August 14, 2010

Camp Sejong

Tae Kim was invited to speak at this year's Camp Sejong, a week long program that provides Korean American children the opportunity to be with other kids dealing with similar issues regarding race and identity.

Camp Sejong nurtures and empowers Korean American children. Internationally-adopted, and Korean American children straddle two very different worlds: American in culture and lifestyle, but Korean by birth. Most of these children have never been back to Korea and many have had little or no contact with other Korean-Americans. Camp Sejong provides an opportunity for Korean American children and adoptees to connect to and feel a sense of pride in their Korean heritage. For additional information on Camp Sejong please click here.

The following is a transcript of the speech that was given on the last day of the event, as parents gathered with the campers to participate in a range of Korean cultural activities.

Good morning everyone. My name is Tae Kim. I’m enormously pleased to be here today . . . to be a part of this year’s Camp Sejong . . . to have the opportunity to share with you a little bit of my own Korean American experience. Specifically, I will be speaking to you today about the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me earlier this year – writing a novel.

By way of background I’m neither an author nor a writer. I was born in Inchon, South Korea and immigrated to the US in 1971. I spent my childhood growing up in a small, predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY and attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan. I received my BA in history from Haverford College and my law degree from NYU School of Law. I’ve spent most of my professional career as a securitization attorney for a large midtown law firm, a ratings analyst for Moody’s Investors Service and am currently working as a banker for HSBC.

“So what possessed you to write a book?” is the question that I’m most often asked. That question is usually followed by “So, what is the book about?”, “Wow, that’s a thick book. When did you find the time to write it?” and “The woman on the cover is so pretty. Do you think I can meet her?” I’ll address each of these questions briefly and in the process I hope to leave you with four very simple messages.

“So what is the book about?” Well, it’s not as you might expect a book about law or a book about finance. It’s a love story – a story of love, loss, remembrance and hope. It’s told through the perspective of a handful of characters, all of whom are Korean American, but each with a distinct Korean American story.

Most of us here today are Korean American and that creates among us a common thread and a very, very special bond. But I think that you’ll also recognize there are differences among the experiences of the different generations of Korean Americans that are represented here. My father, for instance, claims, and I say claims because some of the things he says are difficult to believe, but he claims that as a child growing up in Korea, he had to walk six miles each way, uphill both ways, to school every day. He claims he was so poor growing up that he had no shoes and that during the winter he would have to tie wooden blocks to his feet with twine, so that he could trudge through the snow, six miles each way, uphill both ways, to school everyday.

In comparison, my childhood wasn’t as hard. As far back as I could remember, I always had shoes, and it was uphill only one way for me and that was coming back from school. The other way it was just flat. But I had my own unique challenges growing up as a Korean American and they involved questions I had regarding my identity and my role in society.

I was very fortunate, however, because ever since high school I was lucky enough to be surrounded by other Korean Americans. And not only were they kind hearted and had interests that were common to mine, but they were doing extraordinary things. They were winning awards, they were the captains of their sports teams, they were getting perfect scores on their SATs and they playing in violin concerts. Even during my professional career, I’ve had the privilege of coming across some of the most accomplished Korean Americans in the fields of medicine, law, finance and ministry.

I can’t stress to you enough the importance of being surrounded by people that you identify with, that you can associate with and that you respect. It fosters a sense of pride in who you are and ingrains in you the belief that there is nothing you can’t accomplish as long as you set your mind to it. And so if there is only one message that you take away with you today, it’s this: have pride in who you are. And that means having pride in those aspects of your character that you feel are American, those aspects you feel are uniquely Korean American and those aspects that relate to your Korean heritage.

Now regarding the question of “When did you find the time to write a book,” well, that’s a very personal question for me. It was the middle of 2008 and we were in the middle of the financial crisis. As far as many people were concerned, the world was coming to an end. I found myself working twelve to fourteen hours a day trying to recover a fraction of the billions of dollars the bank had lost. I had three kids at home, ages five, three and one, an exhausted wife, and an exhausted mother-in-law.

[in Korean] Mother, I know you’ve suffered so many hardships. I’ve never even thanked you properly for all that you have done for us. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you. I thank you sincerely.

For those of you in need of translation, I was just thanking my mother-in-law for all the hardships she’s endured. And it was a difficult time for all of us – probably the worst time to try and write a book, because there just was no time.

But then I made a small change in my life. I had been driving to work every day but I decided to start taking the bus instead. It wasn’t a big change, but that forty minutes in the morning and forty minutes coming back at night gave me the time to write my book, a page at a time. I’d spend nights after the kids were asleep to type in what I had written into my computer. And sure enough, after a year and a half, I had my completed manuscript.

The message I want to impart to you here is to “Live responsibly.” It would have been very easy for me to use my dreams as an excuse for escaping from doing the things I needed to do. But I chose to pursue my dreams in a way that still allowed me to fulfill my responsibilities. You’re always going to have responsibilities and they may be things you don’t enjoy doing. But I implore you to live responsibly. You’ll still have time to pursue your dreams and to even fulfill your dreams. But if you do it in a way while still living responsibly, the fulfillment of your dreams will be that much more satisfying.

[Now with respect to the question I’m most often asked, “What possessed you to write a book?” As I mentioned, it was a lifelong dream of mine – a way for me to share my perspectives on the Korean American experience with a broader audience. My message to you here is to “Have the courage to dream.” And I’d like for it to be your dream because as demanding as you may think your parents are of you, I’m telling you now that your parents’ dreams for you are not big enough to fulfill your potential and your abilities. Have the courage to dream and if you’re going to bother to dream, why not dream big, because as long as you’re living responsibly, there’s no harm to dreaming big. I’ve had quite a bit of fulfillment upon the completion of my manuscript. Even more fulfillment when we received the final books from the printers. But I’ve decided to dream even bigger. And so we’ve submitted the book for consideration by the Pulitzer Prize board. Over 390,000 books are published every year and if you think in those terms, the odds of winning are almost non-existent. But I’ve chosen to think of it in terms of acknowledging that at least one person will win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for 2010. There’s no reason why it can’t be me. I’m happy to say that the Pulitzer board cashed my application check of $50 a few weeks ago so I know that I’m in the game. And that’s what I’m asking you to do, to “get in the game,” to have the courage to dream.][1]

As to the last question, “The woman on the cover is so pretty. Do you think I can meet her?” I have to start by telling you I had much more difficulty making the cover than I had originally anticipated. I had devoted so much energy to writing and editing the book but had completely underestimated the challenge of making the cover. And so I was wracking my brain, debating whether to hire a professional design team to create the cover or even interviewing fashion models for a photo cover shoot, which I’m sure would have thrilled my wife. But then one night, I remembered this picture that I had. And so I got out of bed and went downstairs to dig out the picture. Once I saw it and the mood that it conveyed, I knew it was the perfect picture for the book. And I had it all along, in the palm of my hand. All I needed to know was that it was there in order for me to grasp it. And so I ask you, whenever you’re looking for the answers to life’s challenges or need help, to start by looking closest to you. You have friends and family ready and willing to help you. You have organizations such as Sejong and events such at Camp Sejong that are available to you, to help you address your life’s challenges and questions. So whenever you need help, start by looking closest to you.

“As to whether you can meet the cover model?” Of course you can, it’s my wife and she’s sitting right there in audience and has been with me for the very best years of my Korean-American experience. I want to thank her for her love and her support.

On a final note, I have to confess that when I first learned about this speaking opportunity, I viewed it as a good way to promote my book. “What better way?” I thought. As Korean Americans, you’re my target audience and we’re out here in the middle of Blairstown, New Jersey. You’re basically trapped. You’d have to listen to me. But as I researched Sejong more and more and came to learn about the wonderful projects they’re involved with, I found myself even more excited about just being a part of this worthwhile cause. So we’ve brought a number of autographed books that’s available for your purchase, but we’ve decided, against the publisher’s strong objections, to donate all of the profits to Sejong. In truth, even if all of you purchased a book, it won’t be very much in light of all the wonderful things that Sejong is trying to accomplish. But I’m a firm believer in every great movement being progressed by small steps and with your generosity perhaps we can provide at least one more child with a life-awakening experience.

[1]  This portion of the speech was abridged in the actual presentation due to time constraints.

June 11 - June 12, 2010

NAPABA Northeast Regional Conference Hosted by APALA/NJ

aStoryTelling was one of the sponsors present at this year’s NAPABA (National Asian Pacific American Bar Association) Northeast Regional Conference which was hosted by the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey ("APALA/NJ"). In connection with the sponsorship, author Tae Kim and aStoryTelling COO, Hyunjung Kim, were in attendance at the conference on June 11 and June 12 to promote War With Pigeons.

aStoryTelling extends its congratulations to incoming APALA/NJ president Aney Chandy and special thanks to prior president Eugene Huang, conference co-chairs Jin Hwang and Khizar Sheikh, and prior conference co-chair Edward Kiel for their warm hospitality.

May 20, 2010

Dwight Englewood – Lower School in Englewood, NJ

On May 20, Tae Kim took part in Dwight Englewood’s Lower School’s “Community Helper Project.”In connection with the project, DE parents provide a short presentation on what they do - on how they are a "Community Helper." Tae presented on what's involved in being an author and writing a book. Dust jacket covers and colored pencil packs were distributed as gifts to all the kids. The pencils were used during the latter half of the presentation by the kids to design their own book signatures. The signatures will be collected and compiled into a small book that will be distributed to the class during the summer.