guest post by david yoo: yellow snow

Aloha! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed break from blogging for a bit. But it's all good, because I've enlisted the help of some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's author David Yoo on getting over feeling like a fake Asian.

A few years ago I would have felt like an imposter, faced with the prospect of guest blogging here given that, as with anything remotely Asian related, I used to feel woefully unqualified. For most of my life I'd felt like I was a fake Asian, or a Koridiot -- a term I coined years back that never really caught on, due to the fact that my blog has a readership of about 8 (consisting mostly of middle-aged pervs in Ohio who are convinced I'm a 12-year-old Asian girl because I'm on Xanga.) I felt I just didn't meet the unspoken pre-requisites of being a typical Asian guy, which I figured were, in no particular order:

I've never understood the appeal of karaoke.

I physically can't handle today's video games -- I get motion sickness playing my brother-in-law's Xbox360; as a child of the 80s, I feel irrationally staunch in my belief that games that scroll from left to right are the only games worth playing.

I also don't know jack about cars. When there's something wrong with mine, I'll bring it over to my mechanic, who assumes I'm a gearhead thanks to his probably watching The Fast and the Furious on TNT every other weekend, and I always fail to sound knowledgeable, saying things like, "Well, the wiper fluid's definitely low, I know that for a FACT, and when I turn left the car kind of feels like it's going to explode -- I assume the two issues are related?"

Not only do I not speak Korean, but I also can't even convincingly speak in broken English. There's a Pakistani guy on my soccer team who, whenever he scores, shouts, "Thank you, come again!" and white players on the opposing team cautiously laugh appreciatively at the self-mockery. One time I laid out the other team's sweeper on a fifty-fifty ball and shouted, "Me love you long time!" and it sounded so fake; or rather, it sounded exactly like it did when a white kid would say it to me during a high school soccer game -- utterly, maliciously racist.

I don't regularly attend a Korean church. On the rare Sunday when I visit my parents' church to listen to them sing in the choir, afterwards everyone chows down on an epic spread of Korean food in the basement and I'll try to engage the members, and I always end up accidentally referring to "you people" at some point in the conversation.

Most egregiously, I am ridiculously un-tech savvy, and it goes way beyond my lack of knowledge about cars. If I was sent back in time ten years I'd still be considered a luddite. Not only is my TV thicker than it is wide, but I still record TV shows on my old Panasonic VCR. My friends groan in abject pain when I convince them to watch a movie from my prized VHS collection -- "Oh, right, I watched half of this last weekend. Give me nine minutes to rewind it and then we'll be good to go."

For that matter, I barely know how to operate my digital camera. Whenever I get asked to send an author photo in at least 300 dpi to accompany an interview, I always have to suffer the indignity of having to ask them, "Um, what is dpi?" followed by the even more embarrassing question, "Oh -- one last thing, um…what does 300 mean?"

I don't get the point of video Skype. When I was maybe ten years old the notion of being able to see who I was talking to on a screen sounded cool to me, but now that it's a reality I don't understand why anyone would want to do it. To boot, the first time I did it I quickly realized just how often I roll my eyes and involuntarily shoot double birds in the air as I listen to my friends ramble on and on about whatever it is they're jabbering about.

The thing I'm most self-conscious about is that I'm probably the last adult male (Asian-no less) who to this day has never owned a cell phone. I used to tell people this factoid about me in jest, but now they gravely reply, "No, seriously, you really may be the only one," as if I should call Guinness World Records or the hospital or something. A decade ago I couldn't afford one, but nowadays I can't justify getting one because I work out of the home and am a stay-at-home dad and it would just seem excessive to talk on a cell phone inside my house when there's a perfectly good landline in the kitchen.

I do things like sit in my car talking on the cordless, pretending it's a cell phone, careful not to cross that invisible line in the driveway where 900mhz ends, but at the same time a part of me is glad I've never owned one, because there are perks to not being a slave to it. I regularly enjoy the outdated pastime of actually thinking when I walk, and I like the feeling of comfort I get knowing that if a car were to not see me in the crosswalk I'd at least be able to yelp prior to getting run over. Frankly, I fear for the future whenever I see teens using them. One time I was at the mall and got on the escalator and the kid in front of me called his buddy who was waiting for him at the top and asked, "Hey man, what are you up to?" and I was like, are you insane? He's standing at the top of the escalator staring down at you -- you're going to be with him in less than 4 seconds!

I went into Harvard Square in the spring to meet a friend for lunch, and after waiting twenty minutes next to the Newsstand, I approached two cops and earnestly asked them, "Excuse me, officers, but could you point me in the direction of the nearest pay phone?" and no kidding, they actually laughed at me. And then I went up to strangers asking if I could borrow their cell phones to make a local call and, never mind the fact that a "local call" is an outdated concept, but one guy grimaced and said, "Dude, I think it's just called a phone at this point," as he handed his futuristic little device to me. I made a mental note to Ask Jeeves on the world wide web when I got home if in fact "cell phone" is an outdated term.

The point being, had I been asked a few years ago to guest blog here I would have felt too much like a poser to say yes, but my perspective has changed as of late. For one thing, I recently finished writing a collection of essays about growing up deeply ambivalent about my ethnicity, and the lengths I went to in order to fit in in a 99.9% white population (ending up caught between two cultures, where I was overtly Asian to my classmates and strangers at the mall, and not nearly Asian enough for my parents and the members at the Korean church.) It's called The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever (Grand Central, 2012), and the mere act of writing it gave me a sense of closure with the formerly self-loathing, utterly insecure me. Writing is therapeutic for me in that regard, as it's also been downright cathartic to pen a monthly column in Koream Journal, where I basically write about all the stupid things I do on a monthly basis.

The other reason my perspective changed, and why ultimately I felt obligated to say yes to guest-blogging is because I'm a huge fan of Angry Asian Man, and in a way feel more Asian as a result of regularly reading it. Coupled with the knowledge I accrue from reading Koream Journal, I now feel more informed, more connected to the Asian American community. I may still not know how to speak Korean, let alone in broken English, but thanks to Angry Asian Man I no longer have to blushingly reply, "Um, I d'no, Ralph Macchio?" when asked who my favorite Asian actor is. I can't replicate my mom's delicious Korean fare in the kitchen, but I can name a handful of female Korean golfers and reference hate crimes in Portland out of the blue in conversation. When I run into an Asian guy whose name I can't remember, I still have the habit of calling them "Uncle," but I now know about Asian graphic novelists, doctors, lawyers and politicians who ten years ago I would have been otherwise unaware of.

Truth be told, I sometimes even get a little condescending with my understanding of all things Asian. One time I was waiting with a friend at an intersection when he mentioned the "Battleship" scene from Harold and Kumar and I casually replied, "Yeah, Cho John's a comic genius." "Don't you mean John Cho?" my confused friend asked. I snickered, patted my friend's hand on the knuckles and patiently explained, "He's Korean, and you say the surname first." "Why aren't you Yoo David, then?" he asked. Crap. "Er, because my last name's a pronoun, so generations ago my family decided to Americanize the order." "Are you making this up?" "Hey look, there's a giant semi barreling towards us," I said, changing the subject.

While I'm tenfold more comfortable about my Asian identity these days, do I also consider myself "angry?" Sometimes, but I'm just so relieved to have finally gained a wizened perspective on things that it's hard to feel angry when I feel so at peace these days. My son, on the other hand -- the dude was born angry!

David Yoo's most recent novel, The Detention Club (Balzer+Bray) came out in June. His first collection of essays, The Choke Artist: Confessions of a Chronic Underachiever (Grand Central) is forthcoming in 2012. For more information, visit www.daveyoo.com.

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