Interesting Korean-American #6: Q and A with Kate Telfeyan, owner and chef of NYC’s Porcelain restaurant(& formerly of Mission Chinese restaurant in NYC)

Kate Telfeyan

When I read the NY Times article about Kate Telfeyan and other Korean-American adoptee chefs, I knew I had to convince KT that doing a Q and A for my modest blog was worthy of her time. After all, anyone with an Instagram account and a past pop up called “Vaguely Asian” at a Queens restaurant, must have a sense of humor and be self-aware. (I want “Vaguely Asian” in script on a t-shirt!).

ME:I have to believe you are a scrappy, ambitious person for starting a pop up during COVID and opening your own restaurant, Porcelain, that is by all accounts thriving. What gave you the gumption to do all this?

KT:I don’t think ambition was ever really part of the decision making process. For me, given the current state of things I was mostly just following my gut. Before the pop-up I had started doing meal prep and delivery out of my apartment, partly as a way to keep busy, but also in an attempt to service my community in whatever way I could. The pop-up and the partnership at Porcelain became evolutions of the same inclination.

ME: What’s your adoption story? (e.g., year you were adopted, what age were you, what kind of family adopted you)

KT:I was adopted at age 2 from Korea in the early 80s. I grew up in rural coastal Rhode Island with my parents and an older brother (not adopted).

ME:Are your parents similarly creative and entrepreneurial?

KT: I think my parents are creative and entrepreneurial in their own right and I credit them with teaching me the very best things I know about how to pursue all things in life, business or otherwise, with kindness, strength and curiosity.

ME: Have you ever searched for your birth parents or like me, thrown your hands in the air and embraced your unique, mysterious past?

KT: I’ve never made any attempts, though I can’t say that I won’t ever; it’s just not something that’s ever been a huge priority. I think it’s mostly because I feel extremely fortunate for the life I have, and while the past may offer some insights into my biological origins, who I am is undoubtedly a reflection of the world in which I was enveloped post-adoption.

ME: I agree with that but I do have passing fleets of fancy re my birth family. The following question is not one I’ve considered myself but maybe you have:

If you were to meet your birth family, is there any fact about them that would sorely disappoint you ? (e.g., they aren’t explorative eaters, they lean Right etc).

KT: I don’t think so. I think if I were ever to meet them I would just hope they’ve lived a life as fulfilling as mine.

ME: Have you looked for any blood relatives via Ancestry or one of those services?

KT: Not actively. I did 23andMe a while back so I still get the “new relative” email notifications sometimes, but they’re always fractions of percent related.

ME: When i was a little girl, my grandma bought me a pretty Korean doll dressed in a silk hanbok. I used to perch it on a high closet shelf and play a game where my friends and I would run past the open closet and try not to scream as we ran by. (We always shrieked).  Did you have similar fear/conflict about your Korean identity?

KT: I wasn’t really exposed to Korean culture as a child, and wasn’t even really hyper aware that I was different until I hit adolescence. My hometown was not a very ethnically diverse place when I was growing up, so I white identified almost my entire childhood.

ME: I have been reading how recently there’s been a shift re: how Korean adoption is portrayed in the media. As you know, the bull-horned message used to be that we Korean adoptees were so lucky to be rescued from abject poverty; now more adoptees are voicing the darker side/the trauma of loss and forced assimilation that has been harmful to some. Have your feelings about being adopted morphed at all over time?

KT: Not really. Without knowing the circumstances under which my birth mother gave me up, I never had a narrative to fall back on except that maybe she was sick (I had tuberculosis when I was adopted). If the alternative to being adopted was to grow up motherless/family-less in Korea then I think I made out pretty well.

ME: Do you have qualities that your adoptive family do not, which you attribute to your birth family?

KT: I’ve spent a lot of time thinking on the notion of nurture v. nature as it pertains to human development, and specifically when it comes to food proclivities. And while I have no conclusive theory, ultimately I tend to believe people imbued with certain inarguable inclinations from birth, but that most of us are products of a beautiful and sometimes complicated chaotic mish mash of dna, environment, access, and individuality.

ME: Do you think that being adopted has fueled your creativity?

KT: On some level, yes. Wanting to learn more about my Korean heritage definitely led me down a pathway filled with foods and flavors from a whole different part of the world than where I grew up.

ME: Is food the main way you have explored your Korean identity or are there other ways?

KT:Definitely food was the driving force initially in my early 20s. But as I got older I wanted to learn more about the culture as a whole and made my first trip there in 2012.

ME: Favorite Kdrama/Korean movie if any:

KT: I have so much more to explore on this front! But I would say of the shows / movies I’ve seen, My Mister and the Reply series are my two favorites. I also loved Train to Busan.

ME: Have you, like me, been felled by late-in-life attempts to master Hangul and the Korean language or are you victorious?

KT: I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts, but as the years go by I feel more and more compelled to take a serious stab at it.

ME: Do you celebrate any particular Korean holidays/traditions?

KT: As someone who didn’t grow up celebrating them I always feel a little conflicted about trying to adopt them into my life now, but I do enjoy marking the occasions of Chuseok and the new year – mostly just by making the traditionally eaten foods of each 🙂

ME: Did you have a specific light bulb moment of realizing you wanted to be a chef for the long-haul?

KT: it wasn’t really a light bulb moment, it was more of a dull nagging voice in my head that persisted from the time I was about 20 until the day I started my first cooking job.

ME: Are you classically trained as a chef?

KT: Nope – learned everything I know either from teaching myself, or learning from all of the talented people I’ve been fortunate to work with along the way.

ME: Some of your favorite Korean foods:

KT: Tteokboki, kimchi jjigae, gimbap, soondubu jjigae, pretty much all banchan, samgyetang, seolleongtang…too many!

ME: Five essential food items you need from Hmart:

KT: eomuk, kkaenip, soon tofu, salted shrimp, shin ramen

ME:The gold medal for best K-town in the USA goes to:

KT: I’ve only been once, and only for one meal, but I would say LA’s K-town is probably superior

ME: You are a culinary wizard. Take Dan Dan lasagna on your current menu. How in heavens did you wrestle up this combo?

KT: I generally think of food as cross-cultural. There are culinary traditions that are unique and foundational to every culture, but in looking at the birds’ eye view of the world, similarities and derivations start to emerge across borders and country lines that start to seem familiar and recognizable. I think of a dish like dandan noodles (which I love!), and start to wonder about different forms it could take while still remaining true to the traditional preparation. As someone of eastern heritage raised in a western world this cross-pollination of ideas, flavors and techniques really speaks to me, and represents my palate and viewpoint.

ME: It’s quite a gift to forgo recipes and mix unexpected ingredients together to make an appetizing dish. (I am unfortunately much like lil’ orphan Annie in the Jamie Foxx-Cameron Diaz film update who combined a motley set of fridge ingredients to cook Foxx(Daddy Warbucks), a gag-worthy dinner).

Are you by any chance good at home decorating? (e.g., artfully mixing let’s say antiques and modern pieces. I suck at cooking and home decorating so I am wondering if that means there’s a good cook,-good home decorating correlation.)

KT: I definitely am not a home decorator! I like things organized and aesthetically pleasing, but that’s about where my commitment to decor ends 🙂

ME: Restaurants that you love in nyc other than your own:

KT: Bamboo Garden, Keen’s, Taste Good, Taiwanese Gourmet, Ops, Taste of Samarkand

ME: This shows me what I already knew: I am not at all current with the NYC restaurant scene. Thank you. I will be looking up all of these places.

Arguably the litmus test for Korean-ness: a love of Kimchi and soju (independently). Do you like one type of kimchi best?

KT: There are so many, and I certainly haven’t tried all of them, but I would say radish kimchi, water kimchi, super fermented napa kimchi and mustard green kimchi

ME: Is there anything you can flat out say you’d never mix with kimchi?

KT: milk?

ME: Do you have any soju-drinking rituals you follow?

KT: I must admit I’m not a big soju lover!

ME:Is there any food you will not try?

KT: None that I can think of…

ME: Any chance you were a picky eater as a child?

KT: Not at all!

ME: Do you follow food trends on let’s say Tik Tok/Instagram or do you try to wipe away the noise to preserve your own unique voice?

KT: I’m aware of them for sure, but only as pure entertainment

ME: I am a bit obsessed with people who have many multiple talents like Rhode Scholars, the Leonardos of this world and you. I read about your culinary career path from working as a line chef at the Talk-of-the Town restaurant Mission Chinese in the LES to opening your own Mission Chinese as head chef in Bushwick. On top of all this, I see you are also also a talented writer with a PR background and, excuse me as I wipe the sweat off my brow, a bit of a restaurant industry activist. (You are putting the rest of us Korean-American adoptees to shame!).

What helps you stay sane and unwind?

KT: I watch a lot of really trash tv (like crime procedurals and food tv!), and if I don’t cook / go out to eat on my own time away from work I get antsy.

ME: As a legal services attorney who has represented restaurant workers in wage and hour and discrimination cases, I was pleased to learn you want to revamp the oft-toxic restaurant industry and that you’ve put your money where your mouth is by doing things like paying your workers no less than $20/hour. Bravo!

Where does this impulse to be fair and decent come from?

KT: I think in part from having come up through the system and seeing so many talented hard working people struggle to live on trash wages while expected to work excessive hours. I also have the perspective of coming from outside of the industry in the early part of my career life, so I experienced many different workplaces and was able to really form and articulate my belief system as far as what I feel is equitable and fair.

ME: I used to work on employment law cases in collaboration with with a restaurant worker center whose members long ago all co-owned a Manhattan restaurant. I loved the idea but unfortunately didn’t love the food. Their restaurant did not endure. Do you think a cooperative restaurant can thrive/survive the NYC restaurant scene?

KT: I definitely think there’s a model of coop restaurant that could work, but not with the current laws and regulations in place in NYC.

ME: My 13-year-old son and I are always eager to find service opportunities in the City. Thanks to your shout out in one interview, we now know about non profit Heart of Dinner that feeds dinner to home-bound elderly Asian-Americans in New York. City. Do you know of other good non profits that serve Asian-American communities that might offer volunteer opportunities?

KT: There’s an amazing farm in Chester, NY run by Christina Chan (who I am in total admiration of) called Choy Division. She specializes in East Asian produce and I do as much buying from her as possible during her harvest season. She, along with other Asian American farmers in NYC and the Hudson Valley are working to “weave relationships between AAPI growers, mutual aid, and community based organizations in order to preserve the ancestral foodways and provide culturally resonant produce to those in need” (taken from their web site).

ME: Favorite COVID-era hobby/past-time (if you have any leftover time for hobbies):

KT: Vacuuming! I became a bit obsessive about it during lockdown and now I find it quite soothing 🙂

ME: What, if anything, is hard for you?

KT: Writing recipes

ME: What skill do you wish you had?

KT: Singing or drawing

ME: What is something you are good at that is a modest achievement but an achievement nonetheless?(my own examples: being a happy, adventurous eater, drawing Garfield the cat with my eyes closed).

KT: Folding a fitted sheet

ME: Bravo! That is an achievement!

I imagine chefs must have dry hands and aching feet so you need a good moisturizer and good shoes. Do you have a favorite moisturizer and do you wear a specific type/brand of shoes to work?

KT: I usually just use something that’s good for sensitive skin, except in the winter when I need something stronger for my hands like aquaphor. For shoes I’ve been a die hard birkenstock fan since day one.

ME: Have you ever joined a Korean-American adoptee group of any kind? Can we start a group and gather at intervals at your fine restaurant or elsewhere?/srs.

KT: I’ve never been a part of one, but would be open to it!

ME: I read about Korean han (Korean rage) being a uniquely Korean feeling. Do you think you’ve experienced han? It’s not clear to me if we Korean-American adoptees can feel it.

That said, what if anything pisses you off? (Hopefully not middle-age bloggers who approach you on Instagram for a q and a and then deluge your inbox with pages of questions).

KT: I definitely think I have it – I’ve been told I’m “fiery” 🙂 I think I mostly get annoyed when people I care about are mistreated.

ME: What’s next for you?

KT: I have no idea! But I actually think that’s the next chapter – the unknown leading to new adventures.

ME: Thank you Kate. Appreciate your time so much. Enjoy the Unknown!

P.S. A sincere note: if you do want to form a club for Korean-American adoptees, i’m in. I’ll bring some crafts. Please bring the food and maybe the other Korean-American adoptees (as i know none in the area)!

Interview with Interesting Korean-American #7, Boram Nam (most recently founder of Boram post-natal retreat in nyc and formerly a founding member of Drama Fever)

Boram Nam

(Thanks to my lovely friend Dylan who connected Boram and I).

It took a particularly patient person, that Boram revealed herself to be, to not only Zoom with me for more than an hour during what was for her a busy work day but patiently wait for me to wade through a morass of scribbled questions.(Unfortunately for her, despite my recent hours devouring Sean Evans’ Hot Ones interviews, I lack his grace and ease and I assume, his research prowess).

ME: As someone obsessed with Kdramas, I am grateful to you for your role in giving us access to a bounty of K-dramas. Tell us about Drama Fever and your role there.

BN: I am proud to say I was a founding member along with my husband of Drama Fever, one of the first streaming sites for Kdramas, so we had at least a part in bringing Korean content to the U.S. and around the world. I started working at Drama Fever in 2008 as VP of marketing, licensing and business development. We were the first to distribute Korean content to Netflix and sold our business to Soft Bank in 2014. I’m happy we didn’t have to compete with Netflix!

ME: As someone who has had the same job for an unusually long time and is risk averse, I admire entrepreneurs like you. Looking back, were there tell-tale signs that you’d be your own boss?

BN: My parents, both professors in Korea, saw that I was not so obedient in school and sent me to the States for my education–high school and college. I was basically dropped off to live on my own in the U.S. This independence may have prepared me for an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

ME: I read your husband and you have worked alongside each other on multiple ventures–a fact that I find beguiling. Do you believe as I read Koreans do, that blood type reveals personality? What blood types are the two of you?

BN: I think it’s fun to think about but It’s not always accurate. I’m type B, which supposedly means I am aggressive and blunt. So that is right. My husband is type O, which means welcoming, patient and warm and he is definitely those things. He’s the one who cooks, is hands-on playing with the kids and affectionate. I am the one who organizes and cleans the house. The combination works well.

ME: Favorite Korean dramas:

BN: Crash Landing on You, Iris and It’s Okay That’s Love are some I’ve enjoyed.

ME: Your latest venture:

BN: Boram Post-Natal Retreat emerged out of my own personal experience as a new mother. After my son was born in 2014 through a planned C section, my recovery was challenging and I didn’t have the right supports physically or emotionally. It took me two years to feel better. At the time, my friends in Korea were checking into post-natal retreats(sanhujoriwon) and i realized that we don’t have these hotels here for new mothers and there is a need. I had the perfect name for my business-Boram, my own name. Boram is Korean for”the fruits of one’s labor.”

What we offer is a luxurious, carefully researched retreat for new mothers at the Langham hotel in New York City. We have the ninth floor including 16 rooms for guests, a mother’s lounge and a nurse’s station where nurses are on site 24/7 to care for babies and provide post natal education. It’s unique for combining hospitality with a nurse station for 24/7 baby care, which allows the mom to have quality time to bond with the baby, receive education about post natal care and have time for herself. We provide 3 chef-prepared meals a day with special foods for new moms, post natal massage, SoKo Glam beauty products for guests, and education about lactation and self-care etc. (Though there are post-natal facilities in L.A.’s Koreatown and other places, they are focused on new moms who are Korean).

ME: This sounds idyllic. I love my kids but I would have sent them spinning on a platter to that nursing room to get some sleep/mental rest weeks after childbirth!

As someone who struggles to find community, I heard about your retreat and thought it sounded like a luxe kibbutz (minus of course, hard labor). I could have used a support system/community as a new mom. Seems your retreat would be a good way to make mom friends and start creating some community. Is that another goal of this space other than supporting moms individually?

BN: Glad you asked that. Definitely. The mother’s lounge (that is stocked with healthy snacks new moms need), is a place for movie nights, education about post natal care and lots of bonding. It took me a year to make mom friends so I recognize the need to foster that bonding early on.

ME: Do you offer any Korean fare at Boram Care?

BN: We offer seaweed soup and bone broth that is so nutritious for new moms.The menu isn’t specifically Korean but is nutritious, tasty and chef-prepared.

ME: Seems like a great moment in time to shine a spotlight on post-natal care (or lack therof) in this country of ours. I like how you frame the post natal period as “the fourth trimester.” For me and many women, it’s the hardest one!

I’m intrigued that Korea has many of these post-natal retreats for new moms, some of them less costly. Can you imagine a world where there are these retreats for all new moms?

BN: We’ve been in talks with various employers to see if they would provide the retreat as part of employee benefits and want down the road to work with insurers to see if we can provide services to a wider group of mothers but i realize the necessity for all new mothers in this country.

ME: Do you think the prominence of Korean culture (beauty, food, music, films and shows etc) is accurately described as a wave (the Hallyu wave)? Wave kind of implies a sudden emergence that sounds fleeting to me.

BN: What you have to remember is it did not come suddenly. Korean beauty has been around forever. Kpop has been huge in SE Asia and therefore Asian-Americans have caught on for a while and of course social media brought all of this new exposure. Korean dramas have reached beyond Korea for a long time. I like to call it a network effect and mirror exposure–it was a slow progression of things that came together in one fruition. I think it’s here to stay.

ME: I like to joke that one indicator of the Hallyu wave is there are a lot more Asians white people can mistake me for now. Ever been mistaken for an Asian celebrity and if so, who?

BN: In college, Lucy Liu was pretty much the only well know Asian female celebrity so I remember people telling me I looked like her, which I found offensive because i don’t look anything like her; we both just have long black hair.

ME: She must have shouldered some burden as the sole Asian-American household name. Poor Lucy!

Let’s test as a reflection of the rise of Korean culture today, how many Korean-Americans you can name right now on this Zoom:

BN: I’m bad with names but I can name Juju Chang, a news anchor I like, Steven Yeun from Walking Dead, Chloe Kim and Daniel Dae Kim of Lost are what come up fast.

ME: Not bad! Better than it would have been ten years ago, I imagine.

I don’t know about you, but my tolerance re being mistaken for other Asian women is wearing thin. What’s your reaction to mis-recognition?

BN: I find it annoying when it happens to me but when it happens to my son, i am offended. At school, teachers have repeatedly mistaken him for other Asian students. My son gets offended. I tell him to correct the teachers and he says has already done that. He asked me to complain so I did and the school apologizes but it does offend me. But we just have to stay positive and try to educate people.

ME: My kids who are half Caucasian and half Korean struggle to feel Korean as I don’t know the language.(I’m adopted). How do you keep your kids immersed in Korean culture? Is that seamless or do you have to make a big effort to expose them?

BN: I try to speak to them only in Korean but they are at the ages when they want to speak only English. I take them to Korea once a year, enjoy Kpop with my daughter, feed them Korean food every day and take them to Korean church on Sundays. My son also takes Taekwondo.

ME: I see. This is admittedly troublesome to me; even two straight-out Koreans your husband and you have to make such Herculean effort!

Tell me some things you like about being Korean:

BN: The culture, the food, the respect for elders and jeong, a Korean concept that is hard to translate but basically means a deep connection,affection for others that is built over time and through shared experiences. My friend Charlotte Cho (co-founder of Soko Glam) wrote a wonderful and short book about jeong that I highly recommend. It’s called The Little Book of Jeong.

ME: Things you dislike about being Korean:

BN: We are feisty, get angry easily and we do it collectively. That can lead to a bully culture, which is the side of Korean culture that is not the best.

ME: Indulgence:

BN: Wine. I’m pretty health conscious and do Pilates but i drink wine.

ME: What is something you are not good at?

BN: Cooking and I am also too blunt.

ME: Favorite Covid-era craft you have tried:

BN: None. I am bad with my hands. Even doing my daughter’s hair is a struggle. I am good at cleaning and organizing.

ME: I recently read some young Koreans are questioning the Korean use of honorifics, do you get offended if honorifics are not used for you?

BN: If it’s a Korean person who understands honorifics, yes I like their use.

ME: I am not in that category so I won’t attempt using honorifics today but know that if I understood them, I’d use one that shows my humility to you for spending your time with me ( but also highlights the fact that you are younger than I).

As i’m too old to have another baby, I can’t aspire to stay at Boram Care myself but I will spread the word to expectant moms I meet because it looks incredible and unique. Thank you for your generous time Boram. xoxo

Q and A with my son re Netflix’s Kdrama Extraordinary Attorney Woo and other matters

Friend greeting from Extraordinary Attorney Woo

ME: I managed the impossible: I got you and your sister to watch a Kdrama with me–Extraordinary Attorney Woo(a popular and fantastic Netflix aired show about an autistic attorney). We’ve discussed a few shows with autistic characters and you usually have serious critiques and find them unwatchable. What makes this show not cringe-worthy to you?

SON: To clarify, it was my friend who told me about the show, not you! But Attorney Woo is a full-fledged, interesting person beyond just being autistic. She’s one of the first autistic characters I actually related to, because 1) she’s usually the one doing the narrating/explanations for the audience about what autism is and her experiences, and her descriptions feel authentic and non-pathologizing, as opposed to most other shows where a non-autistic side character is doing it, and 2) she is a full-fledged, interesting character beyond just being autistic. The show also breaks down a lot of stereotypes about autistic people, such as the idea that we can’t feel empathy, can’t be in romantic relationships, etc, which I appreciated.

ME: I love the friendship of Attorney Woo Young-Woo and her firecracker, quirky best friend Dong Geu-ra-mi. It makes me regret I passed my youth without a signature friend greeting like theirs that has been widely imitated by fans and of course by our family. See video and the imitators.

Ready to drum up a signature mom-son greeting?(We don’t have to dab)

SON: Alas, no such greeting will be obliged.

ME: In honor of Attorney Woo’s loyal bestie Dong Geurami we made her sloppy, easy-to-make-looking gimbap that she makes Attorney Woo(the #1 fan of gimbap). Did you like it?

SON: I found this edible and pretty tasty, but I can see why a gimbap purist might not like it lol. It sucks all the essence out of these ingredients: it’s messy and doesn’t have the aesthetically pleasing vibe that I love about a lot of Korean food. 

Sugar, kimchi and oil carmelized. Yum!
I promise my counter is clean. Clearly though, I am no photographer/food blogger, sorry! This is it before you fold the bottom left corner over to the fried egg section and then fold that to the kimchi square and fold again ( folding clockwise).
Ta-Da! Just like on the show, the result is sloppy and nothing to write home about.We agree with Attorney Woo’s critique of her friend’s creation: “It’s strange.”

ME: Attorney Woo has special interests: whales, law and gimbap. Is it a myth that all autistic people have special interests? What if any are yours?

SON:I think it’s true that most autistic people have special interests, but the degree to which these interests are distinctly “autistic” as opposed to neurotypicals having really passionate obsessions (eg. you blabbering on about your dream country houses and me exasperatedly trying to get you to stop to no avail) depends on where on the spectrum someone is. In the media, special interests are often portrayed as these all-encompassing compulsions that consume the entirety of a person’s life: Attorney Woo relates everything back to whales, is constantly offering up her rote memorized facts, and is completely oblivious to when others are not interested. Whereas me and a lot of my late-  or self-diagnosed autistic friends often have these same joyful, intense interests, but they’re able to talk about other things and won’t launch into a monologue if it’s clear the other person isn’t interested. I’ve never been the kind of autistic who’s able to memorize rote, concrete facts: I remember having a deep special interest in alligators as a kid because I thought they were cool, but not caring enough to actually remember facts about them. My current special interests are: writing, queer literature and theory, frogs, mushrooms (the non-psychedelic kinds for any concerned adults reading this!), social justice and anti-oppressive movements of all flavors, the history of neurodiversity activism, and creative DIY projects. 

ME: Having special interests seems like a boon not a liability.

SON: Most of the time it’s a very positive thing! the sheer joy autistics experience when talking about our interests is something I pity the rest of you for never getting to experience. it feels like a soft ball of rice squishing my brain. there’s a really good article by this old, defunct autism blog that explains this joy beautifully:

“I pity anyone who cannot feel the way that flapping your hands just so amplifies everything you feel and thrusts it up into the air. I pity anyone who doesn’t understand how beautiful the multiples of seven are, anyone who doesn’t get chills when a shadow falls just so across a solitaire game spread out on the table. I pity anyone who is so restrained by what is considered acceptable happiness that they will never understand when I say that sometimes being autistic in this world means walking through a crowd of silently miserable people and holding your happiness like a secret or a baby, letting it warm you as your mind runs on the familiar tracks of an obsession and lights your way through the day.”

ME: One episode of Attorney Woo has a sub-plot that involves a female attorney having a poop accident at work. (Don’t groan at my reference, but it reminded me of an episode of Sex and the City when Charlotte pooped in her pants). I’ve heard Koreans are a little obsessed with poop, e.g, they have a popular poop cafe in Seoul. What’s your take on a poop obsession?

Is this poop cafe a necessary stop for our upcoming trip to Korea?

SON: Why not? I’m… very intrigued by what this cafe would look like. Like, is the food actually… poop-themed or is it just that the general aesthetic of the cafe radiates poop? I also like the “anti-procrastination” Korean cafe I saw on TikTok: you tell the staff there what project, assignment etc you’re working on and they take your phone away and don’t let you leave until you finish, then bring you unlimited sweets once you’re done. It seems like a magical place for both our ADHD minds!

ME: I am sold!

Anyways, enough re Attorney Woo (for now). Let’s talk other entertainments.

A good novel I just read, Either/Or by Elif Batuman, discusses Kierkegaard’s same-named work in a way that makes me curious so I’ve been, as you know, all summer hunting for this philosophy book in any bookstore we go to. (I recently on beach vacation shrieked in delight to the alarm of the man behind the cash register when we found it in a tiny bookstore with literally 10 philosophy books). As a philosophy novice with ADHD, what are the realistic chances, I will read this cover to cover?

SON: Pretty slim: devouring dense, complicated philosophy texts does not exactly seem like your area of strength. I’m in the same situation: I’ve been wanting to read Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality for a while now because it’s considered, like, one of the foundational texts of queer theory, but can’t decipher one word of his obfuscating, esoteric language.

ME: What was the best thing we ate at Porcelain (Korean-Chinese fusion restaurant in Ridgewood, Queens whose Korean-American adoptee chef I am interviewing for this blog) today?

SON: The glass noodle dish was SOO good! i have never seen fat glass noodles like that in my history of Korean food consumption. (photographed below)

ME: Were you disappointed we didn’t go to my big college reunion in August?

SON: Not really? Being led around and begrudgingly introducing myself as “Elissa’s son” to all your 40 year old college friends is not exactly my idea of fun. I’m mostly relieved that I don’t have to constantly hear you agonizing over whether or not to go every second of the day anymore!

glass noodles, celery and tofu dish.
photo of delicious kimchi-brined chicken with sesame pancakes and two types of kimchi. Amazing.

ME: Best book you have read for summer required reading:

SON: Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters.

ME: Best non required reading of the summer:

SON: Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Here are a few especially moving/well written parts (I annotate my books because I’m a huge nerd):

ME: In summertime, we always play a silly made up family game when we have pool access; we do a cannonball as we yell “Rock on—–!” sarcastically, e.g., “Rock on Ron DeSantis!”

In that vein, give us a Rock on….

SON: rock on, white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy!

ME: Show me something you crafted recently:

SON: these patches I made for my denim jacket over vacation:

mushrooms, spider web, “frogs against fascism” and frog with knife + rainbow flag
historical queer activist symbol, TikTok’s adorable “autism creature”
skull king design I copied from an etsy shop

ME: Show us something in your room that you prize:

SON: this mushroom poster!

Thanks for agreeing to do this again! That might satiate me for a while. xoxo

60th post: What inspires: Alphaville, Hairbeds,NYC art shows and Basia the Nazi hunter

My treehouse

I briefly researched the number 60, which means I skimmed Wikipedia in preparation for my 60th post. I felt I had to justify the undeniable pride I am feeling about making it to this somewhat arbitrary number. To my surprise, when I recently printed out my posts–many of them quite wordy– I had a veritable tome! But the only interesting association with the number 60 is that Jean-Luc Godard’s sci-fi movie Alphaville had a sentient computer character named Alpha 60 that sought to eliminate human emotions, poetry and love from the movie’s fictional universe. Godard’s movie that I have not seen, is supposedly about the “potentially catastrophic uses of computers to enslave rather than liberate humanity.” What a perfect association for this post that celebrates my blog and computer usage!

Playing a role in enslaving humanity is a small price to pay for the joy I’ve received sharing my post with you.Though I hope Godard was wrong about computers destroying us.

New goal for this blog: prove Godard wrong! Blog to spread more emotion, poetry and love! (Hey, as K-dramas are all about emotion, poetry(hmm?) and love–watch more K-dramas!) I like that. (It’s clear I’ve been living under a rock as I am not familiar with Alphaville (but I do remember that band with that name and their song “Forever Young.”) I think i’ll watch it as it’s spawned a lot of discussion and i like Godard).

Since I set up this blog in November 2021, my best friend from middle school Michelle, a busy artist in San Francisco has been my pro bono creative coach/supporter. Michelle is someone who in her spare time not only dreams up theme parties but executes them enviably well. When the song “99 luftballoons” was a radio hit long ago, Michelle created a website for a related theme party, bought 99 red balloons, blew them up with friends and stuffed each one with the website information so people who found the balloons could contact her via the site. On an impossibly photogenic day, her friends and her partied on a rooftop and took photos of the balloons’ glorious release into the sky. For some time after the party, she received enthused messages from finders of these balloons. The list of her creative projects and ideas is endless. An adoptee like me, Michelle once silk-screened the images of the pages from her adoption file onto a baby blanket–an evocative, beautifully done art project. After years of advising artist friends and inspiring them for free, she’s begun her job as a creativity coach; her first client: me. I know she will brilliantly define this position and will totally shred.

My need for her service is immense.Michelle affirms that I am an artist and writer despite my self-publishing and lack of renumeration. As someone who understands the struggles of having ADHD and sticking to long-term projects, she is the perfect coach. She and I love to discuss what is inspiring us lately.

In this post, I’d love to delve into THINGS THAT INSPIRE ME:

  1. Art: Among Michelle’s first assignments: a) see a live art exhibit at least once a month and b) buy Art Forum every month, tear out images that excite me and hang them on a board. When it comes to the first assignment, not to brag but I’m an Honors Student or more like Valedictorian. In the past two months I’ve seen at least six art exhibits: Virgil Abdou etc at the Brooklyn Museum, Faith Ringgold at the New Museum, Frieze art fair, Met costume exhibit, Scenes from the Collection at the Jewish Museum and The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do at the Jewish Heritage Museum. Though I have scant credentials other than a lifetime love of art and an art history class or two under my belt. let me be your wacky docent today.

I always knew Jean-Francois Millet was a punk artist for his times–depicting rural life and people as heroic when most deemed them unworthy subject matter. But this painting Shepherd Tending his Flock at the Brooklyn Museum stopped me in my tracks. This master gives us his usual rigmarole–beautiful rendering of light and shadow and yummy, thick brushwork. But check out my crappy photo above, which zooms up close to his cloak and what lies beneath. What’s with the quirky undergarments? How does one explain the unexpected jolt of pastel colors in the midst of all this realism! I’m imagining that an art restorer’s son snuck into his dad’s studio, got his hands on this painting and took some liberties with some colored Sharpies. That scamp! Alternatively, perhaps the artist, bored of realism but unwilling to court more controversy, shyly picked a shadowy spot to test out a new style. Third hypothesis: yours truly, your novice docent, may have read the signage next to the piece too fast and this could be the artist’s rough study, not a final painting. You pick!


Behold Philip Guston’s Red Cloth painting at the Brooklyn Museum. I am imagining those responsible for acquiring art for the Brooklyn museum slapping a conference table and shouting “Sold!” in unison to enthusiastically land this one over the artist’s more controversial paintings that have white hooded KKK-like figures in them. (This docent clearly has no knowledge of how museums buy art). As a non-Black person, I don’t want to comment on whether his work with the white hooded cartoon images is offensive but I hope the verdict is not guilty as I’m a fan. I like that his art incites conversations about race in America and I love his humorous style/vibe. I’m glad the Philip Guston Now exhibit is no longer being delayed as it was for some time due to controversy following the murder of George Floyd and the protests. Join me friends to see this show at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston before it closes. It will not be dull.

Another KKK-related painting? My daughter and I admired this work at the Jewish museum by Black artist Trenton Doyle Hancock (TDH. He's written that it involves an imagined meeting of Philip Guston's avatar (the cartoonish KKK figure) and TDH's avatar Torpedo Boy. TDH is, by the way, a fan of Guston's and similar to Guston, seeks to use humor to diminish white supremacy and create dialogue about race.  My daughter and I were struck by the fun materials on this painting like cut up pieces of black fur and medicine bottle caps. This made me want to forage through my recycling bin and glue that shit down! The painting also reminds me of the charming children's book, Lookalikes Junior, in which every day objects are used but cleverly concealed in scenes.
Finding this in a dimly lit hallway

Finding Under the Cloud, the above painting by American artist Albert Pinkham Ryder ( one favorite artist of mine) at the Met museum was a boon. His more iconic work, The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) has been one of my favorite paintings for years. It’s moody, mysterious majesty! (The fact that The Race Track is at the Cleveland Museum of Art, in my mind, elevates Cleveland, a city I associate with bad politics, hyper-segregated neighborhoods and grim winters.)

As I’ve only ever seen one of his paintings in person, I was tickled to find this one as I impatiently barreled through a curious set of rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (rooms in which lesser known holdings are unceremoniously displayed in rows of dimly lit glass cabinets). A total pearl!

This above work appeals to me as someone who never went to art school and is deficient in techniques such as perspective drawing. I like the gaze here–focused downward on the shoes of this group and I appreciate the cool leaf-like patterns. I know that placing patterns like this, without the talent/know how, more times than not will destroy a perfectly awesome piece of art so I give this a standing O and wish i could own it.

dolls, glorious dolls!
I can’t even start here. It’s just too much incredible-ness.

The mind-altering Faith Ringgold exhibit at the New Museum surprised me. Check out her life-sized, expressive dolls I never knew she made. She worked with so many different materials and had so many styles, not just the awesome folky paintings and textile art I associated with her. She also made these hilarious quilts where she roasts famous artists like Picasso (see below) and highlights how artists appropriated African art without much or any credit. I bow down to you Faith.

Picasso looks so silly in this quilt. Love it.

I love this painting. Kind of unexpected for me. I love how she could do any style so well.


This large painting, Self-portrait-tears, by Korean artist Dae-Won Yang delights me. I love the shapes and colors he uses to depict his Donggeulin (round man)– the artist’s avatar. He explores themes of isolation, inequity, evil and the search for the meaning of life. Sounds like my cup of tea. Plus his paintings use “interventions with textiles and iron clothed transfers.” Without seeing his art up close, I do not understand what I’m dealing with fully but I want to know more. And I want it in my house please.

A drawing that shows I’m improving but still have a long way to go to please myself

2)Korean pop culture-kdramas and music.

You get it by now. I like Kdramas.

treehouse drawing
Sweet scene from the Extraordinary Attorney Woo Kdrama on Netflix that inspired my drawing.
My Sculpie of Attorney Woo who loves whales and kimbap. The whale cracked in the oven but the kimbap survived!

My tree house drawing (top image above) was inspired by scenes from my favorite new Kdrama, The Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix. Attorney Woo, a brilliant autistic attorney hangs out in a treehouse and admires scenery with a woman whom she later learns is her birth mom. Watching this scene as an adoptee, I felt mopey and I hate to admit it, a tad teary. The drawing I completed ridiculously late that same night, turned out to be about what inspires me. My sad head on the branch is me when I watch shows/movies that deal with abandonment and/or reunions with birth parents. It also represents me when I can’t finish projects and get frustrated with myself. (The cartoonish character writing with a quill pen is the frustrated writer brain cell from the Kdrama Yumi ‘s Cells). I drew baby me on her own under the prickly looking blanket. (Note my crazy curly hair that I can’t believe I once had). I also added my kids who inspire me and my husband who is supportive of my odd projects. Finally, I drew some images representing Korean culture-Kpop (BTS) and Kdramas (man holding umbrella for woman).

3) Min Jin Lee’s Instagram feed. The Pachinko author turned unofficial Korean-American ambassador is a powerhouse who hobnobs with every Korean-American luminary and up-and-coming creator but does so with the humble, wide-eyed charm of a school girl (who happens to be worldly and erudite with off-the-chart communication skills). She’s forever raising awareness about anti-Asian bias and violence in an un-whiny way that feels palatable and introduces us to a torrent of amazing Asians. Her feed is like a jolt of always needed Asian self-esteem. Long live MJL!

4) My offspring. (I can’t include my son as he’s a private teenager wary of my blog and the multitude of ways I could embarrass him but my daughter on the other hand…

My seven year old daughter’s drawing from a year ago. Made me smile. I am not showing off her technical abilities here but I do like her idea! it’s silly but somehow makes perfect sense: Hair bed, well of course!
kid cracking me up at the Brooklyn Museum

5) My Jewish family/Judaism.

Recently, my friend Aidah asked me why I don’t delve into my Jewish roots more on this blog. There’s so much to love much about Jewish culture. I’d hate to think I don’t focus on my Jewish connection (the fact I was adopted from Korea by a white, Jewish woman and was raised as a Reform Jew) because Jewish culture is not “trendy” in the way Korean culture is now. Egads that’d be despicable. Let me change course starting now.

When my teen son heard I had a distant cousin who was a Nazi hunter, he perked up in his seat–all eyes on me. My Cousin Basia/Bessy–distantly related to my mother– was a Nazi hunter who lived on West End Avenue. She wasn’t the Inglorious Bastards, gun-slinging sort but worked for decades behind a desk to locate the scummiest Nazis after the war had ended. When I knew her best, I was a bit of a mess–a mildly depressed teenager hiding beneath thick bangs. Bessy was in her mid to late eighties, retired and suffice it say, always happy to see me at her door.

During high school, I’d visit her most Sundays and read the actual hard copy of the NY Times to her for she had dim vision and a sharp mind. The spacious, art-filled pre-war apartment in which she lived stood in contrast to the small apartments mom and inhabited. I liked all the spaces for idle sitting-so many chairs and couches, which seemed like the ultimate sign of wealth to me. My mother once informed me that the somewhat gloomy small paintings in the foyer were done by famous Jewish artists who were distantly related–though now I can’t recall any of their names. I hadn’t been impressed.

When I’d enter her apartment, Basia’s Polish caregiver would warmly greet me in smiles and indecipherable Polish chatter. She’d direct me to a doily-clad table with homemade steaming Pierogi’s that I dearly loved. (Those mushroom/sauerkraut ones were solid). Then Bessy would inevitably amble into the room and in that one moment, standing at arms-length, would look up at me and glow; this woman of stooped shoulders, petite frame and brusque manner, never told me in so many words that she loved me, but with one of her wide, closed-lip smiles, I knew she accepted me and even cherished me.

I had no idea she was a badass though. I was after all just a self-absorbed teenager. How I wish I’d been more curious about her and asked her to regale me with Nazi hunting tales but I was often too busy planning a swift, graceful exit. Bessy would sit at the dining room table across from me, her spectacles drawn down to the tip of her nose, and roll the beads of the wooden necklaces she often wore in her fingers as she listened to me read. Yes, she’d sometimes drive me batty with her exacting manner–continually correcting my pronunciation of long, unfamiliar words but I’d smile at her sweetly and carry on. The worst part was that she would often make me repeat the word I mispronounced and then the entire sentence to boot. I’m not sure why she thought perfect pronunciation would give me a leg up. (Given all the time I spent on elocution, I’m unclear why I often still mispronounce words that are commonly understood). Nor did I emerge particularly well-informed, as I don’t recall absorbing any of the information I read. The news bored me back then, (though who am I kidding; today, it’s sometimes a gruesome chore to stay well-informed). I hope I read to her with some inflection and drama, though I was soft spoken and self-conscious, so I’m skeptical.

Some days, there were no Pierogies awaiting me. Those days, I had to make do with day- old pastries that Bessy would buy from the UWS bakery that offered half off after 5 pm each day. I’d sit and chew at them slowly and internally decry that someone with money could be so cheap. Or I’d go to the bathroom and wrinkle my nose at the fact that she was saving water by not flushing after each use. (In her defense, there was some kind of city-wide drought/shortage at the time so Bessy was the hero). If I was in a pissy mood, something de rigeur given my immediate family’s oft unstable financial state, the fact of adolescence and the incessant dirge of self-loathing that was hard to quiet, the trip to Bessy’s was particular gruesome. I remember carrying on some Sundays, pleading with my mother to be excused from my visit, but to mom’s credit, she never let me shirk my duty. For this, I’m grateful now.

Looking back now from where I am comfortably seated, I am awash in a haze of affection for this lady who was responsible for bringing many Nazi war criminals to trial and to consequence. Her eccentric habits that I once decried, in retrospect, made perfect sense given her family’s experiences in pre-war Europe, the Holocaust and afterwards. (See below re my Cousin Abrasha who was related to Basia. He was a Holocaust survivor). Recently, recounting memories of Basia to my son, I felt my loss again. For every stale croissant I endured, was a lady who rescued my mother and I from doom more than once (e.g., giving mom overdue tuition money for the many private schools I attended over my childhood—schools often beyond my mother’s means). Perhaps more than that, she was squarely on my team– bragging to her immediate family who were actually blood-related about my accomplishments-no matter how trivial; in my senior year of high school at Trinity, I handed Basia My Spiritual Journey, an essay I’d written for class about spirituality, adoption and being Korean and Jewish. I knew she’d be proud of the A my teacher gave me.

One Sunday, Basia returned my essay to me.She’d placed it a long yellow envelope and rest it on the table where we sat facing each other as usual. She charmingly dissected each and every page of my twenty-page essay as if she’d memorized each line–one hand on top of the envelope the whole time. When she was done, she took the essay out of the envelope and pressed it down with her palms. (My papers were always wrinkly then and are so now). Then, she stood up abruptly and without explanation, left the room. When she returned, she unearthed a felt pen from a deep cardigan pocket (uncharacteristically silent)and bent down comically close to my essay. Next to my teacher’s handwritten A, she wrote a wobbly plus symbol and handed my paper back to me, quite pleased. I still have my essay with that wobbly plus. Love you, Bessy!

A recent view of the new Holocaust exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC led me to find the above fork. My Cousin Abrasha (related to my Cousin Basia) was a concentration camp survivor whom I was blessed to know for much of my adult life before he passed away.I’d heard about how dashing he’d been as a young man, but I had never seen a photo of him.
This painting, part of the Jewish Museum’s permanent exhibit is fun but most importantly to me, feels like I could one day paint something like this. Maybe I’m self-aggrandizing but those cartoon hands are just my speed and I might be able to carry off the mix of macabre and mundane.

Thank you for reading my 60th post (and thereby being complicit in my enslavement of humanity). I hope you stay with me until we reach 100 and beyond. Is that greedy?

Party idea #2: to bear the heat wave, try having a iyeolchiyeol* party (*Korean expression that means to fight heat with heat)

A silly drawing done late last night to illustrate iyeolchiyeol. I imagined having a theme party where guests wear puffy coats in the heat, eat hot chicken and ginseng soup, and watch horror movies. (Note, my face looks particularly garish as I’m wearing a chilled Korean skincare mask).. P.S- yes, that is my beloved Sculpie I stuck onto my drawing to be flames. Just had fun pressing it into the paper. That’s all I can say.

This week, I learned about iyeolchiyeol, a Korean expression that means fighting heat with heat. Of course, this is relevant now as temperatures are skirting 100 degrees. New York City is responding to the dreadful heat wave by extending city pool hours, which makes some sense; however, I warn you from personal experience that excessive cranial submersion in a pool for many hours can be unwise. (As a teenager, one dull summer, I spent maybe 8 hours in my grandmother’s community pool in Ohio and all that submersion left me with a swol

menenges ? and some killer headaches so be warned! ). Apparently, keeping cool by staying someplace cold has it’s limits. Koreans seem to understand this; many Koreans believe that eating hot food or going to a sauna during a heatwave will help you overcome the heat by sweating a lot. I have always believed this! (Alas, further confirmation of my Korean-ness!)

I recall myself as a young woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt on the stifling nyc subway. This oddity caused a young man to ask me, concerned, if I was anemic. I was/am not anemic. I am often found in my own apartment wearing unseasonably bulky sweaters/hoodies as if I reside year-round in a winter log cabin. I was an enthusiastic fan of the 2020 celebrity-driven trend of wearing puffy coats during the summer (but never tried it myself.)

In part, I like wearing long sleeves as they prevent sunburned arms. I may be warped, but I’m convinced I’m cooler than those wearing flimsy tank tops and almost-naked wear. Incidentally, I like the look of balancing bare legs with a more covered top, which is very Korean of me. (To those who have seen my confused, haphazard outfits over my lifetime, it may surprise you that I have any heart-felt fashion principles. I do!)

As I start to plan a trip to Korea for my 50th birthday next year and to celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary, I ponder whether my family and I can tolerate my motherland in August–a month when weather can reach 100 degrees F. (I can’t be the only heat-hater who sometimes wishes the school calendar could be modified so that school ran through the summer and summer vacation began in the fall).

In the spirit of iyeolchiyeol and very much inspired by an article I read, consider having a party or at least a modest gathering of a few friends with this theme. Though for fun and benevolence, you might want to offer more traditional methods of staying cool as well.


1. Many Koreans believe that being scared cools your body temperature down, which is supposedly why horror movies are released during the summer in Korea. That said, invite friends to watch some of these creepy tales, especially the one about the murderous twin sisters that will surely leave you frost-bitten.

2. Serve hot drinks–Korean soju hot toddy anyone? Throw in some fun cold ones to be charitable to your guests.

3. Offer guests hand warmers, the kind you slip into gloves during winter or cave in and provide a more traditional cooling method: offer guests ice facial rollers that have been pre-chilled in your fridge for a delightful jolt of cold. Or a cheaper option that is popular in Korea is to put your Korean facial masks in the fridge/freezer for a short time. That is just good times.

4. Serve hot Korean soups like samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) and/or my favorite Korean icy cool-off soup Naengmyeon (cold buckwheat noodles), which comes in a package at HMart and Amazon of course.

5. Though this is not quite on point/relevant to this post,I am obsessed with these in-demand jelly cakes by a Korean-American baker that look perfect for a hot summer day. They make me smile.

6.Require or cheerfully suggest guests come wearing their best winter gear–puffy coats, scarves, winter beanies and mittens to add an element of ridiculousness. Absurdity elevates most parties, no?

7. Use fans or put your a/c on that conserve mode that you may shun on hot days (of course not in a heatwave, that would be selfish!). The idea is to be a little warm but not too warm. You don’t want want your guests to wilt, abandon the party spirit and question your regard for their well being/curse you out.

7. Decor, decor, decor. Hang a string high across your party space. Draw jagged flames with permanent markers on clear, thin acrylic sheets and then cut out the flames. Use a hole punch on each shape and and hang flames off the main line. Or use layered colored felt to make flames. Draw other things that are hot/summer themed. Good Lord, use your sense of humor if you have one. This could look really rough-hewn if you do just what I wrote above.

In drawing my imagined party, i notably forgot to include any guests, which may be my way of acknowledging that my friends would not want to extend their heat-wave misery and melt at my party for my sheer amusement. Perhaps this party is limited to my immediate family–an agreeable lot who often entertains my passing fancies.

Stay cool either conventionally or try the Korean iyeolchiyeol way!

My friend Deb eating a Korean hot soup on a oppressively hot day. Try this tasty new Korean restaurant called Yoon Haeundae Galbi.

Dong-mun-seo-dap (answer not matching the question) and u-mun-hyeon-dap (sensible answer to a dumb question)

I have routinely asked myself why I have I been blogging at night for more than 1.5 years because blogging is antediluvian. Podcasting is not a good alternative for me as my voice is thin and I’m a stranger to spontaneous wit and reflection. I plod. (I think of an old writing group friend who said he once spent twenty minutes debating whether to write “wood floor” or “wooden floor.” That is completely me).

I am hoping that this blog is like Shoji Morimoto’s rent-a-man-to-do-nothing business. (Though, I do not charge). I read that since 2018, this 38- year-old man has been charging clients in Japan to do nothing. He is not a therapist/coach offering advice or a surrogate friend/caregiver. He offers nothing but his mostly quiet presence at a meal or a walk. One example of his work: once he was hired to sit and watch a lonely man blow out candles on his birthday cake; despite these limitations, he is somehow valuable to his clients. Similarly, I offer you few practical takeaways–no shopping links/tips, no glorious travel photos, recipes and/or clear direction (boo to linearity!), but I hope you eke out something worthwhile.

If you think my blog is a trite, middle-aged woman’s call for attention and that It does not slap (sorry, I love using amusing Gen Z slang at opportune moments to my son’s chagrin), I have one response: “FU and Fuck your standards!” (Let me explain my burst of profanity: once I saw two friends having a fight at Carleton College in our main social hall. One woman stood up dramatically, wagged her finger in her friend’s face and roared these words. At the time, I’d observed this from some distance with some some delight/admiration and thought, I hope I get to use that line one day).

A recent example of dong-mun-seo-dap (an answer that does not match the question) comes from the Depp-Heard defamation trial. (Don’t roll your eyes. I know you heard at least snippets). Recall Johnny’s attorney as she attempted a Matlock moment while cross-examining Ms. Heard; roughly paraphrased, the attorney asked Ms. Heard: “Isn’t it true that you have yet to donate the money you pledged to the ACLU?”

The gist of Ms. Heard’s reply: “No, that’s not true. I pledged the money.” Possible explanations for her answer: she had cotton in her ears, she was coached by her attorney to answer this way or she truly, as she later testified, uses the words donating and pledging synonymously.

Whom among us hasn’t pulled a Heard when faced with a pesky question? As an employment attorney, I am sometimes asked how to deal with an illegal or just offensive question by an employer during a job interview.

Flouting my own general tendency to offer scant practical information,I offer you the following quiz and answers. Guess which questions are probably no-no’s for the bulk of employers to whip out at interviews (at least currently in my favorite liberal bastion–New York City). I included a few suggestions for applying dong-mun-seo-dap to the interview context.

a) What’s your salary at your last job? OK____ NOT OK____

b) Have you been convicted of a crime? OK___NOT OK___

c) Ever been arrested? OK____NOT OK____

d) You are so skinny. I hate you. Do you eat?

OK___NOT OK___

e) I noticed a two year gap in your resume. Were you unemployed then?

OK___NOT OK___


a) Not ok. This is an illegal question in NYC for most employers to ask. Particularly if you don’t want to be limited by your old salary, you may want to answer this kind of question by pretending you misheard the question: “I am glad to discuss pay. I’d like to get paid commensurate with my x years of relevant experience and my accomplishments.” (Or you could of course provide a number/range). Some might prefer a direct approach as in just explaining to interviewer that the question is illegal; however, as an oft conflict-averse human, I would probably try answering a different question that hopefully gets to the heart of the employer’s question).

b) Not ok. This question at an interview is an Illegal question for most employers in NYC. If your answer is yes, you have been convicted of a crime, you might reply along the lines of “I believe I’m a good fit based on my experience, skills and interest in the position and nothing in my background would affect my ability to perform my job well. ” (Of course, if you haven’t been convicted of a crime, you will probably just say no).

c) Not ok. This is an illegal question for most employers in NYC to ask. If you were arrested but it did not lead to conviction, you could just answer this by saying “I’ve never been convicted of any crime.” Or of course you could answer similarly to question b above.

d) This question is probably not illegal on its own but is certainly annoying and a red flag for problems down the road if hired. When I was a new attorney fresh out of law school, a female partner at a firm unloaded this question during my interview. I smiled awkwardly and said nothing as if I’d lost the ability to speak, which is of course another option. (This pretend-you-are-at-a-loss-of-words method reminds me of how a goofy law student who used to respond to our Contracts professor’s Socratic method by feigning laryngitis when our professor asked him a question. Though this law student M, was a really a bad actor–moving his lips without any sound and grabbing his throat dramatically–our wiry prof would shake his head in disbelief and move on to another victim; so I guess it’s sometimes a useful method of avoidance).

e) Not ok. An illegal question for most NYC employers to ask. Possible answer if it’s true you were unemployed and don’t want to answer the illegal question: “I have x years of relevant work experience and look forward to drawing upon my significant experience in this position.”

The other somewhat related Korean expression I highlighted is u-mun-hyeon-dap (a sensible answer to a dumb question). I have often wished I could come up with snappy answers to dumb questions. (When I was in high school, one teacher asked me repeatedly why I was so shy. I used to shrug as I had no idea.How do you answer that?) I think of actress Carrie Fisher answering the question “What are some similarities between Paul Simon and Harrison Ford? (as she’d dated both). Her great response to the dumb question:”Both look better after a couple of beers.” Nice.

Happy July 4th weekend!

mu-nyeom-mu-sang (the state of being free of all ideas and thoughts)

Silly doodle of Justice Alito as a baby with a blank slate

I admire those who have taken philosophy classes. Despite my scant knowledge of philosophy and decades ignoring my husband’s rows of frayed graduate school philosophy books on our shelves, I did once encourage a brilliant paralegal in my office to go to graduate school for philosophy instead of going to law school; surely the world needs more brilliant philosophers than a glut of attorneys. (Said paralegal ignored me and went to law school; go figure!).

Here is all I have retained about philosophy: Descartes wrote “I think, therefore I am” and of course, tabula rasa–Aristotle’s idea that humans are born blank slates devoid of ideas and thoughts. I know, I know, I’m a human sponge (absorbing knowledge so effortlessly)!

I am left wondering if the Korean expression mu-nyeom-mu-sang has a negative or positive connotation. It could of course have a wholly negative meaning–as in the state of being stupid.

Indeed, it’s a fitting time to discuss being vapid. One study, whose merit I am in no position to evaluate, suggests humans are getting dumber over time. Of course today’s Republican populists (e.g.,Vance, Ron DeSantis)are competing to appear dumb. (Some are not pretending). I recently enjoyed reading a Politico piece about journalists’ hesitancy to call politicians like Kevin McCarthy dumb (a moment of civility) in favor of euphemisms like “he is a golden retriever of a man.”). I love a good euphemism.

It makes sense to discuss tabula rasa, the blank slate idea, given our Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe; the Court’s majority acted like newborns blinking into the light! Who can believe our top decision makers have also given the wink to New York gun owners– allowing them to don guns in public at a time of unprecedented mass shootings. Insane.

Or perhaps this Korean expression has a positive connotation. Could it mean being mindful, relaxed?

Mindfulness reminds me of my mother’s friend C, an artist and her husband M. C was into veganism, crystal healing and sound meditation in the 1970’s and beyond. She once escorted me, a shy girl who didn’t like singing or any sort of performing, to a white church-like building on St Mark’s Place for vegan Indian buffet and an afternoon sitting on the floor of a sun-lit meditation room with unknown adults; we chanted and banged tiny gongs for what felt like hours. (My self-consciously delivered ohms were very quiet).

One Thanksgiving at the Manhattan apartment C shared with her husband, C gifted me a pair of cardboard glasses that transformed light into a pattern of mini rainbows. What a delight! But I wrinkled my nose at the dining room table’s centerpiece, a large turkey made of tofu and stared gape-mouthed at the eccentric, warm guests such as a tall woman who introduced herself to me as Beeboo the Goddess of roller skating and looked the part with her flowing locks, bohemian skirt and turquoise skates that supposedly transported her through the streets of NYC.

I’ve indeed rolled my eyes at the cult of mindfulness. I recall the time I took classes with a yoga teacher who was a former prosecutor. When I once asked her the whereabouts of the restroom before class (admittedly, the restroom was clearly marked and-dope!-I just couldn’t find it), she looked up from her down dog pose, scowled at me and said “you’re such a spazz.” Kind. Years ago, my mother in law very generously once took me to a two-day yoga convention at the Marriott hotel where I sweated with the masses and observed well known yoga gurus preening in stretch wear; though I was loose-limbed and content afterwards, I felt a mild distaste. After all, mindfulness is the enemy of activism.

A little more recently (approximately 13 years ago) when I was pregnant with my first kid, I visited C at her art studio. She presented me with a small brass bowl and showed me how circling the rim with a brass mallet of sorts produced a high-pitched sound. Then she did the unexpected, she approached my pregnant belly as the bowl vibrated with its shrill sound. I let her but my mind revolted. Would baby really like this high pitch and secondly, did baby really need to be mindful inside my womb? I imagined for most babies there was nothing more chill than a womb. Maybe I was wrong.

However, despite a childhood sometimes ambivalent about deep breathing, I’ve emerged an adult who generally appreciates mindfulness. I now look back at family and friends who exposed me to what I used to denigrate as New Agey-ness, with affection. After all, being free of all ideas and thoughts sounds pleasant these days, especially at bedtime. (The world is going to hell in a hand basket, no?). Sour cherry juice, art-making/writing, heated milk, wine and/or meditation are sometimes not enough at night when a mind races. Both my kids have or have had in the past some sensory needs so I used to drag them across our apartment floors in a tight breathable sack to calm them before bed. (This is a real, occupational therapist-approved exercise, don’t worry). Perhaps, inside the sack, we can be brought back to a serene, womb-like blank slate! I will have to wrestle up an adult size and implore my husband to drag me across the floor before bedtime. I’ll report back. (Might be a good time to sand down our splintery, pre-war apartment wooden floors!).

Being unburdened by ideas and thoughts is a luxury for most Americans. Meditation, yoga retreats and tap therapy are not a part of many of my clients’ lives who work low-wage jobs, many of them disabled and/or caring for their parents and/or children. My single mom after adopting me on her own, has always struggled to relax and quiet the clutter of ideas in her head. I once took her on a work-related retreat to Puerto Rico and saw her in full clothing sitting oddly erect in her beach chair on the sand, probably fretting about many things. She has no muscle memory for mindfulness. I wish I could gift it to her.

What do you do to free your mind of thought? Pop bubble wrap? Perform sound bath meditation? (Justin Bieber) Give your money away (Keanu Reeves)? Have sex? Scream? (Madonna). (At my college, we used to collectively scream at midnight during exam week and it was good, clean Midwestern-style release).

For something really conducive to mind-blanking during these harrowing times, check out this unique mindfulness journal full of creative drawing/writing fun that my friend Maggie, a NYC psychologist recently published. Free your mind people! xoxo

Attention (the new app that could change my life), reunions and borscht

Sign I taped to my elevator of my friendly building. Thanks to Mariko, a new friend who told me about Veselka’s borscht for Ukraine campaign. I mean who doesn’t love borscht and charitable giving?

I am one of those annoying people who has a new app idea every day but never follows through. More than eight years ago, I was obsessed with making an app that connected parents with like minded parents using a survey of interests, GPS etc. I was tired of hanging out with parents who barraged me with either complaints/boasts of their chlidren or complaints about their partners. I missed funny, off-color, sometimes worldly conversations that I shared with people before parenthood. I pined for friends like those of my youth who enthusiastically crawled on hands and knees through artist Christopher Buchel’s Chinatown installation that used an entire city building to create a world of bunkers, miniature classrooms and other scenes.

For if I had to endure the playground on days when i wanted to explore the city/go on new adventures, was it so selfish to want to sit with parents who were entertaining? To this end, I drew out the app idea and spoke to several developers who estimated it would cost me at least $15,000 to make and market this app. Even today, news of the Peanut app’s existence and other similar ones unreasonably still irk me as I never actually followed through. As my friend DB wisely asked me years ago, do you really want to dedicate your life to this app in lieu of all your other interests? (Thank you for that reality check, friend).

When my childhood friend Wendy told me about her new app, Attention, I eagerly checked it out. I had high expectations. Wendy is a witty, warm writer whose autobiography Microthrills made the L.A. times bestseller list years ago and whose lauded one-woman show in NYC detailed her unique upbringing as the daughter of a sex therapist. I knew her app would be original. It did not disappoint.

Even for tech-dolts like me, it’s a user-friendly app; you invite your contacts to join and if they accept, you can send each other what Wendy calls “Attentions”– text or emailed messages that can include voice messages, words and/or images you select. What makes it particularly useful is that you can schedule recurring Attentions; for example, if you know your friend visits her difficult mother every Sunday and it stresses her out, schedule it so that every Sunday morning, she gets an Attention with a photo of Joan Crawford or Medea and a voice message/text that will surely give her a boost/ a little smile. (There’s no way, I’d remember to text a friend every Sunday morning).

Another wonderful potential use of this app: delivering daily reminders/nags to your teenagers to do the basics, e.g., shower, practice their instrument etc. The clear advantage is teens love their phones and don’t so much like parental nagging, especially with the oft- paired exasperated tone. A cheesy example: send them a daily Attention with an image of Mo Willems’ dirty pigeon and your calm voice saying “take the plunge.”

You can even send Attentions to yourself–certainly more fun than Google calendar reminders. Try scheduling a reminder every few months to get your hair colored: “It’s time!” with a photo of Maxine Hong Kingston (the esteemed Chinese-American author with very gray braids whose look you shallowly do not want to mimic just yet. I apologize for gray-shaming).

I may have to send myself an encouraging Attention this August before heading to Carleton College in Northfield, MN for my 25th reunion as I am a reluctant reunion attendee, despite mostly appreciating my college years. My 10th reunion was a wholesale disaster—marked by throwing up behind a bush during an organized group morning run in the Arboretum and a subsequent trip to the Northfield, MN emergency room at three in the morning due to sharp tooth pain that signaled a need for an emergency root canal. Even at my granola, mid-western college, I couldn’t help notice the curious sedimentation of cliques and some huddles of alums spread out on lawns-seemingly impervious to outsiders. Other minor annoyances: noticing that a football player whom I’d previously classified as cro magnum after he once ate my entire box of Nutter Butters without apology or offers of replenishment, stood staring at me intensely multiple times at different times without approaching. (No doubt, he was recalling the year I roomed with his girlfriend and gave him continual stink eye for the Nutter Butter incident. My stink eye is no joke!).

I like to believe that humans evolve over time but reunions rarely have me thinking “we are living, breathing organisms that are capable of self reflection and change.” Perhaps that’s unfair as I’ve grown to be a slightly more gregarious, confident version of my college self but the change is like the baby hairs on my upper lip–barely detectable. But no matter, the glutton for punishment that I am will be steering my kids into a sweltering Minnesota August; as a friend realistically reminded me, this is most probably the last reunion we’ll go to before death. A Last Chance reunion.

I can’t overstate my need for Wendy’s app. Someone ought to send me some Attentions to provide much needed motivation to pack for a pending move (just a few blocks away from my current place) for we all know moving is a grind that forces you to judge your possessions and abandon the familiar. I’ve been skillfully practicing the art of delay and am distracting myself at night with sad efforts at painting (a skill not necessarily automatic for those who can draw). Though i am trying to streamline my worldly possessions, every notebook/book/Sculpie figurine we’ve made as a family is a cherished friend. Send me a daily Attention with a photo of the Unabomber’s no doubt hoard-ish abode and I will shed, shed, shed.

A recent conversation with my new-ish friend Mariko, a Japanese journalist living here for two years, inspired my upcoming little borscht fundraiser for Ukrainian families. This Sunday, I am displaying stuff in the hallway of my building and inviting friends and neighbors to add to the pile and/or donate any cash in exchange for junk. Get ready for a really odd mix of items e.g., see this pair of unworn cheap sunglasses that was marketed to me as necessary during COVID at the beach. Any takers? (If I make $20 for the day, I might be lucky).

monkey wearing my questionable “COVID prevention sunglasses.”

Any money we collect will go to buy borscht at Veselka’s restaurant in the East Village, a place that holds happy late-night memories for me and so many New Yorkers it seems. The restaurant is donating all borscht proceeds to Ukrainian families in need. It has been pointed out to me that it probably makes little sense to buy bulk borscht instead of just donating the money to Veselka’s to distribute but then the themed fundraiser is for naught. Plus who doesn’t love borscht?

If you are wondering where I am next week, I may be seated at my dining room table with those in my family who aren’t beet averse; we’ll be imbibing multiple bowls–our faces permanently stained purplish/red. You are welcome to join us for a bowl or better yet, asap suggest a food pantry I should contact.

Nunchiga eopda (눈치가 없다)* and Dab-jeong-neo (답정너 )**

*:someone who is clueless and can’t read the room/situation.

**an adjective describing a situation where you ask someone a question, wanting to hear a specific answer. The classic example:”Do I look fat?”

I have sympathy for the nunchiga eopdas of this world. Take the former attorney in the “prestigious” unit of my legal services office, our Special Litigation Unit (oft reserved for graduates of the Ivy League law schools) whom I barely knew but seemed in all the interactions I had to beautifully illustrate the Korean expression. One afternoon, I stood at the elevator bank telling a work friend how embarrassed I was in replying all to an email from our office’s training coordinator. The training coordinator had emailed everyone in our office to schedule summer trainings for our interns and somehow I emailed everyone in the office that I had to reschedule a training. I turned to my friend and said “just tell me, how bad was it?”, clearly asking her so that she could assure me that it wasn’t the biggest blunder (my question, a good example of the Korean expression Dab-jeong-neo). My sweet friend waived away my error, saying that in the universe of reply-all errors, it was small potatoes. Just as I was about to exhale, my relief was interrupted by this young attorney I barely knew who leaned into our conversation to say “actually it was kind of a big deal”and smirked at me.

Other examples you surely have experienced–the person at an excruciating staff meeting that has run way past it’s projected end time who decides to bust out ten compound sentence questions, seemingly unaware that everyone is about to tear their hair out.

I recently had dinner with a friend who told me stories about her father-in-law, a true nunchiga eopda. I told her about the Korean expression, which delighted her as she realized she can now utter this Korean expression after each insensitive comment without consequence. My friend also insightfully pointed out that Korean seems similar to Yiddish in being delightfully specific to human behavior and giving humor, sarcasm and joy to moments.(We couldn’t think of an equivalent English expression for Dab-jeong, a question someone asks only wanting one answer-can you?). Perhaps zhlub (an insensitive, ill-mannered person) is the closest Yiddish equivalent to nunchiga eopda? Raised Jewish by my white mom, I’ve always loved Yiddish so I’m tickled by the idea that Korean and Yiddish have any overlap/similarities. (See some of my favorite Yiddish expressions that remind me of some of the Korean expressions about which I’ve written: Hok a chainik (to talk too much, to talk nonsense), kibitz (to offer comments which are often unwanted during a game, to give unasked for advice), loch in kop (literally hole in head, refers to things one definitely does not need), ongepotchket (messed up, slapped together without form, excessively and unesthetically decorated)).

I could wax on about nunchiga eopdas forever. A few years back my husband was at a preschool birthday party making small talk with a particularly grievous UES private school parent. Talking to my husband about his food manufacturing business, this father thought it appropriate to complain about his ” fucking Jewish lawyer….” , clearly not looking at my husband (who is in fact a Jewish lawyer). When my husband, outraged and surprised, announced “I am Jewish,” this nuchiga eopda said, “oh, I meant my Persian Jewish lawyer,” –still not reading the room.

Another example I’ve already written about before involving our UWS, University of Chicago educated neighbor who once saw my husband’s collection of books about Nixon in our large library of varied books, which somehow spurred him to share that he is basically a white supremacist who believes in the hierarchy of the races in terms of intelligence and abilities. (To which my husband said “Your beliefs are evil,” and left him alone in our diningroom. We are not friends with him anymore).

There are offensive, horrid nunchiga eopdas and the more lovable kind, e.g. sometimes, my husband excitedly discusses his record collection/audiophile interests in a way that misreads the audience (my kids and I) but is nonetheless sweet–his passion admirable. I think of my son and I meeting a teenage boy at synagogue event last year who wanted to talk at length about video games. We listened despite our minimal interest in video games because the kid’s rant was so earnest and pure.

I’m particularly charmed by the expression dab-jeong-neo. Do you have examples of questions you ask just to hear compliments/affirmations? My six year old and I have a goofy game that offers a skewed take on this expression. I bend her backwards over my knee so her head dangles perilously close to the floor and ask her questions like “Who makes better pancakes, Baba (paternal grandma) or me?” Only if she replies “you do,” will I pull her up. Other questions I ask “who is a perfect, patient mother?” You get the drift.

Interesting Korean-American #5, artist Eunsoo Jeong (@koreangry)

Photo on top: artist Eunsoo Jeong with her comic zines and fun stickers. The bottom photo is one of her miniature dioramas that she creates for her comics.

ME: My teen son told me about your comics that he admires on Instagram and suggested I contact you. (He brought me luck as you promptly responded to my message. So generous of you!). It must be satisfying to be embraced by Generation Z and beyond. It’s not every artist in her thirties that can reach teenagers. Explain that gift:

ESJ: Haha! That’s probably the nicest compliment I’ve heard since the pandemic! I don’t think about reaching any specific group when I make comics. My comics are personal, raw and vulnerable using hand made props and sets. And I wonder if those aspects of my work may seem like it is approachable!? Maybe we are missing these elements today in real life when we interact with each other, so it feels fresh? Who knows, I’m grateful for all the love I can get!

ME: If stranded on a desert island, what 5 art supplies would you bring?

ESJ: I would bring an anatomy book (you can spend hours and days looking at human body parts), watercolor/gouache set (I usually mix these into into a travel palette), carving knife, plier and wire.

ME: Favorite new craft skill acquired during COVID:

ESJ: Experimenting with resin/ silicone mold making. 

ME: Ooh that resin is a tricky business! I once tried mixing resin to make necklace charms with my kids in the basement of my in-laws house. My stinky liquid mixture never solidified. Also no one told me to crack open a window so I almost asphyxiated my entire clan. Nonetheless, carry on!

You sometimes share your journal with your notes and drawings. Do you have a favorite notebook? Favorite pen/pencil?

Pages from Eunsoo Jeong’s journsl

ESJ: My favorite used to be Moleskine pocket size sketchbooks, but lately I’m just using whatever empty sketchbooks/ notebooks/ journals I find at home. My recent goal is to finish unfinished sketchbooks. I also used to bind my own sketchbook with a bunch of weird maps/ papers I collected (earlier question) but I’m trying to really finish unfinished/ unused journals that I own. I’m very particular about the pencil! I have only been using the Pentel GraphGear 500 Automatic Drafting Pencil (0.5 mechanical pencil).

ME: I could listen to you wax on about sketchbooks and pencils forever (hint, hint-your future podcast about all things stationary).

Are you schooled in the Arts or self taught?

ESJ: My immigration journey began with art. I was very fortunate to have attended School of the Arts in San Francisco (now named Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts), a public, audition-based, alternative high school. I learned traditional art for high school- and went to San Jose State University to major in Animation/ Illustration. All the miniature and Koreangry work is self taught after college!

ME: Tell us more about your immigration story:

ESJ: I came here by myself at age 13, back in 2001. (Technically speaking, I was here as a tourist visa and overstayed my stay and became undocumented after 6 months of being here). How I came about is a bit blurry- my mom and halmoni thought I would have a better chance of living here than in Korea, so they booked me a one way ticket to the United States and enrolled me immediately in local middle school. I stayed with my halmoni (and my mom’s sister’s side were all here at the time) till my mom came after 3 years with my brother to join (but she eventually had to go back). I was very fortunate to receive DACA back in 2012, after living in the US for 11 undocumented years. I’ve adjusted status through my marriage back in 2016. Being undocumented has been a huge identity for myself–and I try to talk about my experience in work because for longest time it brought shame and drama in my life. I visited Korea back in 2017, for the first time in 16 years–and that experience baffled me. (My zine #6 is about homesickness)

I am currently a permanent resident (green card holder) and haven’t decided to become a US citizen yet, since I have to give up my Korean citizenship to do so.

ME: Where does your rage, so apparent in your art, come from?

ESJ: In the beginning my rage came from blatant racism I’ve experienced from strangers. Whether it was intentional or by mistake, I was tired of those uncomfortable interactions that I felt responsible for. This rage also came from the fact that I was not taught/ didn’t learn how to respond to these experiences growing up, from family to school. I was furious how normalized these experiences have been for myself for so many years. Looking back, I’ve been furious at myself for putting up with these moments and never speaking up about them.

ME: Kudos for channeling your rage in such a unique, productive way! Most of us just succumb to our couches and binge-watch shows—grumbling to ourselves about the idiocy of mankind. (Or maybe that’s just me).

I deeply admire your bravery in combining flagrant Korean pride with a critical eye. What are the top three things you like about being Korean:

ESJ: Fiery energy, compassionate, adaptable

ME: Top three things you dislike about being Korean/Korean culture:

ESJ: Stubborn af, too self-critical, gossipy culture

ME: Your art is unique for not only the words you use but the materials and scenes you create in such smart detail. How did you first come up with your unique artistic vision?

Eunsoo Jeong’s artistic process that begins with a drawing/ideas written in her journal

ESJ: I’ve always gravitated toward handmade miniatures, and I felt very true to my materials telling my story in that medium. I feel comfortable because I enjoy what I am making. It’s not clean and perfect; I love using recycled/ old/ found objects for my props and sets. This gives me a feeling of less pressure and helps me to not to be too precious about the things I create.

ME: Who else in your family is funny/creative/artistic or are you a diamond in the rough?

ESJ: I owe a lot of my art career to my public education in San Francisco. It didn’t come to my attention that my family were very creative people until recently. My mom just started learning how to draw and paint after she retired. My halmoni has been obsessed with coloring books for years. Seeing them pursuing creative activities now, I wonder if they weren’t in a position to pursue art in their time… which makes me feel both sad and very grateful. My family also enjoys a good crude joke here and there, and it doesn’t sit well at times, so I think that’s where my twisted sense of humor comes from.

ME: When did you first feel like an artist? Did a certain accolade cement the deal?

ESJ: I remember the very first time I visited an art store with a list of different types of materials I needed to buy for my first art class. I was simultaneously ecstatic and terrified by how much each of those materials cost… which is still a very true feeling I have as an artist, being excited about the materials you get to use to create your vision and being terrified of what it might cost ya. 

ME: Can art change minds?

ESJ: Art can show you that there’s a whole lot of possibility in an angle, yet it allows you to decide whether you want to change your mind or not. In short, I like to believe that art can change your mind, but it doesn’t demand you to change your mind.

Comic by Eunsoo Jeong of Koreangry

ME: I don’t know if you are like me in this–I try to (in minor ways) defy stereotypes about being an Asian woman, e.g. I like to tell people how much I dislike math and science (which I realize make me sound like a drip). I also tend to over-tip because I’ve heard a stereotype that Asians are bad tippers. Do you consciously do things to defy Asian stereotypes?

ESJ: Hmm that’s really interesting…  If I’m hearing stereotypes about Asianness- I either ask why they think that way or I will just SHUT IT DOWN. I Love making art about myself and sharing too much about who I am online, and that itself probably speaks to me existing beyond the stereotypes placed on Asian women.

ME: You’ve written about your feelings/concern that Asians go in and out of vogue and how that impacts us. Myself, I keep thinking I better write a novel before we’re less trendy and we go back to being underrepresented peons! Are there things you want to do before time runs out?

ESJ: I’ve been frustrated by the public attention (even within friend groups) we get when we become trendy, but not during this rise of Asian hate crimes. I question this a lot. I feel as if the attention is intended to only serve the curiosities of the general public. My dreams have been changing here and there, but lately I’ve decided to focus on mental health and resting, so I can continue to do what I’ve been doing into the future.


ME: In one comic strip I admire (see part of it below) , you write that the Hallyu wave has failed us (Kpop, Kdramas, Kfood). Explain:


ESJ: The comic was coming from a place if Hallyu was so successful, yet why do I feel annoyed at our success? When it comes down to it, I feel as if I didn’t see myself in “our success; I didn’t see myself in this global phenomenon, because I didn’t agree with the effect of the Hallyu. Yet when the harmful sides of Hallyu come into question, I still feel responsible for it. 

ME: I read about some Koreans being hostile to Korean female celebrities just for having short hair. I imagine your art which has highlighted the importance of Black Lives Matters and fighting for LGBTQ rights is met with some vitriol. How do you deal with the hostility?


ESJ: Absolutely not well. I have my go-to regimen. It was very hard in the beginning, but I learned to accept that in order to do what I do, I need to be off the phone, learn social media tools to protect myself (getting easier with block, delete, auto-delete specific words), and don’t think too hard about hostilities. I KEEP thinking about new ideas, new projects, and new things to work on outside of my comic as well, which helps a lot. I also like to remind myself how good it has been to connect to many other Korean Americans through my comic, so I try to remember that 🙂

ME: What are your self-care musts:

ESJ: An iphone game I call Burger game, dog video watching, lighting incense, and eating good food with my husband.

ME: Pussy Fire Art (PFT)! Elaborate please:


ESJ: This comic came from the self-realization that I’ve been leaning on my fiery anger to create my comics, but often felt burnt out from that. But I’m learning to channel that same fiery anger to use in my favor to keep going with passion, without getting burnt like a toast!

ME: What are the best conditions for your art making? Do you listen to music? If so, who? Do you eat snacks and if so what? Do you wear certain outfits?

ESJ: Love listening to music, used to love drinking wine (currently on hold). Don’t eat any snacks when I work, since I have a lot of stuff so I don’t want to accidentally eat something that I shouldn’t! I love wearing comfortable outfits so I can use the bathroom quickly. 

ME: Do you come from a family of revolutionaries or how else do you explain how you emerged as such an iconoclast?

ESJ: I like to believe that my unconventional immigration story of having been undocumented for many years built up who I am. My existence was a questionable hot debate within our family. I’ve been in protests full of anti-immigrant Americans (including Asian Americans) screaming to go back to where I came from- that I need to come to America the “right way”. In a way, I have become an iconoclast since the day I arrived in the US. My arrival disagrees with beliefs about what I should be like as a good immigrant, who also happens to be an Asian woman.

ME: You speak and write Korean fluently, did that take effort on your part or was the Korean language handed to you a tray?

ESJ: I came to the United States when I was 13– and I was a huge reader. It’s really sad to think that I really tried to get rid of my Korean accent to be accepted by Americans. I kept up reading and writing in Korean, however– and I’m very proud of how fluent I am in Korean. But I’m absolutely clueless in “cool” Korean slang, abbreviations, and have to rely on translating dictionaries for complicated words.

ME: Something that is hard for you:

ESJ: Writing! Writing is incredibly hard

ME: Korean drama that makes you proud (I know you have criticisms of them):

ESJ: I don’t know if I can say I’m proud of any Korean drama, but I do enjoy the zombie series  “All of us are dead” 

Things you splurge on:

ESJ: I definitely splurge on tools. I love investing and upgrading tools that I use.

ME: In one of your comic strips, your character breaks up with a guy and he criticizes you for once spending $200 on clam chowder. I’m a chowder fan so this piques my interest.

ESJ: Hahah! I used to work at a store in San Francisco Pier 39 in high school and it was such a nostalgic time of my life. In the beginning of the pandemic I was craving clam chowder desperately, and the Boudin store sells fresh sourdough bread with clam chowder with an overnight shipping option only. So, naturally—I ordered $200 worth of clam chowder!

ME: I used to think it was kind of charming how Koreans have an intricate set of terms marking relationships by age and gender but now I see its limitations. Tell us your thoughts:

ESJ: It’s very binary and limiting to gender for sure. It’s tricky since Korean language hasn’t kept up with new ideas and (pre-existed) non-binary, trans friendly terminology. When I was trying to translate some of the comics, this was definitely an issue that I’ve faced–it is limiting, hard, and confusing to know. I wonder if there’s any time we can come up with more inclusive terminology in our language. 

ME: Favorite Korean dishes:

ESJ: Too many!! Kimchi-Jji-ggae, Cheong-gook-jang, Goat soup, OX bone tail soup

ME: Korean-American artists we should know about:

ESJ: TOO MANY!!! I’ve been part of the Korean American Artist Collective (@kaacollective), I’d absolutely recommend the whole group to see who/ what we do/ where we are! 

ME: Top things that non Asian people ask/say that offends you:

ESJ: Any question starts with “I’m not try to offend you, but” and if they only ask 1 thing about Asian book/ movie/ song that just came out

ME: Three adjectives you hope no one uses to describe you:

ESJ: High-maintenance, fragile, pure (ANY type of anime reference)

ME: As someone who has always been too shy to really flirt, I’m strangely fascinated the Korean aegygo concept. In one episode of a Kdrama I like called Yumi’s Cells, a female friend is teaching the main character how to speak cutely and adorably to her new boyfriend–demonstrating an odd sing song-y voice and how to pretend to be too weak to open a water bottle. What’s your reaction

ESJ: I almost cussed! My genuine reaction is…da fuck?

ME: Not sure if you’ve watched the kids movie Turning Red. Though I enjoyed it, I was mildly annoyed by the lingering stereotypes of the mother and grandmother who seemed a bit like tiger/dragon ladies to me. Can you think of movies/shows where Asians are presented truly without bias/stereotypes?

ESJ: I love LOVE Turning Red! (and totally see what you mean!) The most recent example for me is `Everything Everywhere All at Once`, it’s fantastic (though not for kids). It truly defies the traditional role of Asians! Over the moon is also a super cute Netflix kids animation! I honestly hope to see this list grow next year 🙂

ME: Leave us with the top things that anger you now:

ESJ: Haters on social media, “fans” who are secretly demanding my content to be changed for x,y,z reasons…LA Parking tickets

ME: Here’s to your PFA and boundless success and joy to come!

ESJ: Thank you!

Meeting the artist Eunsoo Jeong (who is pictured on the left)