Tag Archives: Los Angeles

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Best-selling SKorean Author Kyung-sook Shin Shares New Novel At L.A. Reading

by HAEIN JUNG

The Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles hosted an intimate evening this past Monday with celebrated South Korean author Kyung-sook Shin, who read excerpts from her latest translated novel, I’ll Be Right There.

Shin, a veteran novelist acclaimed for her best-selling Please Look After Mom, talked about her most recent work, a powerful story steeped in tragedy.

The novel centers around protagonist Jung Yoon, who receives a phone call from an ex-boyfriend, whom she hasn’t spoken to in eight years. He calls to inform her that their beloved college professor is dying. This triggers memories of being in their 20s, when they, along with friends Dahn and Miru, bonded over their love of poetry and aspiration to ignite change within their politically turbulent country. 

“It’s about human relationships and also about art and how I would want people to form relationships, which is also a topic of the novel,” Shin told the audience of about 50 people.

The novel was inspired by real-life events in South Korea in the 1980s, when the country was rocked daily by confrontations between pro-democracy student demonstrations and riot police armed with tear gas. Shin, who lived through this time period, said she compiled extensive research on young people who died back then for unknown reasons, and would go through a pile of such documents during her writing process each morning.

“It was really painful to read these documents because a lot of young men in their 20s–22-years-olds, 23-year-olds–were going through brilliant youth and bright futures, [and] they died. Many of their names remain, but we still don’t know what happened to them,” the author said. “I wrote this novel to sort of make sure that we don’t forget about them.”

Though real-life events served as inspiration, the author deliberately avoided specifying this time period in the book in order to lend the story a more universal relatability.

“I didn’t want people to think that it’s a story that has already passed, [it’s] in the past and a story that has already been forgotten,” said Shin. “Rather, I wanted people to understand that it’s a story that could happen anywhere, anytime, in any country, now. It was sort of symbolic in that way. For that reason, I didn’t refer to it as the 1980s in South Korea, but everybody knew.”

I’ll Be Right There marks Shin’s seventh novel and her second translated into English. (Sora Kim-Russell is credited as the English translator for I’ll Be Right There.) Her 2011 novel, Please Look After Mom, sold 2 million copies in Korea and became an international hit, topping the New York Times Best Seller List, and was included in Oprah’s “18 Books to Watch for in April 2011.”

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Image of Kyung-sook Shin (seated, at far left of photo), via Korea Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

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The Line Hotel And Why It’s Cool To Be Korean In Los Angeles

Follow the Line

Out of all the places to open a hip new L.A. hotel, why would one choose Koreatown? Because it’s apparently “cool” now to be Korean.

by JIMMY LEE
Photos by ADRIAN GAUT

What would you do if you were a hotshot real estate developer, with a reputation for producing stylish boutique hotels frequented by today’s class of cool kids, looking to build your first property in Los Angeles proper? Well, if you’re Andrew Zobler, the man behind the Ace Hotels in New York and Palm Springs, you would turn to hotshot chef Roy Choi, the culinary mind behind the Kogi food trucks and a growing empire of restaurants throughout the city.

It’s just that Choi basically told him this: not interested. “It felt like a real job again,” said Choi. “That’s the truth. It had everything to do with the fact that, ever since Kogi happened, Kogi bought me freedom. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do in life, and that’s a very rare thing to have. And once you have it, I felt like this project would be giving that freedom back.”

Zobler, of course, persisted, and now Choi is running not just one restaurant but two, named Pot and Commissary (the latter will begin serving a fruit and vegetable-focused menu later this year), as well as a bakery and a bar in the lobby of the Line Hotel, which recently opened on Wilshire Boulevard in the heart of Koreatown. It just made Condé Nast Traveler’s 2014 Hot List of the 33 best new hotels in the world for essentially oozing style and bringing in “some of L.A.’s coolest and most innovative minds, including street food king Chef Roy Choi,” said the write-up.

Choi is not the only talent that Zobler has tapped to make the Line a destination not just for travelers but also for Los Angeles locals. The Houston Brothers, noted nightlife impresarios with bars and lounges mostly in Hollywood, will operate a club/lounge called Speek. And retail outlet Poketo, co-founded by Korean American Angie Myung and her husband Ted Vadakan, opened their second store in the hotel. With these collaborators on board, Zobler has in line (bad pun intended) multiple pieces to attract even more people, including the cool and hip, into Koreatown.

But the Line is not the only hipster game in K-town. In fact, on the very same block is the Normandie Hotel, another recently renovated boutique establishment, which has its own coolness credentials: a soon-to-open bar from Cedd Moses, who’s a central figure in turning Downtown L.A. into a teeming nightlife destination, with spots like the Golden Gopher and Broadway Bar.

So get ready, Koreatown, for an invasion of skinny jeans.

***

It’ s a stark contrast to
nadir: the fires and looting of the 1992 L.A. riots. There was little consideration paid to the concerns of Korean Americans at that time. Back then, there was a sense that Koreatown was under siege, with Korean Americans forced to barricade themselves from what felt like relentless attacks not only from looters but also politicians and the media. Those memories have not faded, including for those involved with the Line.

Jonnie and Mark Houston, twins from a German-Irish father and a Thai-Chinese mother, grew up living in Koreatown. In fact, Jonnie’ s best friend at the time was a Korean American whose parents’ liquor store was destroyed in the riots. Poketo’ s Angie Myung, who’ s from the L.A. suburb of Diamond Bar and was in high school in 1992, remembered going to Koreatown after the riots and seeing all the burnt stores. “It felt like an apocalypse that happened,” said Myung. Despite all that they lost, many Korean American business owners chose not to abandon the neighborhood, but to rebuild. And Koreatown today, which has also seen an infusion of investment from South Korea, is not only bigger but still expanding and thriving, most notably for its restaurants and a nightlife that runs well past last call and into the early morning. There’s one other noted difference from the days before the riots: Koreatown is more welcoming to non-Koreans. Some restaurants today still have menus only in Hangeul, but their numbers appear to be in the decline.

“[The riots] brought some positive changes. The Korean immigrants that owned businesses there saw that they couldn’t survive on their own island,” said Myung. “They realized they had to open up. And not only that, but it was actually very profitable and successful for them the more they opened.”

“If you weren’t Korean, they wouldn’t let you in. It was very closed off to non-Koreans,” said Jonnie Houston. “When you walk up to a door and you don’t speak Korean, they’re like get away. A lot of that has changed. It’s a lot more friendly to everybody now.”

The Houstons also noted that Koreans have been innovative when it comes to operating dance clubs. “Korean culture has brought to the table bottle service and the little bells that you press for service,” said Mark Houston, referring to how non-Korean clubs have adopted these practices. 
 These Koreatown factors, and the availability of what was most recently called the Wilshire Radisson Hotel, a mid-century modern design from architecture firm Daniel Johnson Mann & Mendenhall built in 1964, is how the Line came to be. “We loved the vibrancy of the neighborhood and the architecture of the building,” said Zobler in an email interview, as to why he chose Koreatown, and not, say, Venice or Hollywood, areas that might better fit the sensibility of his past developments. (Zobler’ s company, the New York-based Sydell Group, was not involved with the new Ace Hotel that recently opened in Downtown.)

“Koreatown is a very special L.A.- only place,” said Zobler. “We love what is coming out of this community and out of Korea culturally, and the food—we love the food. We also love that the neighborhood is geographically in the center of many of the things we love most about L.A.—Hollywood, Downtown, Beverly Hills, Silver Lake—and that it sits right on a Metro [subway] stop.”

The zeal for Koreatown and Koreans that Zobler has expressed is not isolated. For lack of a better phrase, it’s kind of cool to be Korean right now. Tune into a TV cooking competition these days and a Korean American is bound to be one of the culinary contestants. Anthony Bourdain recently spoke the praises of KA chefs, and his CNN travel show’s premiere episode focused not on Los Angeles but specifically Koreatown.

“I totally feel like I’m much cooler being Korean now than ever,” said Myung, whose first Poketo store in L.A.’s Arts District does more than sell products. It hosts art shows and workshops, including a kimchi-making class taught by her mom—activities that she anticipates will also be offered at the Line’s outlet. “I think it has a lot to do with Korean pop culture, that’s taking over the whole world. It’s definitely come to the U.S. Come on, ‘Gangnam Style?’”

Myung, 39, cites her generation’s members, as well as the next, who have chosen more creative fields. “[We] have made a lot of strides,” said Myung. “Koreans are just more visible now.”

At the center of the team assembled by Zobler is Choi, arguably the most high-profile Korean American chef today. “We wanted, as a paramount matter in our design and choice of collaborators, to celebrate the local community and urban L.A. in general. We brought in Roy Choi and the Houston Brothers who were raised in the neighborhood to be our guides,” said Zobler.

The contribution that the Houston Brothers, who shop at their nearby HK Korean supermarket and have frequented Koreatown bars, are bringing to the Line will reflect the surrounding neighborhood that they know well. Speek will be a club that includes a dance floor, live music and that other local nightlife staple: the noraebang. “We definitely wanted it to be a homage to Koreatown and what they’ve created, and embrace it and put our little twist on it,” said Jonnie. Plus, the cocktail program will feature Korean flavors: think Korean pears and even barbecue.

For Choi, who will be cooking some pretty straight-up Korean food for the first time with the restaurant Pot, there’s a lot to think about. “It’s a huge project, with a lot of employees, a lot of responsibility, a lot of money invested,” said Choi. “I am nervous about serving Korean food in Koreatown. But it’s not a nervous of failure; it’s a nervous of, like, I really want people to enjoy it. I want the Korean and Koreatown residents to really know that we’re honest—all our food, once you’ve taste it, tastes like any other Korean [food].”

But, with Choi involved, there’s bound to be something out of the ordinary, and he pointed out the composition of his staff. “That no one cooking in the kitchen is Korean, except me. And I was never trained in Korean food—that’s pretty unique, wouldn’t you say?”

It’s also a sign of Koreatown evolving with more complex and dynamic interpersonal relationships at play—it’s not just ajummas in the kitchens ordering around the many Latinos often employed in the neighborhood’s restaurants. There’s a diverse staff at Pot, and they just look like ajummas. One of Choi’ s cheeky decisions is for the hostess to wear clothes an ajumma would wear: think baggy pants and mismatched prints.

On a more serious note, Choi credited the team he works with for convincing him to finally say yes to Zobler. “And once they talked me into it, … I realized there’s something special and important that we can do here,” said Choi. “I can be somewhat of a bridge … to the neighborhood, and to all the people who live here, and everything we’ve gone through. It’s almost like I saw it as, if you think about the first Koreans who came here and where we are now. This can be a little marker in that, like a gift back.”

L.A. chef Roy Choi is a partner in the Line venture, with two restaurants in the hotel.

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University of California, Los Angeles

For nearly 100 years, UCLA has been a pioneer, persevering through impossibility, turning the futile into the attainable.

We doubt the critics, reject the status quo and see opportunity in dissatisfaction. Our campus, faculty and students are driven by optimism. It is not naïve; it is essential. And it has fueled every accomplishment, allowing us to redefine what’s possible, time after time.

This can-do perspective has brought us 12 Nobel Prizes, 12 Rhodes Scholarships, more NCAA titles than any university and more Olympic medals than most nations. Our faculty and alumni helped create the Internet and pioneered reverse osmosis. And more than 100 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA.

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Slate Asks What Donald Sterling’s Love Of Koreans Reveals About Racism

Tuesday’s column on Slate about Donald Sterling, the disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner, reveals what his “fondness” of Koreans means to the broader pattern of racism in America.

Sterling, 80, was suspended indefinitely by the NBA recently after the recording of his remarks to his girlfriend about his disdain on blacks and how he didn’t want her to bring them to Clippers game caused a public outcry.

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In 2002, Sterling was sued for allegedly discriminating against black and Hispanic housing applicants at one of his apartment buildings located in Koreatown district of Los Angeles. Sterling had changed the name of the building to “Korean World Towers” and decorated the building with Korean flags. He even allegedly tried to force black and Hispanic tenants out of the building, saying they “smell and attract vermin.”

 

To Sterling, the column suggests, Koreans were the “ideal” tenants. He allegedly said that Koreans “will live in whatever conditions and still pay the rent without complaint” and told one of his former non-Asian female employees that she should “learn the ‘Asian way’ from his younger girls because they knew how to please him.”

The column’s co-authors, Hua Hsu and Richard Jean So, wrote that Sterling’s preference for Koreans and Asian Americans fits into the typical pattern of racism in America:

Why did Donald Sterling love Koreans? At a basic level, he was buying into the myth of the “model minority”: the perception that Asian-Americans, compared with other nonwhite minorities, are innately intelligent and well-behaved.

This will all sound very familiar to Asian-Americans, cast as the put-upon overachievers, whose head-down, by-the-bootstraps stoicism has resulted in remarkable educational andfinancial attainment. The “model minority” myth persists in part because it is cited as evidence that the system works. It makes for a great story—the plucky, determined Asian-American succeeding where others have failed. But the ultimate beneficiaries of this racial typecasting are the people who invoke the model as a bludgeon against others. Sterling’s admiration for his Korean tenants is actually a kind of scorn. After all, he still subjected Korean tenants to the same degrading treatment as everyone else—the only difference is that the Koreans seemed willing to take it.

Above all, Sterling saw the world in terms of winners and losers (“I like people who are achievers,” he once noted), and he used this logic to categorize racial groups along a sliding scale of desirability. For Sterling, Koreans never merited the decency of being looked upon as individual human beings. Rather, they were a faceless bloc, a group of indistinguishable “achievers” that did nothing more than provide the contrast that enabled his contempt for blacks. This is the lesson of Donald Sterling’s racism: A hierarchy that flatters those at the top and demeans those at the bottom can only serve to distract us from noticing the one shuffling the rankings.

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Inaugural K-town Night Market Draws Thousands

article and photos by RUTH KIM

Korean American comedian Walter Hong quipped, “We’re in Koreatown right now, but I feel like I’m a minority!”

Playing event emcee, Hong was addressing the vastly diverse crowd who made their way, by the thousands, to the inaugural K-town Night Market, which took place April 18-19 at the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools campus in the heart of L.A. Koreatown.

Reminiscent of the popular 626 Night Market and night markets across Asia, the event featured a host of famous food trucks, food booths, merchandise vendors, a carnival area, as well as live performances.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Danny Park, one of the founders of the K-town Night Market. “We’re trying to bring that old night market to L.A., you know? We want to celebrate the diversity of Koreatown, but also celebrate Korean culture, too.”

Park certainly got what he wished for, with an estimated turnout of 80,000 people who attended the market over the two days.

The streets surrounding the Robert F. Kennedy campus were bustling with pedestrians on April 19, when this KoreAm reporter made her way there. A seemingly endless line from the entrance stretched along Catalina Street toward Wilshire Boulevard, as people queued up to enter the market grounds. Despite some complaints of long food lines, the wait did wonders working up the appetite, and there was plenty of food to go around. Headlined by Season 3 winners of the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, Seoul Sausage, the food truck lineup offered a diversity of cuisines and also featured seasons 1 and 2 Great Food Truck Race winners Grill ‘Em All and The Lime Truck, respectively.

“It’s been really fun for me to be kind of personally involved in this project because it hits close to home. We call Koreatown our second home,” said Yong Kim, one of the three founders of Seoul Sausage, which served as the event’s food truck curator. “It’s something that we planned a long time ago, and it’s finally happening. People are really excited about it, and we are, too.  Everybody that we wanted [for the food truck lineup] agreed to do it, you know, so it’s just been really fun, personally.”

While the food trucks were assembled on one half of the event grounds, the other half was occupied by additional food vendors in booths, including Korean American chef Brian Huskey of Top Chef fame at Table 13, IOTA Café, Orochon Ramen and 8 Korean BBQ, to name a few.  Attendees could grab a bite to eat while they shopped the vendor booths selling K-pop fan gear and other items, and enjoyed the live performances on stage.

Tagged on social media as #KTOWNCoachella, Friday’s lineup boasted the musical talents of K-pop stars such as YG Entertainment’s Lydia Paek, K-pop star Z. Hera, Chad Future, The Fu, and Shin-B. Saturday’s stage was headlined by K-town native and hip-hop artist Dumbfoundead, DJ Zo, Korean American rapper DANakaDAN and Grammy-nominated producer Scoop Deville.

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4-29 L.A. Riots by Hyungwon Kang.

KoreAm Archive: Angela Oh’s Views on L.A. Riots, Five Years Out

A fire rages during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. ©HYUNGWON KANG

This week, as we mark the 22nd anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, a seminal event in Korean American history, we are posting relevant stories from our archives. This commentary was published in KoreAm Journal in April 1997, upon the five-year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots. Its author Angela Oh served as a vocal community advocate in the weeks, months and years following the crisis. 

A Fleeting Moment

by ANGELA E. OH

Just five years later, the thunder of Korean American voices after the L.A. Riots has subsided to a whisper.

The desire to bury a painful part of Southern California history is especially strong among Korean Americans. The spring of 1992 will remain one of the most devastating seasons in memory to Korean Americans across the country. We were unable to prevent the loss of thousands of small family-owned enterprises to racial bigotry, economic desperation, media panic and political ignorance. With the passage of time, things have changed, but without consolation or relief.

Korean Americans have paid the price all racial and ethnic minorities in the United States eventually must pay. “Sa-i-gu” (4-29) commemorates those who sacrificed their lives so the message of our permanence in this society could be delivered. What impact did the 1992 implosion in Los Angeles have on Korean Americans? Where are we headed as we approach the Third Millennium?

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Korean Americans in Los Angeles experienced a brief moment of unity. Some 40,000 people from all parts of Southern California gathered at Ardmore Park the week after order was restored during 1992, in the city of Los Angeles a march which took its course through the area known as Koreatown was moving, unified, strong and defined. The message was clear: Korean Americans in Los Angeles (along with many others), from all walks of life, will come together to ensure the suffering inflicted uponthousands of innocent families will be eased. We have failed.

As one among many who could see the reasons why Korean families were hit especially hard in 1992, I was both saddened and enraged at the circumstances facing Los Angeles and newcomer Korean families, in particular. The reasons for the destruction among Korean-owned businesses were immediately apparent, and research since that time has confirmed the crisis was the result of an explosive situation created by a downturn in the economy, high unemployment, a lack of public trust in the police department, the general neglect of the infrastructure of Los Angeles, a lack of representation in the media, a lack of appreciation for the changing demographics of the city, and political leadership that failed to see the value in playing a facilitating role in resolving the intense community conflicts in Los Angeles.

Korean Americans received the brunt of community resentment and destruction because of several additional factors: failure to be informed about events and circumstances beyond the Korean community (like the trial of Rodney G. King and the shooting of Latasha Harlins by Soon Ja Du), failure to pay attention to developing business customs being served, ignoring race relations and the tremendous impact it has on people who in diverse communities like Los Angeles, and forgetting that material wealth is little more than an illusion.

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In trying to find solutions to the immediate and long-term challenges which faced our community, many lessons have surfaced. First, Korean Americans now realize what it means to be politically insignificant. Despite unprecedented organizing, community education and mobilization in the political area, meager relief has been brought to those families affected by the 1992 destruction. Families forced to accept additional debt funding in order to rebuild their small businesses face a new set of problems—deeperfinancial distress, civil lawsuits, criminal investigations and in some circumstances suicide. The advocacy taken up on behalf of these families have not brought relief, Small business owners and their families are entirely justified in feeling deep disappointment and cynicism.

Second, Korean Americans realize organizing is extremely difficult. But we also recognize that all communities experience similar difficulties because of political factionalism, inter-generational factionalism, apathy and petty jealousies. We know the Korean American community is no different from others, we just know more of the details and the personalities within our community have been able to create a unified voice. Yet, there is a constant cry for a “unified” Korean American voice. Why? It seems fairly obvious this dream is one which will forever elude us—as it has for more than 20,000 years.

Third, many of us in the second generation believe there are a new set of progressive principles which must be adopted in our efforts to go forward as Korean Americans with a new vision. Those principles emphasize concepts of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, compassion rather than criticism, and a constant push toward social change for justice—not just for Korean Americans but for all people. These are lofty notions, requiring extremely intense individual commitment. As we work, spend time with friends and families, worship, involve ourselves in civic and community-based organizations, the challenge of living by these values is constant. No, it is unrelenting. This is so because there is always more than can be done, there is always more that should be done. And there are never enough people, no is there ever enough time to complete the tasks before us. Korean Americans in Los Angeles have been trying for five years to be heard so some of the problems which surfaced in the aftermath of losses suffered in 1992 might be resolved. We are still struggling as a community to articulate the values that will guide us.

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Finally, where are we headed? It seems everyone is trying to assess what has been accomplished in five years. Really, very little can be concluded after only five years. Books have been published, research is being done, surveys are being taken, statistics are being gathered. All of this is valuable but, we must realize the data will never keep pace with the reality of the unfolding Korean American story. The data will never capture the daily struggles encountered by families who were affected by the riots. For example, how can we ever document the unique problems which arise when language barriers, cultural barriers, community disunity and anti-immigrant hatred provide the backdrop for trying to rebuild a small family-owned business? Who will want to help the newcomers who arrived after April 1992 and unknowingly invested in businesses previously owned by other Koreans looking for a way out? Where will we find counselors and resources to deal with those families who have problems with their children because of the trauma which resulted from watching their stores burn or their families deal with personal ruin? How can we even begin to memorialize what will happen as Korean elders feel the impact of welfare reform in a time when their children are struggling to “rebuild”?

The impact of the riots on Korean Americans is emerging every day. It will take at least a generation to penetrate the institutions that serve as the foundations of our society and to weave the experiences of Korean Americans into the consciousness of this country.

The most meaningful thing Korean Americans can do during the fifth anniversary of the riots is to acknowledge that little relief was brought; and, to commit ourselves to staying informed and involved in our community. While this may sound unimpressive (certainly not as glorious as holding a rally or hosting a huge ceremonial event), it is without a doubt the most difficult path to walk because there are so many reasons not to remember the pain, humiliation and price paid by more than 2,500 Korean American families in 1992.

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Ryu’s 7-Inning Shutout Not Enough To Spoil Padres Season Opener

Hyun-Jin Ryu blanked the San Diego Padres for seven innings, but the bullpen and defensive errors turned a one-run lead in the eighth inning to a 3-1 loss for the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday night at Petco Park.

Ryu showed no signs of the toenail injury he suffered in his first start of the season against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Australia last week. The 26-year-old struck out seven batters and gave up no runs on only three hits and three walks through seven frames.

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The Dodgers held a 1-0 lead when manager Don Mattingly replaced Ryu with Brian Wilson, who gave up three runs. Rene Rivera sparked the comeback for the Padres with a solo homer to start the inning, followed by an error on a bunt and a hit by Chris Denorfia for two more runs.

“These kind of games happen,” Ryu said of the team’s loss despite his effort. “It’s part of the game. I know it’ll inspire us to try harder.”

Despite the loss, Mattingly praised Ryu who hasn’t given up a run in his first two starts of the season in 12 innings. The skipper was especially impressed how the southpaw mixed up the curveball and slider with his usual fastball and slider. He retired 13 straight batters from third to seventh inning.

“Hyun-Jin [Ryu] was, maybe, just about as good as we’ve seen him,” Mattingly said. “He used all his pitches. Maybe that wasn’t his first time, but he used his curveball, used his slider and obviously, his changeup and fastball were always at where he wanted it. He was really, really good.”

Ryu had to work himself out of a jam in the beginning, as the Padres put runners in scoring positions in each of the first two innings. He then started utilizing his slider and curveball at a significantly higher rate from the third inning and didn’t give up a single hit for the rest of the game.

Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said Ryu used spring training with pitching coach Rick Honeycutt to make minor tweaks to his curveball. Ellis remained tight lipped about specific changes Ryu made to his curveball, but revealed that he’s gripping the ball deeper and has changed his release point to add more deception.

“He’s worked really hard with his curveball,” Ellis said. “When he started throwing tonight in the game, immediately I could tell that the pitch was different from what he was throwing in the past. He’s a pitch maker.”

Ryu is expected to start for the Dodgers in their home opener against the San Francisco Giants on Friday.

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