First-World Problems: The Forbidden Fruit

My third column for KoreAm is up!  This one is about two of my favorite subjects, Costco and my mother.

Costco is one of my mother’s favorite places in the world. As a child of the Korean War, scarcity has always carried psychological weight for her, and nothing buoys that heaviness like watching a forklift move a heaping pallet of fruit. I can still remember the first time I took her to the Costco warehouse in Ocean, New Jersey, where she was living at the time.

“America,” she’d said, pointing at the colors of the signage outside the building. It was true: COSTCO in red, WAREHOUSE in blue, the letters outlined in white.

And it was America on the inside, too, a muscular exhibition of capitalism. There was so much of everything—mounds of sweatshirts, pillars of pistachio nuts—and goods offered in such enormous sizes. My mother walked up to a display that looked like a fortress constructed of olive oil. Not only was each bottle a gallon in size, they were tied together in twos.

“I do need olive oil,” she said.

“It’ll take you five years to use that up!” I said.

She heaved the glistening duo into her cart.

“Yes, but you never know.”


KoreAm Column: Missing What’s Loved and Lost

First-World Problems

I just realized my bi-monthly KoreAm column was actually posted two weeks ago.  It’s about my favorite local restaurant closing down…

Last week, my wife Dawn and I were two streets away from our home in Washington, New Jersey. We were behind several cars, waiting for the light to change, so we did what we always do—looked to our left, to Russo’s Ristorante, the beige building with a faded red canvas awning. On the door was a taped-up sign: “CLOSED FOR FAMILY EMERGENCY.”


I just drove by the old place today and a new restaurant has moved in: Juanito’s.  It’ll be a Mexican joint, and it looks like it’ll be opening soon.  I’m glad the space won’t go to waste, but it’s still kinda sad.

First-World Problems, My Column in KoreAm Journal

I’m very proud to announce that I’ve been asked to be a columnist for KoreAm Journal, a magazine I’ve contributed to from time to time.  First-World Problems is what I’m calling it, and the inaugural column appears in this month’s issue.  It is available in print and online, so please check it out.

First-World Problems

Hi there. My name is Sung, and if you’ve been a longtime KoreAm reader, you may have read some of my essays in the magazine over the years. I’m a writer, which means I actually don’t do a lot of writing. Mostly I spend my time staring out a window with a blank look on my face, or Googling something integral to the subject at hand only to find myself an hour later reading about the life cycle of mollusks. (I wish I was joking, but alas.)


Bridging the Linguistic Divide

The nice folks at Koream Journal have printed a short essay I wrote.  Check it out!

Bridging the Linguistic Divide


For the first 10 years of my life, I lived in South Korea, though I must say, I didn’t feel Korean. Maybe I was too young. Or maybe I had no basis for comparison, since this was the only country I knew. Everything changed in 1981, when I came to America with my family.

More than three decades later, I’ve become more American than Korean. This is as it should be, and really, it can’t be helped.  I don’t think much about my home country anymore because it is no longer my home. There are times when nationalistic pride for the motherland strikes me, like during the Olympics, though if it’s South Korea vs. USA, I just end up feeling guilty. Would it be possible for all soccer matches between these two nations to end in a tie? That’d be perfect. And if Apple and Samsung could become BFFs again, that’d be great, too.