Honeycombs*, Hermits and Hotels (*minor spoilers for Squid Game)

I am not alone in my obsession with class warfare, i.e, gobbling up anything involving the French Revolution and enjoying shows that vilify the wealthy such as Succession and Squid Game. One can’t escape the theme of class conflict in popular culture. During a recent car ride, a friend introduced me to the only podcast that has drawn me in to date, You’re Wrong About. My favorite episode (so far), ably lead by the two millennial hosts, dispelled many myths about Marie Antoinette and had me chortling loudly, thanks to the witty banter of the hosts and their funny, far-reaching references. I’d known that Marie Antoinette never said “Let them Eat Cake, ” but hadn’t realized that the Queen had written warm journal entries about the poor and had a sympathetic habit of taking in poor children and paying for their education. Perhaps most interesting to me was learning that she affected the trappings of the peasantry- dressing as a provincial milk maid and roughing it in an elaborate hameau (hamlet)she built at Versailles. I am reminded of how my friend and college roommate wrote her senior thesis on how French society, French artists like Millet and Courbet romanticized the life of French peasants. (Pardon me J, if I’ve butchered your thesis).

We all know that folks have been stealing the look of less privileged groups in order to appear more “edgy” for some time (e.g., Carrie Bradshaw’s gold name necklace taken from Black urban fashion, is one example my friend Michelle recently mentioned), but I was surprised this cringe-y behavior went as far back as the 18th century. If Marie Antoinette was around today, she would surely sport a necklace of her name in big gold letters.

I learned from the same podcast mentioned above that some French royals even kept a “hermit” on their estate who would get free housing in order to play the role of a wise recluse. (Kudos to the clever podcast hosts who made reference to Kato Calin!). A quick internet search about royally-sponsored hermits in pre-revolutionary France, lead me to an article about the worst jobs in history; with an admitted measure of ignorance on this topic, as an introvert and an employment attorney who hears about a host of difficult jobs, the estate hermit gig doesn’t sound so bad! (I realize, I am being an ass to make light of this; I assume, in reality, this job was probably one of servitude and degradation).

It’s probably not original to write that the hermits of yesteryear and modern day building superintendents are similar because both of them are provided a place to live rent free but are paid little to no wages on top. When I was a young adult, I joked with my husband, that I should be a building super because of the free apartment most supers get, which would make NYC almost affordable. (I thought this remembering I had a childhood friend whose father was the building super of a Fifth avenue doorman building and they had a large, luxurious apartment with a wrap around terrace). The idea of me as a building super is preposterous because I comically struggle to open the locks on my own pre-war apartment door to let guests in and out so the idea of installing large air conditioners in tenants’ windows is alarming. (For the pedestrians below, they would get a lot more than pennies from Heaven!) My romanticization of the building super job ended when I started practicing employment law and met many superintendents who were exempt from getting overtime pay under New York law and whom are typically on call 24/7. Of course, most do not get spacious abodes with wrap around terraces (more like code-violating basement apartments that are rife with mold/vermin or other niceties).

The belief that there’s something edgy or romantic about poverty is tiresome. It’s never been noble or beautiful. As a child, I went to a roster of private schools mostly on scholarship (Dalton for five years, Ethical Culture, Riverdale, Hewitt and Trinity for high school), which used to embarrass me and now gives me a strange, unique status among some parents I meet. Though I’m grateful to each of these schools for taking in this ruffian and educating me well, I sometimes wonder if being low income at some of the most privileged schools “crushed my soul.” What an oddity I was at these fine institutions with kids who shopped on Madison Avenue with their parents credit cards, skied at Vail and juggled multiple homes. Mom and I had trouble holding onto one home. I’ve memories of our geriatric landlords, a Polish married couple, who serenaded us with blistering, potty-mouthed messages on our answering machine when rent was overdue and memories of a Brazilian lady landlord named Pilar rapping at our door and yelling in Spanish for overdue rent when we rented an apartment in Tudor City. (This caused me a panic attack–I ran down the 12 flights of stairs, yelling all the way to the lobby). Then there was the time, mom fell behind on rent while we lived at the Hotel Olcott, a hotel in the West 70’s and we had to sneak past the front desk to get in and out to avoid questioning. (At the time, there was a young bellhop who liked me, which helped because he used to hide mom and I behind his trolley of suitcases from time to time.) It was that year, I had some agoraphobia-sometimes too scared to take a walk down Columbus Avenue with my mom. Other times, we stayed with mom’s friends/acquaintances; I fondly remember one such acquaintance who was severely depressed but let us stay in her spacious Fifth Avenue apartment for a modest rent; she rarely left the apartment and wallowed in one uniform: wrinkled blue silk pajamas with peacocks printed on them and if memory serves, complimentary blue kohl eternally smudged around her eyes. I remember that she pulled herself together one night to make my mother a delicious Russian chicken dish with cheese inside (Kiev?) for mom’s birthday and that she never made us feel like unwanted guests. I hope you’re well, lady, wherever you are.

I never thought of myself as homeless when I was a kid. For the homeless were the families with whom mom worked as a social worker at the Prince George Welfare hotel in downtown Manhattan. I spent hours waiting around for her to be done with her work inside the Ballroom–a breathtaking, high ceilinged room, crammed with homeless families who needed social work and other services. I met many people whom I easily distinguished from myself. Noone looked like me and few looked like mom, a white woman. The kids were generally not going to the best schools in the city and were not friends with the city’s most privileged. But I felt strangely comfortable at the hotel with its once grand lobby that smelled of urine and its solid marble floors now cracked and soiled. I felt kinship with some of the families, in particular a former military family who had wound up at the hotel. When I wrote a short story about this family in the the tenth grade, my mom and i were in and out of homelessness–though I never acknowledged it. How my beloved Trinity English teacher lavished me with praise–surprised that I had inhabited the life of a homeless boy so convincingly. (To this day, I like writing as a male narrator as it feels more anonymous and separate from my own life). I enjoyed the compliments and never told my teacher about my secret life.

I was grateful for the stability offered by most of these schools. Some of them dealt with scholarship kids in better ways than others. At Hewitt School for girls that I generally liked, the problem lay with Ms. Buck, the chubby, reviled (at least by me) Southern headmistress. I remember her jowly face, dowdy attire and her odd method of quieting a room of tween girls— clapping a pattern with her hands and demanding we copy her. One day, she pulled me out of class and explained my mother had not paid the tuition so I would have to leave the school until she paid. I vividly remember the shame of sitting on a very visible bench waiting to be plucked from a school I had grown fond of and how I had to tuck my chin in tight so no one could see my tears. Other schools handled our financial travails with more grace. During my junior year at Trinity, my mom lost her job and couldn’t pay tuition. Mom told Trinity we had to leave but they protested and noted it was time to apply to colleges. Then, in what can only be called Herculean effort, Trinity quickly found an anonymous board member to not only pay my tuition but pay our rent at the James Tower, a nice rental a block away from school. They told mom they took action because I was a talented writer and they had empathy for our plight. A human response I will never forget.

My recent observation of a heated altercation at the UWS Shakespeare and Company bookstore between a mask denier/protester and bookstore staff, affirmed my fear that our country is headed toward virulent class warfare. We are indeed not a far cry from pre-revolutionary France as shown by Trump’s followers climbing the walls of Congress to attack. I imagine we will soon give China a run for their money when it comes to class divide. Years ago I remember reading about a spate of hit and run incidents in China, often involving rich young Chinese youth running over rural Chinese people on the street; one story involved a couple who accidently hit a rural man with their car and though the man somehow survived, the couple was caught on camera, rolling over his body to finish the job. I read a memorable story of a wealthy teenager who killed a rural laborer with his sports car and fled the scene, only to be witnessed a few hours after, smoking and laughing on the hood of his car with a group of friends. At the time, I thought to myself, how savage and cruel they were and, perhaps ignorantly, how different from Americans. But we are clearly not so different. (See all the Black Americans that we’ve let be shot/choked by police officers for so long. See the way we bystand the violence and poverty in many minority neighborhoods. See how some of the most privileged New Yorkers at elite private schools leave in a hysteric rage when asked to address diversity in the classroom. Feast your eyes on the embarrassing spectacle of wealthy Manhattanites litigating to kick homeless people out of their neighborhoods. Even in the most “liberal” bastions like the UWS, privileged public school parents rise in anger when public school policy changes to allow broader access to good schools).

It is no wonder, the #1 show on Netflix is Squid Game, a Korean drama that I miraculously stomached and liked, despite some gory scenes and spurts of jarring violence. It is a show that captures the zeitgeist-the wealthy, masked barons betting on which of the 456 desperate, debt ridden game players will survive a series of children’s games where losers are killed in violent and unique ways and the winner gets more than 40 million dollars. In the manner of any good Korean drama, the writers give us a lot of back story for the main character, Number 456; he’s a disheveled, divorced father who lives with his mother, gambles away all the money meant for his young daughter ‘s birthday present and gives her the least appropriate gift possible- a large cigarette lighter shaped like a realistic hand gun. The show’s premise that there are rich people so villainous they view the poor as entirely disposable pawns and that there are swaths of society whom would overlook the high possibility of certain death to pursue the minuscule chance of winning a huge jackpot, is strangely and tragically believable.

Hearing me wax poetic about the show, my clever friend Rachel suggested I make myself a Squid Game birthday party outdoors so that is what I am doing. This week, my free moments will be spent trying to make delicate Ppopgi (Dalgona/ honeycomb candy, which is basically sugar plus baking soda on the stovetop) without burning down my kitchen, getting large, long ropes for a group tug o war ( for I eagerly wish to test the different strategies of tug o war that 001, the old man and others teach us in the show), buying mass amounts of marbles, trying to figure how in the world I will emulate the glass bridge game, learn the rules of Squid Game (which may be too rough a game for young kids) and plan a Korean menu that can be easily carted to Central Park. ( I may deeply regret the challenge I’ve taken upon myself to do this for 20 plus guests during high school application season).

See the below recipe for Ppopgi (Dalgona/Honeycomb candy) as found online. The fun game involving this treat involves players having ten minutes to pop out the cookie-cutter imprinted shape inside the candy without breaking it, which is surprisingly difficult because the candy is brittle. You get a needle but other methods can be used such as licking the candy until the shape pops out. (I’m imagining we party goers in the park looking insane as we lick the large, flat candies for 10 minutes). https://www.aol.com/dalgona-candy-netflix-squid-game-134200709.htm

With all I’ve given you to fret about, please make some of this sweet candy and relax!!

Creativity–how to find it and keep it going (without being stuck in a bathroom) and other musings

Today, I woke my teen son by holding the below draft of a life-sized doll up to my own face and doing a jig before his full length mirror. It garnered a smile so perhaps my Natsumi doll will be the bad cop to my good, and I’ll bring her out to deliver any unwelcome news/herald my son with nagging reminders for the day. In our home, monster-like dolls are the natural consequence of living with an ADHD parent who is overflowing with odd impulses to make things. Life can indeed be joyous and full of madcap adventures when you have ADHD or, in my son’s case, have a parent with it. (I have elsewhere written about the considerable drawbacks of said parentage, i.e, believing your mother has typed Daniel Moynihan train station into the Uber app to catch a train but discovering too late that she’s, in fact, selected the Daniel Moynihan courthouse, located miles away. Curses to those responsible for naming two nyc landmarks after the same man!(Relatedly, curses to the imp who decided to name one New Jersey train station, Penn Station! Some ADHR-er has surely fallen prey to this trap)

The start of my strange, monster-like large doll of Riverdale classmate Natsumi Yamada, my only friend in the fifth grade. My long-term goal is to have a pop up exhibit about my efforts to be more Korean, featuring many large dolls in different settings, Korean food for the audience to eat and a full sensory experience. That is right now competing with my blog and of course writing a comic mystery novel set at my private high school in the 1990’s. How does one have time to do everything in one life?

These past two weeks, I’ve noticed a marked withering of my pre-frontal cortex (the brain’s center of imaginative thought), no doubt explained by my scheduled monthly detox from Vyvanse. During my Vyvanse break, which seems necessary because there’s a study showing that long term use can lead to cognitive defects, I am impotent, seemingly only capable of tapping at my keyboard, deleting my words and bitch-slapping myself for wasting precious evening time. How I pine for the sensations the drug gives me–the heat of a tightly wound brain and its steady beam of creative thought (instead of the usual strobe lights inside my head). As Nick Cave, an artist/musician I admire, has said, creativity is a battle, not something passive where ideas just fall on you as you sit comfy on a cushion; he’s spot on; after a night of writer’s block, I feel angry and depleted.

How I feel when I have writer’s block (drawn in ball point pen a while ago).

I didn’t grow up surrounded by creative people so they hold an undeniable mystique. My mother is a child therapist who likes to read non-fiction mostly and discuss politics 24/7. She can’t draw, play an instrument, dance, write stories or do crafty things, which admittedly disappoints me. (But she has other strengths, xoxo). Her greatest fear is that one day I will give up my law job and become a mealy, dependent writer or artist. If I tell her, even now, that I am spending my evening drawing paper dolls of Koreans or sewing dolls, she grunts “whatever happened to reading?” In the past, when I’ve expressed regret at not doing something with my writing other than draft demand letters to derelict employers she will tell me the same story about her best friend’s daughter who works at a major publishing house but has almost lost her job once or twice, even at her high level. Her anti-Arts stance can lead to ridiculous show downs on occasion, i.e, the time not that long ago that I bomb-texted her 50 drawings I had done to see if she’d make one comment. (She ignored them). I am such a child still.

When I first married my husband, I was intrigued by his extended family who lived in a place that seemed about as exotic as It gets–Winnipeg, Canada (“the coldest big city in North America” my husband likes to tell people). Uncle George, a cheerful, winking man with a thick Hungarian accent impressed me with his frenetic presence and diverse skills. His basement was his idea hub where you might find him expertly sewing fabric bags to sell, bending his own metal keychains and/or fashioning a unique large yurt in his backyard for bug-free outdoor dining. At the time I thought, what a zany, outside of the box character like Belle’s harried inventor father in Beauty in the Beast. Decades later, tinkering around my quiet apartment as my family dozes, I realize the only things distinguishing George and I are age, gender, ethnicity and a spacious carpeted basement. I like to imagine that somewhere in the dark recesses of Korea, there’s a black haired, almond-eyed version of George who shares my DNA. If we are truly kin, he’s wearing dweeby goggles, carrying a blow torch and looking a touch touched by creative impulse.

I’ve spent a large chunk of my life trying to find my “people”–first by going to Seoul before I had children to meet my foster family who took care of me when I was a baby and more recently spitting into a vial for Ancestry.com. Ancestry let me down. Where I had imagined connecting with a herd of creative, quirky Korean birth relatives, I found nothing but a list of possible fourth cousins who live in Korea and the big reveal–I’m 100% Korean. Excuse me Ancestry? This is the best my $70 can do? My hair is like EXTRA wavy for a straight-out Korean. (See the photo of me as a little girl below. No perm involved!). I’m obvi proud of being Korean but throw one Translyvania or something into the mix. I’m nothing but an homogeneous sack! And more disappointingly, fourth cousins?!! You, my reader, are probably a fourth cousin!

me with my grandma Libby

The other ways I’ve tried to find my people is through enrolling in countless writers workshops, creating play-reading club or, least fruitfully, every very few years creating a Facebook/Meet up group for creative writing/art making that often heeds no responses or incites a lone stranger to share a killer-clown short story with me that FREAKS ME OUT.

Last year, my son found me a Facebook group for ADHDers; I sometimes read their posts and wonder: are these truly my people? (it’s hard for me not to be reminded of the classic children’s book Are you My Mother? See a cartoon image of myself wandering from a group of ADHD people, Korean people, Jewish people et al and asking them “Are you my People?). The question of creativity and its tie with ADHD is often discussed in this ADHD Facebook group as well as the pros and cons of taking drugs like Vyvanse. For those of us loving the creative focus Vyvanse brings, we wonder are there natural, less invasive cures for writers/creativity block that will not leave us addled seniors one day? What leads to creativity in general?

My latest passing fancy–drawing Koreans so that I can put them on vinyl and make them Colorforms. It would be fun to make settings based on popular Korean movies and shows, like that memorable modern house in Parasite. Endless fun.
I made a little cut out of my head and can place it on drawings of glamorous Koreans. Fun!
New craft project anyone? Air fresheners. You can paint and/or embroider images and then add scent. Your car will never be the same! Can’t wait to do this.

Picasso supposedly once said “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” The surge in arts and crafts during COVID lock downs/quarantine certainly suggests this is true. Boredom does, indeed, bring creativity. I remember a month that my mother and I had to lived in the Sheraton hotel in the West 50’s of Manhattan when I was a young kid, thanks to the generosity of a wealthy distant cousin who paid our tab during a time of need. My mother, a child therapist, would on occasion see a patient in one room while I hid in the bathroom and played in the empty bathtub. In the days before iphones and ipads, I was left to my own devices–a few colored pencils, a roll of tape and a few sheets of paper. It is in that tub that I completed over a few weeks a fleet of standing 3-D horse figurines with my limited supplies, toilet paper (to stuff them) and found pennies for their hooves that allowed them to stand. (My mother still has these figurines in a closet and they are remarkably in tact). But when I’m in a creative rut, how can I emulate this very specific scenario that encouraged me to not only be creative but complete a long term project–two great feats for someone with ADHD.

It is a known fact that isolation and removing oneself from one’s daily obligations/surroundings is helpful for creativity. See all the writer’s retreats/colonies that seek to draw artists and writers into the quiet of nature. (MetroNorth certainly agrees with the boredom theory of creativity as they have or used to have a great sounding writer’s fellowship where they’d pay you to take long train rides and write). However, this kind of get away to the sticks is rarely possible for me as a parent of two and a part time attorney etc. The closest thing I can probably achieve is writing in a quiet room of my apartment after the kids are asleep but that’s a poor substitute for being barricaded in a hotel bathroom! (My “quiet” room contains a t.v, drawers of art supplies, two baskets of fabric and is for me, anything but boring). I once briefly considered buying a Freewrite machine, that is basically an overpriced mini typewriter that has no ability to connect to internet, thereby ensuring “boredom” but more than one person marveled that I would blow money this way). But I am grateful I have a closet of a room in which to hide.

I recently turned to Netflix’s The Creative Brain, a one-hour show about how to spark creativity, hoping to gain some insights. Enter the show’s host, Dr. David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, who tells us that humans have evolved so that we have a large space between the part of the brain that receives input and the part responsible for output. He explains that humans unlike let’s say dogs, can see food and not just eat it but can react to it by drawing it or using it to make sculptures etc.(Clearly, this Dr. hasn’t seen that elephant that paints masterpieces with its trunk and a brush). Unfortunately for you and and I, Dr. Eagleman is a pretty lazy, “basic” interviewer; he landed an impressive roster of guests (e.g., musicians Grimes, Nick Cave, Robert Glasper, author Michael Chabon, architects, scientists, animators, etc) and fails to ask them questions pertinent to my life! For example, Mr. Cave throws our host a morsel, saying that creativity is a battle, but does the brain doctor host do the requisite follow up? (e.g., ask “do you ever have periods of inactivity and what’s your war plan?”). No, he does not. Dear man, don’t you want to know how Nick Cave steels himself against rejection? How does he balance mundane life tasks/obligations with his art making? What does he snack on/wear/listen to while he creates? How did he jump from music to making his gorgeous fabric sculptures? Did his family encourage the Arts or did he have to ignore their rantings of disapproval?

My drawing of a photo of Nick Cave and his cat

The best part of the show was seeing the “idea generator” that animator Phil Tippet shows off—scrapbooks with photos of objects he collected over the years, which elicit different feelings in him and inspire him to make monsters and other creatures for film. (Several other artists interviewed agreed that surrounding oneself with a broad array of stimuli-smells, textures, visuals, sounds–was good for creativity). I shall devote myself to making scrapbooks for each of my creative projects. Increase my inputs to increase my output!

At some point, Grimes opines that we must force ourselves to do things that feel wrong/makes us feel badly/uncomfortable in order to heighten our creativity. She’s surely not ADHD, because our kind tend to have a poor ability to stick with activities that are hard. Hark back to my sewing class in the garment district years ago where I quit after a grueling day one; wrestling with thread, that wicked bobbin and a spray of tiny pins left me mad, mad, mad.(My sad, lopsided, elastic-waist skirt wound up in a city garbage bin).

The show’s concluding tip that one must not be afraid of rejection, made me snort in derision. Fear of rejection is my life mantra. It probably makes sense that I became an attorney because it’s not full of the same overt rejection one faces in the Arts. Certainly my self esteem has always been paltry, which makes rejection hard to overcome. My therapist often reads my posts and uses them to springboard our conversations. She believes that the key to unlocking my writer’s block is to learn to accept and like myself more. What an interesting theory!

Me, finding the words of adoptee, Olivier Rousteing very relatable. I think I messed up the quote as he may have said “The more I know who I am, the more I need to know where I came from.”

Her theory does not work for Oliver Rousteing of the Netflix documentary Wonder Boy, for the young creative director of Balmain fashion house, an adoptee himself, appears focused and uber creative and capable of creating gorgeous, feted collections season after season despite his admission that he has trouble loving himself. As an adoptee, I watched particularly riveted as the film shows us this talented, successful young man surrounded by glamorous “friends” like Jennifer Lopez . How pre-maturely self-assured he seemed. Soon, this facade drops and we see he’s awfully lonely and unsettled despite the accolades and accomplishments. We learn, straight from him, that his self-esteem is tenuous. In scenes where he speaks about his search for his birth mother, the main plot of the film, he says (not exact quotes):”When you don’t know anything about your past, it’s hard to love yourself.” So he’s an example of someone with low self esteem who is a fountain of creative ideas. (But I still like my therapist’s hypothesis and hope she’s right that the more I accept myself, the more I’ll be able to finish my projects).

Watching Olivier, all restless limbs, finally review his adoption file after some hurdles, I related to his anxiety. In my twenties, I had the same chance to view a glimpse of my mysterious history–seated with a social worker in a small room at the Spence Chapin adoption agency in nyc. I’ll never forget the moment I opened my folder file and read the faded typewritten words (over and over); in my Korean foster mother’s (translated) words: “Soomee is shy, scared of men and does not like to share her rice.” One pretty adorable sentence that distilled my essence. Fourteen words to unpack in therapy and ponder endlessly. A gasp of information that made me feel sad and happy at the same time. (I was shy so much of my life, including around men and I do love my carbs!)

Wish me luck in this lifetime battle to be creative. I wish you an arsenal of tools in this war that must be waged! xoxo

I

Are you a Moon-jin or an In-sa?

  • In-sa (인싸) is a Korean slang word used to describe an insider or a cool kid who is immersed in pop culture/culture in general
  • Someone who is a moon-jin is the exact opposite of an in-sa. A moon-jin person can’t keep up with pop culture and current trends.

As this blog pretty much began with a silly quiz (“Vixen v. Clown”), I thought I’d lavish you with another mindless one. My kids and I are proven fans of all self-evaluative quizzes; see my son and I taking the Myers/Briggs and the Implicit Bias tests online and my six year old and I tackling the less intense “Which character from Boys over Flowers are you?” variety. My caveat is I cannot tell if these slang words are meant for young people only or whether they are used more generally. Further, it was hard for me to create these questions as I’m probably hovering very close to the moon-jin line. I have only once in my life felt like an “insider” and that was the time I took a toy design class in my thirties at FIT with a bunch of college students and a very fashion-forward young one accosted me after class and said he coveted the oversized army green canvas bag in which I carried my odd toy designs(not realizing my Filson was more than just a functional bag.) In my middle age, I am a typical head-in-the-sand mother who gets my pop culture morsels from my friend Michelle, my kids and random sites about Korea. Therefore, there is a sound assumption that these questions I’ve compiled from various sources, bear little relation to whether you are truly an in-sa or a moon-jin but nonetheless, carry on my patient, good sport-readers! Special thanks to my friend Jen who helped me with this quiz because she is a certifiable moon-jin.

Take comfort that you most likely will outscore those like my husband who was faithful to his Blackberry until a year ago, despite the fact the company had folded and his phone rejected all modern day application. For fun, I like to ask him questions that most Americans can answer. (Most recently, he blinked rapidly, evidencing some recognition when I asked him if he knew the name Olivia Rodrigo, but he was ultimately unable to specify why she was famous). For real!! Maybe because of him, I have a soft spot for people who are even more entirely in the dark about pop culture than I am. See the likeable high school character Fabiola Torres in the Netflix show Never Have I Ever whose friends tease her for her ignorance of anything her generation prizes.

Quiz: (Pick the best answer. It might not necessarily be the only possible answer!)

1)Perfume Genius is:

A) a novel about a murderer attracted to fragrance

B) slang for a good smelling person

C) a musician

D) an organic perfume store in the LES

E) a rare orchid

2) The most current popular recipe on TikTok:

A) cloud bread

B) pasta chips

C) Dalgona coffee

D) frog bread

E) None. TikTok is all about dancing.

3) Discord is:

A)the opposite of harmony

B) an app

C) an indie record label

D) a popular board game or a video game

E) Something related to Bitcoins

F) none of the above. You can’t fool me.

“4) What is the “Keanaissance”?

A) Forget this silly question. One free point for you.

5)What is trending in fashion for Fall 2021?

A) all things Eskimo

B) neon colors

C) vests for women and men

D) all of the above.

6) This star is a rising star but is a hair less current than the others:

A) Daisy Edgar Jones

C) Dua Saleh

D)Timothy Chamalet

E) Shira Haas

F) Han Ye-Ri

7) R.I.P, in teen slang means:

A) Rest In Peace.

B) Wow/ugh

C) No regrets

D) None of the above

E) All of the above

8) Homer is:

A) the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Duh. Or Bart Simpson‘s dad.

B) a controversial tracking app

C) a NYC Jewelry store owned by a famous musician

D) a mini drone introduced on Shark Tank.

E) all of the above

9) Anticipated series/show of 2021:

A) Gossip Girl reboot

B) Landscapers

C) Dopesick

D) Pachinko

E) All of the above

10) Something formerly trendy that the Fashion Powers that Be say you should bury now:

A) comfort wear/track suits/loose tops

B) tube tops

C) miniature bags

D) high waisted loose jeans

E) All of these

11) Thing(s) (other than COVID variants) to worry about:

A) a meteor possibly colliding with earth

B) Asian Murder Hornets recently found in California (Whaa? We Asians cannot survive another disadvantageous association!!)

C) the discovery of possible new planets with life (and with life comes aliens and extraterrestrial hegemony of course).

D) None of these

E) All of these

12) Not a recent fitness fad:

A) Eye yoga

B) goat yoga

C) Blood flow restriction training

D) Coal-walking

E) All of the above

13) Which 2 below are NOT trending COVID-era hobbies:

A) gardening

B) candle making

C) pickle making

D) coloring

E) blow torching

14) Which one is NOT a much-anticipated collaboration:

A) Mountain Dew and Cheetos (Cheetos flavored Mountain Dew)

B) Jelly belly candy company and Reebok–for sneakers

C) Meghan the Stallion and BTS

D) Wierd Al Yankovic and Phoebe Bridgers

E) Ted Cruz and AOC

15) Name which celebrity duo is NOT a new 2021 couple? (Thank you Jen for telling me these options)

A) Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles

B) Kanye West and Irina Shanyk

C) Zoe Kravitz and Channing Tatum

D) St. Vincent and Cara Delevigne

16) Which of the below destinations has already open to the public?

A) China’s UCCA Dune Museum

B) The Munch museum in Oslo, Norway

C) Studio Ghilbi, Japan

D) All of the above

17) Who is not an-of-the-moment rapper?

A) Lil Uzi Vert

B) Doja Cat

C) Rakim

D) Tyler the Creator

18) The following is not a current trend/phenomenon:

A) women going bra-less

B)no or low shower frequency among celebrities

C) eyelash removal

19) Which is not a real fad diet?

A) Intermittent fasting

B) The Mediterranean diet

C) The British Bangers and mash diet

D) Paleo diet

E) None of these are fake.made-up fad diets.

20) Which celebrity(ies) suffered a large drop in popularity recently?

A) Chrissy Teigen

B) Cuomo

C) Armie Hammer, the Cannibal

D) All of them

E) Just B and C

21) What was not a trendy cocktail this year:

A) Negroni

B)Aperol Spritz

C )Salty Dog

22) Who is Matt James?

A) A baseball player

B) winner of NYC 2021 triathalon

C) The Bachelor

D) a California sculptor

23) What does “TFW” stand for?

A) That Feel When

B) Thanks for Waiting

C) Thick for Winter (a compliment as in “That girl is TFW.”

For each correct answer, get 1 point

Answers:

  1. C
  2. B
  3. B
  4. FREE POINT
  5. C
  6. D
  7. B
  8. C
  9. E
  10. C
  11. E
  12. D
  13. D and E
  14. D
  15. D
  16. C
  17. C
  18. C
  19. C
  20. D
  21. C
  22. C
  23. A 0-9 points-–An exemplary moon-jin! Team Fabiola or Team My Husband. Your head is in the clouds when it comes to pop culture and you like it that way. You’re an adorable hermit!

10-16 points-–You are probably in my league. Best not prance around the UWS wearing thin the Perfume Genius baseball cap you purchased online (not at an actual live concert) because you’ll look ridiculous. (Sorry I’m digressing to my own life and how my son likes to tease me when I wear said baseball cap. But I do like this man’s music.)

17 and up–You are a full fledged “in-sa”! Surely you lack a livelihood/any societal obligations; with all your absorption of pop culture, it’s a wonder you can perform your ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living, i.e., eating and sleeping! You are a true culture-hound!

Hope you enjoyed this fluffy quiz!

The Honor of Being Asian (this blog’s 40th post)

sign seen at Pearl River store in Soho

You may have noticed similar signage around the city affirming Asian identity. I certainly have. Each sign takes me out of the moment I’m in and leaves me a tad flummoxed and giggly. I mean, it’s weird having been Asian my whole life without fanfare, to suddenly be so aggressively celebrated! I have to wonder if my ambivalent reaction to this attention is somewhat akin to the way my Black friend A feels when she’s sitting at work and is flooded with diversity work emails. (She’s complained to me that these well-intentioned emails are distracting and somewhat irritating to her). What a novel moment in history! Of course, because I am by nature a worrier, I fret that all this positive attention means we Asians are being over-hyped and given exaggerated accolades because it’s trendy. For someone not subject to said hyped up accolades, or really any accolades, I realize it’s a silly worry. But apparently this is not an original thought. See the recent interview of lauded Korean-American writer,musician Michelle Zaunner in which the interviewer asks her if she’s worried that she’s getting undue attention because Asians are big now.

Believe me, I am happy to see Jay Leno out of his own guilt, apologize for his past racist Asian jokes and to see Sandra Oh (a Korean-Canadian actress I only started to fully appreciate watching Killing Eve) convincingly play the Chair of a moldy English Department in Netflix’s The Chair. I appreciate that Ms. Oh plays women who are not just pretty bangles on someone’s arm/deranged sexpots but are fully formed, complex characters who are Korean PLUS. I also appreciate this moment in which the chances of me reading a contemporary childrens’ book to my six year old and needing to skirt flagrantly racist tropes is more slim than in the past; I recently encountered the perils of reading a classic from the early 1970’s, Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator, the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, to my daughter. Though I’d once read somewhere that Mr. Dahl was anti Semetic (I’m Jewish and Korean-American so I took note), I’d not heard that he was anti Asian. (So there goes the baby AND the bathwater).

Reading the following passage in which the U.S. President is about to call the Prime Minister of China from space, I grimaced:

“It is very difficult to phone people In China, Mr. President,” said the Postmaster General. “The country’s so full of Wings and Wongs, every time you wing you get the wrong number.”

or a few sentences later: The President picked up the receiver.

Greetings, honorable Mr. President,” said a soft faraway voice. “Here is Assistant-Premier Chu-On-Dat speaking. How can I do for you?”

:”Knock-knock,” said the President.

“Who der?”

“Ginger.”

“Ginger who?”

“Ginger yourself much when you fell of the Great Wall of China?” asked the President…

Needless to say, my kid and I ended our bedtime read mid-chapter as I briefly explained to her, that it was written a while ago (1972) when people were possibly more openly racist. As someone uncertain about the extent I’m obligated to disavow cultural icons/masterpieces when their creator offends, I, yessireee Bob, whole-heartedly lost my desire to read the book and wanted nothing more than to pluck out its pages.

So yes, I know my family and I are better off today than the early 1970’s and the subsequent decades of Jay Leno’s comedic reign of terror against Asians and others, but when I sit at my keyboard and review things people have said to me in more recent decades, it makes me wonder if these posters are enough to combat anti-Asian racism. I’ll never forget the Christmas 2000 dinner I endured at a family friend’s home in an affluent suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I sat next to the family’s son, a chatty college student who asked me where I was born and when I told him he looked at me so earnestly and said “Oh, the only Koreans I know are the hookers at the whorehouse across from my dorm.” Fa-la-la-la la, Indeed.

I could go through each year of my life with such examples as could all Asian-Americans. But I’d rather head towards 2022 proud of being Korean-American (albeit uncertain about my authenticity as a Korean) and show my late-in-life, burgeoning pride through this blog. I plan to continue to interview “interesting” Asians (particularly Korean-Americans/Koreans) in all their glory as well as continuing my spastic mix of posts that reflect my ADHD state of mind/current obsessions. (Oh and I hope Christmas guy somehow takes a gander at my blog one day. The bevy of diverse Koreans will BLOW HIS MIND!)

Thank you for reading this blog. After decades of writers block and lame sporadic creativity (e.g., the wacky, unmarketable toy ideas I came up in a FIT toy design class), I’m writing/making things most days now. It’s been an unexpected joy to connect with friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers from over 35 countries during a time when many of us are so isolated from loved ones. (One highlight for me was a perfect stranger writing me an essay-long comment in response to one of my posts that insightfully provided a theory about me and my love of collections) I’ve unwittingly created a little community and for that, I feel fortunate. Please be safe and healthy!

What’s to come:

More crafts—More Sculpies, drawings, homemade Famous Korean celebrity candles and some life sized Korean dolls in the works. (Friends, is there anyone more suited to navigate a hot vat of wax, wicks and dyes for the first time than I?)

My drawn map of the treehouse tour of the world. (Map drawing is no joke).

Vixen 5 story

My first celebration of Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok

Unique, Humorous Holiday Gift List

Koreans obsession with Blood Type and Personality, what does your bloodtype say about you?

Of course, more Korean expressions, unpacked

ADHD life hacks/how to finish a large project

My friend Kurt (Vonnegut), a semi autobiographical essay about adoption and other things

AND So much more… xoxo

Interview with Interesting Korean-American #2, food writer Justine Lee

Food writer Justine Lee
As part of my somewhat fumbling efforts to interview interesting Korean-Americans who are not blood relatives, I now ask everyone I know if they know any interesting Koreans/ Korean-Americans that I could pester. Fortunately for me, my clever family friend Rachel, didn't miss a beat in replying "I know one" and promptly connecting her friend and I via Instagram. I jumped at the chance to interview food writer Justine Lee whose writing has appeared on Bon Appetit, Food52, The Infatuation, The Wall Street Journal and most recently The NY Times food section. Other than our insurmountable age gap and the fact that she can cook and I can't, we could be "sisters from another mother" as my friend Ingrid likes to say when she relates to someone.

Me: Seeing that you were recently featured in the NY Times food section, I am grateful you agreed to be interviewed by me. Are you about to explode or in the falsetto of BTS, “light it up like dynamite”?

JL: Thank you! I’m delighted to be interviewed by you. Explode is a generous way to put it haha. I’ve been writing for some time now and I guess I’ll put it the way others have and say I’m “on the rise.”

Me: Can you tell us why you graced those hallowed pages?

JL: I had the pleasure to speak with Eric Kim, a wonderful cooking writer for the NYTimes about an experience I had eating bulgogi in a newfound format. In a nutshell, I was a tween eating at a Korean food court when I first tried the bulgogi bibimbap with melted mozzarella. It really changed my life and helped me as a food thinker come to appreciate the nuances of bulgogi.  I was honored to add my voice to a larger conversation on how Korean food culture is not a monolith, and neither are the experiences of eating a singular dish. 

Me: When i go to a trendy non-Koreatown restaurant that does not have free banchan (Korean side dishes), I rage. Am I alone or do you have a young person’s flexible mind?

JL: You are not alone!! If my table isn’t overcrowded with banchan, I know the restaurant isn’t doing it right. I view it as a primer of sorts, in introducing the eater’s palate to how generous the establishment is and how they like to season their food. Banchan is so important.

Me: Stalking your Instagram feed, I see you are a fan of Naengmyeon, that noodle dish that almost caused my early demise (a near choking incident);tell me, in a show down between Italian pasta and Korean noodles who wins?

JL: I’m not full of the hottest takes but of the very few I do have, the hottest would be that I actually don’t like pasta that much!! Please no one come at me! So it’s a no-brainer that
Korean noodles would win. Naengmyeon is incredible, so is Jjajangmyeon, bibimmyun, and really even Shin ramyun hits the spot.

Me: What Korean dish could you eat consecutively for the longest amount of time?

JL: Soondae or soondae guk. My family laughs because I was like the only tween eating the food in a restaurant with older customers. It’s supposedly a very grandma/grandpa thing to like it. I can see why it could be off putting; it is blood sausage but I can’t quit it.

Me: In the East Coast/West coast Koreatown feud, who wins?

JL: East Coast hands down. I mean have you heard of Ft. Lee, New Jersey?

Me: What brought you to cooking/writing about cooking?

JL: My mom has always been interested in food since she was young and so she filled the house with different cookbooks and always made the kitchen such a joyful place to be. She’s also wonderful at baking, which talking to other Korean friends seems to be a pastime not many moms did!

Me: Can you share a recipe with us?

JL: I recommend my recipe for Injeolmi Toast!

Injeolmi Toast Recipe – How to Make Injeolmi Toast (food52.com)

Me:That looks up my alley—tasty and quick to make. Could it be the new avocado toast?

JL: I think that in Korea, it is a pretty trendy toast served at cafes, akin to avocado toasts here. It’s quite customizable in that the sky’s the limit for the toppings you can add. I think it could be like the next trendy dessert toast! 

Me: I’ve failed to find any delicious Korean cookbooks. Any picks? If not, best sites for Korean recipes?
JL: I very much enjoy the Korean Home Cooking cookbook from chef Sohui Kim. The best Korean cooking sites have to be koreanbapsang, seokyounglongest, and really the recipes graciously shared on various blogs and forums by Korean home cooks.

Me: Can you name one or two Korean dishes that might have escaped this “banana’s”radar? I love hearing about new ones that aren’t so widely known.

JL: Jangjorim and hotteok.

Me: Any foods you will not try?

JL: I will never try haggis (a traditional Scottish dish made of offal meat) intentionally ever again. The vegan version isn’t any better.

Me: Drumroll for worst question of this interview: Soju like soju?

JL: I love makeolli! Specifically peach makeolli.

Me: I’m always looking for fun Korean expressions. Can you explain the expression shiwonhada to us?

JL: Of course! Literally translated, shiwonhada means something like “hits the spot.” It’s a
phrase people can utilize in many situations where they feel as if some heavy tension has
been instantly washed away. Like when you go to the Korean spa, get a good scrub, detox
in the sauna, that can be something you refer to as “shiwonada.” Most of the time, I’ve
heard it when people eat a hot, comforting bowl of soup, when they’re feeling hungover
or not feeling well, as doing so can clear that mental and physical tension in an incredibly
cathartic way.

Me: 10 things to get from Hmart:

JL: Kimchi, danmuji, very firm tofu, dried persimmons, apples, green onions, enoki
mushrooms, salmon sashimi, dashima, a pack of Pepero.

Me: Here’s my stereotype-heavy question involving Korean parents:are your parents bereft that you have chosen the Arts over something more mundane like hedge funding?

JL: If they had it their way, I would have been a doctor or an actuary like my dad. When I applied to college, I really wanted to study history and political science but my parents were so against it. So I went undecided and ended up studying nutrition and food studies, with some thoughts to apply to med school afterwards (I actually took all the necessary courses). Of course, I then really fell in love with food culture, recipe development, and writing and took that route instead. While I think they’ve always been puzzled how my jobs in food have all worked, they’ve become pretty open in giving me authority over my own trajectory. It’s funny I don’t think I consider myself in the arts. I think what I do walks a balance beam of creativity, logic, the scientific method, and so much research.

Me: “Authority over my own trajectory”-I love those words! You’ve given me a new mantra that I can still apply to my own life. Thank you.

I read that you changed your name legally. Can you explain that?

JL: Of course! Since birth my legal name was Seungah and when I moved to the States as a
little kid, my parents gave me the name “Justine” as my American name that I could use at school and elsewhere. Everyone knew me as Justine but on legal docs and school
attendance sheets, my name was still listed as Seungah which stirred up confusion and
mockery among my western teachers and peers. I just dreaded having to justify my
identity at such a young age and so when I was 16, the opportunity to legally change my
name presented itself so I took it almost instantly. I’ll say that this process, one that I
thought would feel like freedom, was also odd. The lawyer coordinating the whole
process asked me if I was doing this “to avoid tax fraud or cut ties with the communist
party”….I was sixteen! I still went with it and became Justine Seungah Lee in one
afternoon. Looking back at it, changing my name did make my life a bit easier but I do
sometimes feel disappointed in myself for compromising the beautiful name my parents
gave me to feel more accepted in western society. Western society has never made such
grand gestures to make me feel more comfortable.

Me: As I’m a bit obsessed with my own Korean/ lack of Korean identity, I have to ask how Korean you feel as a percentage and what percent another identity?

JL: I feel 50% Korean and 50% American. This might not seem like a huge percentage but it’s huge to me because I used to feel like 5% Korean. I’ve grappled with the Korean side of my identity for so much of my life, whether it was wanting to run away from it somehow in my youth or unknowingly completely repressing it in my late teens/early twenties as I spent more time away from my parents who grounded me in Korean side the most by feeding me food and speaking the language.

It was really in my last two years of college at NYU and immediately after that I came to love and embrace my Korean identity, largely in part by taking myself to go eat in K-town, watching BTS perform on SNL, seeing Sandra Oh finally getting the critical recognition she always had in my heart, being more open about the Korean-American experience with my friends and finding the commonalities and nuances in our narratives. Being a food major and having the chance to study Korean cuisine in an academic context helped so much too. It was a slow build-up of really little things that made me realize: being Korean is awesome.

So I view it like this: I can have white girl tendencies (my choice of clothing, my mannerisms, my unbreakable love for Dunkin iced coffee and Taylor Swift) but that doesn’t make me any less Korean. I speak the language, I was born there, I am constantly in pursuit of studying its food culture.

If I had another identity, I guess I am uniquely myself – flaws, strengths and all. There’s a lyric in the song Epiphany by Jin that goes like: “Why did I want to hide my precious self like this? What was I so afraid of?” I really resonate with that. It’s taken me a really long time to get to a point where I actually like myself. I used to strive just to fit in, live comfortably as a “wallflower.” I always stood out when I didn’t want to (because of my being asian, rather tall for a Korean, being a bit different) and I hated that, I really did. But I’ve come to realize standing out really isn’t that bad.

Me: I salute your embrace of your own weirdness. For me, approaching my 50th in two years, I’m dressing zanier than ever. I love graphic sweaters and t-shirts and kid- like attire. It seems from Instagram that you like to express this oddball side of you through your clothing as well (but it suits you better as you are closer to being a kid than I am!) Describe your aesthetic for us.

JL: I definitely gravitate towards overalls, jumpsuits, and other garments that make me look like a five year old. But then on the other side, I will also dress like a 70 year old grandpa. I’m amazed by my own duality. My friend once hit the nail on the head when she described my style as “tastefully weird.”

Me: My teenage son told me about these “Core” style types that are referenced on social media (Cottage,Fairy, etc). What “Core” are you, if that makes any sense at all.

JL: Does sad-boy-core exist? If there is,I am that.

Me: very evocative! If it doesn’t exist, it does now!

Me: Not sure if you relate but I sometimes feel a minor pressure as Korean woman to have good skin. Alas, I lack the energy to do the research and do the requisite glow-up so instead I’ll mine you for tips. What’s your favorite Korean beauty product?

JL: CosorX Acne Pimple Master Patches.

Me: I have written about my own love of collections on this blog. Do you collect anything?

JL:: This may sound odd but I actually collect fruit stickers from the various produce I eat (like the stickers off apples and bananas). I have a few from various countries and it’s really interesting to compare and contrast each. I also own simply far too many striped t-shirts so I guess I unknowingly have an extensive collection.

Me: Inside I am leaping with joy at your eccentric collection. I may look back on these interviews and declare your collection the most unusual. Thank you.

Me: I read somewhere that Americans have a sad inability to name any famous Asian-Americans. to up the ante here, can you name seven famous Korean/Korean-Americans?

JL: Yeri Han, Ken Jeong, Margaret Cho, Bong Joon Ho, Gong Yoo, Sandra Oh, Ban Ki Moon

Me: Bravo! Asian points for you! Who are your favorite Korean celebrities? Feel free to gush.

JL: Okay I have two. First: Youn Yuh-Jung!! She’s an incredibly talented actress who I grew up watching in various dramas I watched with my mom. I know the US audience was just introduced to her in Minari but I highly recommend watching exploring her entire acting canon.
And of course, on the subject of BTS, my favorite member is Jin – Worldwide Handsome. He’s not at all the best singer or the best dancer of the bunch but I love his personality, his face (no-brainer!), and his love of dad jokes.

Me: Speaking of dads, I recently followed My Korean Dad on TikTok and was a bit fascinated by this sweet man’s huge following. I mean he’s a teddy bear of a man walking around picking out produce at the supermarket and smiling encouragingly. I showed it to a bunch of non-Koreans and we collectively scratched our heads. Can you explain his appeal?

JL: Yeah My Korean Dad is a very popular TikTok account. I think what the appeals is about him is how he openly expresses his paternal love out in the open. I’ve heard people say they’ve been moved to tears about his refreshing departure from the tough love or lack thereof Korean american kids received from their own dads, I get it. 

Me: People to follow on social media:

JL: jamesyworld, https://www.instagram.com/jamesyworld/?hl=en

https://www.thekoreanvegan.com

burr0w, https://www.instagram.com/burr0w/

huishungry, https://www.instagram.com/huishungry/

Me: Best Korean films/books/artists

JL: Film: Little Forest, Burning
Books: The Vegetarian, Crying in HMart
Artists: my cousin @dynebydyne on Instagram

Me: Has the Hallyu wave affected you in any way, i.e., has your opinion of yourself skyrocketed? Is there any drawback to our sudden popularity?

JL: The boom of Korean culture is something that didn’t seem imaginable to me. Growing up, Korean culture and American/western culture were compartmentalized in that I could only enjoy them in two separate circumstances because they didn’t really intersect. That all seemed to change when (and I’m really showing my age here)the Wonder Girls opened for the Jonas Brothers. Knowing about Korea’s extremely oppressed, impoverished past, to see everything it has accomplished on a global scale is truly something I take pride in. My opinion of myself hasn’t skyrocketed but saying “I’m Korean” with something I say with confidence and joy.

Me: I’m planning a big 50th bday in Korea in 2023;what must I do/eat/see?

JL: Do: go to Itaewon, go shopping at Dongdaemun market, buy lots of k-beauty products! Go for a walk along the Han river. Grab coffee at the Starbucks in the Seoul Wave Art Center (my uncle owns the building!)

Eat: Soondae guk, tteokbokki at a street cart or pojangmacha, fresh fish at Busan (if you can!), E-Mart pizza, shaved ice and injeolmi toast at Sulbing. Please eat korean peaches, corn, and grapes. You won’t regret it.

See: Jeju Island (that warrants an airplane ride – but it’s worth it!), Namsan Tower, Museum San, CoEx, watch a movie at the CoEx movie theater.

Me: When you go to Korea, do you fit in seamlessly or can they sniff you out as American?

JL: Oh I definitely stick out like a sore thumb as an American and I think I always have. It winds down to so much of me: my western style of dressing, my preference for not wearing too much makeup (compared to Koreans who won’t dare going out with a bare face), and my heavy reliance on my imperfect Korean pronunciation. I’m pretty un-phased by this because I love how I’m so uniquely Korean-American

Me: I see you draw. Can you share a cute drawing for us?

JL: I am new to Adobe Illustrator but here is something I did:


Me: What are things that come easy to you ( “eating rice cakes while lying down”) and things that are hard?

JL: Running miles, endless (decidedly ridiculous) puns, and run-on sentences come easy to me. Math and patience for slow-walkers do not.

Me: Rats! I would have said we could be fast friends but I’m a very slow, meandering walker. Be glad I didn’t make you take a walk to do this interview! Thank you JL and I have every expectation that you are on the way to become the Blackpink of the food writing world. “Justine Lee in the Area!!”

The Great Kimchi War

Plate of my favorite scene of Boys Over Flowers-kimchi making and feeding as a quirky, pre mating ritual. (Try to ignore that Gu Jun Pyo’s arms are strangely long on this plate and focus on the cute cat stuffed animal that the character Geum Jandi made for similarly curly haired Gu Jun Pyo.)

Some nations fight over resources like land, oil and/or diamonds. I recently read that China and South Korea have tussled over kimchi, that is the origin of the heralded fermented cabbage; supposedly around the end of 2020, China registered the kimchi recipe with the International Organization for Standardization. Some Koreans were up in arms that the Chinese had appropriated Korea’s iconic dish. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, instead of apologizing, said that China had registered a recipe for the Chinese dish paozai, which is supposedly kimchi’s lesser-known doppelganger.

With my scant knowledge of Korean history, even I, know this is the ultimate battle cry. Kimchi is not a footnote for Koreans. It’s a badge of Korean identity. The Korean Vegan, a vegan attorney/blogger who specializes in vegan Korean recipes, questioned whether she can be Korean and not eat kimchi (that traditionally has fish sauce/fish in it). (See http://www.thekoreanvegan.com).

One of my favorite Kdramas of all time, Boys over Flowers, included pivotal scenes in which the rich, entitled male protagonist, Gu Jeun Pyo shows his adoration for working class Geum Jandi by showing up to her family’s humble apartment and spending the day roughing it –including making kimchi with her family. (See video below). They joyfully toss whole cabbages to each other and later feed each other handfuls of kimchi from a vat. The ultimate foreplay. (If my own husband had walked into this kind of messy, malodorous melee before we got married, he would have run away screaming).

Many Korean families have a separate refrigerator for their kimchi that thrives under specific temperature; when I go to Seoul for my 50th birthday in two years, I plan to stop by the Kimchi museum (https://www.kimchikan.com) and of course gorge myself on the 187 varieties of the cabbage dish. This temple to Kimchi is supposedly a popular tourist destination and features the history of kimchi and demonstrations on making it etc.

Because I am no cook, I once served my culinarily-gifted friend Erin my sad, lazy version of a dish called Kimchi Kwok; I added kimchi to some boiling water, dropped in a bouillon cube and some cubes of raw tofu. Needless to say, her face revealed the deficiencies. But to me, kimchi is a stand alone item and a great snack with a bowl of rice. My son and I can eat a whole jar in one sitting. The stuff is magic-versatile and healthy. It boldly flavors soda and ice cream.

Japanese Kimchi soda
freeze dried kimchi-looks unpretty to me but is it any good?

I’m no health nut but its roster of benefits is pleasing. (Kimchi is low in calories,low-fat, high in dietary fiber and has probiotics and a ton of Vitamins A, B, and C. Seoul National University conducted a study and claimed that chickens infected with the H5N1 virus, also called avian flu, recovered after eating food containing the same cultured bacteria found in kimchi. Though I can’t vouch for the source, I recently read somewhere that it is a good barrier to everything from cancer to Covid).

Supposedly NASA has freeze-dried it for their astronauts, which begs the questions: are there Korean astronauts and if so, I want to learn about them and if not, are there non-asian astronauts that love it so much they have lobbied for space kimchi? (Richard Branson/ Elon Musk, I’m talking to you). Most importantly, does freeze-dried kimchi stink up the cabin like the wet kind would? (And I thought peeing/bathroom use without anchor was the biggest problem with space travel!)

A while back, the above video went viral in South Korea and beyond of a woman hitting a man with a thick wad of uncut, long kimchi–see the above “kimchi slap.” The few seconds, replayed in slo-mo, packs a wallop-such unexpected insult to waste kimchi this way. Imagine the sting on the face and the scarlet markings left on the victim’s clothing. I am making a list in my head of the public figures who could be humbled by such a slap. Imagine all those white-shirted politicians—Ted, Donald, Rudy et al.

I thought to go with the post theme, I’d throw in an easy cucumber kimchi recipe suggested by my lovely Korean Cousin Leah who always miraculously has warm bulgogi, rice and kimchi ready for me when I come over. This really baffles me. I used to imagine she had a Willy Wonk-ian device ensuring a perpetual rotation of instantly ready homemade Korean food. (She told me it was a standard rice cooker).

https://www.koreanbapsang.com/oi-kimchi-cucumber-kimchi-and-blog/

Finally, I read about the spicy pickled garlic trend on TikTok and I had to try it out. It is a matter of adding three things that I definitely do not hate: Siracha, Korean chili flakes and dried thyme to a jar of pickled garlic.(I got a jar of pickled garlic on Amazon). Then you shake in the spices and close your eyes and pop one in your mouth, bracing for some mild to severe discomfort. I had hoped that pickled garlic was a very transformative experience–meaning I could eat it and forget the garlic association. But no my friends, it was a tiny shock to my mouth— akin to eating a raw wet garlic clove.(I imagine a bulk athlete popping these down in succession every morning with a side of steak and raw eggs). My verdict: unlike kimchi, this is not a stand alone item but could grow on me with some rice. It will sit in my fridge and possibly mold for months while I determine its merit. I cannot see myself becoming a super-fan of this odd snack unlike the portly middle aged man at the UES Gracie Mews diner whom I used to watch as he ordered many strangely large raw onion slices and ate them with a fork and knife–content and strangely dignified.

The end result

If you love garlic, skip this and try Korean garlic shoots. I ate them years ago in Seoul and fell in love. I think you can find them refrigerated at HMart in the Banchan (“Korean side dishes”) section near the kimchi etc. They taste like garlic but are more subtle!

Bye friends. Eat more Kimchi!!

My, it was cute before I added the face, drawing of cartoon kimchi that was at some point going to be a logo for my son’s since aborted blog. (He does his own thing now and that’s good).

Eating Rice Cakes While Lying Down누워서 떡 먹기

This Korean expression makes me guffaw. I’ve noticed there are quite a few Korean expressions involving rice cakes. I mean, who can blame Koreans for being obsessed with them? They are quite glorious–fun to gnaw and a friend to any sauce. This translates into “something that comes easy to someone”/ “a walk in the park.” What a public nuisance! Imagine the hordes of children who might run to try this dangerous activity at home. I can barely stop myself from choking on those chewy rice cake logs when I’m seated upright in a restaurant.

A lot of my posts focus on life struggles and things that are hard for me. I think it’s good for us all to reflect on things we are naturally good at for a change. This is for some of us harder than you might think. (I’m having a flashback to a conversation two of my female friends and I had one night in our twenties. Someone posed the question of what we liked about our own appearance. This caused us to squirm and grimace in silence until finally one friend triumphantly called out “my knees!”) So consider what you are naturally good at, no matter how micro you get. Here’s my list of things that are fairly easy for me, some of uncertain merit, not ranked:

Giving massages. My mother trained me at a very young age to give her deep-tissue massages. (Go mama!) I can rip through the gnarliest muscles with these hands. In my twenties, I thought of making extra money through massage but perhaps rightly worried people would accost me and label me a sex worker because I’m Asian. (Yup. That’s the kind of worries we Asian ladies have). I am now trying to train my own kids to massage my weary shoulders with fleeting moments of success. I figure I can get them to be at least as good as the well meaning but disappointing blind masseuse on my Thailand honeymoon who applied scant pressure as she massaged my back and, to my dismay, sneezed so many times, I keenly surmised she was ill.

Eating. I’m just good at it. What can I say? I have no allergies and very few aversions (well other than a shyness about eating unusual meats such as dog, horse, guinea pig, ostrich and rabbit.) I am wondering if my mother who was a strong believer in cooking one meal for all and not catering to my whims, can be thanked for this. I usually downed anything she concocted; though I recall reaching my limit at the particularly thick, grainy split pea soup she liked to make; I would pour it into a napkin under the table when she had her back turned (aligning me with beloved children’s book character George the hippo of George and Martha who, clearly conflict-averse like me, repeatedly poured Martha’s split pea soup into his furry slippers).

James Marshall’s illustration from George and Martha. Here, George is doing the deed.
  • Imaginary play. I used to entertain my niece, nephew and my own kids with my made up games when they were younger (and I still sometimes do for my daughter). Having an autistic son, I used to feel it necessary to “facilitate play” when he was little because I felt anxious for him to socialize, which meant I was the odd, child-like parent at playdates entertaining the children. Sometimes I still enjoy being a goof-ball parent; see me recently at the playground showing my 6 year old daughter and her friends in the park how to use a whoopie cushion (to their delight). More illustrative, a few years back, I made up a silly game with my own kids and my niece and nephew where I pretended to be a tired, rotund business man (with pillows under my shirt to give me girth) who plops into his sad hotel bed only to find it lumpy; the giggling kids under a blanket were the lumps. Then, irate, I would call the hotel manager to chew him out and he’d send up a dim-witted exterminator to investigate the bed lumps The kids made me play this game ad nauseum to shrieks of delight.
  • Creepy memory of people. I remember people from a long time ago who had little to do with me and most likely have scant to no memory of me. This quality is, I imagine, unnerving to someone who cannot firmly place me. (This means you may appear on these blog’s pages and be quite surprised!)
  • Blind-folded drawing. I can draw Garfield the cat blind-folded due to a childhood obsessed with drawing him and I can draw a horse blindfolded pretty decently. See below for this impressive skill.
Ok, so I’m rusty. He’s cross-eyed but hey you try it!!

Trying new things. I am good at trying new things/experiences (but not great at sticking to them if they are too hard.) Hey I told you this is a list of micro accomplishments! I once made a midi sarong- style dress as a novice sewer. Hand sewed it without any pattern. It had a long line of crucial, not solely decorative snaps on the front of the dress. I was so proud of it and even got a compliment from a stranger! But one day, I descended the steps to the subway and my shoe caught the bottom of the hem. The entire garment ripped off of me-the long row of snaps popped open—in front of a line of weary commuters heading up the stairs. Suffice it to say, I’ve never attempted to sew my own clothes since.

Thinking of party ideas. I’ve had some doozies that I thought would be fun but fell flat (i.e., my “Surreal Rosh Hashanah” party one year for which my son and I spent hours making Surreal center pieces and trying to capture the spirit of Salvador Dali.) I had such grandiose visions of a Dali party where guests dined on a long bed and ate out of high-heeled shoes. As we were on a much different budget than he and the socialites of that era, the best I could do fell flat. Though I really enjoyed making the “surreal” lipstick I saw on Pinterest (take the lipstick out of a tube and replace with a peeled and carved carrot, very fun). I should have heeded the misgivings of my husband who asked, a little embarrassed perhaps, what Surrealism and Rosh Hashanah had to do with each other. (Nothing). For those raised in Reform Judaism like I was, I’m not sure an explanation was due to anyone as long as people had fun and associated Judaism with good times. (I hope this doesn’t offend).

Pinterest -carrot lipstick

Better was the “weird” party we once had to celebrate autism/neurodiversity/being different/weird. (Thank you D, my friend who is oft mentioned on these pages, for your suggestion to make a party when i pondered how to celebrate my neurodiverse family). The key to making this event joyous: the brain cake made by my friend’s friend, making drawings of “weird” celebrities and hanging them from a long string in my apartment, making t-shirts with weird-affirming messages for my guests, making a mix of “weird” music, lots of food and drink of course and a mix of different friends from all walks of life. It was one of the most memorable, happy celebrations of our lives. I hope to hear about more weird celebrations. It is arguably a parental prerogative to teach our kids to recognize that unconventional/”weird” people are valuable and miraculous. (We plan to do this again but BIGGER and WEIRDER. I want to make strange, confusing/ surreal food for my guests).

Friends, please make your list of things that come easily for you. I’d love to see your list and applaud you for these “skills.” After all, why do we need to wait for real, conventional accomplishments to get praise and feel proud? xoxo

Sonia’s beautiful brain cake, red velvet inside and so tasty.
Some hastily but joyously made pictures of celebrities on autism spectrum for our line
Copy of a famous photo of Stanley Kubrick covered in silly string

party decoration–adding pearl buttons to an ice cream cone container–Art Deco in an instant!
our “weird” masks we made
my little one coloring the Einstein drawing. He may have been on the spectrum some allege.
silent film actor Charlie Chaplin, surfer Clay Marzo, Creator of Pokemon. (Some alleged, some self-proclaimed to be on spectrum.)
Jerry Seinfeld, self identified as being on the spectrum

Seu bul jae-Korean expression meaning self imposed disaster

Rudy the pigeon in a Skinner box making the wrong choices again and again- Seu bul Jae

For someone intimately familiar with Seu bul jae, I’m intrigued when people make the same mistakes over and over, despite having a rational understanding of the negative consequences. I think of the Psychology of Learning Class that I took at Carleton College that demanded I teach a slow-witted pigeon named Lola, the Skinner method of learning by applying a series of positive and negative reinforcements. How I disliked having to reach my hand into her cage every class and bear her indignant screech and battling wings long enough to place her in the metal learning box. Lola, I quickly discovered, was a bit of a clod, slow to learn from her mistakes. If she did peck the right button inside her cage wall, leading to a tray with bird seed, she would indulge happily—only to shortly thereafter peck at the wrong buttons-jack hammer style—and stare blankly at the empty trays of food. I did, however, feel some affection for the idiot fowl. (She was at least pretty with white feathers and shiny black eyes like a dove).

I have less sympathy for Lola’s human counterparts like Rudy Guiliani whose gradual descent from popular mayor to the alarming Zombie with the black goo dripping off his face/supporter of Trump was inevitable. His repeated pie -in-the- sky allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election— blatant lies–have resulted in the suspension of his law license and his widely acknowledged villain status. He had to know that his repeated, outrageous incitement would lead to negative consequences (or maybe Trump followers gave him adequate positive enforcement).  Let’s not forget Jeffrey Toobin, formerly respected scholar of the U.S. Supreme Court etc who is forever etched in our minds as the delinquent Zoom masturbator–regardless of his recent re-emergence on t.v.  

For some, embarrassment, shame, an empty tray of seeds and/or pecuniary loss are not enough deterrence for wrong behavior. Perhaps, Rudy, Jeffrey, Lola and many of us need one of those bracelets I once saw featured on Shark Tank, that shock your wrist to inhibit negative behaviors. Perhaps gut crunching, searing physical pain rather than embarrassment and shame is in order for certain segment of society—celebrities and people with ADHD.

Similarly for me, shame/self- flagellation, embarrassment and pecuniary loss from messing up dates in my calendar are seemingly not enough to alter my ADHD behavior.  Most recently last Friday, leisurely picking up my phone, I heard my friend on the other line saying “I hear there’s bad traffic coming here. You stuck?”

Utterly confused, I was silent.

“You and the kids are on the Jitney to me right?”

The answer was no. I had thought my friend had invited me to her country house the following day, her young children now disappointed and a round of inconvenience for everyone. Perhaps my friend would have liked to administer a jolt of electricity to me that day and I don’t blame her.

My therapist once suggested I get positive reinforcement for being flakey at times (I am capable of having my head on my shoulders it should be noted). Could it be that I somehow think this behavior-losing my crap and irritating friends, is somehow charming? Perhaps this blog where I document and connect with others over my mishaps is positive reinforcement. (Then you readers are complicit so avert your eyes!) I’m a little at a loss how you can program a bracelet to track your misdeeds but I may have to invest in this shock therapy. So If I  fail to double check each date in my calendar one day and it leads to chaos, BUZZ.

With such a bracelet, if I buy a white linen couch/a white tablecloth during my kids’ formative years or deign to purchase anything style-forward or anything not covered in protective vinyl like my grandmother’s furniture, my bracelet will shock some sense into me and remind me that my kids are mess tyrants who delight in using non water soluble art supplies and Hansel and Gretel-ing through my apartment–snacks in tow. I must resign myself to having an apartment that is known for aesthetically displeasing choices like my glass coffee table that was for years encircled by a gray protective padding (causing a stylish friend who used to work at Chanel to comically comment “your furniture has a diaper.”

Finally, I think of friends I may have admittedly judged when they have stayed in ruinous relationships with men who lie, cheat and do other irritating things like gamble their savings away or leave the bad eggs for similar rot. (Of course, this author has only made pristine decisions in all my relationships). Ho, Ho, Ho. Bracelets for everyone!

In my own life, I once shoplifted at age 19 in Minnesota and was caught and arrested. (For years, I told no one this in my life. When I started dating anyone seriously, I’d tell them this as a litmus test: would they run when they heard this confession? I thought they might but they were never that impressed). I was the saddest shoplifter, trembling and afraid-all 112 pounds of me. I’ll never forget the store owner calling the police as she clutched her baby to her chest–miraculously cowered by me. Fortunately, utter humiliation and a misdemeanor on my record were enough to cure me of any shoplifting inclination. Or maybe the reaction of the 10 year old Northfield girl with whom I volunteered as a mentor was the panacea. She had been told of my arrest by the mentorship program, Project Friendship, and, accordingly, I could no longer be her mentor. In the middle of my college’s main lounge surrounded by classmates, the two of us sat at a table across from each other after she had been told the news by someone else. Her sweet freckled face in tears. “I can’t believe YOU could do this,” she’d said—suggesting some degree of respect for me. I never forgot that. That negative reinforcement, I believe, was my salvation. No shock treatment needed.

What works best to alter your negative behaviors–positive reinforcement (praise, rewards) or negative (embarassment, physical pain, pecuniary loss)?

mak jang (so bad it can’t get worse)

This Korean expression is often used in the context of Korean dramas as they are often rife with exaggerated hardships and tragedy. (But compared to American soap opera type shows, Korean ones have more style, quirky characters/character development and often show mouth watering Korean food in the process). One of my favorite Kdramas, the Penthouse best exemplifies this expression for the series opens with a teenage character being flung from a balcony to her death in front of her mother and has a slew of murderous couples, parents who drug and act cruelly to their children, insipid teachers and depraved students who bully other students mercilessly and so on. (Suffice it to say, this show is not for everyone). Thankfully in real life, even for the most unfortunate, there is usually some reprieve from tragedy.

A friend of mine once complained to me that her son was applying to high school and resented having to write an application essay about a hardship he had faced because his life had been devoid of adversity. I greeted this news with disbelief–who was this teenager without hardship—a horned, mythical creature for sure. Just let me write his essay!

I sometimes revisit hardships in my life, in therapy or while dreaming up short stories. It’s useful to have certain moments that haunt you from a creative standpoint. I have this belief, full of exceptions, that you can’t be creative without having suffered a fair share and by suffering I mean financially struggling/being rejected and/ or having some emotional turmoil/instability for any reason. This is probably an uncontroversial idea. As I’ve gotten older, I do wear hardships with some pride as evidenced in a ridiculous discussion my good friend and I once had that went something along the lines of:

Me: “When I was a kid, I ate eggs for six days once, prepared different ways because my mom ran out of money.”

Friend: “We never struggled financially but my parents were depressed. Barely got it together to feed us as kids.”

Me: “Well, I once lived in a massage studio and my bed was the massage table witb the hole for your head.”

Friend “My parents are hoarders and never invited anyone to our apartment.”

Though we both rationally knew, adversity is subjective and not worth comparing, in the moment each of us wanted to believe we won the contest. What an odd contest to want to win! What in the world can one do with this “victory”? A short story idea/good writing prompt maybe.

During the past year, I’ve been particularly humbled by those who call my legal services for employment law help. My own relative privilege is clear after speaking to my low wage clients about the losses of 2020-2021. How many women have I spoken to whose husbands worked hard their whole lives in service industries only to be fired for having COVID and then dying of it–leaving their families without life insurance or savings. Or who could forget the employees with disabilities like cancer. too scared to go to the office on public transportation during COVID times, who are denied accommodation to work from home and instead given the lose-lose ultimatum: come to the office or you are fired. Oh America.

If there was ever a Mak Jang time of my life, it’d be the ninth grade at the Trinity Highschool in nyc. My single mom who adopted me on her own had the dubious achievement of losing her job in the Fall of the ninth grade, getting diagnosed with cancer and being unable to pay rent, leaving us effectively homeless. We moved with my beloved pet guinea pig (housed in a tricked out Pampers Box) into my mom’s friend’s Westchester apartment. I had to share the 10 year old daughter’s bedroom and needless to say, there was some acrimony on this poor girl’s part. Suddenly, instead of a teddy bear, she had sad, four-eyed me stripping her of her blanket every night. (As my husband will confirm, I am a selfish, roll-ey sleeper). This girl’s ultimate revenge: taking my pig (“Chocolate Chip Little Nobie Hopkins Lubin” or “Nobie” for short) out of her box and squeezing her mid section too tightly so that she’d squeal. (Sadistic little fuck!). In those few months, mom and my namesake “Aunt” Elissa, mom’s close friend, who also lived in Westchester were increasingly at odds; their rancor culminated in Elissa buying me a $25 stuffed animal Benji dog and mom arguing she’d spent so much on a toy for me. Soon after, Elissa moved to Portland, Oregon to be with her children and thus, a seminal person in my life, was poof, gone. To top it off, in those months I commuted into Manhattan to start the 9th grade at the coveted Trinity High School, my sixth school of my life. Here, I quickly realized I was a middling, poor, Asian girl at a wealthy school of kids who once greeted me en route to a school dance in the gym by yelling “the Japanese rule the world!” Good times.

When we finally moved out of the Westchester apartment that year, we had to leave my cherubic Nobie behind for some reason. Months later, I learned my five year old guinea pig, the only pet I’d ever had who’d kept me, an only child, company, suffered a heart attack in the hands of the girl.. My loss in that moment– immeasurable.

Write about the mak jang momemt of your life. It’s therapeutic!

,

Paek-Pok, to be brutally honest

Start of a doll of Vincenzo from the Kdrama

Paek-pok is another Korean expression I enjoy. Supposedly, it’s used the following way:

A:Do you like my haircut?”

B:” It kind of ages you and makes you look round in the face”

A: “Ouch. Way to paek-pok me.”

My discussion of brutal honesty begins with a little story involving my Cousin M, a now elderly Korean woman who married into my mother’s family. She is a spitfire and a matriarch with a big, generous spirit. When she first met my husband a long time ago at a loud Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan, my husband and I were busy eating at a long table at the opposite end from her when she yelled ” Why (my husband’s name here)! Your hands so tiny like a lady!” For a longtime after, my husband told this story, evidencing his very Canadian, self-effacing humor.

I rightly or wrongly associate blunt honesty with Koreans. In my defense, the only people who have told me that at least a certain older generation of Koreans are known for being blunt, are Koreans and I’m of course Korean, so it seem safe. Besides, I am shining a positive light on blunt honesty here. While visiting South Korea years ago and staying at the social welfare agency where I lived as a baby before being adopted, I met many wonderful Korean people– a fair share of them blunter than most Americans I know. My foster mother with whom I joyfully reunited, greeted me with compliments about my appearance (a translator in tow) and, without asking, spent a fair share of lunch leaning over the cafe table to pick the few premature grey hairs out of my head. I found this incredibly endearing! Later on, a bus full of older Korean women loudly tsk-ed my friend and I when we hopped back on the bus after visiting the DMZ and started jovially yelling “You’re so slow. You kept us waiting!!” in Korean. Another day, a sales woman refused to let me try on a dress at a store, crossing her arms over her chest and saying “too big! too big!” which alarmed me. But maybe it was the spirit of the trip and my long-awaited connection to my mysterious origins; I soaked up the bluntness and relished each encounter.

My cursory online “research” on whether brutal honesty is a characteristic acknowledged by Koreans suggests the answer is yes. One Korean commenter noted that Koreans have a Confucian devotion to family first and friends/coworkers but do not have as much concern for strangers and other acquaintances. This means one may be more likely to get bumped into on the street in Korea without a subsequent apology as the common belief is one doesn’t need to apologize for a natural accident. But the Confucian ideology may explain why my Korean friends here seem to not only revere their elderly relatives but more readily open their households to them when their elderly relatives are needy. How admirable! Maybe, we could benefit from more filial loyalty and less artificial politeness? (Though I realize a strong argument for opening up Korean society to diverse ideas and people).

Most of us have a friend/co-worker who is reliably blunt. I have one such friend whom I trust for her true opinion. As someone often in my own head who is prone to denial and a la-dee-da feeling that life is a series of vagaries beyond one’s control, I value how her bluntness grounds me to reality. As she’s a self-reflective human, she has admitted that she knows it rubs people the wrong way at times. I imagine that she’d be an effective life coach for she has much advice, some unsolicited and it’s often spot on. Is there anyone who doesn’t sometimes want to be told what to do and why? From her, for example, I have learned my ADHD medication has certainly worked (I had some doubts); for as she explained, I used to flake out socially quite often and now I’m on time and reliable. Not every friend will lay it out for you like that.

Recently, cleaning out a closet of mine that is filled with yearbooks and scrapbooks I used to make that detail my life in embarrassing minutiae, I came across the following cartoon drawn by a guy friend of mine– a co-counselor at a summer camp for children with Diabetes. I remembered this guy was an artist and I’d like to give him credit but I can’t remember anything but his first name, Brian. I was looking at it and enjoying how he made each of us counselors represent a part of a zombie.

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Then I scanned down to find my representation. See below photo 2. Above my name, foot rot. FOOT ROT! It is too long ago for me to remember anything about the meaning behind this fab association but there’s a possibility, I suppose, that I may have had stinky feet at least on one occasion or maybe dear Brian did not hold me in high regard. Maybe it’s just good fun. But could I not have been the fig leaf or the shins?

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I recently told a young friend about an app I swear once existed where you could anonymously email or was it text a coworker a truth that that person needed to hear like “you have a terrible hair piece.” Searching for online info re this app though, I found nothing, which either confirms that I’m a terrible internet searcher or this was something in my imagination. I think we can all agree, anonymous brutal honesty is something the world can do without.

This post makes me think of how we teach our kids to be honest but also encourage them to be nice and polite to others–thereby encouraging white lies that protect people’s feelings. Such confusing but well-meaning directives! My husband, again Canadian, always says that being nice is undervalued and I agree, but I think so is honesty. Even the blunt kind. I marvel at the many ways, often comic, that people try to balance being honest and being polite. One friend told me she coughs when asked a question that she doesn’t want to answer for fear of offending someone. Some people might say “interesting” to mean “I disliked it.” For me, I become a monotone robot when I dislike something (“nice!”) but if I like it, I’m a hemorrhaging sychophant. (“OMG this is the most mind blowing novel. I am seriously blown out of the water like, I wish i could have a pinky of your talent. I grovel at your feet!”)

I can count a handful of times that I have wielded the brutal honesty axe, to varying degrees of success. The bad includes the time I asked my friend’s banker friend why he loved money so much, which made him cross and quiet. Go figure. Then there was the time I had a volunteer in my legal services office who was an LLM student. He was a sweet guy with a disheartening inability to do any of the tasks required of a legal intern, even after months of guidance. The degree of inability could not be easily explained-not language barrier, personality conflict or lack of interest. His grades suggested a debilitating learning disability was not the problem. One day, he came into the office and told me his life story and his dilemma: should he go back to his country where life would be easy as his father was a successful, well connected attorney or stay in United States where he would clearly struggle indefinitely. I told him that it sounded like he wanted to go home, which is my version of brutal honesty and he took my advice and left. I hope I’m right in thinking I saved him great torment here and I suspect I am.

Another context in which I’ve wanted to be brutally honest is the classic creative writing workshop, though this is strongly discouraged so I haven’t. But how my body sometimes shakes, wanting to yell out “For the love of the Lord, have you learned nothing? You can’t have dialogue that noone can follow and you can’t write dialogue that is exactly the way two boring people speak to each other unless you are famously talented and you cannot have a character repeatedly say “Bow down to the pink pussy,” out of the blue for no understandable reason. (How I wanted to save this workshop student from years of torturous writing. He’d advised us he had written ten novels, all unpublished, which sent some shivers down my spine. I think everyone should write but should everyone share? Oh dear, I’m half joking. I swear I’m a great workshop participant. Really).

What techniques, if any, do you use to balance honesty and niceness? Do you ever wish you could just let it rip and tell people what you think of them? Try it but don’t get hurt.

Final Vincenzo doll, stuffed with Polyfil

Clowns, get dressed

Sculpie of girl from True Beauty, Kdrama I liked. She has a lipstick in tow for her transformation.

I’ve enjoyed writing stories about real life Vixens but what about the Clowns? (See this blog’s prior Vixen 1-4 posts). In terms of self-care–grooming and style–many of us have been Clowns during quarantine/this past year; some of us are career Clowns, tickled that our ways have been normalized. No need for shame if your wardrobe is brim with sweatshirts and if your manicure-free nails are talons. It’s no longer just Keanu Reeves’ older girlfriend prancing around town with a head of greys! Even Vixens have joined the fray and I hear many have enjoyed the break from societal expectations. Take for example, my friend D, a successful entrepreneur and socialite from an iconic American design family; to her delight, gone are the social functions she used to frequent and the need to showcase her charms. Ensconced on a bucolic estate owned by her family she was, as I last saw her a few months ago, calm and resplendent in a messy ponytail, bare face and no shoes. Further, she told me I was the second friend she’d seen in almost a year–limiting most of her contact to her family. But the clock is ticking.

Without making light of this past year, there have been some positive notes. Whom among us Vixens or Clowns will unexpectedly miss our face masks for the anonymity they provide when we walk down the street? Personally, as someone who gets in trouble for having a face that is an open book (my friends often tell me I look bored when I am), I’ve enjoyed the fact I’m unreadable behind the mask. (Some people have expressive eyes. My eyes are like dead pools of black. I have noticed people trying to study them to figure out my mood but I’m impenetrable!) Speaking about less trivial benefits, more employers, including my own, have finally accepted the idea that working from home, to some degree, is for a wide range of workers a viable option that accommodates parents and those with disabilities. I know that one day a week when my employer requires us to return to the office most days, I can squeeze my daughter when she comes home from school, drive my son crazy with open-ended questions about his school day and wear snuggly apparel as I advise people whether their employers have done anything illegal or are just cretins.

Though I’ve enjoyed the ease of wearing clothing that morphs from daytime to bedtime seamlessly, as I walked through Central Park this past Sunday with my first Moderna shot coursing through me and a spate of cherry blossum trees on view, I experienced an epiphany–I’m ready to bust out of my cocoon in a swash of colorful, dignified clothing! Blazers and floral skirts galore. Am I ready for shoes with hard heels? Lip color beneath my mask? The possibilities are rampant.

It was hard for me not to gawk as my kids and I rambled down the path to the boat rentals; for the park was a veritable runway of stylish adults (mostly unhampered by children). Indeed, I have observed, New Yorkers are dressing very “Korean” these days—lots of cute knitwear sets, layered looks, baggy jeans, puffy sleeves, pleated mini skirts and attention grabbing hair pins for example. (If you have any doubts about the rise of Korean fashion and the influence of the Hallyu wave that comes from Kpop and Kdramas, look on the website yestyle.com that I adore, and wait a year to see the same fashions emerge in the U.S. It’s pretty fun to see).

My kids and I enjoyed a day full of minor mishaps that on paper, would suggest a fiasco.. We grabbed Subway sandwiches for lack of imagination and circled the park looking for a non-balding patch of grass (which is no small feat. Am I paranoid or are UWS lawns way more trod upon than UES ones? Is that because of all the children here or is it some nefarious scheme of FLO (Frederick Law Olmsted?) We found a patch of mud with some grass, soaked in some Vitamin D and then headed to the Boathouse. En route, we stopped at a large bank of swings and I unwisely put my five year old in the kind meant for a 2 year old. This caused me to struggle comically to lift her out, an ungraceful reckoning that caught the eye of an observant father whom, contrary to the idea that good samaritans do not exist, huffed and puffed until he lifted my little turnip out of the swing. (This was before I read about a TikTok trend of teenagers purposely shoving themselves into baby swings to get stuck). We waited forty minutes on the Boathouse line only to discover a cash only policy. Three tired gerbils re-traced our steps home. Despite the setbacks, at the end of the day, my teen son said with no discernable trace of irony “This had to be the highlight of my vacation,” which gave me immense joy and gratitude; for the world has suffered so much loss and devastation, yet we clowns were together on one of the prettiest Spring days ever.

Hope you have a good Spring everyone!

Tried to find a looser style by drawing in Sharpie fast. I’ll keep trying! The first three are of a lawyer character on a very popular Kdrama, the Penthouse. He’s a true clown and his outfits reflect that well. The last drawing is of another main Penthouse character wearing a fancy sweatshirt with a shirt layered underneath-so Korean. It’s got a cool leather collar detail that, hah, makes this “fancy” for me. Baby Steps, I guess!
Peg dolls of the main three characters in The King, Kdrama, a show with some good outfits

Rice cake in a picture 그림의 떡 (geu-reem-eui dduk)

This Korean expression means something that is desired but beyond one’s reach, usually because it’s too expensive.

As I described in an earlier post, in a Manhattan parent support group I used to attend, we began our session by identifying ourselves by gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, race and finally class. Everyone always identified as middle class except one brazen mom who once announced she was upper middle class. I applauded her courage but wish she’d gone further and yelled “I’m filthy fucking rich!” for my base amusement. (Alas it was not that type of crowd). I understood why no one wanted to be labeled wealthy. After all, folks want to be liked in an intimate support group! And the rich are not doing themselves any favors lately.

My friend recently observed that in the past she felt like rich people donated to public works and projects that helped people in times of crisis (i.e. the Carnegies) and we don’t hear about this lately during the COVID crisis. Perhaps the supremely wealthy are all humbly donating anonymously right now but I say, save that “aw shucks” modesty for another time. As my husband sometimes jokes, putting his hand sweetly behind my neck when I am being slow, “look alive!” Richies need to look alive right now. For many Americans, the rich are the Sachlers who seem to wait to be sued to give significant money to charities affecting the opioid addicted; they are the big corporations that fight unemployment benefits for their longtime employees and/or terminate employees for having COVID/taking protected leave, the billionaires going to space and reserving seats for their buddies and the sun-kissed Hampton-ites complaining of having to use their 5 bedroom country homes as their primary home during the height of COVID. (See the widely disliked NY times article that made me want to get a pitchfork and head to the Hamptons, https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/07/24/realestate/coronavirus-second-homes-.amp.html)

For many, a good education is still rice cake in a picture. The plight of the have-nots v. the haves was illustrated a few years ago when my son went to elementary school at a mediocre, not quite flourishing NYC public school (with potential and some great programs/people/teachers). One Spring, my family joined our friends who live in more affluent zip codes for their kids’ public school Spring fairs; I was blown away by the surplus— huge linked courtyards bustling with energy and commerce. We ate cotton candy, had our faces professionally painted, watched harnessed kids jumping the height of a skyscraper on some ride, ricocheted from one elaborate bouncy castle to the next, sampled the offerings of many alluring food trucks and admired the choice goods for sale.

A week later, my son and I went into the small fenced in courtyard where my kid’s Spring festival took place. In one corner, there was a small inflatable slide with a deflated side railing that made it unstable and not fun. Somewhere in the middle of the sparsely populated space, stood an admirably cheerful mother behind a small crate that had maybe three apples sliced up and placed on paper towels–an impromptu and yes, feeble apple-tasting booth. This would have been alright, maybe, if there had been some variety; Granny Smith and Macintosh were the offerings. After this experience, I remember thinking how stellar it’d be if some of the more affluent schools could donate some of their fundraising money to my kid’s relatively struggling school. (I mean then we could really go ape shit and get some Pink Lady/Macoun/Fuji apples!) The fact that this type of communal pot idea has been raised and roundly rejected in nyc proves to me that we should all give the finger to laissez faire, trickle-down economics. For will the rich save the poor in this city? No. In the knowing words of my six year old (after hearing me tell my then 11 year old son I could not comprehend his math homework), “looks like you’re on your own.”

In writing this post, and watching so many class obsessed Korean dramas, I was eager to know how South Korea ranked in terms of class divide. At #12, it trails respectably behind the U.S. (#9) by a hair. (Among the worst offenders are, no duh, China (#2) and India (#3)). Article after article have been written about the increasing class divide in South Korea as reflected in the popularity of the movie Parasite. Most interesting to me, I recently read about South Korea’s “spoon system” of socioeconomic class that has supposedly been a part of Korean popular culture since 2015 according to Wikipedia. (This author is lazy and not citing the footnotes of Wikipedia).

What spoon are you? (For the record, I dislike the names of the spoon tiers. Do the poor need another kick in the pants by being referred to as dirt spoons? )

  • The diamond spoon – within top zero point one per cent of population, with more than $3.2 million ~ $6.4 million annual salary and more than $16 ~ $32 million in assets.
  • The platinum spoon – within top zero point five per cent of population, with more than $1.6million ~ $3.2 million annual salary and more than $8 ~ $16 million in assets.
  • The gold spoon – within top one per cent of population, with more than $800K ~ $1.6 million annual salary and more than $4 ~ $8 million in assets.
  • The silver spoon – within top five per cent of population, with more than $400K ~ $800K annual salary and more than $2 ~ $4 million in assets.
  • The bronze spoon – within top ten per cent of population, with more than $200K ~ $400K annual salary and more than $1 million ~ $2 million in assets.
  • The steel spoon – within top twenty-five per cent of population, with more than $100K ~ $200K annual salary and more than $500k ~ $1 million in assets.
  • The wooden spoon – within top fifty per cent of population, with more than $50k ~ 100k annual salary and more than $250k ~ $500K in assets.
  • The soil spoon – those with $25K ~ 50K annual salary and more than $125K ~ $250K in assets.
  • The dirt spoon – those with less than $25K annual salary and less than $125K in assets.

According to a Korean Language Blog (Are you a Silverspoon? Korean Language Blog (transparent.com), “Even the hit boyband BTS known as a “dirt spoon idol” for their early struggles , tackles the social divide, singing a “Don’t call me a spoon! I am just a human” in the song “Fire.””

Perhaps reflecting the embarrassing dominance of Korean dramas in my life, I sometimes watch these shows and ask myself dopey questions that noone else cares about concerning the characters, i.e., what psychological toll does Geum Jandi in Boys over Flowers have being born a dirt spoon–the daughter of a struggling dry cleaner who gets pummeled, dumped with flour and demeaned by her rich classmates for years until she has an epiphany to become a doctor and marry a tycoon. What happened to all the hostilities she must have stored against the wealthy once she joined rank? Does becoming inordinately wealthy mean she must dislike herself/stick the pitchfork into her own flesh? Alas, we never see her class resentments or her ambivalence/self loathing. She positivity glows as a gold spoon. Kudos to you Geum Jandi! But I’d like to watch a Kdrama where the main character becomes pathologically rich out of the dregs and nurses a huge chip on her shoulder/Robin Hood complex. Anyone else?

Good night my lovely spoons!

Interesting Korean-American #1: my son

It might be taking narcissistic parenting to new heights by parading my son on this blog but so be it. I think he adds a fun, young voice and he actually agreed to it. Enjoy!

Q: Does being half Asian-American inform what political candidates you like? (i.e. Are you one of the Yang gang?)

A: Definitely not a Yang Gang-er.

Q: What percent Asian do you feel you are? Percent Jewish?

Answer: I’d say 60/40? Like, I’m a HUGE Korean/general asian food fan, but maybe because it’s just objectively good 🤷‍♂️ But I don’t really connect much with other parts of asian culture- I think kdramas are kind of lame because they all have similar romantic/class conflict centered plots.

Q: Favorite Yiddish word?

A: Either kvetch (to whine) or commadavah (to obsess.) I also confuse the last one with the non Yiddish word “commando” (no underwear) because my Jewish grandma says both all the time!

Q: Favorite nyc bookstore?

A: the Kinokunya Japanese bookstore! (I probably spelled that wrong.) Second on the list would probably be the Strand. For non-NYC online bookstores, I like Firestorm (https://firestorm.coop) and A Room of One’s Own (https://www.roomofonesown.com)

Q: Maximalist or minimalist?

A: Maximalist at heart, minimalist on principle. My brain is capable of simultaneously shouting “fuck capitalism” and “$30 eraser pack from amazon do be so cute tho 🥺🥺🥺🥺”. But my room isn’t like… filled to the brim with useless stuff. I have a few verrryyy bigggg collections though (erasers, enamel pins, sew on patches, Pride stuff, anything frog related)

Q: Why frogs?

A: just relate to them on a spiritual and existential level. They’re super cute but underappreciated/ unloved and people don’t usually think of them as cute. They look adorable when they’re just vibing, especially if there’s a fruit or hat on their heads. Also the female ones change sex all the time so they’re like, the ultimate 🏳️‍⚧️ animal.

Q: What is a light-hearted thing you like to roast other trans people for?

Answer: we all have the exact same names, myself included. chances are, if you meet a trans guy, their name will be aiden/kayden/jaiden, elliot, alex, kai, or my own name, oliver! non-binary peeps are all named after some noun or abstract concept like Socks or Moss or Arson. It’s adorable, really, but kinda funny.
💙💓🤍💓💙


Q: Favorite feminist tome:

A: Anything by Audre Lorde or bell hooks. also Medium articles by Julia Serano are great in terms of a trans woman centered feminist perspective.

Q: five things usually found in your backpack:

A: A pack of HiChews, my frog hat, fidget toys, school stuff, a custom button made by a friend.

Q: candy you can’t get enough of:

A:.Weird flavors of Kit Kats, like lemon/mint.

Q: Skill you wished you had:

A: crocheting stuffed animals, making my own patches + enamel pins

Q: pick a superpower:

A: either going back in time to undo cringy things you did/said, or living forever.

Q: Best Korean dishes:

A: Ramdon and Korean army stew

Q; Kdramas— just for middle aged housewives?

A: Boys Over Flowers was pretty decent. They’re all so str8 though, and as I said, verrryyyy repetitive plots.

Q: Favorite kind of tik toks:

A: Most of my tiktok feed is either:

  1. oddly satisfying ASMR videos{an explanation i found online: “ASMR is a sensation of chills or tingling that starts from your scalp or back of your neck and envelops your body in the tingly sensation. The trigger is most commonly a sound, but some say they’ve achieved the same tingling feeling through certain sights as well. It can be anything from soft whispers, light crinkling of paper, the sound of brushing hair, and the sticky poking of slime”)

2. cursed absurdist gen z humor

3. frogs, possums, and other unloved yet cute animals

4. queer folks being queer

5. assorted pieces of political activism, writing advice, or really delicious looking food.

Q: : Procrastinator or anticrastinator?

A: big time procrastinator!

Q: Best replacement for cool:

A: swag

Q: best replacement for cool that a middle- aged mom can use without eliciting eye roll:

A: in that case, don’t bother. just keep saying cool.

Q: Best indie song:

A: Body or Hayloft by Mother Mother

Q: Dream trip:

A: either a month in paris eating at Le Cinq or a trip to Seoul and getting to eat all the great foods there!

Q: Bennifer II, yay or neigh or don’t care at all:

A: literally why would i gaf

Q: Best tired old mom story she repeats over and over:

A: either that one person who said you’re the funniest person they knew, that one person who said you’re the weirdest person they knew, or about that one friend who dumped you.

Q: Elon musk – autism hero or dunce? (Note my son is autistic and proud).

A: this is definitely where my “fuck capitalism” side comes in. elon musk is a rich, white exploitive asshole who just happens to be autistic. but in a sense i think it’s good because autistics are so infantilized and treated as some special breed of human who can do not wrong. so the world will finally see that autistics can be rich exploitative assholes too! equal opportunity assholery for the win!

Q: draw something cute:

A:

Q: greatest insult in your eyes:

A: “You’re so basic.”

Q: nightmare job:

A: Police officer or fashion designer.

Q: strangest thing you ever ate:

A: Lamb brain and testicle omelette in Southern Spain and octopus with moving tentacles in Queens.

Q: middle aged parents who blog. Opine.

A: Kind of cringe but to each their own.