"I think I love bartending because it connects me with so many people and things. I play a small part in someone else’s life where you're like, you know when you have a really bad night and you don't wanna talk to anyone you know and then you find solace in a stranger ? That is how it is for me.
When someone comes in, I can tell if they are super fucked up or something. I like never nudge too hard, but I always make myself available to talk to them. In a way it is very therapeutic."
I am so glad I met you at Hella Gay in Oakland.
So you studied classical music?
Started piano when I was 6, Violin when I was 7. Then I fell in love with it. It wasn't supposed to be my plan. I was thinking about medical school.
Music was always part of my life, and supposed to be my way of getting into medical school. I was hoping studying music would help me stand out and get a scholarship. Obviously nothing ever works out the way you want it to. I didn't want to go to med school, only music. My parents were pretty mad, but I did well. I made a lot of connections in Portland and did well in the music scene, and taught music theory to kids as well.
I played for ballets, operas, and symphonies...umm... but then I got really burned out. I realized the types of people that were around me and questioned who was able to afford this. I came to a realization that I couldn't do this. I couldn’t live my life in a practice room obsessed with all these auditions to try to win a seat in an orchestra that performs for predominantly rich, white people.
Then I started to play pop music: indie pop, studio work. Then I got involved with this hip hop group that has recently blown up in the music scene. His name is Amine and he was actually my classmate in Portland. We made music together, and I was a part of his first hip hop mixtape called ‘Odyssey To Me’. After trying that scene out, I knew I had to move to grow. I moved to Oakland to be around more Queer and Trans People of Color.
Portland is a very strange white, liberal city. I realized I had no Korean friends and that was something I always wanted. I found a Korean group here in Oakland called Seoul Sisters and it's all queer Korean ladies, and it's everything I ever wanted! I fell in love. I had a restaurant job when I first moved here to pay for rent. I was a really bad busser in Alameda. They were like, you need to do all these things, and I was like NO, I don’t wanna do it… but I met tons of friends and that's actually where I met Jess. (My now, ex-partner) We fell in love. One thing led to another and I we fell into a relationship. I met a band mate and we went on tour. Then we broke up.
One thing led to another, and I was then staying at Jess’s place and she was bartending at East End, so I started bar backing at a bar and restaurant in Oakland called Plum Bar, which led to a bartending gig at Nido.
I fell in love with bartending and have been focused on craft cocktails ever since. It’s a lot like performing music; all eyes are on you and your movements have to be precise. People are paying you to give them a little bit of a show, a little bit of attention, and of course, a tasty cocktail!
Have you thought about how to make classical music accessible, or is that not a conversation you're able to have right now?
I have thought about it a lot. Music will always be my go to and I'll probably revisit it again.
May I ask what ethnicity Jess is?
White people are the image of beauty, sadly.
We're socialized to gravitates towards white people since that’s all we see. What are your thoughts on race and sexuality?
Oh my god! Race and sexuality is so crazy when you break it down, especially in Portland. All my exes there are white, not that I had many QTPOC to choose from, but my community was pretty white. And I consider myself very white compared to other Korean folks. I don’t speak Korean very well. I don’t have many Korean friends. They also consider me too white and an outsider.
White people are like, you’re just white ENOUGH as a person of color to foster in. It’s this weird fucked up thing where I'm totally being exoticized right now but I'm also being sheltered by my whiteness. So it's like really scary and sad, and I wonder why I always gravitate towards white people. For some reason I have been conditioned to believe I’m not good enough to date another QTPOC even though that's what I want. I want someone who can relate more to the problems and conversations I have. At a certain point with white people, they're just not going to understand. Like the constant onslaught of ‘ideal beauty’ portrayed by the media has definitely affected me. Since Jess and I have split up, I have been prioritizing dating QTPOC and non-white folks. I have to say, it has been a really amazing experience getting to know all these beautiful people.
Cheers to new beginnings and friends! I am tired of white activists who don't take into consideration the necessity of intersectionality.
I agree. If you are in a place of privilege, you should definitely listen and try to understand another’s identity. Life is already shitty.
There is no space for people to be in the middle or just idle. You have to take a side because things are so fucked up right now.
Silence is basically slaughtering. If you watch someone get beat up for their skin color or anything else, you're basically hurting them too. We’re not even safe either. (As Asians with light skin privilege) Some viral videos online are going around where an Asian woman was egged and told you need to go back home. And too many Muslim Americans are still being called terrorist and perverts on the regs. It’s ridiculous.
What do you think?
I believe we should be practicing our democracy everyday, not just every four years. Regardless of how difficult it is, we must have conversations, post on social media. Every subtle small act makes a difference. Reevaluate values on a daily basis. Is my time and energy aligned with what I believe?
Ideally I would want everyone on the streets as well. Every individual body and voice matters. It's complicated because if you protest, then you don't have to work that night or day. You're privileged enough to have time off. You should definitely be out there and stand in solidarity with others in whatever way you can though.
How do people deny the Trump effect? Just the fact that he is in power validates people's prejudices and opinions.
Totally. I can’t.
How do we start these conversations? We are so divided, especially with social media allowing us to filter out contrasting ideas. I often go on Republican and right wing pages to try and understand their premise. Everyone on my newsfeed is progressive! It was bewildering to see women on facebook accepting Trump’s misogynistic behavior from that bus video. Some were defending him and reminding others that this is the way it has been for centuries. It is man's nature, just move on. NO!
It’s not okay! I don’t know. I hope it isn’t because women have been so oppressed for so long that they just feel helpless. I don’t know. I saw this video from Korean news where this reporter asked Korean citizens what they thought about the election.
Korean Citizen: We are pretty appalled that Americans would actually vote for him. It might be because white people are afraid of foreigners.
Reporter: How do you view America now?
Korean Citizen: Everyone in Korea believes America is number one. I'm questioning if I would ever wanna go there.
He mentioned how the relations between America and Korea would be shaky. There was talk over Trump taking away resources from the border. South Korea will have to pay America or something. I’m so embarrassed.
Ohh! Have you heard about the volcano in North Korea?
I haven’t, but the Korean War is so tainted in American culture. What we learn is so different that what I learned on my own and form stories. The opportunity to have some reunion just gets worse and worse as the years go on. I hope for it since so many families have been separated and they are so silenced. They are protesting the president now. Sure she is a woman, but she is so ruthless and refuses to listen to the people. Her dad was actually a tyrant who killed a shitload of people because he was trying to kill off smaller businesses and companies back when Samsung and LG were taking off. Tyrant.
But these protests are so awesome! So peaceful. 1.5 million people showed up! There were a good amount of cops but no violence. Why can’t we protest like that? Imagine if everyone showed up! Can you imagine? 1.5 million people! They are really practicing their democracy.
What was it like coming out to Korean parents by the way?
I came out to my friends before my parents which happens pretty often. I was about 17 or 18, that's when I confirmed. I knew.
I can't remember what age I came out to my mom. I was in Portland on the phone with my sister on the way to a bar. Her and mom were home, and I was walking on Mississippi, and there were a bunch of bros right behind getting really rowdy. I told myself don't worry. I'll just sit down. I was telling my sister. I'm in a scary situation right now and my little sister is like. wait what's happening and freaking out
Ok, ok. Mom doesn't know I’m gay but I’m pretty sure people are following me because they know i'm gay, and calling me a dyke. And she was like ahhhh!!!
So she told my mom. Mom I need you to talk to Robin.
I told her what happened.
“Why did you tell me like this?”
And then the group finally left. I was right in front of the store. And fine. I came home and apologized, and told her we would talk more about this later. She agreed and went through a really sad phase where she would cry all the time.
“Oh my daughter! Why did this happen to me? I love you but I don't love you.”
She finally came around and said I love you. I don't care who you date.
I started introducing her to women I dated more for her peace of mind and to normalize it a bit more for her. I'm just dating this person and want to legitimize this. I would literally just introduce my parents to any girl I was dating, even if it was casual, if they were in town just to help them understand that it wasn’t a phase. I told my dad about a year after I came out to my mom. They both still say things like, ‘You never know! One in a million. What if you find the right guy?’ GOD!!!
They thought it was a phase?
Oh definitely. But yeah, Jess and I were engaged for a while. We’re both not marriage people but we wanted to receive benefits and get on each other’s insurance and shit. Practical reasons. And we wanted a really big party but.
Yeah, I told my parents. They were just like, okay. My mom would say, “I'm happy you're settling down and not being so crazy. We don't like it when you're wild. We don't care what happens with the wedding as long as you two don't elope. Whatever you do, don't elope. I’ll never forgive you.”
And I was like hmmmm… We wanted to do the city hall thing and elope. My dad doesn't care. My mom says she has to be there.
It’s probably good because we’re broken up now.
It’s probably good my sisters have always accepted me. Well Holly, my younger one did because she didn't know anything about homosexuality. We went to Christian school together a little so we didn't learn about that stuff till later. She was like I love you, but I don't know what that means. Now they are my biggest supporters! If anyone says anything, they are like, "Fuck you. We are gonna fuck your shit up."
I’m so excited for your future! Do you have any idea where you want to go?
No idea. I can do anything at this point. I have no ties.
You have this gravitational pull. I feel so comfortable around you, and can definitely imagine you in the public sector.
That's what Jess said. She said I would be a really good counselor. I was like, I could imagine myself doing that, but that's the thing.
Do you know what an Enneagram is? It's kinda like a personality test. The same lines as the Myer Briggs test. So you answer all these questions, and at the end it puts you in a category. So I’m ENFP.
You are? OMG! My other best guy friend is ENFP too. Is it too narcissistic to be like I love ENFPS?
It puts you into a category. So it lists all your negatives and positives. My number is 7: The Entertainer. I noticed all the people I surround myself with like John, my bar manager at Nido. We’re best friends and we’re both 7s and we have the same exact problems! So when we’re talking about issues, especially love, I relate to him because I know exactly how he processes things. It’s because we have the same interest and focus. One of the big problems with being a 7 is you are good at a lot of stuff, so your mind never gets to a point where you focus on just one single thing. I’m all over the place all the time. I’m thinking about things all the time. Sometimes, it is really difficult to focus. And it is hard to complete projects at times because we are always coming up with new ideas.
John was telling me he was just diagnosed with ADHD and I thought that makes sense. My mind is overstimulated when I'm walking down the streets. I have music and am moving my hands all the time.
I know what you mean! I’m always pretending to dance or conduct music with my hands, and even now, my hands are moving like this.
I don't know if you know but I’m always touching something.
YAS!! With my hair, I can just stroke it all the time.
It's fun for me to hear the bass and after I do the cymbal rhythm, I like to add onto the composition. I imagine adding 1/18th here and doing all this shit while I’m going somewhere. I have so much shit going on my mind that I often miss what's in front of me. You know what I mean? Its terrible!
So I'm good at music. I'm good at communications. I'm good at bartending. I love kids. I love animals. When I think of what I would want to do if I wasn't a bartender, I could see myself opening a cat shelter, or a guidance counselor for teens, or after school programs and sharing music. See? Too many things and it's hard to focus.
I have been asked to do pop up bartending and I'm always conceptually there. John and I are a duo and imagine crazy menus. What if we do a drink like this? Like adult kid drinks. How to use creme de cacao and cream, and how to make a Yahoo or Nesquik drink. What are other things we drank as kids? We get so conceptually involved but then don't follow through. So for 2017, we have to follow through with at least one gig. I need to figure out the direction.
I think I love bartending because it connects me with so many people and things. I play a small part in someone else’s life where you're like, you know when you have a really bad night and you don't wanna talk to anyone you know and then you find solace in a stranger ? That is how it is for me.
When someone comes in, I can tell if they are super fucked up or something. I like never nudge too hard, but I always make myself available to talk to them. In a way it is very therapeutic. You can just have a cocktail, share a moment, and leave it behind. That is just one thing I really love about bartending. It is also really fun and you make okay money. It is also really science based! Making, Mixing, balancing flavors. And chemistry. It gets even more science grounded when we make weird drinks. I'm really good at conceptual drinks. I wanna make a clear drink with these flavors but the color will muddy the color of the product. So let's figure out how to get citrus in a drink without cloudiness. So we use citric acid to get acidity without changing the clarity of the drink. It's my shit! Also, John and I are really into ‘bougie trash’. Meaning, we like remaking terrible drinks into amazing, craft cocktails.
It sounds so mind boggling,
It's totally fun! You can do anything you want. Think of a flavor or drink. I also just love drinking. When I meet someone who doesn't enjoy drinking, I go why?!? I really can’t understand.
It's similar to food. How do people only eat one thing? Like grilled cheese. What about Southeast flavors? Or Ehtiopian flavors? How could you eat only one thing for the rest of your life?
I'm gonna have to come by and tip you so well!
What's your go to drink right now?
Hands down! So my fave shaken drink is called a scofflaw. It was one of the first cocktails I learned how to make. It's whiskey, dry vermouth, grenadine, and lemon juice. Shaken, and some people put it up in a coupe. I like it down with no ice/neat. That's my favorite drink for sure. I drink it like a shooter though, ha!
Stirred. I love a Mezcal Negroni. I drink a lot of that and tequila. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want really cheap beer with an amaro. Other nights, I only drink cocktails. Too much wine makes me sick.
The tannins make my face blow up. I turn into a tomato.