Being an Apologist about Back to the Future II

Posted in Nerdy Stuff on June 26, 2018 by yujinishuge

One of the most celebrated and heavily criticized trilogies in film is the Back to the Future Trilogy. I think this trilogy was probably the first time I thought that the second two films were totally not necessary. It was, after all, supposed to be one film that had an open ending. But after the smash success of the 1985 film, it was only natural that Hollywood would make a cash grab and make two more films. That’s how things worked (and still do). That said, I actually did enjoy parts 2 and 3. They weren’t terrible films, but they are certainly nowhere as good as the first.


Not a Plot Hole

Common criticisms of 2 and 3 include:

  1. Part 2 didn’t spend enough time in the future, and took us to an era we’d already been (the exact setting of the first movie).
  2. The 2015 we see in the film is too advanced.
  3. Marty’s sudden aversion to being called a chicken, to the point that he completely loses it whenever he is called one. This was nowhere to be seen in the first film, and it feels so unnatural when they introduce it in the second for a payoff in the third.
  4. They couldn’t get all members of the original cast. Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer is played by Elisabeth Shue instead of Claudia Wells, and Crispin Glover, erm, I mean George McFly is played by Jeffrey Weissman.
  5. Common time travel plot holes and paradoxes. (It makes no sense that Biff could return to the 2015 he left).
  6. Jennifer Parker didn’t do anything in 2 and 3 other than sleep. This was a wasted opportunity.

But are these really problems? Well, story wise, the only ones that are problems that detract from the overall quality of the films are 1,3 and 6. The other problems don’t really disrupt the story, they just bother nitpickers and fridge logicians. Let’s address the first criticism before discussing the logic of time travel.

The criticism that the second movie didn’t spend enough time in the future and took us right back to the setting of the first film is not invalid. It’s been a whole 5 years and we’ve been anticipating going to 2015 ever since the end of the first film! But…

But nothing! We’re going back to 1955 again. Didn’t we already go there? Why are we going back? We just saw this!

I’ll remind you again that the second film came out a whole 5 years after the first. That’s a considerably long time between a film and a sequel.  While it was certainly possible to rent or buy the first film on VHS, the scenes of the first film were likely not as fresh as they would be to the bingewatcher of today. In 1990, the average filmgoer didn’t see the third act of the first film right before seeing the second film.. When I saw part 2 in the theatre in 1990, the first thing I did when I got home was to watch the first film again and see if I could spot Marty from Back to the Future 2 anywhere. Of course I couldn’t, because the filmmakers hadn’t written the plot of Back to the Future 2 when they shot the first film. But the point is, I was very intrigued by this, and I thought it was kind of awesome. Now, to some, it might have been more fun to have gone to the 1960s or 1970s, and while I think that would have also been neat, having Marty 2 solve his own problems while simultaneously trying not to disrupt Marty 1 makes a really awesome story (and jumpstarts deep thought about the logic of time travel in young impressionable viewers.) Therefore, I don’t think this is much of a problem.

Let’s talk about time travel theories already! 

Fair enough. Before we go on, I have to mention where I get most of my understanding of time travel from. I believe in a linear expression of time where everything remains normal from the beginning of time (point A) to the point in history where the first ever journey into the past occurs (point B). Then from the point the time traveler travels back to (point C) and onward replaces the corresponding area in the first timeline completely.

These are the three possible outcomes of time travel. Courtesy


While I did independently think of some of these time travel theories, no one author has summed up my exact thoughts (and taught me more) on the logic of time travel as M. Joseph Young.  There are countless time travel stories where the logic simply makes no sense (examples: Time Cop, Looper, Star Trek: First Contact, Superman etc…). When I found MJ Young’s blog, I felt as if finally I had found someone who felt the same way I did on time travel, and he has succinctly and completely laid out the theories in ways that I never could. So special thanks to MJ Young. It is from him that I learned of logical terms like the N-jump, the infinity loop (or causality loop), and the Sawtooth Snap… and trying to avoid making an infinity loop should be the objective of any traveler who accidentally finds himself in the past. The importance of this exceeds that of “righting the wrongs of history.”

That said, let us return to Back to the Future. I will attempt to address all of the criticisms with time travel explanations when possible.

Since we’ve just discussed the logic of time travel, it is still possible to make a good time travel movie even with faulty logic. For example, in part 1, it makes no sense that Marty’s photograph of him and his siblings can begin to fade from existence once he interrupts his parent’s first meeting. Instead what would have happened is that he he would create an infinity loop wherein he erases his existence, making it impossible to interrupt their first meeting, meaning he would have been born, meaning that he could interrupt their first meeting… When we talk about the common plot holes in time travel stories (as we have above), there are some that we have to suspend our disbelief for (as I mentioned). Had Marty undone the fabric of the universe in this way, the movie would have been cut abruptly short when his dad fell out of the tree and he pushed him out of the way of Grandpa’s car. That doesn’t make a fun movie. The disappearing photograph also makes no sense. Fading Marty doesn’t either. But these neat ideas in the first film that are cute even if illogical.

Get on with it! Come on! We get it! We have to suspend disbelief, but if I want to nitpick, then you can’t simply explain away things by saying it’s to make the movie better. We know that. We want a real explanation…

Is 2015 as portrayed in Back to the Future 2 too advanced? Well, considering that 2015 is now in the rearview mirror and as of this writing we don’t have flying cars, hoverboards, self-lacing shoes, self-drying jackets, dehydrated, rehydratable food and other amazing technology that we see in the film, this sounds like a resounding yes. But we have to consider that from a moviemaking perspective, going to the far off year of 2015 and having it be not that much more advanced than 1985 would have been anticlimactic. We’ve been waiting to see 2015 for five whole years. It would have been a huge letdown to see the actual 2015, though we might have thought the funky smartphone devices were neat.

But there could be an in-universe explanation for the much more advanced technology. We have to consider that this is a time travel film, and it is very possible that the 8 time travelers we see are not the only 8 beings to have ever traveled to the past and influenced the present and future. (Yes there are eight. Einstein, Marty, Doc Brown, Jennifer Parker, Biff Tannen, Clara Clayton, Jules Brown, Vern Brown). Given that in the 2015 presented in the second film it appears that Japan’s bubble economy has continued well into the 2010s and shows no sign of stopping, it is highly likely that a Japanese corporation has also independently discovered or reverse-engineered time travel, possibly traveling forward, plucking pieces of tech from the future and bringing them to the past or present. This would thereby accelerate the rate at which technology develops, meaning that it might be more accurate to say that the 2015 we see in Back to the Future 2 is in fact not advanced enough.

I’ve always felt that once a time machine is built, unless the traveler(s) are extremely secretive, it is as if infinite time machines are built and technological singularity or a broken universe are the only plausible outcomes. But let’s say that this other traveler we haven’t seen is also careful and secretive.. and wants only to avoid the lost decade of the 1990s in Japan. Fine. She may simply have altered the timeline so that technology evolves faster than in our own reality.

Nobody really complains about the level of tech in 2015 though, we knew it was a “quasi futuristic” setting. I want to know why Marty inexplicably can’t stand being called a Chicken.

Alright…Let’s move on to more important charges against the second and third films. Marty suddenly can’t stand being called a chicken in Back to the Future 2 and 3. They invented this tragic character flaw in order to show growth in his character at the end of the third film, but this wasn’t introduced in the first film, so it feels hokey and kind of rushed. I felt like it made no sense the first time I saw it, but again, since this is a time travel movie, there COULD be an in-universe explanation for this.

The Marty we are watching in Back to the Future 2 and 3 is NOT the same Marty from Back to the Future 1. If your recall the ending to the first film, Marty’s parents are more successful because of his actions in 1955. This would mean that Marty would have been raised by these more successful parents rather than the ones we see in the beginning of the film, the office lackey Dad and the alcoholic Mom. Perhaps Marty 2 (we’ll call him Marty 2, but he may in fact be Marty 5 or 6 or 37 depending on how many sawteeth there were) was raised by the George McFly who remembers punching out the bully, and was taught to stand up for himself. THIS is what causes him to throw down whenever anyone calls him names. Perhaps there’s another reason, but the point is that this Marty’s life experiences are vastly different than the Marty who first travelled to the past and experienced the original AB timeline.

Okay, well if this is a different Marty who looks the same, why are we supposed to think that Elisabeth Shue is the same Jennifer who looks different?

To address the next nitpick, while it is unfortunate that Claudia Wells and Crispin Glover could not agree to terms to return to the franchise, it isn’t that detrimental to the story that they are played by different actors. In fact, I don’t think I realized that they were both replaced until years later. (Remember, I was a kid at the time.) But we could make an in-universe explanation for both characters’ altered appearances. Let us first consider Jennifer. She’s played by Claudia Wells in the first film, but in the second she’s played by Elisabeth Shue.

It may be that Jennifer 2 (or 5 or 6 or 37) has a different genetic makeup than Jennifer 1. When we are talking about time travel, it is entirely possible that changing circumstances in the past could change the very genepool in the present or future. If a person’s parents don’t procreate with each other at the exact time in the exact same way that they did in a previous timeline, it is highly likely that their child would be of a different genetic makeup, resulting from their being conceived via a different sperm and different egg. (See the film About Time for more on this). So Elisabeth Shue Jennifer is not the exact same person as Claudia Wells Jennifer. They may not even have the same parents. It’s certainly possible that with all this jumping backward in time that Marty and Doc interrupted the first meeting of Jennifer’s parents. In the best case scenario Claudia Wells Jennifer and Elisabeth Shue Jennifer would be genetic sisters. But since we know that in these stories, the earliest date that travelers have gone to is 1885, it is also possible that these two Jennifers would be distant cousins (as far as DNA is concerned.) How related they are isn’t important though. The point is, they are different people, and their differing appearances can be explained due to time travel.

But Marty didn’t interfere with Jennifer’s parents at all after his first trip to 1955! Claudia Wells is in the ending of the first movie!

Correct. We DO know that Marty’s original trip to 1955 and back did not alter her genetic makeup (or at least not to a great extent) because Claudia Wells is present in the end of Back to the Future 1. This only indicates that the change occurred in a subsequent run-through of the timeline caused by a subsequent trip to the past. Perhaps this was the result of Marty’s second trip to 1955, or maybe Doc’s trip to 1885, or the trip of some other traveler we don’t know about. What we do know is that in the beginning of part 2, we’re not watching the first run-through of the timeline since Marty’s been back from 1955, whereas in part 1 we are (or we are at least watching an earlier run-through, depending on which timeline the DNA change occurred.) This only further corroborates the idea that we could be watching a different Marty in the second film than we were in the first. If time travel can make Claudia Wells turn into Elisabeth Shue, surely it can make Marty’s personality different.

When discussing George McFly, we can apply similar principles to explain why he was played by a different actor. It’s not really that important to do this, though. Besides, the actor had prosthetics applied so that he could look like Glover, and this ended up changing laws about one’s likeness being used in film, so it was very much intended to be Crispin Glover. But if you don’t like that idea, then apply the same explanation and we’ll say that Marty’s interactions with Sheamus McFly in 1885 changed George’s appearance somehow.

Okay then smartypants, explain how it is possible for Biff to go to 1955 to give his younger self the almanac, but still return to the 2015 we are watching. Why weren’t the changes to the timeline instantaneous? 

We’re getting really deep into the nitpicks here, but yes. this is something that has always bothered me about this film. If Biff stole the time machine in 2015 with the intention of going to 1955 and giving his younger self the sports almanac, then it makes absolutely no sense that he could return to the same 2015 we are watching (even though the story demands this so that Marty, Doc and Jennifer can get back into the DeLorean). If Biff’s actions caused (what Doc Brown calls) 1985 A to occur, then he’d have to return to 2015 A. We can only conclude that Biff was unsuccessful in his first run, and changed nothing, if not very little.

Well, but the movie shows that 1985 A happened, so he couldn’t have been unsuccessful.

Yes, it happened, but since Biff was able to deliver the DeLorean back to the 2015 we’re seeing in the film, Biff himself was not successful, but Marty and Doc caused him to be successful somehow during their immediate trip back to 1985 (which happens to be 1985A).

What? Doc and Marty can influence 1955 by going to 1985?

Here’s where it gets complicated. No, they can’t influence 1955 by going to 1985. They would have had to first take a trip to 1955, then forward to 1985.

That didn’t happen in the movie!

Well, we don’t see that happening, but it is certainly possible that they didn’t readjust the time circuits from Biff’s trip and accidentally returned to 1955, inadvertently caused young Biff to get the almanac,  then moved forward to 1985A. We also have to assume this didn’t happen on screen.


Alright, I’ll try to lay it out for you. If we have to start with an A-B segment (even though it may be the Y-Z segment considering what happened in the first film) for the purposes of this reconstruction, the A-B segment starts at the beginning of the 2nd movie. (Though logically moving them forward from 1985 means that at least in the first time they go to 2015, their older selves and children shouldn’t be there, unless it’s a subsequent run through of the timeline, but again, for the purposes of this exercise, we’re calling A-B the version of events that we see in the 2nd film.) Keep in mind this is only one possible way to accomplish what we see in the film, and there could be others.

  • A-B) Doc returns from 2015 to 1985 to bring Marty and Jennifer forward so they can deal with a problem with their kids. While in 2015, Biff steals the time machine so that he can return to 1955 and give his younger self the almanac.
  • C-D) Biff fails for some reason. Either he has a change of heart or he hands the almanac over to young Biff, who loses the it for whatever reason. We don’t see this occur, but Biff returns to 2015 without having changed very much in the past.
  • E-F) Doc, Marty and Jennifer return to the past, making the mistake of traveling first to 1955. They may be there for only a few seconds, but as a result of their actions, Biff’s plan from C-D is now successful. (Perhaps Old Biff in 1955 sees the other DeLorean and this causes him to not have a change in heart. Perhaps young Biff sees the DeLorean and now believes what the Old Man had to say. Whatever the reason, Biff becomes rich because of the almanac and it’s Marty and Doc’s fault). Marty and Doc now travel forward to 1985, and it’s 1985A. They realize that the past has been changed and assume that they have to go back to 1955 and get the Almanac.

But wait, if they caused 1985A, then how would there even be a time machine at all? Emmitt Brown is put in a mental hospital in 1985A. Also what happens to 1985A’s Marty, who was said to be in boarding school in Europe? Wouldn’t that erase the entire first movie since a time machine would never have been built in the first place?

In short, yes. The movie is beyond broken if we use the theory we’ve been operating on up to this point. But one way to look at time travel is that it is possible to have experienced something in a previous timeline and have memory of it in a different one. (Or for objects to originate in a previous one and still exist in a subsequent one). If this is an N jump, for example, something you’ve created in AB can still exist in CD even if it wasn’t created in CD. (Though that also means that if it wasn’t created in CD then it couldn’t exist in EF, but the AB version of it could… maybe). We’ll have to agree that this is at least how these films operate. Marty in BTTF 1 is surprised when he comes back from 1955 because his brother and sister and parents are all different and he has a new truck that he didn’t have before. He clearly has memories from AB. So… to answer your question, if in 1985 Doc invents a time machine, then in 1985 A it’s still possible that he has his 1985 time machine. Rather than N Jumping, just lay the segments back to back, (example.. someone born in 1955 who in 1985 travels back to 1955 and “takes the long way” back to 1985 would be 60 years old and have memories of both timelines, having experienced both.)

Okay, but. Time either works one way (your theory) or another (the film’s theory). It can’t be both.

Yes, and that’s where you have to suspend your disbelief for the sake of the film watching experience. Let’s just say that in this instance it works, and the film is able to continue to its conclusion. This would set up Back to the Future 3, which thankfully is much less problematic in terms of how it makes changes to history, because in that film there’s only one jump backwards and one jump forwards (kind of like the first film.)

I still like this trilogy a lot, but have to admit the 2nd one is the weakest of the three. But it’s also the one with the most forward and backward time jumps going on. Perhaps it’s best to keep things simple when we make time travel stories.

And what about Jennifer? Why didn’t they keep her awake? Why didn’t they give her anything important to do? How does it make sense that leaving her on her porch in 1985A, she’ll be on her porch in 1985 at the end of the third film.

I’ll address the third criticism first. Yes, it makes very little sense that leaving her on the porch in 1985A would result in her being on the porch in 1985 at the end of part 3, no matter which theory of time travel we are using. If we use the theory I’ve been operating on, then the entire 1985 timeline would be erased, and it wouldn’t make any difference if you left her on the porch, in a ditch, or on the moon. She wouldn’t be there in 1985 at all, unless you prevented her from making the trip to 2015 in the first place. If we are going by the theory the film uses for 1985A, it only makes sense that she’s immune to changes in the timeline because she was a passenger in the time machine. Now that 1985A is being erased, she logically would be erased with it. The only way this works is that when 1985A is erased, the Marty and Doc who return from 2015 know they have to leave Jennifer on the porch because their predecessors did, but also know they need to prevent 1985A from happening even though it didn’t happen. So let’s just flip a table. It was a mistake to take Jennifer to the future if they weren’t going to do anything with her.

That’s bad writing!
Well, I won’t go so far as to say it is bad writing. You’ve got a smash hit movie and a superstar in Michael J. Fox. We also don’t have the same actor in the role. Elisabeth Shue is nothing to sneeze at, and I probably would have chosen to have her do more than go to sleep and then go to sleep some more. But would having her be more a part of the story have taken away some of the screen time from Doc and Marty? Yeah maybe. But it could have been fun to see Marty and Jennifer working together to solve Marty Jr’s problem, perhaps having a spousal argument about how to proceed even though they aren’t married yet. Maybe it would have been neat to put Jennifer in 1955 also. But for whatever reason, the writers wanted Marty and Doc alone. Part 2 is the weakest of the trilogy, and part 2 has the most Jennifer, so maybe it wasn’t the worst choice ever to take them out of it.

There have been plenty of rumors about Back to the Future 4 happening, and while we probably won’t actually be seeing this film made, EVER, I would postulate that the best way to proceed with that, given Michael J. Fox’ condition, would be to center it around Doc and Jennifer. If one could acquire the services of either Claudia Wells or Elisabeth Shue, go for it. Make up for putting Jennifer to sleep and show us how she’s gonna fix the timeline for once.


Top 10 Asian Characters of my Youth

Posted in About me, Nerdy Stuff on February 22, 2018 by yujinishuge

Media representation matters. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about black media representation, and there have been a lot of recent films that have been commended for making black stories their main narrative. Movies like Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Get Out and Black Panther (and the soon to be released A Wrinkle in Time) are showing that yes, in fact we can make films about black people that don’t reinforce stereotypes, that tell good stories and appeal to everyone. It got me to thinking about why there hasn’t yet been any similar surge in Asian-American narratives and stories.

Asian (and Asian-American) representation in media has been an important issue for me ever since I became politically inclined. While it’s no secret that I am disappointed with how Asians have been portrayed in film and TV over the years, it is fair to say that we are far past Mickey Rooney in yellowface or Asian buffoon characters like Long Duck Dong. The fact that we now have Glen Rhee or Harold and Kumar is a step in the right direction, but in both cases, these roles should not be considered groundbreaking, yet they are. They are groundbreaking for being different from the norm (or at least what the norm was). And what was that norm? Stereotypes. Characters that weren’t created to show us who they were as people, but what perceived racial traits they possessed. That’s how it was when I was growing up. If there was an Asian character in a story I was watching, they were either the villain, a token part of an ensemble, the resident nerd or martial artist or dragon lady, and they generally served to advance the narrative of the (usually white) protagonist.

But wasn’t there anything good among the slogs of awful? That’s what this post is all about. It is an exercise both to flex my nostalgic nerdy muscle, and to illustrate a point, that making a top 10 list of good Asian roles isn’t easy to do. If it were, then maybe there wouldn’t be so much discussion about the lack of good media representation.

While there are certainly other (more popular) blogs like that keep tabs on Asian-American representation, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a top 10 list, so I’ll try to take a stab at it. Before we get to the main list though, I’m going to give you examples of some characters that get disqualified, to kind of illustrate what we are doing here.

10. Glen Rhee (Walking Dead) – Disqualified for being too recent. This is about my youth. We’re going to draw the line at the year 2000.

9. The girl from Captain Planet (Gi) or that guy from M.A.S.K. (Bruce Sato) – Disqualified because they are animated characters voiced by non-Asian voice actors doing accents.

8. Puyi (The Last Emperor) – Disqualified for being a historical figure. I am somewhat on the fence in this regard, but I think I’ll limit it to fictional characters.

7. Ranma Saotome (Ranma 1/2) or Son Goku (Dragon Ball Z) (and every other character in anime)- Disqualified because we’re not talking about Asian characters in Asian media. This also unfortunately means that Trini, Adam and every subsequent Asian Power Ranger are also disqualified because the show is the whitewashed version of a show of Asian origin that actually wasn’t originally made for a western audience.  (Though I can certainly appreciate that there were lots of Asian-American girls who looked up to the first American Yellow Ranger.)

6. Master Splinter (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) – Disqualified for being a rat, not a human.

5. Kato (Green Hornet) and Oddjob (Goldfinger) – Disqualified for being a sidekick or henchman.

4. Mr. Miyagi (Karate Kid) – Disqualified for being the wise mentor to guide the white protagonist. Also for reinforcing the Asians are martial arts experts stereotype.

Edit 2022-01-07 – Over time thoughts change. After having reviewed the source material again, watching The Karate Kid with my son, I admit I had forgotten how much good the writers and Pat Morita put into this role. Though they never explained that Miyagi was in the U.S. Army in WWII in any kind of conversation, nor did they explain what it meant that his family was interned at Manzanar, they did reference it in the film. It would have been a good opportunity to discuss those things through conversation between Daniel-san and Miyagi, with Daniel reacting in shock and horror that this is the first time he’s even hearing about internment. I very much want to include this role in my top 10 now. It would instantly vault to near the top. But unfortunately it’s still disqualified because it did much to reinforce stereotypes. If we can step back and not watch this film as an impressionable politically unaware kid in the 80’s and instead watch it through the eyes of an aware Asian-American adult three decades after it was made, the role becomes instantly un-disqualified. But unfortunately when people saw this and its sequels, Miyagi represents how “they” are different from “us” even though as a U.S. citizen, Miyagi is as much “us” as Daniel-san is. So I will keep it where it is, even though I broke the rules for Tommy Lee in Best of the Best. 

3. Dr. Julius No (Dr. No) – Disqualified for reinforcing the Asians are smart stereotype. Also for personifying yellow peril…. Also for yellowface.

2. Lo Pan (Big Trouble in Little China) – Disqualified for being a villainous amalgamation of orientalist stereotypes.

1. Long Duk Dong (Sixteen Candles) – Disqualified because f you!

And since this is a personal list:

0. That character I didn’t put on this list that you really like (that film or show you remember) – Disqualified because I either didn’t see it or it didn’t have enough of an impact on me so I don’t remember it. This list is a blog post, not an academic study.

Just for giggles, I’m going to name each entry by what I call these characters in conversation, when I don’t have the time to look their names up. It also shows there’s a problem when most people can’t remember the character names. We remember Marty McFly. We remember Sarah Connor. Do you recall the name of James Bond’s CIA contact in a View to a Kill? Of course you don’t.

The character bios are also from my memory, in most cases without any research. So on to the top 10 after the jump!

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Is Link from the Zelda games left-handed?

Posted in Nerdy Stuff on November 16, 2016 by yujinishuge

Yes, he is.. except for when he isn’t. In 3D, he has been decidedly left-handed, as he holds his shield in his right hand and sword in his left.

However in 2d incarnations he is left-handed 75 percent of the time, except in Zelda II where he is left-handed 50 percent of the time.


The way he is drawn, he holds his shield in his right hand when he is facing up, down, or left. This is reversed when he’s facing right because it was easier to swap the sprites instead of drawing entirely new ones.

In Zelda 2, he is right handed when he faces right and left handed when he faces left.

See this sprite dump from Zelda 1.

Left handed 75 percent of the time.

Left handed 75 percent of the time.

The Korean Bureaucracy Post

Posted in Korea, Senseless Griping on June 29, 2016 by yujinishuge


Before I start this post, I want to add a disclaimer. Bureaucracy can be bad in any country, and in the US, I too have had to deal with it at the DMV, or being passed between departments when I call for customer service only to be hung up on. So while some of this criticism that will be tossed Korea’s way is actually just criticism of  inefficient beurocracy, I think that Korea has a special penchant for this inefficiency. Of course, there may be factors that I as a noncitizen of Korea face, that I wouldn’t otherwise face (or be aware of). And my comparitive experiences in the US are as a citizen, so it’s kind of an unfair comparison. However, I’ve also lived in Japan, and the bureaucracy there was not quite as difficult to navigate. The disclaimer is meant to say this is not to suggest that it is a Korean trait to not have critical thinking skills or to be able to figure out rules and regulations, but I’ve had my fair share of bad run-ins with Korean clerks, both public and private.

The story of my relationship with the Korean bureaucracy starts in 2006, as I am applying for an F-4 Visa (a visa that grants almost permanent residency for overseas Koreans) at the Korean embassy in Washington, DC. The credentials for getting the visa list some specific documents. These include copies of the expired family register of my now American-citizen father. I am of course unable to produce this document, but I have a copy of the original family register, and there’s an expired F-4 Visa in my passport, meaning I qualified for it before. The clerk I am talking to at the embassy says I need the updated document from Korea that you can get at any Gu or Dong office. So I ask her if she wants me to fly all the way to Korea for that, then fly back and re-apply for a Visa that I’ve already previously qualified for. She asks me if I have any family in Korea that can do it for me. I do, but that might be a terrible inconvenience for them, so I say that I’ve been accepted to Grad School, and I need to get this visa taken care of before I leave in about 2 months time, and that I don’t have time or money to fly to Korea for that document. After a good back and forth, another clerk steps in and says what I assumed (I did not speak Korean well at the time) was that if I had the visa, I’d still need to produce these documents to immigration to land my domestic residence, and since I qualified for the visa before, I’m likely not lying. They went back and forth for a while and finally she decided to take my passport for the visa processing. On my way home, I get a call from this same lady, who asks if I had satisfied my military service. I explain to her that I’ve never been a citizen of the ROK, and therefore do not have to do any military service, and she says that if I’ve never been a citizen of Korea then I don’t qualify for the F-4. I explain to her that this is not true. As I am the son of a person who was once a Korean citizen, I qualify. Besides, I had an expired F-4 visa in the passport that she had in her hands, meaning I’ve already previously been approved for this visa. She then asks when my father became a U.S. citizen, because I would be a Korean citizen if this occurred after my birth. I replied it was one month before I was born, so yes, I’d be totally exempt. She retorts saying that Koreans at birth are already 1 year old, so my life technically begins one year before my birth… (Wait, what?)

“You mean before I was even conceived?”

…She says she will issue my visa and if Immigration wanted me to do my military service, I’d be at their mercy. Since I’d been in and out of Korea so many times in the previous 5 years, I was not at all worried.

That was my first run in with a clerk that abuses her power, that makes up rules on the fly without checking facts, and that generally WANTS to give you a hard time. A later check on the rules shows that the document she was requesting is actually available upon my request from any Korean consulate (meaning she should have printed it out for me rather than asking me to fly to Korea), half-Koreans at the time were not required to do military service and were not even allowed in the armed forces unless they “looked Korean,” and Korea only considers people citizens of Korea if they are listed on someone’s family register (including their own), meaning every single thing she was on about was false. One funny thing is that I provided her with a hospital birth certificate rather than a U.S. birth certificate, and she found no issue with that. Clearly she should have.

This one example clearly illustrates what one can expect when dealing with the system here. These types of interactions are not limited to government agencies. Companies you have to deal with to get things done, and practically the entire Korean internet display these infuriating tendencies as well. Without going into too much detail, here are the other major bureaucratic issues I’ve been through:

1. Needing an ID and a phone to get a bank account but needing an ID and a bank account to get a phone, while needing a phone to get an ID.

2. Upon attempting to renew my visa, having to re-submit every document again, coming back a week later with all the documents and a different clerk renewing without asking to see any of the documents.

3. Needing a Korean citizen ID to use a website designed specifically to offer service to non-Koreans.

4. At the hospital where my son was born it took them 4 tries to spell everyone’s name right on the birth certificate, another 3 tries to get the doctor to sign the certificate instead of his secretary, and 2 tries to get an official seal on the certificate followed by yet another send back for misspelling names again, after first being angrily snapped at by the clerk about how they handle so many international births that they know what they are doing.

5. Not being allowed to assign Chinese characters when registering my son’s birth because we gave him a middle name.

6. Illogically needing a US birth certificate when applying for my son’s Korean passport, with the explanation that all dual citizens are born in the US. Also, since we didn’t have a US birth certificate, (he was born in Korea) and was a citizen of Korea, it makes very little sense that they would require a foreign document for a Korean passport.

7. Anecdotally I’ve also heard that there are romanization problems, but these have never happened to me. For an example it would be like being told that we must use a government official romanization of my son’s name in Hangul, which is itself transliterated from his western-origin given names and being told that my legal name Whong must be spelled Hwang or Whang in his passport. (For those following here’s an example: Roger David Lim = 임 로저데이비드 = Rojeo Daebideu Im).

There are other examples but these stand out the most. So why is it that Korea suffers from these issues?
It would be very lazy just to say culture and lack of critical thinking skills. The problem is that anything that represents a rare case puts the clerk in peril. They are in a position where they are supposed to know everything and if they have to ask, a superior how to handle something they are unsure of they will get in trouble for making their superior’s life difficult and possibly seen as incompetent. They will be in even more trouble if they give you something you aren’t entitled to so this is why it is easier to make up rules to make you someone else’s problem or to make you go away than to risk their entire career on giving you what you need or asking someone higher up to solve their problem. Add to that fact that there is a culture of saving face here, that if you said something that was factually incorrect, but are in a position of authority, you need to be given the proper amount of respect even if you are wrong.

So for example, when the gu-office employee is asking for my son’s US birth certificate for a Korean passport, it is because in every other case she has seen of a dual citizen baby, she’s needed to register the child as a citizen of Korea when the mother gave birth in the US. Never mind that he was already registered as a Korean citizen and she didn’t need to do anything about registering him. It’s simply easier to go with the established norm even if my case does not fit the established norm.

So enough complaining and explaining, what should be done about it?

Well “they should just” kind of posts are also kind of patronizing, however I do have some solutions.

  1. Staff in companies should not be rotated frequently between departments. They should be left in one department long enough that they get enough experience to see as many unique situations as possible, that way they can draw upon this experience when the situation arises again. Instead, with people being shifted around every so often, only the most common case is learned, and there is higher potential to be presented with a new situation one has never faced before.
  2. People starting off in a new department should have to take a test to make sure they are up-to-date on the most current regulations. This test should have as many different cases as possible. The test should be repeated two years later, or any time there is a rule change (it’s possible this rule has been implemented in several places and I am not aware).
  3. A handbook on these regulations should be readily available to every clerk, and they should be encouraged to use it to show the applicant the exact regulation they are invoking when refusing service. (In immigration, this book should be made in multiple languages.. and this might also be the case and I am unaware of it).
  4. It would be easy to say that people should be encouraged to ask questions to their supervisors, but that’s not something that can happen overnight, so the first three points should be implemented.

It doesn’t seem like Korean bureaucracy will change any time soon. What should I do if I am caught up in it?

  1. The best thing you can do is to be prepared. Study up on all the rules and applicable laws. They are available in several languages. In the event that you are being denied something you are entitled to, then it would be extremely helpful to your case if you can present the clerk with a copy of these rules and laws. Print them out if necessary.
  2. Be persistent. The clerk does not want to make your life difficult. What he or she wants is for you to go away so they can move on to the next person or have a bit of a break. If they quote you a rule and you have your suspicions (i.e. it does not sound logical that a U.S. document is required for a Korean passport), ask for an explanation, or ask for a supervisor. Most clerks will even go out of their way to help you out (giving you things you’re not actually entitled to) because it will make you go away faster.

Wait, that doesn’t happen!

Actually it does. Remember that expired family register document that I needed once I got to Korea? Well to get it I had to go to a dong office to request the document and prove my relationship with my father. Well, I had his old register, a copy of his naturalization papers, a copy of my U.S. birth certificate, which I thought would be enough. The trouble is that regulations stated that I needed originals, not copies, and then I needed them to be translated. This would have taken weeks to assemble, so I said… look, why would I have his old document and all this stuff if I wasn’t his son? The clerk could clearly see that I was not lying and gave me what I needed.

Remember, they want you to go away. Be prepared, trust your instincts and be persistent.

Edit: Another run in with the bureaucracy! I think I will log all future encounters on this post.

7-4-2016: I went to the gu-office to get a specific document about a family member and was denied, despite showing evidence of relation, confirmation of identity, and a previous version of the document. My request was rejected because the system does not list me as a relation. It should not list me as a relation because I was never registered as a Korean citizen. The staff ask me to accompany the family member in question, find another direct relation that can request the document for me, or get a whole bunch of US documents notarized and verified. This matter was resolved by going to the dong-office (which is a lower authority, and under the gu-office’s administration) and asking for the document with no hassle.

8-2016: While renewing my visa, I was told that if I applied for a new ID card, the card would bear my name in 한글 as its format has been updated. This would then allow me to use my hangul name on every account that requires an ID, and not having to ever again go through the rigamaroll of spelling my name out letter by letter over the phone, including my middle name. The card comes in the mail and there’s no 한글 on it. I call to ask why and they explain it is because I was never a citizen of Korea so no 한글 was ever registered. Can I just have my old card and 30K won back please?


Batman vs James Bond

Posted in Nerdy Stuff on May 23, 2016 by yujinishuge


So on a facebook post that asked who would win between Bond, Bourne, and whoever that guy Tom Cruise is playing from Mission Impossible is, I made the snarky comment that Bond would clean the floor with the other two, because there are 6 of him. Then my friend Rob who really really really LOVES Batman suggested the ultimate matchup. Bond vs. Batman.

Of course there have been more than 6 James Bonds in film if you consider the original Casino Royale film, and there’s no telling what to do with Never Say Never Again, if we are counting that as part of Connery’s take on the role, or if it is a separate role (and therefore a 7th bond). I’ve heard estimates that there have been 9 portrayals of Batman on the big screen, but if we have to narrow it down to 6, then we’ll start with Adam West’s portrayal and go on from there.

So, that answers the question of which Bonds and which Batmen we have going against each other. But how do we match them up. Chronologically? The significance of what they mean to the franchise? There’s some debate to that as well. But let’s just for the sake of argument go with the most obvious matchups and work from there. So find out the matchups and we can debate the results after the break. Continue reading

There’s more than one way to use chopsticks

Posted in About me, Korea, Senseless Griping on February 22, 2016 by yujinishuge

Recently, an old friend found me on facebook to tell me he had thought about me when he was teaching his son how to use chopsticks. I had long forgotten that I had been the one who taught him. I’ve since been able to pull this happening out of my long-term memory, and with it, other chopstick related anecdotes.

Being half-Korean, I had been around chopsticks all my life, but I didn’t learn to actually use them effectively until my first trip to Korea in 1985. There, I think my older brother was getting a bit self-conscious about having to ask for a fork everywhere, so he asked our father to finally teach us how to use them. Can’t say my first attempt was great… what do you expect for a 6-year-old making a first serious attempt with thick slippery noodles. Eventually though, I and the bros got the hang of it, and from then on, a whole new world of eating implements was opened.

Fast forward a few years, and there I was teaching my bud during a summer school lunch break the proper way to eat with chopsticks, using plastic straws and knockoff Oreos with mint filling. But it turns out, I wasn’t actually using them correctly.


I of course didn’t know that I was using them wrong. That revelation occurred a few years later at McDonald’s. In 1987 the Golden Arches decided to use a now cringeworthy marketing campaign for chicken mcnuggets. (See the video)

The nuggets of course came with chopsticks and the wrapper had instructions on how to use them.(See the photo)

This isn't the wrapper it came in at McDonald's, but it had a similar diagram. Click to enlarge.

This isn’t the wrapper they came in at McDonald’s, but it had a similar diagram. Click to enlarge.

According to the wrapper, you’re supposed to rest one chopstick on your ring finger and the other between your middle and index finger (like a pencil). You then manipulate them by doing a sort of Vulcan sign type thing.

I had been resting one chopstick on my middle finger and holding the other with my thumb and index finger, which I bet is more difficult for first time learners.

Anyway I tried to correct myself and hold them like in the diagram, but I was unable to pick up any food the correct way. So I gave up. I was already proficient enough the wrong way that it didn’t matter to me.

Over the years, and well into adulthood, there would be people very publicly pointing out to me that I was doing it wrong. These ranged from Asian people who wanted to show off how they were more in touch with their heritage, and non-Asians who wanted to show off that they were more cultured or something.

Then when I moved to Japan I remember one person who gave me the often heard compliment that I used chopsticks very well. I was about to say thanks so that the conversation I’d had more than a hundred times would run its course. (conversation below)

A: You use chopsticks so well!
B: Thank you.
A: Do you like [insert food representative of my culture here]?
B: Yes, I do!
A: How long have you been using chopsticks
B: Since I was about six years old.
A: Wow! That’s so rare for a foreigner.
B: Yes I suppose it is, isn’t it?
A: You really are so Japanese now [or other country].
B: Thanks.
A: *awkward silence*

Ah, sidetrack, back to the story, after giving me the compliment she went on to inform me that I was using the chopsticks incorrectly, but it was okay since I wasn’t Japanese and nobody would get on my case about it. I think I must have been having a bad day that day because I snapped.

I started asking her how she holds forks and whether she had ever put any thought behind how they should properly be held. I asked her if she had ever met ANYONE (even a foreigner) above the age of 12 who couldn’t use chopsticks, and other angsty passive aggressive questions to make sure she knew that I wasn’t taking this crap anymore!

She replied,”I was just trying to give you a compliment and help you out.”



Look people, there’s no ONE way to do things. The function of chopsticks is to put food into your mouth. In my book, if you can do this with one hand and without stabbing, then you’re good. If you can also can pick up frickin’ ice cubes and dissect small cooked fish, who cares how you hold them? Just do what works for you!

[/end rant]

One day, over lunch with my dad last summer, I examined for the first time how he had been holding them. I don’t think I had ever thought to do this. As I was staring at his hands, he noticed what I was doing and slightly embarrassed he said… “Son, after all your time in Korea, I guess you’ve figured out that I use chopsticks incorrectly.”

“No you don’t, Dad. No you don’t.”

(edit: My father is Korean you idiot trolls.)

Every Hapa Post Ever!

Posted in About me on February 12, 2016 by yujinishuge

It seems this comment on a facebook discussion got a rise out of some people, so here it is… I acknowledge that this specifically talks about hapas mixed with white in many situations. It is not my intention to exclude anyone from any particular definition, but I’ve found that on a lot of these mixed people places, being white is often taken for granted, sometimes ironically, as a lot of the people claim about being marginalized (see #2) yet marginalize the Blasians and Latasians (and others) among us.

Every hapa post amounts to a few limited themes:

1. We (I) look the best, let’s post pictures and show off (make sure you acknowledge that I am hot).

2. Wah wah. Asians don’t treat us like Asians. AND/OR Wah Wah. Whites treat us either like whites, or not like whites.

3. Yeah I am a monolingual American but dammit, I’m not totally white, so I get to claim to be a minority while asserting various forms of white privelege! (not all fit into this group, but most who do don’t realize that they do.) (Example: I’m incapable of being racist, even though what I just said was incredibly racist.)

4. Here is my unsolicited life story, and/or the story of my parents overcoming racial differences in the name of love. Validate me!

5. This is how I see the world, my identity, our identity, racial politics, etc. You should think and act the same way I do because I am right.

6. Look at how I am embracing both sides of my identity! (A post about music, food, movies or holidays will follow.) Example: I mean wow! I’m eating kimchi with my Thanksgiving turkey on Chuseok, with my white dad while listening to SNSD trying to sing Christmas carols in English! I’m so multicultural!

This is Theme #2

This is Theme #2

*Spoilers* My Episode VII Review

Posted in Nerdy Stuff on December 21, 2015 by yujinishuge
I have Bashically Darsh Vader, but coooler, wish a 7D hiwted lightshaber, and he's a ninja, and he can kill you with his mind!

I have Bashically Darsh Vader, but coooler, wish a 7D hiwted lightshaber, and he’s a ninja, and he can kill you with his mind!

Okay so I’m coming out of blogger retirement to talk about this film, and once again, I want to explain that there are spoilers in this review, so go away if you don’t want the film spoiled for you. Continue reading

Epic Rap Battle?

Posted in Jokes, Korea, Nerdy Stuff on July 22, 2015 by yujinishuge

Roboseyo wrote on his facebook wall:


“I want to lock the author of this article
(A Korea Times article written by a Korean who does nothing but generalize foreigners despite meeting so many on a regular basis)

In a room with the author of this article.
(A Korea Observer article written by a white woman who does nothing but generalize Koreans despite living in Korea for 10 years)

they deserve each other”

I then got the idea for an epic rap battle between them and wrote it in the comments.

Eeeeeeepic rap battles of History! Shi-yong the Difference Pointer Outer VS. Laura the Not Russian Prostitute! Begin!

Check it out yall cuz I’m Korean.
I spit about foreign stuff that I been seein’
Ya’ll foreigners drink and you smoke and you cuss
But you ain’t never gonna be as 18 dope like us.

You say we say “Mine mine” but your soldiers are here
Sell your beef, FTA, take our girls, slow-drink beer
Said we got No manners but too much manners in speech
That’s contradictory, and you’re a basic shawty beach-goer

The beauty of the minjok is all I know
I learned this slang from a waeg so GTFO
Yall people need to learn that Korea’s the shit,
Our 5000 year old culture is 2 legit to quit.

Spit a verse? Please, y’all only spit in the street.
And you don’t cover your mouth or your nose when you sneeze.

Let me tell you all about why I hate Korea.
I been here 10 years so I see what you don’t see-a.

Koreans are so rude and Koreans are so selfish.
And you don’t know how to drive, and you’re short like you’re elfish.
You don’t understand a thing about us ppl from the west
Be like, “Critical thiking, pssh why bother? My people are the best!”

Now comes the part where you misspoke.
The minjok is the people’s joke.
Let’s be clear I’m an expert, I’ve lived here 10 years.
Where you observe Hollywood and repeat sayings of your peers.

The Korea Times Will Print Anything

Posted in Korea, Senseless Griping, Shaking my head on June 16, 2015 by yujinishuge

Over the years, some of the opinion pieces that appear in the Korea times have baffled me.  The first one I think I really noticed was a piece explaining social media jargon, with tons of outdated or irrelevant slang. My friends and I had a good chuckle over that one.

But see, I don’t read the Korea Times regularly, and these days I only take notice of something published there if it goes semi-viral in facebook.

So that is why we have these:

A food blogger complaining that Koreans are ruining her experience in the foreign enclave by…. being Korean.

A Korean man who has finally solved the age old question of how Koreans and foreigners are different!

Now that is not to say that these are invalid opinions, but honestly I wish the Korea Times would screen what they publish. Most of this stuff would be appropriate on a personal blog… like this one.

I’m going to add more of these as often as I find them.

Old Korean Man Parrots Colonial Era Japanese Propaganda to Suggest Removal of Comfort Woman Statue