Seoul Much Fun, Seoul Little Time

Quiet Tuesday night Insadong

I am back in Seoul to speak at a conference on North Korea and not only is it a short visit, I’m losing a bunch of time from jet lag, so everything’s happening in hyper-speed.

Loose Notes:

— While delight is my overwhelming feeling, a sense of emotional constipation has returned, because I can’t properly communicate. There’s so much I want to know and understand and say and I just … can’t. I have really taken for granted how easy my life has become in California because I speak English in an English-speaking place.

— The trend food item right now is a twist on milk tea: “Black sugar pearl milk tea.” The “creme brûlée iced milk tea” is a second. They have existed before, I think, but are currently riding the Seoul trend wave. This means when I showed up at a coffee shop at 1pm trying to get one, the place was sold out. Incidentally, a black sugar milk tea has been my personal go-to drink back home in LA. The ones in Korea are not shaken before they’re served, so they look marbly. The creme brulée iced milk tea has a layer of creme brulée foam at the top of the drinks, which I didn’t try but they looked pretty sugary, rich and delicious.

— This happened, of course:

— I am struck by how quickly I felt unattractive from the abundant messages about how to improve my appearance. Including but not limited to: The ads for the same doe-eyed, V-line jawed women everywhere, the endless, looming multi-story cosmetic surgery centers, one of which unabashedly emblazoned itself with an English sign for “Cosmetic Laser Vaginal Surgery.” Racks and racks of products to make you sit straighter (posture corrector), your toes straighter (toe aligner), your breasts bigger (waterproof chicken cutlet-looking bras), your “problem areas” smoothed out (flesh-colored sticker patches). It goes on. I stopped in a great Garosugil clothing store and as it is with all those Gangnam boutiques, the clothes come in “free size” which means, “one size.” Free size isn’t free, it’s limiting.

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

— A lot of our old friends have moved because they, too, were foreign correspondents or diplomats on three-year postings. But my Korean native friends still here have been taking me on a nonstop eating bonanza. For breakfast I’m making bulgogi and scrambled eggs, a twist on steak and eggs. Grandma Jin Ok’s #1 chicken cauldron soup? First stop after getting off the plane. Shabu shabu that you roll into Vietnamese wraps? Yes please!

The calm before.
Midway through the chop chop

— Reunited with Ju Hee, my Seoul hair stylist, and had her chop off 12 centimeters (we need to get on the metric system, people). Ivanka did it, so did Shiv Roy on Succession, and both those ladies are such great role models, amirite? JK I really just cut off my hair because September is the hottest month in LA, we live in a neighborhood close to the beach so we have no central AC, and my neck was hot. I do think Shiv Roy’s hair looks amazing

Moon Festivals

There are so many Chinese-Americans in Los Angeles that this weekend, there were COMPETING Moon Festivals on the east side of town, over there in communities like Monterrey Park and Arcadia, where a ton of Taiwanese folks live. I only know this because Eva has joined a Chinese Children’s Chorus and had to perform at two of these festivals, back to back.

While it’s about 14 degrees hotter on that side of LA, the boba teas and other Taiwanese street foods are also about 14 times better. So I left Eva with her choir teacher and went off exploring the street food vendors. I got the moon cakes, natch, plus dim sum standards of xiao long bao and char siu bao because, low hanging fruit.

But then I wandered into the world of vegan meat pies (which are cooked on a griddle and flattened, so, the Chinese equivalent of quesadillas), and the crazier milk tea creations, like “dirty milk tea” (not sure what makes it dirty), the Hokkaido Taro slush (Eva tried this and liked it) and the big mystery item that I was too full to consume was KOREAN-TAIWANESE FUSION NOODLES. I felt seen.