Signals,Tarot Cards and the Year Ahead

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

This candle works! I swear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhyming Book Reviews for the Impatient Reader

Decorating a slippery plastic tray with Sharpies. Scene from a good K-drama Itaweon Class. .

I’ll read anything if it rhymes. If only case law, the NYTimes and my mother’s treatise- length emails rhymed! I’ve heard many a friend decrying the fact that they can’t read anything anymore. Lately, I have to like a book by around the fifth page. So in this vein, below are my brief rhyming reviews of current fiction.

I give each book a rating (one eye roll to three, one being mildly hard to digest and three, a grinding torture) or for ones I like, eyes wide open (1 is ok, 2 good and 3 is like total fireworks ). I realize this might be a frontal assault to great literature and a feet over head surrender to TikTok culture. If you’ve read any of these books cover to cover and think I’m a crazed heretic, feel free to let me know. I might read the book until page 10! Oh and I apologize in advance for the bad, let’s call it purposely bad rhyming you may see below.

1) Moms by Yeong-shin Ma 1 eye roll

You may ask, what dolt can’t finish a comic book;

close your eyes, open them and now take a look.

It’s me with a shelf of reviled graphic novels–font too tiny, words too plain–

and on and on in that same vein.

This has a fun, campy cover of two Korean women in a rage;

I’m intrigued as a moody Korean, of menopausal age.

I like the neat font as it’s easy on my eyes

and Korean moms behaving badly is a fun, fresh surprise.

We learn slowly about the men they date

and how their love sours to hate.

By page 5, I grew bored and distracted;

the positive review, now retracted.

Where was the humor and spunk I expected?

Replaced by a humdrum earnestness, I rejected.

2) Anna KA Love Story by Jenny Lee 1 eyes wide open

This reviewer read the original, footnotes and all.

This version set in New York private schools has some gall.

We meet Lolly and her cheating boyfriend at once;

between the two of them, who’s the dunce?

The teen-speak and the low stakes put a thorn in my side.

After too much luxury brand name dropping, I’m not along for the ride.

But it’s got some clever lines and a fast pace that’s fun;

I just wish the titular character could be on page one.

3) Kim Ji Young Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo 2 eyes wide open

The blurb on the front flap…

suggests it could be crap.*

But I gave it a chance for a fellow Korean;

when I say her style is simple, I’m not being Me-an.

The author’s third person voice is intentionally plain-

a patient telling her therapist the A to Zs of her pain.

I forge cautiously past page one,

‘cuz deranged, fraught millennials are fun.

Kim impersonates people to her family’s chagrin;

and the plot only takes until page two to begin.

I’d give it three stars, as it picks up by page two,

but if this turns all sci-fi on me, what would I do?

4) Writers and Lovers by Lily King three eyes wide open

Casey Peabody has a litany or reasons to be pissed.

She’s been jilted by her man and her dead mom is sorely missed.

She’s likeable when she tells the reader of her plight:

she can’t think about money, sex or her mom if she wants to write.

Showing us the narrator’s funny thoughts is what Ms. King does best;

when Casey is anxious she “feels the bees in her chest.”

By page five, seeing Casey crying with the geese,

the reader would not like this book to ever cease.

5) Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump 2 eyes wide open

It’s clear this book is my type;

the funny story of a Black man well worth the hype.

The front flap describes it as “alternatively witty and heartbreaking,” great!

The humor, see page one, does not come late.

We meet the group of swashbuckling men

and the church-going, fearsome, Grandma hen.

Just when I thought the language was Denis Johnson-y but less divine

I’d be silenced by a simple line.**

6) The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett three eyes wide open

This book grabbed me from page one.

Identical twins and racist hicks– fun!

Each twin left the boons to live in two different worlds:

one Black and one white;

there is no use denying, the writing is TIGHT!

One twin returns to town with a Black daughter in tow;

the community, aflame, wants them to go.

If I can’t sit through this read,

a bottle of Vyvanse is what I need.

*Someone says the novel is one that “mesmerizingly diagnoses the endemic misogyny and institutional oppression that is relevant to us all.”

** “And my life went on like that: people coming and going, valuable things left in a hurry.”

Decorated a ramen bowl with sharpies. It says “I love ramen and kdramas” if you are wondering.

vixen, part one

My doll of the villainous mother from my favorite old K-drama, Boys over Flowers, who was played by actress Kang Hee Soo (Lee Hye Young), It’s a flip doll, just lift up her skirt and there’s the other mom on the show. I am pretty proud of her because she looks a lot like the character.
See, it flips! Thanks to my amazing artist friend Michelle who gave me the idea of making K-drama flip dolls. She’s such a mind!
The goofy, nice mom from Boys over Flowers. She had a clown-like presence, so this kinda captures her.

As I’m watching a dizzying number of Korean dramas at night, I’ve noticed there are typically two camps of mothers: remarkably well-preserved, ambitious wretches, or clownish women who devote their lives narrowly to the task of motherhood and could really use a salon visit. (See the dolls above).

With the increased cooking, cleaning and supervising Zoom education during Covid times, motherhood is at full mast. Dabbling in domesticity is difficult so more than ever we’re all expected to be Clowns. (As someone who has been known to let dust gather in my house and dishes pile, this has been a sore point). Understanding that this is a cartoonish analysis–let’s call it Clown v. Vixen–I present it to you as a fun way to assess our motherhood. Besides, who doesn’t like a personality quiz?

I wasn’t sure how I’d fare before doing the quiz below; my number put me on team Clown but closer to the Vixen line than I’d imagined. (though it should be obvious who I am; I do have a current haircut shorn by my eager neighbor Joyce on Thanksgiving by putting my hair in a ponytail and cutting in a circular direction for five minutes as demonstrated on YouTube. The resultant layers give me an unraveled vibe not unlike the second doll above).

For fun’s sake, take this quiz I’ve very scientifically devised to determine which mother you are. The assumption is you are answering these questions when COVID is not the horrid pandemic it is now.

  1. Have you ever been away from your children on a major holiday? (Boys Over Flower’s (BOF’s) Vixen mom left her son alone every Christmas so he could eat with the maids). +10 points
  2. Do you regularly cook for your children without complaining? (BOF’s clown mom made kimchi and banchan with the family and seems to cook nonstop, never whining about it.) +2
  3. Do you regularly cook but resent it sometimes or do you never/rarely cook? +9 (Vixen is never seen handling food. Other people cook.)
  4. Do you do crafts with the kids? +1 (Clown mom makes mass neon pink stuffed animal cats for no known reason with her family).
  5. Do you wear foundation/ a full face of makeup Monday through Friday? +8 (Vixen has layers at all times.)
  6. Do you dye your own hair (not in COVID times) to save time? -4 (Clown mom clearly does that).
  7. Do you follow current clothing trends and shop regularly for yourself? +9 (Clown mom is a mess fashion-wise. She loves stretched out looking lime green wool sweater vests and plaid.)
  8. Do you let your young kids share your parental bed regularly? +1 (BOF’s clown mom and dad sleep on the floor with their kids.)
  9. Do you have a paid job in an office? +5 (Vixen mom wears power suits and sits behind a hulking desk most scenes.) +5
  10. Do you like working outside the home to get a break from mundane parental duties? +6
  11. Does the idea of a long vacation without the kids appeal to you? +6
  12. Have you ever uttered the words “I can’t have fun when I’m out to dinner without the kids?” -8
  13. Have you ever fed any of your children ages 8 and up food with chopsticks or any utensil? -2 (Clown mom is often infantilizing.)
  14. Do you have a specific career/job goal for your child that you hint at and/or openly discourage certain jobs? +10 (Many of the villainous K-drama mothers want their children to carry on the family businesses. My own mother, as much as I love her, has always told me not to go into anything remotely creative, so she gets some points here).

Now what can you do with this number you’ve calculated? Absolutely nothing. You’re welcome. Stay tuned for Vixen, part two.

No More Banana

drawing of me years ago volunteering to hold a baby at a Korean social services agency.

As a Korean-American adoptee raised by a single Jewish woman in Manhattan, I can’t speak Korean. It’s a stretch to say I have three Korean friends. My reasonable fear is that I’m a “banana” (a derogatory term for Asians who look Asian on the outside but are white inside).

There is evidence I’m on Team Banana; see me, the middle-aged mother planning a Korean New Year’s party– grilling my weary friend Jin Sun on what Koreans eat, play and otherwise do on said occasion. See me in the strange position of reminding my five year old daughter that we are Korean only to be told “but I want to be Chinese.”

Then occasionally something happens that shakes my certainty that I am in fact, even Asian at all. Take the time I was seated in my progressive legal services office minding my business, only to be accosted by a Chinese coworker bearing a box of primly wrapped rice cakes. She peered into my office to offer a treat to me for the New Year. Before I had a chance to respond, she stopped a few steps from my chair and asked “are you Asian?”

This caused me to laugh so riotously and unceremoniously, I had to press my stomach with one hand so as not to tip out of my chair. In my politically correct office, was she worried I, of the round-faced, narrow-eyed and black-haired variety, would not identify as Asian and would take offense? At the time the incident made a good story about my unique workplace. But deep down, I was unsettled. Had I lost my Asian-ness? Was it something that needed to be nurtured and could fade at any moment if it was not?

So what gives me, at age 47, the audacity to start a blog celebrating all things Korean- drama, music, food, stationary, clothing and beauty trends? Consider my exuberant, galloping love of Korean pop culture and my sometimes weird, outsider perspective. As a witch of a classmate from my snotty high school once said, “Elissa is an enigma.” Enigmas, Liz, DOMINATE.

Aside from the K-pop and K-dramas, which we devour as a family, there’s so much to admire in terms of Korean artists, writers and directors, and I want to unroot it all. For fun and quite possibly ego’s sake, I’ll post my art, drawings and homemade dolls/figurines mostly of Koreans (as shown in below photos). As a family, we’ll try making Korean street food and food from our favorite K-dramas, watching Korean films we’re not familiar with, interviewing Koreans we admire and hope this culminates in a triumphant trip to Korea once COVID has faded.

What else can this site offer? My 11.5 year old son who is trans, autistic and loves to write wants to unpack Korean identity and other topics. No doubt his posts will lend some weight/seriousness to this blog to counter my disjointed levity. I’m hoping my cousin Leah will share her Korean recipes on this site. We eventually aim to sell wonderful things made by Koreans. I hope you’ll bear with me if I digress; I have an overflowing barrel of ADHD interests (e.g., treehouses/mini homes, creative writing, collecting journals, drawing, making stuff, art history, war movies, politics, making creative parties and starting activity clubs). Finally, this blog is a tribute to my therapist who always encourages me to develop my creative side because that’s where I am most at peace.

Maybe by loving Korea, rolling around, and blindly snorting my way through the culture, I can reach this mantel of Korean-hood and at the same time amuse and inform others. No more Banana!

My Korean zombie drawing. I took photos while watching tons of zombie shows and then started putting them together in a big drawing/collage.
Geum Jandi and Gu Jun Pyo, Boys over Flowers dolls made by my hands and very homemade looking. I hope to get better over time!
Kpop BlackPink’s Rose in Ice Cream video
Sculpies of some of the Kim’s Convenience characters

Bruce Lee the D.J (no, he’s not Korean i know)