Signals,Tarot Cards and the Year Ahead

My Kdrama tarot card. I hope i can make more but I doubt I can do all 72 or whatever the number typically in a pack.
The Tower tarot based on Kdrama the Penthouse. The tower is Hera Palace.
The Devil, inspired by the Penthouse’s awful male villain with his bomb detonator in hand
Tarot of Kdrama The King and tarot of the Queen from the Red Sleeve. Black and white better than color below? Not sure.
kites as signals from a scene from the Red Sleeve, a good kdrama on viki.com

This candle works! I swear!

Approaching the New Year, I note the obvious: gems, witchcraft-lite and tarot cards are ubiquitous. We are clearly looking for guidance and some assurance about our future and these things are easier to acquire and gift than sessions with a therapist. Visiting friends in the New Jersey suburbs not too long ago, I picked up an Inspiration candle at a charming witchcraft store that my friend’s teenage daughter showed us. My purchase lay dormant for months. (Maybe a surprise to the countless friends and acquaintances who have pegged me a candle person, I normally only light them for religious holiday observance). But the other night, hoping for creative energy, I lit up the above candle with its rose petals, vanilla notes and one encrusted gem to write and, voila, i wrote steadily for two hours! I’m an easy convert! (So keep those candles coming!)

But Tarot cards and their wacky, arcane explanation books are another matter. (Though I do enjoy the illustrations on tarot cards. See my own drawn Kdrama-themed tarot card. above). Tarot cards and fortune tellers remind me of the sleepy UES neighborhood on York Avenue where I lived for years of my childhood. Between a hair salon that routinely gave me an Asian bob that aged me, and a drab supermarket, was a small tarot/fortune telling store owned by a Romani couple. Their storefront had the telltale signs of failure—-dusty velour curtains and few patrons. The fortune tellers had four tween/teenage daughters who were dark-haired, lanky and otherwise unremarkable in appearance. The girls always traveled in a pack and this pack delighted in following me, a quiet 8 year old Korean-American adoptee, around the neighborhood and teasing me. (To be fair, they were generous bullies, they messed with a lot of neighborhood kids including my white friends; however, the sisters didn’t insert race for my friends so their jeers seemed more innocuous). This quartet was strangely brazen, calling out “hey eggroll!” as my mom and I entered the neighborhood’s newspaper store– somehow loud enough for me to hear, but not my mother. (It’s like they spoke to me in dog whistle and I was the dog). I don’t remember telling my mother about their taunts. I was probably ashamed how their mild, silly insults caused me disproportional distress/self-loathing. How remarkable to me now that these scrawny, low-key bullies whose most biting epithet was “egg roll” were viewed as a calamitous, powerful force in our neighborhood. For me, the sisters’ jeers were the most blatant reminder that I, a Korean girl adopted by a white, Jewish mother, did not belong. I may have hated them.

My friends and I used to call them “The Gypsy Girls” but not in their presence; even in the 1970’s, we knew it wasn’t a kind way to address them. My best friends Wendy, Maya and Zoe and I, all York Avenue kids, were not precocious–a naive, innocent lot. For amusement, we used to gather our most dilapidated, reject toys and try to sell them to strangers who walked by the corner of York Avenue and 90th street where Wendy’s high rise building stood. Quite remarkable to me as a parent now, our parents back then let us exchange money with strangers on this quiet corner at the end of a long driveway, far from any responsible adult. With great fanfare, we’d lay our toys on a blanket and sit cross legged, one of us Lord of the metal cash box filled with petty cash and coins. Surprisingly, pitying parents or dim-witted children would, on occasion, purchase our toys for pittance. On weekends that we had no toys to surrender, we made dopey, earnest greeting cards with printer paper, markers and crayons and would try to sell them. (When I say that none of us evidenced any early artistic abilities that is an understatement.). We were, indeed, an easy target for the Romani sisters. On one occasion, the oldest sister shadowed our blanket, convincingly cooed over our cards and then explained she would return with cash in an hour. We watched with pride and titillation as she scooped up a row–basically our entire inventory– of sloppy greeting cards and carefully placed them in a shopping bag. Not one of us arched a brow or raised the specter of duplicity. Instead, we waited on our blanket. One hour. Two. Possibly more. When we packed up for the day, no sister in sight, we were certain of their #1 enemy status. Notably, our mood was strangely chipper, each of us invigorated by our collective outrage.

Decades later, traveling with my husband to Rome, I gasped in a mix of revulsion and empathy at the vision of a Romani woman seated before the Vatican entrance with a one foot high tumor growing from the top of her bald head- like a real life Dr. Seuss drawing. My adult understanding of the tragic plight of the Romani made me re-evaluate the infamous York Avenue gang. Looking back at the pretty silly “epithets” the sisters hurled at me, I wonder if they were misunderstood. Were they just lonely, slightly neglected kids who wanted to be our friends and only knew the preschool method of pulling at our pigtails? The slights of childhood were surely amplified and distorted by us in echo. We never knew their names, despite our formative years in their presence, because it seemed unnecessary at the time so my current piqued curiosity cannot be satisfied. One day, they will appear in a story I write and I will give them colorful, rich trajectories.

Though I shun New Year’s resolutions when they are a silly bucket list of things to do/buy/attain, the above middling recollection reminds me that it’s good to consider the status and struggles of the “villains” before joining the masses to vilify them. (My friends and I were the ones who never learned the sisters’ names and who called them the “Gypsy girls” after all). I don’t imagine I can achieve this generous spirit all the time when people are offensive/hurtful to me but maybe more of the time is a good start in 2022. (I can’t say I associate Generosity of Spirit and the year 2021. Take the recent stabbing of Drakeo the Ruler by all accounts a skilled rapper who has been criticized for some ugly, anti-Asian lyrics. On a popular site dedicated to fighting anti Asian hate, one writer wrote how Drakeo’s lyrics may have encouraged a rash of burglaries that targeted Asian-Americans and therefore, karma got him. A rash of commenters applauded this sentiment. Ugh. We as Asian-Americans, even in in our anger at anti asian crimes and ideas, have to do better. There’s no room for us to be short-sighted and racist. It’s ruinous.

Another thing I want for 2022 is certainty, which I realize is never in the best of times possible. This ranges from the minutiae of wanting to know how many bulk KN95s, home COVID tests and paper towels makes me a detestable hoarder, to some big picture questions, i.e. when will most of us have to return to the Huis Close of office life? Listening to my employer’s Zoom meeting in which management told us staff about the return to the office policy in 2022, I remarked on what seems like a generational divide: older attorneys (mostly management with offices) who miss office life and speak of the amorphous benefits of showing up to the office and the younger generation (mostly in cubicles) who has less affection for office culture, greater comfort with Zoom and technology and a sizable fear of sardining indoors during COVID times. Though I am no longer in the younger group by age, I cheered on my mostly younger cohorts who raised concerns about the forced return to the office in early 2022. (And this Zoom happened days before Omicron’s surge).

Have I, these past two years of working remotely missed the inevitable office trifecta of carpal tunnel syndrome, curved posture and excess poundage from eating snacks all day in a seated, glossy-eyed trance? No. In fact, this past year, I started running early in the morning for the first time in decades, lost 35 lbs in a healthy manner and hopefully will keep Diabetes etc at bay. (It seems, I had not heeded the advice of a much older coworker who once saw me eating cookies at my desk and pointed at her own thighs to say “You better switch those out for carrots or this will be you”).

Nor have I longed for the sad spectacle of humans wearing headphones in small cubicles to drown out coworkers or how the smart few who used a standing desk or brought in their own aerodynamic chairs were labeled precious/demanding. I recall feeling self conscious keeping a yoga mat in a visible corner of my shared office as if it was something subversive/akin to George Costanza sleeping beneath his desk. I certainly hope more employers amp up their concern and resources for employee health, both physical and mental. Now’s the time.

How can we ring in 2022? For me and my family, it’ll be a quiet New Year’s. Watching a new Kdrama, the Red Sleeve set in the Joseon era, I was taken by a scene in which the royal court lady who is smitten for the young king learns of a plot against him as she’s taking a walk in the woods; in lickety-split time, she constructs a signal kite to warn her man of imminent attack. (She puts me and most crafters to shame. How did she gather glue/double sided tape, perfect bamboo sticks, strong paper, ink and string?) This scene certainly educated me about kites as I had thought they were simply the maddening toys that unhinge me; see me violently pulling kite string off of tree branches in Central park as my child paces. Indeed, kites have been used in warfare to convey military directions and issue warnings in many countries including China and Korea. As someone who still laments the end of snail mail, the idea of communicating with kites appeals to me. Only instead of warning a king of pending ambush, send a kite in the air to signal more mundane things, i.e. “Danger: tourist bus of anti vaxxers headed your way” or “Save me from this group of boring, self involved parents!” You get my drift.

I attempted to make one of these modern signal kites tonight but I failed. (See below for my fiasco). Hope this kite isn’t symbolic for my year ahead! Happy New Year’s! Be safe, healthy and generous in spirit (when possible)!!

Holy tarnation I hate double sided tape and trying to tie string to silky bamboo sticks…ARGHHH

Trollstice (Traditions) and Treehouses

Just discovered the Korean rapper Audrey Nuna. I’m liking her song “Damn Right.” It’s probably not a current song but I found a Korean rapper i like. I’m sure there are more to discover.
King Gristle afraid of Poppy’s avalanche of holiday suggestions from Netflix film Trolls Holiday.
A drawing I had fun doing one night when I had writer’s block. I find if I do not draw daily, my drawings suck. I think I’m showing a little Improvement drawing body poses after getting back into nightly drawing habit. But for every ok hand drawn, there’s a crap one close behind. See bad hand on the guy on the right. Oy!
The treehouse scene in Kendall’s birthday episode of Succession made me laugh. If I had a treehouse made for my adult birthday party, I, like Kendall, would not want my toxic siblings entering !

I’ve a newfound respect for my mother for raising me with any semblance of tradition; it turns out, for many of us, it’s not easy to make the considerable effort to celebrate holidays and create family traditions. But Poppy made it look so easy in Trolls Holiday (a Netflix film most of you may have passed over in which Poppy raps a list of holidays to share with those less well-versed in tradition–Queen Bridget and King Gristle). I’m like Bridget, a tad receptive to suggested traditions and my husband is King Gristle, angrily wiping Poppy’s glitter (from her pop up holiday cards) out of his eyes. In theory, I like traditions. I fondly remember lighting Friday night candles with Grandma Libby and Grandpa Ben when I used to visit them in Ohio as a child. For more than a decade, my husband, kids and I, voluntarily flew to Cleveland, sometimes in blizzards, to share Thanksgiving with my mother and our beloved family friends; they offered us what we could not emulate at home—a motley, lively collection of people in conversation, a mind-bending collection of perfectly baked pies/stuffings and lazy, post-gorge hours on a cozy couch watching football in periphery–uniquely satisfied. I, to this day, can get behind a rollicking Passover Sedar with its charming, idiosyncratic moments, i.e, filling a cup for a phantom Elijah and dipping a pinky into red wine for each of the Ten Plagues. But when I’ve tried to light Friday night candles for even two consecutive weeks, I’m at a loss. That takes some coordination, namely, a sure supply of the right candles and a utopian dedication to having us all in the same place at the same time.

That’s why recently, confronting my son’s high school applications, I was flummoxed to discover the following question for prospective parents: “Please describe your family traditions.” I thought, what kind of sanctimonious rot is this? Is there a place for bald honesty in these applications? Can I say we head of household are feckless and tradition-averse, the kind who decide every year which holidays to celebrate and which ones go on the chopping block. Can I tell them how we have lots of good intentions as a family–my kids, clearly hungry for tradition– often suggesting holidays for us to celebrate, i.e. Hamilton Day, Neuro-diversity Day, Yes Day, Korean Peppero candy day(a real holiday in Korea I read), Misty Copeland Day, Steven Universe Day and most recently Squid Games Day, but we parents lack follow-through. COVID, for many of us, has been the death knoll for family holidays. It’s turned us all into hermits who shun parties and travel. Many of us will not sit at a long table with a bevy of relatives as we used to. See my own family of four at our table this Thanksgiving–no leaf to extend the table necessary as we sliced a runt turkey and quietly appreciated our prim spread. My next hurdle—-how to celebrate the approaching Korean New Year’s in a safe way. Will I use my building’s unfinished, certainly code-violating roof and make guests bundle up in January for Korean food and our cash-grabbing tradition? (If you happen to see a flock of dollar bills in the sky that day, you will know from whence they came). Then of course there’s the planning and preparation for my son’s late-in-the-game bar mitzvah–a daunting task as he’s never gone to Hebrew School and therefore, needs a Cliff Notes Jewish education; further, my husband and I find organized religion to be stifling and dull and my head spins as I consider planning an exuberant, uniquely creative (but Covid-safe) celebration so that my son knows how much he is loved and admired by us (though I think he knows that already).

Other than worrying what a derelict parent I am, this holiday season, I have been a masterful slug, forsaking evening writing time for television (You, White Lotus, Succession and infinite Kdramas) and the occasional sketch. Last night, I got a real kick out of the Kendall birthday episode of Succession, in particular the scene where Kendall forbids his siblings from entering the luxe treehouse he ordered for his disastrous birthday party. (In the words of Korean rapper Audrey Nuna, Damn Right!) This funny scene made me think very end-of-the-year/New Year’s resolution thoughts, such as whom would I want in my hypothetical treehouse and whom would I ban? (Though at this stage of my life, I mostly surround myself by people I like, there is always room for some adjustments!). I loved the scene because Kendall is such a man-child , which sometimes makes him profoundly unlikable but in this one moment, I wanted to give him a maternal squeeze and applaud him for preserving the sanctity of his stunning treehouse. One of the only nice things about these past two years of COVID instability and mayhem is that there’s been for most of us, a real paring down of our social worlds; only the closest friends have risen to the surface. Be gone Shivs and Romans! (Though Roman is a hoot, he would suck as a relative). How I wasted my youth on some friends who made me feel like doo, i.e. the college friend who used to call me “Sooms” short for my middle name Soomee, uninvited, in order to say things like “Oh Sooms, late again?” or to otherwise mock my sometimes spacey/ADHD ways. (Note: Don’t call me Sooms, unless you ask me please. PTSD!) Let’s get rid or at least distance ourselves from people who roast us but never say things that make us feel good and boot out those who say abusive things to us (even if sporadically and under stress), never apologize and make us feel complicit when we are not at fault.

For 2022, readers, stand guard at the door of your treehouse and turn away those who erode your self-worth because IT’S YOUR DAMN TREEHOUSE! (I hope that’s the most New Age-y thing I ever write on this blog). Happy New Year!!

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

Fun Craft for Korean-American Day: acetate Kdrama shadow puppets

I am obsessed with drawing on see through material with Sharpies. It’s like making stained glass. Try it out! This puppet is supposed to be the lead male character in the charming kdrama Dali and Cocky Prince.
This plastic shadow puppet is so much more fun than the paper version as the patterns show through! Shine a flashlight against a white piece of paper/surface and you can start your puppet show. I was tired so excuse the quickly drawn hands! egads.
okay so I drew these fast and her arms are comically long and her face uneven but they were fun to make. Next time, i’ll use a clear duct/masking tape as the grey stuff looks ugly.

If there was a contest for the most hermit-like family during the Omicron wave, I am certain my family would be triumphant. I recently made my mother a photo book of our year of staying inside and going nowhere and it included a photo of my kids in an East Village community garden holding those bug zappers that look like tennis rackets and swatting flies with them. As memory serves, a garden volunteer who was wearing rubber gloves and potting some plants, stopped to take pity on my bored-looking kids as we sat in the garden one weekend afternoon, handed my kids two bug zappers and showed them how to use it to kill flies. This made my photo album. I do not jest. Though we do have friends, I assure you, we do not have a pod. (We apparently missed the 2020 pod-formation window. You snooze, you lose!) Indeed, my six year old struggles to write a “weekend story” each Monday at school. For two weekends straight, I have threatened to take both kids to the Nazi stolen art exhibit at the Jewish museum, one of three desolate NYC museums I feel confident going to right now. (It’s a stellar museum but as it is our default, it’s lost some of its appeal). Last weekend, the four of us headed to the Museum of the City of New York where they had three exhibits, yes three exhibits that entertained us–the puppet exhibit for my 6 year old, an activism exhibit (for my son) and an interactive 1980’s music exhibit, in which I lost my husband for more than an hour. Did I mention there were free 1980’s video arcade games on the same floor. The Golden Ticket! To my surprise, my Roblox-obsessed daughter sat and watched a slow-paced 30 minute film of a shadow puppet show narrated by someone with a quiet, lilting voice. Indeed, I lauded my own ability to sit through this “entertainment.”

Some plexiglass shadow puppets on display at the Museum of the City of New York’s small but fun puppet exhibit.

After this exhibit, I of course, had to try to make some plastic shadow puppets with jointed limbs. I would like to make ones with plexi glass like the one pictured above as the thin acetate I used does not look like it will endure.

I hope you will try this simple and satisfying craft. You of course, do not have to make Kdrama themed ones but I wanted to, in celebration of Korean-American day. Happy day (already done) to my four Korean-American friends and family and to all of you appreciators of Korean/Korean-American culture. xoxo

What you need: acetate, a clear paper to drawn on with Sharpie markers.Scissor to cut out figure, an awl to poke hole in limbs and body, wire to connect body and limbs, wooden sticks to tape to the limbs and body with the duct tape and the wire cutter.
(Sadly, i did draw this bear).. Use Sharpies to draw your figure on the acetate paper. Get colored sharpies, they are so fun! Then use scissors to cut out the shape. Then cut off the limbs/parts you want to be able to move on joints so here, I cut off one of this odd bear’s legs.
I’ve never used an awl but it makes a great small hole in the plastic. Put a small hole by just pressing awl hard into plastic leg once.
use the awl to poke a small hole in the body of your character.
cut about three inches of wire and then twist one end twice in a circle. This will be used to connect the limb and body.
poke the metal piece through the limb and the body and then twist the wire twice in a small circle secure it. voila– a jointed limb! Then you just add the sticks to each limb with a small piece of duct tape. Was this the worst/ fastest craft tutorial you have ever experienced? I didn’t bother actually showing you the completed bear because the bear sucks. You can do better.
xoxo

Interesting Korean #3, Eunsan Huh of mykoreanchildhood

I had the pleasure of speaking to Eunsan Huh of mykoreanchildhood. See our interview below! Her illustrations on Instagram make learning Hangul (the Korean alphabet) look approachable and fun and make me want to eat Korean food non-stop.

Illustrator Eunsan Huh
illustration by Eunsan Huh, mykoreanchildhood. I want her to make t-shirts etc as her illustrations would be so cute everywhere.
I love this example of Mykoreanchildhood’s work. She did the impossible–draw a cute but recognizable oyster! This also reminds me both how melodious I find the Korean language and how hard to learn at my age; the words sound too similar to me.
Me too!
Look at these lovable illustrations. Fried pancake with honey? Sleepy little ginkgo nuts? What do those taste like? Hope Hmart has all this!

Looking at your Instagram posts, I’m admittedly a bit green re: your undeniable talents. You’re clearly at least a linguist/writer, illustrator and cook. Are you trained in these areas or just a natural?
I have no formal training in illustration or writing but both are things I’ve enjoyed ever since I was a child. I had piles of notebooks full of drawings and also had an illustrated diary at one point. I learned English and Korean growing up and when I was in Canada I learned French in high school. I never liked language classes much as an adolescent but I came around after I became an adult. I started learning Icelandic on a whim, and a few years after that I learned Dutch also for no reason except for fun. At some point it became natural to combine my interest in drawing and my interest in languages and I started drawing Icelandic and later Korean!

I’ve always liked the Korean tradition of having babies chose a symbolic object out of a line of objects to predict their future career. Did you get subjected to this and if so, what object did you pick?
I picked the pencil. The traditional interpretation is that you’ll excel in academics but I don’t have much of a head for the classic subjects like math or science. I do enjoy drawing though so I think maybe that could be a new age way of interpreting the pencil!
My friend went to Mali after college on a fellowship to study music with a family who were all Kora players. I love the idea of a family who is uniformly talented in one area. I’m wondering if you come from a line of Korean creatives or if you are a lone wolf?
Growing up, my mom took all sorts of interesting classes like ribbon (hair band) making, sewing, gift wrapping, baking and cooking, while I was at school. She even took a semester of architecture school when we lived in Australia, and I remember being in awe of her tiny models of offices and buildings. While I’m the only one in the family who is expressing my creativity through illustration, I take after my mom a lot. I enjoy handicrafts like embroidery, miniature making, and ceramics, and I’m always on the hunt for interesting craft classes!

Mom sounds like like a bohemian dream! How about an inter-generational Zoom craft-making club! Me, you, your mom and all your Instagram followers? Please consider.

Supposedly a host of Korean words were added this year to the Miriam Webster dictionary.  Any surprises? I looked up which words were added and were honestly surprised by some of the additions. Dongchimi (radish water kimchi) is not one I saw coming! I think they did a good job of adding recognizable words like banchan, kimbap, and daebak. 
What is your favorite Korean expression, if you can pick one?티끌모아 태산 is one of my favorite expressions (I illustrated it a while back). I like the idea that it’s the little efforts that pile up to accomplish something great. This was especially relevant to me when learning new languages – it’s better to study in short intervals frequently rather than trying to cram hours and hours of studying in one day after not doing any review for weeks – but it applies to healthy habits and other hobbies as well. One up-side of having my Instagram account is that it gives me a sort of accountability for making illustrations regularly.

Horay! Glad you brought up one maybe under-appreciated positive of social media–the accountability/motivation it offers creative people. As someone trying to squeeze creativity into my life and who loses my focus, I am fascinated by those like you create steadily. Do you have creativity blocks and if so, what’s the cure?
I cycle between periods of extreme laziness and manic productivity. Sometimes I force myself to work on something even when I’m not feeling all that inspired but ultimately I don’t enjoy myself and the hobby ends up feeling more like a chore. I’m still learning how to be kinder to myself and let these lulls pass, and remind myself that in a few week’s time, I’ll feel a renewed energy and creativity.

Self flagellation is the worst! I hope you are kind to yourself in 2022. It seems like a particularly good time to be proud of being Korean. I just read that Sesame Street added a new puppet who is  Korean-American. Delightful! Do you think there any negatives to the Hallyu wave and the fact that we Koreans are everywhere right now or is this just a moment to celebrate? I grew up in a part of Canada with a big Asian population and Korean dramas were very popular among my friends and their families from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. But no one outside of the Asian circle really appreciated them or watched them. Fast forward some 15 years later, I’m sitting in a car in New York City and Sour Candy by Lady Gaga and Blackpink comes on the radio. There’s a part of the song that’s sung in Korean and it was so wild hearing that on mainstream American radio! This never would have happened if not for the Hallyu wave. It’s exciting to be living in a time when Korean culture – not just K-pop and K-dramas but also Korean food and K-beauty, fashion, and film – is being embraced by people all over the world. And as someone who needs Korean food on the regular, it’s pretty incredible to visit foreign cities and still be able to eat my favorite dishes. A few months ago I went to Senegal and had budaejjigae in Dakar! What a wonderful world.

Your favorite things about being Korean: I love the look of hangeul – how it’s made up of many different parts and shapes, like circles and squares and triangles. My handwriting is awful but I do love writing hangeul by hand.
Least favorite, if any: Korean spelling (맞춤법) is hard.
What Korean traditions/holidays, if any, did your family celebrate and if you had to pick one favorite, what would it be?
New Year’s Day because you get 세뱃돈! (New Year cash)
Favorite Korean dramas: I watch more reality shows than Korean dramas (other than the occasional series on Netflix). There’s a show called Street Woman Fighter that aired this fall that everyone was obsessed with in Korea. It’s a show that features all-female dance groups and it was so inspiring to watch. They just aired a spin-off special galled Street Girl Fighter that’s a similar format, but it’s with teenage dance groups competing against each other. Highly recommend!
Favorite off-the-beaten-track Korean dish?
찹쌀구이. It’s thinly sliced beef coated with rice flour and then pan fried. You use the crispy beef to roll up shredded perilla leaves and sliced onions, and eat it dipped in a vinegary soy sauce. I’ve never seen this on a menu in a restaurant, but it’s one of my favourite dishes so my mom makes it for me every time I go home to Vancouver.

I’m planning a big 50th birthday in two years in Korea. Can you recommend some must see areas/places to visit?
I love costumes and playing dress up so I recommend everyone to go to Gyeongbokgung dressed in hanbok. There are so many little studios where you can rent hanbok near the palace, and many of them have fun little photoshoot set ups. I’m planning on going to Jeju Island on my next trip to Korea (hopefully next year!). I havent been there in over two decades so I don’t have any specific recommendations other than just go 😛

What’s next for you? I’d like to work on a recipe book with my mom. I’ve been cooking a lot more since the pandemic started and would love to have a record of all the delicious dishes my mom makes for me.
Regarding my middle aged efforts to be more Korean and expose my kids to Korean culture, have any tips? Any must do’s?
I’d recommend finding something that you and your kids enjoy about Korean culture – maybe it’s K-pop or comics, or it could be Korean cinema or food. For me, I knew it was important to watch Korean TV because it’s the best way to get exposure to spoken Korean. I tried to get into Korean dramas but it wasn’t for me. Instead, I found reality shows that were more in line with my tastes (My Little Old Boy, I Live Alone, Produce 101/48, etc). The key to making any lasting habit or hobby is to find something that you enjoy sincerely, and also one that can easily fit into your life!

May 2022 be a year of creativity and self-love/kindness to yourself! Thank you for responding to me–a stranger to you with a lil’ blog. It must be the Canadian in you!

the illustrator in her traditional Korean outfit, hanbok.

Squid Game Party, Central Park

My large doll of the scary killer doll from Squid Game. Special thank you to Mariana who helped paint her and came up with the idea to hang her creepily from a tree for our game of Red Light, Green Light. (Photo taken by Susan Quatrone).
Our park sign painted by Josie
flyer for guests and envelopes for the envelope game
Frontman stickers, creepy doll pins and my sketched notes to help uninitiated players pick their number/character
Each player got a green bag (with my drawing of the Honeycomb challenge) and inside, bag of marbles with my sad attempt to write Hangul Korean letters on outside, buttons and stickers of doll, white t-shirt to draw number of character that player chose to be and stickers for those who got eliminated/shot.

One would think Squid Game is my favorite Korean drama/favorite show of all time because I spent many evenings planning a Central Park Squid Game party for old friends and new. It’s not my favorite, but I am a fan. Drawing, embroidering and stuffing a large, murderous Korean doll as I sat on the foyer floor at night was a fine way to escape life anxieties such as my recent startling discovery that my son’s young, clown-haired guitar teacher who has been doing home lessons with my son for more than six months, is a strident, conspiracy- theorist anti- vaxxer. (I found this out after referring him to my good friend as a guitar teacher. She had the wherewithal, unlike me, to ask him if he was vaccinated, and when he said no, she called me to ask if I knew he was unvaccinated. (No my friend, that would be some kind of Trojan-horse gift if I had known! )As it turns out, let’s call him Colby, went straight to my place after being booted out by my friend, which forced me to tell him I knew and wasn’t comfortable having an unvaccinated guitar teacher for my kid. His response: “Do you not believe in science?” I blinked at him, confused. Wasn’t it I who should be asking him this question? Then he elaborated, his voice and limbs clenched in a way I had never before noticed: “The science is clear that natural immunity is stronger than any vaccine. The CDC doesn’t admit it but Europeans know.” (Fucking Europeans!). I ousted him, disappointed in my own inability to sniff out a principled anti- vaxxer and left worried about finding a new vaccinated teacher.

The party (or shall I call it my therapeutic exercise to distract me from anything anxiety provoking), was memorable with an excess of ideas, Korean chicken and soju –disproportionate to the crowd size. Seeing old friends and new ones after a dearth of social gatherings and admiring the joy on their faces while playing group Tug O War and Red Light Green Light side by side with our shrieking kids, left me with a sharp appreciation of life. Half the fun for me was the party prep with my kids and friends. Absent from my life during COVID times is a feeling of community so how I relished making decorations with my kids and their families, bringing wagons of supplies to and from the park, accidently burning batches of sugar candies on my stovetop, doing a silly group huddle in which we stacked our hands in a pile and then threw them up in the air as we yelled “To Child Labor!” (acknowledging the many unpaid hours of work the kids did preparing for the party with me).

Suggestions for your Squid Game Party:

  1. Decorations: Make fun decorations like the money ball we hung from a tree. We used a glitter beach ball and taped it with fake money to look like the big money globe on the show. (We used large clear vinyl stickers as using scotch tape might take forever). I note that the quality of fake money has certainly improved since I was a kid. Passerbyers kept asking if the money in the ball was real and on the way to the park with a wagon of bags decorated with fake bills, good samaratins told me I was losing my dollar bills. In fact my own husband, the morning of the party observed the party bags with the fake 20 dollar bills stapled on and said, his voice only a little high-pitched,”are you giving people real money?’ His reaction probably reveals a lot about our dynamic—how he is at this point, all his eggs in the basket, charmingly un-phased by my peculiar ways. We gave each guest fake money in their green bags so when they were eliminated, they could tape the money to the ball just like when a player died on the show, dollars would be added to the huge globe.(We never did this because I forgot to tell people to do so). Making the large doll was time consuming but if you are inclined, get some large canvas material and start drawing, painting, embroidering and stuffing! Another easy, fun decoration kids enjoyed was using marker on a piece of canvas fabric to draw the cloudy scene in the show in which players pick their shapes. My kids and their friends enjoyed making the below tablecloth that we used to decorate a picnic table in the park.
the money globe decoration
tablecloth by my son, his friend J and my daughter (clouds her specialty)

2)The Dalgona/honeycomb challenge was a highlight. If you have 50 candies to make as we did, give yourself DAYS. Your kitchen and the floors of your house WILL.NEVER.RECOVER. Doing enough to make 3-5 candies per attempt was the way to go for us, instead of one candy at a time. In the beginning, it took 2 hours of failure to make ONE unburnt, fairly round, flat candy that didn’t crack. My friend Rachel and her son found success with the following: 6 tablespoons of sugar in a small flat non-stick pan (large pans didn’t pour fast enough). Stir constantly with a rubber spatula on level 5 of heat (on a gas stovetop) until the white hard chunks are out and it’s almost a liquid. Reduce heat to a 2 or so and stir a few seconds until it’s a brown liquid. Turn off the heat, add 3 small pinches of baking soda, stir fast and then pour an amount about the size of an oreo onto parchment (NOT WAX) paper. Wait 45 seconds and take bottom of a small pot and press evenly onto the candy and lift off. Wait 5 to10 seconds to press in cookie cutter shape. Let cool on paper.

50 candies made mostly by my friend Rachel, her son Ollie, my son and his friend.
Dalgona game
A happy survivor

3)Red Light, Green Light-Grown ups and kids bounding up a hill on a brisk autumn day to play RLGL was another highlight. Get an electronic bullhorn for the person calling out red light, green light. It would have been fun to play the creepy Korean song from that RLGL scene in the show but we couldn’t manage that. Oh, and I know some parents dislike toy guns but are they opposed to super fake-looking nerf guns? Ours definitely added to the fun as did instructing everyone to “die” dramatically when eliminated and having a friend in a mask and a red hoodie circle players ominously.

Me as 001 and a young player who basically ran the show on top of the hill with doll, bullhorn, bluetooth speaker, nerf gun and stickers to hand out to those “shot.”
Red light, Green light

4)Tug O War-Who knew it was this fun? Group tug o war is a beautiful thing. Enough said. You may find, the grown ups are the most excited for this activity. Amazon sells great long, thick ropes like this one that did the trick. (Oops Amazon, sorry!!)

5) Marbles: Nothing to really add here except you might want to give guests written or spoken suggestions of games to play as most of us have no idea what to do with a sack of marbles. I didn’t bother with written instructions as I dislike reading written instructions of any kind so I assume the same goes for everyone. People found a way to win their partners 10 marbles in the 15 minute timeframe.

6) Ddakji, envelope game. Thanks to Mariana for making everyone’s envelopes. I think I saw callouses on her hands after all the folding and tucking involved. YouTube has good tutorials on how to make them but that didn’t help the likes of me. Two mangled pieces of paper later and I was done. (You need a certain serenity for origami). The trick to these envelopes is finding the right paper, not too thick and not too thin. We ended up using this one below. Plus, this game is no joke. It should be an Olympic sport! I watched some players manage to use one envelope to flip over the one on the ground through strength, patience and dexterity–qualities I obviously lack.

7)Glass Stepping Stones Game: We made 18 large rectangular cardboard “glass panels” two side by side to form a bridge. We placed a mirrored square sticker in the center of the cardboard to give it a semblance of glassy appearance. Then we taped medium sized bubble paper (don’t use small sized bubble paper, they’ll be no popping sound) under some panels to be the “regular glass” and just puffy plastic under the “safe, reinforced glass.” We gave numbers to our guests and had them line up in groups of 16. They had 10 minutes to cross the bridge. When they stomped on a panel and heard a loud pop, they “died” and we took away that panel. When there was no noise after jumping on a panel, they were safe.

There was a sweet intensity to this game and who doesn’t like the thrill of popping bubble wrap?

8) We wanted to think of a way to play Squid Game with adults and kids of all ages but we ended up scrapping it. Someone suggested playing flag football/Squid Game combo but this party host lost her steam to plan this out.

9) The menu: We had Korean wings, Kimbap (Korean sushi), Makeolli, a cloudy, sour yet strangely alluring alcoholic drink, El Topo Chico bottles decorated with a sticker of the Squid Game shapes and cupcakes and fruit. (No, I didn’t cook anything myself. I am not that person). For fun, I had Korean ramen to eat raw as no. 456 did on the show. I also offered hard boiled eggs and apple cider to my guests, just like the paltry meal that the Korean gangster Deok-su grumbled about. I was entirely amused seeing a lot of kids and a few adults lining up to eat the eggs.

10) Some other ideas to try:

I made some “nighttime attack” stickers in honor of the viscous player against player nighttime attacks in the bunk beds. In this version, instead of killing a player, players can put a sticker on an unsuspecting co-player and force them to do certain silly challenges like eat a spicy Korean pickled garlic bulb or suck on a lemon slice and do 50 jumping jacks or for adults, drink a shot of questionably flavored soju (apple soju??). We didn’t end up doing this because there was so much else going on but it sounded like it could have been fun.

If I had a greater budget and an indoor venue, I would have liked to copy the steak dinner of the show and I would have bought each guest a full on track suit!

Thanks for reading about these adventures. P.S. Happy Halloween friends!