The Great Kimchi War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end result

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

Bye friends. Eat more Kimchi!!

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

Eating Rice Cakes While Lying Down누워서 떡 먹기

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinterest -carrot lipstick

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

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

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

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

Seu bul jae-Korean expression meaning self imposed disaster

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

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

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

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

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

Utterly confused, I was silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting Korean-American #1: my son

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

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

A: Definitely not a Yang Gang-er.

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

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

Q: Favorite Yiddish word?

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

Q: Favorite nyc bookstore?

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

Q: Maximalist or minimalist?

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

Q: Why frogs?

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

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

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


Q: Favorite feminist tome:

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

Q: five things usually found in your backpack:

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

Q: candy you can’t get enough of:

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

Q: Skill you wished you had:

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

Q: pick a superpower:

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

Q: Best Korean dishes:

A: Ramdon and Korean army stew

Q; Kdramas— just for middle aged housewives?

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

Q: Favorite kind of tik toks:

A: Most of my tiktok feed is either:

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

2. cursed absurdist gen z humor

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

4. queer folks being queer

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

Q: : Procrastinator or anticrastinator?

A: big time procrastinator!

Q: Best replacement for cool:

A: swag

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

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

Q: Best indie song:

A: Body or Hayloft by Mother Mother

Q: Dream trip:

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

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

A: literally why would i gaf

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

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

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

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

Q: draw something cute:

A:

Q: greatest insult in your eyes:

A: “You’re so basic.”

Q: nightmare job:

A: Police officer or fashion designer.

Q: strangest thing you ever ate:

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

Q: middle aged parents who blog. Opine.

A: Kind of cringe but to each their own.

We Saeng Mahng -This life is doomed!

This melodramatic Korean expression is particularly appealing to me. I plan to use it for trivial mishaps/life challenges as it will have good comic effect. My kids tell me I routinely speak like a cartoon character (e.g., my favorite expressions include Rats! Ruin! Woe is me! Sigh! Tears! For the love of the Lord! and to my son’s befuddlement, “What in Tarnation?”, which sounds like something Elmer Fudd might have said) so this Korean expression seems apt.

This week has been rife with executive function failures; my errant debit card is once again lost– no doubt melded to the sole of some banker as he treads to work for the first time in ages. It is no coincidence that I have been off of my ADHD drug Vyvanse this past week. I’m, euphemistically speaking, not at my best; a/k/a, the world is not my oyster.

Sunday, I discovered the copay on my ADHD medicine has DOUBLED inexplicably, and the dreggiest of the dreg pharmacy chains, CVS, informed me after my heroic wait on a long, snake-y line that they had run out of my drug (aka, my elixir of life) and would not get it UNTIL THURSDAY. I was politely informed, I was welcome to knock on the doors of other CVS pharmacies to find the drug, evidencing a disheartening ignorance of the nuances and intricacies of my life and those with ADHD. How did this young clerk imagine I had the wherewithall to call a FEW pharmacies on a Sunday evening when I had kids to prepare for camp, socks to match, work emails to return, coordination of teacher gifts, and the requisite hours to fret about not meeting my own creative potential. How many times this past week could you have uttered “We Saeng Mahng?” For me, it’s an infinite number.

Take for example, today. My daughter graduated from Kindergarten. The organized mothers in my midst, three of them my friends, made lovely poster board signs that summarized their kids’ interests and marked a landmark in their lives. I had no poster board. This was okay though. (I always think of myself akin to the protagonist in the stellar novel Little Children when she goes to the playground and all the other mothers have to give her sad, ravenous child a snack. True that in the movie adaption the other mothers mocked her for her ADHD ways but mind you, who got to sleep with Patrick Wilson? Hah hah!).

But then today, my six year old gave her first public speech on stage at her school closing assembly, a speech she conceived and practiced all week in the hallowed auditorium. (Notably, she lucked upon this status by pulling her name out of a hat). We, parents of the speakers, were corralled into a room of the school that is optimistically called the “Social Hall,” a dark, bare space where parents sat and watched a live streaming of their kids speaking in the adjacent auditorium. (I had to single handedly turn off the room’s windmill -sized fan to hear the masked kids’ speeches). Parent after parent stood to record their kids’ speeches, with such ease and sequence. Apparently we were the only two hard of hearing parents in the room and resolved to do something about it. I somehow wrangled my hubby to exit the hall, run up the steps and emerge outdoors— convinced we’d hear our kid better on our phones. But it took us geniuses seconds to realize outdoor sounds like wind would make hearing her impossible When we then attempted to re-enter the same door, a stern guard directed us back to the main entrance, which elicited unwanted jogging from us and a harried descent back to the hall–publicly shamed by our own hubris.

My darling’s turn to speak about the joys of Kindergarten came and I stood with my iphone 6 plus held up towards the screen. And drumroll,…..No storage left. We Saeng Mahng! What other events will I be unable to memorialize due to my inability to clean out my phone? If could hit myself with a mallet like a silent screen actor, I would have in that moment.

After a joyous end-of-the-year party in the park that was hosted by my friend, my daughter and I walked out of the park to go home. Standing at Columbus Circle as we waited for a cab home, we realized her mask was missing. This made me fumble into my amorphous, oversized tote bag that often leaves a wake of valuables and pull out a dirty kid sock. My daughter eyed me with one arched eyebrow as I stretched out the sock, admittedly wondering if I could fashion her a new mask out of it. (I assure you, we did not go that route). On our way home– the two of us wiped out– our merry-eyed cab driver drove for a block and said “Am i taking you to Africa?” Confused, I shot him a weary, uh huh look.

I had forgotten to give him my address.

Happy End of School for those parents out there. xoxo

Drawings of interesting Korean-Americans

As I’m about to embark on a novel writing mission (writer Jami Attenberg’s 1000 words of summer starting May 31), I’ll be drawing interesting Koreans for a few weeks instead of posting writing. It’s been a while since I focused on drawing so these may be rough. Hope you enjoy them!

Laura petting a loaf of bread
Laura and her mushrooms

Korean-American artist Laura Swanson in her great hat.

Latte is horse

According to Urban Dictionary, this Korean expression means” “When I was your/at your age” or “during my time.” Since “나 때(Na ddae)” sounds like “Latte” and “말이야(Malee yah)” sounds like “is (a) horse”, Koreans translated these into English in their own way and {the expression} is supposedly a common phrase for Boomers to use.” (https:www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Korean)

My son sometimes calls my husband and I Boomers, which rattles both of us. Each time, he says this, my husband slips into owly professor mode: “We’re not actually Boomers. It’s just not accurate,” and each time my tween son says, “I realize that, but it’s just an expression as in, you are out of touch.”

Though I am only vaguely aware of social media’s obsession with generational distinctions, I did fairly recently evaluate the part in my hair to see if I should move my side part to the middle. (I’m on the Side Part forever team, you?) I do know this, I have a real admiration for young people-millennials, Gen Y and Z clumped together–because they are leagues ahead of my generation when it comes to things like gender identity. Whereas my generation had some of us chuckling at hard-to-define Pat on Saturday Night Live, the youngest among us like my 6 year old daughter (Gen Alpha?) is a different beast; she instinctively cheered on her guy friend who sometimes wore dresses to school and can nimbly explain to her classmates what it means to be non binary/trans/gender non conforming when her teachers read a corresponding picture book at circle time.

I can see why my son sees me in particular, as a Boomer. Laughing riotously at everything Fran Liebowitz said in the Netflix series Pretend It’s a City, and forcing my reluctant son to watch two episodes did not help distinguish me. More substantively, I had a considerable learning curve when my son came out first as non binary and then trans. How I commandevah’d when he first cut his hair short and wore boy clothing. How I slipped up on pronouns for too long and mumbled that my trouble lay in the fact that “they” was not grammatically correct when I knew better and said the wrong, hurtful things out loud. I was so embarrassingly un-woke regarding gender identity to the extent that a recent handwritten Valentine’s card from my son began with “You used to be a bit of a transphobe and ableist but now you are not.” (Hallmark cards 2030 maybe or better yet a new Girl Scout/Boy Scout badge of the future, see my imagined embroidered badge below).

My roughly embroidered badge for the Boy/Girl Scouts. I know it’s ugly. Sorry. Embroidery is so hard at night!

That card with those blunt words from my son, might be my shining glory finest achievement as a parent and a human. Yes, I’m a little proud of me and excessively grateful to him for being patient with my stumbling. I certainly strained my comfort zone by attending a large parent support group in which we all had to begin each session by identifying ourselves by our religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, class and other categories on a Friday night. The earnestness and open emotion of strangers struck me as cheesy and new age at first. I sometimes left early and wandered the streets–a couple of times finding solace in the plastic trinkets of a Flying Tiger store before picking up my son from his own group. I sometimes gnawed on an entire pack of green apple HI Chews as I sat in the circle and listened to the parents’ tales. I’d busy myself with petty thoughts about the other parents, i.e, critique someone’s ugly shoes or roll my eyes internally at the etiquette of saying “anyone else” after speaking. Slowly, over the course of a year, I learned to enjoy these sessions– the solidarity with deaf parents who signed to participate, parents who brought their non verbal, moaning autistic child to session, fathers from cultures particularly hostile to gender non-conformity who spoke of their fears so movingly and the welcome moments when we collectively laughed about something and found joy in an unexpected setting. (Though before I pat myself on my own back I note that my son does not think I am sufficiently woke but that I’m at least not the anti -woke Dark Force. My battle is not yet won).

Perhaps, there is no place I am more Boomer than the legal services office that I have worked at for a lifetime. For it is here, that my computer illiteracy rears its head and brands me as someone born in 1973. As my employment law coworkers, all younger than me know well, I am a bit of a Ping-peu, a Korean-English expression, which translates into “finger princess,” someone who waits for others to search for information because their fingers are royal.” (Creatrip.com ) I’m always asking coworkers where to find forms on the F drive, lazily ignoring recently sent emails on point. And Zooming has been a particular hurdle for me and my ilk. See me unwittingly Zooming into one meeting multiple times–my little face a pattern on the screen. Then watch me struggle to be one of the class parents for my daughter’s Kindergarten class, a position that largely requires the ability to send group emails and thus, is completely nefarious and ill-suited for me.

The topic of cultural appropriation is another one I wade cautiously through at work. One notable debate with two young attorneys and myself over the Caucasian artist Dana Schutz’s abstract painting of Emmett Till at one past Whitney Biennial pitted me against the kids. I liked the artist’s painting and I thought Ms. Schutz should be celebrated, especially alright as the work of amazing Black artists were displayed. The consensus in the room was a white artist has no right to paint Emett Till and be lauded for it. The vehemence that greeted my opinion surprised me at the time. Same for when I argued most passionately that people should be able to write from the perspective of any character/race/class as long as they do it smartly and sensitively of course. But no one was my friend that day. I felt so old.

So where do you fall on the generational spectrum not based on your age but by things like your tech abilities, your “woke-ness”/ your attitude about topics such as cultural appropriation? Do you like where you stand? Somewhat related, consider a fun, little parlor game that my son began the other night where we analyzed everyone we knew in terms of whether they are woke and/or interesting, which sometimes lead both of us to slap the dining room table and cry out in unison as we assessed one friend, “Interesting, but NOT WOKE!” Try it. It’s somehow entertaining.

Activity Club 1: The Perils (and Joys) of Playreading Club

My alter ego has always been Max Fischer from the movie Rushmore. I know I’m not the only one who loves a good club/themed party. (It seems likely he too had ADHD no?). Instead of traveling internationally as some are now or dreaming of being transported into alternate universes via portals like my five year old, I like daydreaming of fun social gatherings. Below I write of my beloved Playreading Club and why I hope it continues in person soon.

My Cousin Judy, who is around 97, has had a play reading club for decades. Her group has read plays out loud at boozy, food-focused meetings–taking away the pretention/awkwardness of discussing things like themes and symbolism. When she told me of her club, I resolved to copy her group and I did. Gone was the anxiety of reading in advance of the club date! Gone is the worry that you will have nothing but a playback of the NY Times Book Review to contribute!

Not sure how you feel about book clubs but they are the bane of my existence. Even a naked book club could not compel me. (In my twenties, I roomed with a friend who was a regular participant in a naked book club and participated with a young, hot guy friend who is now a well-known politician. They read Moby Dick.). My main issue is I don’t like to read most other peoples’ book picks, which may come from the unbearable hours spent reading prescribed books in school. Ethan Frome, The Canterbury Tales and egads, Midsummer’s Night’s Dream come to mind.

When I asked my neighbor, an Israeli stay at home mom to join my club a while back she shrunk visibly and said “um, that’s outside my comfort zone.” I understood her completely. I too have never been theatrical–my only stage debuts include a deaf and mute character in a fourth grade play and Fardles the bear in another grade school play. But our group has been memorable and often jubilant because of the random mix of friends who participate whom are drawn from different corners of my life-some who read their lines like me (timid and without much feeling) or ones who could outshine Sir Lawrence Olivier with their cadences and facial expressions.

None of us really know plays so it’s a dartboard-style selection process. So far we have read A Long Days Journey Into Night, Angels in America, The Glass Menagerie, August Osage County, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Fefu and Her Friends and others as we argued about race, class and everything in between over Korean wings, wine or other fare. It’s difficult to divine which guest will be a natural thespien and which one will read their lines like me, rushed and self-conscious. One regular who is a former district attorney is a wonderful performer with an entertaining knack for accents and hyperbole. She really hits her stride the nuttier a character is.

While reading August Osage County, two of my friends, one Caucasian and one Black, argued about whether the nutty mother was “white trash” (yes, i know, an offensive term)-a conversation, which lead to a broader discussion about race and class. When the night was over, one friend texted me, still upset at my friend who’d argued with her. Whereas my other friend enjoyed the exchange of different ideas. Despite the awkward silences and angry exchange, we survived a discussion of race, and I’d argue, that seems like an evening well spent on its own.

And we’ve had some minor intrigues. One time, my friend let’s call her Layla brought two friends of hers-a married couple to join us. David was a classical musician, bald and unassuming. Selby was Asian, short and the type of woman who wears Hush Puppies exclusively. The thing I remember was the husband’s tremulous but nuanced performance of Roy Cohn in Angels in America. As we drank bottles of wine for hours cramming in most of the play in one evening, this guy inhabited his role with such skill, we wanted to give him a standing ovation each time he opened his mouth. And he was not an actor. His wife, a mere shadow of him, was afraid to let loose among mostly strangers, which I appreciated.

David and Selby attended twice and then never graced my table again. We, no doubt missed our only male participant David, particularly during plays like Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf; the hostile husband and wife roles were hard to distinguish as we ladies yelled at each other across the table.

Many months passed and my friend Layla told me her friend Selby was not speaking to her. Apparently Selby was upset that Layla had asked David to come to a subsequent play-reading club and not directly invited her, which befuddled my friend as she considers herself equal friends to David and Selby. So enraged, Selby forbade David from coming to our play-reading club. Admittedly, it exhilarated me that my little club could be the basis of a marital standoff! I found it amusing that a wife could wield such power over her husband. (I smile thinking of myself telling my own husband he cannot go to the biannual record sale at the ARChive of Contemporary Music for example). Lately I keep hearing of these women exerting this type of power over the activities of their husbands. My endocrinologist recently told me his ex wife when he was married to her forbade him and his kids from seeing his own family during the whole 20 year marriage and now that they are divorced, he joyfully sees his family. Wowsers.

My other thought after hearing how David was forbidden to attend my play reading club: Jesus, let the poor guy sit at my dining room table with its stained tablecloths and eat some wings!!

We meet once every few months and rotate through peoples’ apartments for the venue and when we volunteer to host it, we provide the food and the others bring the alcohol. We have four or five core members but invite a mix of people, which keeps it lively. It’s a fun chance to see the homes of people some whom are basically strangers and make new connections. Try it or join ours when we hopefully reconvene.

Grade for this activity: A.

Two friends of mine who are regular club members