roller coaster weekend.

i freeze.

when i badly want to talk to someone, to get to know someone, i never know what to say, so i freeze. i hope, instead, that she will take the initiative, and i get evasive, look aside, run away because, yes, i am outgoing and sociable, but i get painfully shy when it counts. it’s stupid and pathetic, and i hate this about myself, but i am swallowed by fear in these situations, fear that i am interpreting said situations in irrational ways because i want a specific outcome — i want to say, hi, hello, it’s nice to meet you; i want that to lead to a genuine connection — and i am too afraid of an undesirable outcome that i can’t make the first step.

and, so, i freeze.

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it’s been two weeks of friends, and there is not a single human in my life i take for granted. i’m in a period of hardship, and maybe the thing about hardship is that it helps clarify things in your head, in your life. then again, there’s the other side of hardship, the nights spent crying, unable to sleep because my anxiety and fear are churning through my body, refusing to let me go and let me rest. there’s the inability shake the ways i feel small and invisible.

but, then, there are people, and, like i said, it’s been two weeks of friends, and i am grateful for them all.

on friday, a college friend comes up from DC to visit, and we go to momofuku’s newest outpost — bar wayo in south street seaport, which has become one bougie, cobble-stoned … something. i don’t know how i feel about it, don’t know that i’d ever really go there if it weren’t for bar wayo, thus continuing my ongoing internal conflict when it comes to the momofuku group and its restaurants. i love the restaurants and their food, but i hate where they’re situated because they follow gentrification and wealth — gross displays of wealth, sometimes, as is the case with hudson yards.

there’s an essay about that somewhere, but it might not be one that comes from my brain. i’ve still got tens of thousands of words i could write about momofuku, but today there is just this: the curry donut at bar wayo is bomb. it has such a satisfyingly crispy exterior and a soft interior that isn’t doughy, and the curry has a nice heat to it, just the right amount of body to prevent mess. it’s not greasy, not heavy, not overbearing but well-balanced and delicious.

i could easily eat 2-3 on my own.


maybe this is mushy and sentimental, but maybe that’s okay. i am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people in my life — for friends who have shown up and continue to show up with support and encouragement. friends who eat, who have paid and continue to pay for meals, for coffee, for snacks. friends who have sent and continue to send coffee funds and dinner funds via venmo, ko-fi, paypal. friends who read the shit i write, who DM and text and email, who fill the spaces of conversation with updates on their lives without expecting me to talk about the frustrations in mine.

i am grateful for friends who come over to hang out so i can clean my apartment, who don’t laugh or make me feel small for my outsized fear of the c-word bugs, who kill said bugs when they emerge. friends who send job listings and recommend me for jobs. friends who witness my stupid crush and how pathetically obvious and dopey i am about it and don’t make me feel small for any of that either.

i hope, one day, i am able to pay all this generosity and kindness forward.


two things i wish momofuku would sell? their salsa seca and the kimchi from kawi.

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on monday, i put my instagram on private and delete the app from my phone. it’s been less than 36 hours since, but i’ve already forgotten the reason for that, probably something about mental health, about how instagram compounds the fears that live in my head. i think it had something to do with all the pain that comes from wanting so badly to connect with someone but knowing i will be disappointed because that will not happen — i do not have that kind of luck, that kind of magic.

my main takeaway is that i am incredibly bored without instagram. i’m constantly engaging with people on the app, constantly oversharing my day-to-day on stories, and i miss that instant contact with people, that immediate feedback loop. some might argue that it’s not “real,” these aren’t “real” relationships, but i would vehemently disagree — i value my online friendships deeply, and i seek to bring as many of them into the physical realm that i can.

maybe it’s different for me because i overshare, because i put so much of myself out there. i question the wisdom of that all the time, but i hope that that vulnerability opens up the possibility of reaching someone. i hope that people are able to read the things i share and think, omg, same. i hope that my stupid openness helps someone feel less alone.

i also hope for connection, and i wish always always always that someone might see me and take notice. one of the things social media has done is flattened the field somewhat, created ways of access that simply didn’t exist before, and i also always wish i was better at using social media in such ways. i wish i could reach out and initiate contact.

and, so, yes, that is the main reason i deleted instagram — because i hated myself for not being able to say hello, for wanting so badly just to be seen, for daring to hope in a different outcome. i hated — hate — myself for being so afraid.


what am i afraid of, though? my mother marvels at the things that don’t scare me — i have no fear traveling to a foreign country by myself even if i don’t speak the language. i’m not afraid of scuba diving or potentially jumping out of a plane (i want to go skydiving so badly), and i’m not afraid of driving fast or not having a stable career (though financial stresses make my anxiety so much worse) or dealing with uncertainties. i’m not afraid of change.

i am afraid of money not coming in when i need it. i am afraid of being asked personal questions, and i am afraid of being exposed, of being found out that i am not as smart of as interesting as i would like to be. i am afraid i will never be able to do the thing i love and want to do with my life, the thing i am not afraid to state i would be good at. i am afraid that this is it, that we struggle and flail and hurt, and then we die. i am afraid of being rejected. i am afraid of how much i want, the sheer desperation behind my longing to be seen, to be wanted, to be valued. i am afraid i will never be that person worth betting on.

i am also deathly afraid that someone is going to steal my dog if i leave him tied up outside while i pop into a store. it’s why i’ve never done it, will avoid doing it unless absolutely required.


god damn, i miss my dog. he’s such a good dog, so soft and snuggly and gentle. i miss him so much.

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of course, i take my friend to kawi. i haven’t been back in a month, though i’ve thought about kawi pretty consistently, almost every single day maybe because i love the food and i have a crush. having a crush feels like having a crazy brain, one that is unable to parse reality with any kind of rationalism because it seeks, rather, to fit reality around its wishes, its desires, and there’s nothing rational about that.

we get the crab (it’s still available) and the oxtail jjim, and we get the new bingsoo, which is lime and ginger and candied jicama — yes, candied jicama. i feel like i know who my core people are by their reactions to the idea of candied jicama. it’s as great as it sounds. this lime bingsoo is more icy, less intensely flavored than the blueberry version, though that makes sense because it’s lime — it makes you pucker up, is intense as it is.

i am dying for the chef to do her take on a traditional red bean version of the bingsoo at some point. i know it would be laborious because paht is paht and i don’t think for a second that she’d take paht from a can, but, oh my god, can you imagine how delicious her paht-bing-soo would be?!


anyway, so going back to this not-being-on-instagram-for-like-36-hours thing: what did i learn? 

nothing, really. i wish i had some kind of enlightenment to share here, but i don’t. i was bored. i missed having my community. i wanted to share dumb shit all the time and felt frustrated because i couldn’t. my day-to-day didn’t feel any richer because i was existing “in the moment” instead of putting everything on-line — in fact, it felt more hollow because i felt more alone.

as i type this up, though, i know that i am lucky. i have a balance in community; the fact that i have a core group of people in new york city is why i will never leave unless i must. i have a warm community of people on the internet, thanks to social media, friendships that circle the globe that i hope to bring into “real” life. this is the thing i would go back to tell that lonely, lonely girl just a few years ago — that, no, you still haven’t hit a day when you’re grateful still to be alive, but you will find yourself surrounded by people who love you and believe in you and will fight to keep you here.


here’s a recap of things i did while not on instagram:

i did a dr. jart sheet mask that creates these bubbles that are supposed to help clear out your pores. if you massage your face with the sheet mask on, it creates more bubbles. like, a lot more bubbles. i don’t know how effective this was at clearing out my pores, but it was fun — i like bubbling sheet masks; they amuse me.

i also spied on my dogs via nest cam, and i ate cup ramyeon that came with a packet of kimchi — like, an actual packet of actual kimchi — with my favorite salad from trader joe’s while finishing kingdom on netflix and thinking that i really need to stop watching TV shows where rich, powerful people do shitty things to keep their wealth and power. it makes me rage.

in the morning, i went to a job interview and showed up in the area 90 minutes early, so i got a waffle from blue bottle. later in the day, i made and ate an entire thing of chapaguri, passed out from the sodium, then walked to the library to reactivate my library card and check out three more YA novels. (i have a long post on YA coming.)

it was a glorious day for a walk. i’m going to go reinstall instagram on my phone now.

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[NSPW19] where we go falling down (kawi, ii).

meal number five is the big group meal. there are six of us, and we come prepared to eat.

i’ve budgeted the meal out to roughly $60-80 per person, including tax and tip but not including drinks. i have an idea of what we’ll be ordering, and i half-jokingly let them know in advance that i’ll be setting the menu. whether in deference to that or because they trust me, they tell me, order whatever you want!

one of my friends has a soy and sesame allergy, which makes it tricky. soy and sesame are all over korean food, and i’m not entirely sure how much they’ll be able to accommodate—even if a chef is willing to accommodate, sometimes, there are limits to how much she is able to do so. they’re kind, though, and work it out. the server comes back with a list of foods that are available to her; he comes back later with an i’m sorry, there’s actually tamari in the spicy tuna kimbap. he isn’t an asshole about it. i always get nervous because, honestly, you never know. people can be assholes about allergies and dietary restrictions.

we order drinks, then we order food, and i become the asshole who asks, laughing but in earnest, if we could order the biji jjigae on its own without the rib eye. the server goes back to the kitchen, consults the chef herself. i look away. he comes back and says that, yes, they could do that, and i’m happy for it but also uncomfortable. i’m not someone who likes asking for favors, even favors i’d pay for. i don’t like to be noticed.

all i want is to be noticed.


people don’t typically think i’m korean. when i was in college in california, people would ask if i were cambodian, and then, later, it became, are you chinese? half chinese?

it’s happened on many occasions that i’ve been waiting for the subway and older chinese adults have come up to me and started talking in chinese. i always smile, say, i’m sorry; i’m not chinese, and they pause, give me That Look that says bad chinese girl! not knowing chinese! as they walk away.

i always want to protest, don’t give me That Look! talk to me in korean! i can speak korean just fine, thank you very much.


there’s a chicken dish on the dinner menu at kawi, and it’s served two ways. the breast is served as a jeong-gol, in a broth with glass noodles, mushrooms, vegetables, and tofu. it comes with two sauces. the rest of the chicken is tossed in a cajun seasoning and fried. they don’t waste any part of the chicken, so the head and the feet are fried along with the legs and thighs. we eat the feet, but none of us is brave enough to eat the head.


in 2012, my paternal grandmother passed away. she was my closest grandparent, the one who raised me and spoiled me rotten because i was my father’s first child and he was her only son. it didn’t matter to her than i was a daughter. she still loved me more than she loved my brother — or, at least, we were closer because i spoke korean, read and wrote it, too.

i forget who asked, but i was asked to give a eulogy at her funeral, and i wrote it out in korean. i gave it to my dad to read to make sure it sounded okay because, sure, i can speak korean but my vocabulary is weak, my spelling atrocious because i can never figure out the rules — is it ㅏ-ㅣ or ㅓ-ㅣ, and, god damn it, how is anyone supposed to know which is which, what are the rules?!?

my dad sat and read what i’d written and promptly burst out laughing. i stared at him until he finally explained, where did you pick up these words? you have the strangest vocabulary.


it’s a great group meal, one i’ll hold onto over the next few weeks. i’ve brought together five friends who’ve never met each other before, and the dinner has gone beautifully, everyone getting along, loving the food, eating to the point of being happily stuffed. there was none of the awkwardness that could occur with a group of strangers.

at the end of it, though, part of me feels off. i wonder if we stayed too long, if we were too loud, too boisterous, if i’ve been coming to this restaurant too often. i wonder if i’d worry about any of this if kawi were any other restaurant.

i don’t know that i would.

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three weeks pass before i make it out to kawi again. this is a quiet lunch, just me and a friend, but we don’t really hold back, starting with the tofu and roe and cured madai, then splitting the oxtail and brisket jjim and wagyu ragu. we finish the meal with the blueberry bingsu. luckily, i didn’t eat a full meal at fuku right before kawi this time.

the tofu and roe is incredible, the tofu made in-house. it’s smooth and creamy, the roe adding a gentle brininess, and there’s a caramelized soy sauce as well to bring salt and sweetness. the wagyu ragu i’ve had before; the ragu reminds me of bulgogi marinade; and it’s served over rice cakes. that dish, plus the rice cake dumplings—rice cakes served in a cheesy sauce with parmesan and summer truffle—makes gnocchi feel non-essential, which is a statement i should maybe follow up with, i love pasta, but i’ve never been that enthusiastic about gnocchi.

later, as we’re leaving the restaurant, my friend says that the chef seems like a kind person, that she was watching her interact with her staff in the open kitchen. i say, yeah, she seems like it. i don’t remember if we say anything more about her. i wish i could stop being the person noticing others and start being the person who’s noticed. i wish i could be someone worth seeing. i really wish this didn’t feel like the theme of my life.


recently, i have been learning how nice it is to read books and recognize myself in them. i didn’t grow up reading asian writers, but i also didn’t grow up thinking much about it because i grew up watching korean dramas and listening to korean pop. i grew up in suburban los angeles, where asian people didn’t feel like a minority, and i went to schools where many of my classmates were asian, increasingly so as i got older and started taking mostly (if not entirely) honors and AP classes.

i didn’t need to see myself in the books i was reading.

it’s only now that i kind of see that as a privilege, not to have that added to my plate during my formative years. that’s not to say my adolescence was easy; i was body shamed starting my freshman year of high school, to such an extent that my entire sense of self was destroyed and disintegrated by the time i went to college. i was already so detached from my identity, unable to attribute any kind of value to myself, wanting so badly to disappear myself and my grotesque, oversized body.

spend over a decade of your life wanting to disappear and maybe you’ll learn how to be invisible. maybe that’s the irony of it. i’ve become so practiced in disappearing myself, at least in my mind, that i don’t know how to be visible.

i don’t know how to be someone worth seeing.


the blueberry bingsu is layers of soft, creamy shaved ice and whipped creme fraiche. there’s blueberry syrup that has a tang to it that borders on vinegary. there are macerated blueberries. when they first introduced the blueberry bingsu, they topped it with pancake croutons, i’m told.

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my seventh meal at kawi wasn’t supposed to happen until maybe september, but, during my sixth meal, the server tells us that crabs are back in very, very limited edition. the crabs are marinated in a spicy sauce this time, not in the soy sauce-based marinade they were earlier this year, and there are only so many of them available — if they’re available at all. i debate coming back to kawi the next day to see if i can get the crab. she advises that i call before i come to make sure they’re on the menu.

it’s disgustingly hot and humid the next day, and i almost don’t go because it’s disgustingly hot and humid. i can’t get the crabs out of my head, though, how badly i wanted to try them earlier in the summer but missed them, so i head into the city, anyway. i try to take her advice calling before i head over to hudson yards again, but the call doesn’t go through. i almost go back home. i step out of target at hearld square, hear the flash flood warnings on hundreds of iphones go off, and i think, fuck it, and start walking over to the 7 at times square/42nd street. i get to the station just as fat raindrops start falling from the sky, and, fifteen minutes later, i get out at hudson yards to a torrential downpour, complete with thunder and lightning. 

they have the crab, though, and it’s one of the last ones. i’m soaked through with sweat and some rain because i got impatient of waiting and ran through the rain once it let up, and i look like shit, and i’m sorry to everyone around me because i’m feeling self-conscious in my body, in how gross and damp i feel. 

the crab is delicious, though, and it’s raw, called 개장 (gae-jang) in korean. i don’t typically like raw marinated crab, so i’m surprised at how much i like this, the gochujang-based sauce spicy and gingery, the rice, i suspect the same rice used in the hwe-dup-bahp. there’s a lot of crab in this bowl, and it’s a messy dish, three crab halves intact, meant to be eaten using your hands.

this is my last time at kawi over the summer, and i think it’s a great way to see the season out. as i’m leaving, i see the chef sitting at the bar, chatting with someone. typically, i’d walk along the bar, past her to get to the restroom and leave the restaurant. instead, i look away before we can meet eyes, speed-walk down the other aisle, leave the restaurant, and use the restroom on some other floor of hudson yards. i don’t know when i’ll be back. i’m afraid of having overstayed my welcome.

i’m afraid of having become visible because, even though i want so badly to be seen, i am also terrified of it.

i’m terrified that it’ll turn out to be true, that i really am not worth seeing but that it has nothing to do with my body but everything to do with me.

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[NSPW19] the ghost in this love story (kawi, i).

there’s a scene i think about constantly.

it’s from the korean drama, my name is kim sam-soon, which was a huge hit when it aired in 2005, and i’d provide a summary were it relevant. the scene i think about, though, requires no context: the secondary character, played by jeong ryeo-won, returns to seoul after years abroad where she was being treated for stomach cancer. in this scene, she’s taken her doctor (and love interest), played by daniel henney, to eat 산낙지 (ssan-nak-ji) and 낙지볶음 (nak-ji bo-kkeum).

she’s excited to eat the foods she’s been craving while away; he’s worried because he’s new to this kind of food and because he’s a doctor—he’s concerned this will upset her stomach.

she laughs, though, tells him not to worry, and i forget how the conversation pivots (as well as the exact dialogue), but she’s still smiling as she starts to eat and says, “see, the thing is, i think i used to shine, but, somewhere along the way, with all the treatment, i think i lost all that. but i used to shine.”

he tells her in all seriousness, “you still shine,” but she shakes it off, tries to shake off the mood, and points at the food, saying they should eat, but it’s still there in her eyes, the sadness and disappointment and longing.

i think about this scene almost every day.

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over the course of summer 2019, i go to kawi seven times. 

kawi is the momofuku group’s newest restaurant, situated on the fifth floor of hudson yards and helmed by a female korean american chef. the first time i go to kawi, it’s for lunch, three months after they’ve opened. i’ll go back later that same day for dinner because i’ve spent the week examining the menu, trying to decide when to go and what to eat, the problem being that there are items i want to eat on both menus.

at lunch, i go for the rice cake with chili jam, a beautiful take on 떡볶이 (ddeokbokki). the rice is imported from korea and milled in flushing—on one of my later visits, a server tells me that they’re family-owned, that the chef wanted to bring them some business—and they extrude the ddeok in the kitchen themselves. i’m not the biggest fan of 떡 (ddeok) (i’m a “bad” korean that way), but i’m a sucker for ddeok freshly made in house.

i’m a sucker for a lot of things made in-house.

typically, this kind of ddeok is called 가래떡 (ga-rae-ddeok), and it’s typically cut into long strips. at kawi, they coil and smother it with a chili sauce then smother that with a furikake that pops in your mouth. there are paper thin slices of benton ham. the whole thing comes with giant tweezers and a pair of scissors (aka kawi) for you to cut and eat.

it’s a lot of ddeok for one person, especially a person who is not the biggest fan of ddeok to begin with, but it is delicious. it’s good ddeok with that proper balance of softness and chew, and the sauce is flavorful with a light sweetness but not very much heat. it’s the kind of sauce i want to spoon over a bowl of hot rice and eat with a fried egg, which is more or less the greatest compliment i can pay any kind of sauce, to want to spoon it over rice and eat with an egg.

ddeok is not a meal, though, so i also order the mackerel set. i’ve only recently started learning the names of korean foods in english, and mackerel is one of the few fish i know (it’s 고등어 in korean). it’s also one of my favorite fish; when my mum makes it in LA, she buys it fresh, gives it a generous dusting of salt, and cooks it on a hot pan outside in the yard. we eat it hot, as soon as she brings it inside, and i love it with rice (obviously) and ripened kimchi.

the mackerel set from kawi is fascinating to me (still, weeks later) because the smell has been somehow entirely eradicated from the mackerel. it’s not that the dish lacks flavor—the mackerel is meaty, soft, oily, just the way mackerel should be, and it has a nice hit of salt. the oily smell that’s so unique to mackerel, though, so pungent and so overpowering that my parents do not cook mackerel indoors but outside in their backyard—the smell that might offend and put people off is gone.

this is one of the things that will continue to fascinate me about the chef’s food—how her food retains all the soul of traditional korean food while being its own thing, while removing some of the elements of korean food that might put people off. like strong smells.


i never know how i should approach korean words anywhere, whether it’s here, on instagram, in a piece i’m writing to pitch. when i’m in the mood, i provide all the information—the 한글 (hangul), romanization, and translation—but, most days, i just want to provide one thing, sometimes the hangul, sometimes the romanization, and leave it for readers to figure out.

today, i suppose, you’re getting the hangul and the romanization, and that’s it, though i have zero consistency in hyphenating. i’m still figuring that out.

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dinner is all about 회덮밥 (hwe-duhp-bahp).

i love hwe-duhp-bahp, even if hwe-duhp-bahp in most places is a giant mound of shredded lettuce over rice, the leftover ends of sashimi tossed haphazardly over the mix. at kawi, it’s a beautiful bowl of generous cuts of 회 (hwe) arranged over rice mixed with perilla and other things scooped over finely shredded cabbage. it comes with a side of 초고추장 (chogochujang) and toasted 김 (geem),

typically, you mix the chogochujang into the rice/fish/lettuce combo, but, at kawi, i start by simply dipping the hwe directly into the chogochujang, wrapping the rice in the toasted seaweed, and, basically, eating the whole thing piecemeal. i like that the seaweed has been cut unevenly, some of the pieces large and unwieldy, others the perfect size. when i’m halfway through the hwe, i mix my remaining chogochujang into the bowl, and i always wonder, whenever there is rice to be mixed, which is the right way to do so? with a spoon or with chopsticks?


it is rare for me to find a space where i feel comfortable; i always feel either like i am too much or not enough wherever i am—like, if i am in a room of korean koreans, i am too american, not korean enough. in a room of korean americans, i am too korean, not american enough.

and then there is also the layer where i often feel like too much, like i feel too much, want too much, whatever too much. i don’t exist in the middle but on the extremes, and i am too loud, too irreverent, too effusive. i am too obsessive.

earlier today, i stop by the strand to look for YA books—or, at least, i go into the strand intending to go upstairs and look for YA books. instead, i make a beeline for the cookbooks, though i have nothing in mind, and find myself in the “asian cooking” section. i start flipping through an, then the mission chinese food cookbook, then hawker fare, and, as i stand there telling myself i can’t really afford to buy books right now, it kind of hits me.

there is an extreme intensity to the food industry. chefs and cooks are known to work brutal hours for shitty pay. they work through holidays, miss family celebrations and milestones, don’t get nearly enough sleep. cooking itself is intense physical labor, and cooks are on their feet all day, exposed to extreme temperatures, can be susceptible to injury. there’s a tendency to romanticize all of this, to package it as some kind of dedication to craft, as passion, and i suppose, yes, it is passion because passion is obsession. passion exists on the extreme, and, sometimes, the singular drive that pushes some of these chefs to the top best exemplifies the obsession and, honestly, the sacrificial ugliness that passion is.

and the thing is, i feel most comfortable in that extreme. it is only when i think about that world that i feel at ease, like i’ve maybe found the place where my “too much” is just fine. 

and yet, i also feel entirely invisible because i’m still only ever looking in—i don’t have access to the space that makes me feel okay as who i am.


i haven’t talked about the kimchi at kawi, have i? i wish they sold their kimchi by the jar. when i’m in new york, i crave good kimchi all the time because it is impossible to find, and the kimchi at kawi is, one, delicious and, two, perfect ripened.

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the third time i go to kawi, it’s not exactly planned—a good friend is in town, and we decide to go for dinner because it’s been a month since i’ve last gone, and i miss it. i haven’t been so excited by one person’s cooking in … ever, i don’t think, and i want to keep coming back because i want to keep eating the chef’s food. i want to keep tasting what she serves next.

we split the fried cod with yuzu and the oxtail and brisket 찜 (jjim). the fried cod is hot and crispy without being heavy or oily, and the oxtail and brisket jjim has a really great heat to it. the spiciness is not overpowering (not for me, at least), and the oxtail is so tender, falling off the bone, the brisket soft and meaty. it’s a lot of food for the two of us, which isn’t helped by the fact that i arrived at hudson yards forty minutes early, was starving, and decided to eat a spicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries at fuku. i forget—or choose not to believe—that i can’t necessarily eat like i used to when i was younger.

we still get the blueberry 빙수 (bingsu), though. over the summer, i’ll eat the blueberry bingsu four times.


at one point, the chef makes a round of the floor, and i look up just as she approaches, make eye contact. i think i smile. my stomach goes flipping all over the place as my brain seems to short-circuit. all i want to say is, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, hi.

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this post (and the one that will follow) was supposed to be about something different. i originally started drafting it for national suicide prevention week, but i admit i’ve recently become very cagey about talking openly about mental health, especially given the potential consequences of doing so. if we’re open about our mental health, we could be fired, we could be rejected, we could be written off as liabilities, not as smart, creative humans worth investing in.

that’s partly why i find myself growing more and more angry when i think about how people just don’t know how to talk to or “handle” people who are suicidal. i find myself making lists of things i’d tell people not to do if they have someone who’s suicidal in their lives. like, don’t ever imply that suicidal thinking is something we can just think our way out of. don’t insinuate that we’re not trying to “get better” because we enjoy this pain. don’t treat us like projects, like problems to fix. don’t charge in thinking that you’re going to do this and this and this; meet us where we are; ask us what we need. don’t be offended when you aren’t showered with profuse thanks.

don’t give up on us, and don’t write us off.


i go back to kawi for the fourth time a week later, and that’s not exactly pre-planned either. i’m finally able to schedule a meal with another friend, and we decide to go to kawi because i’ve been talking about it non-stop and she was supposed to go a month before but couldn’t. we talk about everything from law school to plastic surgery to growing up asian american. the server gives us a complimentary flank steak kimbap. i wonder if that means i’ve been coming here too often, if that means the chef maybe knows who i am.


what else, what else: don’t approach us as people to be saved; you won’t save us. don’t tiptoe around us, afraid of saying the “wrong” thing and somehow sending us over the edge—stop centering yourself because this isn’t about you. don’t simply insist that we “get help” because, often, the best we can do is just stay alive, because therapy and medication require time, energy, and money, all of which we may not have at our easy disposal. and, by god, don’t report us to HR, especially if you don’t have a personal relationship with us.


the spicy tuna kimbap may be one of my favorite things on the kawi menu, and the kimbap, in general, maybe best exemplifies why the chef’s cooking is so damn cool. she’s not reinventing korean food; she’s not deconstructing it or trying to do something totally new, not in an obvious way, at least. she’s keeping the structures and forms of korean food intact and playing around with it from the inside—and that’s interesting if that’s something you’re interested in, but, if you’re not, that’s fine, too, because her food is delicious.


if you have someone who is suicidal in your life, just show up. let them know that you see them, that, even if they feel like they’re locked in darkness, you can see them in the light. be there and hope for them and believe in them. love them. meet them where they are, and, if they are in a place where they don’t appear to respond, let them know that’s okay—you’ll be there when they’re ready to reach out. you’ll be there, and you’ll get through this together. 


the fourth time i go to kawi, the chef’s executing. every time she calls out a dish, i feel sparks go off in the back of my head. how do you articulate to someone how much her food means to you, how much she does?


what is it like to shine?

[DC] the practice of being better.

last week, we fly out to baltimore because it’s thanksgiving, and that’s what we do for thanksgiving — we descend upon my youngest aunt’s house and eat and laugh and drink sangria and hang out with their dogs.

the lead-up to thanksgiving, though, feels like a whole mess of wrongness. usually, my brother flies into JFK and rents a car, and we have lunch with my maternal aunt before driving down to baltimore. he usually takes a red-eye, and i’ve usually been up too late the night before, so he’s usually asleep in the car for the first hour or so, and we usually stop once for coffee and cinnabon and the bathroom. usually, usually, usually — so then there’s the part of me that just feels wrong because this isn’t just usually, it’s how things should be had my life not gone so horribly wrong.

but what’s the point losing ourselves to everything that should have been? lots of things should have been.

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or, at least, those are words i tell myself, and that’s all they are — words i tell myself, words i don’t quite believe. 2017 feels an awful lot like a string of words i tell myself — that i will be better, that i will find my way back home, that i will get a job that will be a career that will mean something, that i will do this and be that, that i will still be alive when 2018 dawns, that i won’t have died in california like i’m still so terrified i will.

sometimes, i think it’s strange that i try to make my business be one of words but often find words to be just that — words. other times, i think that makes sense, that being a purveyor of words means that i understand both how invaluable and how empty they can be, that words carry both strength and emptiness depending on circumstance, situation, and speaker. words, like so many other facets of life, are not inherently good or evil — they are what we make them to be, and to try to make them more than they naturally are is to do us all a disservice.

moving on to other things, i suppose.

i’ve been back in LA for all of five days, and i’m already itching to leave again. i’m starting to think this isn’t just plain old wanderlust; it’s rooted in something deeper, something that sometimes feels more sinister because there’s a fair amount of malcontent admittedly woven in there; but, whatever it is, the fact remains that i’ve always been the anywhere-but-here kind of human, the one who’s always had feet that long to carry her away to every corner of the earth and the appetite to try and experience everything.

because, hey, i think the world is this stupidly beautiful, vibrant, interesting place, and i want to learn it all and taste it all and know it all in its madcap diversity. i want to eat everything i can. i want to experience everything i can. i want to walk amongst strangers, hear their stories, and capture all the colors the world has to offer. i want to know how the seasons differ depending on where you are in the world. i want to see how the sky changes. i want to feel the whole spectrum of what there is to feel when you’re aware of being someone different no matter where you are in the world.

because, hey, there’s this, too — that i inevitably move through the world in a way a straight white woman does not and, consequently, that i experience it differently. that the general world of food writing and travel writing bore the shit out of me because they’re both so white, so straight, so freaking boring. that it’s about time that the narrative is shifted, that publishers start seeking out writers of color who don’t fall into clean binaries, that white people stop being allowed to exist under the illusion that they are somehow more qualified to speak for cultures that are not theirs, that they are able to consume and appropriate only because of their whiteness.

and this isn’t something that applies only to whiteness and “exotic” cultures. it’s about time the narrative is given to adoptees, not martyrs of adoptive parents. it’s about time the narrative is given to queer people, trans people, people who identify as non-binary. it’s about time the narrative is given to those who live with mental illness, with depression, with suicidal tendencies.

it’s about time to stop being so goddamn afraid of the Other.


wow, none of this is what i came into this post to write.

this was supposed to be a kind of travel blog, or maybe it is a travel blog — or, at least, an attempt to suss out what travel writing looks like to me and, in connection, what travel means to me.

i think we tend to put travel on a pedestal, to elevate this idea that traveling results in more open-minded people, but i don’t know, i kind of feel about that like i feel about how we put literature on a pedestal, automatically assume that people who read must be more gracious, less provincial, less prone to bigotry and racism and misogyny.

i keep thinking about that essay kevin nguyen wrote last year, and i keep thinking how true it is. just because we’re in the business of books doesn’t mean we’re inherently doing good. just because people read a lot doesn’t mean they think outside of their narrow, ingrained mentality. just because people are well-traveled doesn’t mean they see outside of their bubble; it doesn’t mean they’ve experienced anything outside of what and who they know. travel, literature, whatever other thing we want to elevate — these things can keep us in our comfort zones and ignorance as much as they can challenge us and make us uncomfortable and help us become better people.

the opportunity means nothing unless we have the courage to step out of ourselves while also looking into ourselves and seeing the uglinesses within.

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on saturday, we drive out to d.c. 

before we flew out to baltimore, i’d floated the idea of me going out to d.c. for a day because i have friends in the city and i thought i might get restless, stuck in suburban baltimore. i wondered if i could rent a car, was discouraged from it because my brother would probably rent a car and we didn’t need that many cars, and i wasn’t quite sure i’d tag along when my brother and sister-in-law said they were planning to go out to d.c. on saturday.

my little cousin decided she wanted to go, too, though, so off we went. we’d gotten a recommendation for the holocaust memorial museum, so there we went.

the thing that terrifies about the holocaust memorial museum is how prescient it all seems. it’s easy to approach museums as things that stand in record of the past and to put distance between us and those moments in time, like these things happened back then, and back then is removed from now.

and yet — walking through the holocaust memorial museum felt almost like deja vu. watching video footage of nazis walking through city streets with torches felt like seeing images from yesterday because, shit, it was like seeing images from yesterday. just a few months ago, nazis marched in charlottesville, waving torches and shouting white supremacist bullshit. the cheeto was put into office in the same way hitler was, by being a laughingstock no one took quite as seriously as everyone should have until it was too late. the nazis were able to implement their horrible genocide and acts of violence against non-white, non-straight people with the complicit silence of so many ordinary white citizens.

history repeats itself.

maybe the thing that dismays me so much about cheeto voters is that they have shown themselves to be who they are, not only a year ago during the election but also (and maybe more frighteningly) now, a year since. they dig their heels in, defend their choice by saying, i like how he tells it like it is, never mind that he has proven to be as ineffective, incompetent, and dangerous as we always knew he would be.

and maybe there is a kind of reassurance in the i like how he tells it like it is because there is a part of me that would rather look danger in the eye, exposed in all its insidious ugliness than hidden under niceties and illusions. there is a part of me that says, okay, it’s good that the bullshit of we live in a post-racial world that white people loved to spout during the obama presidency has been exposed for being just that, bullshit, that the same people who loved to pat themselves on the back for electing a black president have had to look themselves in the eye, whether individually or as a community, and see that they’re not all that progressive, they’re not all that great, in fact, they’re part of the goddamn problem.

or it could be a good thing, had there actually been that moment of reckoning. self-reflection, though, is too much to ask of most, and no one wants to admit to complicity.


one of the more sobering captions at the holocaust memorial museum came in the section that talked about resistance. this particular caption talked about ordinary citizens, and it ended with the paragraph:
 

factors such as the intensity of german occupation policies, local antisemitism, and proximity to a safe refuge often influenced the success of rescue efforts. in denmark, 9 out of 10 jews were saved; in norway and belgium about 1 out of 2; in the netherlands, 1 out of 4; and in lithuania and poland, fewer than 2 in 10 survived. when ordinary citizens became rescuers, jews had a chance of survival. (emphasis added)


this isn’t unique to jews during world war ii, either. slaves were able to escape the south through a network of ordinary citizens in america who hid them, ferried them to the next home of safety, fed them, risked their own lives for them. muslims from the countries on the cheeto’s travel ban, especially those who were already on flights when the ban was announced and airports thrown into chaos, were assisted by ordinary citizens who showed up at airports to protest, offer legal and/or interpretation services for free, provide support to families who were anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.

history repeats itself.

and maybe that’s another thing i’ve been learning this year — that we often forget our capacity to do so much even when we’re just “ordinary citizens.” by calling our congresspeople and holding them accountable, we can stand up for each other’s healthcare, for immigrants who risk deportation, for whatever fresh hell the gop tries to shove secretly through the government. by showing up, we can express solidarity for native people trying to protect their land. by donating as much as we can spare, we can help communities ravaged by disasters get basic things like hot food and drinkable water and clothes and sanitary napkins while they try to rebuild and recuperate their losses.

and the key word there is “we.” no one single person saves the world, despite the preponderance of superhero movies in the last decade (and, even then, justice league and avengers, anyone?). no one single person makes a difference. we all do it together, and we don’t do it by just making huge, grand gestures — we often do it by doing the least we can do. we do it by showing up. we do it by donating five dollars. we do it by being present, by keeping our eyes open, by defiantly and intentionally saying, never again.

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the main reason i wanted to go to d.c. was to go to momofuku. momofuku ramen isn’t my favorite ramen, although momofuku noodles are my favorite — i love their noodles — but momofuku hits all the nostalgia points in me that makes it one of my favorite bowls of ramen.

unfortunately, ccdc doesn’t have momofuku ramen anymore?!? they have other noodles but not the ramen! and apparently momofuku la might not have the ramen either?!? that makes me sad. i’ve literally been debating a vegas trip just to get some momofuku ramen, and i don’t gamble or go to clubs or enjoy going to shows, so i’d literally be going to vegas just to get some momofuku ramen and that seems kind of exorbitant, even for me.

i just want a taste of home.

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[travelogue] chasing meals.

i think about food pretty much all the time.

while i’m eating a meal, i think about what i want to eat for my next meal. as i’m trying to fall asleep, i think about what i want to eat tomorrow, what i want to cook, what i’m craving and why i’m so fucking hungry and how i can’t fall asleep because of it. i follow a fair number of food people on instagram, so i spend a fair amount of time every day looking at food and being cranky that i can’t eat any of it. i read about food constantly, whether on food blogs or in food magazines or as food memoirs or cookbooks — so, basically, i’ve got food on my mind pretty much all the time.

(maybe the one oddity is that i don’t watch tv about food, but that’s also one of the few things consistent about me: i don’t watch much tv in general.)

i know there are people for whom food is a nuisance, something that must be consumed merely for sustenance and nothing else, but i am (clearly) not one of those. food, for me, especially these days, has come to be a sort of hope, this one thing that i can anticipate and look forward to and enjoy on a regular, daily basis, even while everything seems to be going to shit around me. these days, i feel like i’m existing on a precipice, trying so hard not to lose myself entirely to darkness, to nothingness and hopelessness, and i swear this is a battle i’m constantly losing.

and, so, i eat. i cook. i think about food.

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this past weekend, i moved out of my apartment in new york city, and, with the help of my family, i packed and loaded as much of my stuff as possible into a mini-van and discarded the rest. i’m currently in the process of driving across the country, back to california, and am currently typing this in a hotel room in charleston, even though i should be sleeping to continue on the next leg to atlanta tomorrow.

i can’t sleep, though, so here we are.


the first leg of my trip took me from nyc to dc, where i went straight to momofuku ccdc because, as it goes, i set my navigation to guide me to restaurants.

last night, i laughed this off as a continuation of my ongoing inexplicable fascination with all things momofuku. today, though, when i think about it, i think it must have been the obvious thing that i would run immediately to something familiar. i mean, to an extent, i know momofuku. i know what the food will taste like. i know what the restaurant will look like. i know the logo, the ssam sauce, milk bar.

it reminds me of home, and, when i was in dc, when i was sitting at the bar in ccdc, slurping noodles and drinking a vodka cocktail, i could forget that i’d just lost my home and that i can’t go back, not yet, not for some time.


when i first had momofuku a few years ago, i didn’t think that much of it. i remember loving the noodles but finding the broth too salty, too spare, and i kind of simply checked it off my list of places to eat and moved on.

recently, though …

momofuku makes my favorite ramen noodles (i believe they’re made in-house), and i can’t get over them. they’re the perfect texture and thickness, just slippery enough and easy to slurp (because noodles must be slurped), and i like that they’re not generic or given less care than the broth or pork. i think noodles are kind of like rice — they’re often seen and dismissed as a basic part of a dish, but, if you have bad rice, bad noodles, the entire thing is wasted.

(FIG [below] gets at this, too. i asked the waiter what he thought of their pork dish, which comes over rice, and he said that they consider the rice just as important as the pork. that kind of care and attention comes through on the plate.)

the more i eat momofuku ramen, the more i like how balanced it is; it’s a bowl that just comes together very well; and ithits all the right notes of comfort and satisfaction and quality. it definitely served as comfort last night, and it’s a bowl i will miss intensely when i’m away from nyc. they did just open a restaurant in vegas, though …

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my navigation today brought me to FIG, where i spent way more on dinner than i should have. my budgeting philosophy is simple, though:  eat one great meal a day, and eat crap/starve for the rest, because i’d rather have one great meal than three mediocre/crappy ones.

because here’s the thing: there are a lot of really shitty things about suicidal depression, but, for me, one of the worst things that happens is that it takes away focus, and, when it takes away focus, it takes away books. depression often makes it really difficult for me to read, to sit down and focus on a book, to derive joy from that. i don’t know why that is, but it is.

food, then, fills in for everything.

part of it is likely to do with the fact that i have to eat, whether i want to or not, whether i have an appetite or not. i get hungry, and i feel worse because i’m hungry, so i have no choice but to rouse myself out of my mentally catatonic state and do something about my body’s basic needs. this isn’t to say that depression hasn’t taken food away from me at times, too — there were weeks last year when i got by on rice and hot dogs and fried eggs and ketchup because i didn’t have an appetite and that’s all i could get myself to cook and eat.

after a while, though, my mouth starts to revolt, and it starts craving things. it starts wanting noodles and kimchi and pork. it starts wanting to chew something with more heft, to taste something with more depth and flavor, to eat something that’s actually food and not questionably-processed foodstuffs. it wants green things, bright things, interesting things. it wants to feel alive.

and, so, i let food get me through the day. i think about food a lot. i think about what i want to eat, what i want to cook, and what i need to do to make this meal happen.

i let food give me purpose, and, in that way, i let food create a sort of hope for me.


and, so, i picked my cities by food.

at the moment, i’m still kind of numb to everything, including my depression, including my grief. the road has that kind of effect, but i’m starting to feel that numbness fade away, too, and, as i get further and further away from home and everything that i love, it’s all going to come fully crashing down on me. i’m going to have to figure out how to process my grief, how to grieve, how to start piecing myself back together. i’m going to have to work on learning to manage my depression in more sustainable ways. i’m going to have to muster up the energy to fight for my life and get back home and not die in california.

until then, though, for this week at least, to hold myself together for this 3,300-mile drive, i’ll go on chasing meals.

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