Belief and Philosophy Divorce Health Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Reading & Writing Self-help

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: Genus Mui Wo

This is Mui Wo at night. The path up to my former home. It’s wonderfully quiet and there’s a calm truth to being outside with the frogs and the darkness in utter safety. Forgotten. Lost. Present.

I always felt very out of place in Hong Kong, but I have concluded that this is the nature of the city, both historically and currently, as it is a population that has been shaped by the confluence of trade, politics, and capital. It’s about movement and rather abrupt in that if you are not from the city, it’s where you come to make a deal. I always found it rather humorous that expatriates would jabber on about how HK people were unmerciful and solely concerned with finance. But uh…everyone who was there, the expatriate community–they were there to make money. Very very few expatriates are there to immerse themselves in Cantonese culture or are interested in the native population other than the ways that they provide an avenue for the accumulation of their own personal wealth or well-being. Arguably, there are many cities like this, but the racial and social hierarchies are complex in this city. Not always, but it can be very “us and them.”

There’s the indigenous population,  those that migrated from other parts of China, and those who were part and of the former British Empire–government officials, bankers, carpetbaggers, military, and explorers. Finally, there were those like me, a Korean American who ended up in Hong Kong purely by random chance, a default of a marriage to a Brit.

I was an expatriate, but not of Chinese descent, and not from the UK, nor the Commonwealth, so this made the dynamic quite different for me culturally.

A Commonwealth friend once excitedly exclaimed that there was an English speaking woman on the ferry, and in celebration of a new woman in town, there would be a get together welcoming her! There was even a gathering to greet the arrival of a Western white woman. This is when I realized the depth of the difference in the way I negotiated my existence as an expatriate of Asian descent. When you look like the majority of the population, even if you speak English, there are no Welcome Wagons for you. I thought that this must have been what life was like on the prairie in the 19th century. Like, oh the wagon is bringing out a woman from back Home etc… I know there are Korean Welcome Wagons, but personally, I have never experienced this type of thing because my identity has been so fluid. I hadn’t expected any Welcome Wagon, but I realized that life as an expatriate was different if you were not Asian and spoke English.

I remember my mom got a Welcome Wagon basket from a neighbor when we moved to Memphis. This was decades ago so my parents were integrating the white neighborhood and there was a lot of curiosity about them. I would be mortified because right when the conservative white Southern Baptist woman swung by, my mom would be there with the cleaver whacking on the cutting board with garlic rising and I could see the expression of the person’s face: “Oh my, what interesting new people…” Yes, they were different creatures in that space.

There’s a very old comedy Eddie Murphy Saturday Nite Live skit where he gets on the bus as a black/white person and the differing reactions. So often I’d hear the rantings of people’s derisive anti-Chinese comments and simply act like I didn’t understand English. I passed–hence what came to be the title of my poetry manuscript. In Asia, you have access to spaces if you are English speaking. The caste and color line become very nuanced and complicated. I had some tremendous opportunities that would not have been given to me had I been in the US. As an Asian face with lousy Asian language skills, my value was measured. If you don’t have Mandarin, given the politics of the place, it’s tough now for many, but some of the ways you move through society are personality-based.

I thought about being a different kind of species–Genus Mui Wo…I believe I was evolving into something else too, something I could not recognize. There are many ways that being out of your cultural milieu can challenge your value system, what you know about yourself, how you see the world. I was better and worse, potentially more extreme versions of who I am. This is a physical visceral sensation. My parasympathetic system was entirely out of whack. I was not feeling who I was within my former partnership, and also within my own relationship to myself. Who is the self? What is my species? How pedestrian am I? I move from being a creature of the sea to one of the sky. In a sense, this is also the story of earthly evolution. We are all from the sea and before that, the stars, and to this end we will return. Stardust.

And let’s face it, while I didn’t intend it deliberately as I wrote this piece, it touches on this idea: did you ever notice how the future is depicted in media? There are outer space creatures that have vaguely Asiatic features often featured in spandex LOL. The idea is HEY those people are MIGHTY WEIRD. Let’s uh, make them sci fi characters LOL. Because we can’t imagine them. They are perpetually Other and Foreign. As Takaki wrote, we are Strangers From a Different Shore.  I think this has long been part of my awareness of difference–being treated like a different species…so there’s that.

The reference to Korea: I almost drowned in the mountains of Korea, outside of Seoul, when I was six. We were crossing a stream, my uncle who carried me slipped. A cousin grabbed me as I went under. I pulled my uncle’s hair. It took years of swimming lessons for me to learn how to swim, although once I did, I swam quite well. After the near drowning, I would sit on the shallow end of the pool on the stairs. I hated washing my face. I terrified of the water. My mother was from Hawai’i, and while she wasn’t a particularly good swimmer, (the Mom Swim: sunglasses on, face always above water lol) I was expected to swim.

After I could finally swim, she insisted I dive. I refused. I would jump over the swimming instructor’s arm, do anything to avoid being upside down. Undaunted, my mother hired the university diving coach. He took me by my feet, hung me upside down like a fish, and said on the count of three I would be dropped in. Splash! He did this several times, and again the next day, and after that–I could dive! I was 10 or 11. Thanks, Mom! Someday I’ll write about the rip tide which still leaves me with some anxiety, but that’s for later…

Reading this poem again, I recognize that I was fatigued, bored, frustrated, and exhausted by the marriage, but yes, I had the minnow, my small child, and so I stayed, as many do. I felt more dead than alive, but my child kept me going. I poured everything onto the page as there was nowhere else to leave it. You start to collapse into yourself. As a child I escaped by reading and writing. During the course of my marriage I read and write to escape amassing pages and degrees and doing whatever I could to avoid my physical reality.

All the while in Hong Kong, I could easily deconstruct how race and nation played out, but patriarchy was more difficult. I should say this was in specific to my own situation. When you are isolated emotionally you become inured to carelessness and cruelty and in the end, this is how and why you can become subject and vulnerable to abuse. In another cultural context too, one can become uncertain of the parameters and structures. Is this the story I know? Is this story playing out because I am in a different space? Where is the beginning and where is the ending? Existentialist type of questions.

I have a different kind of empathy now watching mothers with their small children if they are raising their children outside of their home culture. I can see all the anxiety, the concerns about doing what people are saying is best, but what, within your own culture doesn’t make sense.When you are not in your own milieu, your cultural values become uncertain and questioned. You must adapt–the question becomes what do you change, shift, and why?

I rewrote the ending of this piece many many times. But yes, I did grab that small hand and we ended up in Hawai’i–the ancestral home. Me and The Kid. Right across the street from where my family is buried.




Genus Mui Wo


Kick. Glide. An ageless alien floats.

Close eyes. Close eyes.

No tentacles, only gills, tales of tails.

To elude conscription

I snap skin from honey to olive,

declare citizenship,

nurse milk from stone,

scuttle over shallow water,

dodge mops. Hide. Seek.

Miscalculations of the moon stranded me.

Risks are for the hunt.

On and off the endangered species list,

experts argue: A bony beak.

Jelly lips. Feet trained to point.

I’m pedestrian,

a nylon-clad refugee,

swimming lap after lap.

Please, do not filet.

A diligent learner, I open jars, play puzzles.

Hostile conditions rendered me mute.

Survival, a testament to tenacity,

obedience, fear.

Plastic goggles squeeze eye sockets,

reveal loops ad infinitum.


I Almost Drown


We drive from the City. Two urban pale uncles hoist children on their shoulders, water skims chins. The sun flicks its light. Footholds missed! Kicks. Sputter. A strong arm. Saved by Cousin Ki-dong op-ah’s red and white inner tube. I am six. Shattered on the sandy river bank, twisted in bladderwrack, fish cheeks like pebbles, glassy eyes rimmed pink.

Years of failure, but Mother persists. This is not tennis! I butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, dive, hobble ashore with webbed feet. Beached, I weep for the sea.




My nocturnal mate provides shelter,

hunts with a weapon to his ear.

A stomach x-ray reveals a corroded past.

A beast-baring teeth, he attacks seaweed strands,

black painted lines.

I watch the show in silence.

Dolphin hooped: I applaud on demand.

I long to disappear,

but a tiny one swims by my side.

I stay.

Open a book. Tumble into words.

When the minnow pedals the prehistoric cycle,

I’ll shrink to a cloud bite in the blackest tea.

Before my organs drown and stop,

I dream the sea parts my heart,

walk the collapse of blueberry night,

and lick death’s sweet.

I note my eye’s lemon light,

marvel at my downy skin,

flex my talons.

Ready for flight!

I leap to private myths—

cloud wrap a phoenix belief

from shredded wings,

grab a small hand,

clutch my heart,

instinct pressing me home.

Belief and Philosophy Divorce Hawai'i Health Passing in the Middle Kingdom Poetry Self-help Woman. Warrior. Writer.

Passing in the Middle Kingdom: I Never Liked Redheads

This poem appeared in the hard copy journal Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine Intercourse and Intertextuality (2019).

Myself, ex, and child were in London. We stayed in Canary Wharf. Shout out to Mark Higham @theartshop360 for the image. I sat in the bathtub writing. Yes, at 3AM. I had spent the day alone pushing my child along in a stroller and went to the Tate. I can’t remember the exhibit. I remember wheeling the push chair as they say in UK English, or stroller as they say in American English, over concrete.

Lots of concrete. Are people still pouring concrete everywhere in an attempt to make floor fashionable? After living in a place where concrete dust was always flying due to buildings going up, I really loathe concrete. It’s a necessity, but why get worked up about it aesthetically?

By now, life was full-swing dysfunctional–although in retrospect, it was never functional and full of anxiety and abuse. There were only a few brief windows over the course of many years when there was any calm to the relationship. It was either volatility or boredom.

I see now from a distance that even in the early days (the reference below to steamy night was the night of Handover and meeting up in a bar in Lan Kwai Fong) there was an unease that later became a resignation. There was the stress of money, addiction, depression, passports, and whatever headaches that modern expatriate multi-national relationships potentially have. The difference at this point, which I clearly sensed, was infidelity, though I am now aware that lying is not something someone suddenly does. People lie. Or they don’t. Some lie more than others. At the root of lying is the fear of authenticity. My former mother-in-law was a redhead, which gives everything an Oedipal spin.

I wanted to create a poem that was very short and ambiguous, but not. There are always games of evasion and language. I like the poem now. Moreover, I inhabit such a different emotional space.

I. Am. Free.

I think that might be a new three-word poem. I think that’s about all I need to ever write. Because maybe, that’s all there really is. Once you start moving differently in your truth there is nothing more. This includes fear of Death. I may have some fear of certain physical gestures or movements (i.e. I don’t wear a hat anymore surfing because I tried to come up for air and the hat was in front of my face and I couldn’t get it off and it freaked me out), but fear of Death, no. I am truly not anxious…because yes, this is what it means to live in your own personal truth. You hit the end, and you’re okay with it.


I Never Liked Redheads


I see—

red hair and pale flesh straddling you.

I awaken,

sweat, kick in the dark.


I remember:

a silk dress damp against my skin

the steam of Hong Kong’s night

when you walked

in from the rain.


Desert sun on my back,

light spilled on your shoulders.

A soothing whisper, a baby born.

The wounds and crush.



a journey down a silken road tropic solitude

walks in cold forests

slow, slow.




long commutes, silent returns

a chase that devours.

Back to back

fast, fast.



I pen this in a hotel bathtub at 3AM,

rest on a brown cushion on cool porcelain.

You come in to pee.

I tell you the dream, you say,

I never liked redheads,

and return to sleep.


Bad Tourist Belief and Philosophy Hawai'i Health Self-help

Hawai’i: Bad Tourist

Yes, and so begins my new candid show called ‘BAD TOURIST’. In this series, I will reveal and expose some of the stuff that tourists do when they come to Hawai’i that yes, deserves the title: BAD TOURIST. This is not BAD as in COOL. This is BAD as in these are examples of BAD IDEAS.

You come on holiday to be safe and have fun and enjoy the beauty and outdoors. You do not come to be hospitalized, at worst, to die, to injure yourself, to do anything that will make you regret your holiday.

I really wish there was some kind of pamphlet that people would be forced to read while sitting on the plane to Hawai’i. Enroute to Malaysia they make you read one that says you get the death penalty for trafficking drugs. They then give you plenty of time to dump the stuff into the toilet before you land–I think such warnings are good for people visiting different places.

Today we feature Korean tourist X.

Hiked up Kokohead today and saw this. Today Korean tourist X perched on a ledge (bottom left corner). I missed the selfie part, which I am sure she did earlier, but she sat for awhile doing that Kate Winslet Titanic movie move (arms wide out, hair in the wind, generally a bad idea on the edge with a drop down onto the rocks then oops, into the ocean…but hey, maybe this is just me who stood there waiting for the inevitable…). She sat with her arms wide out. You can see partner on his way trotting down towards her. Dear Readers, they were not a coordinated pair, you could tell by how they moved.

I felt very nervous looking at her.


Because three years ago I witnessed someone fall off the rocks into the ocean while hiking and dying. This stuff happens and it is real.

What you have to ask yourself is this: would you take these kinds of risks in your own country, city, neighborhood, hiking trail?

I bet not.

I saw a rescue on the Koko Head trail a few weeks ago and overheard the rescue team tell someone that they are called 3x a week! There were at least five workers, two helicopters–thousands of dollars per rescue that we pay for with our city and state taxes. Much of this could be avoided. It is disrespectful to our government services to take risks like this that are unreasonable.

Please be safe. Have fun here. But think before endangering your life!



Belief and Philosophy Blog Hawai'i Health Self-help

Hawai’i: Meals

Mom made this before The Kid left for the Mainland. Ribs, potato salad, cornbread, and salad. Mom makes good ribs. Koreans do ribs well–kalbi, but these were Memphis style ribs. It is hard to fathom that my parents lived in Memphis for over 30 years! They were pioneering Korean Americans integrating the US. It is often a challenge being Asian in the South where life is constructed under a polarity of Black and White. I have relatives who live there.

Some things I loved about Memphis: Kang Rhee’s Pa Sa Ryu studio, deep fried turkey, cornbread, black-eyed peas, OK, gotta watch or I’ll just rattle off the food! Where my parents lived it was quiet. The madness of heat and the green. The steam and the slowness. I never felt fully comfortable there. But thinking about this more deeply, I am unlikely to return to the Mainland. Some people experience island fever, think they have to get off the Rock. I never feel this. I am aware this is a function of age and where I am. But I am never bored looking at the water. Listening. Looking at the flowers or mountains. Hawai’i nei.

Belief and Philosophy Hawai'i Health Reading & Writing Self-help

Hawai’i: How We See

There are times when my eyes are flooded with color. As I’ve mentioned before since being diagnosed with osteoperosis in December 2020, I have shifted my ideas of health. I’m trying now to think about making my body healthy from the inside out. This is also probably due to the rewiring of my body and brain after divorce. There is a keen awareness of mortality. I must drink this in and what is it? Laughing at the absurdity of accumulation to stave off death, the efforts that people go through to do what exactly? I have an awareness of death that rumbles under my daily habits. How will I spend this day and how many more do I have? Will I see the water today? Decisions become more clear.

I have chosen images of paths. The two in Makiki are in marked contrast to the row of flowers in Kahala at the edge of the sidewalk. In the Kahala image, Nature is what is observed from the path, in contrast to the two other paths which suggest our walking and participation is part of nature, we as human beings, inseparable from the path.

We must attempt to understand that we are never separate from the physical path. We can try to act as if we master and shape the path, but we are the path, just as the path is who we are.

Hawai'i Health Self-help

Hawai’i: Health and Life

Every week I hike the Kokohead Trail. This trail provides a beautiful view once you hit the top, but you are climbing steps up the entire way.

Steep steps. I do it faster or slower, but mostly, I just get up there and speed is not a priority which is good because if it was, I’d never bother with anything. I’m fast small picture, but big picture, I’m kind of slow and do things at my own pace. This means, my goal is overall health, and that takes time.

In December 2020 I was diagnosed with osteoperosis, so I am working now to keep it in check. I’ve also become acutely aware of all aspects of emotional and physical health and prioritize this. This, along with the big D for Death serve to remind me that life is temporal and it is how we move through it that counts.

The other week I was dismayed to find someone was being rescued and with helicoptors overhead, rescue workers trudging up, I thought what happened? Turns out someone is rescued from this trail 3 times a week!


If you don’t regularly ascend stairs and keep a cardio rhythm going for about 25-40 minutes, do not try this on your once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Hawai’i! Do not attempt this climb! Every time someone is rescued this costs the average citizen of the state tens of thousands of dollars. We have the highest cost of living here and some of the lowest wages. It makes no sense.

Just for good measure, I will add, if you cannot SWIM, do not go out and rent a surfboard and decide you want to try this!

I feel like sometimes people come here and all logic goes out the window! This is basic common sense. I know you are excited to be here, but be pragmatic so that you can enjoy and avoid rescues and the hospital. $$$