Tag Archives: Los Angeles

fashion raid

Korean Business Charged With Money Laundering in L.A. Fashion District Raid

by JAMES S. KIM

Kidnapping, ransom and money laundering. It sounds like something out of a movie or television show, but in reality, it was one of the eye-opening stories coming out of Los Angeles’s Fashion District last Wednesday as nearly 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security agents and local law enforcement raided several businesses, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Aptly-titled “Operation Fashion Police,” the raid targeted businesses that were allegedly aiding cartels in getting money from drug sales into Mexico.

Q.T. Fashion owner Andrew Jong Hack Park, 56, of La Canada-Flintridge, business manager Sang Jun Park, 36, of La Crescenta were among those arrested on Wednesday on charges related to money laundering and smuggling goods.

While it was a perfectly functioning wholesaler of mostly maternity clothing, Q.T. Fashion also had dealings with the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico. The cartel was holding a drug distributor hostage, and his family approached Q.T. Fashion to be the broker and send $140,000 in ransom money. Through a series of financial moves, the money made its way into Mexico, and the indictment said that the victim was released the day Q.T. Fashion received the money.

It’s one of the more extreme examples of drug cartels utilizing businesses throughout L.A. to convert their earnings into pesos through “trade-based money laundering.”

“We have targeted money laundering activities in the Fashion District based on a wealth of information that numerous businesses there are engaged in Black Market Peso Exchange schemes,” said Robert E. Dugdale, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who oversees the Criminal Division in the Central District of California. “Los Angeles has become the epicenter of narco-dollar money laundering with couriers regularly bringing duffel bags and suitcases full of cash to many businesses.”

Those earnings were on full display last Wednesday: agents seized over $100 million (about two-thirds in bulk cash) from 75 different raids, most of them concentrated in the fashion district, and arrested nine people. Three L.A.-area homes were also seized on Friday, as they are suspected of being purchased with illicit money.

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Photo via U.S. Attorney’s Office

Cartels have been unable to send shipments of cash back home since Mexico set limits on U.S. currency deposits at banks in 2010. Since then, cartels have increasingly arranged for drug dealers in L.A. to pay local businesses for merchandise that would be sent to a business in Mexico. That business would then sell the merchandise and pay a peso broker, who, after taking a cut, delivers the rest to the cartel.

Only four businesses were listed in the indictment: Q.T. Fashion, Yili Underwear, Gayima Underwear and Pacific Eurotex Corp. Authorities warned, however, that this was just the beginning.

“This is only the first round of cases,” said Thom Mrozek, the Public Affairs Officer for the Los Angeles District Office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “W believe there will be more, many more.”

The owners of Gayima Underwear and Yili Underwear, Xilin Chen, 55, and his son Chuang Feng Chen, 24, were arrested and charged with nine felony counts related to money laundering and structuring, as well as lying on naturalization forms. Xilin’s daughter, Alixia Chen, remains at large in China.

Four owners of Pacific Eurotex Corp. were arrested and charged with 10 felony counts. They were accused of hiding $2.6 million in drug money over two years by dividing it into 363 separate deposits, the L.A. Times reports.

A Maria Ferre employee was arrested on suspicion of distributing money and changing clothing tags to read “Made in America” to avoid Mexican tariffs. Three other Maria Ferre defendants are at large in Mexico.

Taiwanese law enforcement also froze a bank account containing nearly $16 million that is allegedly tied to a similar money laundering scheme by Mexican cartels.

As of Wednesday, seven of those arrested had pled not guilty. Two others are set to be arraigned at a later time.

Image via Los Angeles Times

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SEC Charges L.A. Immigration Attorney With Investment Fraud

by REERA YOO

Justin Moongyu Lee, 57, a Los Angeles immigration lawyer, was charged Wednesday with running a fraudulent scheme to recruit Chinese and Korean immigration investors for an ethonal project that was never built.

Lee was indicted by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana on nine counts of wire fraud, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.

Justin Moongy Lee (Photo Credit: Korea Times)Justin Moongy Lee (Photo Credit: Korea Times)

According to federal prosecutors, Lee took roughly $47 million from 94 foreigners who each invested $500,000 plus fees in hopes of obtaining green cards under an immigrant investor program that allows foreigners to seek green cards if they invest in projects that create jobs.

Lee misused the investment money by transferring funds to foreign accounts he controlled and filed false paperwork with immigration authorities, said prosecutors. He was also accused of investing in a Philippines mining project with the funds he exploited.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil complaint against Lee’s wifeRebecca Taewon Leeand Thomas Edward Kent for being involved in the same alleged scheme.

“These immigration lawyers exploited a desire by foreign investors to participate in a program that would not only generate them a positive investment return, but also provide them a path to legal residence in the United States,” Michele Wien Layne, regional director of the SEC’s Los Angeles office, said in a statement. “Long after all construction had ceased, they continued to falsely tell investors that they were building the plant.”

The State Bar of California took disciplinary action against Lee, who is no longer allowed to practice law. Each of the nine wire fraud charges in the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

George Newhouse, an attorney for Lee’s wife, said his client who managed Lee’s law office was not involved in any kind of fraud. Meanwhile, a message seeking comment was left for Kent’s lawyer, Jacob Shahbaz.

Lee is currently in custody in Korea, where he faces similar charges filed by Korean authorities.

Photo via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Roy Choi to Launch Healthy, Affordable Fast Food Chain

by JAMES S. KIM

Is there anything this man isn’t doing?

In his latest culinary venture, chef Roy Choi is partnering up with San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson to launch a new chain of fast food restaurants called Loco’l. The chefs made the announcement on Monday at MAD4, the fourth annual Copenhagen conference for chefs, cooks and farmers.

“We want to go toe to toe with fast food chains and offer the community a choice,” Choi told Inside Scoop SF.

“Price point, culture, design, hospitality, relevance and most of all flavor. We will be using all our sciences and knowledge and sixth sense as restaurateurs/chefs to create a concept people love and a menu they crave, but keep it all in the pocket, keep it all affordable and delicious, and speak to what the people want.”

All items on the menu will range from $2-$6 in order to compete with places like McDonald’s and Burger King. The recipes will be prepared by Patterson, who owns the Coi in San Francisco and has appeared on PBS’s Mind of a Chef. According to LA Eater, dishes will include burgers made with a beef and tofu mixture, salads, rice bowls, and “cross-cultural” items like falafel and tacos–the latter of which Choi knows a thing or two about.

For the lucky NorCal folk, Choi and Patterson plan to open the first Loco’l branch in San Francisco in spring 2015, and Los Angeles will get its own a few months later.

“High-level chefs have an opportunity to do much more than just cook for the few people who can afford it,” Patterson said in a blog post on the MAD website. “We can create real change, in this case, by building a better business. As much as thoughtful articles and speeches and books are important in shifting how we think, they are not going to solve the food problems we have in our country.

“If we can open profitable restaurants that are inexpensive and serve delicious food made with real ingredients; if we bring new options to places that currently lack quality food; if we cook with heart; if we create an environment of warmth, generosity and caring; if we value the people with less money just as much as the ones with plenty, we can make a difference.”

At last year’s MAD conference, Choi emphasized social responsibility among chefs to bring delicious, healthy food to people in need. And as busy as he’s been, especially with the recently opened Commissary restaurant at the Line Hotel in Koreatown, where he also has Pot, Pot Cafe and Pot Bar, the chef appears to be doing his part to carry out that vision.

Last year, Choi opened the 3 Worlds Cafe in South Central Los Angeles, which is often referred to as a food desert because of the lack of healthy food options available in the area. With its fresh juices, smoothies and coffee the goal was to bring healthy, delicious options to a place where chefs and restaurants normally kept away from, as well as provide a place for local youth to frequent.

Choi said Loco’l was the beginning of a “ripple movement,” and like the inspiration for its name, it’s going to be crazy.

“Loco–we are crazy to do this and you’re crazy to believe it,” he said. “Local–it’s about the community and everyone, not just the ones that can afford it. Loco’l.”

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LA Festival Presents K-pop Singing & Dancing Battle

Have you dreamed of taking the stage like your favorite K-pop singers? The Korea Daily (Joongang Ilbo) and the LA Korean Festival Foundation (LAKFF) may have just what you’re looking for to make your daydreams a bit more concrete.

The 4th K-pop Singing & Dancing Battle is back, and it kicks off with a preliminary round on Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles. Finalists will then compete at the 41st Korean Cultural Festival on Friday, Sept. 19, at the Seoul International Park in Koreatown.

The first-place winner will receive $500 and a smartphone. Two second-place winners will receive $200 each, and popularity prizes in the form of $100 will be awarded to another two teams.

For contest rules and to register, visit this link. You can register until 5 p.m. on Aug. 29 for free. For more information, you can visit www.lakoreanfestival.org, email ukdec2013@gmail.com or call (213) 368-2675/2543. You can also check out the event’s Facebook page.

Preliminary Round
Saturday, Sept. 6
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Korean Cultural Center
5505 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Final Round
Friday, September 19
Seoul International Park in LA Koreatown (Friday night of the Korean Cultural Festival)

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KCON 2014: Presenting Quirky Korean Rocker Jung Joon Young

by TONY KIM

“I like ‘Gangnam Style,’ but how come, in Gangnam, none of the clubs play it?”

Jung Joon Young posed this seemingly earnest question to none other than Psy himself, who was acting as a judge on Mnet’s music talent show Superstar K4. Psy had just asked for the rock musician’s final words before announcing whether Jung made it to the top 12.

After joking around about going clubbing together, Psy declared that Jung had indeed advanced. Instead of rejoicing like most contestants would, however, Jung let out a sigh. Knowing that the show essentially had a lockdown policy for contestants, who aren’t allowed to go out drinking or partying, Jung told Psy, “We can’t go clubbing then.”

That line had Psy in stitches.


This is the clip of Psy announcing Jung Joon Young’s was advancing to the Top 12. Jung would place third in the music reality show.

Two years after being introduced to Korean television audiences, Jung has gone from being a relative unknown to a scream-inducing rockstar that also enjoys regular roles on popular South Korean TV variety shows. And, he still has that same mischievous humor. Evidence of that emerged at this past weekend’s KCON 2014 in Los Angeles, where Jung couldn’t help but joke around during a media roundtable, after a female interviewer asked him: “If you can change bodies with somebody for one day, who would it be and why?” Then, this exchange ensued:

Your body.

Why?

Because I want to live in a woman’s body for a day.

What would you do?

Touch my body for a day. Just kidding.

Though he is known for his humor, Jung is also recognized for his musical talent; he self-produced his second album, which he said was influenced by personal experiences. That actually made the process of creating the album “easier” and more fun, he said. Jung was able to share some of the music he created on Sunday, as he joined the star-studded list of K-pop performers that graced the KCON concert stage.

This marked the singer’s first time in Los Angeles, though he said the streets were actually quite familiar to him.


Jung Joon Young performs “Emergency Room” in Superstar K4.


Jung collaborates with Superstar K4 winner Roy Kim for “Becoming Dust.”

“My favorite game is GTA,” Jung explained, referencing the popular video game, Grand Theft Auto. “The latest GTA game is based on Los Angeles, so I feel very familiar with this city. When I’m looking around in downtown, these are places that appear in GTA. … I feel like I’m in a game, so yesterday on the streets, I was screaming.”


Check out Jung’s game room in We Got Married. Skip to 3:01.

Jung, who in addition to producing his own albums is also going to act in an upcoming film and also DJ a radio program in Korea, has come a long way from his brief stints with Korean bands like LEDApple and various indie groups.

He said he is thankful for the opportunities he is enjoying these days. Hours before the KCON concert, he told KoreAm that he was quite surprised to have fans in America. “Even though it’s so hot, I’m thankful for the fans that are waiting in line outside,” Jung said. ” Since this is a concert not just for me, but also for everyone, I hope that everyone has a good time.”

Jung’s music video of new title track “TEENAGER.”

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Devotion of K-pop Fans on Full Display at Day 1 of KCON 2014

by JAMES S. KIM

There is no question as to where Hallyu fans stand among the other fandoms of the world. The line that snaked its way around the entire Los Angeles Sports Arena complex yesterday, as KCON 2014 kicked off its first day of festivities under a blazing sun, was the ultimate image of devotion.

Even as a Korean American who’s followed K-pop for a while, I have to admit that seeing the throngs of excited fans in person was quite an eye-opening, even exhilarating, experience. In only four years, the convention devoted to K-pop, K-dramas and Korean popular culture in general has grown exponentially, from about 10,000 attendees at the inaugural convention in 2012 to an expected 40,000 this year, according to the North American arm of South Korea’s CJ E&M, which organizes the convention.

Soon KCON may just rival convention behemoths like San Diego Comic-Con and D23, which attract crowds in the 100,000-plus range.

And, if you think the only draw for KCON goers is the chance to see their favorite artists in person, think again. One may not expect panels like “Speaking the Language of K-Drama” or “Hallyu Culture Shock” to have a chance at a decent draw, but that’s underestimating the devotion and interest level of Hallyu fans.  Websites like Soompi and Dramabeans, as well as every social media outlet, are living testaments to how much fans love to gather and talk about their artists and actors online, and even better, when they have the chance to do so in person. The result was enthusiastic participation at panels like “Oppa/Unnie Debate,” “All About K-pop Reaction Videos” and the crowded K-pop dance workshops.

Of course, it’s another level of crazy that kicks in when the artists themselves show up in person. We had the chance to interview girl group SPICA on Saturday–stay tuned for our exclusive video later this week.

I also had the fortune to be standing in “fan club row” when we all heard a huge scream. And there’s nothing that can compare to a K-pop fan screaming. Lo and behold, boy group B1A4 was on the stage.

KCON also did a fantastic job in terms of fan engagement. Most K-pop stars are kept far away from fans, except for concerts and the occasional meet and greets. It was a different story for local artists and entertainers, including DANakaDAN, Jhameel, Connie Lin, Shin-B and Flash Finger, to name a few, who held conversations and Q&As with their fans at their respective panels.

As Day 2 of KCON kicks off today, look forward to our live tweets (@KoreAm) and our upcoming exclusive interviews with SPICA and the crooning Jung Joon Young, who will both be performing tonight in the second concert/ They are part of a lineup that also includes BTS, CNBLUE and Girl’s Generation.

More pictures, courtesy of KCON 2014:

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The Faces Of L.A.’s Skid Row: A Powerful Photo Project By John Hwang

John Hwang makes friends with some of society’s most invisible members: the people living on L.A.’s Skid Row. Many know his face and name, some have his number. He knows their stories and, with their permission, shares them with the world. “Everyone has a story,” he says. Here’s his.

by ELAINE CHA

This piece elaborates on an audio profile produced by this writer and broadcast on Southern California Public Radio/89.3 KPCC’s “Off-Ramp,” in March 2014. Listen to it here.

It’s a damp, late afternoon in January. John Hwang, still in scrubs from his occupational therapy shift in Monterey Park, California, is about to hit downtown Los Angeles. But he’s not headed to a hip rooftop bar on Broadway or a new gastropub in Little Tokyo. He’s going to Alameda and 4th Street—roughly the northeast corner of L.A.’s Skid Row, which some call “the homeless capital of the United States”—to start one of his many check-ins with old friends and, very likely, make new ones along the way.

This Friday evening, he spots a familiar figure on T Avenue. “Hey, Richard,” he says, crouching down to touch the shoulder of an African American man in his early 50s staring down into his lap. “How are you today?” Richard looks up from the kids’-sized yogurt he’s nursing and, recognizing Hwang, smiles. His arrestingly light eyes brighten as he returns a quiet salutation. Just a few sentences pass between them: “How have you been? Have you been all right through the rain the last couple nights? Do you have enough to read?” Richard responds by nodding his head, moving his shoulders. He’s a man of few words, Hwang explains, as the latter continues walking through Skid Row. “People who stay on this street mostly keep to themselves. … They don’t want any drama,” Hwang says. “Every street has its own personality.”

As he continues toward San Pedro Street, Hwang meets others he knows—and who know him well enough to call when lonely. One such man, a white Vietnam war vet called Bob whose PTSD makes living anywhere with a roof unbearable, is setting up for the night near the Downtown Women’s Center when Hwang stops to say hello. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you,” Hwang says, extending a hand to Bob’s arm. Bob’s been in the hospital recently, though “I’m OK, now,” he says. He’s tried calling Hwang a couple of times, but couldn’t reach him. “Oh, yeah, I got a new phone,” Hwang tells him as he pulls out his cell. He hands it to Bob to input his number. “I’ll call you, so you have my info.”

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Hwang met Camha just outside Skid Row last October. “She was barely coherent. Often mumbling words silently under her lips, as if she was chanting a prayer. When there was food around her mouth, I got a napkin and gently wiped her mouth and face. Tears began to well up in her eyes. No words were needed then.” 

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Such sharing isn’t something he does with everyone, says Hwang later. But with some he’ s met downtown, he’s open to that contact. “I just have a feeling. I know it’ s OK.”

Based on what happens the rest of the visit, it seems that Skid Row feels Hwang is OK, too. Tonight’s walk is a short one compared to the many others he’s made over the last two years or so. In the span of just a couple hours, Hwang greets and points out a half-dozen Skid Row residents who have told him their stories; he even has his portrait crayoned on the sidewalk by someone he’s met for the first time, a new friend who shares a stick of chewing gum along with his back story. Hwang’ s gentle manner and capacity for fast connection—the bonds he forms are often quick and firm—draws people hungry for interaction. And it’s meaningful connection that keeps Hwang coming back. “Everyone is unique,” he says. “Everyone has a story.”

Hwang’s own story features elements at once familiar and unusual. Like many ethnic Koreans in the U.S., his start came outside the States. Born in the Canary Islands in 1974, Hwang lived in Panama and Mexico before his family immigrated to Southern California when he was 7. And, like a vast swath of Korean Americans, he spent a good part of his youth and young adulthood at Protestant churches that included urban ministry.

An outing with an Orange County-based church back in the 1990s—long before downtown became “DTLA”— occasioned Hwang’ s first direct contact with the homeless of Skid Row. Nearly all his fellow volunteers focused on distributing food. “I was more intrigued by the people,” says Hwang, who spent the afternoon talking with street residents instead of handing out sandwiches. “One man in particular, his intelligence just struck me. He was so different from the stereotypes about the homeless … that they’re all addicts, or mentally ill.”

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John Hwang shares the pictures and stories of his friends on Skid Row, with their permission. He wrote this about Richard: “His eyes lit up when I handed him the National Geographic magazine. Richard loves to read. ‘It takes me to places I’ve never gone,’ he told me. … Richard was in a car accident that left him disabled. Confined to the streets. However, reading set his mind free.” 

Many years elapsed between that visit and Hwang’s next one. In 2011, he was one among many looking into lofts in Little Tokyo, an area adjacent to a cluster of homeless service centers. Juxtaposing the lofts’ price tag with Skid Row next door jarred him. It also recalled his years’ -back conversation with a street resident. Soon enough, he ended up back downtown—not to live, but to learn.

“I’ve always been very intrigued by people living on the street,” says Hwang, “because if you live in L.A., you see them all the time.” He had no plans to document his visits when he started going to Skid Row about two years ago. Yet as he met more people, and heard more of their stories, he felt he needed to share them somehow.

So Hwang started taking photos.

With his subjects’ permission, Hwang posted their portraits to Facebook, pairing the images with simple descriptions or anecdotes. Melody’ s picture, for example, presents a young woman holding her head high, with this: “She hears voices. … She shared with me stories of her life, her family. … I asked, ‘Do you still hear voices now?’ and she responded with ‘I can hear yours …’” A color and black-and-white diptych of a gently smiling Benito, who “has the kind of voice that would make for a good storyteller or narrator for a movie,” shows images of a man who imparts “the wisdom that comes with age and living on the streets. He likes to spend his time reading. … When he feels down he just thinks about how there are many others who are less fortunate than him.”

And then there’s Tracey in a black cap and white undershirt, standing in a graffitti’d tunnel near the L.A. River. A former singer with a beautiful voice, seven years on the streets, and both AIDS and prostate cancer, Tracey “survives by finding food in the dumpsters of restaurants, markets and produce vendors, [and] makes an effort to care for other homeless people around him, including helping feed them.”

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This is a shot of the blanket that Sam, a 21-year-old Korean American living on Skid Row, was carrying when Hwang took him to the home of a pastor who does homeless ministry. Hwang wrote of their first encounter: “So we sat there together at Subway. Quietly, he ate. As I watched him, I started to think back to when I was his age of 21 and what I was doing with my life. I couldn’t understand how he ended up on the street or begin to imagine the reality of his life. … Then he looked up at me with teary eyes and said, ‘thank you, hyung.’” 

The combination of striking photos and narrative elicited immediate response. Likes, comments and shares reached scores of people he’s known over the years. They also made the news feeds of those he didn’t know at all—people who’ve reached out to offer Hwang help with funds, food, clothes, even a collection of National Geographic magazines. “It’s been amazing to see [how the posts] move people,” Hwang says.

For all the engagement he seeks with others, and for all the attention he’s gotten, Hwang remains independent. This is especially evident in his approach to Skid Row and its residents. His early exposure to downtown L.A.’s homeless may have come through a faith community, yet his work, so to speak, is not affiliated with any church entity or motivated by conventional religious mission. While Hwang speaks about “praying for direction” when he sets out on his visits and posts stories about the work of ministries serving the downtown homeless population, his sensibilities run more to the spiritual than the religious; he is compelled by what he can contribute to effecting kindness to others anyplace, not just in Skid Row.

There’s also no secular agenda driving Hwang. In the last two years, he has been solicited or advised by readers working in homeless outreach. He understands where such response comes from, especially given the degree and scale of issues he sees among those he engages on the street. But he is quick to assert that what he does “is not advocacy. I’m not trying to join a cause,’ he says, “or rescue anyone or solve anyone’s problems. [Homelessness] is complicated.”

Two cases in which Hwang’s lent more than a listening ear and a hot meal point up the complexity of what puts— and keeps—people on the street. The

first, involving a Vietnamese senior named Camha, shows what can happen when a person ends up far from home but cannot return on her own. When Hwang met her just outside Skid Row last October, she “didn’t have shoes [and] was wearing hospital-issued socks that were blackened from the dirtiness of the street. All she had was a small bag and a blanket she sat on. She was barely coherent … mumbling words silently under her lips, as if she was chanting a prayer.” As Camha had a California state senior citizen ID card, Hwang shared a photo of it on Facebook, asking, “Does anyone have any connection to the Vietnamese community up in the Bay Area?”

Friends, contacts and even strangers responded immediately to the post with offers of help and useful tips. Less than 24 hours later, Hwang spoke with someone who knew the lost woman, who’d “been reported missing for some time.” Just a couple of hours after that, Camha was on a Greyhound bus headed back to her home in San Francisco.

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Walter is one of Hwang’s oldest friends on Skid Row. “He frequents all the local recycle centers, going 5-6 times a day,” wrote Hwang. “Sadly one recycling center he often goes to mistreats him. … He is talked down to and treated like he is dumb or crazy. When actually he is a bright, hard working and sensitive man. It hurts him deeply. I can see it in his eyes. Walter grew up in rural Texas, during the time of segregation. So it brings back some painful memories. But Walter refuses to feel sorry for himself. He refuses to feel bitter. He knows his worth as a human being.”  

What happened with Sam, a 21-year-old Korean Hwang tried to help off the street, provides a counterpoint to the “success” of Camha’s story. Hwang’s first encounter with Sam started with a sandwich and some basic background (“He said his mother was killed when he was a young child, and he hadn’t spoken to his father for a long time.”) and ended with a “thank you, hyung.” The next time they ran into each other, Hwang took Sam to a Korean pastor who runs a homeless ministry. Although Sam had been on the street for just four months—a stint much shorter than the years Tracey, Benito and Bob have spent on Skid Row— Hwang says he had a hunch this dongsaeng would end up back where he first saw him.

“It seemed like he didn’t really want to be helped,” Hwang says in retrospect. He concedes he was initially disappointed to see Sam among the homeless on subsequent visits downtown. It was a reminder, nevertheless, of a reality Hwang understands more deeply as he spends more time in the rougher parts of Los Angeles: living on the street is a choice some make, even if a way off is within reach.

Despite (or, perhaps because of) the sheer magnitude of what it would take to eradicate homelessness, Hwang’s focus remains fixed on what he can do. Make eye contact and say hello, offer a meal and some company, share photos and stories that impact others where they are. And what he does isn’t so much about the homeless specifically as it is about “connecting with the humanity” in people. A midspring post about Cora, a woman Hwang met on an unusually quiet night downtown, captures this:

“The empty street felt lonely last night. There [were] no cars or traffic. Only a few people walking by … while I was waiting at an intersection … [t]his sweet lady started making random conversation with me so I asked her to dinner. We sat at a small family-owned pizza place on that empty street. Cora lives alone in a low-income housing unit downtown. She says she doesn’t really have any friends, and that she was coming home from a karaoke bar by herself. Singing and dancing makes her happy. She slowly ate her French fries she drowned in ketchup and her chicken wings, as if to savor the time we have together. We talked about all kinds of things; childhood stories, favorite foods, our travels, what makes us happy, to what’s important in life. I told her she is my new friend, and she smiled and gave me a warm hug. That street didn’t feel so empty to me anymore.”

A Facebook stranger who shared Hwang’ s post included a note saying, “This is what we should be doing … sharing our time and listening … We ALL just want to know we matter.” Another wrote, “So many lonely, invisible people out there, and he stops and reaches out to them.”

Hwang readily admits the personal gratification he derives from his “work” on Skid Row. “It’s an amazing thing to be able to connect so deeply with a stranger so quickly. It’s an incredible high.” He also says, introspectively, “Ultimately, this is something I do for myself.” The response his efforts have drawn makes it clear, nevertheless, that he’s making some kind of difference for others. If for no other reason than sharing stories that somehow move people, it’ s likely Hwang will continue making after-work trips to see friends downtown and, as he puts it, to “be the change [he] wants to see in the world.”

Top photo courtesy of John Cha.

This article was published in the July 2014 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).



Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin Headed To The Lakers In A Trade

Jeremy Lin is headed to the Los Angeles Lakers after the Houston Rockets traded the point guard to clear salary cap space for the expected free agent signing of Chris Bosh, according to ESPN.

The Lakers also receive a future first-round pick and other draft considerations. In return, the Rockets take cash and rights to an overseas player from the Lakers, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarwski, a reputable NBA insider.

When LeBron James took over the headlines earlier today by announcing his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the largest domino fell in the NBA’s free agency.

Lin has been caught in the middle of these conversations with multiple reports hinting that he could be headed to the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade this past week.

By sending Lin and his contract to the Lakers (worth $8.4 million), Houston would have enough cap space to sign a maximum contract with Bosh. The trade makes sense for the Lakers, too, as they don’t have to worry about absorbing the contract, which expires next summer. They hardly have any players signed at the moment, anyways.

Unfortunately, Mike D’Antoni, who was head coach of the New York Knicks during Linsanity, is no longer with the Lakers.