Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dongdaemun is a popular night market here in Seoul. I checked it out a few days ago with some friends who were visiting from New York.

We got to the market past midnight on a weekday, so it was pretty late and not that busy. One of my friends wanted to buy a whole bunch of socks, and we stopped at this vendor who had set up an outdoor shop at a main intersection. Since I was not interested in perusing their massive sock collection, I hovered around the other types of souvenirs and products that were on display near the area where customers pay. I immediately noticed the two women working the stand. They had to be in their 50's, and there was a heaviness to their demeanor. I couldn't tell if it was from them feeling exhausted after a long day of work, or perhaps from other stresses that were troubling them. But there was something about them that I couldn't help but curiously observe. One women was larger with short hair and round wire-framed glasses, we'll call her Lady 1. And the other was slightly more petite with wavy shoulder length hair, we'll call her Lady 2. I stood there practically right in front of them with only some products separating us, but they seemed preoccupied about something serious. And as I was pretending to look at the keychains and other knickknacks before me, Lady 2's cell phone rang. She turned around to face the large makeshift display made of metal-wire that was bountiful with inexpensive socks, and picked up the phone with her back to everyone else. When the phone rang, Lady 1's eyes widened. Lady 2 put the phone to her left ear facing slightly outward so Lady 1 could also listen in on the conversation. Lady 1 in turn put her arms around the shoulders of Lady 2 to get closer to the speaker, with the left side of her head resting on Lady 2's. They both stood there, practically hugging each other for comfort as the phone call started. 

Lady 2 did all the talking. Her voice remained strong as she spoke with pride and a bit of defiance. I have no idea what the person on the other end of the phone was saying. But Lady 2's responses were as followed. "I told you I would get the money, I just need more time." "Don't you think I would have paid you back if I had it?!" "I told you I'm working on it." "I don't have it right now. What else do you want me to say?" The conversation went on and on like this. As Lady 1 listened in, she signaled to Lady 2 that she had said more than enough. She tried providing moral support as Lady 2 continued to explain the same thing over and over to the caller. And repeatedly, Lady 1 motioned to end the call, suggesting there was nothing else left to say.

When Lady 2 finally did hang up, the both of them just stood there... embracing one another. They seemed emotionally drained as they consoled each other. But in that moment, I felt their strength. And it said so much about who they are. 

This is also when my friend was ready to pay, and she approached them with her multiple bundles of socks to tally up the final cost. That's when Lady 2 turned around to face us and help my friend, and I saw tears streaming down her face. But even as the tears continued to come down, she helped my friend with a wide smile and happy demeanor. And it made it all the more such a moving moment.

After my friend paid, we thanked the women and they courteously said goodbye and wished us well. These two women have been in my thoughts since this night, and I can't seem to shake off this feeling of wondering how they are. When my friends went back to Dongdaemun and to the same area of the vendor a few nights later to buy more socks, they said the women were not there...  wherever they are right now, I wish nothing but the best for them.
It's gotten pretty hot in Seoul. The humidity is at a point where I'm sweating just from walking outdoors. But I've miraculously been living without an air conditioner or fan at the place where I'm staying. I guess that's where booze comes in handy, because buying a bottle of soju is cheaper than getting a cup of coffee here and easier than thinking about the heat. Oh yes, that magic green bottle that now comes in flavors like grape and peach. It tastes just like candy, I swear it does. It's like the adult version that quenches your thirst to blackout and forget everything that's happening on the playground.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Writers writing about writers.
"She smiled. Leapt without looking."

Said by the character Mia in the movie La La Land.
"It's new every time. It's brand new every night."

Said by the character Sebastian in the movie La La Land.

Friday, June 23, 2017

"I wanna go somewhere where nobody knows. 
I wanna know somewhere where nobody goes."

From the song Highway Vagabond by Miranda Lambert.

This song is from Miranda Lambert's album, The Weight of These Wings. I love this album. I listen to it constantly. It soothes me. It's go-to music for stress relief. It calms me when I'm feeling like shit. It's completely transporting to a land of serenity and beauty when I feel chaos. The opening song of Runnin' Just in Case feels like the start to a beautiful journey. And the entire album has just the perfect mix of some upbeat songs to get me going as well. Even to have it on in the background while I work out my thoughts makes a world of difference.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's Monday afternoon here in Seoul.

My sleep schedule has been really wonky the past few days or so, but I finally got a good night of sleep yesterday and am feeling a bit more clearheaded today.

I ate kalguksu last week at a place in Yeonhui-dong, and it was so good. Kalguksu is a traditional Korean comfort food that's pretty much a noodle soup. The broth can be made with a variety of things such as chicken or seafood, but I ate a version made from beef bones. I really liked it because the hand cut noodles are made from wheat flour, and I could taste the starch from the noodles in the soup. The combination of the thick, milky broth with slight depth from the carby noodles was straight up delicious. I'm still thinking about it even days later. Kalguksu is also traditionally served with fresh kimchi, which is supposed to be eaten within 7 days of being made and isn't fermented. I've actually always loved this type of kimchi my whole life, and preferred it to the regular kind. The entire meal just totally hit the spot.

But what I'm seriously craving right now is a decent haircut. I really need a good fade to feel freshened up and clean.
"Let's go, girls!"

From the song Man! I Feel Like a Woman! by Shania Twain.
"Fattier Pork Is Better Pork."

From the story title of a June 16, 2017, New York Times article. Written by Melissa Clark.
One word at a time.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

If your cell phone is charged at 50%, doesn't that mean it's halfway charged or halfway empty?

I would say halfway empty because anything below an 80% battery gives me anxiety.
The one thing I'm not crazy about here in Korea are the typical bathrooms that are found in any common household.

They're modern in every sense of the word and even have electronic bidets that are fancy. But they usually don't have showers or a designated area for it. Instead, there'll be a handheld showerhead that's expected to be used in the middle of the bathroom or in a small corner of the space. Since there's no official shower area, the floor is made of tile that's meant to always get wet. That's the reason why a pair of rubber slippers will always be positioned at the door to help keep your feet dry. But I hate wearing those rubber slippers for some reason. It's a little annoying to put on every time I enter. Plus, I don't like thinking about who's worn them before and what they've done in them with their wet feet and all. At the place where I'm staying, I thankfully don't have to share the bathroom with anyone so I just walk around in it barefoot.
"And my darling, 
I'll be rooting for you."

From the song Rooting For You by London Grammar.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It's Sunday evening here in Seoul, which also marks a little bit over my first full week in town.

I've spent a lot of my time eating and snacking on different things so far, ranging from street food to serious fine-dining. My favorite though has been the traditional Korean street food you'll find at almost any major subway stop or area. They're basically these tents or the backs of pickup trucks you walk up to and eat at while standing. You simply place an order for 1 serving of ddukbokki, kimbap, blood sausage, battered and deep fried squid/shrimp/vegetables, or fish cakes, and it's served right away. Everything is pretty much already made and ready to eat, but they'll quickly refry anything deep fried so it's nice and hot for you. And a small paper cup of the soup from the fish cakes will also be given for free as your savory beverage to sip on, so don't expect any water. This liquid will either be offfered to you directly, or you'll know it's self-serve by the ladle sticking out from the fish cake broth. Eating like this is great because I can have a feast on the cheap. Plus, it's also convenient for when I'm alone.

I've been particularly eating a lot of blood sausage called soondae, which I often crave in New York and have a small go-to spot in Flushing. But I do also need non-Korean food on a regular basis, so I've eaten great pasta and even the occasional fast food burger here as well. The dining choices are endless in Seoul, which is awesome. Another thing about Korean food culture is that they're absolutely coffee obsessed, so you'll find multiple cafes and Starbucks on any block. I personally avoid caffeine because it makes me feel crazy, but have had the occasional cup since arriving due to social situations. Korean people will meet for coffee at 10pm not for the caffeine, but just because it's an alternative to meeting at a bar in a culture that's so booze dominated. I've told myself no more coffee, though. My body just doesn't react to it well and I always end up feeling extremely wired and manic. The place where I'm staying at doesn't have wifi, so I have to go to cafes often for times I need to get online through my laptop. That's when I'll usually just order a tea to loiter for as along as possible, such as this very moment right now.

I had lunch this past Thursday at Jungsik, which is as fine-dining as you can get in Seoul. All of the food was spectacular, and the sommelier paired everything with some really great wines. A friend also showed me an area called Boseok-gil over the weekend, which means "jewelry road" and is a new neighborhood with a lot of small restaurants and cafes. It hasn't been completely overrun yet, which was a nice change to so many other main hotspots that are always packed with people and major chains. If you're looking to check out an up-and-coming area of Seoul, I definitely recommend it. My friend took me to a small Korean restaurant off Boseok-gil that's popular with young people for its newish, yet traditional, spin on Korean cuisine. It's called Jang Ggoma, and was super good. "Jang" translates to traditional sauces (think gochujang, ssamjang, etc), and "ggoma" means little kid. They don't have a lot of seating though, maybe 4-5 seats at the kitchen on the ground floor and less than 15 seats at a communal table on the second floor. You get to the upper level through a narrow staircase, and the communal table is made up of what used to be the door of a traditional Korean dresser made of beautiful mother-of-pearl. Eating there was such a fun and delicious experience overall.

I've been good with not going out at night or staying out too late because my main priority is getting work done. A lot of my friends and the people I'm working with drink daily until the wee of hours of the early morning, but I haven't done that yet. On the one or two nights I've gone out for a little, I've always tried to make the subway home before it stops running at midnight. But on those occasions, I will admit to ordering some Korean fried chicken near my place for when I do get off the train home a little tipsy. I think of it as my reward for getting back at what locals here would consider a modest hour.

Friday, June 09, 2017

"Your game is tired.
You should retire.
You're about as cute,
as an old coupon, expired."

From the song Swish Swish by Katy Perry.
Alone time is an absolute necessity.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

I had this dream last night, where I was trying to scream into my phone at a company because they had wronged me somehow. I was so livid, which was escalated even more because they had me on hold for over 4 hours. When it was finally my turn to speak to a representative, I choked and couldn't talk. I was trying to yell and shout my frustrations because I was so hurt and angry, but it was as if I had lost my voice. My rage had been boiling and become more intense over the time I waited and I obsessed about exactly what I wanted to say. But it came out as a whisper and at most, I was only able to say a few words. I kept having to try and clear my throat again, yet still, nothing. I actually woke up when I heard my own voice talking out loud.
People only want the good, the shiny, and the sparkling aspects of our lives.

But exactly how much of our day-to-day life actually consists of that? Life is not one, big Instagram filter. And that's what I'm determined to share here on my blog.
It's okay to have a good cry when it's needed... it's better than eating until you hate yourself.

Monday, June 05, 2017

I arrived in Seoul four days ago, and everything has been going great so far. I've already been able to see some family and friends, in addition to eating some good food here and there as well. It feels nice to be back. There's this level of comfort from being here that sort of puts me at ease.

My flight landed at Incheon Airport in the middle of the night, so I had to take a taxi to get into town. My driver was pleasant and we ended up chatting throughout the entire trip. He eventually asked if I was married, and I had to think for a split second about how I wanted to answer the question. I decided it was best to not divulge too much information and get into it, so I responded with a simple no. Then he proceeded to ask why, saying men my age should be married. Next he asked if I like Korean women or American women. I told him it didn't matter and that I was open to anyone. That was followed up with other questions that were just a natural progression of our conversation. What kind of girls had I dated before? What kind of girl do my parents want me to marry? Etc.

Afterwards, I was telling one of my friends about my conversation with the driver and explained that I wasn't looking forward to having this same discussion with elders or strangers over-and-over about marriage during my two months here. Then she offered a solution in how I should respond. She suggested I just say that I was divorced, and she guaranteed the topic of conversation would end right there. I thought it was pretty smart and funny for her to say that. I mean, in general, it's not like I am looking to straight-up lie to people and tell them I'm straight, but it's a different culture here. And I'm not looking to get into anything with people, especially if their questions are just a mindless way to be social and make conversation.

My schedule here has been different everyday, and it will most likely stay that way until I leave. It's amazing how once you leave a routine that you were used to daily for years, it's like your brain already forgot about it all and has moved on. It makes me all the more grateful to have the opportunity to be here.