Saturday, January 1, 2050

Welcome to Yangja Stuff!

This is me. Hi!
My name's Spencer Lenfield. I'm a Korean-American adoptee (KAD, as the abbreviation goes) in my mid-twenties currently living and working in Washington, D.C.; I was born in Seoul and grew up near Kalamazoo, Michigan. Welcome to Yangja Stuff!

About the title: 양자 (yangja; 飬子) is one of the two or three Korean words for "adoptee"—at least as far as I, with my limited (though growing!) knowledge of Korean, understand. (It's also a homonym for the Korean word for "quantum" (量子)—but I'm digressing.)

I decided to create this blog for two reasons. First, because there has been an explosion of material (stories, advice, opinions, resources) for KADs in the past decade—and it's growing every day. Much of it is online rather than in print, rapidly growing, and not necessarily aggregated or organized in any particular way. I have found this material incredibly helpful as I've started to think about adoption more seriously; as I've started learning Korean and becoming seriously interested in the culture; and as I've considered spending time in Korea and conducting a biological family search at some point in the future. Having amassed it—and coming across more of it all the time—it seemed important to me to put it out there in one place for the benefit of other KADs.

Second, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the wide range of issues tied to being a KAD as I learn Korean, contemplate the search process, etc. It's not material that feels quite right for my other blog, and it's also too miscellaneous for print—on top of the fact that so much of the KAD world is being built principally on the Internet rather than in print, as makes complete sense for a 21st-century community scattered around the country. So I hope that Yangja Stuff can serve as a way for me to do something I rarely do—think out loud—as well as a forum for other KADs, including those I might disagree with, and to be part of building this community, both online and in the real world. I also would be very grateful for thoughts and advice from other KADs—on learning the language, on visiting Korea, exploring Korean culture, and everything else.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Useful words for Korea

These are words that I used a lot on my first trip to Korea: either I didn't know them when I went, or I wished I'd learned them better. This isn't an exhaustive list of basic words—in fact, there are a lot of important words in Korean that aren't on this list—I skipped the words that I knew well and was able to use without having to look them up. (I had a fairly intense half-year of classroom Korean under my belt when I went.) It's also relevant that I was in a home-stay situation, so many of these words have to do with household objects or are ways to be polite or express gratitude. I've grouped them into loose categories according to what made sense to me. Any errors are mine, because I am a careless yangja; I welcome corrections or clarifications.

Useful Verbs
떠나다: to leave
손택하다 : to choose
설명하다: to explain
옮기다: to interpret 
자르다: to cut
돌아오다 : to come back
돌아가다: to go back
가져오다 : to bring
놓다: to put
필요하다: to need
허락하다 : to allow, permit

Household Words
수건: towel
계단 : stairs
소금: salt
젓가락: chopsticks
접시: plate
그릇: bowl
쓰래기: garbage

Food Words
빙수 : shaved ice (a popular dessert)
닭강정: fried chicken (a popular street snack)
더덕 : burdock root (a common banchan)

Politeness Words
적절하다 : to be appropriate
감동하다: to be moved, touched*
넉넉하다: to be generous
친철하다 : to be kind
정중하다 : to be polite
환대 : hospitality
친철하게 환대해 주셔서 고맙습니다.  Thank you for your kind hospitality.
너무 전준합니다: You're too polite. (Friends told me that this sounds better in Korean than saying "You're too kind," or "You're too generous," which don't translate well and might inadvertently come off as insults.)
*The worst mistake I made in Korean my whole visit was to mix up 감동하다 with 침착하다 on a thank-you card to my host parents, thereby inadvertently telling them that I was calmed by their hospitality (rather than touched by their hospitality).

밝게 : bright
깨진 : broken
젊은: young
빈: empty
마지막: last
틀린 : wrong (incorrect)
귀엽다: to be cute
운이 좋아요: be lucky (literally: [your] luck is good)
궁금하다 : to be curious
완벽하다 : to be perfect
똑똑하다 : to be smart
달콤하다: to be sweet
침착하다 : to be calm, cool
특수하다 : to be special

조심하다 (操心): to be careful

이미, 벌써: already
거의 : almost
조심히: carefully
절대 (絶對): never
곧, 이내: soon
더 작은: (literally, more little) less [adjective]—e.g., less beautiful, less slow, etc.

Useful Phrases
힘[기운]내!: Good luck!
내가 살게요: My treat.
저는 [네]가 [그것]을 즐기길 바라요. I hope [you] will enjoy [this thing].

Useful Constructions
[좋아] 보예요: looks/seems [good]
(뭐뭐) 없이: without (something)

Random Nouns
박사: doctorate
두통 : headache
이발, 머리 깎기: haircut
지도: map
(지하철) 노선: (subway) line

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I am an immigrant

My naturalization photo.
In this current moment of American political life, when immigration is the definitive topic of the presidential election, I feel increasingly compelled to state boldly, in the belief that it may do some good among my friends, family, and acquaintances: I am an immigrant. I was born outside the United States and became a citizen only as a child. As such, my sympathies and principles are on the side of American immigrants of all kinds, and my allegiance is owed both to the United States and to the many Americans who have chosen to become its citizens during the course of their lifetimes.

International adoption is a form of immigration, although it is not always recognized as such. But the facts are indisputable. International adoptees are born in one country, and adopted into another. The word "immigration" tends to bring to mind acts of will—we visualize adults moving from one place to another. But immigration laws directly affect adoption policies. From the very beginning of mass international adoption, American immigration law had to be rewritten in order to accommodate adopted children. The historian Arissa Oh explains that in order for adoption from Korea to become possible, the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act had to be passed, overcoming 75 years of legislative bans on immigration from Asian countries, and more than a century of discrimination against Asians. Cases like Adam Crapser's—an adult Korean-American adoptee who is at risk of deportation to South Korea because his parents never finalized his naturalization, despite the fact that he was adopted when he was three years old and speaks no Korean—show that all international adoptees depend on the grace and good will of functioning immigration laws for their legal presence as citizens in this country.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Some reasonably big news

I have some exciting news to share: I'm going to be traveling to Korea late next month!

This is much sooner than I had imagined I'd be going. This past August, as I got ready to move to Washington, D.C. and was just beginning to learn Korean, I had the vague plan that I'd visit Korea eventually—maybe in a year, or possibly longer. I'd take my time learning the language, making plans, finding a job opportunity—and then go.

But earlier this month, the day after Ash Wednesday, I got an email from Grace Song, the director of a group I've been involved with since moving to D.C. called Asia Families. (Asia Families is a really lovely organization for Korean-American adoptees and their families in the greater D.C. area; they run a number of programs, the most substantial of which is a monthly Korean culture school for KADs.) Grace wanted to know: would I be interested in going to Korea in March? In the past, they'd partnered with a church in Seoul to sponsor some trips for returning adoptees; they were interested in doing the same again for up to two this spring. It was completely unexpected and a bit of a shock—and an incredibly kind and generous offer—so I said yes, of course.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Korean fiction hits the American literary mainstream

Image from Amazon.
Korean fiction occupies a very small niche in the American literary consciousness. Little gets translated out of Korean into English, and what does is usually picked up by university presses (Columbia, Hawaii) or a specialty independent publisher like the Dalkey Archive. To the frustration of the South Korean government, which would love to have a Nobel laureate in literature to tout, there is no Korean counterpart to Mo Yan, Liu Xiaobo, Kenzaburo Oe, or Haruki Murakami—the Chinese and Japanese novelists and poet who serve as gateways to their nations' literatures, and carry a disproportionate part of those countries' modern literary reputations on their shoulders. (It's a messy analogy, as China obviously wants the world to forget all about Liu, but my point is that international prizes confer tremendous influence and visibility to a nation's literature.)

So it has been striking to see—relatively speaking—huge amounts of attention given this past week to a South Korean novel from 2007, translated and published by a relatively new imprint, Hogarth (< Chatto & Windus < Vintage < Penguin Random House, for those of you keeping score). Titled The Vegetarian, no sooner did I see a review in the New York Times online than I heard about it on NPR the same evening, and then I saw Laura Miller's review for Slate. There are others, too—lots. It is no exaggeration to say that this novel is receiving more attention in America than any other piece of Korean fiction ever published. Here is Miller's description:
Although the title character, Yeong-hye, is a woman who suddenly stops eating meat one day, setting off a chain of catastrophes in her otherwise ordinary extended family, The Vegetarian is by no means a book about vegetarianism or the people who practice it and why. What The Vegetarian is about (always keeping in mind the caveat above) is abstention. Yeong-hye would prefer not to. At first she rejects meat, but eventually she will excuse herself from a number of other common human activities, as well. At last she refuses humanity itself.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The "Sorry, you all look the same" problem

Let's grant Kuo's arguments—that the kind of misrecognition that she describes is involuntary, but is a kind of racism insofar as it puts seeing race before seeing a person. (I think that despite the fact that you could press her claims, ultimately they hold up.) If this is the case, then how can it be fixed? The author concludes "[the onus] is on white people to learn to make distinguishing faces a priority." This suggests that she views the problem as a lack of effort—that if members of a majority group simply tried harder to properly identify individuals in a visual minority, they could succeed at it; so, they should.

But I'm not sure that this is true. What if, even with special effort, members of a majority just continue to fail to be able to accurately identify those individuals? We could not fault them for not trying. But there seems to be no good way to separate those who are trying from those who aren't: it's a matter of good will "beneath the hood."

And if it is true that special effort would fix the problem, then it's not the case, counter to Kuo's early claims, that such misidentifications are "unintentional." They could have been fixed with the right intentions. White Jeremy doesn't intend to misidentify his minority co-worker; but he never intentionally committed to make the special effort to identify her correctly. And if I'm reading this correctly, that's a failure of intention on his part.

It seems to me that the most constructive action I could take when this happens to me (I'm Asian) is to gently suggest ways that I can be identified as someone different than other people: I have a freckle on my left cheek, I work downstairs and not upstairs, etc. Otherwise, even a misidentifying person with an earnest desire to improve might continue to fail. The burden of wanting to improve falls on them, but if those of us at risk of being misidentified are serious about wanting to improve that state of affairs, we should help enable those who want to get better at it. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Soups and stews

Food writer Matt Rodbard sings the praises of Korean soups and stews!

Korea headlines from the New York Times

  • A conservative blogger in Texas has developed a following in Japan, after his online defense of whaling practices led him into a deeper embrace of contemporary Japanese nationalism. He has been involved in denial and minimalization of coerced sexual slavery of Korean women under Japanese rule, to general consternation in Korea. 
  • How China, North Korea's most significant trading partner, managed to get around luxury-goods sanctions to export supplies for ski resorts. (Complete with picture of Kim Jong-un on a ski lift.) 
  • Team Rocket? More suspicious North Korean ballistics. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Korean Jesus

Language quirks: Korean 예수 sounds closer to both Greek Ἰησοῦς and Hebrew ישוע than English "Jesus."

Monday, February 1, 2016

Recent Asian-American and Korean-American firsts

Gerber has chosen its first ever Asian-American Gerber Baby. Look at that hair!

Lee Byung-hun will be the first K-A actor to present an Oscar. Lee has not actually been in a movie that I have seen (including 2009 Best Picture winner "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"); however, this is exciting. Though it doesn't hold a candle to the Gerber Baby!