What Difference Does It Make: The Two Literatures

Leaving Antje Öklesund one January evening during the most beautiful snowfall

On the dance floor of “What difference does it make!” I met someone whose take on common interests were so different from mine, it made all the difference.

How two people from the humanities can amazingly miss the connect:

Concerning Hegel:

Me: I took a class on his Phenomenology. 

Literature: I took a class on his Logic. 

(the phenomenology / logic divide)

Me: Did you know Hegel’s writing desk is in the main Humboldt university building?

Literature: You mean the building next to a sculpture of his bust?

Me: What sculpture?

(the desk / sculpture divide)

Concerning French Philosophy/ Literature

Literature: I started a Lacan reading group.

Me: I only vaguely remember Foucault. I’m into French literature.

(his literature was German and philosophy French, my literature was French and philosophy German)

Concerning Art

Literature: What do you like doing?

Me: I like going to galleries for contemporary art.

Literature: Did you see the Mondrian exhibit at the Martin-Gropius-Bau?

Me (thinking): shit I missed a Mondrian exhibition… there is a gap is my information flow

Literature: I guess Mondrian is modern and not contemporary

Me (still thinking): I can’t believe I missed that

(the modern/ contemporary art divide)

Concerning German Romanticism

Me: I like German Romanticism.

Literature: Brentano?

Me: Brentano is the one Romantic I haven’t read.

Literature: His style is similar to Tristram Shandy…

Me (thinking): I tried to read that once and couldn’t stand the writing…

(the Brentano/ all the other Romantics divide)

Concerning the Application of Trust

Literature: I translated an academic paper on “trust” today.

Me: I used to sell “trust” to e-commerce retailers.

Literature: How do you sell trust?

Me: with a feedback management system… customer and product reviews

(the translation/ selling of trust divide)

Concerning Quentin Tarantino

Literature: The only Tarantino film I thought was good was Reservoir Dogs.

Me (thinking): That is the one film I am not interested in seeing I haven’t seen that one.

(the Reservoir Dogs/ all other Tarantino films divide)

Concerning Politics

Me: Do you know Nate Silver?

Literature: Never heard of him.

Me: All my information on politics comes from Nate Silver.

(the political information divide)


Modern Romance: The Importance of Being Text

Modern Romance

“I think Tinder is a great thing,” says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies dating. “All Tinder is doing is giving you someone to look at that’s in the neighborhood. Then you let the human brain with his brilliant little algorithm tick, tick, tick off what you’re looking for.”

Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance” investigates many things but foremost and also the most entertaining is his study of pre-romantic texts. He finds sadly many, even though both parties were initially interested, fell into the graveyard of unrealized dates. The main reasons for their demise are the following:

1. The busy game: while you have to play the busy game, sometimes the game spins out of control and one member or both can no longer tell if the unavailability is due to interest or lack of interest or both parties just give up due to exhaustion… (if our schedules were not meant to be how could we be)

2. Word choice: to an almost frightening degree, word choice plays a crucial role in continuing the conversation… a badly chosen word giving off the wrong subtext can take you out of the game

3. Unable to ask the girl out: many texts just circle around nothingness… like Aziz’s example of how one guy just couldn’t ask the girl out so they kept texting about the best laundry detergent

From my own life here is a pun that got away involving donuts and the subtext of “foodie:”

Meet my New Years Berliners: Eggnog and Champagne

January 1st, 2016 on Tinder

Genao: What are up to this afternoon?

Me: I haven’t decided yet, what are you doing?

Genao: Cooking, you’re welcome to come over.

Me: Are you a foodie? (subtext: buying time and keeping things kosher)

Genao: I don’t like that word but I love food. I watch Chef’s Table on Netflix. (subtext: I don’t like you but I love sex)

Me: Food enthusiast, food lover, food snob (subtext: being annoying and thinking Netflix is available in Berlin?)

Genao: I don’t believe in putting great expectations on food. (subtext: sex doesn’t always have to mean something)

Me: So you would buy grocery store pesto? (subtext: how much can you deviate from the best?… as I know he is from Genao, where they invented pesto genovese)

Genao: I’m not a snob against people who buy grocery store pesto. I would try everything just the once to see how it tastes. (subtext: You’re not really my type but I like to try everything once)

Me: What are you planning to cook? (subtext: no comment to your comment and changing subject)

Genao: I think I’ll make Cotechino.

Me: What is that? (subtext: that sounds Chinese)

Genao (with image of Cotechino): It looks disgusting but its delicious. Its a traditional Italian New Years dish. (subtext: I’m losing my patience)

Me: Did you have any Berliners last night? (subtext: shocked at how awful the image looked and speaking of New Years foods… Berliners are traditional New Years Eve donuts in Berlin)

Genao: What do you mean by that? (subtext: are you insulting and making fun of me?)

Me: (realizing I made a hurtful pun unknowingly) I mean the traditional New Years Eve donuts, I had two last night. (subtext: wow the explanation sounds even worse)

How does this story end? Although I contemplated how I could eat the Cotechino and run, the exchange ended up in the graveyard of unrealized dates. R.I.P.

The Remains of a Professional Heartbreaker

Early Andy Warhol MoMA

Professional heartbreakers pirouette gracefully around you as self-sufficient entities needing no additional qualities- they already have the best. They leave behind a psychological trail of trigger words, a philosophy, a specific color, a Hapsburg Empire of references to reel your interests into a sublimated loop. Their victims are the inculcated until they are not. Your understanding of truth and beauty becomes “Beauty is shoe, shoe beauty…” You always thought Warhol was an asshole and now you’re reading his entire oeuvre to understand his genius, how he cracked the code and gained the qualities he always wanted.

“Zwischen kante, slowdive und der sinatra-tochter…” becomes a riddle of wisdom representing the ribbed dimensions of a key opening the mysteries of a soul. The loosely chosen and uncapitalized words written in lackadaisical haste gets pondered upon until finally you realize… fuck, its just a list of bands. “Zwischen kante” will always be more interesting than the actual Kante.

Kante begins to seem like the most beautiful German word, something you need more of having had too much of Kant in your past. You start asking Germans if they’ve heard of the band Kante, separating people into the great Kante divide.

Eventually, Warhol’s philosophy gets understood and the repetition of the words “zwischen kante” makes it less and less meaningful until its archived. Heartbreaker goes on breaking hearts, and you can finally leave the Hapsburg Empire behind. Beauty is no longer shoe.

In the Waiting Room of the Black Lodge…


In Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge exists like a fortune teller on Sunset Blvd., representing an ancient backwater mysticism of a town Agent Cooper comes to love while his urbane FBI colleagues scuff at the simplistic turn of the folk town. Faux classy and bleeding sleaze, the red waiting room is filled with circus freaks and gibberish, where the darkest truths are revealed in non-speak. The knowledge that awaits can horrify you, as the spirits, both good and evil, moving through its red cloth walls morph into monsters. It appears in dreams and exists in an unseen dimension through a portal in the woods and leaves behind the bad smell of petrol.

Somewhere on Sanderstrasse, Berlin has its own replica and for reasons unknown to me that was the first place I wanted to go in the New Year. I found myself typing the words Black Lodge into Tinder chats and hearing the words tripping off my tongue since the first day of January as either a date idea or friendly neighborhood bar visit with a girlfriend.

Every time I walked out of u-bahn Schönleinstrasse and tried to go, I’d reach into my purse to find my phone dead, requiring me to depend on someone else’s navigational skills. Each time we ended up circling away from Sanderstrasse. My friend kept walking us straight ahead till we reached a gas station on Sonnenallee (at the gas station I knew this couldn’t be it) and another time, a date escorted me to the canal then around the block and back again.

It was only after I finally made it there that I began to suspect that Berlin’s Black Lodge may not be such an innocuous replica of the imaginary existence of the real thing but by building it an energy had come, a force field of dark intentions and mischief. And that I, led by aesthetics and lack of depth of its true meaning, took myself and another innocent to unravel and reveal ourselves in its darkness.

Berlin’s red room was small and the seating lined its walls creating an enlarged BVG s-bahn bike area sitting arrangement in which you sat not facing your date but strangers sitting on the opposite side. Awkward.

Because of the strange events during and after my visit to the Black Lodge, I googled it and found through Wikia Twin Peaks that one’s actions in the red waiting room determined whether you would go to the White Lodge (love in a leafy environment) or to the Black Lodge (where pain and sorrow are the currency). In the red room one meets one’s shadow self, just as the Black Lodge is the shadow self of the White Lodge. Now I wonder had my heart been more pure and courageous at heart would I found entrance to the White Lodge.

The temptations of my shadow self came out when I recognized someone going to the bathroom. The male version of the girl I wanted to be, someone I saw everywhere from gallery openings to the art library (Kunstbibliothek), in the underground, walking to the HU library, and then in a bar on Sanderstrasse, as I was on a date with someone else.

His style of tweed suits and perfect grooming, carrying his large obscure art books while working on a paper at the Kunstbibliothek had attracted my notice in addition to being my spiritual Berlin art doppelgänger.

In my utter amazement at his sight, I blurted out, “that guy that just walked to the bathroom, I saw him everyday at the Kunstbibliothek for a month.”

“Did he see you?” ouch, thanks.

I made no reply but thought, he saw me now. At that moment, my shadow self came to the realization that my fairly good-looking date lacked my aesthetic taste in style. I imagined endless days of his musician uniform, jeans and a t-shirt, just as he was wearing that evening.

As I second-guessed my desires, I later realized he was plotting how to make me stop liking him. One telling moment of body language was the clue. He turned his body toward me for the first time that evening and strangely became overly interested when I related a story of how one of my most considerate and nicest friends, slowly got rid of me from her life. The distress in which I told the story showed how much I was still hurt, angry, still stunned, and surprised from the drawn-out death of the friendship. Unknown to me, I had just given him the blueprint to “how to make this girl never want to see me again.” Suddenly after that date, the “great human being” I thought I had met was working hard to get rid of me using the template my had friend chosen in real-time. The knowledge was shocking. What was at first a good first impression changed to face the other direction.

However, it could also just be my shadow self working overtime in thinking these thoughts.

Kinfolk vs. Rocket

Father Carpenters cappuccino this fall at a table in the inner courtyard
Father Carpenters cappuccino this fall at a table in the inner courtyard

“Thus much of this [gold] will make black white, foul fair/Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.” Shakespeare

“What happens in a society and culture where money becomes the measure of all things and technological innovation becomes just a way to make more money faster? Viewers can only imagine the fully ripened fruits of such feckless sowing.” Ken Johnson

by way of Ken Johnson “Review: Simon Denny Sees the Dark Side of Technology at MoMA PS1

Like concurrently liking a Hegelian scholar and the writings of Kierkegaard, Kinfolk and Rocket Internet entered my life like two opposing forces of nature and without my realizing I was living a contradiction.

I had spent the previous year, lovingly gawking at the Alice Gao/ Kinfolk aesthetic of quiet corners and cups of coffee, donuts and ice cream; an aesthetic that was minimal and championed slow living. But then I found a job at a place whose main philosophical and commercial tenet was speed. Not average Joe speed, but give me the blood of your first born child speed, analogous to Amazon Am-holes, as documented in this nytimes article (during the research of this link I discovered that the Senior VP of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney was the young political pundit/ journalist I had a crush on in the mid 90s). This amalgam would result in what I will call the picture wars, workplace bullying and twitter mobbing.

I got hired by someone who craved power like no other office worker I had seen in the PR department of one of Rocket Internet’s spawn start-ups. After 4 interview sessions with 5 people and a copy test plus a social media business proposal for a country market that was like the US but not the US, a couple weeks of phone chasing through sickness and cross Atlantic trips, I finally got the job after flame hoops, quicksand, CEO refusal and reluctant final approval and written confirmations and all that LA DI DA what a party.

I found the office politics had such varied forces as the Syrian Civil War. On such a battlefield, my reading of social situations and loaded PR innuendo was so slow, it would take me a few hours to realize how low the jugular had been. Due to my new status and absolute zero power, I would liken myself to the innocent Syrian civilians. Ultimately because my ideas were initially favored by my boss, I became the persecuted and took my martyrdom in silence.

However, although I had good ideas, I started to become a liability because I not only made my own mistakes which enemy forces ran wild with (you could cut through the hate) but also I fell into every trap laid out for me. I spent the last month at war reading the 48 Laws of Power, researching Ramadan and imagining my direct colleagues as salivating dogs.

When the only person that ever wanted me there finally yawned in my face, and I knew it was over but not before I declared “I don’t want power, I want freedom” sealing shut my own fate.

I flew to NYC and look what greeted me a Simon Denny art piece


A Personal History of Oranienburger Tor

The crossroads of U-bahn Oranienburger Tor is becoming a strange one. I find myself landing there from two different trajectories. A place where tourists/ new residents and long established Berliners converge and always in a surprising manner.

In 1999, when the Goethe Institute had just moved to u-bahn Weinmeisterstrasse and the streets emanating from the language school’s nexus would just sputter out into a no man’s land after a falafel joint, life in the form of cafes and restaurants abruptly stopped for two Asian American girls at around the Postfuhramt, a building that looked as elaborate and interesting as the Neue Synagogue but was once a stable for postal wagons and horses.

In 2003, when I briefly landed on Oranienburgerstrasse (the main street leading up to Oranienburger Tor) and stumbled upon one of the best salads I’ve ever had in a small basement type bar, still probably in existence today.

In 2006, when I returned to Berlin to live, my experience crawled up a little closer to Oranienburger Tor by way of Tacheles which still authentically looked like a squat, QBA because no one had ever tried Cuban food and it seemed the least touristy on tourist row, and Amrit because even a decade ago, you just couldn’t escape going there at least once and that was the last time I ever ate there until last night.

Things started to change in 2007 when Picknick first opened its club in the area which I never made it to. Then in 2008 The Broken Hearts Club was located near the u-bahn station and then King Size bar showed up with its no space and pretentiousness. That same year I ended up at a Chinese restaurant called Lucky Star right across the street from King Size. My German flatmate was notorious for picking her restaurants by convenience in a strictly egalitarian manner, so I never expected much from the food. I remember my dumplings being a small, underwhelming affair and I never went back there again. I also visited the Boros Collection right around this time as my interest in Contemporary art started to seriously bloom.

From that Lucky Star dinner evening to about 2013, my Oranienburger Tor encounters depended on late night bio pizza cravings after work to Green ‘n’ Friends open 24 hours, something special in Berlin for a grocery store and the prices are not that inflated.

In 2014, I had a job interview near this u-bahn station in the offices of a publishing house and contemplated how pleasant my commute would be. That year, as I tried to renew my love for Berlin and applied to jobs, I realized Rocket Internet HQ (whose sidewalk consisted of groups of people smoking with faces saying I’m not getting paid enough to go gray) is located just a little down the street from the u-bahn and also this Japanese by way of Brooklyn aviary for older Hipster birds called the House of Small Wonder as the Matcha lattes are a little overpriced.

In 2015, a Hedge Fund / start-up friend came back to town for Easter and told me he had been invited to the opening of a new restaurant/ bar called Creme de la Creme to which he was not taking me but his new Swiss girlfriend. The idea coming from a guy (things become hazy as I was still thinking about the absurdity of the name) who was somehow related to the two guys on Torstrasse that somehow became successful Venture Capitalists. When I heard this name, I thought so there is a German living in a larger Berlin bubble than I am, a bubble that came complete with rooftop flats in Mitte. I was surprised to find Creme de la Creme at Oranienburger Tor.

This month I moved in with 2 girls around a decade younger than I am located back in Mitte. When I found this room in a flat, I was congratulated much like someone would be if they had found a new job. This is the state of the Berlin housing market. Our first flatmate activity was a plan to eat hot pot at Lucky Star and I was reminded of 2008.

This week but a little too late, I read about the Boulangerie Francois, a global pop-up bakery/ secret bar traveling the world introducing Grey Goose to an invite only crowd to the bar and the general public to the bread. Arriving at the hot pot dinner which had grown to include 5 other 25 year old girls excluding my 2 flatmates, Lucky Star was booked out but my eyes kept turning to the Grey Goose Boulangerie and I thought oh, you’re here too. Two of the Russian girls suggested an Indonesian place nearby and I thought I’ve never heard of an Indonesian place here… warning bells started to ring. As we headed toward the “Indonesian” place, me eyes again reverted to the Boulangerie.

The Indonesian place turned out to be the old Indian place that was now calling itself a Singaporean place called Amrit, a place known for gobbling up its neighbor restaurants to become like the Walmart of curry and happy hour cocktails. The Indonesian girl with us was like this is not Indonesian food. My Macau Won Ton soup recommended by the two Russian girls was good, made of cream, sweet chili spices and two deep fried won tons filled with carrots and sauerkraut, which led me to believe these won tons were handmade in Germany. The three of us flatmates being unsure which way the tourist barometer of the food would go decided to share a main dish which was also sweet, spicy and tasty. Even Walmart can have its advantages. They were able to seat 8 on the spur of the moment on a Friday night at prime dinnertime, service was prompt, friendly and on time and the food tasty. The price however reflected the changing times and had doubled since 2006 when it had been a cheap Indian option at around 6 euros.

As I sat there shocked at the energy and youth of the seven 25-year-old girls surrounding me, I couldn’t help but feel I had traveled back in time to 2006 instead of living an onward progression toward 2015, that the 2015 experience should have somehow included that secret cocktail bar behind the French bakery. The future was the obsolete in reverse. (via Cyprien Gaillard, Robert Smithson, and Nabokov).

Chinese shocked I’m not Chinese

Google image search Sitting Bull
Google image search Sitting Bull

Most people profess to not being able to tell Asians apart. Living in Europe, I have been the embarrassing recipient of confused Europeans mistaking me for an Asian acquaintance they saw briefly in passing. Then I met someone, a German, who was proud that he could unlike his countrymen and most of the world, could distinguish Asians apart and he guessed I was Chinese. When I said I wasn’t but Korean-American, the look of disappointment on his face almost made me sad to tell him he was wrong.

Most people guess I am Chinese except for one Brazilian guy who guessed I was half-Chinese and when I asked why half, he answered, “then I would only be half wrong,” which I thought was the best strategy of all time. He eventually went on to Strategy consulting.

Having never been to China, I couldn’t say why I looked more Chinese than Japanese or any other Asian country. I personally thought I didn’t look Chinese, but I didn’t think I looked Korean either or Japanese, more like a very pale, small-eyed Native American man because of my prominent nose and thin hair. Growing up that was actually how I gave myself my own American creation myth. As I realized I was neither white nor black, I decided I must be Native American and the realization came much like how James Baldwin describes, “It comes as a great shock to discover, Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you.”

I can imagine myself growing old to eventually look like Sitting Bull pictured above with glasses. If I go senile, perhaps I’d even wear a feather.

As if I had been asking the universe “why does everyone think I look Chinese?” (and not Korean or Japanese) for too long, it gave me an answer. In rapid succession, two separate Chinese girls approached me in the span of a few days and just started speaking Mandarin to me. They didn’t even start the conversation with “nǐ hǎo” (a word I learned from Europeans greeting me on the streets), they went straight to business, positive that I could understand them. When I responded in English, one girl looked shocked, “You’re not Chinese?”

After speaking to her for some time, she confessed, “I didn’t know there were Koreans who also looked Chinese.” So I asked her, “What makes me look so Chinese?”

Then she motioned to her face and as nicely as possible said, “All the Koreans I’ve seen have had long faces like Japanese, and yours is… not.” Yes, I had the round mooncake face.

Then I asked, “So most Chinese have round faces?” and she smiled and nodded her head yes.