Princeton Public Library’s Local Author Day

It was great being at Princeton Public Library’s Local Author Day!  Not only did I get to be one of the featured authors, but I also got to deliver a workshop.  I’m a little late with this, but for those workshoppers who wanted a copy of the syllabus/outline I used, here it is.  We got some nice coverage of the event via the Princeton Packet, and I made a new Facebook friend, Ed Tseng, another author who happens to be a big tennis fan.  Thank you, Princeton Public Library, for inviting me to this fine literary event.

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L.A. Stories

There are a lot of billboards in L.A., which probably comes as no surprise to anyone, since it’s a large city with lots of people.  What I did not know until I got here is that almost all the billboards are for TV and movies.  Here’s a collection.

I guess it makes sense, since Hollywood is the town’s biggest export.  But it’s just a little strange.

Speaking of strange — I took a drive up Sunset Boulevard this afternoon and climbed up Doheny Road, which led to the Doheny Estates.  Here are some photos from that little drive.

Initially, I found them impressive.  But as I kept seeing these monoliths of wealth and power, they creeped me out.  These people have such a ridiculous amount of everything…while on the streets, I see beggars, homeless people, mentally unwell people (the usual trifecta of the severely disadvantaged).  The L.A. elite live high up, like kings and queens atop their castle, looking down at the city, at their subjects, I suppose.  I don’t know.  We all know the world isn’t fair, but wow, you really see it here in Los Angeles.

It was on this drive up that I experienced one of my quintessential L.A. moments.  Because I was following my GPS, and because the road was very snaky, I was going slightly under the 25-MPH speed limit.  Right behind me was a guy in sunglasses in an Audi who was absolutely livid, and it was hilarious.  Hands flailing, head shaking, gesticulating wildly, he was like Ari Gold of Entourage come alive (“LLOYD!”).  When I finally signaled a right, he made a “good riddance” gesture, at which point I gave him a slow, measured wave.  I’d caught him off-guard — the whole time, he’d been assuming I was such a tourist dolt to witness his little angry show.  That earned me a very firm bird flip from this very L.A. gentleman.

My final stop in the evening was Venice Beach, which was quiet and dark and lovely.  I could listen to the breaking of waves all night long.  I’d read they had a boardwalk, but it’s really more like board asphalt.  How can they call it a boardwalk if there are no boards?  Maybe I’m just being a stubborn New Jerseyian, but when I think of boardwalks, I think of Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant, Atlantic City.  Real boards, made of wood!

Let’s just call L.A. an interesting place and leave it at that for now.

Skokie, I Love You

Through the window of my airplane seat, I watch the wintry Midwestern landscape float by, the white of the snow, the blue of the sky.  All morning, American Airlines has warned us that our flight from Chicago to Newark is full, that we’ll need to be mindful of the limited storage space above us.  But when the cabin door slams shut, who is sitting beside me?  No one.

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My trip has been blessed from the get-go, so I shouldn’t be surprised at this point that my charmed life continues.  My wife and I have spent the last four nights in Skokie and Chicago, and a part of me believes it’s all been a glorious dream.  Because where but in dreams does everything, and I mean every little thing, goes exactly as planned?  Where but in dreams am I fed amazing food at every meal and celebrated like a beloved dignitary?

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During Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township this week, I dined with the First Lady of Skokie and her husband, the Mayor.  I read in front of a captive audience, not once, not twice, but three times!  I got to talk about my life and my work at the public library, and at moments my interviewer and I delved so deeply that our discussion almost became a therapy session.  Breaking bread (or more accurately, rice) with the Korean-American community leaders of Skokie brought me back to my own heritage, in ways that I haven’t felt since…to be truthful?  Never.  Never have I felt such pride as a Korean and an American than in Skokie, Illinois. And I felt something else, too, hope, because I witnessed the students of Niles Township at work.  Educators in this country of ours need to look no further than Niles North and Niles West for the ideal template to create the very best high school.  With their world-class facilities and their dedicated teachers, these kids at Niles are going to challenge our world.  How lucky was I to have played a tiny part of their education.

And how lucky for the next author, whomever he or she may be, to be picked for Coming Together next year.  It was heartening to meet with the volunteers who were integral to the previous Coming Togethers: Greek, Assyrian, Filipino, and Asian Indian.  They were all in attendance for my events, which means Coming Together is accomplishing exactly what it aims to do: bring together the culturally diverse residents of Skokie so they can learn from one another.  Is there anything more powerful than that?

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Skokie, you opened up your arms and you took me in.  If I may paraphrase Sally Field, you loved me, you really really loved me!  So I love you right back.  These were treasured, cherished days.  Thank you!

p.s. Chicago, you’re awesome, too!  You made me laugh (Second City), you filled my belly (char dog and pizza, Chicago style), and wrapped me up in your beauty (the impressionists collection at the Art Institute).

p.p.s. Thank you to my lovely wife for taking the bulk of the photographs below!

8/15: Bookies!

No, not the betting kind, but the reading kind.  On this wonderful warm New Jersey evening, I was invited to speak at a book club in Neptune.  The ladies call themselves the Bookies, and they are voracious and intelligent readers.  My deepest thanks to Shelly who put the event together and all the enthusiastic attendees who showed up to listen to me speak about my first novel.

(Photo credit: Dawn, my talented wife!)

Photos and Story from LitCrawl/Dirty Laundry (9/10)

LitCrawl 2011/Dirty Laundry!  The Launderette on Second Avenue was packed, as you can see from the photo below:

credit: nytimes/Jake Sugarman

We got some love from the local arm of the New York Times, too.  I read a flash piece titled Sacrifices, which appears below.  But before that, some more pictures.  Big thanks to my wife for taking these great photos and also editing my story.

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My Blue Monday, 2/7/11

Johnny Angel of Suyung


It feels as if Johnny has died about thirty times in the last week.  Lying on his side with his eyes half open, I lift up the covers to see that he’s still breathing.  And he is, so he’s still here.  Johnny’s our cat, and he’s dying from renal failure.  Tomorrow morning, he’ll be gone for sure, because our vet will drive over here to our home to put him down.  It’s a decision that makes me sick and grateful at the same time.

But for now, Johnny’s alive.  His process of dying has been a gradual lowering of location, from the high perch of the table to the middle of the armchair and now on the floor, with towels and heating pads to keep him warm.

Today is a good day, because last night, we watched Super Bowl 2011.  Instead of seeing it downstairs in the living room like my wife and I normally would, we cheered on the Cheese Heads upstairs so we could be nearer our cat.  This involved a bunch of high-tech trickery, converting the unencrypted cable signal through Ethernet and streaming the feed wirelessly to my netbook and out to my widescreen computer monitor.  Johnny wouldn’t have been completely alone had we decided to stay downstairs, as we have another cat, one who is not exactly healthy, either, but at least one who isn’t dying.  Her name is Kyra, and they’re both Siamese, if you please.

I don’t think the football game, as exciting as it was, is the reason why Johnny’s looking better today.  It’s because for the first time in a long time, he slept in our bed, and for a good hour last night, we slept together.  He hasn’t been able to walk for about a week, and all of his movements are limited, and yet last night, he found a way to crawl up next to me and stretch his uncertain limbs over my chest.


Johnny is my first cat, my first pet, one I didn’t live with until well into my twenties.  (This is actually a fairly serious secret I just revealed, because now you could probably break into my online bank with the answer to one of my security questions.)  When I met Johnny, he was two years old, and he’d been a stud cat for a cattery, meaning he was smooth and sweet with the ladies.  He has one of the most relaxed personalities of any cat I know, of any creatures I know, animal or human.  This is probably why he and I get along so well, because no matter how crappy things are going, Johnny is always just hanging out.  If he were human, he’d be the guy buying the extra rounds at the bar, the one who may have plenty of problems of his own but is blissfully oblivious to every one of them.

For a while, our household had numerical gender equality: my wife Dawn, her daughter Jessica, and Kyra versus myself, Johnny, and Larry, our German shepherd dog.  Jessica left for England in 2004, Larry passed away in 2005, and we got a new girl dog, Ginny, in 2006.  So tomorrow, I’ll literally be the last man standing in a household of three females.  Outnumbered!  I wish Johnny weren’t going, but it is time.  He’s done more than enough at this point, having survived two weeks of our absence in January, when we traveled to the Middle East and Europe, and when I left two weekends ago to see my college friend before he becomes a father (his wife is due in a week or so).  An impending birth, an impending death.  Never have I been more aware of the cyclical nature of life.

Seeing Johnny’s decline, I can’t help but to think of my own.  What’s going to happen to me?  Will I also lose the use of my legs, will my bladder empty without fair warning, will I become a living skeleton who watches his life slowly but surely ebb away?  We all hope that our end will be painless and swift, but we can’t all be so lucky.


I’ve been checking on Johnny on the hour throughout the day, replacing the piece of tissue underneath his lips because he’s been drooling more heavily.  At 3pm, he seemed tired but fine.  At 4pm, his breathing became more shallow, but he still recognized me and seemed like he might pull through to see tomorrow.  At 5pm, he was gone.  He took himself out.  We told ourselves, convinced ourselves, that putting him down would be our final act of kindness toward our boy cat, but it turns out that he’s the one who gifted us by giving up his life all on his own.

I wish I had been there with him as he exhaled his last breath, but I wasn’t there, because I had to be at work, in front of the computer, as my cat lie dying.  Not that it would’ve made any difference, because he was going whether or not I was present.  Still, it hurts that I missed his passing, and I know I’ll always regret it.


Dawn came back from work at seven, and we flooded the house with our collective tears.  My eyes actually hurt from all the crying.  Johnny’s where we left him, and I can almost make myself believe that he’s sleeping, that he’ll wake and tip his head up and look at me with those blue eyes of his.  But he’s gone.  As someone who has a tough time believing in the afterlife, I can’t say that he’s up there or slipped into another dimension or what have you, but I do know what this cat has meant to me for the fifteen years I knew him.  He was a good boy.  He was my friend.  He was my first bromance.  And I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.

There’s someone on the Internet that I must thank, and that’s Tanya (  We relied on her extensive website of feline chronic renal failure information, and because of her hard work, Johnny was able to get the best possible care.  On her site, Tanya has the following quote that I think aptly closes out this post.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

  • an essay I wrote about Johnny in KoreAm Magazine a few years back.