Faces: Phila Lee



Faces:  Phila Lee

Places:  Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

Oh my!:  Reunion and interview w/ a college friend


Who’s that smooth ‘n stylin’ Korean hottie?  Phila Jin Lee!

Oddly enough, Phila was one of the first people I met my freshman year of college, seven years ago, but we didn’t become “real” friends until 2 years after graduation. We first met orientation weekend on an organized group trip into the city. He told me that his name was Phila, but that I could call him 멋진 오빠 (mut-jin op-ba) which in Korean means something along the lines of “cool, attractive guy.”  🙂 Even though we weren’t close in college, I knew he was a good guy when my college post office accidentally put my debit card into his mailbox (we both have the same last name, so our mailboxes were right next to each other) and he made it a point to tell me and give it to me.

Fast forward five years later, and through being roommates with one of my best friends back when we lived in Chicago, I finally got to know Phila more. I found Phila to be not only a trustworthy guy, but also a great story teller, and not to mention a very helpful love doctor. Phila always has a good story up his sleeve–whether it was about his father who went blind because an acupuncturist in South Korea poked him in the eyeball with his needles, or when he moved to NYC from Korea as a pre-teen and got into so much trouble trying to defend himself in a rough neighborhood that he broke his arm in a fight and his host family had to send him back to Korea, to when he got into an accidental run-in with the Chinese mafia when he lived in Chinatown, Chicago.

Phila now lives in Los Angeles, California.  He works at a cubicle and writes in his free time to stay sane. These photos are from several months ago when he made a visit to Chicago. We had fun with some murals in Wicker Park.

Since we don’t see each other often, I’ve been keeping in touch with Phila through his blog.  I wanted to know a little bit more about what inspires his writing, so I had a little conversation with him to learn more.  You can “listen in” below:

S: I’ve really been enjoying getting an insider’s perspective on the inner workings of your mind through reading your blog, as well as keeping tabs on your adventures in LA through your narratives.  There is always so much more that I’m learning about you. Why/how/when did you begin writing?

P: I remember several years ago, a college classmate of mine passed away. I never met her, I never knew her. But since our school was tiny, I did recognize her face.  When she died, I was curious of who she was or what kind of life she lived, so I looked up her blog. I soon found it and discovered that she had been writing a lot in her blog up until her death. So I read through it. Read about her struggles. Read about her inner thoughts. Read it all. By the time I had finally read through her entire blog, I felt like I knew her, that I had just met her. So in that sense, she was the most alive she ever was, more so than when she was actually alive.     That, is why I began writing.

S:  I find some of your work to be compelling and thought-provoking while others to be just downright hilarious.  Your entries read smoothly and easily, like having a conversation.  You say things so directly, yet I’m usually left having to read between the lines when I get to the end.  How would you describe your writing style?

P: I experiment with different techniques here and there, say if I see something that I think is pretty cool from a book I had read before, I go ahead and try it out for myself to see how it turns out. Other times, I just make something up that I think is creative, but probably more a product/result of something I had sub-consciously picked up from before.   But most of the time I find myself writing in a stream of consciousness narrative mode.  I use this primarily because I feel the most comfortable and at ease when I use this. However, I also use this because I find it to be the most effective bridge between the writer and the reader.

The main purpose of writing (and all books in general) is for the writer to communicate with the reader. It’s like the writer is the quarterback and the reader is the wide receiver.  The quarterback (writer) will throw the football (book) and it’s up to the receiver (reader) to catch it (read/understand) it. If the quarterback throws the ball but nobody catches it, he’s pretty much wasting his own time.   Now in our current day and age, reading is not the number one option (or only option) of entertainment or communication for the general public, and as a result, the general public’s reading level is collectively lower compared to the recent past. With that in mind, and from my own experience, I have found that it is very difficult for a writer to capture an average reader’s attention and even more difficult to maintain it.  I have found that directly telling a story in an easier-to-the-eye format captures and maintains one’s attention and most effectively gets the point across.

Choosing this method also has to do with my personal background, as I avoided books, libraries, and all reading in general during my formative years. I never had the chance to read the “modern western classics” of the 19th-20th century, and as a result, I never picked up on the flowery jargon and whatnot. So one thing for sure that you can expect from my entries is that you will never be overwhelmed with the flowery descriptions of things, as that type of language is not part of my natural tongue, nor am I capable of producing such lingo out of my brain because they simply are not part of it.

Avoiding such language in my own writing…I actually find this to be more modern and current, as general readers are not ready or willing to read words that will make themselves feel stupid after a paragraph or two. Such writing and books are more suitable for the few advanced readers out there (and trust me there are only a few). This does bring me back to the football example though, as I think writing and reading books of this sort is the most beautiful and at the pinnacle of the art of writing. It’s like when the most skilled quarterback throws the longest and most difficult football to catch that only he is able to throw, and only the most skilled of wide receivers catches it.  This shit is beautiful when that happens, you know. Very difficult to pull off, though.

I also find myself preferring to write in a self-deprecating voice, as I feel that is honest, humble and humorous, and if done correctly, also makes the voice sound more confident all at the same time.   I also try to work with the structuring of my sentences and choosing of my words. Occasional rhyming and alliteration is easier to the reading ear after all, and easy-to-pick up-symbolisms will make the general reader feel smart about him/herself. Always gotta look out for the general reader ya know wut I mean?

S:  Yes, I can definitely see that in your writing.  At the end of the day when I’m tired and exhausted and am mindlessly clicking through my blogroll, I don’t want to read some intellectual, “flowery” as you call it, literary piece.  That kind of stuff is usually reserved for an afternoon at the cafe w/ some Intelligentsia coffee–but when do I ever have time for that?  Or maybe I’m just not the most skilled quarterback so to speak…Nevertheless, your work is most definitely not flowery, but certainly does communicate clearly and always puts a smile on my face.  I like that.  What kinds of themes do you like to touch on?

P: I used to think that depended on what book I was reading at the moment. But now that I look through my drafts and diaries, I can see that they many of them share a common theme – I write about ‘value’ a lot. I can see now that in many of my entries I try to find the beauty and value of everything and everyone, albeit unsuccessful at times.

S:  What inspires your ideas?

P: Everything. Please allow me to explain. I began living with what I like to call “having a traveler’s mindset.” What I mean by this is that when we/people travel on vacation, we keep our eyes and minds open and try to notice, appreciate, and absorb everything we come across. That makes our trip more fulfilling and enjoyable, as compared to just taking naps in the hotel room all day (which I did for my junior year spring break trip to New York City. Needless to say that was one unfulfilling trip).  I try to have a traveler’s mindset every day and everywhere in my normal everyday life. And since I try to find value, beauty, and meaning in everything, I can honestly tell you that my life has become more valuable, beautiful, meaningful and fulfilling. And I think I became a more beautiful person in the inside, too.   So everything is interesting to me and hopefully through me everything will become an interesting story.  Don’t take naps in life, kids.  You’re missing out.

S:  I like that.  “Traveler’s mindset.”  I like to think I have a “celebrity mindset.”  Everyone I see and meet is someone special and an honor to get to know.  What do you hope to communicate through your writing?

P: That life is beautiful.

S:  You’re beautiful!  Look at this:

P: I know, I know.

S:  Switching gears, you lived in Korea for some time and the States for some time.  Tell us more about that experience of growing up in two distinctively different cultures.

P: This will become super long so I will just give you a link of my experience growing up in Korea. One thing I can tell you is that I am one of the lucky few who has a complete understanding of both cultures, and I see it as a major privilege that makes my life and background richer.

S:  You have a very unique family story.  Tell us about your family, particularly your father.

P: Every family story is unique, and yet every story is normal. My story seems very normal to me. But I guess to you it isn’t because of my father being a blind man. Steph, you did hit the jackpot of questions, as I absolutely love talking about my family and can go on forever.  My father, as you know, is blind. What I also know is that he is brave and fearless. Some of the decisions he has made in his life… seriously some rash/reckless but courageous stuff. Before this gets too long I’ll simply share a link of what I have written of him before.   My mother is the strongest person I know. She is also the person I care about the most. I can write a novel about her, so I will stop there. I am dead serious about the novel.   I have two sisters– one older, one younger. My older sister is the world’s best story teller. I honestly enjoy her version of telling me the plots of a movie more than actually watching the movie.  It always amazed me how she was able to remember every important detail of a movie in perfect sequence and how she was able to narrate it to me with such animated voices and facial expressions along with her personal commentary all at the same time. How crazy is that?  My younger sister is the cutest person on earth, and I am being completely biased here. Basically, she looks exactly like me, just with longer hair. You can check for yourself here. I thought looking like me would hurt her game, but it seems that it didn’t one bit. That’s talent I guess.

S:  What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

P: What a generic last question to wrap things up, Steph. Mad props, though. But yea, this question is something I actually spent a good amount of time thinking about before. And I have reached the conclusion that if I can live along my people and can together enjoy what life brings with it, then that will be one good life.   I dream of that for myself and everybody else.

S:  Thanks so much, Phila, for taking the time to thoughtfully answer all of my questions, and I look forward to your next blog post!

Feel free to leave a comment or even a story below about Phila, if you know him, or a question you may have about him.  And yes, ladies, he is single.  And yes, men, he is straight.


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