Explorations in Identity: Elton and His 인맥

There is this group of guys is my extended friend circle labeled ‘The Bros.’ They have a bro chat; they go on bro outings; they are bros in every sense of the word. Each bro brings a different flavor to the group, but Elton is by far the most curious of them all.

 
 Posing seductively in a traditional Korean outfit, Elton turns a cultural excursion into a unique photo opportunity.

Posing seductively in a traditional Korean outfit, Elton turns a cultural excursion into a unique photo opportunity.

 

From the beginning of my university experience, I only knew Elton as the guy that made jokes, danced for fun, took strange pictures and had a lot of friends (who were mostly the bros). In my first few years of uni the bros seemed like an unfriendable group, and Elton seemed like a member I would never understand. He was always doing weird, but humorous things that would make people laugh. One time he stood on his head in the middle of a park in Korea, only to fall seconds later. He posts videos of himself riding worn down children’s toys while laughing to himself. He’s that guy that dances when there’s no music and it’s not a time to be dancing. He was the epitome of AB blood type: crazy or genius, I couldn’t tell.

We had never had a conversation beyond small talk until we crossed paths by the library at our university. For a reason unbeknownst to me, he actually started a conversation with me; a bro talking to me for an extended period of time was beyond my belief. As we were talking he began to recall his life in Guam before he moved to Hawaiʻi. In my own stupidity I cut the conversation short, thinking he didn’t actually want to talk to me and was just being nice.

Things didn’t change after that. We didn’t talk and life went on until I began to search for my new muse for this ‘Explorations in Identity’ installation. Elton crossed my mind. The man, the mystery, and due to his experiences with the nightlife, perhaps soon to become a legend on the streets of Seoul. I searched for his contact on Kakaotalk and awkwardly began a conversation.

 
 The popular messaging application, KakaoTalk, is widely used throughout Korea.

The popular messaging application, KakaoTalk, is widely used throughout Korea.

 

And so began days of back and forth messaging as I dug into his life. From all the messaging, I found a shining story of a outcasted child turned master of connections.

“I was very 소심해 (timid/shy). Born in Guam but moved to Hawaiʻi for high school. We had a spot at school where the loners sat during lunch. I was the loner of the loners,” Elton revealed in one of our first messaging sessions. He was shy and had a fear of meeting new people.

That changed when he started dancing, though. Teachers started asking him to perform for school functions and other kids came to him to learn how to dance. He gained more and more friends, pulling some from his Korean church and others from school. “Most of them I taught...or inspired to start [dancing].”

 
 Elton performs a few b-boy moves while representing Hawaiʻi at Korea Unviersity's bi-annual International Student Festival.

Elton performs a few b-boy moves while representing Hawaiʻi at Korea Unviersity's bi-annual International Student Festival.

 

By university he became an established bro member and he joined Hanwoori, the same Korean culture club where I met him. His involvement in the Korean Flagship program and ROTC widened his friend group as well. Each group would describe him differently: crazy, lazy, hardworking, awkward. “I love changes. I like to change,” he said in our phone interview.

In Hawaiʻi he had an average amount of social connections, but Korea is the platform where he takes his social skills to the next level.

“I study hard on the weekdays and party hard on the weekends, but I like to keep that on the low,” was the first thing he said when I asked him how his life in Korea is. On weekdays Elton studies alongside his cohort of Korean Flagship students, polishing his skills for his future in the Air Force. The weekends, as Elton alluded to however, is where his talent in social networking shines like the lights of the clubs he frequents. Using his Korean language skills, his growing desire to DJ and that awkward but intriguing personality, Elton has gained social ground in the clubs of Hongdae and Gangnam. Elton calls it 인맥 (inmaek), or personal connections.

 
 DJing has become a platform for Elton to connect with like-minded individuals.

DJing has become a platform for Elton to connect with like-minded individuals.

 

He meets one DJ and befriends them. In turn that friend introduces him to someone else, and then someone else, and then someone else and now he has a number of people he can meet on the weekends. He’s developed his social network so well that often he get tables and bottles for free. Now that’s some social networking results! In the country of his family, Elton has been able to make 인맥 work for both himself and for others.

 
 In 2016, Elton (second from the left) joined SNAP, a campus organization at Korea University focused on DJing and mixing.

In 2016, Elton (second from the left) joined SNAP, a campus organization at Korea University focused on DJing and mixing.

 

As Elton says himself, he works hard in school to make a better future for himself, but also plays on the weekend. Why you may ask? “I like experiencing all the world has to offer me, you know,” he said with a laugh.

Despite Elton being the “loner of the loners” in childhood and still being an indescribable person in adulthood, with his antics and incitement of strange experiences, Elton proves that even the weird ones can use 인맥 to make their lives full of vibrant people and experiences, no matter where they are.  

 
 Elton (left) wears a teletubbies costume on his way to Itaewon on Halloween.

Elton (left) wears a teletubbies costume on his way to Itaewon on Halloween.

 
 
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Content Creator

Raquel "Rocky" Reinagel is a MA candidate and graduate assistant in the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; former president of Hanwoori Hawaiʻi; and a part-time English-language learner (ELL) teacher at Aliʻiolani Elementary School.

 

Editor

Katarina Brown is an editorial intern with The Austin Chronicle; University of Texas at Austin alumnus; and HKC chief copyeditor.