Traveling to learn about the world
Not long after James Lee celebrated his 27th birthday, the Royal Pirates bassist was involved in a freak accident in Seoul, South Korea, that nearly severed his hand and left it permanently damaged. No longer able to feel the strings of his bass, he quit his band and returned home to California, where he was born and raised.
Lee, 30, is celebrating his burgeoning solo career, which includes performances at KCON LA, a premiere party for his EP “The Light” and an acoustic duet of “Let’s Get Away” with his good friend Sooyoung (of Girls’ Generation). Though based in Los Angeles, Lee is on the road as much as he’s at home and called from Hong Kong for this interview.
An edited version of our conversation follows.
Q: You relocated to Korea for a few years with Royal Pirates. What did you learn from that experience?
A: I got a first-hand look at what it’s like for people who don’t speak the native language and how isolated you can feel. That gave me so much empathy for immigrants. And it gave me such respect for my parents, who left everything they knew behind to move to the U.S. It’s rough when you can’t communicate. In Korea, I had a lot of friends, but nothing beats hugging mom. I’m so glad to be back home. I’m kind of a momma’s boy. (Laughs)
Q: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your travels?
A: I heard from a professor that if you really want to gain wisdom, you need to read and to travel. I would say that’s true. I feel I’ve learned more from traveling than I ever did in university or in high school. My hometown is identical to how it was when I was growing up. That’s part of the reason I originally left for Korea. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get too comfortable.
Q: What is on your Travel Bucket List?
A: I would like to go to Brazil, because I was a huge jiu-jitsu fan. I love Brazilian barbecue. The people seem to be so happy.
Q: Where have you enjoyed some of your best meals?
A: I love a good burrito. But Japanese ramen is so delicious. I would go back to Japan for some really good sushi and ramen. Also, Germany. I went to Munich when I was 16 and the Wiener schnitzel was so good. It was also one of the first times I had beer with friends, because it was legal (to drink beer at my age) there.
Q: What are some of your favorite places?
A: I love Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The food is insanely good. I love the convenience stores, because you can get everything you need. Tokyo has the best ones! Bangkok is amazing. I also really liked being in Italy. Beijing and Hong Kong are great, too.
Q: What is your worst travel memory?
A: Being forced into a mental hospital in Korea, due to the lawsuit about my hand. I had to prove almost losing my hand was causing me to be depressed. After that, I’m at the point where every moment alive is a blessing. There are so many things left to see and none of us are guaranteed that we will be around forever. It’s good to be in the moment.
For more from the reporter, visit www.jaehakim.com.
“I feel I’ve learned more from traveling than I ever did in university or in high school.”