Crystal is a junior attending New Covenant Academy and a participant in the Koreatown Storytelling Project. She was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but moved to Koreatown when she was very young. She has been part of the girls’ volleyball team since her sophomore year. She is also in the Honor Council, which makes rules for the school and helps to discipline younger children. She is interested in art and is looking forward to getting a certificate in origami, as well as in Korean folk painting. Through the KSP experience, she wants to learn more about journalism and acquire skills will help her in the future. This will help her achieve her dreams of becoming a teacher because she will learn how to effectively write and communicate with others.
Where is your hometown?
I would call Koreatown, without a doubt, my hometown, despite being born somewhere else. I was born in Hawaii, but I moved to California shortly after I was born, so I don’t have any memories of Hawaii. I’m not quite sure why we moved to California, but I assume it was because of my dad’s work. My dad was a tennis player who competed internationally. He played competitively mostly in Asian countries, such as Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and China. He trained in Singapore and was a coach for the Singapore junior tennis team. Now, he’s an owner of a tennis academy in Korea. He was a doubles player and he usually placed first or second in these competitions. I’m not sure of the name of his team, but I think he represented Korea. He was recruited by the Brigham Young University-Hawaii tennis team and my mom also studied at the university. During their stay in Hawaii, they had me, so I lived there for one to two years until they decided to move to Burbank, California. My parents thought it was fit to move to California where there would be a lot of Koreans and where it would be easier to raise a family.
I consider myself a Korean American, but I define myself more as Korean. I’m really influenced by Korean things, like what I watch on TV and how I speak. I speak a lot of Korean and English at the same time. Sometimes Korean words come out before English words do. Also what I listen to music wise and just what I think about in general. I’m around Korean people so I don’t necessarily have to reveal my American side. All I do is stay in Koreatown, so I feel more Korean than American.
Do you live or work in K-Town?
I live and go to school in Koreatown. We first settled in Burbank for a couple of years and then we moved to Koreatown. Now, I think I have been living here for 11 or 12 years.
I usually go to Madang on Wilshire and Western to hang out with my friends. That’s like the center of Koreatown; it’s just easy to go there. There is a movie theater and a lot of places to eat. That was my go-to hangout spot with my friends. When I became a high schooler, we were so tired of that place we had to search for places outside of Koreatown. But if I had to choose a place [where I go regularly], it would definitely be Madang.
What were your thoughts on the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic?
At first, I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t realize it was a big thing. One Wednesday, my school just announced that they weren’t going to open. The following day, people were given the choice to go to school or not, and only about a third of the class came, including me. I was so shocked. I got scared and I realized that it was gonna be really big. Obviously, I didn’t know it was going to be a worldwide pandemic or how long it was going to be. They said it was going to be two weeks long, but then it became four weeks. And then to the end of the semester. When I first got home, I was excited to take classes from home because I really like staying home. My school transition was really smooth, and we were on Zoom the following week. Now though, I miss lunchtime at school because that’s the time we took out of school to talk.
What memory of this time do you think will stay with you?
This may sound rebellious, but playing games on my computer during Zoom calls. I have a class where the teacher doesn’t talk and only assigns work for us. At first, we were stressed that he wouldn’t say a word to us, but then my friends and I FaceTimed each other and played games together. I don’t think that would ever happen if it wasn’t for quarantine.
Do you think you’ll be able to adjust back to the traditional school format when the quarantine ends?
I feel like it’s going to be a lot more fast-paced. Now, the teachers are really lenient. They’d let people with missing work turn it in later without any penalties. People are like, “I’ll just do it later,” but when school starts everyone’s going to be like, “Oh my god, it’s so different, I’m panicking.” I’m just scared about it, but hopefully, if I get through the first semester, I’ll be fine.
Who do you most worry about in your family or circle of friends right now?
My mom and my grandma. My mom, who is a single mother, and I live with my grandma. My mom is the only source of income, and she’s been working every other day. She doesn’t like to express her financial status to us to prevent us from worrying. I’m worried about my grandma, too, because my younger sister and I have to take care of her. She’s really strong though. She really likes to go around; she hates staying at home. There’s a market nearby and she walks there with a mask on. My mom always scolds her and says, “You should not go alone,” but my grandma doesn’t listen to her at all.
What has given you comfort and hope during this time?
The future. The thought of a vaccine. It just really keeps me going because I’m really hoping that things go back to normal in the next academic year. I want to go back to school and surprise everyone, and I’m hoping that everything gets better.
Were there any plans that got canceled?
As an incoming senior, I was going to go on a college tour around California. Now, I can still take a drive to San Diego, but I don’t really know what the point of it is now. I can’t go in and see everything. My summer plans were also canceled. I was going to have fun and spend time with my friends. I’m just focusing on college essays and SAT prep right now.
What is the toughest part of your days right now? And what are the best?
The toughest part of my day would be right after school because I still have homework to do and stuff to catch up on. Sometimes, I don’t feel motivated at all because I’ve been in the same environment for so long, and it’s hard to feel motivated. School ends at three, and I lay on my bed and scroll on my phone until four. I get my homework done pretty fast, but I just want to get into bed and relax even when I have other things to do. Since I live in a three-story apartment with my aunt and my cousins, I get to go down to the second floor and pet her dog. It’s a new environment. I also get to play the Nintendo Switch with my cousins in her apartment.
What is the biggest way your life has changed because of the pandemic?
I used to take things for granted, like going to school and hanging out with my friends after school. It made me realize how precious those things were. Some days, I really didn’t want to go to school, but I went anyway. Now, all I want to do is go to school. I guess I sort of matured through quarantine. I was really introverted before all this happened, but now that I’m in quarantine I wanted to find ways to express myself. I wanted to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience more memorable. It’s gonna be something that we look back on, and I want to be able to say, “Oh yeah, I remember doing this thing,” which I hope would be something cool and not boring. All in all, I just feel more grateful for everything I have.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
It’s so crowded now. It’s developed so much. Every street I go on, there’s the construction of an apartment building. I’m just like riding in my car and every other street, there is new construction. There is the sound of construction every single day and a new apartment building all the time in Koreatown.
I really like Koreatown. Even if I go out of Koreatown, maybe into Orange County, it doesn’t feel like home to me. I feel at home in Koreatown because I’m so used to it. I know the streets—all the streets—it’s my home. I feel like now, not only Koreans are living in Koreatown, but there are so many other races that live in Koreatown. I honestly think that’s a good sign for me because just having Koreans live in Koreatown, there would be no diversity in the area.
The whole gentrification thing and erasing the history of a town, that’s pretty upsetting. But I think overall, what’s happening in Koreatown is pretty good. Definitely more apartments and rent and house prices rising. As I mentioned, so many different people came, and I feel like it’s changed into one of those tourist sites. Koreatown is just a town, but people come because it’s so well-known. People are setting up like famous restaurants here too. Before, it was small and only Koreans. As generations passed, it’s been upgraded and became a fancy place.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
As of right now, in this [quarantine] situation, school. Without school, my life feels so empty. I wasn’t a person who hated school. I actually prefer going to school now even more because I can’t go. I miss all the activities we did. I miss lunchtime the most because that’s when our friends would gather and we would just play and talk, but we can’t do that kind of thing right now. I think my favorite place is school because I got to interact with so many people. Our school is really small so you’re more bonded and close with everyone. I feel so bad about the seniors, I didn’t get a chance to talk to them enough and now they’re leaving, so that’s just really disappointing.
One of my most outstanding memories of Koreatown is that I went to John Burroughs Middle School. I didn’t notice it at the time, but the people I hung out with and the school environment were really great. I miss it so much. I have so many memories of it.
The first time I rode the bus was also really special. Transportation was a whole new adventure for me. It changed my life because after school I became free. That was the time I could really make memories with my friends. I would go get boba at Madang and then go to karaoke. All that just made up my eighth-grade year and I wish I can go back to it, but I can’t.
But there’s this place called Yotpo, I don’t know if you heard of it, but that place has really good topokki—spicy rice cake. I had it at least once a week, because our whole family really likes it. My mom would cook it because that’s her favorite food. You have kimbab, like, rolled sushi, with it and it’s like really good. So I recommend that.