My first Thanksgiving after I left America was sad and lonely. I hadn’t yet made friends of my own in Seoul and was too shy to interpose myself into the naturally unfolding plans of my new acquaintances. The school where I taught had only a few foreign teachers at that point, and most of them were Canadian and had finished Thanksgiving weeks earlier. But I wasn’t going to let any of that stop me from having a delicious meal. So, on November 22, 2007, having researched good restaurants in convenient neighborhoods, I decided to try an Italian place in Daehak-ro where, apparently, Bill Clinton had once dined.
Once last year, teaching an English conversation lesson with the theme of describing places, I asked my university students to describe their hometowns to a partner. As an example, I jokingly described a few good points and several more bad qualities of my hometown, mentioning among other things its high obesity and crime rates. This might be why a little later, when I called on one young man to describe his hometown, he also mentioned that the city, Ansan, had one of the highest crime rates in Korea.
“Oh, why does it have a lot of crime?” I asked, trying to draw him into a lengthier utterance; he rarely spoke in class, which, of course, was why I had called on him.
“There are many foreigners,” he answered.
“You mean, like me?” I asked, smiling but also wide-eyed in my surprise.
“No, no, no!” he exclaimed hurriedly, probably worried about his grade, waving his hands and turning to some more fluent classmates in a flurry of Korean. It turned out, they explained, that he hadn’t meant foreigners “like me”; he had meant illegal immigrants, probably from China or South or Southeast Asia.
I got a similar shock last night. I was teaching Mr. Kim to play Yatzhee in our bedroom, the warmest room of the house. As he took his turn, I looked over at my laptop, perennially open beside me, unthinkingly moving my eyes down whatever was on the top of my facebook feed. Suddenly, a headline from the “Trending” section in the right-hand sidebar–a feature I generally ignore–caught my eye:
I made some exclamation of surprise and clicked to read the story. My disgust intensified when I realized the crime these five men had been arrested over: possessing tools that could be used to duplicate credit cards. (I’m not linking it here because I don’t want them to get even one extra pingback.)
I was shocked to see this xenophobic, fear-mongering headline on the sidebar of facebook and syndicated among media outlets across the Midwest. “Foreign national.” Really?
In fact, a week ago, I actually don’t think this story would have made headlines in any real way. People, Americans and otherwise, are arrested every day for that level of crime in America. The normal headline would have probably read something like, “Five arrested on turnpike with fake credit card machine.”
But after Paris, with an increased level of paranoia about the actions and intentions of “foreigners” in America more socially acceptable among a broader group, the editors at this paper doubtless knew that they could get lots of clicks (and indeed, trend on facebook) by focusing their headline on a group of foreign nationals being arrested.
It’s the kind of thing I was used to hearing people who aren’t Korean nationals living in Korea (e.g., Americans and Canadians) complain about in Korean headlines–things like “Hundreds of foreigners arrested in past 2 months,” when the crime rate among non-Koreans is something like half that of Korean citizens there. They’re right to complain these headlines, because that kind of reporting is misrepresentative and contributes to the image of the other as a danger and a menace and maybe less human than us.
Dividing people as insiders and outsiders is probably one of the most natural things we do. I mean just look at kids. But it’s also one of the most dangerous, especially in a world like ours, where people are constantly on the move, individually and groups, voluntarily or reluctantly, for their gain or to avoid further loss. Learning to avoid identifying people by their categorical differences rather than their personal actions was supposed to have been last century’s work.
As someone prone to rumination, I’ve definitely pondered before on how families like ours could be particularly vulnerable to xenophobia or nationalism if those moods were to seriously grip the world again. In Korea, I’ll always be presumed to basically be valuable for my combination of native English ability, phenotype and, while it, lasts, youth, but probably never in physical danger of anything beyond a daring grope; our children will probably always be marked as at least partial outsiders. In America, Mr. Kim, and any children, will always be looked upon by at least some as interlopers, although currently, given our overall educational and social situation and the fact that Mr. Kim is East Asian rather than Middle Eastern, I think we don’t have anything serious to worry about.
When my student last year made his comments about foreigners (but not ones “like me”) causing high crime rates, I gave my class a brief but probably-unwelcome lecture on the truth about foreign crime rates in Korea. I had to, and I understand why many of my friends have to complain about the headlines there that make the same characterization. Here in America, we have to complain, too. It doesn’t matter that Mr. Kim isn’t Middle Eastern, and it shouldn’t matter if he was the WASPiest American I could find–I should still complain. Headlines like the one I saw last night–and votes like the one that just went through in Congress–are bad for our families, our society, and ourselves.
Mr. Kim and I live in the northern part of the United States now; we’ve both previously lived in the South, in southern parts of Texas, and, of course, in Korea. I’ve also spent time living in England, and Mr. Kim’s time in China totals two years or so. All these places are close to our hearts, and we bring our experiences with us to the table.
Actually, unlike the stereotypical Mr. Kim, my Mr. Kim doesn’t mind cooking at all and, in the time since he decided to start really learning, has become quite good at it. He usually cooks breakfast and dinner on the days I work (oh yeah, I got a job!)–three days a week–and I usually cook meals on the other days, making enough leftovers for our lunches. Between us, we manage to keep our meals pretty multicultural and reflective of the places that have shaped us. Last night, we had leftover enchiladas I made Sunday from my mother’s recipe; tomorrow night, at my request, Mr. Kim is planning to make stir-fried pork belly in doenjang (된장). Last Thursday, though, I happened to take photos of each of our meals, so I thought I’d post it as an example of how we eat in our culturally amalgamated household.
It was a non-work day for me, so I made a breakfast straight out of my Southern heritage: Biscuits and gravy. We didn’t have any sausage, so it wasn’t sausage gravy, but I mean really, bacon gravy can’t be much worse, right? It was actually amazingly delicious. Mr. Kim loves gravy, and I had been wanting to make this for him for a while, so I was really gratified when I had to pretend to prefer to eat my last biscuit with maple syrup instead because (I could tell) he wanted the rest of the gravy.
Mr. Kim made lunch. He loves jeon (전, savory korean-style pancakes or really basically anything lightly battered and panfried), and even though I am the household queen of the kimchijeon/pajeon style–his fell apart the one time he tried–he makes some mean zucchini jeon! He also made doenjang stew (된장찌개). Although I wasn’t super open to doenjang when I first encountered it many years ago, it’s now one of my favorite things ever, and when Mr. Kim opens up mealtimes to requests from me, doenjang is almost always involved. By the way, Mr. Kim actually gets most of his recipes from an English-language cookbook by Maangchi. It’s a beautiful book, good for people living in America who maybe can’t find the exact same ingredients as in Korea, and the food has been great so far!
I did dinner. This is a dish I first made when I lived in England, based on this recipe. The kitchen in my dorm had wonderful and powerful appliances, including ovens, which I used with great pleasure after so many years in Korea, where ovens are rare and usually not great. Roasts (especially Sunday roasts) are a big thing in the UK, and with access to good ovens, I started roasting almost everything. In this dish, you blend together butter, garlic, chili powder, and cumin (and optionally cilantro), then stuff most of it under the skin of the chicken or inside (and I put some on top too, though it looks like it mostly burned). The original recipe has carrots roasted with the chicken, but on this day, I decided to use potatoes we had gotten from the farmer’s market.
We had also gotten half a peck (a peck is a thing!) of Honeycrisp apples, the most delicious apples, at the farmer’s market, and the kitchen was the warmest room in the house on this chilly day, so I decided to make an apple pie, straight out of Joy of Cooking. Yum yum yum!
Lest anyone worry about our waistlines or think we are using Hermione’s Time-Turner to find enough hours to do all this cooking, I want to point out that the food pictured here made up more than just three meals. The apple pie was our breakfast for the next two days, the chicken and potatoes our dinner next night, and the jjigae (the stew) actually leftovers from the day before and had already made two meals for Mr. Kim and one for me. Plus, we are usually really good at balancing our different types of work and keeping in mind when the other needs to be able to focus on a project instead of cooking. Our multicultural mealtimes are just a delicious byproduct of our backgrounds and our consideration for each other.
Finally, finally, we’ve sent out almost all the wedding invitations.
A few are left to send. Some are sitting behind me: A friend of Mr. Kim’s whose partner’s name we didn’t know; his groomsman to whom we had to resend an invitation after learning he had moved since we first got his address; our officiant, who due to our move we hadn’t confirmed when we made the guestlist several months ago and whom we therefore nearly forgot; second cousins of mine whose envelope came back without a postmark for some reason. A few others I haven’t addressed yet for various reasons, in spite of the 64 days (Bed Bath & Beyond informs me) until our wedding.
But anyway, it’s basically behind me, and I’ve learned a few things:
1. Think very, very carefully before deciding to address invitations yourself.
I have good handwriting and some brush pens, and since our wedding isn’t fancy enough to require serious calligraphy, but at the same time, I wanted the invitations to look nice and personal, I decided to address the invitations myself, by hand. They looked pretty good–certainly not super fancy black-tie, but nice. For the return address, which we wrote on the back flap, I wrote the address in the middle, with the Chinese character for Kim on one side, and a large Mc, with the c inside the M, on the other–my name is Scotch-Irish. (You can see this below on the “dirty” ones.) It looked pretty cool, especially with the brush pens. I also measured and drew lines with pencil, and have an okay eye for symmetry, so all the names and addresses looked pretty good.
That said, I’m being conservative when I say it took 30 hours to address the hundred-ish invitations we sent out. It was just me–I don’t really have close friends in the area yet, and both Mr. Kim’s handwriting and his understanding address-writing conventions are among his weaker qualities. It was fun at first, but it became frustrating by the 20th hour or so, and I felt resentful against Mr. Kim because I was doing so much work while he was doing his own thing (studying, not playing, but still, it was his and not ours!). Definitely try to have friends to help you if you decide to do this.
2. The envelopes will get dirty.
I’m still glad I did the addresses myself, in the end–typing is just so impersonal–but actually, I’m pretty sure all the envelopes got super dirty in the mail anyway and probably didn’t arrive looking great. I suspect this because two were returned to us–one had a missing digit in the address, the other wasn’t even postmarked and the address is right, so I have no idea. But they had gross skid marks of I guess postage processing machines all over them and one was a bit crinkled in places. Boo. So, don’t expect your beautiful stacks of snowy envelopes to arrive in the condition they left in.
3. It can cost money.
Our invitations were “normal”–they didn’t have anything sticking out, weren’t heavy, no weird shapes–so we could use standard Forever and Forever Global stamps. But we still spent about $100 on postage. About half our invitations had standard RSVP cards and needed postage on those envelopes. (The other half had cards with our wedding website and an RSVP e-mail address, for “younger” and faraway guests.) Global stamps are more than a dollar each. The post office manager had to get a new pack out, and I was shocked to see that the whole tiny pack that he brought out from the safe was worth $1000. Invitations were also more than we expected–well, design and paper quality are kind of important to me. We bought them from Minted.com, which supports independent artists apparently, and we were really happy with everything about them. All told, though, I guess we (well, my parents, thanks guys) spent more than $500 on invitations.
I haven’t posted anything in a while, mostly because I’ve been super busy: Starting a new job, addressing wedding invitations, and, most importantly, being a Minion!
Mr. Kim is kind of obsessed with Minions. I mean, he watches Minion videos several times a week and I’m pretty sure has favorite. He gets excited when he sees Minion posters, toys, or T-shirts. And since I love Mr. Kim, what else was I going to do but make awesome Minion costumes for Halloween?
The first thing I did was to go online and read all the Minions costume tutorials I could find, then synthesize them into a plan that fit our budget, my skill level, and my aesthetic sensibilities. I used 1-inch-thick upholstry foam for the bodies, which I cut at the top as you can see at left and glued down into a cylinder topped with a dome. (No doubt there’s a name for that shape.) It was as imperfect as my spatial reasoning skills, but it worked will enough! Then, I cut out the mouth and armholes and spray-painted the whole thing yellow. The goggles were also made of the foam, glued into cylinders and trimmed to fit with the curve of the head, then covered in aluminum foil. The eyes themselves were just drawn and colored onto white scrap paper, glued onto appropriately sized circles of scrap cardboard, and wedged into the goggles.
The overalls were made of denim that I ordered online, hot-glued into place, and I knitted the goggle straps. I also made a stencil and used it to paint an M, for our local university, onto the pockets, instead of the Gru symbol seen in the first two movies. Actually, the only thing I regret about the whole Halloween was that I didn’t take more pictures of the process of making these costumes!
In the end, we won both costume contests we entered and pretty much made up the money we had spent buying supplies.
At the local library, we delighted many children and adults and made a few little kids cry. We also had dozens of people take their photos with us!
Later, we won another costume contest at the bar where we went to watch the football game. (Okay, another regret: We didn’t enter more costume contests!)
Apparently, Bob and Kevin both like a little drink now and then!
What a great Halloween!