journey, Uncategorized

Don’t try to become a doctor

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the dream is out of reach

[I’ll write more about Friendzoning my Asian Heritage next time.]

If I could go back in time I would go back to three years ago and shake my younger self. I would tell her just 3 things:

  • Please don’t make awkward situations more awkward by stating the awkwardness.
  • Don’t try to flirt with that guy (its not worth it)
  • Most importantly, don’t try to become a doctor.

[*A bonus point, if I did get a few seconds before my time warp portal got absorbed by the universe, I would tell myself to stop shopping at Cotton On. You will only end up with a disposable wardrobe. And please stop wearing aztec leggings with a shirt that doesn’t cover your butt.]

Being well acquainted with my eighteen year old self I would have tried all the above whether I was visited by a wiser, heavier future self or not. I still would have thought my life was written in the lyrics of a Taylor Swift song and to this day I make it a point to comment on the air density and percentage of awkward it contains.

And I would have definitely still tried to become a doctor.

Contrary to stereotypical Asian parenting of wanting your child to be a doctor, accountant, engineer or lawyer, my mum didn’t plant these career ideals in my head. She was fairly opened minded, as long as it involved hard work. Unfortunately, I did all the planting myself and it would take me a mind-fracturing year to come to terms with the fact that I was a terrible gardener and all my ‘plants’ i.e. dreams would die due to lack of sleep, reading articles en route to class on the bus in a haze of motion sickness and listening to classical study music that I hated.

But I just wanted to be a doctor. It seemed to match my interests in my life and the subjects that I was good at in high school. It was my ultimate goal, and full of hope and confidence I enrolled in my classes as a pre med student.

It took me 3 days to realise that I had made a mistake.

Day 1: was admin. Despite older students telling us the first day wasn’t anything important, my friends and I all showed up half an hour early so that we could get a good seat. Turns out the rest of Auckland thought the same. Out poured the test dates, course outlines, telling you to get an expensive textbook and forewarning you that you are likely to use the counselling service. It seemed easy enough.

Day 2: the lecturer seemed to zip through everything from high school in under 5 minutes. We went through the structural organisation of the body, 11 body systems and their major components, levels of cell organisation and basic tissue types. I think I understood the word ‘body’ by the end of the lecture and gave myself a pat on the back.

Day 3: was just about the same amount of information, only this time it was more indepth about the different tissue types and the cells that make them. I sat next to the summa cum laude of a rivalling high school and I pretended to laugh at his banter and science jokes. It was like his own specialised grammar, for a language that I had never heard of. He was deeply emotionally connected to these cell types, and I was in awe at his indepth notes and sheepishly looked back at my half-asleep squiggles that had managed to barely stretch themselves over a page.


There were many Day 3’s that year. I sat next to him quite often, probably because I thought I could absorb his genius via osmosis. Obviously I didn’t understand how osmosis worked.

Needless to say he got into med school and I didn’t. We both got fatter though so I guess we all gained something from the experience.

Apart from weight, I gained some other notable things too:

-acceptance: that I can remember heartbreak like a fresh cut and I can forget body parts with a breath of air.

-gratitude: for my incredibly supportive, kind, forever cheerleading friends and family

-loss: you don’t always get what you want, no matter how much you want it.

-an experience of competition: Things are not that different to the Olympics. There will always be someone who will run faster than you despite your raw talent, work ethic, teachers and other resources.

-a knowledge: that sleep is important

-a realisation: that I needed a wider perspective, to other career and life paths

-and last but not least, an understanding: that God loved me, and didn’t care that I got a C- or not.

Okay maybe a little bit.

[disclaimer: I change identifiable information of the people.]

Friendzoning my Asian Heritage, journey, Uncategorized

Friendzoning my Asian Heritage: When you can’t speak your own language


This is Part 2 of Friendzoning my Asian Heritage. You can read Part 1 here.

When I was in kindergarten I became fascinated with Legos. At home my brothers had a huge red bucket full of them and I loved to build and make stuff when they weren’t. I picked up some clear neon Lego blocks and assembled them into a crescent, holding it up to my ear and speaking into it like a telephone. I gave it to my mum and asked her to speak into it.

But mid-question I paused.

I realised I didn’t know how to say telephone in Korean. My mouth opened but the word only came out as telephone.

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I ran a command prompt but the word could not be found. It had been deleted from my vocabulary several days before. It was gone. Poof. Goodbye.

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Words have a profound effect on me. But more than the words used is the delivery. What do your eyes say when your mouth says, “I’m sorry, I’m not really interested in you”? Can you feel your hands curl into fists by your side when you want to Make A Point? Do you scan their body first and see if they’re in shape or not? Perhaps this is what got me through being Korean and being illiterate because body language was how I communicated when my words could not.

Being illiterate was something I never addressed until earlier this year. But in terms of most of my speaking life I tried my best to avoid all forms of the Korean language. But life has its funny way of constantly booking me in for tests of language that I didn’t sign up for.

Answering the phone in Korean was probably my worst nightmare. It would start by gauging whether the person calling was Korean before the phone even rang. If I had the courage to pick it up and it was indeed a Korean, I would reply “Ah…yoboseyo!” (and then make a mad dash in my house to find my mum to hear the rest of whatever they had to say. Equally when my uncle or aunty would make their usual once-every-two- years phone call I would struggle to tell them exactly how old I was and make a guestimate. My favourite number and only number I could remember very well was 9, so I was always some derivative of 9.

Sometimes it came in handy. The Jehovah’s Witnesses knew we were a Korean family and for some reason would always send Korean Witnesses to knock on our door after school when my parents were just on their way home from work. I wasn’t allowed to answer the door anyway because I was some derivative of 9 and there were creeps in the neighbourhood. The JWs would knock and I would tell them through the unopened door I couldn’t speak Korean as they stuffed pamphlets through the side window (the irony in this is that this was very similar to what I did on my mission a few years into the future).   

It was only till I started high school when my illiteracy seemed to form an uncomfortable itch on my back where I couldn’t reach.

My first teacher Mrs. Kim in high school was Korean. She was the epitome of what I wanted to be when I was older: beautiful, tall, well-respected, happily married and incredibly intelligent and kind. Like many other Asians I sustained the easiest A in my high school career through my bra size and my teacher told me I had no boobs like her. I had asked her to help me wrap a sarong over my uniform for a luau Youth Dance and she had looked me up and down. From then on she became my mentor, confidante and friend.

But there was something distinctively different between us.

She made spelling mistakes. While she spelled all the elements of the periodic table correctly (she was even named after a scientist) there were elements of her sentences that did not make grammatical sense.

But it didn’t really matter. Everything about her translated well amongst Korean students and English students. I admired that about her, as I had always been the token Asian friend and would play down my ‘Asian’ behaviours rather than be one who celebrated, immersed and blended the cultures and people into one.

One of her responsibilities was to lead the Korean Cultural Night. She put me in the MC/presenter script writing team. I loved writing so this seemed like a great opportunity. They needed Korean and English speakers as the event would attract a non-Korean audience too. But the group texts were always in Korean and at the time my phone was a Nokia brick phone and dealt even worse with receiving Korean messages than I did. All I got was little boxes. I was too embarrassed to admit that a) I had a brick phone in a slide phone era and b) even if I got a new phone I still wouldn’t be able to read the messages. I decided to pull out of the team.

A couple years later I decided to try again, but this time through dance. I was in the dance troupe at school and had always loved contemporary Jazz dance. But I was under the influence of the Hallyu /Korean Wave of K-Pop, Korean dramas and celebrities and the opportunity to do K-Pop dance seemed new and exciting. My friend asked if I could make her trio of dancers into a quad squad for an item for Korean Night 2012 and I gladly accepted. It would be my transition into the Korean community! The girls seemed lovely, and the dance seemed jumpy enough to look cute and outfits edgy enough to look sexy.

But our self-appointed dear leader took it upon herself to never speak to me face to face. Whilst there were only four of us, she spoke to me only via our mutual friend and I struggled to take her seriously. Ten minutes before our performance she turned around to me and for the first time directly talked to me. This was it. I said to myself. After all the countless rehearsals where she wouldn’t speak to me, we would finally unite because of this wonderful moment. We would fist bump and dance like this was the most important night of our lives.

“Kelly. Stand behind me. Don’t move. I don’t want anyone see you dance. Okay?”


I decided not to heed her advice and stood so that I could clearly be seen at all times. I also decided from then on that the Korean entertainment industry was not for me. And maybe the Korean community wasn’t really for me either. I never really clicked with those girls anyway. This was my destiny, forever floating in between two cultures, never part of one, never completely comfortable in the other. But If I couldn’t be comfortable in a culture, then where did I belong? What constituted my identity?

I looked back at my biology study guides across my desk, Korean eyeliners and shadows, my hundreds of tabs opened of NCEA past papers, online clothing stores and Korean celebrity gossip. I stared at my used anatomy books on my book shelf. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision or if this moment was when I was sure I would become the ultimate Asian career stereotype.

Respectable. Prestigious. Difficult. Rewarding.

I will be a doctor. 

That’s who I’m supposed to be.




Friendzoning my Asian Heritage, journey, Uncategorized

Friendzoning my Asian Heritage


This is my seventeenth attempt at a blog. So before I press delete forever again, I’m determined to think of this as a practise corner of the internet where I can try out different writing styles. You have to start somewhere right? Even if it’s super awkward. Feel free to read and criticise constructively (or not). We’ll see how it goes!

This post is about growing up as a Korean-New Zealander.


Growing up I got confused with all the different Korean greetings. I’d bow and tell the people who invited me over, “Goodbye, have a good trip” and would bow and tell guests leaving my own home “Hello, stay at your home safely”, pink-faced with embarrassment as they corrected my mistakes. Korean culture was never second nature to me, and at times I just really wanted to friend-zone my cultural heritage. I like you… but not enough to keep you around. Let’s just awkwardly say hello when we bump into each other but not take it any further. Yeah? Sound good to you?

To be honest I largely rejected my Korean heritage as a child and at a ripe age of four, I swapped my kimchi and banchan for crust-less sandwiches and tiny boxes of raisins. I stopped calling my mother “omma” and she became “mum”.

My parents were supportive of me always. Mum spoke to me in Korean, Dad spoke to me in English. Pioneers of their own sort, they traveled extensively and already lived in the United States where my oldest brother was born and where Dad studied and Mum worked. They then moved back to South Korea for a few more years where my other brother was born. Finally, they decided to ride the massive immigration wave of Asians to New Zealand in the 90’s. That’s where I came into the picture.

They had great expectations for all of us kids. Most importantly they wanted me to be Christ-like: honest, kind and faithful.

Buuuut a pretty close second to that was to be smart: highly academic, very involved with extra-curriculars, savvy with money and to put in more effort in my work than other kids. “Rich Kid, Smart Kid” and “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” stared at me over my childhood years on the book shelf and whilst I never read them, the titles were enough for me to get the picture. A bit on the competitive side, my parents challenged me to improve every time I brought home my report. My first teachers would write:

Kelly is a delight to teach and is well-liked by her peers. She contributes well in class and cares for her friends. Kelly often struggles to finish what she has started but has potential to excel if she focuses on her tasks. Kelly also struggles with her hand-eye coordination and running during Physical Education. 

“You need to be in the top 3 Kelly,” Dad would say.

“You need to do maths homework 3 pages a day,” Mum would say in Korean, handing me several work books and a skipping rope.

“Also, you should be careful when you are around Sarah”.

Sarah was my best friend. Also a Korean-New Zealander.

It wasn’t Sarah’s fault really. She had confided in me that her sibling took pictures of her naked to make fun of her. We were six. I was alarmed that maybe Sarah’s sibling would take pictures of me and told my parents. They didn’t jump to any conclusions but advised me to play it safe. But it still scared me. Or maybe it just gave me an excuse.

 So as quickly as I traded my words I traded my friends. For some reason the Korean girls always stuck together so not hanging out with that particular Korean friend pretty much meant social suicide on the Korean front. I disbanded myself from one of my only connections to the Korean community and ran (haphazardly, almost out of breath) across the playground to play tiggy with my pale-skinned, round eyed, nose bridged friends.