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  • Lauren Burke

Feasting Together: An interview with 'The Janchi Show'

I met up with Nathan, K.J., and Patrick, hosts of "The Janchi Show" podcast, over Zoom. Surprisingly, this is their first group interview. Today, I took on their role as interviewers and flipped the script. "The Janchi Show" guys are so genuine and humorous. After playing our interview back, I wanted you, the reader, to hear directly from them as much as possible. I hope you enjoy this “interview style” article for a change.

Lauren Burke (L.B., Interviewer): For the people of the world that don’t know who you are, please introduce yourselves to us. A lot of people know "The Janchi Show," but maybe they don’t know you.

Nathan Nowack (N.N.): My name is Nathan Nowack and my Korean name is Lee Sang-Gil (이 상길). I was born in South Korea in 1976 and adopted at the age of 5 months old to two Caucasian parents of German Irish and German Czech descent, and raised in Oklahoma. I am in reunion with my biological family and keep in contact with them online, and I’ve met them three times now.

K.J. Roelke (K.J.) I feel like Nathan gets weirdly specific. “I was raised in Oklahoma, specifically the northwestern corner of Bartlesville, from approximately December 2nd, 1920…”

K.J.: My name is K.J. Roelke, I use he/him pronouns, I am a South Korean adoptee. I was born in Daegu and then adopted by white people to Dallas, Texas where I currently reside.

N.N.: I live in Denver, I forgot about that.

K.J.: Sir, this is my time, c’mon. [Laughs] I think that’s it though.

N.N.: Mine is so specific and yours is so general.

Patrick Armstrong (P.A.): She’s going to need an app to transcribe this…

K.J.: An app isn’t going to like this, we talk too much!

P.A.: My name is Patrick Armstrong, I also use he/him pronouns. I was born in Seoul in 1990 and adopted to [sic] white people as well in a small town in Indiana. I currently reside in Indianapolis and my birth name was Kim Yung Jin (김영진) since we are mentioning that.

L.B. (Interviewer): Tell us more about "The Janchi Show"…how did it get started?

P.A.: Two years ago, we didn’t know each other, [but] we all ended up being guests on the podcast "Dear Asian Americans." Nathan was friends with Jerry [Won, host of the show], and K.J. and I just happened upon the podcast in two separate manners. Right before I was getting ready to go on for the interview, Jerry said: “You’re about to listen to an episode that has Nathan, he’s a Korean adoptee, and another person in an episode coming out, K.J.—he’s also a Korean adoptee. It would be a pretty cool idea if you all got together and did a podcast about this.” I was like…maybe? I didn’t really feel…I mean…I wasn’t necessarily feeling it.

K.J.: He was like, “what if they’re weird…”

P.A.: They were two strangers…I mean, I didn’t know these people. But after all of our respective episodes came out, Jerry set up a meeting. I was on a lunch break at work, wearing a tie looking very sharp, and these two bozos coming in looking very plain dressed.

K.J.: Basically, how I look right now, for the readers (K.J. is lounging on his living room couch, wearing a light gray hoodie, for reference)

P.A.: I remember the awkward feeling. I was unsure coming out of that meeting…

N.N.: [It was] kind of like speed dating.

K.J.: Speed dating but, with all the awkwardness of a middle school dance.

P.A.: We landed on janchi (잔치) because we liked the idea of celebrating. Janchi in Korean means to feast, usually together or with others. We wanted to make a podcast that wasn’t like all the other [adoptee] podcasts out there. We didn’t necessarily want to be the “deep divers,” we wanted to really have a good time conversing, and bring light to it. It was about sharing our story, and eventually became about sharing other people's stories.

N.N.: …and having a snack or drink at the end. It’s my favorite part.

L.B. (Interviewer): I honestly just remember watching the Soju episode with Jerry Won, because K.J. sent me the link, and I thought…"that’s it. I love this podcast. I’m listening to it all the time.” (And I am not an avid podcast subscriber, readers)

L.B. (Interviewer): What is your favorite part about the celebratory element of sharing in other people’s stories, and to have this podcast for adoptees—and honestly, for those who are not adopted but, have adoptees in their lives?

P.A.: We have nuanced guests who come from all different perspectives and walks of the Korean adoptee journey. Even if it doesn’t really feel like a celebration, it is, because we’re uplifting a person’s voice. For a fair number of our guests, they’ve never shared before, and it’s a lot of emotional labor. We just happen to be three people who are going through the same thing and we can feel those feelings with them. That’s the celebration. The community that we build.

N.N.: The bonding that we get from the guests, some of them have become friends now, the stories that they tell, being shared to our listeners. It makes people less lonely and more connected, and it can be cathartic to tell them [adoptee stories].

K.J.: The thing that I celebrate the most on our show is the freedom to explore intersectionality, and identities—what makes us who we are. The privilege for the three of us is helping others into greater acceptance of who they are. To listen, and to hear the diversity in stories has been really fun, and a thing that we do well—staying true to the heart of it.

L.B. (Interviewer): To your point, K.J., I think you are doing it well. You’re 68 episodes in, you just received a huge media arts award, and you just celebrated your first year with a live show in California (which I was sad to miss). Talk about those milestones.

N.N.: I don’t think any of us ever expected or dreamed that we would be getting awards or having a live gathering. We did it for the purpose of telling other stories and hearing stories. It wasn’t about winning awards, having a large function, or making money—any of that stuff. So it’s truly an honor to be recognized for doing what we love and have fun doing.

P.A.: We go week to week, we press play, and that’s it. We don’t go in seasons.

K.J.: …Nonstop.

N.N.: Pretty soon we’ll be wearing body cameras.

P.A.: Yeah, 24-hour Janchi Unlimited subscriptions [laughs].

L.B.: “Janchi on the Street.”

P.A.: So hitting that year was wild but, getting to be able to go out to L.A., especially in a pandemic, to meet people in person was so incredible. To hold a show where other adoptees, not just Korean adoptees, but listeners who have been impacted by the show, to sit in that space with them was amazing. Taking the show from the digital space to the real world is a testament to the power of creating relationships online.

K.J.: [Regarding their recent award] There’s an episode out recapping the 59th Heritage Gala of the Korean American Federation of L.A. The theme this year was “we are with you.” "The Janchi Show" started after quarantine sent us into our homes, after we saw George Floyd murdered, and this huge conversation about race reared its head. Then, there was a massive spike in anti-Asian hate. So many adoptees were like "oh, shoot. We’re Asian.” There’s no marker to say “we’re adopted”—that doesn’t give us a pass, so we have to wrestle with what it is to be Asian. To be recognized at this gala, to be a Korean adoptee show about community, and what it means to fit in and find ourselves was such wonderful symmetry. Although there is a divide between Korean Americans and Korean adoptees, we’re working together to bridge that gap. 

L.B. (Interviewer): It’s been 65 episodes since people were introduced to you in episodes 1, 2, and 3 respectively…so tell the community what you have been up to!

L.B. (Interviewer): Patrick, you just started an Asian Adoptees of Indiana group. Can you talk about that?

P.A.: Back in May 2021, there was a vigil in Indianapolis for the Asian American community, and I was one of three adoptees who spoke. I knew there were other adoptees in this area but I wasn’t necessarily seeking them out. About 10 of us started to meet, we launched and we’ve had people signing up and coming in. It’s been amazing. We meet Sundays at 6 p.m. EST and we just sit and chat for an hour, not just about what it’s like to be an adoptee, but also life in Indiana. Outside of the show, that meeting is one of the things I look forward to most. I wanted to find ways to do what we’re doing [with "The Janchi Show"] in my local community.

L.B. (Interviewer): Nathan, I really appreciated everything you shared during National Adoption Awareness Month, or as I like to call it, National Adoptee Awareness Month. I was particularly appreciative of the post about your reunion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time you’ve participated at that level; can you tell me more about your decision to do so?

N.N.: Doing the podcast has shown me the level of participation Patrick does, and K.J. with his music. It kind of inspired me to be more involved as well. On top of that, meeting other adoptees in the community, and seeing all the amazing things that they have done, I felt like doing something on my own. It was hard…it was definitely harder than I expected. In the end, I did 25 out of 30 days, and I really enjoyed reading what everybody was posting, and writing my own thoughts down into posts.

[Regarding the reunion post] I wanted to discuss reunion from my point of view, and what I had been going through with it. If it helps anybody, or can relate to it, then it was worth putting it out there. I am a little worried if my biological family reads it someday and is offended by it, hopefully, they won’t be. But, I do keep some of the [personal] details to myself.

P.A.: [Jokes] He tells us the personal details.

K.J.: [Jokes]…and then I put it in my songs.

P.A.: [Jokes] I also secretly tweet about Nathan’s story.

L.B. (Interviewer): Speaking of music…K.J., you just released a new song. I listened to it the other day, and what I love about your music is that it has really personal, and deep meaning. “To the Dawn” came from a personal place, and in this song, “Don’t Let Me Go,” you talk about the 3,800 [AAPI hate incidents reported] and what mental health looks like for adoptees. Can you talk about your songwriting and how music has helped you?

K.J.: Coming out of November and doing "The Janchi Show" for as long as we have, it was unbeknownst to me how finding the adoptee community, creating the show, getting connected with broader Asian Americana, has all helped me develop my own voice and understand my approach to songwriting. The first three songs I released, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “To the Dawn,” and “Don’t Let Me Go” all came out of this need to give to the adoptee and Asian American community. One of the things we talk about on the show a lot is the need for language, and at the time, my own life was falling apart and there was too much in my brain. I needed to unpack, deconstruct, and work through all of my intersectional identities, so I started counseling and my therapist asked if I did music for therapy. In that process, I found I was giving myself space to feel my feelings, and space to explore the language so someone else could potentially relate.

With “To the Dawn,” I knew I had a song when I wrote the line “I feel like I’m falling, I feel like I’m falling apart.” I was in the midst of depression and wanted to explain what that was, and the undercurrent of that song is that you are making your way, you haven’t given up hope yet. Even though everything seems cloudy and grey, eventually dawn breaks and everything changes, you see in full color again and you feel the warmth of the sun. We’re always making our way to dawn; even though we can’t see it, it happens every 24 hours.

“Don’t Let Me Go” happened shortly thereafter and I was too afraid to promote it. I did…seven months later. I might have written it right after Atlanta [the tragic mass casualty shooting], and I wrote that song for myself. I didn’t know who I was singing to but I thought, I’m dealing with this, and I hope you will still be in a relationship with me, even though I don’t know the dawn is coming. Very much a dark night of the soul piece.

Broadly, I’m working on an album now for the [Korean] adoptee community. [I’ve been] collaborating with other adoptees and thinking about how we can give language and give music to our community. The song I’m working on that I’m most excited about is actually one that was inspired by something another adoptee wrote during National Adoptee Awareness Month, and collaborating with you [Lauren]. It’s not something that I really feel but, I know that it’s something so many in our community feel. What does it look like and feel like to go through a birth search, and know that’s a longing and loss of family and culture that sits in your heart? The show has been a wonderful way to find my own voice and to give back.


You can find the three of them as hosts of "The Janchi Show" on all major podcast platforms (Apple, Spotify, and YouTube). You can also listen to all of their episodes and find out more about the show at their website

K.J. Roelke: @kjroelke on Spotify (music), Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Nathan Nowack: @nnowack and @nowackphoto on Instagram for his professional photography. Nathan will also be attending the KAAN 2022 conference in Denver.

Patrick Armstrong: Instagram @patrickintheworld, or his website.


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