[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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life is something you need to digest.

궁지에 몰린 마음을 밥처럼 씹어라
어차피 삶은 너가 소화해야 할 것이니까
-  천양희, “밥”

chew on your feelings that are cornered
like you would chew on rice
anyway life is something that you need to digest
-  chun yang hee, “food” (53)

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is it possible to miss someone you don’t even know? or is it the idea of what that someone could be to you? is it that hole you feel in your life that makes you think, hey, you could fill this; this gaping emptiness might be shaped like you?

sometimes, i think all the stories i write are about loneliness because loneliness is the thing i want to solve, the thing i wish i could banish from my life. similarly, sometimes, i think the fact that i love to read is that it is, in some way, an act in pursuit of that salvation, and, sometimes, i think i get close, only to realize that nothing much has changed despite all my best efforts — they’re all illusions and pretenses that fall away one day, like jean rhys writes in wide sargasso sea (norton, 1966):

‘i know that after your father died, [your mother] was very lonely and unhappy.’

‘and very poor. don’t forget that. for five years. isn’t it quick to say. and isn’t it long to live. and lonely. she was so lonely that she grew away from other people. that happens. […] for her it was strange and frightening. and then she was so lovely. i used to think that every time she looked in the glass she must have hoped and pretended. i pretended too. different things of course. you can pretend for a long time, but one day it all falls away and you are alone.’ (rhys, 100-1)

loneliness is a slippery topic, maybe one of those things you write about by not writing about. except i’m trying to write about it by writing about it. let’s see if this works.


i recently read helen oyeyemi’s what is not yours is not yours (riverhead, 2016), a collection of short stories, some of which are interconnected by multiple appearances of the same characters. the stories contain magic realism (which i normally don’t enjoy), an abundance of beautiful diversity, and several references to korean media culture (which amuses me much), and oyeyemi is a deft, skilled writer with a clever sense of humor and some seriously beautiful prose.

what i loved most, though, is how oyeyemi populates her world with people as we exist in the [real] world. her characters are situated not only in their individual stories (and lives) but also in the stories (lives) of others, and this manner of interconnectedness serves not so much to provide narrative continuity but, rather, to show how lives intersect.

we exist in a web of human interactions — in our own lives and narratives, we are the people we are with our own ambitions and relationships and struggles, but we are also present in others’ lives, whether as renters of a flat or as a coworker in a clinic who shares an adolescence with a puppeteer or as an architect of a mysterious house of locks. we pass through the peripheries of strangers’ lives; we play witness to moments and events and occasions; and we carry along these strings that trail us, creating new connections with every brief encounter and adding to this web in which we carry out our lives.

maybe to think of loneliness in this context is a telling thing, but the interconnectedness of people doesn’t mean that any of it is necessarily particularly meaningful in and of itself — and neither does oyeyemi try to make it so. she doesn’t play up these connections to dramatic effect, simply introduces new characters, tells us their stories, and casually places them within the larger network of characters in her book.

by doing so, she reminds us that we exist in a framework that is larger than ourselves, that we cross paths with so many in our lifetimes, that we are sometimes shaped by these experiences and sometimes not. she reminds us that we touch each other’s lives, that we have the capacity to do so, and she reminds us that we live in constant contact with other people. she reminds us that, in many ways, we are not alone.


having fallen into lucy’s bed, they didn’t get out again for days. how could they, when lucy held all safiye’s satisfactions in her very fingertips, and each teasing stroke of safiye’s tongue summoned lucy to the brink of delirium? they fell asleep, each making secret plans to slip away in the middle of the night. after all, their passion placed them entirely at each other’s command, and they were bound to find that fearsome. so they planned escape but woke up intertwined. […] the situation improved once it occurred to them that they should also talk; as they came to understand each other they learned that what they’d been afraid of was running out of self. on the contrary the more they loved the more there was to love. (oyeyemi, “books and roses," 11-2)
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i’ve been asked before if it’s weird to eat alone in restaurants, if i don’t feel self-conscious doing so, and the answer is no. i’d like to say that it’s a result of some kind of courage or indifference to the world’s opinions, but, sometimes, i wonder if it weren’t simply a result of loneliness, of long being used to burying my nose in a book and learning to be on my own.

this isn’t to make myself sound like i’m incapable of maintaining human relationships or am absent friendships, an incorrect perception of loneliness, i find.

loneliness has nothing to do with the quantity of people in your life, and neither is it an indictment of the people in your life. there’s a lot that goes into loneliness, various disappointments, insecurities, distances. there’s loss, and there’s yearning, and there are layers to it, too, because loneliness isn’t something that’s solved by simply being in physical proximity to people.

in the end, i think we grapple with loneliness in different ways. some might look towards faith; they might view this sense of emptiness as something that all humans have because it’s a symptom of brokenness, of humanity’s need for god, a greater being to make some sense of a broken world and offer absolution. others might throw themselves into the world, chasing human connections in any form through any means, and some might self-medicate to try and numb themselves to it all. others might direct all their energy into work, into at least building something of themselves in their professional lives, because, then, at least, they’ll have that and they can go home, exhausted, and never think about what they’re missing.

in one way or another, we learn to live with it — or we don’t, and it takes us down, piece by piece.


you told me about how stories come to our aid in times of need. you’d recently been on a flight from prague, you told me, and the plane had gone through a terrifyingly long tunnel of turbulence up there in the clouds. “everyone on the plane was freaking out, except the girl beside me,” you said. “she was just reading her book — maybe a little faster than usual, but otherwise untroubled. i said to her: ‘have you noticed that we might be about to crash?’ and she said: ‘yes i did notice that actually, which makes it even more important for me to know how this ends.’” (oyeyemi, “is your blood as red as this?,” 102)

i’m not new to momofuku, but i’ve recently become obsessed with trying all the momfuku — or all the momofuku i can because, one, i’m restricted by geography and, two, i doubt i’m going to be eating at ko any time soon (insert crying face emoji here).

(i fully credit the new yorker’s recent profile of times’ food critic pete wells for this.)

as i went hopping around the various momofuku restaurants in the city, i thought about passion. given our current political and social climate, i also thought about the synthesis of passion and purpose, that result when passion finds that thing that makes it more than a singular, ultimately self-driven obsession. we live in a culture that makes a romanticized figure of passion, that ignores all the ugliness and isolating sides of it, but, then, passion becomes a thing that fuels purpose, and i think that maybe we’ve got the right idea about it after all.

(it’s still a narrow, shallow infatuation, though, that totally ignores all the work and discipline and sacrifice that go into taking passion and making something worthwhile of it.)

and this is the thing about all the great stories — that they’re created by, told by people who started off with something they loved, something they pursued absolutely because it was what they loved absolutely, and, in their pursuit of excellence in their fields, they discovered something greater than pure craft. it’s that something that brings them back to the desk, the kitchen, the practice room because they have something they want to share, some comfort they have to offer. 

and that, too, is one way of dealing with loneliness, by stepping out of yourself and into these webs and trying to bring something more to these shallow connections. to some, it looks like putting your heart into preparing a meal and providing more than mere nourishment, and, to others, it’s sharing vulnerabilities, beauty, and hope through stories, photographs, music. whatever the craft, whatever the medium, the beauty about art, to me, is that artists give you the gift of their heart, and, in the end, to create is to make an effort to leave a mark, to comfort, to be together in a shitty, terrifying world.

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(idk why this peach is so yellow; it should be more orange, more peach-y.)

and, so, how did i like momofuku?

noodle bar serves one satisfying bowl of ramen, though the egg is too soft and too runny for ramen; nishi’s impossible burger is fantastic and its spin on jajangmyeon is delicious, if maybe a tad salty (the crunch from the green beans is a nice touch); and the pickled daikon at fuku is so good. i liked the sandwiches, too, but found myself wishing they’d been made of breast meat because the thigh meat was too fatty, too moist, lacking the heft i would have liked. the chili cheese fries were good, too; they had a nice kick to them. the glaze on the slow roasted pork shoulder at ssam bar was fabulous; i could go though bottles of that like water; and i loved the chive pancake.

overall, i appreciate what david chang is doing with his restaurant empire, and i like seeing how he takes korean/asian food and twists it up and thinks about it in different ways. it’s interesting, and interesting is one of the highest compliments i’ve got — along with consistent because momofuku is also consistently branded, embracing warm woods and streamlined, minimalist spaces. each restaurant’s business cards are also on brand, too, each with its own little twist. i just love when all these things are thought through.


favorite stories from what is not yours is not yours:

  • “books and roses”
  • “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea”
  • “is your blood as red as this?”
  • “presence”