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If last year was a year of growth, I would say this year was a test of my endurance, patience, and self-assertion.

#1_ New Challenges

After getting comfortable (and jaded) at Weber Shandwick, I started searching for my next challenge. And boy, did I get myself into a massive one. In June I started my new job in marketing. And I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the difficulties I faced during my first few months on the job — the different style of leadership, lack of teamwork (and team members), and of course, the completely new kind of work I was doing.

I still don’t think a marketer can do PR, or that a PR person can do (or be happy doing) marketing. Nonetheless I am at a good place now at my job; I have the hang of things and know now how to solve problems, external and internal. And I really appreciate my boss, my team, and the things I am learning. I learn something new almost every day at my job. Interestingly, I think I am learning more about people than I ever have at work.

#2_ Hitting Rock Bottom (almost)

In September, while I was on a 3-week business trip in Hangzhou, I hit one of the lowest lows I’ve ever hit in my life.

Each time I go to Hangzhou on business, I get sick in one form or another. Usually it’s a cold. But in September, from the grueling orientation plus the late nights I spent working after training hours, I became very ill with an infected boil. I ended up missing more than half of one of my mandatory orientation programs.

When you’re really sick, you start thinking about what’s most important to you. And you focus on only that, because you’re desperate to hold on to something positive and uplifting. And the only thing I could think in my hotel room, unable to move or even sit up, was how much I regretted not becoming a journalist.

The week following that moment involved three Chinese hospitals, a pregnancy scare, and an attempt to quit my job. But I’ll save the details for another day.

#3_ 55 Hours of Alone & 72 Hours with You

In 2013, this blog was born from my project called 60 Hours of No Human Contact, wherein I cut off all human contact for 60 hours and focused on myself and my writing.

For the first time since then, I found myself desperately needing this space and time of my own, complete freedom from the daily struggles and pressures that were weighing me down.

So I took three days off work, rented an Airbnb called “Thinking House” in Namyangju (a suburb of Seoul), and disconnected. But this time, it didn’t have the same rejuvenating effect as it did in 2013. Here is an excerpt from my real-time log from those 55 hours:

Tomorrow before noon, I have to pack up, clean up my traces here in the Thinking House, and return to Seoul. This getaway was neither effective nor productive, as I mostly just miss my boyfriend. I called him crazy for telling me he loves me only after three dates, but this time apart has made me realize I love him, too.

And I understand now the power of love; I am no longer afraid of what my future holds, and I don’t think it really matters what I do for a living. My boyfriend gives me the confidence to do my job and be satisfied with it. Most of all, when I’m with him, I focus more on what I am outside of my job. He pays attention to the whole me, wants to get to know the entire me. He makes me pay attention to the aspects of myself that I sometimes ignore or overlook when I’m focused on work.

I am writing this now at a bar in Gangnam, entering my 73rd consecutive hour with you, counting down to midnight. Our belated Christmas weekend to make up for the actual Christmas that we didn’t get to spend together.

This adventure we are on together is another challenge that 2018 has brought to me: a challenge of a new kind that I am facing for the first time and still learning to maneuver.

Whatever happens, I am thankful for the punches life threw my way this year, because I know they are making me stronger.

Happy new year, everyone.

Battles make good fodder for stories. You, the protagonist, want something, but an opponent – the antagonist – gets in the way. The thing you want is important enough to fight the battle, and the battle ends with you either losing or winning. That’s where the story ends. Of course, it could also end in a stalemate, but I prefer definite endings.

In real life I am a fighter, and I hate losing. I do pick my battles, but even the ones I fall into, whether I want to fight them or not, I will fight until the end to win. The one I found myself entangled in today, I decided to lose because sustaining it would’ve meant inconveniencing someone who was waiting for me and counting on me. But more than this, I didn’t have the energy to fight it.

This battle, although short and unforeseen and somewhat uncalled for, was not only a tally loss against the opponent but a real loss of many things for myself, things I considered precious and pure.

If there’s one thing that often trips me up and makes it challenging for me to climb the ladder, it’s that I can’t work for people I don’t respect. And today, I lost a lot of respect for someone I had quite a bit of respect for and took after as a role model.

I am nothing without my principles and passion. These two things keep the fire in me going and sustain me through tough times. But today, as a result of losing the battle, my passion took a hard hit. I found myself questioning my conviction that the work I am doing and have enjoyed immensely for the last year is right for me.

If the passion was real and true, this loss wouldn’t have me second-guessing myself. But then again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill and this incident is merely an anomaly that can be isolated from my confidence in my career. As absurd as it was. (I still don’t understand why it occurred at all.)

Or maybe, as you grow older and more cynical, only your principles remain. Like bones.

——

Earlier this week, I was writing a “Top 5 News of 2017” feature article for my client. It was a big year for Microsoft, from opening a datacenter in Korea to launching its mixed reality platform, a first for the industry.

My 2017, on the other hand, was rather uneventful. But a lot changed within me that made it a very significant year. I also didn’t want to go yet another year without having written anything on my blog, so voila. My 2017, in top 5 news:

#1 Finding a lifelong passion and career

I changed tracks in my career from education to PR in 2015. While a lot of the work in PR came naturally to me, it definitely was not an easy ride. The first year was an extension of my editing career, with the opportunity to apply my writing and editing skills to the field of PR and digital content marketing. I learned how to make content calendars and interview executives for stories.

Year 2 is where things got rocky – I was juggling work from two teams – tech PR and digital – and found myself liking media PR more. I was adjusting to working with newly hired team members. In the end, I transferred to the tech PR team and it’s been full speed ahead since. Managing PR and IMC campaigns for challenging clients who are also some of the biggest names in the tech industry has taught me a lot, not just PR knowhow but lifelong skills of persuasion, diplomacy, and decision making. I think the next step is to learn leadership and stress management, and I look forward to the challenge.

I also learned that I truly love the work I do, because I talk about it all the time. I love coming into work every day and reading what familiar names at familiar media outlets wrote overnight. I love getting calls from journalists and clients, because it means they trust me and respect my opinion. I get to help them, which I find rewarding. I want to do PR for tech companies for as long as I can foresee – I can’t imagine myself doing anything else for the time being.

#2 Becoming comfortable with Korea

It took 7 years. I came here in 2010 to teach English, and socialized with mostly foreigners and gyopos (Koreans raised overseas) like myself. Even at my office job of curriculum development, I worked with mostly foreigners, gyopos, and Koreans who had worked with foreigners and gyopos for most of their career. Exposure to the full breadth and depth of Korean culture didn’t happen until I started my current job, where the mostly-Korean staff and corporate culture hit me with their Korean-ness full-force.

This year, I found myself wanting to express certain things in Korean and posting certain contents on social media in Korean. And writing in Korean has become enjoyable – I still have a long ways to go, but I’ve become comfortable enough with the language to write in it at length and on various topics. I’m going to keep working at improving it and extend my practice to hanja (Chinese characters), and eventually, Chinese. I also learned that I will always want to work in a bilingual capacity – it’s just more fun that way.

I owe a lot of this assimilation to the patience and understanding of my friends and coworkers. I’m not gonna say it doesn’t still trouble me when attitudes deeply rooted in Korean culture – such as Confucianism and cutthroat competition – affect me directly. But America isn’t perfect either, and in some ways, Korea is more malleable and receptive to cultural change.

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When I met André, I was barely making ends meet, with only a few freelance jobs helping me pay my rent. The only thing that kept me going was the spring air. It’s been almost two years since then, and André’s back for a visit. And I am again on the hunt for a new job. It seems I can’t make it a year without creating significant changes in my life. I guess that part of me is still the same, but when I meet André this weekend, he’ll see that I’ve changed.

Two years ago, I was still a fool. It’s almost too embarrassing to write about what kind of person I was then. In some ways, I feel myself getting weaker. I never settle — I still strive for more, I still work hard and play hard — but there are yoga poses I could pull off last year that I can’t anymore. I can’t drink as much. I find myself leaving clubs earlier or not going at all, choosing instead to stay in, cook a light dinner, and watch Buzzfeed videos. I look through drafts I wrote about my colorful twenties life, posts about not giving a shit about a lot of things. Posts about drinking to feel, self-medicating to not feel, seeking immediate gratification in various forms. The rational decisions I would make from time to time just to keep my life on track.

I read these things, and I don’t identify with it anymore. That pseudo-reckless lifestyle of a bourgeois girl who takes controlled doses of danger once in a while to make up for the monotony of her day-to-day life. So who am I now? I don’t know, and I don’t think it really matters. I just… know that I like who I’ve grown into, and I really like the people in my life. One thing that will never change about me is my love of people, and I hope to meet many more, even ones as maddening and incorrigible as André.

A few months ago, I went to a doctor, knowing that I needed treatment for a worsening condition. He gave me a temporary diagnosis, informing me that it would take at least a few more visits for him to figure out exactly what’s going on.

Since that first visit, I’ve been going through two-week trials of various drugs prescribed to ease my symptoms. Some provide immediate relief and others require more of a commitment, taking at least a month’s use to start showing effects.

I don’t like the idea of waking up each morning and taking a pill, keeping other pills on hand during the day for emergencies, and taking yet another pill before going to bed. People have started calling me a pill popper, a label I can’t even protest because it’s true: I have become a pill popper.

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I’ve been seeing different doctors about my neck problems, and the more doctors I see, the worse the news gets.

Today was particularly devastating. He looked at my x-rays from the previous hospitals and asked me why I’d waited this long to get treatment. “Didn’t you feel pain in your neck and shoulders?” And I said no, not at all. I just have these headaches… But then he said that it must’ve taken about five years for my neck to get this bad. Five years…

Five years ago, I was in college. I struggled almost daily with shoulder pain, but I chalked it up to stress (because my mom gets pain in her shoulders with stress, too) and didn’t do anything about it. The pain wasn’t too bad, and I was too focused on schoolwork to take care of myself.

And therein lies the problem. I was constantly bent over books and absorbed in computer screens. Ever since junior high, my parents told me to fix my posture and stretch once in a while, but I ignored them, never once thinking that my cervical spine would bend forward like it is now.

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Today, I lost my log of writing ideas.  It was an ongoing list I’d been adding to since September, and before I lost it, it had over 40 items.

Never mind how I lost it.  All I know is that it’s irrecoverable.  Not only that, but I also lost all of my recent dream logs, which I’d been planning to use as well.

I’ve been pessimistic about writing lately.  It’s depressing to admit, but for the past week, these notes and logs were the only thing that made me feel like I had some place to go with my writing.  Because my work in my notebook and book draft has been so discouraging, the only hope I had was in the 40+ ideas I could still rekindle.

It might not be as bad as losing a notebook or manuscript, but it’s still a heavy blow.  I could probably re-log at least half of those ideas from memory, but some of those items were drafted sentences and paragraphs, and those I know I can’t recall verbatim.

I know looking back only hinders progress, but it’s hard not to when you’ve lost a bank of seven months’ worth of inspiration.

——

photoHow does one transition from one notebook to another?

Strange that this particular switch came at an emotional transition point in my life.

My last notebook was my first dedicated notebook. I’d kept journals before, but this was a bigger, all-purpose notebook in which all of my work, both professional and personal, was brainstormed and executed. I used it for studying Korean as well. And doodling, of course.

I once left my bag at a restaurant; my notebook was in it. I left a bar in a panic and ran back to the restaurant. It was closed, but the bag—and the notebook—were safe and sound on a chair behind the counter. I felt uneasy, guilty, anxious, separated from my notebook like that, and my friend and I had to call it a night because I was kind of an emotional wreck.

That night when I returned home, I scribbled on the wall of my bedside bookcase. I consoled myself by imagining that Notebook was taking a much-deserved vacation. After all, it had served me so faithfully and it should be free to take time off from me when it should so desire.

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I’ve been getting physical therapy for neck problems, and every treatment I’ve received since February has been therapeutic and refreshing. Except today’s.

The head chiropractor gave me a thorough consultation the day I was referred to him by the clinic’s doctor. It’s hard to find a good chiropractor, but he felt trustworthy and the prices seemed standard. So after some thought and financial assistance from my brother, I started treatment there.

I was very fortunate that the head chiropractor took me in as one of his long-term patients, because he is talented and treats me with the utmost care and attention each time. You could say he spoils me; when he’s not busy, he gives me extra treatments that normally cost more.

But today, I didn’t receive the usual friendly welcome. The clinic was packed and one chiropractor was “in the weeds”; he had three patients waiting for physical therapy, and both stations were occupied. Extra services (electrotherapy, ultrasound therapy, sling exercise) were being given to patients left and right to buy time for the stations where actual hands-on therapy takes place.

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Right now, I’m working on a series of short stories dealing with sex, and I’m terribly disappointed with the drafts. Why? Because they read like cheap erotica.

I see two possible reasons for this: my generation’s discourse and language of sex, and the nature of the sexual incidents described in this series (#18). Sex is over-discussed and frequently consumed, both the real thing and media depictions of it. It’s such a vital part of our existence that it has become an inevitable topic of our daily conversations as well; and through these dialogues, we have created a common language of sex, one that is rife with overused vocabulary and innuendos that are understood universally, sometimes even across languages.

And when I write about sex, especially sex that is nothing more than pure carnal pleasure (you might call them “one night stands”), which is what #18 explores, most verbs, adverbs, and nouns (there are only so many other things you could call the various body parts involved) start glaring off the page as clichés. The print starts mocking me, Of course, what else would you do with that? How else would he grab it? Where else would it go? Ha. Ha. HA.

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