Dredge Byung'chu Kang

Name

Dredge Byung'chu Kang

Age

38

Location

Bangkok, Thailand

Occupation

anthropologist

Own Words

In this picture, I’m sleeping on a subway car in Seoul. I like it because I get to sleep and be in motion at the same time.

I was born in Seoul, but left when I was one, so I have no memory of it. I went back for the first time last summer and felt underwhelmed. It reminded me of my first trip to LA. I guess I have too many glitzy images in my head. But after a city like Tokyo, Seoul was a bit slow, run down, and just normal looking.

I also felt so little attachment to the place. I thought I would be a bit more nostalgic.

I had already decided not to contact relatives or tell my parents I was going. But I wanted at least a little tinge of “oh, this is where I am from” or “oh, this is where I belong.” Nada. I guess I’m KA to the core. I did have some amazing food (like live octopus), but most of the time I was thinking, hmm, I like the food better in LA. Of course, in LA I only go to places I love.

Most Koreans did not think I was Korean. When I spoke Korean, they often thought I was Japanese. I also got Taiwanese and Thai more than gyopo.

When I was in Tokyo I felt like my dress fit in, but in Seoul I was a bit of an anomaly. In Bangkok, most of the time, I just feel like I look like everyone else. Since KAs are generally super concerned about how they look, I expected everyone to be super put together and glammed out in designer knockoffs. I was unhappy about how A&F the young men’s clothing was. The fashion was more Shanghai than Tokyo, more old school. It’s amazing how precisely my father has preserved that aesthetic for decades in America.

Regardless of my reservations, I still have this feeling that I could live in Seoul, and was happy to discover a new Korean discount airline is offering flights to Bangkok for $299 roundtrip. So I see another trip in my near future.

I have friends here in Thailand who have gone crazy for all things Korean: pop, drama series, movies, cosmetics, big-eye contact lenses, eyelash extensions, etc. A few of them have visited Korea, and the reaction is often: it’s not like in the movies, people are not beautifully dressed and groomed, the city looks old, etc. They have this image that everyone must look like a star, since so much of the popular media here now comes from Korea. They also say Koreans are hot-hearted, but I grew up with that.

I’m at this strange point in my life where I have lived in Thailand longer than Korea, my Thai is better than my Korean, and most people here assume I am dek nawk (educated overseas) or Thai Chinese. But whenever someone asks me what I am, I just say Korean. I haven’t lied to improve my bargaining power, as many people have suggested to me. If the conversation goes further, I will say that I am Korean who grew up in the USA. This will help to explain why I can’t name more than a handful of drama series, why I don’t know the names of each of the Wonder Girls or Super Junior, etc. I used to say I am Korean American, but I don’t anymore, since for most Thais, this generally implies that I have a white father.

Ironically, if I didn’t spend time in Thailand, I don’t think I would have ever known any of the Korean pop bands which I am now so fond of. My parents watch Korean tv, so I’m used to the drama series being on in the background. But it’s not like they are fans of Big Bang. It’s interesting how different places bring out different facets of my identity. In the US, I’m always reminded of my difference, of being Korean, so that perhaps brings out segregationist tendencies in me. In Europe I feel like I become more American, because I’m always feeling like I have to defend the USA. Granted, Americans are good at hegemonic maneuvers, and I’m more than happy to be a critic. But I can’t stand it when Europeans act as if the didn’t model imperialism or that they are now somehow beyond it. In Asia, somehow I feel more freedom from these kind of identifications. That’s not to say that race/ethnicity doesn’t matter. In Thailand, being KA is definitely a plus. Th! at’s a strange, and nice feeling.

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