Unpacking my Knapsack.
I want to tell you a bit more about myself to give you a better understanding of who I am and why I write this blog.
I am a 32-year old cis-woman born in South Korea, adopted, and raised in south Germany. I have a German passport, two birthdays and two moms, one of which I never saw again after she'd given birth to me. I don’t speak any Korean (and yes, plenty of people ask me that after I told them that I was adopted at the age of six months). I do speak German, English, Spanish and bits of French and Danish (and soon I’ll hopefully add Swedish to that list).
I grew up in a small village in the Black Forest region surrounded by my German parents and my older brother (who is their biological son). When I think back of my childhood, I see a beautiful kaleidoscope of happy memories. Days spent outside in nature with my mum and my brother, week-long summer vacations with the whole family, heaps of books I read voraciously, different instruments I learned to play, my family that supported me and believed in me no matter what I did. My dad loves classical music, my mom comes from a family of doctors and artists, so there was always plenty of time and space and money for the arts. Also, we didn’t have a TV, my mom used only whole grain flour, our toys were wooden and hand-painted, you get the picture.
After I graduated from high school, I moved north to go to university. I started my undergraduate studies with cultural studies and sustainable development but after a year decided to change university and enrolled in anthropology and Latin America Studies in Hamburg. After lots of traveling and working in small coffee places, I went on to Sweden to do my Master’s in human ecology. I am also a certified German teacher. My parents paid for my entire university education. Seven years long.
After my graduation in 2015, I moved to Copenhagen and started to work in a small backpacker hostel right next to the central station. I sat long days and evenings behind the counter and got to see so many great, funny, weird, awful, interesting, heart-warming, fucked-up things that I started to write some of them down. That's when I first had the idea to write a blog about issues of race, gender, and privilege, but I didn't realize that idea before early 2017. It was shortly after I had moved to live on a small island just off the Swedish west coast. I arrived with no detailed plan what to do. My partner is a phd student at Gothenburg university and initially, I lived from his salary and spent my days learning Swedish, doing artsy things, going for long strolls across the island, doing yoga, and spending ridiculous amounts of time sleeping, eating, thinking, and fondling our cat. Nowadays, I work as a German teacher, and do random jobs here and there. Like many creative people, I struggle to find the right balance between earning money and doing what I love. Because too much work kills creativity. But so does not knowing how to pay your bills at the end of the month.
I could say I was lucky. I could say I worked hard to get to where I am. Both of which is somewhat true. But what is also true, of course, is: I’ve been granted a hell lot of privilege in my life.
But then there's also this.
The above-told story does not mention the times I cried because other kids bullied me or shouted “Chinky eyes” or “Ching Chang Chong” at me. It doesn’t mention the enormous insecurity that I felt (and still feel) because of the way I looked, the desperate tries to imitate the looks of girls who looked completely different from me (i.e. blond and blue-eyed), the destructive obsession I developed about my appearance. It doesn’t say anything about growing up and always feeling like “the other”. Always being “the other”. The omnipresent, never-ending questions I was asked. The questions that challenged who I was, where I came from, where I belong, those questions I got asked until I didn't know the answers anymore. Curious, invasive adult questions. Blunt, cruel child questions. Unasked advice, aggressive judgement, hurtful opinions. Stupid, offensive comments by men, ruthlessly sexualizing my Asian appearance. The story also ignores the emotional struggles I’ve faced; struggles affecting my identity, character, career, health, family ties, friendships, relationships, sexuality, pretty much every aspect of my life. It doesn’t tell about the omnipresent feeling that I shouldn’t be in this world, the physical pain I inflicted on myself, or about the shame I felt as a teenager when people would treat me as the girlfriend or wife of my father when we went out together.
I inhabit an odd space. Sometimes it feels like I enjoy white privilege although I am not white. But I am not really Asian either. Everyone perceives me differently, my ethnicity and identity are liquid and contextual. It is possible that one person asks me “Where are you from?” and I say “Germany”, five minutes later another person asks the same question and I answer “South Korea”, the next time I might say “Sweden”, or simply “I don’t know”. I am an excellent token because I look Asian but am socialized in a completely white context, so people don’t actually have to bother with me being different - I just look exotic. I hate to always feel different but at the same time used to try looking even more "exotic”, hoping that this would secure me acceptance and love. The vast majority of my friends are white because the social sphere that my privilege grants me access to is inhabited by white people. I identify with them, I feel drawn to them because they are in so many aspects “my” people; but still, the feeling of otherness, alienation, and non-belonging is always lurking in the background. I am neither fish nor fowl. Sometimes I am the former. Sometimes I am the latter. Sometimes I am both. This neither-nor has seeped into many other areas of my life, making it incredibly hard to carve out a personality, an identity, an existence. But it has also granted me access to a very particular perspective. And for this perspective, from which I write this blog, I am deeply grateful, for all the difficulties it entails.