Sign of the Times

While listening to my grandfather lecture us all about the indecency of this generation’s obsession with tattoos one afternoon, I decided to have some fun and lied that I had one too. My jaw dropped a little when he didn’t even bat an eye, carrying on as if he hadn’t even heard me. And that’s when it hit me – he hadn’t even heard me. While my cousins and I all consider ourselves close to our grandfather, there are just some old school habits that we couldn’t have known about if it weren’t for his overseas vacation this month, making us that much more aware that he is from a pre-World War II epoch.

  • A love of paper. My grandfather has a tremendous infatuation with paper products – swiping free magazines of any kind and anywhere, collecting business cards after every meal, and requesting napkins for almost every bite. “Recycling” and “sustainability” are not commonly used vocabulary words.
  • A need for connection. After years of running his own business as a CEO, mi abuelo is petrified of missing any “super important calls.” This means instead of allowing us to show him how to use free programs like FaceTime or Skype, he would rather let his phone roam and dial people 6,000 miles away to rehash his day’s activities.
  • A passion for fashion. Something about his era meant that every time was an occasion to dress up. There were only three times in the day when pajamas were allowed: right before bedtime, during bedtime, and right after bedtime. Even mealtimes at home meant dashing to the bedroom for a quick costume change.

Speaking of mealtimes at home, it was during my cousin TIffany’s arrival from San Francisco that my mother decided to serve hot pot one evening. Hot pot is essentially like Eastern fondue, except instead of swishing bread and protein into a boiling pot of queso, we’re dipping meat and vegetables into a vat of broth.

A picture may speak 1000 words, but sometimes "gorgeous" is the only one you need

A picture may speak 1000 words, but sometimes “gorgeous” is the only one you need

While my mother prepped the ingredients, Tiffany and I chatted around the dining table with her, all the while my grandfather dozed off in a long nap. Upon waking up – right in time for dinner, conveniently – he shuffled into the kitchen, but not before he had changed from his pajamas into a bright polo shirt and khakis.

My grandfather: “Wow, how long did I sleep for? This is kind of late for dinner!”
My mom: “A few hours. You needed the rest.”
My grandfather: “You’re telling me that an easy meal like this took you several hours to prepare?”
My cousin: “There’s a lot of prep work for hot pot! You have to wash and chop a lot of ingredients!”
My grandfather: “But there were three of you.”
Me: “Well it was mostly my mom – Tiffany and I were reading most of the time.”
My grandfather: “So when you two should be reading, you’re not. But you choose now to crack open a book, is that it?”

My cousin Tiffany and I rebelling - in the kitchen, but not IN the kitchen

My cousin Tiffany and I rebelling – in the kitchen, but not IN the kitchen

 

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American History: A Speech

When I was in college, the privilege of studying abroad also meant the luxury of sitting through several cultural awareness classes before heading to a new country. I suppose my attention span was even shorter than it already is back then, because the below was pretty much all I took from these workshops –

  1. Americans think they know everything about the United States.
  2. Lesson #1 is false. Everyone except Americans actually knows everything about the United States.
  3. Lessons #1 and #2 are the reason why people outside of the United States don’t seem to like Americans.

Since returning stateside, I’ve been employed in an industry that allows me to meet people from all over the globe, who remind me daily of the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Folks, the struggle is real.

  • “Why are people speaking English so slowly to me? I’ve had to learn this language since I was 5. That and French, German, and Italian.”
  • “Is there anywhere I don’t need to tip? If it’s not required, why do I have to tip at all? What is WRONG with 10%?”
  • “How the hell am I supposed to ‘dress for the weather’? WHAT THE FUCK IS FAHRENHEIT!?”

On the other hand, there are also those that are looking to passionately embrace our culture of Springsteen, Starbucks, and no soccer. In my grandfather’s most recent visit here, we were stopped at a traffic light when he began a solemn speech.

My grandfather: “‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’ Sandy, Abraham Lincoln said that, you know.”
Me: “Abraham Lincoln did not say that. Patrick Hen–”
My grandfather: “I DON’T CARE! Four scores and seven years ago…! Sandy, this is American HISTORY, okay? Lincoln ALSO said this.”

American Grandpa

I’m not sure if my grandfather was asking for liberty from the seat belt we kept asking him to wear

Mall Days With Madonna

My grandmother never baked us chocolate chip cookies. She never took us to the zoo. She never crocheted anything for us either.

What she did do, though, was cook up one helluva pot of 滷肉飯, or braised pork rice, and teach us a few things about how a classy lady should carry herself.

  • Every day is a great day to be out with an amazing handbag
  • There is no limit to the number of black cardigans one can have in any season, of which there are only two: the Season to Wear a Black Cardigan, and the Season to Consider Wearing a Black Cardigan
  • Nobody is ever too old for false eyelashes

“Fashion forward.” That’s what you call a woman like my grandmother. So much so that she’s been affectionately been monikered “Madonna” by a few of us grandchildren. But that’s not to mean that Madonna is always putting fashion in front of function. When we noticed that the jeans she wore one afternoon were looking a little mom-ish, we hustled our heinies off to inform her that perhaps her own heinie wasn’t looking too hot in them. But how do you let a fashionista know when she might not have won “Who Wore It Best” that day?

Good grandchildren tell their grandma when her pants are looking like this.

Good grandchildren tell their grandma when her pants are looking like this.

Madonna took it surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that by the next morning, she’d retired her jeans to the burn pile. And all of us know what happens to apparel turned over to the burn pile.

They are worn to the gym.

In the few – but always wonderful – times when Madonna comes to visit the United States, there are always at least a few days devoted to retail therapy. These days are planned out in advance though, because they are physically grueling and mentally taxing – Madonna doesn’t do 5Ks in shopping. She eats them for breakfast en route to marathons.  I was privileged enough one day to be assigned to Madonna accompaniment detail, and spent the better part of the day like this.

Madonna: “What store are we in again?”
Me: “This is Chanel.”
Madonna: “Oh, excellent. What is the store next to it?”
Me: “That’s Louis Vuitton.”
Madonna: “Yes, let’s go in there.”
Me: “Okay, sure.”
Madonna (after browsing enough Louis): “And what does this store name say?”
Me: “Now we’re at Gucci.”
Madonna: “Oh, Gucci! Let me take a look in here too.”

All is fair in love and Louis.

All is fair in love and Louis.

Madonna: “Oh, what is this store?”
Me: “This is Michael Kors.”
Madonna: “Who? We can skip this, I don’t know what that is.”

Breakfast Is Served

It is a universally accepted truth that whenever one heads home to the motherland in Asia – whichever country that may be – there are always two questions one is required to field.

The first is what most of us have come to learn to shrug off as a way of life. An unavoidable obstacle. A rite of passage, if you will.

Anyone. Anyone at all: “Do you have a boy/girlfriend?”
You: “No.”
Anyone: “What? Why not!? HOW CAN THAT BE!?”
You: “Oh you know. I’m, um, really focusing on my career right now.”
Anyone: “But you’re so smart/attractive/*insert any adjective that makes it completely offensive to be single*!”

On the flip side however, the second question, though equally overwhelming, is much more manageable and appropriate for beginners.

Anyone: “What do you want to eat?”
You: “Anything. Wait. No – everything.”

The problem isn’t that we’re clueless about cuisine; the issue is that the selection is just too great. It could mean an evening chowing on street food at the night market, slurping the best beef noodle soup in a stall that would be lucky to given a C- by the health department in the U.S., or noshing on juicy pork dumplings marinating in their own broth.

On a solo trip to Taiwan, my grandfather posed question two late on my first evening to me, when obviously at that point we were beyond question one. In the mood to hit my list of eats ASAP, I answered, “Shao bing you tiao,” a typical Taiwanese breakfast that consists of a savory, flaky pastry that envelops a deep fried length of dough, and occasionally sandwiching eggs as well. Hearing this, my grandfather kicked into action, going straight into a game plan for the following morning in which he proclaimed we would go to “the most famous shao bing stand in all of Taichung,” “Taichung” being our home city. With that being said, we set off at 9a sharp the next day to the famed purveyor of all things shao bing, which turned out to be only a brisk walk from the house.

Shao Bing

Look at that glorious you tiao sitting atop the shao bing with an egg, accompanied by scallion pancakes and a glass of soy milk. Just. Glorious.

And delicious the breakfast was. The shao bing crumbled with every bite and the you tiao stayed crispy, even after hugging the egg between my two hands. The delectable cycle would then start all over again after each sip of soy milk I took, cleansing my palate every few moments. The two of us enjoyed the silence as we sat on our rickety, very made-in-Taiwan chairs, chewing in focus and relishing a rare one-on-one meal. 

As the entire experience sadly came to a conclusion, my grandfather and I gathered up our belongings as we prepared for the short trek home. It is important to note that my grandfather is our family’s in-house Ansel Adams. He is therefore committed to documenting each occasion in life no matter how significant with his digital camera, which he has only recently graduated to from the disposable camera. Exiting the shao bing stand, he chirped that I had to get a picture of the most famous shao bing joint in the city.

I obliged, and positioned myself as best I could in front of the place, squinting into the sun, but not before I saw the brows in my grandfather’s face furrowed in a deep frown. I blinked a few times in confusion before finally asking what was wrong.

My grandfather: “This is the most famous place in Taichung for shao bing! You have not visited Taiwan in YEARS! Don’t you think it is more important that when you go back you show them a picture of ME in front of here!?”

Turns out my grandfather and I can't be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

Turns out my grandfather and I can’t be the subjects in the same photo simultaneously.

My, What Clean Teeth You Have!

My parents are infatuated with proper dental hygiene. No, on second thought – they are obsessed with the maintenance of their pearly whites.  The only reason Costco continues to annually generate a profit is because my parents spend so much time in the dental products aisle. In fact, my dad swears so religiously by his Waterpik system that he even bought a portable one to take with him on his business trips.

My mother, on the other hand, is an avid flosser. If her dentist gave out gold medals for the top patient every six months, she’d be on the medal stand twice a year. And for those of you who have to ask why a dental visit is every six months and not annually, don’t worry – that alone has already put you out of the running for this award. Cavities, however, are no joke, and this hobby comes at the expense of the floss itself. Growing up, we kids would watch as she pulled miles of floss out of the pack at a time, most of which had shortened lifelines if they fell into her hands instead of another Kim’s.

Bye bye Glide: the end is near. Literally.

Bye bye Glide: the end is near. Literally.

In a recent trip to visit my grandmother in Korea, my dad decided to be efficient and visit a dentist during his downtime. He so thoroughly enjoyed this experience that following confirmation of my own trip to Korea this spring, he sent me the serious email message below:

“If you have enough time, your aunt will schedule a dental check up appointment for you.”

Weather Alert: Hurricane Madonna

One of the highlights of my grandmother’s West Coast tour of the United States was going outlet shopping while visiting me in Las Vegas. For her, this was a real sport – combining physical fitness of fighting hordes of equally deranged shoppers, as well as mental acumen of how to purchase items for the greatest fraction of the retail price. For the rest of us – “entourage” is the more appropriate term, really – that meant holding her coat and babysitting her handbag while she combed through the entire outlet complex store by store, and watching her decide as to whether or not to she really needed another cashmere anything or leather jacket. There are several reasons why her grandchildren have endearingly fashioned her the moniker “Madonna” as a nickname, and shopping with her is one of them.

After what must have been a lifetime, it appeared we were finally ready to vacate our highly sought-after parking spot in the outlet garage. It was clear that everyone was worn out because the topic of conversation in the car somehow turned to the weather. If my grandmother no longer has the energy to harp about the purchases she made that day, or lament about an item she wished she had bought but didn’t, I usually like to think I did a job well done and thank the Lord I lived to see another day.

My aunt: So about living here in Las Vegas. You guys don’t have…tornadoes…do you?

I was mistaken when I thought that my grandmother had been knocked unconscious from the exhaustion of going to battle with the deluded masses while shopping, because she suddenly scoffed exasperatedly,

“Ugh, no. They have  volcanoes! Hello!”

This is the look of my grandparents, two people ready to handle a volcano at any given time

This is the look of my grandparents, two people ready to face a volcano at any given time

Visa: It’s Everywhere You Want To Be

My grandparents and aunt have recently come to the United States for a visit from Taiwan, and what the rest of us thought was a 3-week vacation ended up evolving into an elaborate tour to see all of their West Coast grandchildren. Following the first stop in Orange County, CA was a lengthy road trip up to San Francisco to visit my cousin Tiffany, an honorary Kim, and my sister Jamie.

As the magnitude of this trip began escalating into enormous proportions, I informed my mother that I wouldn’t be able to fly in and join the festivities. What she didn’t know was that while I held up my phone with one hand to communicate this white lie, I was actually buying an exorbitantly priced plane ticket with my credit card in the other hand. Behold, her reaction when I showed up at dinner straight from the airport.

This is how a mother looks when you show up to a family reunion after politely declining to attend

This is how a mother looks when you show up to a family reunion after having politely declined on account of “work”

It had been decided even before this meal that a journey to my sister’s Coast Guard ship would be in order, and so she scribbled directions to her base on a napkin that of course we ended up leaving behind at the restaurant. She instructed us to call her 5 minutes prior to arriving so that she could call us into the officer stationed at the entrance.

On the morning of visiting what was clearly a more important attraction than Ghirardelli Square or Fisherman’s Wharf – the USCGC Bertholf, that is – we circled around Alameda pretending like we remembered anything my sister had written on that stupid napkin until we somehow made it to the entrance.

We were greeted by a friendly officer who asked to see our photo identification. Sitting in the passenger seat, I asked if he needed just the driver’s, which in that case would be my cousin James, or everyone in the vehicle. The officer nodded and said it would be every individual in the mini van.

This is when the chaos ensued.

Me: All righty, everyone needs to show ID.
Tiffany: Um, I switched handbags the other day and I forgot my license. I only have my college ID.
Me: You graduated over a year and a half ago.
My mom: Grandma and Grandpa left their passports in their hotel safe. Can you ask the officer if it’s really necessary for them to show their ID?

Well all right, let me just ask this federal officer if we can be granted access into federal property without government-issued ID. Frustrated, my mother did what any self-righteous human being who has visited Las Vegas has done – pull the name card.

My mom: Sir, we are here to visit my daughter, Ensign Jamie Kim.

This was the equivalent of telling Joel Robuchon, “Sir, we are the relatives of your dishwasher. Could you kindly squeeze our party of seven in at 8:00p on Saturday evening?” Needless to say, the officer was not impressed. Miraculously, however, my grandfather managed to conveniently find a California identification card, which left only my grandmother. My spirits were lifted when I saw her pull out a card as well from her wallet. Turning to me, she asked me excitedly in Chinese,

“What about a credit card? It has my picture on it!”

The officer shook his head, but eventually we wore him out and he gave us the green light. Once we got on deck of my sister’s ship, however, it was the same scenario all over again, as we had to temporarily surrender identification to be allowed in. My grandmother rolled her eyes in disgust as we explained why a Visa was not an appropriate form of ID, as did my sister, who could not understand how people could even think about traveling without it. Somehow, we won over the crew as well, and the ship instantly turned into an impromptu, albeit lengthy, photo shoot.

"Grandma, you actually can't buy your way onto a government ship."

“Grandma, you actually can’t buy your way onto a government ship.”

My sister: So you’re telling me that only four of you guys could remember to bring photo ID, but you managed to bring seven cameras onboard? Okay.