Korean Karbs

When the Atkins diet first burst into popularity, it was the most hilarious thing my parents had ever heard. “Who in their right mind can cut out carbs from their life? No bread? No noodles? NO RICE!?” It was, to say the least, a huge joke.

As time progressed, however, this low-carb/no-carb baloney seemed to be more and more of a fixture in American culture. You know that the baguette has turned into Public Enemy #1 when it takes Oprah to convince you that eating bread is OK. And so unfolded another episode of cultural divide in our home.

Butter a Carb

My dad: “Have some Korean rice cake, Jamie. It’s so good.”
My sister: “It’s not healthy!”
My dad: “It’s just rice. We’ve been eating this for 5000 years!”

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Rice: both healthy AND historical

My dad: “You should only have five pieces though.”

“His Computer Password Is ‘Password.'”

My colleagues had a few things to say when I finally upgraded my phone to the new iPhone 6+.

“How does it feel not to be using a rock anymore?”
“Oh, you can actually make calls now!”
“Are you enjoying your new tablet?”

Okay, okay. So I’d been toting an iPhone 4 around for a few years, though in my defense, it was a 4S, I might add. But the upgrade was not as glamorous or remotely sexy as I’d been envisioning for the last year or so. In fact, I found it tedious, exasperating, and a downright pain in the ass. My contacts were in disarray, my text messages were no more, and my apps were memoryless of their passwords. Watching videos on the bigger screen was nice, though.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one suffering from New-iPhoneism. My dad called me in a minor depression the week after my mom upgraded her cell phone as well, describing a tragic family dinner where everyone was engrossed in their own phones, unable to partake in true human interaction. This was apparently the time my mother chose to reintegrate her apps back onto her new iPhone 6+.

Ain't nothin' but an iPhone thang

Ain’t nothin’ but an iPhone thang

My mom: “I can’t seem to figure out the password for this app.”
My dad: “Do you have a different password for each app?”
My mom: “Yes. But I’ve already tried everything. ‘ilovedennis [my brother],’ ‘ilovejamie [my sister],’ ‘ilovesandy [me].”
My dad: “Are those all of the choices?”
My mom: “Oh! Wait, maybe ‘ilovesoba [our dog]!’ Oh. That’s not it.”
My dad: “Don’t you think you’re missing one more? What about me, maybe it’s ‘ilovekris’!”
My mom: “Oh, it is definitely not ‘ilovekris.’ I’m sure.”

Tough love.

Neither Here Nor There

The only thing better than shopping at Costco is shopping at Costco with a parent. I refuse to believe that I am the only young adult who conveniently coincides the need for bulk toilet paper, toothpaste, and almond milk with a visit from Mom and/or Dad.

IT JUST SO HAPPENED that on one of Mama Kim’s recent trips to see me, I was out of cotton rounds when she mentioned she would be stopping by Costco. After combing through the appropriate aisles high and low, we finally accepted that this item was simply just out of stock. Luckily for me, my mother was en route back to California not too long after, where she continued The Great Cotton Round Hunt in not one, not two, but three stores. At this point, I wasn’t too sure if the $0.73 per pack we would have saved would have still been worth our while had we found it anyway, but I thanked her for the effort, and said goodbye as she flew back to Taiwan.

A quick trip to Target allowed me to replenish my fizzling supply of the product and the issue was no longer a concern by the time my parents announced they were spontaneously flying to South Korea for a weekend getaway, several weeks after the initial search. Imagine my surprise when I woke up to a text message later from my mother, reading,

“There is a Costco here in Daegu, South Korea and they have cotton rounds! I bought some for you!”

Which would have been wonderful news, truly, if it weren’t for the tiny detail that she and the cotton rounds were only 6,000 miles away from me. Considering it would be some time before my mother came to the United States again, I decided to make peace with the fact that the elusive Costco cotton rounds and I were just not meant to be.

Some time passed and it wasn’t long before my sister was on vacation in Taiwan as well to visit relatives, my parents included. As I caught up with her one afternoon over FaceTime, she brought up something that quite frankly, had fallen off of my radar screen a while ago.

My sister: “Well I’m here for a week or so more, and then I will be flying back to Las Vegas. Can you pick me up from the airport, or will I have to take a taxi?”
Me: “If you don’t mind waiting about 20-30 minutes for me, I can pick you up as soon as I end work.”
My sister: “That’s great! Oh, by the way, Mom brought back a huge box of cotton rounds from her trip to Korea last month. Are these for you, and am I supposed to bring them back for you?”

Cotton rounds flown in from a Korean Costco: the most expensive ones I've ever used in my life

Cotton rounds flown in from a Korean Costco: the most expensive ones I’ve ever used in my life

Thank you, Mom. Now these are only 6,800 miles away. I believe we have officially left the zone of cost-effectiveness.

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

 

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.”

For the Love of a White Shirt

Let me tell you something about being Asian. Amongst the many benefits, including fantastic math and never-aging skin, is the newfound permission to shop in luxury boutiques looking like a complete shmuck and still receiving grade-A service. The sudden economic growth means that our people now have a considerably heftier budget for brand name spending – and aren’t afraid to do so. Long story short, the days of Julia-Roberts-as-Vivian-Ward-in-Pretty-Woman and crappy customer service are over for us even if we come in with Crocs and socks.

If Michelle Obama, the Queen of England, and an Asian walk into Chanel, who is more likely to make a purchase? We are.
If a new Hermes opens up, who is staking out the first 100 spots in line? We are.
If the below outfit is available, who is willing to wear it?

Monday blues, Tuesday pinks, Wednesday greens, etc. Photo credit: Alice Chiang

Monday blues, Tuesday pinks, Wednesday greens, etc.
Photo credit: Alice Chiang

We are.

The concentration of brands like Gucci, Fendi, and Dior in Las Vegas make the city a shopping mecca for my fellow compatriots visiting from the Far East, and my family is no exception. My uncle Andy and aunt Jean make annual trips to Sin City for vacation, and have never once left without at least a few more articles to their wardrobes. I was therefore caught off guard when my aunt called me one afternoon in a frantic panic over a shirt she forgot to buy.

Me: What do you mean, you “forgot to buy” a shirt?
Aunt Jean: I don’t know! I’m on the way to the airport now though and I need you to get it for me. Can you try to find it and give it to your cousin Tiffany to bring back for me?
Me: Sure, what store is it from?
Aunt Jean: See, that’s the tricky thing. I don’t know the name of the store.
Me: What do you mean, you “don’t know the name of the store”?  Can you describe the shirt to me then?
Aunt Jean: Absolutely! It’s a white, button down shirt that ties at the bottom.
Me: You want me to find a white…button down shirt…from a store you can’t remember the name of?
Aunt Jean: Yes, I know it sounds crazy – but, oh! Let me describe the store to you to help you out.
Me: Oh, good.
Aunt Jean: It’s very narrow, and it has a lot of glass. Thank you so much!

“It’s very narrow, and it has a lot of glass”!? OH, WELL THAT SHOULD BE EASY ENOUGH. Armed with those clear-as-crystal instructions, I set off, equipped with nothing more than a cell phone with my cousin at the end of it, suggesting all the female apparel stores that might carry a white button down shirt. How hard could it be? 

Two hours and no white shirt later, I called my cousin back. I couldn’t do it. What sounded ridiculous to me from the get go turned out to BE ridiculous. What the hell was I thinking when I said I could give this a shot? As I held the phone up to my ear and prepared to break the unfortunate news to Tiffany, I suddenly heard a voice behind me.

It was the voice of God. 

“I’m going to have to call you back,” I said in disbelief, dropping the phone into my bag as I suddenly faced a narrow store, with a lot of glass. And like Criss Angel can only dream of doing, I felt a spirit lift and guide my body straight toward a white button down shirt that tied at the end. A summertime miracle! Jesus, forgive me of my sins – I BELIEVE. And with that, I stepped out of the store just as quickly as I had walked in, though this time I left with the goods in hand.

And the Lord said, "Behold. Seek and you shall receive."

And the Lord said, “Behold. Seek and you shall receive.”

My aunt and I saw each other on a number of visits before I finally remembered to inquire about the most important shirt I have ever purchased in my life.

Me: How are you liking that white shirt, by the way?
Aunt Jean: Oh! Funny you should mention it. It was a little big on me so I took it to the tailor but after I got it back I never wore it again!

You’re right, Aunt Jean. IT’S FREAKIN’ HILARIOUS.

(By the way, for those of you wondering – the store was Catherine Malandrino.)

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.

The Luggage Lady

As a long distance runner, I’ve recently started working out at a local CrossFit gym, Decibel, to build some upper body strength that I otherwise had none of. In a span of roughly six weeks, I am happy to report that I am starting to see – but more importantly, FEEL – the results. When I first started, I was able to do zero push ups (God, I feel so vulnerable putting it out there like that). Just last week, however, my coach congratulated me as I can now do two. In a row, I might add.

So what’s a girl to do with all of this new found muscle? What any sensible daughter with a clear conscience would do, of course. Lug the extra suitcases for a mother who has zero concept about the term “baggage limit.” My mother and I are about to embark on a journey to the motherland, AKA the great island nation of Taiwan and as usual, my mother has saved her packing for the last minute, and because we are going during Chinese New Year, her stress is at an all-time high. Mama Kim is a classic example of an overpacker and is always coming up with creative new ways to push the envelope on how to warp this term.

Case in point –

Me: “Why is there only one suitcase set aside for me?”
My mom: “Oh, I took one. You’re only there for a few weeks while I’ll be there for a few months so I am using one of your suitcase allowances to pack more.”
Me: “Do you really need 3 suitcases for all of your things?”
My mom: “I’ll be there for A FEW MONTHS! The weather is going to change a lot!”
Me: “Are you not planning on doing laundry at all while you’re there?”
My mom: “I don’t have time for this. I need to go pack.”

If this act of generosity doesn't get me nominated for Daughter of the Year, I don't know what will

If this act of generosity doesn’t get me nominated for Daughter of the Year, I don’t know what will

I’m not of much help as I watch on, as she divvies up all of her belongings into “only” three suitcases. The thing is, she knows she embodies everything about what it means to be an heavy packer, and yet, there have been zero attempts to stage an intervention. In fact, after returning from a trip to San Francisco last weekend to visit my cousin Tiffany, who is also going to Taiwan for the holiday, I found out just how grave this situation had become when Skyping with Tiffany.

My mom: “So how was the trip? Did you enjoy ‘Book of Mormon’?”
Tiffany: “It was great! We all really had a great time, it was hilarious.”
My mom: “That’s good. OH! You know what I just realized?”
Tiffany: “What’s that?”
My mom: “Well Sandy took Southwest up to see you in SF. Doesn’t Southwest allow for two free checked bags? Darn, I should have had her go with a packed suitcase for you to take back to Taiwan too!”

As I relayed this story to my father, who is already in Taiwan, I laughed as I commented on how my mother must have been kidding.

My dad: “Hahahaha! But NO. She was NOT joking.”

Dog Sitting Duty

A recent whirlwind of activity in our extended family had my father flying to South Korea and my mother being whisked off to Taiwan, so while the two of them were prancing through their respective motherlands, I returned home to care for their two pets: our dog Soba and my brother Dennis.

Pet #1: our mutt of a pooch Soba

Pet #1: our mutt of a pooch Soba

Upon my initial assessment of the living conditions of my 18-year-old hermano, I found that I could confidently report back to Mama and Papa Kim that the house was still very much livable and they had nothing to worry about in regards to the value of their home depreciating during their brief absence. The sink wasn’t overflowing, there was food in the refrigerator, and the house was otherwise still standing. As I started honing in on smaller details however, I realized that I was in the sequel of One and a Half Men, an earlier post about my dad and brother’s bachelor lifestyle sans Mama Kim.

First was his excellent choice in diet. When I came home, he was occupied with his new laptop in the living room, accompanied only by a single jar of Nutella. That’s it. No complex carbohydrates to accompany it, no spoon in sight, NOTHING.

Hello there, jar of Nutella creeping in the back

Hello there, jar of Nutella creeping in the back

I waved it off, figuring everybody knows about Nutella’s healing properties. As far as I was concerned, this was brilliant on my brother’s part while being home alone. A full jar of the stuff with no adult supervision? Well played. I moved onto the refrigerator, and as I was helping myself to some leftover spaghetti my mother had produced in mass quantities out of fear of my brother’s starvation, I froze at the sight of a large plastic glove lodged in the Tupperwared noodles.

Me: Um, hello sir. Are you aware that there is a plastic GLOVE in the spaghetti!?
My brother: Yes.
Me: Well, what is DOING in here?
My brother: Well (clears throat), by using the glove, I can scoop the noodles and then mix it together with the sauce without having to use utensils. It saves a lot of time, you know. You should try it!

I spy a glove in the midst of the spaghetti

A UFO: Unidentified Flimsy Object in the midst of the spaghetti

Whoever said technology is complicating modern times was obviously out of touch with the simple life hacks my brother had devised. As I pulled the pasta out from the microwave, Dennis was sweet enough to wish me, “Bon appetit!”

Hmm that’s weird, his enunciation must’ve been off because it came out sounding like, “By the way, I will not be doing the dishes for you.”