One of the most pervasive negative themes in my life is Otherness, a feeling I have an intimate relationship with. I know it so well, and it knows me, too.
When I moved to Vancouver when I was younger, I felt very alienated and alone. I constantly felt like I didn’t belong. It didn’t take long for me to unconsciously create a story in my mind that I was the “Other”.
As a coping mechanism, I decided to try my best to fit in. In order to fit in, I had to be like everyone else. I had to like what they liked, hate what they hated, do what they did, etc. I had to relate to them one way or another.
In high school, a lot of my friends were big fans of K-pop, and basically, anything Korean-related. To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t. I didn’t dislike K-pop, but I also wouldn’t listen to it if I had the choice. It just wasn’t my thing.
Korean dramas were also very popular. I thought at least this one, I could do, because I used to watch Korean dramas as a kid growing up in Asia and really enjoyed all of them. I especially loved the Korean dramas, Stairway to Heaven, Princess Hours, and Lovers in Paris. I actually had very intense crushes on the actors in these shows. So, good! Now, I can use Korean dramas to my advantage to relate to people, or so I thought. I was wrong. I really didn’t find K-dramas funny or entertaining anymore, not in the same way I did when I was a kid.
But I was set on my goal to be part of that Korean-obsessed demographic. I tried my best to pretend I liked K-pop and Korean dramas. I educated myself about K-pop culture, the popular bands, the songs everyone was singing to, the famous public figures. I did my homework. I also tried watching the newer Korean dramas at the time like Boys Over Flowers and You’re Beautiful. And once again, it just wasn’t my thing.
Somehow, this lie that I liked K-pop and Korean dramas took a life of its own and went on for several years. K-pop and Korean dramas remain very popular to this day. I continued to meet people who were fans even as an adult. Like my friends in high school, they, too, were heavily obsessed with Koreans. I thought it was an opportunity to once again, relate, belong, and shed off my otherness that I was so ashamed of.
Earlier this year, I watched a Korean Netflix drama called Memories of the Alhambra. You can probably guess by now. I still wasn’t a fan, but I pushed through, thinking that if Korean dramas were ever discussed, then I’d have something “current” to share with my friends who liked Korean dramas.
By Episode 8 of Memories of the Alhambra, I couldn’t watch it anymore. It just felt so (for the lack of a better term) wrong. It wasn’t because the show was bad. It was actually very well-done and creatively executed, but I had this sinking feeling that there was a deeper underlying issue that I had to acknowledge.
I had an epiphany that I have betrayed myself and sacrificed it in order to fit in. I was fooling everyone, but worse than that, I was fooling myself. I was so caught up in a lie that I also continued to tell myself that I liked listening to K-pop music and that I liked watching Korean dramas, that I began to believe it.
After having an honest conversation with myself, I realized a lot of the things that I did weren’t really “me”, but just how I was conditioned by my environment and society. As human beings, it’s in our nature to want to feel a sense of belongingness. For the sake of belongingness, sometimes, we pretend to like things that are not really “us”, but we do it anyway to be part of a group.
This is not just about K-pop and Korean dramas, as I hope you, reader, realize. This is about staying true to yourself, which I have neglected because I was focused on my story as the “Other”, a story I told myself repeatedly until “Other” became my identity.
Now, if people ask me about K-pop and Korean dramas, I will simply tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s not my thing. That’s that. And you know what, there’s a sense of freedom in saying that, to just be honest and set that boundary that you don’t like something that everyone else does.
My struggle with Otherness doesn’t end here. There will be more layers to peel and more lessons to learn, but I am glad that I now have the self-awareness to deal with it in this in this long and winding road to truly knowing myself. It’s a start.