birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Three Hometowns

I suppose you could say I have three hometowns: the town I was born in, the town where my family started its new life in America, and the town of my formidable adolescent years.

Seoul, the city of my birth, is not a place I know. I have strong, evocative memories of childhood that have Seoul as their background but I have no emotional connection to the place. I was six years old when I left it and the two times that I traveled back to Korea, I spent my time in another city called Daegu since that’s where the majority of my extended family live.

Koreatown, the neighborhood that my family settled in when we first crossed the Pacific Ocean and landed in America, is a place I know every well, though my knowledge of it is stuck somewhere in the 80s and 90s. I lived there in the 80s and was taken there by my parents for various church, community, and family functions in the 90s. I still frequent the neighborhood pretty regularly but I don’t really know about all the hip new restaurants, bars, and hotels. I think the very fact that my comfortability and knowledge of the place is somewhat stuck in the past is the reason I have such a strong connection to it. I was driving through it late last night with the windows down and the radio up and I felt a tinge of melancholy knowing that the Koreatown I know is slowly fading away, then a wave of relief when familiar landmarks assured me that there was still time to savor the past.

La Crescenta, the suburb my parents moved us to when I started junior high, feels hometown-y, in more ways than one. It’s a suburban dream and a sign that an immigrant family has “made it,” with cute little starter homes and grander, more established houses further up the hill, a pedestrian-friendly shopping area, banks and a post office where the employees will chat with each customer as if there are infinite hours in a day and nowhere to hurry off to, and wholesome schools where the provocative hot button issues of the day are mere murmurs. To settle in a place like La Crescenta is to take ownership of a slice of Americana. I boast to people I meet there that my brother went to Robin’s Nest Nursery and that I know all the old teachers at Crescenta Valley High School. But its small town charm runs thin. I lived it and am grateful for the innocence and safety it gave me but I also know it’s limitations. I always have this small desire to shake it off and escape to the big city when I’m there. It feels almost like when I was a teenager, when my friends and I were always looking for a ride to Pasadena, Glendale—anywhere that was bigger and more exciting than our small town.

City of Strangers

Landlocked and Homesick