Sunday, December 26, 2010

I've been dreaming of Omma. For the first time, I can place her face
in my mind, recall the timbre of her laugh. I dream that I make
frequent visits, that we talk and laugh, my sisters and their father
join us. We are a family.

Even these dreams though, are bittersweet. I wake, and the fluency of
Korean has fled my tongue. Omma is across the ocean, not across the
town. My youngest sister has yet to learn of my existence.

I have found Omma, but we still have such a long way to go.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It turned out nicely.

Korean Pear-Applesauce

Occasionally Amul and I end up with a surplus of fruit. Okay, maybe a little more often than occasionally. Fruit that's a little too ripe to eat, but nowhere near bad. Two or three soft aples, and I usually make a batch of my apple streusel bread. This time around, with guests coming and going, and us in and out of town this fall as well, I found out fruit drawer contained a few more than one or two neglected apples. More like four or five. And about six Korean pears, too. As much as I enjoy baking, I wasn't in the mood to make ten loaves of bread.

So I'm currently in the process of making a big batch of Korean pear-applesauce. The kitchen is warm and toasty and smells like the holidays. A good thing on a cold, damp, and rainy day like today. It reminds me of an old children's book we used to have called "Rain Makes Applsauce."

I'll let you know how the final product turns out.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Da Bears

I’m hell bent on maintaining my record of only attending schools whose colors are yellow and purple or blue (alternating respectively).  My high school colors were purple and gold (the Fighting Scots!).  University of Michigan’s colors are the illustrious maize and blue.  SFSU’s gators are purple and gold (btw, I’m a Master Gator, did you know?).  I submitted my PhD application to UC Berkeley the other day.  I’m hoping to adorn myself in the Golden Bears’ yellow and blue.  I’m not really sure how good my chances are, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Press Conference

Press conference this afternoon at the Korean American Community Center in a statement condemning North Korea’s attack on South Korea.



testing a blog distribution service...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

맛이는 주말

It’s always a good weekend when Korean food is involved.  I’m convinced that my bout with severe illness right after I got back from Korea was a result of kimchi withdrawal.  In an attempt to stave off future maladies, I think it’s highly important that I maintain a quota of Korean food consumption.  It’s for my health, you see.

Amul’s brother, Rahul, is as much of a foodie as we are.  He was here this week for business, so Amul and I made a trip over to Kukje on Friday night to stock up on supplies.

I always look forward to this time of year for the produce options that abound.  It’s not the harvest season for nothing.  I love how readily available pomegranates, persimmons, and Korean pears are here in San Francisco.  Olivia is turning into quite a herbivore as well.  She’s always loved carrots and apples, but lately she’s expanded her palate to include Korean pear and persimmon.  They compliment the gourmet Spanish almonds nicely, heh.

Anyway, I digress.

Saturday morning dawned rainy and cold, so Amul and I warmed up with a breakfast of vegetable jook and Korean barley tea.  Jook’s a Korean rice porridge/gruel.  It’s become a comfort food for me, warming and mild.  We garnished ours conventionally with pine nuts and sesame oil.

Rahul arrived Saturday evening, and we prepared a full Korean dinner for him.  Barbecued pork, chapchae, doenjang chigge, sticky rice, sesame leaves, kim, lettuce, kimchi, pickled radish and cucumber…the works.  It turned out really well, and Rahul highly enjoyed it.

Sunday morning, Amul and Rahul were just going to have cereal for breakfast, but I insisted on trying out my newly acquired recipe for ho-tteok.  Ho-tteok is a Korean street food, it’s a chewy fried pancake that’s filled with melted cinnamon sugar and chopped nuts.  I ate one like every day when I was in Korea.  So my attempt at making them at home was surprisingly a huge success.

Rahul was so impressed by his introduction to Korean food, that he insisted we spend the afternoon at Kukje so that he could take supplies back with him to Boston.  So lunch was consumed at Kukje’s shiktang.  We gave Rahul a nice sampling some more Korean dishes:  tteok mandu guk, dolsot bibimbap, and mul naeng myun.

Last night, in an attempt to make a dent in the leftovers in our fridge before we head out of town for the holiday, I experimented and threw some ingredients (heaven help me if I had to recreate the recipe) into the wok and ended up with pork kimchi fried rice.  It was actually pretty yum!

I think our next cooking project is attempting to make our own kimchi.  Amul’s gotten all the necessary ingredients.  We shall see how it turns out…

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sick Puppy

DSCN2490Never let it be said that my dog doesn’t have impeccable taste.  She accompanies us to Wine Country, and we have our favorite restaurants where Olivia can join us as we dine.  Amul and I do a lot of cooking, and Olivia’s always our helpful Sous Chef.  She’s helped us make homemade pasta, lobster, stuffed mushrooms, Oysters Rockefeller…  Like any good assistant, Liv gets to sample what she helped create.

This weekend, though, Olivia decided to take matters into her own paws.  Amul, Rahul, and I visited our favorite gourmet grocery store in San Mateo on Thursday evening.  We picked up a few bottles of wine and a container of our favorite Spanish almonds.  Somehow, the almonds didn’t get put away, and got left out on our dining room table.  Friday afternoon while Amul and I were at work, Olivia took advantage of our oversight and ate the entire container of almonds.  Mind you, these are no ordinary almonds.  These are gourmet Spanish almonds seasoned with sea salt.  These are $25 a pound almonds.

Amul came home Friday evening from work to a puppy that had a very very full bladder. When Amul DSCN2486returned from taking Liv out for a potty break, he found out why.  Liv had eaten all the almonds, but the salt had made her really thirsty.

I reckon Olivia’s regretted her decision to indulge after two days of vomiting up a stomach full of almonds.  Though I doubt she’ll remember this lesson in moderation the next time we leave something yummy out…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


We took in Korea's most popular and longest running theatrical show. Its called Nanta. It's the story of 3 chefs in a restaurant that need to meet a tight deadline for the night's dinner. On top of that the Maitre d' brings in his nephew to train in the kitchen. It's a musical comedy with no words.

The actors and actresses perform everything in rythem from chopping veggies to mixing foods. Think of the show "Stomp" but it takes place in a kitchen and knives are flying all over the place!

A couple videos (not by us) give you a glimpse of the show. If you find yourself in Korea you should try to see it; it' a fun evening.

The knife skills of the actors on display (this is actually at some trade show or event and not in the actual theater):

Traditional Korean drumming mixed with modern performance by Nanta:

Meet the Parents

Growing up in the US watching American TV shows and movies I learned about the American dating culture. One thing I learned is that its a rite of passage to for a guy to some day meet his date's parents, usually in some awkward instance designed for TV laughs, and be questioned about his "intentions". It would usually be that he drops off his date and her parents drag him in and he sits unprepared for this meeting on the couch as her father gives him the 9th degree.

In the past 26 years of my life I haven't had this experience. That tells you of two things: 1) I didn't date much in high school and 2) If I did, I already knew the girls' parents and they knew me. That all changed a few weeks ago. I had to go to Korea to get this experience and to make matters even more complicated, the whole thing transpired in a language that I don't speak. And it was such a great moment!

I was excited to meet Omma. Prior to our trip we weren't even sure if I'd get to meet her. Little did we know that Kira's meeting with her family would turn out so well, that they would connect on every imaginable level, and that there was a mutual love and interest to further develop the relationship. The week and a half before I came to Korea was filled with wonderful stories about Omma and how Kira was slowly finding out more about her. When Kira told me that Omma wanted to meet me, I was thrilled!

Omma met us in Busan along with an Imo-Halmony and Imo-Halmony's son. I saw the resemblance in both physical features and personalities. I like that they have the same tiny ears.

We all went out to lunch near our hotel. We sat at a traditional table where you sit on the floor and the table is lower. I've always had trouble sitting cross legged for a long time because my legs are so darn long. On top of that everything in Korea is small. It made for some good laughs for all of us. Omma, like any good mother, was intent on feeding me lots of food. Everyone's stuffed and there's one more serving of noodles left in the communal bowl? Give it to Amul!

At one point I burned my mouth because the food was too hot and I was too ambitious to eat. When the final course of steaming hot rice porridge was ready to eat Omma and Imo-Halmony emptied out a plate and told me I should spread it out to let it cool so I don't burn myself again. Exactly what my mother would have done:) We all had a good laugh. Of course this all transpired through them speaking Korean and gesturing but I knew exactly what they were saying. Its true what they say, eating meals together is the ultimate social activity to bring people and cultures together.

Later in the afternoon we went to a coffee shop. We all got to speak a little more to each other as Imo-Halmony's son who speaks some English helped translate. At one point Kira excused herself to go to the bathroom. At which point Omma turns to me and asks a question. I look at Imo-Halmony's son to translate and he says:

"So... why do you like Kyung Joo?"

This is it! The life experience I've never had. Being questioned by my date's parents and being caught completely off guard. Except its my fiancée and we've been together for 3 years, not 3 dates and its all happening in Korean!

How do I sum up my feeling for Kira and why I like her? We just go together so well! So that's what I said, "We get along so well, its her personality and sense of humor. We've been best friends for 5 years* before we started dating, and we've been dating for 3 year. We really connect well with eachother. I like her because I like just being with her. " I was hoping that would translate properly and I think it did. As I looked across the table I saw two nodding heads of approval.

*For those of you who didn't know, it took Kira 5 years to realize that I was the right guy for her. For 4 and a half of those years I was the best friend with a secret crush on her. She had been dating a different guy that whole time. She finally realized she belonged with me when I moved away to California. Hopefully its inspiration for all of you boys and girls who have crushes on your best friends. The whole story could be a separate blog/movie.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Taming Feral Fillies

A yearling filly left to graze on the shore of Jeju.  I tried feeding her a Gyeonju ppang (red bean pastry), but she wasn’t interested.  She finally let me touch her after I blew in her nostrils to let her get my scent. Her face reminded me of Nora.




Glimpses of Pusan’s famous fish market.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

Leaving Pusan

DSCN3788I think I am always destined to leave this city with a sense of loss.  This is the third time I have left the city of my birth, but the first time I have left with a proper good-bye to my mother, and a promise to return.

Tuesday Omma came from Ulsan to Pusan, with another Imohalmoni and cousin in tow.  This Imohalmoni lives in Pusan and is the younger sister of Bucheon Imohalmoni and Halmoni.  She looks just like Bucheon Imohalmoni.  Her son is a university student in his last year, studying Management.  He graciously came along as well to translate for us.

We met Omma in the lobby of our hotel; Omma rushed up to me and embraced me in a big hug, whispering “Sa rang hae, sa rang hae.” Between Omma and Imohalmoni, they decided that I resembled my aunt, Im Sook, the Imo who lives in Suwon.  I introduced Omma to Amul, and she grinned broadly as she hugged him.  “I love you because you make Kyung Joo happy.”  The day was bittersweet, seeing Omma again. We were  reaffirming our new relationship.  It thrilled me to be able to bring two disparate sections of my family together as I watched Omma laugh at Amul’s long legs and clumsiness with stainless steel chopsticks. Yet, both of us know it is impossible to fit everything we want to share, everything we want to say, in an afternoon before I return to the US.

At one point in the afternoon, when Amul had excused himself to use the restroom, Omma turned to me and DSCN3814said, “I want you two to have a wonderful life together.  Be a good wife for Amul.” And Imohalmoni started crying, as Omma’s eyes filled with tears.  Through my cousin, they told me that Omma and Imohalmoni lived together in Pusan twenty-seven years ago when Omma was pregnant with me.  And it made me realize that there are more family members who know about me than I do about them.  There are far more family members who have always known about me, and waited with Omma for me to return, than there are ones to whom I am a secret.

What does being a good wife, having a good life, mean to Omma?  She married a man she did not love instead of committing suicide. But she is happy now, has a family that she adores.  She tells me her husband is a good, kind man, and I believe her.  I believe that though she did not marry him in love, she has always taken her wedding vows very seriously and has grown to love the father of her daughters. She keeps me a secret from him not for my sake, but to protect him.  She doesn’t want to cause him pain, for him to lose face.  I wonder what Omma sees when she looks at Amul and me.  Not merely the steady safe love she has with her husband.  Not the passionate but tenuous love she had with my father.  Something more, I hope.  Something deep and lasting.  I hope that Omma and Imohalmoni’s tears are those of relief, that even separated from them,  I have become a strong woman, have not had to experience the mistakes and uncertainties that have shaped Omma’s life.

I’ve found another old journal entry from the last time I was in Pusan:
July 15, 2001
I had a dream about her last night. I can recall vividness in rich greens and pinks. We sailed down a pebble-bottomed stream, she in a white cotton skirt, me resting between her knees, sitting cross-legged in the bottom of the boat. The air smelled of frangipani. Her cool hands on my forehead felt like home—neither Michigan nor Korea, but a place I didn’t even know existed— and she laughed high and tinkling, like scattering diamonds.
I remember the feel of the smooth sun-warmed keel beneath my hands and the low creak of contented wood as we let the current carry us. The eddies reached their fingers out to caress our boat. The boat picked up speed as we navigated large boulders, and water sloshed over the sides into my lap. I held my breath through the rapids, pitching to and fro with the little rowboat. Skating onto smoother waters, I turned around, reaching for her hand. But she had disappeared. 

It always happens this way, when I dream her. She vanishes, and only then do I realize that I never see her face. 

I am leaving my city, returning to the plainness of overcast Midwestern skies. I’ll remember the horizon, how it looked at daybreak with the gentle fog rolling in. And the beach, the rolling waves. Yet, it’s not enough. I’m still grasping for something of this place that will make it mine. A sign, to show me that I’ve come home. Something to tell me where to go from here.
At last, I know I dreamed true—the sound of Omma’s laughter is like jewels, each precious and sparkling. But leaving now is just as hard as it was nine years ago. We sit across from each other in the hotel lobby, and Omma clasps my hand tightly across the Formica table.  My ears sparkle with heart-shaped earrings, a gift from Omma, which coincidentally match the heart-shaped pendant my parents sent to me from Michigan to commemorate this trip.  I point out to her that I have her tiny elfin ears, and she tells me that Halmoni too, shares this trait.

I try to tell her, “You are a good mother.  I love you.” She nods, blinks back tears, and reaches for Amul who sits beside me.  Six hands tangle and weave like roots of a family tree, with knots and scars and chipped nails.  Squeezing our hands, Omma gives us last minute advice, “Love each other. Have a beautiful life together.”
Omma loosens her grip to reach for her handkerchief, and Amul uses the opportunity to slide away, giving us a moment alone while he gives instructions to the cab driver who will take us to the airport.  We stand, and I press my forehead to Omma’s as we hold each other in these last moments. I breathe deeply, inhale the scent of the perfume I had given her two weeks ago. I kiss her cheek which is soft and tracked with tears.

The cab is ready, and Amul waits patiently for us to say our good-byes.  How do I leave Omma behind when I’ve just found her? How can we part with so much unsaid? In the end, the decisions is not up to me.  Omma ushers us into the cab, “Go, go.” The good-bye is too painful for her, so she severs the connection abruptly, like tearing a bandage off in one fell swoop. She closes the cab door and sends us on our way, a watery smile on her face as she waves, a small lone figure on the side of the road in Pusan, standing strong against the buffeting wind and searing loss.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Haeundae Beach

DSCN3751Monday was spent at Pusan’s iconic Haeundae Beach, retracing the steps my mother took along the shore twenty-seven years ago when she was scared and alone, the steps I trod at the dawn of my adulthood when I didn’t know who I was.  Here, now, I step with confidence and maybe even a little grace.  I walk hand in hand with Amul, who sees me for who I am and loves me for it.  I walk toward a future that miraculously opened up several generations of my past.091215_155909

Things seem different on this side of the Pacific.  Usually, I wander the coast with Olivia on the other side, stare out to sea and send thoughts and prayers to Omma west across the ocean.  Here, I look out to the east, and for a moment, I think there’s no point in looking across from this side.  But then I realize my foolishness—Mum and Dad are there, my sisters and brothers.  The Coheart, Kaka and Kaku,   I have gazed out to sea from all corners of the world in my life and I’ve come to realize that no matter what continent I am on, which direction I look, I am surrounded by love—there is always someone on the other side.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Our Japanese hotel in Korea

We are staying at the Toyoko Inn here in Busan. It's a Japanese chain of hotels. There are a fair amount of businesses catering to the Japanese here, I'm guessing lots of Japanese come here for business with this being such a big port and industrial area. There is actually a ferry to Japan right down the street from our hotel.

As I had hoped, its just like the hotel I stayed at in Tokyo. The prefabricated bathroom pod, the small quarters, and complimentary pajamas:) There is a free "Japanese breakfast" tomorrow morning, I can't wait!

In Busan

This morning we took a bus from Gyeongju to Busan. It had been raining most of the day yesterday and last we checked the forecast was supposed to be the same today; so I wore long clothes and had mentally prepared myself for a cooler day. However, we arrived in Busan and it was 70 degrees and absolutely gorgeous outside.

Busan is a major port on the east coast of Korea. Home of the 2nd largest steel company in the world, it boasts a thriving shipping industry, a diverse selection of seafood including the largest fish market in Korea, and has some of the country's best beaches. Kira had been to Busan on her first trip to Korea in 2001; prior to that she was here in 1983 (yep, she was born in this city.)

We dropped our bags at the hotel, changed into some warm weather clothes and headed straight for Haeundae beach just north of downtown where all the major resorts are.

Kira had been to Haeundae on her 2001 trip; from her accounts, she told me she spent time on the beach reflecting on the trip and wondering if her mother had walked the same beach. It was a pretty emotional time. I've seen the journal she wrote in, the ink on the pages are blotched with tears. I was hoping this trip to the same beach would be a little more joyous. It certainly seemed like it.

We walked up and down the beach and on the boardwalk observing the locals and the occasional European tourist. We stumbled across a public footbath that was being well utilized by the local ahjumas and ahjussis (senior citizens). After spending the last 7 days walking all over the place (well, 21 days for Kira) we decided that being 30 years younger than anyone there wasn't going to stop us. The water was kept at a muscle soothing 102 degrees. It followed a winding path through granite channels lined with river rocks. We took off our shoes and dipped in our feet for a nice soak. The Ahjuma sitting next to me laughed when I got in. Kira and I narrowed it down to 2 possibilities: 1) my legs were much hairier than anything she's ever seen, or 2) I had sat on a wet stone and my shorts got wet.

After a nice soak we headed back to the hotel and out for dinner in the local commercial district.

Tomorrow I get to meet Omma (Kira's mom)! She's coming to visit us by train for Ulsan. The three of us are going to have lunch and spend some time in a local park. I'm looking forward to meeting the woman who's brought one more level of happiness to Kira's heart.