Saturday, August 29, 2009

Panel on Alternative Careers

I've recently been asked to substitute as a panelist for someone who canceled at the University of San Francisco Legal Employment Symposium on September 17, 2009. I'll be on the panel for "Alternative Career Paths. If anyone out there is attending, I'd love to see you there!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Latest re Euna Lee and Laura Ling

I am very disturbed the latest report on what happened with Laura Ling and Euna Lee. According to this report, they were filming North Korean refugees and the activists who help them. Apparently, when they were caught by the North Korean government, their footages landed in the hands of the North Korean government, jeopardizing the lives and work of the refugees and the activists. If that is true, their behavior is truly naive. If journalists are going to put people's lives at risk for their news, they have a duty to ensure that their sources are safeguarded from harm. Apparently, the PR guys at Current TV have a different version, so I am waiting for them to speak out. And I hope they do soon.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I used to be awakened by the sound. A deep, raspy cough that repeated again and again. As if the lungs were held hostage. But insistent enough to puncture the wall between my parents' bedroom and mine.

In the hollow of the night, I used to lie awake and listen. Captured and paralyzed by it. Quieting my own breathing to listen, even though I didn't want to hear. When all else was silent, it sounded like a rhythm from an Edgar Allan Poe tale. At a time when we were all meant to be asleep, getting our rest after a day's worth of living.

It hadn't always been this way. There used to be a time when we all breathed healthy breaths. When we had slept soundly. When coughs hadn't raise the specter of something more.

But we saw the closed sign on Mr. Kim's dry cleaners down in Little Neck. The lights off, no one behind the counter, the sewing machine unused. The business that was now waiting to be sold. We heard about how his wife and children made the funeral arrangements. How the cancer had appeared suddenly and changed everything.

It was a word that seemed to linger on my parents' breaths when they talked about other dry cleaners they knew. Or used to know. Mr. Song who passed away the year before. Mr. Choi, just two months earlier.

They were just a few out of the many Korean dry cleaners in the area. Only three or so who died of cancer. Only three out of possibly hundreds. So we told ourselves. Only three. What are the odds?

But when my dad worked on the clothes a little longer than usual, when he hung onto the tubes of chemicals used to remove this or that stain, my mom started darting glances at him. A minute would pass. Then another. Then seconds that seemed to linger forever. And then it would all come hurling out in a fury. Why are you taking so long with that sweater. Look at the piles we have. Can't we go home on time for a change? Didn't I tell you not to stand so close to the table when you work? Do you have to breathe everything in? Did you put an ad out for someone to handle the chemicals, like I told you to?

And when the coughing started, we told ourselves it was just a cough. Must be the dust in the store. Turn up the fan. Open the front door. Ventilate the place. Keep the air flowing. That will help. Surely, it has to help.

And then there were the weird stains on his hands. Yellowish at times. An odd brownish color. Appearing randomly. Something we did not understand.

But it wasn't our prerogative to get an explanation. The privilege of having a professional examine it and determine a cause was not in our lot. We didn't have that kind of money. The thought of paying thousands of dollars to see a doctor who may or may not be able to tell us what could be causing the cough -- when it was just a cough after all -- was far too lavish. And what if they determined the cause. What would we do after? How would we pay for the treatment? There was nothing we could do. We accepted that. Just as I accepted not being able to see a dentist for over a decade. Or not having a pap smear until well into my 20s. Or anything else that involved the medical profession. Our lives did not intersect with theirs.

It was only after I graduated from college that I started arguing with my parents. It became my cause -- to convince them to buy health insurance. I screamed and ranted and cried. It seemed to be a matter of life and death, and I couldn't understand why they couldn't see that. So I dealt them the cancer card. What if you get cancer, I screamed. You won't get treatment. That's how it works in America.

They let me rant. And said nothing.

I was hounded by images of what could happen. Of what we might be forced to do. Would we sell all of our assets and gather what money we could to pay for the treatment? But our assets added up to so little. Who would want our rickety furniture and '82 Oldsmobile? Would I plead with the doctors? Or strangers who may look on us with pity and help us out? Could we find some public assistance program that could help people like us?

I looked into buying health insurance for them. And learned that I could not afford it on my $27,000 a year paralegal salary.

When I started law school, I made a list of things I could do for them when I became a lawyer. The first on the list was to buy them health insurance. And prayed that nothing would go wrong before then.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Glass Blowing Demo

For those who are interested in glass blowing, the Bay Area Glass Institute (in San Jose) is doing a glass blowing demo by Jaime Guerrero this Thursday evening. Jaime has won many awards, and he is one of the most skilled artists in the Bay Area. This demo is free and open to everyone. It's pretty neat, so check it out if you're looking for something to do. Click here to get more information.

Going Solo

I've been busy with work the past ten days. I filed two motions, including one for summary judgment, in one of my cases. Early last week, I found myself at Office Max, buying exhibit tabs. After I paid for the exhibit tabs, I waited at the copy center as the copy guy ran three copies of the exhibits with two holes on top. While he was doing that, I sat at a nearby desk and punched holes in the exhibit tabs. When he finished running the copies, I inserted my exhibit tabs and bound them with acco fasteners. When I was ready to file the motions, I first drove over to Fed Ex to serve a copy on the opposing party by overnight mail and then drove over to JAMS, where the arbitration is pending, in order to submit a copy.

This isn't the way I used to practice. There was a time when I used to hand the entire stack of exhibits over to a secretary or a paralegal, and they would be returned (most of the time) in perfect condition. Then, when the motion was ready to be filed, I turned it over to my secretary again who sent it out with the perfect label and dealt with the messenger.

Nowadays, I am lawyer, secretary, paralegal, and messenger in one.

And I don't seem to mind.

In some ways, I find it more efficient to do it all. And since I don't charge my clients for non-substantive work, I save them money as well. Besides, I no longer have a 2000 hour billable requirement per year. I only work when I have work. And the rest of the time, I can do whatever I want -- without any feelings of guilt or anxiety. So yesterday, after I filed my summary judgment motion, I went shopping. For baby clothes. I stopped by Old Nacy, Baby Gap, and Macy's and picked out an assortment of little sleepers, overalls, and polo shirts.

When I returned home with bags full of little man outfits, it was just in time for Jeff and me to drive down to Mountain View to watch the Elvis Costello concert. It was a perfect day. A little work, a little shopping, and a little play. Does it get any better?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Alternative Careers

I am always in awe of people who move on from the law to do something entirely different. Like creating baby furniture. What a leap from writing briefs. Click here to find out what one of my law school friends is doing with his time these days (and winning awards while he's at it, as you can see here).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cleaning Out the Closet

We've been busy cleaning out our 1300 sq. feet hobbit house to prepare for the arrival of the little guy. We have clutter all over the place. I used to live here alone until Jeff moved in almost three years ago. We merged two households into one and banished most excess belongings to a storage unit in the South Bay near where Jeff used to live. We now live surrounded by a hodge-podge of mismatched items and piles of random things that have no place to call home.

We've been slowly trying to bulldoze through the debris for the last few months. I hear the little guy is going to be pretty darn little, but boy, talk about all his stuff. Just dealing with the necessities -- mainly the crib -- has been a challenge. Two weeks ago, we moved our wardrobe down to the garage to make room for the crib in our bedroom, where we expect him to stay at least three months. I have since been sorting through our clothes in our closets and drawers to make room for his tiny outfits, diapers, and toys, buying extra bins to place under the bed and figuring out what needs to stay, what can go.

Yesterday, I cleaned out my sock drawer. I went through the socks one by one, sticking my hand through each tube and checking for holes, usually right where my big toe hits the shoe. I've worn holey socks for years, but I decided they had to go. After I finished with the sock drawer, I went through my rows of underwear, checking for tatters, holes, and loose elastic. I plunged the worn out items into the trash and watched it fill up.

I used to do this for my mother when I lived at home. She kept her underwear stuffed in a cramped drawer. Most of them were made in Korea. She never adapted to American underwear, claiming that they weren't comfortable enough. So her underwear were mostly ones that had traveled with her from Korea when we moved here when Jimmy Carter was president or ones sent by her sisters on random occasions over the decades.

I would first dump her drawer onto her bed and go through each underwear, checking for tatters, holes, and loose elastic. The ones that seems to be holding up were neatly folded and put back in the drawer in perfect rows, with the folds all facing the same direction. The ones that showed too many signs of wear were left out on the bed so that I could show them to my mother before discarding them.

I would do the same with her sock drawer. First matching all of the divorced pairs, and then checking for holes in each tube. The worn out pairs of socks would also be left on the bed for my mother's inspection.

When she returned home from work, she would inevitably react as she had on prior occasions.

"Shinyung! You cleaned out my drawers. How organized they look."

And she would smile, thank me for sorting them out, and then shove all the worn out underwear and socks back into her drawers.

"I'll fix them later," she would say. "It's a waste to throw them away."

And in the following weeks, I would see her wearing the tattered underwear, ones with big holes over her left cheek, or the elastic torn from the fabric. Despite my offers to buy her new ones the next time I went out, she would always decline, saying that they were just underwear, who would see them?

I saw them.

But that's how it was in our house. We had clean underwear while she wore hers for decades. It was our mother who ate the leftovers when the rest of us ate the dinner she cooked for us. The rest of us pushed to get our way, while she prioritized her needs last.

These days, my mother often calls me to give me her list of often repeated advice. Eat well, exercise, don't fight with your husband, keep the house clean, etc., etc., etc. Sometimes, she would also say, "Make sure you're happy. Live well. You're living well, aren't you? I'm happy when you live well. That way I don't worry about you."

In response, I would say, "Mom, it goes both ways, you know. If you don't live well, then I worry about you too."

And I know that her life isn't all that it's cracked up to be. She lives in the suburbs where she does not know how to drive, where she is dependent on my father to drive her where she wants to go. She lives in a neighborhood surrounded by English speakers where she does not speak the language. Her afternoons are often filled by Korean melodramas, where life is presented by Korean actors who pine and mull over their lives in a country half a globe away. The word lonely does not pass her lips often, but I suspect it hovers around her regularly.

I look forward to October when she and my dad will come stay with us for a while, even if it means the five of us living together in our cramped quarters -- or rather six, counting our yellow lab Sherlock. I have dreams of taking them out, showing them around, cooking my favorite dishes for them, even though I know in my rational mind that she will most certainly be taking care of me with the arrival of the baby. After all, that is why they are coming out.

I often think about way to make it up to her. About trying to help her with her happiness. To help her live the life that I think she should live.

And I think about not placing that kind of a burden on my own children. Because worrying about my mother's happiness fills me with sadness at times. And guilt.

So it gives me with a sense of satisfaction to see my holey socks and underwear in the trash, even as I clean out the closets to make room for the little guy. It's a small step, but one in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

North Korea

Reading about Bill Clinton's trip to Pyongyang last night gave me the first surge of hope for the fate of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. I can't believe the two journalists have been there since March 17th, and only now has the administration begun to do something. Maybe delicacy is required when you are dealing with a madman, as Kim Jong-il clearly is, but it sickens me to watch him have the leverage over and over again.

If only we can also do something for the people of North Korea, who are hostages in their own land. When I was in Korea in 1998 for a few months, I met several people who still had relatives in North Korea. Their families had been split during the Korean War. The principal of my language program had aunts and uncles who lived there. Due to the Sunshine Policy, the principal's father finally had a chance to meet with one of his sisters in China after almost half a century of separation.

To read up more about the fate of North Koreans, here are some memoirs I've read. It's very difficult to get accurate information about that country, and memoirs are probably the closest you'll ever come to the truth.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, by Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot - story of a man who was imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp when he was just nine years old.

Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman
, by Soon Ok Lee - story of a woman who was an approved member of the Communist Party until she offended an official and was thrown in prison.

The Tears of My Soul, by Kim Hyun Hee - a woman who was trained to be a covert operator for North Korean and bombed Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987.

In North Korea: An American Travels Through an Imprisoned Nation
, by Nanchu and Xing Hang - gives you a good sense of the surreal state through the eyes of someone like us.

I also recently ordered Mike Kim's Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World's Most Repressive Country, and I can't wait to read it.

To read a shorter account online, click here for the account of Shin Dong Hyuk, who was the first North Korean to escape from a North Korean labor camp.