Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, Little Sister!

My sister's birthday is the 23rd, meaning that the birthdays of all my nuclear family members? September.

It makes September an extra-hard month to be away from LA, be away from the people whose birthdays I would like to celebrate with a hug and cake and gifts and more cake.

The world has gotten much smaller, of course. My mother sends text messages and knows how to FaceTime. Sending and receiving photos over Apple's Messages almost gives me the feeling that I'm right there. FaceTime gives me even more of that feeling.

My sister and I, being of the younger generation and all, use KakaoTalk, which means texting, sending photos and videos, and sharing wackadoodle things is even faster for us. Instant, even, the only barrier being the time difference between LA and Korea (it's a big time difference).

For instance, I texted my sister via KakaoTalk that I went on a bicycle ride for the first time in fifteen years or so. Even back then, I wasn't a good bicyclist- we never owned a bicycle in our youth, so we just randomly biked when friends came over and such.

Lake Park, right next to my work and home in Korea, has a very well-planned bike route that's just about five kilometers. After a very shaky first loop during which I was scared to fall more than enjoying the ride, I've come to appreciate bikes and Lake Park.

So ... that was a long detour, but anyway, my point was that when I texted with my sister about bicycling, we agreed that when she came to visit me in Korea, we would go on a bike ride.

Sister, here's a panorama that I took at Lake Park, the lake that you will see when you come to visit:

I hope your birthday was joyful and wonderful and all those other superlatives, and come visit me soon, before it gets too cold! Lake Park's weather waits for no one.

Big hugs and cake!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy Birthday, 아빠!

My father's birthday is September 18. My mother, sweet lady that she is, bought him a new grill (!) for his birthday gift. The weather in L.A. has been, apparently, hot enough to still be called summery, so the parents have been grilling like mad.

See the chocolate-dipped fruit in the glass? I sent my dad a bouquet of chocolaty and fruity goodness, since sending him flowers is a little weird. I really miss my parents' very frequent barbecuing; it's simple and hearty but delicious and comforting in a way that I've only ever experienced at my parents' house.

Since I'm not in L.A. celebrating with my family (though my sister just got back to L.A. from a business trip in Madrid and is jet-lagged like mad), I celebrated with friends.
Alright, Dad's not such a sake fan (he is a Korean man that was born and raised in the motherland, after all) but he does like croquettes.

Actually, he either likes croquettes or I think he would like croquettes, it's one or the other. My reasoning is, he loves mashed potatoes. He loves fried things (I'm pretty sure fried chicken is one of his all-time top five foods). Croquettes are just mashed potatoes that are deep fried. Croquettes in Korea are also slathered with mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce, with sliced fish flakes on top (katsuobushi).
Intestines! I really wish I had taken my dad to have gopchang (곱창) when he was in Korea. I think he would have liked the food, enjoyed grilling it himself, and eaten more onions than is wise (he loves onions).

These are just two foods that make me think of my father, though I've never had either dish with him. They are things that I look forward to having with him.

아빠 한국 놀러올때 꼭!꼭! 먹자!

Happy 60th, Dad!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gizzard Shad

엄마를 위해서. ㅎㅎ 엄마가 전어를 좋아하지?? 아닌가... 에니웨이, 나 전어 먹었어. 아빠, 엄마가먹고싶으면 잘 하는 전어집 찾았어. 난 앞에서 곱창 먹을께. ㅋㅋ

Dude. Gizzard shad is the most unappetizing name! I had started this post and realized that I didn't know the English name of the fish that I had consumed. (In Korean, his name is jeon-uh, 전어). So I hit up Google translate and when "gizzard shad" popped up, I giggled. Can't be right.

Google, you are so smart. Gizzard shad, it is! Wikipedia tells me so- American gizzard shad, anyone? Though I'm pretty sure I didn't eat the American variety here in Korea. Perhaps an Asian gizzard shad.

Anyways. Sorry, tangent.

As I've mentioned several times before, I don't eat raw fish. No offense, fish, but I'm just not a fan of that gelatinous-y mushy squishy texture, and I honestly don't feel like raw fish tastes like anything but the sauce in which it was dipped.

One day last week, I worked late while some other friends met up ahead of time for dinner. I had already agreed to meet up with them once I was done with work, and those sneaky little fiends went for raw fish. Of course.

To the credit of this particular raw fish, it's not as bad as "normal" raw fish. First of all, it's a small fish served skinned but with all its bones. The fish is so small and the bones are so delicate that you just crunch the bones.

That bottle of soju is a good size reference. The fish was sliced diagonally along its whole girth. See how little it is? Wee fishies.

In Korea, I find that I'm force fed a lot of raw fish. Using the excuses that "it's healthy" and "I've prepared it just for you," friends will hold a bite right in front of my mouth until I eat it. (This is also how I was tricked into eating fermented skate, but that's a story for another post.)

Shad is not as bad as other raw fish because of the bones (crunch, crunch) and because it's generally eaten wrapped in lettuce with ssamjang (a spicy, salty, pasty sauce that I LOVE- seriously, at times in the summer, when I ate at home, my dinner would just be cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and carrots with ssamjang). (Oh, the breakdown: 쌈 (ssam) means wrap, 장 (jang, pronounced more like jahng) means sauce).

Nevertheless, raw fish is raw fish and I'm still not a huge fan. Better shad than salmon (shudder), but better cooked fish than any type of raw fish.
And lo and behold! After the raw fish course came a little group of grilled shad. (Is the plural of shad shads? That seems weird. I'm sticking with shad for singular and plural.)

The grilled shad really was very good. I don't know if I was just desperate for food because all I'd had to eat was a few bites of raw fish, but these were still yummy. Eaten head to tail, bones and all, they were really easy to eat, as well.

There is no elegant segue, so here it is: work sucks lately. Not because of the work, per se, but because of the people (ahem) and the politics and the drama. The work itself is, yes, stressful, as any movie is, but it's fine. It's nothing I haven't dealt with before.

The level of drama at this company, in this industry, in this country? Unbelievable. It's sort of like high school, but in high school, things are harmless because nobody has any money or any real control of their lives. There are parents and teachers supervising the whole thing. Right now, I feel like these people (Korean men, mostly) are toddlers in a sandbox, playing with dynamite and nuclear reactors. Okay, not that dramatic, but they do hold and obnoxiously wield the power to change a lot of peoples' lives.

I don't know what I want. I know that if I go back to the U.S., I will find a job. A job that I can do without too much pain. A job that I know inside and out. A job I can do well. A job that won't provide me with much in the way of challenges or new experiences, but will give me comfort and bring me closer (physically) to the people I know and love.

If I stay in Korea, I most definitely will be challenged. But I'll also have the ability to make my own role, to make a mark on the industry in this country. I'll travel, but I'll be responsible for a lot. I'll be pushed to do new things, things I may not like, but I'll have the authority to set up a system that I feel is right. I have friends here now, too, friends I will miss.

So what to do?

I don't know yet. Talking to people hasn't helped. People in the States tell me to "come home," whereas people in Korea tell me to stay. And people in Canada have told me to move to Canada, so nobody's helping!

My mother did tell me to do what makes me happy. I just don't know what makes me happy right now.

Once this movie is over, I'm going to take some time. Go home, see the house my parents have moved to that I've never visited. Hug the cat until she whines. Sleep. Walk around and speak solely in English. Wear flip-flops everywhere. Run around in public without make-up on. Be American.

Then we'll see.


Monday, September 10, 2012

It's September 11 here in Korea.

This day will always be in my mind, in my heart.

Coincidentally, I was on Facebook for the first time in weeks today (during a boring meeting) and ran across something that one of my friends liked.

Since it's about a New York cab driver and a New York resident, I felt it was fitting for me to have seen it on September 11. Here it is.

A sweet lesson on patience.

A NYC Taxi driver wrote:
I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.
After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.
By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.
There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboardbox filled with photos and glassware.
'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.
She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.
She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her.. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.'
'Oh, you're such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drivethrough downtown?'
'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly..
'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice.
I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued in a soft voice..'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.
'What route would you like me to take?' I asked.
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.
We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.
Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired.Let's go now'.We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.
Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move.They must have been expecting her.
I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.
'How much do I owe you?' She asked, reaching into her purse.
'Nothing,' I said
'You have to make a living,' she answered.
'There are other passengers,' I responded.
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.She held onto me tightly.
'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said. 'Thank you.'
I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.. Behind me, a door shut.It was the sound of the closing of a life..
I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day,I could hardly talk.What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?
On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.
We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.
But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Happy Birthday, 엄마!

In the U.S., it is my mother's birthday today (September 5).

She likes to say that she is 60, but she's not. She's been saying she's 60 for years and years, and she's still not 60!

Because I'm so far away, I can't give my mommy a hug. But I can send her flowers, which I did. She sent me photos of them today, one of which is this one:

엄마, 생일 잘 지내고있지? 너무 보고싶고, 영화끝나고 빨리 미국 놀러갈께!

너무너무 사랑하고 고마워~~