At the Table with 엄마

The last time I was home, you became privy to three vignettes about my father, a brilliant architect and loving Korean father (you don’t understand how much of an anomaly those last three words that can be).

2015’s visit showcases my mother, a woman conservative in her thinking and mannerisms but liberal in the ways she shows her love.

In contrast to the pasta of less than a handful of ingredients, my mother’s Korean dinners are always “just” a main dish and “just” a 찌개 (stew) and “just” a few 반찬 (side dishes) and then “just” a few more things. Each time she cooks at home, the serving dishes don’t stop coming.

Not just any meal

Not just any meal

My father had planned an elaborate golf outing for the three of us. Mind you, what I attempt with a golf club should in no way be referred to as ‘playing golf.’ But on the dawn of our tee time, it was just my mother and I heading to the course as he unexpectedly succumbed to a sudden onset of the flu. The other days spent traveling Jeju Island were exclusively ours, as he was unable to travel.

“Let’s take a picture!” – 엄마

“Okay.” – 인애, as she busily prepares the selfie stick.

“Do you want a picture of you?” – 엄마

“No.”

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[minutes later]

“Oh this is all so pretty. Let me take a picture of you.”

“No, I’m good.” – uninterested daughter

 

The incorrigible mother  decides that she’ll then take photos of her eldest daughter as she walks down an icy hiking path.

“Look at me! But look natural!”

“How am I supposed to look at you and not fall?!”

Her handiwork

Her handiwork

 

We have a tradition of saying good-bye until the very last minute at airports. These are fairly frequent for our long-distance family, unfortunately. In years past, the clear glass partition that separated residents from travelers allowed for visible hand-waving.

 

Recently Incheon International Airport decided to frost up the glass… but that wouldn’t deter my mother.

 

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How do you not love a face… an eyeball like that?

I love you, 어머니.

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The Commitment to Fulfillment

“But your fulfillment in life will not come from how well you explore your freedom and keep your options open… Your fulfillment in life will come from how well you end your freedom.”

– David Brooks, NYT

It has been quite the roller coaster ride, these last 15 months. An obscene amount of travel, reunions with friends old and new, and all the soul searching one could wish for (and yet not want at the same time). I’ve journeyed through valleys and stared up at a sky blanketed with a self-made fog of hopelessness. Elation has rushed through me as I realize near strangers are willing to take a chance on me out of the goodness of their hearts and the immediate connection we forged. And still – as of this publication – I am unemployed.

One could say I gave up the world of fame and recognition to be in this place of uncertainty. ‘You stepped down from being an anchor in air-conditioning… to being a reporter in the elements?!’ ‘You walked away from a glamorous career where free haircuts and holidays at work are the norm?!’

It’s not the one-way ticket most people envision booking.

 

Yet David Brooks’ recent commencement address at Dartmouth reminded me of words my own father shared with me in one of his epic birthday card messages.

Freedom is not always being free from something, but being free to do something. And as Brooks so wisely detailed, true fulfillment comes from understanding that limitations such as commitment can provide you with what you really want.

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And so:

I am committed to seeking my next path in the Bay Area.

I am committed to being invested in my community (though which specific one is still to be determined).

I am committed to loving my family, friends, and those who I shouldn’t have any reason to love.

I am committed to giving God glory because “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” [1 Corinthians 15:10]

 

Once again, the estimable David Brooks.

“You have to give to receive. You have to surrender something outside yourself to gain something within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave.”

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My chains are (not) gone. I’ve been set free.

Beautiful Feet

I wanted to share a letter I wrote to the staff at Kiva on my last day of my internship (today!). It took me some time to get the thoughts out, but it felt necessary to make them public too. Now that I’m entering the world of unemployment again, it’s a reminder of why I gave up what I did to try to do what I want to do.

I’m definitely at a loss for words with this email.

As I mentioned in All Hands this morning, the last 5 months have been extremely influential. It has been a privilege to be part of a team that is filled with joy, passion, vision and… lots and lots of delicious sweets from the TOW (I kid you not, when I say I’ve gained so much, I also mean in the form of physical weight).

Yet the powerful impact each of you has on an individual – the individual mother who has been told she can’t financially back her own family, the individual immigrant who refuses to let limited English capability hold him back, the individual intern who’s trying to figure out her next professional footing – is widespread.

Isaiah 52:7 says in part, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…”

I realize that Kiva will see many interns come and go, and it’s easy to get lost in that shuffle, but I wanted you to know this: You are bringing such good news to our neighborhoods and the world. Thank you for climbing the mountains with me.

Stay in touch,

Innae

The Heels Have Clicked

Back in another airport. Are you sick of reading those words yet?

As I wait to board a plane to the coast where I spent the last dozen years, it is no triumphant return.

For better or for worse, I have made a vow to California. This visit East is to say farewell – at least, for now. There is reluctance, trust me. I am fearful of what it means to make a decision to stay in a place with no definitive reason to do so. There is no job offer enticing me to stay in the Golden State. I still find myself impatient with some of the slower-paced San Franciscans. When fall hits, I am going to be longing for the rock-your-world foliage of the Adirondacks and wishing deeply for the plentiful apple cider of upstate New York.

Yet thanks to some pretty fabulous weather, a grandmother who brings me bananas after I fall asleep (ask me about it) and a church community that has given me roots and growth at the same time, I can’t deny the longing to stay here. Blame it on the drudgery of wanderlust, or the allure of start-ups and playground-like offices. It’s not quite ‘home’ yet, but the potential. Oh, the potential.

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Sonoma

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San Francisco

Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay

 

And if I were holding Toto and wearing shiny ruby slippers, I have a feeling I would open my eyes after three heel clicks and find myself facing the Pacific.

#nolongerinnaefarawayplace

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A Tragedy that Reflects Back Hope

For all those who took the time to read Ki’s story (and comment online or to me directly!), thank you.

Leah Loves That Photography

Credit: Leah Loves That Photography

Toya didn’t flee from country to country. Her first language is English. Yet what this Pittsburgh woman made of her life is inspiring, incredible and illuminating. Even without meeting this woman face-to-face, her story drew me in. Take a look.

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When Two Worlds Collide

You may accuse me of being quiet.

(This is partially true. I feel that my tendency to be an extreme extrovert has weakened with time).

The words are still spilling out, though! The reason for my silence on my blog and other social media outlets is all the planning and tweeting and writing I’m doing for Kiva Zip. If you don’t know what that is, I will cast no judgment if you go now and make a $5 loan! 😉

That being said, I still wistfully think about my former reporter life. Having conversations via Twitter is not quite the same as face-to-face.

Then the opportunity came in the form of a meeting with a Cambodian woman who was forced to take refuge in Vietnam and then immigrated to the U.S. She and her husband want to borrow $5,000 to help their small sandwich shop succeed.

Ki Giang

For a little while, philanthropy and reporting are going hand-in-hand. Meet Ki. 

Not in Kansas Yet

A few confessions:

  1. I avoid Home Goods like the plague.
  2. The photo of my family in my living room dated back to my high school graduation until I changed it out just two years ago.
  3. I refuse to buy a salad spinner even though I desperately covet it.

 

Stay away.

Stay away.

 

Let’s unpack these, shall we?

 

Since college, I discovered that I inadvertently chose a nomadic life when I chose to enter broadcast journalism. From contract to contract, I found myself in places I had never even heard of. Moving became commonplace. Minimizing my possessions seemed necessary.

Then I’d enter a friend’s beautifully decorated house and feel envy.

 

I dream of a home. Home means a space I can decorate, with the creature comforts of ottomans filled with board games, a wine cabinet and a memory foam bathmat. I know, my fantasies are extravagant.

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Source of fun. Takes up too much space.

 

There are so many physical items I have refused to purchase until I can guarantee the next and possibly final destination of my life. I am waiting for the freedom to call a place home without an end date in place.

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas... yet.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas… yet.

 

There seems to be potential in the area of San Francisco. If only I could click my heels twice and know. However, I will be lugging a percentage of my belongings across the country in a meager few suitcases. The rest will remain in a generous and clever friend‘s basement and wait to be unpacked… one day.

 

Did I tell you how much I enjoy unpacking? Ask my friends Annie and Steve: I unpacked their entire kitchen in an afternoon and managed to send a few boxes to the dumpster while I was at it. The enjoyment comes from knowing each item has its place. It will return to the space in which it dwells.

 

Unlike their kitchenware, I’m still #innaefarawayplace. Sure, I lived in NYC for two months but I tacked that hashtag all over my Instagram feed. I know New York isn’t an exotic place. In fact, I remained in the same state as my last job. Not so far away.

Also, even though the opposite coast awaits me for the first half of 2015, it’s very likely that I will continue to use that phrase. This journeying isn’t over yet. I have yet to find my Kansas.

 

And when I do, I’ll buy my first salad spinner.