.

The line is blurring between what it means to be a passive “Viewer/Audience” of TV/Online Media versus an active “Creator” of content, due to the explosion of channels like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and more. Back in the day, it was only those who were well-connected and handpicked by network TV execs that “made” it into the public spotlight through the power of media broadcasting. With the advancement of technology, “broadcasting,” literally the ability to broadly transmit your message, is becoming easier at an exponential rate. This is good news for some; not at all good news for others. With the power to be seen in front of thousands of people comes responsibility. The kind of responsibility rarely taught in schools or understood at all, because even adults often don’t grasp the neurological influence that visual media can have on you.

Take TikTok’s success as an example. I don’t just think of it as a fun app as they are marketing it to be. Isn’t it amazing how they are now everywhere in mainstream conversations with American teenagers? How were they so good at creating hype and gaining attention around its own creators? Perhaps the engineers designing its algorithms so that the videos that get the longest views and the highest number of views (addictive, provocative content) will get shown in front of people the most, to keep people coming back to TikTok everyday? Many teenagers, especially girls, are creating the kind of content that’s being exposed to people all over the world and actually suffering from hate comments, stalkers and more. Is that “good?” Is “TikTok Famous” a “good thing?”

In ancient East-Asian philosophy, there’s a saying that goes “a young kid who succeeds early will not die a good death.” It was known that when an extremely young person gains a prominent position in society (or perhaps in the “kingdom” at the time), that it’s very easy for them to become a target of hate, envy and detriment which derails their career later on. They end up creating enemies, making mistakes and stop growing, not fully grasping the preciousness of their success. Early success or becoming TikTok famous as a young person are seen as virtues here in the U.S, South Korea, and many other countries. There’s a problem there. Again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but the “definition of success” is being skewed because of these apps like TikTok.

I don’t think they had evil intentions in mind, whether it was Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. They were most of all engineers and tech entrepreneurs who made these apps. It’s not the fault of the “Technology Creators” that have made this possible. They are the last people who could have predicted that “bringing the world closer together” (FB’s mission) would not always be a good thing.

But the rules. The RULES and ETHICS of Responsible Media Sharing have to be rewritten and reenforced, even on social media. If you want to create on broadcasting platforms, every creator should know the responsibility to create the kind of content that people NEED … and will impact people in positive ways. And tech companies should not reward people for making addictive or shocking content just for the sake of gaining more attention or hype around it.

Because the content you share have an impact on the people around you. That’s not just for you to play with. To make yourself into a star. It means neurological impact for your audience. State of well-being. Self-talk. So We must provide the kind of story, narrative and visuals, that will improve people. Regardless of the number of likes and followers you gain from it.

Ethnic Identity is your Special Fusion

People say weird things to you when you are an Asian-American. One thing I realize is that for many Korean people, I will never be a true Korean to them. And for many American people, I will never seem a true American to them. Many times in life, people have put me in a ‘box’ which made me question myself: ‘What am I?’

I’ve spent life in the States for the past 20 years. It still hasn’t made me fully American though. I never forget my Korean side. I appreciate my Korean side. Whenever people mention my Korean-ness, it’s a source of pride. Same with my American-ness. When I go to South Korea, I often stand out based on my open-mindedness, frankness and the American-ness engrained in me now. I appreciate my American upbringing as much as I appreciate my Korean upbringing. I’ve had more American mentors of multiple ethnicities than Korean mentors in my life.

The problem is, there’s many “pure” Korean people who don’t seem to get along with me very well. Granted their life arc is very different from me, based on military service, having spent their entire life in Korea and having problems confidently speaking English and so forth. I must rub them the wrong way, or maybe they have trouble relating to me. In the beginning, I felt hurt because they wouldn’t always consider me their own. Eventually I realized something. I don’t have to belong to them to be happy with myself.

On the bright side, There are Koreans who appreciate me. Not all Koreans are close-minded against Korean-Americans. For those people, I’m a unique, special blend. They don’t relate to me just because I’m Korean but because I can offer them a new possibility. By being true to me. Not having to be somebody else. It goes to show that you cannot please all people all the time. Some of the people will accept you all the time for no reason. All the people will accept you at some of the times for no particular reason. But you cannot make all the people accept you all the time.

In a way, many Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans are operating on a scale system, not a binary system. You are not just completely American or completely Korean. Oftentimes, you are an amalgamation of both to a varying degree. You might have spent 1o years of your life in Korea and then 20 years of your life in Connecticut, North Carolina and New York. So Are you Korean now? Are you a New Yorker now? I don’t know. I would say mathematically speaking, 34% Korean, 66% American. In that manner, we retain a piece of the environment around us wherever we grew up in. I know Koreans who spent most of their childhood growing up in Germany, India, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, France or the Philippines. It doesn’t make them any less lovable or less respectable. They have their own valuable identity, which is separate from the pure Korean identity. And yet, we share that commonality, as the ‘in-betweeners’ which is also important. That alone is a unique identity in its own way. Being a precious hybrid.

For those of you who might be suffering from identity issues, believe me, it’s not an easy puzzle to solve. Especially if you are half-Asian or multi-racial, I can only imagine how much tougher it is for the outside world to consider you one way and then your internal world trying to express another. In a really funny way, I suffered from color discrimination from my own people based on my unusually dark skin tone growing up in South Korea. I was made fun of, along with my mom and sister growing up.

At the end of the day, the path I believe is “self-acceptance.” Not all Koreans will accept me, and that’s okay. Not all Americans will accept me, and that’s okay. But that doesn’t make you a watered down version of a Korean or a watered down version of an American. I am both of those identities and none of those things. Some people understand this better than anybody, especially those in America who call themselves ‘mutts,’ whose identity is so mixed from several generations of ethnic intermixing. Some people just like to disregard issues surrounding race and ethnicity altogether because it’s much easier to live that way in America.

I’ve recently been reading Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu’s Book “When Half is Whole” which is an amazing read written by a leading scholar on the subject of identity. It’s been one of the best recent books I’ve discovered. He mentions that the 3 steps to living with your multi-ethnic identity is 1) Knowing and feeling different from those around you often in a negative way + 2) Struggle to belong, social pressure to conform and loneliness + 3) ultimate self-acceptance through self-definition of your own identity.

The ‘tweeners are a weird, special bunch. I truly believe that.

In marine biology, there’s a term called “Biodiversity.” Researchers say the most diverse, creative forms of marine life can be seen at the point where two completely different types of ocean currents collide. In that way, multiethnic individuals are like the meeting point where those two ocean currents collide. Throughout history, it is those multiethnic individuals who have given us amazing innovation and creativity only possible through cultural fusion. Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Indian-Americans, Asian-Americans just to name a few.

We can think different from those of our origins who are set in their ways. What will you choose to create with your own fusion? The world is your oyster.

“Territory” Battle of Comedy and Audience Attention

In a way, I think many people including myself have been doing the “comedy” game in the wrong way.

Sure, stand-up comedy is an amazing art form and has been around for decades. But in a world where everyone is fighting for attention to further their agenda, sometimes I think stand-up comedy itself is becoming another noise. Just like barkers in Times Square who come across as super annoying.

Whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or even live comedy like stand-up, sketches and improv, we’ve always been kinda fighting against each other for attention in the name of entertainment. “Hey I can make you laugh! I can entertain you! Come watch us!” And sometimes for a nominal fee, there’s a fair exchange of money and entertainment. And hence the entertainment industry. And there’s fierce competition on all sides. Comics are not just competing against other stand-up comics but all kinds of entertainment out there. In certain cases, the Medium itself becomes more important than your talent level at any one comedic craft. For example, there’s talented veterans in the stand-up community who lack any audience on Instagram or YouTube. But if you are the kind of person who can hack a popular app, such as recent stars on TikTok, then you’ve just surpassed in popularity and influence more than anybody else.

Granted, a TikTok star never has any ambitions of competing against old stand-up comedians. But in a way, we all are fighting for attention. A teenager who becomes a fierce fan of a TikTok star will probably not switch to suddenly learning about stand-up comedy and following comedians.

So here’s my conclusion. You cannot afford to be pigeon-holed into one form or another. A comic should realize when he or she is turning into a one-trick pony. Even in history, there’s been performers and comics who engage in a rather antiquated form of comedy. The danger is not being able to evolve with changing audience tastes and gain new audiences. There are people out there and ways to reach those people. You have to create a new flavor there. Something different. A unique value proposition and positioning. And you can’t just be different in a small way. You have to create something that people so desperately want … that a small, janky version of that comedy made by an unknown commodity like you can create a popular reaction that serves a large group of people. It’s no different than opening up a business and having a MVP.

In a way, I’ve always wanted “mainstream” success. But how can I fit into that? That’s crazy. I wrote a little bit about Lilly Singh’s show yesterday and me trying to fit into the “mainstream” entertainment may be similar in concept to what’s happening there. I’ve never been the “mainstream” guy so why should I all of a sudden act proper, PC and do traditional kind of American humor? I am not a traditional American, traditional Korean, nor am I a traditional “anything.” Instead, there’s value in freedom and breaking the mold.

“Think Different.” Isn’t that what Steve Jobs and Apple used to say?

Feelings on Late-Night TV

When you google “Late night TV is” into the search bar, the top 2 auto-complete suggestions are “Late Night TV is dead” or “Late Night TV is dying.” Quite popular opinions circulating right now.

We need a new era of transformation in American late-night television (both SNL & talk-shows). Talk-shows especially should no longer be fixated on political monologues mocking Trump or inviting famous celebs for canned interviews because that’s just a horrible representation of America itself as a country with our diversity of interests and backgrounds. Why can’t we shine more light into real topics and people who are struggling to get more deserved attention? Why can’t we talk more about concerns of minority communities? Why can’t we talk more about international news or bring more international celebs? Why can’t we share deeper conversations on philosophy and religion?

Repetitive formats get old and predictable, and bore the audience. If these shows are designed to create laughter, then they have veered away from perhaps the most important element of laughter of them all — creating surprise. Unexpectedness. Unpredictability. If there’s anything I’ve learned from doing stand-up comedy for years is that a limited range of material is boring for the audience. Viewers crave novelty, stimulation, surprises. Different voices, different conversations, different moods. Heck, the viewers themselves are changing. The only thing NOT changing is the late night tv shows.

Having said all that nasty stuff about late-night TV, I have tremendous respect for all these hosts. My favorites are Conan and Trevor Noah.

There is something to say about SNL. According to what I’ve learned, when Lorne Michaels first launched SNL, it really was sensational, something that people had never seen before with amazing skit parodies of current events and pop culture references. SNL itself was considered satiric, groundbreaking and surprising at the time. Which is important to note. Now that audience tastes have evolved, the show formats must evolve with them. In a way, comedy is a moving target that leaves the obsolete behind. You must have your fingers on the pulse of audience psyche and know how to create “difference” from the mainstream so that it breaks the usual pattern. When SNL first came out, it WAS the new pattern, the new kid on the block. Now that SNL is the old dinosaur, there will be NEW patterns and NEW kids on the block that can take down the incumbent. There has to be. It’s a natural pattern throughout history. Even Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart were the new fresh kids on the block when they first started satirizing Republicans. Now, the scale is tipping to the other side.

As a millennial and a racial minority, I badly want to see somebody break that mold in late-night. Many of us are familiar with the traditional formula that has made late night TV successful for decades with stars like Carson, Letterman, Leno and Conan. But that formula itself is being challenged as archaic by a growing portion of the younger demographics in today’s world where people continue to veer away from traditional network TV to YouTube, Instagram and streaming for content. The game that late-night TV should play is to use its massive production scale, strong brand name, existing fanbase and talent pool to push for more original innovation and think outside of the box.

“Desus & Mero” on Showtime is a great example paving the way for the future. The hosts trade jokes with each other in a studio that feels like watching two friends talk about the latest topics. They casually exude authenticity and “real-ness” that today’s viewers are dying to see. It’s also refreshingly different. The references they make and the lingo they use are also spot-on with younger minority demographics, and their Bronx regional specificity gives them a strong niche. It’s a new platform for an under-represented demographic with comedic talent that the people like. People get something they’ve never had before, see things they’ve never seen before.

Another example of disruptive comedy is “The Eric Andre Show” on Adult Swim. That show is genius. He has literally made a career out of satirizing the traditional talk-show format, and the viewers love him dearly. Eric Andre showcases a new possibility that should not be ignored because he dared to change the talk-show game itself and succeeded. These guys came out not to swim in the same ocean as the other late-night shows, but to create their own blue oceans where nobody has gone before. There’s absolutely no competition there because people have never thought of it yet. And there is the prize. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress spent agonizing amount of hours strategizing and planning absurdity to make “The Eric Andre Show” a success. It just looks funny, fun and crazy from the outside but it takes amazing dedication, courage and divergent intelligence from the right-brain to pull something off like that.

Eric Andre sleeping during his show. His job involves not working at his job.

“A Little Late with Lilly Singh” is a peculiar example (of innovation that has not been executed correctly) that’s been mind-boggling to me. I’ve been a fan of Lilly’s Superwoman days on YouTube because she’s so great at character sketches, impersonations and writing her own relevant and funny content for camera. And then NBC puts her into the same cookie-cutter late-night talk show format that EVERYONE should be avoiding. Monologue jokes. Exaggerated audience reactions. Celeb interviews. It’s like taking Michael Jordan out of the NBA and putting him into Croquet. Go play Croquet, Michael Jordan. Well, why? He was doing so talented in the NBA!

Lilly needs to write more sketches. She needs to be real for us again. She needs to have real conversations with Indian-Americans and Indian-Canadians. I saw a brief segment on her show that showcased her writers, which gave me a little bit of an insight into what might be going on over there. The group of writers looked a bit like intimidated young kids who were well-intentioned but lacked the imagination to shake up the status-quo. They were making jokes about white men, sexual innuendos, socks and etc. That’s not Lilly. What the hell? Was Lilly ever known for bashing white people on YouTube? No, I watched her because of her amazing Indian parents impressions.

But I think to succeed in today’s comedy, you must be more than just a stand-up. More than just another late-night host. More than just another funny guy who can do improv. More than just another guy who can do a tight set on stage. You must be strongly connected with the people of the real world and provide surprise and new perspective. That’s inherently UN-fakeable. The system is authentic.

In a way, there’s opportunity. As long as mainstream TV is unwilling to adapt, it leaves room for small players to act as “startups” and disrupt everything. Like David vs. Goliath.

Self-Doubt Stops Your Progress

In a cold winter day in 2011, I attended my first open mic at Broadway Comedy Club. An older gentleman came up to me after and said “hey, if I got half the applause you got today at MY first mic, I would have been ecstatic!”

A friend whom I met at that mic (Lawrence D) is still in the standup comedy community today and thriving. 99% of other people from that mic? Probably moved on with their lives.

That first night was my ray of hope. That night really started everything. Now 9 years later, I think about that 23 year-old kid going up on stage with a piece of paper, with a sense of pride. My jokes were horrible, and it was mostly attitude stuff (as most 20-something kids do) but once I got hooked, I couldn’t stop.

Over the past 9 years, I’ve stopped many times along the way, too many times. I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace, and my progress to be honest, sometimes, is laughable. I really attribute it to self-doubt. And once you let negative momentum creep in, it becomes that much harder to muster up the courage and inspiration to get back on stage, it’s weird. But once you are on that positive momentum going out to mics and getting up on stage, you get high from it whether you kill on stage or not. As long as you get one laugh and your ideas out there, it’s a win, and you feel good and alive. It’s that feeling of growth. My brain gets happy from it, doing it, being in it. And craves it afterwards.

I just get pissed off about how many times I’ve stopped in the past. Job issues. Job loss. Relationship breakup. Depression. Rent. All kinds of life stuff got in the way of me going out every night, while other comedy peers were doing just that: dedicating themselves to the journey and the craft no matter how lowly their position and status was.

If I had unwavering confidence in my own abilities, I wouldn’t be going back and forth between “should I be doing it?” vs “should I not be doing it?” Those who make it far in the business, and those who have made it since 2011, are those with a steel mind that doesn’t get easily shaken by doubt or even seeds of doubt from others. That firm belief in their own abilities: “I won’t let anybody talk me out of this. I won’t let anybody else stop me because they don’t know what I know. They haven’t seen what I can do. But I believe in myself and going to see this through.” Those kids have made it now into LA, Late Night, Jimmy Fallon, Colbert, Conan, major leagues, Hollywood.

I don’t want to be on the bench anymore. For most of my life, I’ve mostly been observing others who are more accomplished and doing better than I am and wishing “what if?” Option A, Option B, Option C … One day I was pursuing the creative freedom side and other day somebody (most often people closest to me like my mom) was talking me into settling down and playing it safe. More time I waste in that fence straddle back and forth, worse I get at standup comedy.

It doesn’t matter anymore. I am not getting any younger. Soon, people will call me that old guy who’s been hanging around comedy way too long. I gotta risk it.

That realization that I’m getting old is definitely lighting a fire under my butt, which was much needed. Otherwise, life will go on as usual and nothing will happen. I will probably turn into an old man filled with regret, talking about the glory days all the time, not having achieved anything creative in particular while envying the guys and girls whom I used to hit open mics with in the past and now thriving and still chasing their dreams.

One advice for all aspiring comics and artists out there, don’t let doubt creep into your head. Once you let it take hold, it becomes harder and harder. First a seed of doubt. Then it grows bigger into a force that stops you from taking action. And once you are blocked, you stop taking action toward positive progress and growth, and then you are at the losing end of the law of momentum: “Things in motion stay in motion, and things at rest stay at rest.” And you can’t afford to be blocked. You can’t afford to rest. Your brain needs to be ON at 100% if you want to kill it on stage, as you know. You need to be at that 100% for days, weeks, months and years until that right opportunity strikes.

Nobody said following your dream and passion is easy. It’s probably the hardest thing. You risk your whole life on it. Many do give up. Many don’t get it.

But what would you rather do? What is God telling you to do?

I choose the path of self-belief. I cannot afford to let other people make me doubt myself anymore. Any worse than I already have, I will have completely lost my opportunities to do anything with my life before I’m too old and tired.

If you keep wavering because person A is telling you A and you follow that, and then person B is telling you B so you get back to that, you won’t accomplish jack shit with your life. That’s not the life I want to live. I decide to choose a path, and believe in it wholeheartedly and no more second-guessing that objective until the miracle comes. If you want all the glory and rewards that comes from that path, you can’t fucking do it as a “hobby” and expect to rise above thousands and thousands of others who are chasing the same thing. That’s not good enough for me. You might as not well do it if you are going to half-ass something.

You put in the daily pain, the superhuman effort it takes to achieve that over days and days and days. You build up the wall one brick at a time. One brick at a time, one joke at a time, one mic a time every day as best as it can be laid. Once you have that wall, you become unstoppable. And boom, you strike an opportunity.

No matter what people say, or naysayers or over-worried parents who want you to play safe, you have to block it out. It’s your life. And nobody can stop you, as long as you believe in yourself 100%. Because at the end of the day, people who love you the most and care about you will be very happy when you achieve your biggest dream. And they will be just as sad if you end up doing nothing with your life and sit home as a man full of regrets. They just can’t imagine you being something bigger than you because they are not you, and lack vision and imagination. Say “This is who I’m meant to be.” And put up a big “Fuck you” to everything else, and everybody else who refuses to let you. You prove all those other motherfuckers wrong. That’s the real prize. And once you do that, nobody can take that away from you.

I believe in God. He will lead me the right way, and not lead me astray. He won’t lead you astray either.

Being Proud of your Immigrant Multi-Identity

Koreans are known for being patriotic and nationalistic. I myself was a big a Red Devil myself rooting for the red uniformed South Korean soccer teams when I was a kid. Generations and history of fighting against oppression and fighting for freedom remain in my blood. I love Korean culture, the people and the amazing recent explosion of its potential. Who knew our culture and our unique fusion of fashion, music, dance and entertainment would become a global export loved by so many?

In a way, what people see in Korean fashion, music and entertainment is a delicate fusion of East and West. We’ve learned a lot from Japan’s once dominant music and entertainment industry that came long before us as well as hip-hop, R&B, rap and dance from the U.S. Fashion from Europe. Philosophy and literature from China. Food culture that’s a fusion of many neighboring Asian nations that’s also distinctively our own. I’m proud of all of that.

What I want to write about is the delicate confidence that you must have as a multi-identity individual if you are an immigrant in another country.

I’ve wondered about this for a long time. It’s rarely discussed but it’s very important. The problem is this. If you were born in another country but currently live in another, your sense of your self-identity will be challenged from different conflicts that can happen: both in yourself and with other people. And the challenge actually has more to do with other people’s acceptance and “view” of you.

For example, I traveled to Israel recently and had the opportunity to interact with Israeli locals. I actually didn’t know that K-pop was a huge hit among Israeli girls, and many locals asked me questions. But the nuisance I got from these people, when I told them that I was Korean-American, was a weird, mixed confusion. Granted, Israel itself is a country formed by the idea that all Jews share the same blood so I can understand how they will be black-and-white about having a “pure identity” but they just seemed utterly confused that a person who looks completely Asian and Korean on the outside can call himself an American instead. They started asking me factual questions like “When’s the independence day of South Korea” just to test me, which I thought was freaking stupid. I barely remember the exact day of Chinese new year. Or my mom’s birthday.

I actually think I must have been a novelty to them. That an Asian person who looks Asian on the outside can actually be different in their life experience and mentality and can speak perfect English. Outside of multiethnic countries like the U.S, Canada, Australia, and certain nations in Europe, I can see how it’s an uncommon thing.

As Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans, we are always walking a delicate balance. We want to be accepted by society but not everybody will accept us because of who we are. We can often cause confusion in other people (especially those who tout that they are valuable for being “pure” culturally or ethnically, having spent their entire lives in one country or only one culture). When I go back to Korea or interact with die-hard Koreans, some Koreans make fun of me for not being able to remember Korean words proficiently. When I live in the States, some people make fun of the Korean accent in my English. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. Completely non-lingual lol.

In that way, the U.S. really is a blessing despite the existence of racism. Equality not based on bloodline or ethnicity or religion but equality as a basic, god-given right for all.

Being Korean-American is actually a 3-step process. First you realize that you are Korean and will always look Korean to people no matter how much you try to fit in with American society. Second, you realize that real Koreans won’t accept you fully because you think and speak differently from them, and have totally un-relatable experiences, that you’ve actually outgrown your motherland. Last but not least, third, you come to grips with all this non-sense and accept yourself just as you are. Both the good and the bad of being Korean-American. Holding onto the positiveness that comes with being Korean AND American, and also the negativeness that comes from both as well. People will ask you about both BTS AND Miley Cyrus’s latest meltdown.

That’s why I am the most comfortable with other misfits in society. I don’t believe in being a “pure Korean” or a “pure American” or any of that nationalistic non-sense. I’m proud of all things but I also don’t like to hold on to any of those things. Being multi-ethnic is the quintessential American identity. In this country, there’s people who are 1/8 Navajo Native-American and 1/16 Irish-Italian and 1/64 Japanese. Who cares.

I no longer let anybody make me feel bad by saying I’m not Korean enough or I’m not American enough. I’m me. We are our own group. We are ethnically Korean, legally American, and the ultimate magical balance that holds both of those things in one scale. Nobody else does that balance as well as us. The identity we have to own is the Middle path. Realizing That the Middle path is just as valuable as any pure path, perhaps even 100x more difficult. Being unbiased toward either but knowing both of those worlds fully. Embracing and criticizing them at the same time. That unique perspective is the unique power that we have.

In that mindset, there is no shame. There is pride. For being the rare, unique product that we are. Don’t let anybody tell you “you are not enough.” You were born enough.

Sometimes I like to eat French Fries with a little bit of kimchi and miso soup that’s all I’m saying.

What were we trying to achieve with Crazy Rich Asians?

“The actors, the producers and the director, all shared the same sense of pride and responsibility to properly represent Asians in mainstream media with this monumental opportunity. This was our chance to show the world that we are just as brilliant, just as good looking and just as funny as everyone else in Hollywood. This was our key to open the doors for all the amazing Asian talents in cinema.”

Yang, Jimmy O.. How to American (p. 213).

I recently read Jimmy Yang’s book and was very impressed by his life story (ended up writing an Amazon book review 5.0/5.0 stars) But this one part kinda gnawed at me.

In Jimmy Yang’s book, he mentions his experience in the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, as above. As proud as I was to see more Asian representation in the media, it wasn’t that clear to me what this movie was trying to achieve.

A couple years ago, one of my Caucasian co-workers told me that she wasn’t impressed after seeing the movie, I had actually been a little upset at her and thought, ‘Oh, another Asian hater.’ Then I saw the movie and was like “Huh…..maybe she wasn’t being mean. Just honest.”

Here’s the thing. Is making a lot of noise around crazy, rich good-looking Asians of the world going to change people’s perceptions? Is it for the kids? Is it for the future generations? It seemed very much “in your face.” (Like the whole scene with a 3-minute sequence of the male lead actor’s naked body in the shower) It was like an Asian kid in a predominantly white elementary school’s playground posing for the camera in a tuxedo with combed hair and saying “hey I can be good-looking and classy too!” It felt a little forced, self-celebratory, with a hint of backlash toward the existing Hollywood community.

Granted, Hollywood currently sucks in its Asian representation, so maybe this movie was a natural reaction from creative, artistic Asian-American moviemakers who wanted to desperately get other Asians out there. In a way, a step forward (the fact that this movie even exists). In another perspective, Asian-Americans still have a long way to go, not just in the amount of representation in the media, but the consensus we need to achieve to say “WHAT stereotypes do we want to challenge? What image should we communicate to the world?” Projecting “Hey! we can be rich, crazy and good-looking too!” is not enough. There’s no depth there. Nowhere to go from there.

If we really wanted to change people’s perception of the race, or the Asian-American community or the global Asian community in general, we can’t do that by just putting up good-looking Asian faces in Hollywood movies alone. Yes, it’s important for Asian children in the fact that they get to see more representation of role-models who look like them. But that’s missing the larger context. A movie with funny jokes and aesthetically pleasing images of Asian people alone isn’t enough to make other racial communities think “Oh yes, this movie changed my entire outlook on how I should perceive Asians. They are so much better than I thought they were.” You have to win people over. Slowly. Through values that we live by that will actually touch and help the world regardless of race. Just touting from the top of our throats about how cool we are is going to backfire. Asian people have so much history, culture, philosophy, legacy just being ourselves. That’s probably something we should highlight more.

Hollywood shouldn’t be a petty competition-land where people from different ethnic communities try to out-muscle each other in terms of better representation. Media is important yes, that’s why we are fighting for it in the first place. However, more we fight for a louder voice here, more we miss the point of winning the actual bigger war of “correct representation.” Just like Michelle Obama used to say, “When they go low, we go high.” No matter how badly we are depicted in the media, we don’t just fire back by trying to get louder with more media. We are certainly taking positive baby steps in media. But at the end of the day, we need to do more than just pushing media to change people’s real perceptions. It will be hard. But I sure hope we get there.

채근담 Caigentan (from 1590)

Excepts from an ancient Asian philosophy text “Texts from a plain and humble life” Thanks to my friend Jay for lending me his book of wisdom.


부귀영화. 명예. 공적. 너무 밝히면 안된다. 무언가를 완벽하게 이루는 것은 엄청나게 힘든 일이다. 그러니 적당히 이루고 적당히 누리다가 떠나는게 상책이다.
You must not chase after wealth, prestige, achievements … It is extremely difficult to achieve anything perfectly. It is better to achieve adequately, reap adequately and then to leave.

재능과 재주는 가볍게 아무때나 쓰거나 자랑하면 안된다. 시기당한다.
You must not use your talent and skills lightly whenever you want to, or brag about them. You will garner envy. 

간직해두고 소중하게 여기돼 쓸때를 위해 오랜시간동안 축적하고 감추어 두어야한다. 빛이 무너지는 것은 한순간이다.
Instead, you must treasure them and only use them when necessary while holding them inside yourself hidden from plain sight for a long time. It only takes one moment for all the light (attention?) to be destroyed.

너무 세속적인 마음이 되지않고 언제나 바쁜 사회속에서도 고요함괴 도를 닦는 자세를 가져라. 그리고 사회를 떠나있는 초인이 되었어도 도를 닦되 너무 세상과 떨어져있지 말고 미래에 다시 돌아갈 날을 위해서 준비해라.
Do not gain a secular mind and always exercise serenity and the attitude to improve your mental discipline amongst a busy crowded society. And even if you are a hermit that has left society, do keep working on yourself and your serenity but do not be too far distanced from the world, and prepare for the day you return to them in the future.

너무 단백하면 기계적이 되고 즐거움이 없어지니 적당하게 즐거움을 가지고 너무 즐거움만 가지면 덕이 없어지니 적당하게 덖을 기르는 시간을 가져라.
If you are too simple and overly focused on your discipline, your life will become mechanical and devoid of joy. Instead, allow an adequate amount of joy and enjoyment in your life. However, if you allow too much enjoyment only, then you will lose your virtues, so also maintain an adequate amount of time to work on your virtues and improve yourself.

너무 행동과 움직이는 것을 좋아하는 사람은 구름아래에 번개, 바람앞의 촛불과 같아서 불안정하고 꺼져버리기 쉽다. 하지만 너무 가만히 있는 사람은 죽은 재와 말라버리는 나무처럼 된다. 가만히 있어도 힘차게 물아래에서 움직이는 물고기가 되야되고 많이 움직여도 마음속에 부처님같은 고요함과 안정이 있어야 한다.
If you overly enjoy action and moving too much, you will be like a candle in front of a stormy wind under the clouds, unstable and easy for your light to be vanished. However, if you stay too much in one place and don’t do anything, you will be like dead ash or a dried up tree. Even if you stay still, you need to be like a fish that’s diligently swimming under the waters, and even if you move actively, you need to have the serenity and stability of a Buddha inside your mind.

사람의 마음은 태양의 움직임과 같아서 아침에 떴다가 저녁때 변한다.
A person’s heart is like the movements of a sun; it rises in the morning and then turns away in the evenings. 

그들을 감동시켜서 많이 사랑받을 것을 추구하지 말고, 그냥 오해당하지 않고 원망다하지 않게만 해라. 그래도 큰 성공이다. 

Do not chase after earning their love and approval by moving their hearts. Just to prevent yourself from being misunderstood or hated is enough. That alone is great success. 

사람들의 인정, 너무 추구하지 말아라. 그들의 노예가 된다.
Do not pursue society’s approval too much. You will become their slave.

모든 악마는 사심에서 나온다. 너 혼자서 생각하고 있으면 악마가 속삭인다. 번뇌속에 악마가 있다.
All evil comes from your own mind. If you keep thinking by yourself, the devil will whisper. In your mental rumination, there is evil.

욕망, 편견, 오만심, 자만 … 이런 것들이 너를 악마쪽으로 데려갈 것이다.Greed, judgment, arrogance, pride … those things will take you toward an evil direction. 

Doing God’s Work

I see younger generations wanting to do good in their work. Helping the impoverished. Protecting the environment. Shedding light on the corrupt. Changing policies. Innovating society. Challenging the status quo.

We want the heavens to open up all kinds of paths for us now that we have decided to dedicate our lives to such noble causes. You might think to yourself, ‘I’m breaking my back trying to fix the world, and nobody else is trying as hard as I can, but nobody is noticing my hard work and on the contrary, I have to live on my small salary. The world is so unfair!”

In fact, our compensation system seems to work almost exactly in opposite. If you are a public school teacher trying to teach hundreds of inner city children, you get paid just a fraction of what you get paid as a corporate employee in Finance making the rich few even richer. No matter how noble your life purpose is, you will not get be compensated in terms of material wealth. Nobody might even care.

But I don’t think that means that we all have to give up entirely and live only for paychecks. In an ideal world, the amount of money you are paid and the level of material wealth you have will be directly proportionate to the “positive” benefits that you give out to the world. In that way, the “good” people will be largely rewarded and incentivized to do more, while the selfish people who only care about themselves without positively impacting society can be compensated less. But we all know the world does not work like that. So, we accept that reality. The ideal system is not here and may never come. The ideal system only exists in heaven.

So no matter how unfair this system is, We must give our all to impact the world in those noble ways with or without monetary compensation. Hell, nobody might even give us kudos for doing good.

The conclusion I came to is this. We do the Work no matter how poor or rich we are, that’s actually completely arbitrary. My parents’ generation and previous generations before them had to scrape a living doing whatever they would. Purposeful, purpose-less, it didn’t matter as long as it brought food on the table. And that’s completely understandable because back in olden times, food was actually scarce. We can barely think about fixing society when we can barely imagine how to feed ourselves in our next meal. But it’s different now.

People like us, especially young people in developed countries in the 21st century who have never known hunger and poverty, are in a prime position to think about purposeful work because we don’t have those urgent needs to satisfy anymore. We don’t have to worry about hunger because food is abundant here and now. We do, however, have to think about the repercussions of OVER-production of meat and other activities that will impact the finite resources of this planet.

What are we going to use our education and advanced degrees for? How do we use our god-given talents, resourcefulness, intelligence and privileges to do what God would have wanted us to do all along? No matter what form or shape that “Work” is. If your destiny is not in the convenient shape of a job (that makes you feel fulfilled but also pays well), and it usually isn’t, it doesn’t matter — you still keep going.

If you currently feel “stuck” at a place that has a very low-paying salary with bad work-life balance because you made a decision to find a more “purposeful” job, you must be willing to look at your life realistically. The world is not black-and-white. It’s not a decision between “find a noble job but be poor and miserable” vs. “find a high-paying job but be a selfish corporate slave.” The answer is more complicated than that. You must find the balance that works for you. If it’s not working out, you pivot.

We all need to survive first, yes, to satisfy those needs first. And after that, that’s when we can dedicate ourselves to those higher callings.

But the most important rule, I believe, is this:
Never give up doing God’s work through your life.

The War of Social Media Domination

Bill Gates was right in that “Content is King,” and that it’s not exactly the engineers who create new hardware, applications and messaging protocols that have revolutionized the digital landscape.

You would think so, but that’s not exactly how it works. Yes, the engineers get their kudos for introducing something brilliant into the world, as they should. But then a new game begins. It’s a game for dominion over the new game. Who will leverage the strengths of this new platform, and become king/queen? And the interesting thing is, the game is open to the whole world, thanks to the Internet, and thus open for anybody who wants to fight for a claim to that title.

Imagine that an innovative engineer invents a new tool, maybe a new axe. And this new axe is so good that it can cut down anything. So the inventor sells a ton of these axes to regular people. And you would think that’s the end of this story. But no. Among the thousands or millions of these regular people who now have this amazing tool in hand, they can do whatever they want with it. In fact, it’s the one who creates the best “Use Case” with the axe that will win the most.

Whether the person uses this new tool for selfish gain, self-promotion or the good of the public … now that’s up to the person’s ethics. But most of the time, people just are fighting for the top spot … to claim all the rewards that come from being the top dog in this game. Individuals play. Businesses play. Corporations play. If you asked me, it’s a tool that shouldn’t be wielded lightly, and definitely not something that should solely be used for monetary gain.

Once somebody creates a new social world, like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok … it actually gives a whole new group of people “opportunities” to capitalize on the invention. And these people who create content don’t have to do anything with technology or messaging protocol or application development, or any of that nitty-gritty engineering details. They work with a different set of rules. And that game, to be honest, in essence is a game that has been played as long as we can remember. The game of “Impression Management.” The game of “Branding”. The game of Public Relations. The game of “Image Creation.”

It sure is interesting. The one that I wanna play and master.

Uniquely in my case, I do care about the impact of media toward its viewers, and am personally keenly aware of all the negative impact that can come from irresponsible movie producers and TV creators. That whatever people watch impacts them on a cerebral and neural level.

To create the kind of media that impacts people beneficially in all levels and guide them toward the path of truth, freedom and creativity