Christine Lee Zilka

Where are you from and where do you live now?

People ask me where I'm "from" to find out my ethnicity sometimes -- I know they want to hear "Korea" but I'm really "from" Los Angeles. Then again, I'm not really "from" LA because I was born in NYC. So I guess I'm "from" NYC, although I only lived there until i was 5.

Where I live now is so much simpler -- Kensington. I will be moving to Berkeley next month.

You're born in New York, grew up in LA, moved to the Bay Area. And you look Asian, so is "what's your ethnicity?" better than "Where are you from?" I'm curious about that myself sometimes and I don't mean to call into question anyone's citizenship. You mind talking about that with relative strangers? Your web site front page definitely evokes a cross-cultural synthesis.

here I go...(and asian american studies was part of my major in college, I'm married to someone Jewish and Israeli, I'm converting to Judaism, I'm tri-cultural, so i'm very comfortable discussing culture)

"What's your ethnicity" is so much better than "where are you from" for the following reason/s (in my opinion):

  • The intention of the question, "where are you from" is usually to find out ethnicity, not nationality. i've realized this after the numerous disapointed looks i get when i answer, "I'm from America, here, the U.S." (plus then they ask again "Where are you FROM?" or "Where are your parents from, then?")
  • Then, I realize those folks don't care that I'm an "American," they don't consider me an "American," and then I feel isolated.
  • So I've decided that I much prefer "what is your ethnicity" which is much more straightforward and more authentic to the intent of that line of questioning.
  • that said, I'm not totally pissed off when I get asked "Where are you from" -- it just reveals something about the questioner, is all. I also dont' get pissed when people benignly use the word "oriental," either.
    it's a judgment call, most of the when someone says "come here sonny-boy" -- it's all about context.

    I see you are married - how did that happen?

    Well -- we each said "i do" and exchanged rings, that's how it happened...

    index.html Actually, Ari and I took a break in our relationship, and when we got back together, we decided to take the relationship "day by day" (we had been engaged before, and it had really burdened us). One Saturday, over sushi, we literally decided that we wanted to get married -- that very day. So, we hopped in the car and drove straight to Reno and eloped. We drove back the same night, and told our parents -- they flipped out and demanded a wedding -- so that's why we threw a huge wedding 6 months later. It was our gift to our families, and we honored both our Jewish and Korean heritages.

    What drove you and Ari to decide to get married, suddenly, over sushi?

    We had just told my parents that we were living together (we had been, for over 9 months). My parents flipped out. That pushed us to encounter the topic of marriage again. I proposed domestic partnership -- and he proposed that we get married, since we could. Then I said we had to have a wedding, and he looked at me, and then I said "no we don't." I suggested eloping, his eyes lit up, and we never looked back. I think we were ready, and needed a push and the situation was so weird, that we felt free to do it our own way, since everyone was already mad at us (how could they get madder?)


    How have your Korean and Jewish families gotten along? I'm reminded slightly of Annie Hall, except I don't exactly equate Scandinavians with Koreans.

    My families get along great! We just had my birthday lunch together. I think the cultures fit very well -- close families, and we have similar interests. It was a bit tense at first, because everyone wanted to get along -- and also because Ari's family mostly socialized with jewish folks, and my family socialized only with korean folks -- so it was a bit exciting yet anxious (like two dogs meeting on a playground). But it all clicked.

    Mostly, I think it is because both sides like us as a couple and want to support us unconditionally.

    Weddingpics are at if you want to see a bicultural korean and jewish wedding (we did them back to back).

    From the Jewish wedding ceremony:
    "Ari was not only smashing the glass to symbolize the destruction of the Temple, but also to symbolize the fragility of life, to crush out pain and suffering and hatred in the world.
    "A lofty goal -- but he crushed that lightbulb in the napkin with a resounding crunch."
    From the Korean wedding ceremony:
    bride piggyback
    "The groom, towards the end, gives his bride a piggyback ride. This is to show that he'll support his new wife in all future endeavors."
    (Later the groom is shown carrying his mother on his back as well.)

    What religion were you raised?

    My father was an atheist (really, an existentialist), my mother was apathetic. At the age of 8, I discovered Christianity, went to church by hitching a ride with a lady who ran a bible study group down the street, and converted the rest of my immediate family to Christianity by the time I was 11.

    Why convert to Judaism?

    Because the principle of living the good life in today as opposed to the afterlife is more life affirming to me, and is therefore closer to the ideal. I always did feel like I was "living to die" in Christianity -- so that, coupled with Korean fatalism, made me a very morbid child growing up. I was obsessed with death. In Judaism, we do our good deeds on earth -- for instance, on yom kippur, we fast and apologize in person to those we've wronged instead of going through an intermediary like a priest or to G*d. It is no wonder that I ended up having a fulfilling relationship with a Jewish man...and being in a Jewish family makes conversion even more the next step in my spiritual development.

    A wedding following sushi dinner, Christian evangelism, taking on Judaism - you sound like a person who dives in deep. You think so? How has that been for you, and the people around you?

    I think I"m pretty intense -- I come from intense stock, from an intense social/cultural history (my mom and dad have survived wars, deaths in their family, oppression, and somehow survived very well -- and there is some survivor's guilt that I deal with). I never wanted to be intense, but then again, when you're 11, and your dad assigns you Crime and Punishment for reading and the unabridged version of Les Miserables at age 12, that's just what happens. Nurture and nature both!

    That said -- I demand a lot from the people around me, but I love people deeply in return.

    I have very good friends, and an awesome family. I'm happy with that, and completely satisfied. It took me a long time to get to this place, but it's an awesome place!

    Do you plan on having kids? Would you offer one or another religion or culture for them? Which of the many cultures you've experienced do you think is best for any young minds you spawn?

    I do plan on having kids in my future. We plan on raising them Jewish (wrt Religion), and as biculturally as possible -- that will be quite a challenge, but I look forward to it. I think there isn't one culture that is the "best." One of the awesome things about "America" is that we can pick the best parts of every culture.

    I am still challenged by my own (tri)culturalism (Korean, American, Jewish) in my own life, so I've got my fingers crossed. I am not sure of many things when it comes to the future, especially how children will turn out.

    What do you do?

    I work for Openwave, Inc. I am a technical recruiter there.

    Technical recruiter - you like that work?

    I used to love it -- socializing for a living, yay! I'm very fortunate to still be employed in this market, and to be in a lucrative position at that. However, it's not my dream, and never has been.

    You said technical recruiting is not exactly your dream - what would be?

    Writing, if I were to be truthful. But I'm addicted to money. So the dream would be a "pulitzer prize winning writer who is solvent"

    What do you do for fun?

    I like to travel, I like to take long drives (as the passenger), I like to sew and cook. I love to shop. I really love shopping for shoes.

    What do you love about shopping for shoes? I just bought by first new pair of shoes after 14 months, and I was so excited I bought another pair. Whew!

    index.html I love that my feet never get "fat." My clothes tend to be very classic cuts, in conservative colors (with the occasional accessory or bright colored shell top) I let loose in my shoes. The funkier the shoes, the better. I have a pair that is painted to look like Campbell's tomato soup cans...I also have a pair of patent red bowling shoes. I crave everything from skechers to Prada. When they're on sale, even better. I feel whimsical when I'm buying shoes, I allow myself to buy whatever I want, instead of fretting about whether my ass looks big in them or not.

    I was never interested in shoes until last year, when I bought a really weird pair (which in hindsight, weren't that weird). There was something freeing about wearing something other than brown loafers or plain black pumps.

    Do you have a web site? Why/why not?

    Yes, I have a website. Because I like having and defining my own space.

    What music do you listen to?

    techno -- moby, orbital, prodigy, etc.
    but also cool 80's.

    How do you define "cool 80s?"

    cyndi lauper!
    depeche mode, erasure, the cure, the smiths, Styx, Police...

    NOT vanilla ice
    NOT manilli vanilli

    Read any books ever?

    My favorite book of all time is "The Great Gatsby"

    What was the last book you read?

    A Gesture LIfe

    Do you cook?


    What's your signature dish?

    i don't know.
    i just asked my husband what my signature dish is, and he couldn't think of one.
    so i will do the obvious and say:
    "korean bbq"

    How do you do Korean BBQ?

    Secret is the marinade:
    1/2 cup soy sauce
    1/2 cup rice wine (or white wine)
    1/4 cup sugar
    2 T really good sesame oil
    4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
    1 t black pepper

    Mix all ingredients together.
    Pour over short ribs or VERY THINLY SLICED beef.

    Marinate for at least 2 hours (overnight preferred).
    Grill on grill, or saute in pan.
    Serve with rice.

    How did you find Why are you here?

    I found years and years ago. I don't remember how I found it. I liked reading about Justin's (your) life. It's exciting, like watching someone undress through a window.

    Tell us your favourite websites.

    Thank you Christine!

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