Wednesday, July 18, 2018

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 20

Wow. It's been a whole entire six months since my last J-drama review. Honestly I have no excuses, other than that after trying a few, I only came across three dramas this year that I could stick with, and I literally finished the third one yesterday. Suffice it to say that I've been taking my time, perhaps dragging my feet, whatever you want to call it. But the summer broadcast season just started, and I didn't want to leave this review undone before starting my summer selections. So here goes! The first two dramas were viewed on DramaCool/WatchAsian (without subs and then with English subs, respectively), and the last one was viewed on Netflix with Japanese subs. In the order that I started them:

ブランケット・キャッツ  (Buranketto Kyattsu/Blanket Cats) - NHK/2017
  • Shusuke was a high-level furniture designer who originally cared more about his job than his wife and her seven cats. When his wife passed away, he gave up his career for a small furniture repair business in an old house, where he dutifully takes care of his late wife's cats as penance.
  • Shusuke's friend/neighbor/veterinarian Misaki (Kichise Michiko, 'Seshiru no Mokuromi') encourages him to move on with his life by adopting the cats out. Each episode features a different person seeking to adopt a cat, seven episodes for seven cats. Shusuke allows each person to take their cat of choice home on a three-day trial basis. Spoiler: Most of the cats end up back with Shusuke. 
  • Each cat has a special blanket chosen for them by Shusuke, and he insists that each cat is accompanied by their blanket when they go to their prospective owner's home. Hence, 'Blanket Cats'.
I can't quite remember when I heard about this drama. It came out last summer, so either I was late to the party, or I actually started it late last year and kept setting it aside. That's not to say that this show is uninteresting, though! I actually love this show because it exudes that homey, unaffected feeling that 'Shinya Shokudo' and 'Wakamonotachi' gave me. Due to lack of exposure, allergies, and superstitious parents, unfortunately I'm not a cat person. Yet, I was charmed by the relationship that Shusuke has with his cats. He cares about them more than anyone else, even though they exasperate him and do whatevertheheck they want to do on a daily basis. Plus the show deals with real human issues such as grief, bullying, aging and memory loss, infertility, and even suicide.


ラブリラン (Rabu Riran/Love Rerun) - NTV, YTV/2018
  • In all her 29 years of life, graphic designer Sayaka (Nakamura Anne, 'Totsuzen Desu ga, Ashita Kekkon Shimasu') has never been in a relationship. Her only experience with love is her 15-year crush on her high school friend Ryosuke (Otani Ryohei, 'Ubai Ai, Fuyu').
  • On the eve of her 30th birthday, Sayaka finally decides to confess to to Ryosuke. But then she blanks out and wakes up three months later with a completely different style, a significant memory gap, and a new ex-boyfriend. Apparently she'd been dating her co-worker, Shohei.
  • Shohei lets Sayaka continue staying at his apartment until she gets her memory back. The relationship didn't end well and they still have to work at the same place everyday, so awkward is an understatement. Especially when Shohei's other ex-girlfriend tries to speed up the memory recovery process so that she can be with Shohei instead of Sayaka.
  • As Sayaka remembers more of the past, she realizes how much her lifestyle and romance priorities have shifted. Will it be Ryosuke or Shohei in the end?
I had high hopes for this drama because I'm a fan of Nakamura Anne's persona (she's sporty and flirtatious, has almost a Western vibe to her), and this is her first starring role in a TV show. Originally I thought the drama would explore the struggles that 30-something women face, and how Sayaka chooses between changing because she wants to and changing because of what she thinks will please the men in her life. And the show did start out like that. But eventually it just devolved into the same old love triangle story, with her wavering between two men who both claim to not want her anymore. It could've been fresh and then it just... wasn't. Still enjoyed Nakamura Anne's performance, though.


士のグルメ (Nobushi no Gurume/Samurai Gourmet) - Netflix/2017
  • Now that he's retired and has time to enjoy life, 60-year-old Takeshi decides to use his abundant free time to explore his surroundings and indulge in delicious foods (mostly Japanese, but some Chinese, Korean, and Italian dishes too). Some of his selections are random, but others are influenced by nostalgia.
  • Each episode features a different dish. Takeshi has an imaginary samurai persona, and that samurai steps in to embolden Takeshi to act or speak in situations which he would normally shy away from. 
I'm pretty sure I'd heard of this show previously, but I didn't look it up until after I came across an article of Japanese recommendations on Netflix. It's an easy drama to watch, with 25-minute episodes and plenty of shots of food! My personal favorite is the episode where Takeshi works as an extra in a film for a day. Despite the many Japanese dramas that I've watched over the years, I don't know much of what goes on behind the scenes, so it was nice to see an example of what a typical shoot might be like from the extras' perspective. This show is excellent if you just want something light-hearted to help you sharpen your Japanese listening comprehension.

I appreciated all three of these dramas in their own way, but if I had to choose a winner this time, it'd be a tie between 'Blanket Cats' and 'Samurai Gourmet'. 'Samurai Gourmet' is sweet, occasionally silly, and visually captivating, but 'Blanket Cats' has a ton of heart and probably would've been the overall winner if only there were more than seven episodes. As always, I'd encourage you to try them all!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

BOOKS! (Talking to Ourselves + Forbidden Tears)

I'm back! Been working on a new project since May (more on that later), which means that I took longer to write this review than I meant to, but no matter! I'm back, I'm still reading, and now it's time to write! This week I have a book that was indirectly recommended to me by educator/photographer/singer friend from college, and a student-authored collection of writing that was published by another college friend.

Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman

Set in Spain, this novel recounts the last few months of a man named Mario's life, as narrated by his 10-year-old son Lito, his wife Elena, and Mario himself. Mario is a truck driver, and the book opens with him finally making good on his promise to take Lito with him on a long-distance delivery. Elena is devastated by Mario's decision, because Mario is dying from cancer. Lito is unaware of this, and Elena doesn't want her husband and son to risk being in danger, but Mario is determined to leave his son with happy memories and takes Lito anyway.

We are led to understand that Mario's narration is recorded from his hospital bed after returning from the trip. Elena is a would-be academic researcher who now works as a high school teacher, so her recollections are written down. However, it's not clear what medium Lito is using to get his thoughts out. They are each talking to themselves in their own way, not sharing these thoughts with others, except for when Elena listens to Mario's recordings after his passing.

Elena is the most verbose of the three and also shoulders the most responsibility as mother, wife, caretaker, and then grieving widow, so her voice comes through the strongest. From her we get a multitude of opinions regarding not only her family and death, but also literature, the ill, caretakers of the ill, beauty, sex, youth, women in academia, and her personal insecurities. Because of certain decisions she's made, Elena occasionally confesses to feeling unworthy of love and even life itself. But she keeps pushing through out of a heavy mixture of love, guilt, and duty. Meanwhile, Lito is imaginative and confused, his confusion gradually morphing into aggression. And Mario worries for all that he and Lito will miss out on when they no longer have each other.

If you enjoy reading multi-perspective narratives, family dramas, or literature-based discussions of grief, then read this novel!

Favorite quotes:
"Son, he says, there are lots of things about work that make no sense. That's what they pay us for, do you see what I mean?" (7).

"Now I think that deep down, because it seemed to me his body was more admirable than mine, I was constantly wriggling away, choosing my best side, half-posing. With Ezequiel I allow myself to be plain. Vulgar. Ugly. Excitingly ugly" (38).

"in short, advice isn't much use, if you disagree with it you don't listen, and if you already agree you don't need it, never trust advice, son, travel agents advise you to go places they've never been" (122).

Forbidden Tears: Stories, Poems & Essays of Trauma from the Imprisoned Voices of Unapologetic Black Youth  by Youth of Detroit Collegiate High School 

I met Sirrita Darby while we were both students in James Madison College at Michigan State University. She went on to become what she calls a "social just educator" in Detroit, where she not only teaches English to high school students, but also encourages them to address their pain through various means of expression and healing. One of those means was this book! Sirrita noticed that in many ways and for various reasons, her students weren't being listened to at home or at school. Furthermore, she observed that Black kids are often not allowed to show their emotions or cry when they're in pain, so she encouraged her students to let these "forbidden tears" out through their writing. The result is Forbidden Tears. Sirrita edited the book and wrote the foreword, but other than that, it's comprised completely of poems and essays written by teenagers.

Depending on a reader's preconceptions, some of the themes may not be surprising: concerns for survival, fear (of the police, violence in their neighborhoods, and the future), racism, anger, lack of belonging. And while some topics are particular to this age group, much of it is still relevant to grown-ups. Personally, my heart hurt when reading from some female students about their strained relationships with their fathers, because I've been in their shoes. These girls are so young, and yet they've already been let down so many times and are tempted to trust no one and question their worthiness. But at the same time, these students' writing radiates so much light! There's immense pride in being Black youth from Detroit, self-awareness, love and gratitude toward the people who stepped up, and even quite a few laughs. These are not merely kids. These are young people who are just beginning to flex their intellectual muscles and use their voices. Forbidden Tears is a quick read, but it's not to be taken lightly. Plus there's a healing mantra at the end that can be helpful to any and all readers.

If you enjoy literature written by (Black) youth, have any interest in or connection to the city of Detroit, or simply want to be more informed about the needs of students and educators, then read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"My love for her is nationwide"
(from "A Million Dimes" by Heavon Mapp)

"Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Malcolm X dead because of these fools"
(from "Nothing But The Real" by Alexis Hailey)

"What if in those dark nights, you can't find your brighter days? What if in those brighter days there comes a darker night? What if those darker nights come even worse days?... you can't always get through a dark day with a fake and convincing smile... what if it keeps raining and the sun never shines. What are you supposed to do? Who are you supposed to talk to?"
(from "For Every Dark Night, There's a Brighter Day" by Micah Barnes)

Monday, June 4, 2018

BOOKS! (Go Tell It on the Mountain + Baking Cakes in Kigali)

Been a minute but I'm back! Today I've got the other of two novels that I bought on my last day working at a bookstore, and a novel that I bought at at a Half Price Books during the 2017 holiday season.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

James Baldwin has been on my radar for a very long time. I read Giovanni's Room when I was in high school. In the bookstore that I worked at years ago, Go Tell It on the Mountain was the only work by a Black author among a handful of classic book covers that were printed on enormous canvases and hung in the most visible areas of the store. My latest book review included a novel about a writer who idolized Baldwin and moved to Paris to emulate his artistic journey. Plus, it's currently very trendy for young Black people my age to be well-versed in James Baldwin's work (or at least to claim to be so). But for some reason I kept putting off Go Tell It on the Mountain. I only bought it because it was one of his most popular titles, but even without looking through it or researching about it, I had a feeling that this book would be heavy for me. And it was, but in a way that ended up being right on time.

This novel draws much from Baldwin's own childhood, chronicling one Saturday in the life of a Black boy in Harlem named John Grimes . It's 1935, he's the oldest of four children, and his preacher father hates him for reasons he hasn't been able to figure out. The hate is mutual, and he resists God because his dad supposedly represents God. This particular Saturday also happens to be his 14th birthday, but instead of celebration, the day starts with chores and ends with chaos. In addition to an ongoing sexual awakening and a peculiar yet unignorable awareness that he's different from other Black boys his age (he's a book smart kid who's already realizing how his intellect might appeal to whiteness, and it's hinted that John is gay), his brother gets injured and the family implodes. All this, before going to church that night and unexpectedly catching the Holy Spirit at the weekly tarrying service. (This is a Pentecostal church ritual where people who haven't gotten saved yet try to pray and worship really hard until they "catch" the Holy Spirit.) I'm not Pentecostal and I've never been caught up in exactly the same way John is, but Baldwin undoubtedly writes the most vivid description of it that I've read so far.

While John is the main character, most of the book focuses on the backstories of the most prominent elders in his life: his aunt Florence (least pious), his dad Gabriel (most pious), and his mom Elizabeth (somewhere in between). It's through them that the story extends beyond this one day or the 14 years of memories that John has, to decades of life and migration between the South and North. We witness how each of them wandered, rebelled, fell in love, lost people, contended with racism, took life-changing chances, made horrible mistakes, and eventually found God in their own way. John's life, like those of most children, is profoundly influenced by the adults around him. And while his frustrations are just beginning and he doesn't receive many answers by the end of the novel, we as readers get an in-depth look at exactly why the people who shape his life behave the way they do.

If you grew up in a Black church, struggled with faith, have daddy issues, like coming of age stories, are interested in the Great Migration and Black life in late 19th/early 20th century America, or just love James Baldwin and somehow missed this one, then read this book! 

Favorite quotes:
"To 'come along' meant that he would change his ways and consent to be the husband she had traveled so far to find. It was he who, unforgivably, taught her that there are people in the world for whom 'coming along' is a perpetual process, people who are destined never to arrive" (78).

"there was only one difference: the North promised more. And this similarity: what it promised it did not give, and what it gave, at length and grudgingly with one hand, it took back with the other" (164).
 "what's in you is in you, and it's got to come out" (182). 
"And yet, it came to him that he must move; for there was a light somewhere, and life, and joy, and singingsomewhere, somewhere above him" (206).

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
(advanced reading copy from 2009)

In the year 2000, Rwanda is still recovering from the genocide of 1994, and numerous professionals and organizations have been sent to Kigali to assist. Angel Tungaraza's husband is one such professional, and they've moved from Tanzania along with their five grandchildren to live in an apartment complex with numerous other expats. Angel's way of getting to know her community and giving people in Kigali an excuse to celebrate more things is running a cake business out of her apartment. She's renowned for her professionalism and creative designs, and she often helps her clients with their personal problems in the process. Eventually this helps her confront the secrets and grief in her own life.

My personal favorite client of Angel's is the soldier who tries to order a cake so he can use it propose on the spot to one of the local white women (any random one, mind you, he doesn't actually have a white girlfriend or anything), who will hopefully marry him and take him to America so he can live a better life and not be a soldier anymore. His small arc is heartbreaking because of his stolen childhood and the atrocities he was forced to witness and participate in. It's infuriating because worshiping white women just screams self-hatred to me, and he doesn't accept Angel's refusal or challenges to his logic. But it's also hilarious because he genuinely believes his plan will work and any white woman will do; all he needs to woo one is a diamond, an engagement party planned in advance, and a certificate attesting to his negative HIV status. My goodness.

However, what I most enjoy about this novel is how much it taught me about Rwanda. When I was in school, we learned about the Rwandan genocide but the discussion didn't go beyond the facts that Belgium arbitrarily created ethnic/social classes that eventually led to the Hutu-Tutsi conflict, up to a million people died, and the US didn't intervene and supposedly we feel really sorry for that. We don't learn anything beyond 1994, the year that the genocide happened. So it was eye-opening to read about Rwanda's reconciliation initiatives (especially in light of South Africa's which are much more well-known). And to learn about the skills gap that existed at the time (hence the flood of expats into Kigali), or how the AIDS epidemic in East Africa splintered families in a similar way to the genocide. I greatly appreciate Gaile Parkin for using a story about a cake baker to educate readers about these issues in a way that's not patronizing or didactic.

I don't intend to read the other books in this series (reading this gave me No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency vibes, another book series featuring an African female character who solves people's problems and was written by a white author born in Africa; been there, done that). But I am glad that I read this one. If you're into baking, want to learn more about Rwanda in the years that followed the genocide, care about survivors' trauma and remorse, enjoy neighborhood gossip, or just want an easy read that's lighthearted but still has some depth, then read this book!

Favorite quotes:
"bilingual means you can speak two languages. People here can already speak two languages at least: Kinyarwanda and French, or Kinyarwanda and Swahili, or some other two. But when your president talks about bilingual, he means only English and FrenchWazungu languages. Does he mean to say that our own African languages are not languages?" (180).
"There are many of us who wish every day that we had not survived. Do you think I feel blessed to live in this house with the ghosts of everyone who was killed here?... If I had known then what survival was going to be like, I would not have chosen it" (217-218).

Friday, April 13, 2018

Scripture & Lyrics

"Had to talk to God, drop down and pray for this / To my surprise, He replied, said 'You made for this'" -Cardi B


"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

BOOKS! (Black Girl in Paris + Alentejo Blue)

So I've been back from Korea for over a month, and I really felt like the month of March was trying my life. So even though I was able to keep reading, I haven't had the energy to write about much other than the Korea trip, which I finally finished last week. But it's April now, I decided to stop throwing caution to the wind and actually write out a loose schedule of book pairs that I'll read and write reviews for this month and next month, and so I'm ready to get back at it. Today I have a novel that I learned about via Instagram, and a novel that I found at a used book store in Louisville.

Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood

I've been following the Brooklyn-based book club and literary festival called Well-Read Black Girl for a while on Instagram, but had never picked a book to read based on their recommendation until some months ago. One day they featured Black Girl in Paris, and numerous women commented on the photo saying how the book changed their life, or how it inspired them to travel more, or how it allowed them to relive their own experiences in the City of Lights. And since I myself was also a black girl in Paris four years ago, and since the cover was so startlingly beautiful (an afro made of butterflies, y'all!), I figured what the hey. All aboard the francophile/nostalgia train! I ordered my copy from ThriftBooks.

In the 1980s, Eden is a poet at heart who exchanges her life in the South for a sojourn in Paris, following in the footsteps of the young black Harlem Renaissance artists who found freedom there before her. She hopes that being in Paris will help her develop as an artist, and maybe even allow her to meet her personal literary hero, James Baldwin. Abandoned as a baby but raised by loving adoptive parents, she graduated university with a degree in literature, and by the time she decides to go to Paris she is working as a tour guide/archivist in the mansion-turned-museum of a historically wealthy black family. But she is haunted by memories of growing up under Jim Crow, desperately wants to be an artist, and wants more than the limited existence that she feels awaits her if she stays in Georgia as she is. After a pair of Black French visitors to the museum encourage her to visit Paris and she pulls an all-nighter reading James Baldwin's books in the museum library, Eden decides that that's where she needs to be. So at 26 years old, she arrives in Paris with $200, few belongings, and a dream.

Eden is preoccupied with learning the city, engaging with the artist community, and finding her own voice as a writer, and she hasn't placed a definite time limit on her time in Paris. But she still needs to survive in the meantime, so each chapter is identified by how she occupies herself during that time. My personal favorites include the "au pair" chapter, in which she lives with an American diplomat's family and experiences the elitism and racism embedded in expat communities (often white) that rely on poor immigrant labor (often brown) to keep their homes running and children taken care of. And the "lover" chapter, in which she begins a passionate relationship with a white trumpet player from Louisiana named Ving, who uses music to overcome personal childhood trauma. And the "thief" chapter, in which she pairs up with a fellow vagabond from Barbados, and the two black women steal and squat their way to survival. Broke and weary from trying to make it in Paris, Eden heads south to Saint-Paul-de-Vence for more inspiration and hopefully to cross paths with James Baldwin. But I'll let you read the novel to see if she finds what she's looking for in the end.

To put it plainly, I adore this book. I don't read many English-language books about Paris, but the last book I read that was so true to the culture and essence of that city was Waiting for Gertrude, which I read while I was there. If you like to read about wanderers, black women following their dreams, artists claiming the lives that they want, or need to go on a journey of your own and need a bit of inspiration, read Black Girl in Paris!

Favorite quotes:
"My tongue is wasted on words when you would be of better use in my mouth" (28). 

"The poet Elizabeth has so little imagination she thinks I steal from her... I cannot escape her expectation that gratitude be married to servitude. Her skin is pale and privileged, mine is brown and sweaty from labor in her house. I am not thankful. Not even a little... I want to slap her, but it is too easy to hurt her. There are many ways to torment a soul" (122-123).

Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali

To round out 2017 I spent the last two weeks of December in Louisville as I always do, and it's my aunt's tradition to take advantage of the post-Christmas sales. I usually just tag along to get out of the house, but this time she mentioned wanting to visit a used bookstore called Half Price Books, since she'd read that almost everything in the store would be 50% off that day. Alentejo Blue was among my purchases. It was a pretty simple thought process: my favorite color is blue, I had never read a book set in Portugal before, and I saw that the author was a woman of color from the UK, so I bought it. It was the only book I read while in Korea, and I finished it after I returned home.

Alentejo Blue is set in Mamarrosa, a small Portuguese village whose residents are hoping for a second wind. (Alentejo is a real region and Mamarrosa is a real village in Portugal, but the two places are actually in different areas of the country.) Despite a revolution that toppled a fascist regime in the past, elites still managed to buy back most of the land and control the local resources, so most local residents are still struggling financially. Nonetheless, people find a way to enjoy their simple way of life, and rumors abound that a man who grew up there, left, and became rich will soon return home to establish some sort of venture that will bring more jobs and money to the village. Each chapter is devoted to a different local resident or British expat/tourist in Mamarrosa contending with their own disappointment, uncertainty, and waiting.

There's João, an elderly man who finds his former lover and regime-fighting friend Rui hanging from a tree. There's Vasco, an outwardly jovial and occasionally indignant bar owner who has an eating disorder. And Teresa, a young woman who was forced to sacrifice her education for her little brother's benefit, and is determined to move to London and leave the village behind. And who can forget the Pottses, a supremely dysfunctional family from the UK that's a source of scandal and entertainment for the rest of the village. These are just a few of the characters who populate Mamarrosa, for better or for worse. And when the long-awaited rich guy finally appears in town, he is hardly what most expect him to be.

If you enjoy reading about small town life or want to learn about Portuguese culture, then read Alentejo Blue!  

Favorite quotes:
"But we keep pretending to believe his lies. That's the problem with our people. If you pretend for long enough, you forget you were only pretending in the first place. The illusion becomes a kind of reality" (8).
"What I'm thinking now is that I should plead guilty. In England you get life for a murder. A life for a life. But they let you out before you die... I think I'd like it. All this business of what to do next, how to do it, when to do it, why you're doing it. Well, they take that off you, don't they?... You don't have to pretend anymore about pushing on, going somewhere. You just have to serve your time. Isn't that what we're doing anyway?" (157).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Korea 2018: Namsan Tower + Starfield Library + Goodbye and Thank You! (Days 11 and 12)

Seattle has the Space Needle. Toronto has the CN tower. Seoul has Namsan Tower, or N Seoul Tower. We caught a glimpse of it practically every day that we visited Seoul, and since this was our last full day in Korea it was only right to go back to Seoul to see the thing up close.

February 25th (Sunday)

We had plans to meet Ande's boo for dinner so we had to be back in Suwon by a certain time in the evening. But there were two things in Seoul that we still had to knock off of our list, and Namsan Tower was the first one. From the bus into Seoul we took the metro to Myeongdong, and then a taxi up to the cable car station.

Your experience going to Namsan Tower depends on how much money you're willing to spend, how much time you have, and how much exercise you feel like getting that day. The tower sits on top of a mountain, so you can get up there for free by taking the stairs, but again, that means you'd be climbing a mountain. So if you're in the mood for a hike and have time to kill, then that could work for you. We didn't have much time (and I personally wasn't up for mountain-climbing), so we bought two-way tickets to ride the cable car.

Either way you get up there, stairs will still be involved because the cable car doesn't go all the way to the same level as Namsan Tower. And either way you get up there, you will have to pay about $10 to go to the top of the tower. We hadn't known this, Ande and Sharon didn't feel like paying, and I figured going up alone wouldn't be much fun, so we satisfied ourselves with what we could see from outside the tower.

There's a large plaza with a seating area, and while we were there a troupe of traditional drummers performed, followed by a group of young men dressed in traditional garb who did traditional dance and sword-fighting choreography. There were also a couple cafes, an Olive Young convenience store that I bought a yogurt drink from, a gift shop, and a few spots from which you could get a decent view of Seoul even without going up inside the tower. We spent some time mulling among the crowds before taking the cable car back down and returning to Myeongdong in another taxi.

From Myeongdong we took the metro to Samseong-dong, which is in Gangnam, and walked through the station directly to Starfield COEX Mall. And inside the mall was our next destination, Starfield Library! It's a massive two-story library that opened in 2017, and it's free to visit and read the tens of thousands of books that it holds (not sure how borrowing goes, or if that's even an option). Again, like Bosu-dong Book Street in Busan, my bookworm self just wanted to see the place in person. It's in the middle of the mall, so there are tons of people passing through but also tons of people gathered in various sitting areas to read, study, take photos, or just hang out. We were really in a rush by this point, so I didn't get to explore and appreciate it as much as I would have liked. We basically just stood looking around for a couple minutes, took a couple pictures, and then left. But seriously, Starfield Library is so beautiful. Even with all the noise and the crowds, seeing how the light filtered through the gigantic windows and the book collections towered over us on lit-up bookshelves, observing how each visitor managed to carve their own little cloud of solitude in the chaos.... My, what a beautiful place.

We walked through the mall to get bubble tea and cookies before taking a different bus from Gangnam back to Suwon. Once in Suwon, we met Ande's boo at a restaurant for gamjatang (pork bone and potato soup). Gamjatang was Sharon's favorite dish from when she previously visited Ande in Jeju, and Ande's boo picked this place since it was on his side of town.

This was my first time meeting him, and after hearing about him for so long it was funny to see the real person in the flesh. Ande had shown me pictures, and during one of their daily phone calls he even had her pass the phone to me so that he could welcome me to Korea on the night that I arrived. Now at dinner, everything came together and he was exactly as I'd imagined. Very kind, intelligent, good sense of humor, spoke English beautifully, and exceedingly hospitable just like Ande. We all had a good ole time sitting on the floor eating and conversing, and at the end Ande and her boo revealed that the meal was on them. They'd wanted to send us off with a nice goodbye dinner, so this was their treat to us. We parted ways with Ande's boo at the restaurant and then took a bus to Ande's neighborhood so that we could turn in early.


February 26th (Monday)

On Monday we woke up and got ourselves together early enough to take a taxi and catch the 6:00am airport limousine bus to Incheon Airport. The Winter Olympics had just ended the night before, and we didn't know what flying out of Incheon would be like, so we erred on the side of caution and sacrificed sleep in order to give ourselves plenty of time. Thankfully, it wasn't nearly as crowded or disorganized as I'd anticipated (my last time flying internationally back to Detroit was out of Charles de Gaulle in Paris, and that was almost a nightmare). It probably helped that we were flying out of Terminal 2, the newer of the airport's two terminals, and only a select handful of airlines fly through it. People from every country you could imagine were trying to get out of there that morning, and though we were all eager to get to where were headed, folks were remarkably calm and patient.

And of course, Olympians were all over the place! Athletes from the USA, the UK, Germany, and a couple other countries were on the same flight as me and Sharon. Among them was the gold-winning USA men's curling team, and people bombarded them for photo ops at the gate in Incheon, during the flight, and at baggage claim in Detroit. The only athletes I cared about in the slightest were USA bronze figure skaters Alex and Maia Shibutani, or the Shib Sibs, and even then I only recognized them from YouTube. Like I said before, sports is not my thing. But one perk of being in the company of Olympic athletes is that you get free booze! The captain had the flight crew give everyone a glass of champagne so that the whole plane could toast to the Olympians' hard work and success.

This flight went directly from ICN to DTW, so I was spared a repeat of the mess that was Seattle. And just like she always is, Ma was there waiting for me. Sharon hopped in her boyfriend's car, I hopped in my mom's, and with that the trip was completely over and we went to our respective homes.

As I mentioned when I first started writing about this trip, I'd never envisioned myself going to Korea so nearly in the future. I'm grateful to have been able to have this experience, and so many thanks are in order.

Thanks to Sharon for inviting me in the first place, and for letting my suitcase fly home in Sky Priority even though I didn't. Thanks to Ande for taking time off work, letting us take over her life, and literally being our everything during our stay. She was our host, our navigator, our interpreter, our friend, and she always made sure we ate well and were comfortable. Plus she handled most transactions and kept a tab running for us so we didn't have to worry about paying her back until the night before we left. Double thanks to both Ande and Sharon for waiting for me whenever I slowed them down, which was often. Thanks to Ande's boo for being such a cool dude, not being mad at us for monopolizing Ande's time, and taking time from his busy schedule to eat with us. Thanks to Ma for helping me to prepare, talking me down from my usual pre-travel panic, learning how to use WhatsApp so she could communicate with me while I was away, and taking me to and from the airport. Thanks to Suwon for being home base for two weeks. Thanks to Seoul for being abundant, alive, and yet not overwhelming. Thanks to Busan for letting me see water and meet King T'Challa. Thanks to South Korea for being a beautiful country, keeping me full, building my thigh muscles, and teaching me to relax and rely on people more. And glory be to God for providing an escape when I felt like I was drowning at home. Bless you all.

Hopefully this won't be the last new journey for me in 2018.

Korea 2018 photos 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Korea 2018: Book Street + BIFF Square + Back to Suwon (Day 10)

Saturday was our last chance to walk around and see what we could see in Busan before boarding the KTX in the evening. And I can't say that we were disappointed!

February 24th (Saturday)

Previously when I was pouring through "things to do in Busan" articles and YouTube videos, I happened upon a website that mentioned Bosu-dong Book Street. Apparently, after World War II people started congregating there to buy and sell books that Japanese colonizers had left behind. Then during the Korean War when Busan was the temporary capital of South Korea, even more people gathered in this area to sell books to survive, and a cluster of bookstores fill that street now.  Of course, being the avid reader that I am, I had to visit this place. Even if I wasn't likely to find anything that I could actually read, I just had to see what the area looked like. So that was our first stop on Saturday.

Well actually, first we checked out of our Airbnb and ate marinated grilled beef or bulgogi (plus naengmyeon, or cold noodles, for me) in Haeundae. Then we took the metro to Busan Station to rent lockers and stow our backpacks away for the day. And then we hopped back on to get to the Jung-gu area, which also holds numerous popular Busan attractions including the Book Street.

And I was right, all the books I saw were in Korean with the exception of a few French children's books and a couple English-language story anthologies and magazines that I wasn't interested in. The Book Street isn't that long but it's so densely packed with books that no matter if you're just passing by the outdoor displays or if you actually try to navigate the inside of someone's bookstore, it's going to be a tight squeeze. But for me, being around all those books gave me the same feeling of calm and contentment that being at Haeundae Beach gave me. It was enough just to have experienced the place for myself.


From the Book Street it was a short walk to Gukje Market, which we either happened upon by accident or was somewhere that Sharon wanted to visit. I can't remember. But anyway, it's a massive traditional covered market with innumerable stalls selling anything that you can think of. We stopped in one souvenir shop and then in a dog clothing shop so that Ande could look for something cute for her pup named Hodu to wear, but other than that we just walked around browsing for a while. It's easy to get lost there and we didn't have an extremely strong sense of direction, so we each took turns deciding which way to go until we ended up on Arirang Street, and then somehow maneuvered our way to BIFF Square, which wasthe next place that I wanted to visit.

BIFF Square used to be where the Busan International Film Festival (or BIFF, get it?) was held, but now it's a popular shopping area that's full of food stalls as well as more mainstream stores like ARTBOX. Remnants of the square's former purpose remain, as the main walkway is dotted with plaques that contain the handprints and signatures of various actors and directors who attended the festival in the past. We spent some time surveying the odds and ends in ARTBOX before stopping at one stall so Sharon could get a lamb kebab, and then another stall so that I could eat hotteok again.

Since I don't know Korean, I'd become accustomed to not understanding anything when I'd hear people talking around me. But in Gukje Market and in BIFF Square, I could suddenly read most of the signs and understand more of what I heard.... because it was in Japanese! Busan is only a ferry ride away from Fukuoka, Japan, and so apparently quite a few Korean business owners in Jung-gu will have signs written Japanese (or even speak Japanese themselves) in order to accommodate the significant flow of Japanese people who go to Busan for vacation and/or shopping purposes. You learn something new everyday!

By then we were running low on time, so we walked through the rest of BIFF Square and stopped for cold beverages at a CU before entering a metro station that was right across the street from Jagalchi Fish Market. This market also appeared in  Black Panther and we'd considering visiting it, but in the end we only got a passing glance of it from afar.


Once we arrived at Busan Station, we retrieved our backpacks and then walked outside to get from the metro part of the station to the train part to catch our KTX back to Suwon. We killed some time drinking tea and resting our feet at Bizeun, which has THE BEST GINGER TEA I've ever had in my life! Then it was a smooth evening ride back to Suwon, during which Ande brough out a box of hodu-gwaja that she'd secretly bought to share with us. Hodu-gwaja are small round pastries that are baked in the shape of walnuts and stuffed with red bean paste. "Hodu" means "walnut" in Korean, and Ande and her boo named their dog Hodu because he's walnut-colored.

Ande was going to spend the night with her boo and his parents again, so once we arrived to Suwon we stopped to get chicken sandwiches from Mom's Touch and ate together in her apartment before she left Sharon and I for the night.

Sunday was our last full day in Korea, and our last chance to visit Seoul. We ended up being short on time that day, but we still managed to cross one huge must-do off of our list. More on that tomorrow!

Korea 2018 photos