I enjoy Jay Caspian Kang's writing at Grantland, a sports journalism website. But his recent NY Times article takes his craft to another level. Kang writes about the Oikos nursing school massacre in Oakland last April. He compares it with the Virginia Tech massacre five years earlier. Both involved Koreans. In an interview with Korean-American child psychiatrist, Winston Chung, Kang writes:
“In Korean culture,” Chung explained, “denial and avoidance are the status quo. Under all that suppression, emotional turmoil festers. When it’s not addressed, it can turn explosive. There’s this dark side that needs to be dealt with, but the Korean community as a whole will not acknowledge that something is up. Nobody will say anything about anything. “I know this shooting had something to do with han, with hwabyung, [two Korean terms meaning hopeless anger] Chung went on. “I feel almost guilty saying that, knowing how hurtful those words might be to other members of the Korean community. But all my training, everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve read and my own personal experiences all point to that. This guy was suffering from something that was very Korean.”
1) Anger and passion go together: I went to a Korean church during my freshman year at Berkeley. I've never seen anything like the passion Korean Christians have. I saw it in this church - early morning prayer meetings, people shouting at God during singing, elaborate male bonding rituals, violent party games involving slapping, fervency in pretty much everything they did. Nothing I've experienced in other church cultures comes close. I saw it during the World Cup in Seoul when the entire stadium shook in unison. I see it whenever I travel abroad and meet Korean missionaries. The solidarity and intensity of Korean culture is unique throughout Asia. Unbridled anger and passion are two sides of the same coin. The passion I admire and want to emulate is, at another moment, the very same rage that I fear and detest.
2) Every Asian culture stuffs negative emotions and events: We stuff. We don't talk about bad things. We don't want to face a tragic or sad event. We pretend like nothing happened. We hope by not talking about a shameful event it will go away. We fear heaping on further additional humiliation and shame. We hope that avoidance will dissipate the grace. Why disturb social harmony by revisiting an unpleasant situation? That's why we don't apologize. It brings up negative emotions. Why stir up something bad again? Shame kills. In every way.