Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Walk Down Drury Lane.

It's raining outside, pouring, actually, and my pants are soaked to the knees. My shoes have turned into galoshes, except instead of repelling the water, they seem to have absorbed the entire contents of multiple puddles.

I'm reliving my Stratford days. Except I'm not in Stratford-upon-Avon, but rather, reminiscing down various streets in London. I can't believe it's been 6 years.. what I wouldn't do to relive those days. The greatest time of my life. In some ways, I feel all traveling is an attempt to recreate or recapture that time.. when everything was so vibrant and life was nothing but a stream of possibilities.

It's funny revisiting that now. I'm older, but not that much older. Can't say I'm all that wiser, though I've picked up a thing or two in my foray into the real world. And yes, it feels good to be back, but I'm finding it's not a place that a memory makes. What's lacking are the people. That, and the fact that our beloved Drury Lane Moat House has been converted into a Travelodge. A Travelodge!

As I'm wandering down the streets of Covent Garden and Leicester Square, I'm flooded with images. There's the Drury Lane theatre where we saw My Fair Lady (and sweated profusely in the unventilated balcony). They say it's haunted, or so says M. Sasek in his book "This is London." I love M. Sasek. Said production has since shuttered and Oliver! starring Rowan Atkinson has taken its place. The open air market and Molton Brown are still there, untouched by the recession, but I'm really quite dismayed to find not even a trace of Eat My Handbag Bitch.

Around the corner, past where we saw that discarded heroin needle, is the market. To be 21 again and falling over into gutters in front of corner markets at three in the morning (you know who you are) and discovering Topshop for the first time..

Moving on to Leicester Square, there's the intersection where I'd be accosted with 'konichiwa's and 'ni hao ma's. Last I checked, I was still Korean, but what can you do. And ah, Oxygen. I find it comforting that that tourist trap of a club is still there. Gives one a feeling of solidarity, of continuity with the past. A breath of fresh air, if you will.

But ultimately, it's the feeling of not sharing this with good friends and classmates that settles in. Of watching plays, jumping in fountains, and of stealing digestives and custard creams off the room service carts.. These little memories are what I hold on to as I'm walking down Drury Lane in the pouring rain.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Conversations with Myself.

I'm standing in Paradeplatz after work one night, waiting for the 11 tram to come along. It's 8:36pm, and to my right is Credit Suisse, and behind me is UBS. I wonder what dastardly deeds and covert transactions transpired in these fine Swiss banking institutions today.

From a distance, I see the lit green sign on an approching tram, and the 11-Rehalp comes chugging along. I hop aboard, half listening to some NPR podcast playing the Decemberists' Hazards of Love, I think it is. I'm lost in my thoughts. My millions of thoughts occupying a simultaneously recessed mind. It's funny how that works.

Outside the window, I see the quai, and then the lights reflecting off the lake. The hustle and bustle of Bellevue and its many intersections comes along, and I notice they've changed the Ponyo adverts to some German poster I don't understand. Globus, Movenpick, and that yummy bratwurst stand flash across. Next up is Bahnhof Stadelhoften.

A woman boards the tram. She's an elderly woman, immediately finds her seat and proceeds to stare out the window. Glumly. Or so I think. It occurs to me to smile at her.

God, is that you? I wonder.

I turn my gaze towards the darkly swarthed woman, and the corners of my lips tip upwards. She's not looking.

But God, how am I supposed to smile at her, if she's not looking in my direction? Somehow, I feel pressured now to just get it done. 

The threshold has passed to make friendly eye contact. I ponder tapping her on the shoulder and grinning stupidly, but that's just straight up awkward. 

I wonder who she is. Did she just run to Migros, the local grocery store, after a long day of work, only to have missed store hours by 2 minutes? Does she have a relapsing daughter who refuses to seek treatment? WHAT IF she's having suicidal thoughts and this is the one thing that will keep her from jumping? Sure there are no cliffs in Zurich, but you never know.. One simple action..

Two stops later, the woman gets off, and I'm once again left alone with my thoughts, stumbling down tangents, thinking about everything and about nothing at all.

And so, I'm sitting, gazing out the window with the same far off look as when I boarded the tram. What dastardly deeds have newly opened safes unleashed tonight, Credit Suisse? 

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One Saturday in Zurich.

I've always wanted to live abroad. It's been one of those pipe dreams that I never really believed would happen, but I hoped nonetheless. About a month ago, the opportunity came along, tapped me on the shoulder, and how could I say no? I've always viewed Europe and the expat life to be one of bohemian glamour and promise. And now I find myself in Switzerland, living in Zurich for the next month, in an attic, no less.

I don't plan for things. In fact, I suppose things have more or less fallen into my lap, and because of this phenomenon, I have become rather ill-equipped at preparing. What I'm coming to realize is traveling to Europe while on exchange in college or while on vacation is completely different from coming to live in a new place, completely on your own. Being a natural introvert has its pluses and minuses.

I've found I'm the happiest at Orell Fussli, a local bookstore. Perching on one of the couches, occasionally glancing up at the passerbys, hoping the bookstore clerks don't mind me perusing one of their novels, getting their recommendations. I want to finish The Time Traveller's Wife because I am over half-way done, but I can't justify purchasing said book because I'm finding it to be awful. But I've come this far. And I leave with Murakami's memoir on running instead.

Today I slept in to catch up on the jet lag and proceeded to wander down alleyways in Old Town. Alleys are safe here - in fact, everything is safe. I have no qualms about wandering about late at night. I've been roaming around mapless, so I can't attest to where I've been, though I can describe what I've seen.

Having woken up at noon and moved into a room one floor below, I'm quite hungry and go searching for food. This is no easy feat, as food here in Switzerland is quite heavy and even more expensive. I'm in search of the doner kebab vendor I passed by some days ago. But I'm momentarily distracted by the flash of red awning and colorful burst of paper flowers, which can only mean one thing: Teuscher. So I head into Teuscher and proceed to order 5 different chocolates. A co-worker had warned me that chocolates here are different from the States - so rich that you can eat just one and be satisfied. One chicken kebab later, I decide to put her theory to test and find that one can, indeed, consume 5 Teuscher chocolates plus 3 Luxembourgli (macarons) from Confiserie Sprungli in one sitting and still crave more.

Outside the church of Chagall stained glass windows, I see a group of Korean grandparents. I want so badly to talk to them, to find comfort in the familiar, but it seems out of place. By the time I turn around to ask them a question, they've disappeared, and I curse my heightened sense of propriety.

Now I smell of gardenias. I've wandered into Kiehl's, a store I cannot walk by without entering, and have spotted a jar of essential oils. I am as well-versed in Kiehl's inventory as I am in the layout of San Francisco, so I find I must sample these new nondescript products which I've never seen. I vote for gardenia, finding amber to be overpowering.

I stumble upon a set of cobblestone stairs that I feel compelled to climb. I see sky at the end and wonder where this leads. And so up the stairs I go... to an open-air park overlooking the river Limmat. I'm drawn to a group of older men playing chess. The board is carved into the ground, and the chess pieces, massive. I long to be an old soul, shuffling chess pieces with my feet, surrounded by the company of local friends who've found each other through their love for the game. They edge each other on. One decisively, the other, consulting with voyeurs on the sidelines. Maybe I am an old soul. I make my way over to the swings and sketch instead.

One sketch later, I head towards the more crowded side of the park. Perched on a park bench overlooking the river and Zurich churches, I'm overwhelmed. All at once, I'm flooded with the beauty, the wonder, the loneliness, the opportunity that is my present.

Friday, October 2, 2009

On the Road.

I got to reminiscing about travels past and thought I'd resurrect some sketches circa 2005, right before I joined Google, incidentally.

Scenes from Seattle:

The Space Needle by day and by night. I didn't want to go up at first as was captivated by Gehry's Experience Music Project, but was eventually seduced by the iconic landmark. Am glad I went up, as the view was unbelievable, as was Jason playing tour guide. And I saw the launchpad where Burke and Alex board the helicopter to get that heart for Denny Duquette. And much to my chagrin, it's atop a television station, not a hospital. Hollywood.. goodness.

I absolutely love Seattle, and Pike's Market is my absolute favorite place in Seattle. I wanted to sit outside and sketch everything, but had to resort to taking photos and leaving the artistic renditions to later. But did not take proper pictures of the marketplace so had to resort to online images.. only to realize photo being referenced was outdated and that sign no longer states 'center'. So was not an authentic sketchcrawl, but that is besides the point.

Spontanaeity at its undistilled best. Good things come from me being spontaneous.

Monday, September 21, 2009


There is a magic word that one must learn before vacationing in Japan, and that word is "sumimasen." This nifty little phrase will come in handy when pushing through crowds, getting a sales associate's attention, you name it. Politeness is decorum in Japan, and I found the passive culture to be strangely refreshing.

As is habit when I travel, I guarded my bag with a ferocity. I soon relaxed as it dawned on me that petty crime is not a problem here. Sure, sexual perversions (maid cafes, anatomically, um, enhanced anime dolls) are a different story, but pickpocketing? Non-existent.

During my trip, I attempted to sketch my way around Japan. But it was hot. And humid. And so this is as far as I got:

There are five things that I quickly picked up on during my first few days in Tokyo:
1) Rare is the trash can on Japanese streets. This is a paradox, as for a city that populated, Tokyo is unnaturally clean.
2) You can buy anything from a vending machine. (Case in point: ramen at a Bourdain-approved restaurant.)
3) Japanese women do not sweat. I notice this as I'm more or less mopping my face while waiting in line for a Belgian waffle in Omotesando. Well-heeled and perfectly kept. They are freaks of nature.
4) Calpis is the greatest drink ever. And apparently, an empire. It also comes in chewable candy form.
5) The Japanese really, really like to gift wrap. Really.

In other news, we ate. And ate and ate and ate. From Michelin rated restaurants (Kondo) to street food in Osaka, I happily chomped away at the likes of sushi, ramen, and tempura shrimp legs.

And I've never seen such a high concentration of logos and luxury brands in my life. Beverly Hills and the Champs Elysees has nothing on Tokyo. Louis Vuitton stores are like Starbucks here - there's one on every other street corner. But the shopping is comparable to Paris more than anywhere else. My eyes perked up immediately at the likes of Comptoir des Cottoniers and A.P.C. with a dash of Y-3 sprinkled in. When in Tokyo, do as the Tokyo-ans do. And so I did. :)

As much as I loved Japan, I did find one thing disappointing though.
The yakuza count: 0. All pinky fingers were disappointingly intact.

Monday, September 14, 2009

In Memoriam.

Among the benefits of the likes of Facebook and Twitter are that you are infinitely plugged in. Amidst tweets of Kanye's latest indiscretion and the elegiac "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" Swayze references, I stumble across another tribute. A teacher from my high school has recently passed away.

I look back at my high school years and can't help but think it was utterly unremarkable - much of it my own doing. Sure I got A's and went on to university, but I had no desire to learn. Not really, anyway. Or more appropriately, I lacked the courage to learn. High school was a means to get by, blend in, and maintain the status quo. A time of intellectual curiosity suppressed, when personal detachment kept me from truly learning. Ends justified the means, which translated to letter grades - letter grades on a page - flat, without depth. And SAT scores aside, the truth was, I was positively mediocre.

I had taken Mrs. Phillips's World History class during my freshman year, and I hadn't understood any of it. From humble beginnings in Ur to ziggurats and a six-wived king, what I recall about this class was being frightened. Frightened of her expectations, frightened that she'd call on me. And call on me she did - the girl with the tiny voice. I still remember the day Mrs. Phillips beckoned this shy, momentarily resentful girl to stand up and yell to her, as if I were calling to a friend across campus. And still, my voice tremored, half-whispered while I lashed out at her in my mind. Her class was outside the box.

It hadn't occurred to me then that history reincarnates itself time and time again, in today's politics, yesterday's civic battles. The cycles of human behavior, gradations between the order and vagaries of life, the need (greed?) for expansion, religious claims from various sects, unapologetic tyranny... all of which constitute history. Each lesson running the gamut from fable to fact for me, as the chronological scale ticked on.

As I'm reading through these posts, I find I am overwhelmed with the regret of not having taken EHAP with Mrs. Phillips. The reason? Simple. It was going to be hard. I didn't learn it when I could have, but I suppose the important thing is I'm curious now. I want to know now, what it was that you were trying to teach me 13 years ago.

I want to know the events that influence our future. I want to envision the fertile grounds of Mesopotamia and the technologies of the day. I want to breathe life into the now impressive relics standing tall amidst tourists in Greece and Rome, and the mythology surrounding them. I want to understand advancements that may not immediately register to me as technology.. and then slowly experience that flickering light bulb moment. I want to learn the religious implications of the Crusades, of the persecution that resulted in so-called dissidents braving scurvy for these shores in pursuit of freedom. I want to know the importance behind Henry VIII's six wives, not just that he had them. I want to know how to argue and write a damn good essay, even though I will probably never write another paper again. I want to learn how atrocities, genocides are in any way justifiable, and how we can learn from them. I want to learn why we reap what we sow, and how we can change from what we know. I want to be challenged.

Thank you for teaching me. I didn't understand it at the time.

Mrs. Adrienne Phillips, may you rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Home Life.

My drawers at home are full, and the pantry, stocked. At any given point in time, I can slide open the bottom drawer in the upstairs bathroom and see seven bottles of shampoo and conditioner, three toothbrushes, still in its packaging, a stack of Dove original soap, courtesy of Costco, and a container of dental floss, with two missing. My mom likes to double up on coupons and still carries the ratty coupon case I made for Mothers' Day in YMCA day care circa the 2nd grade. I never pack toiletries when I go home, and my room looks just as it did eleven years ago. My home life is full.

My life in San Francisco is thread-bare. My cupboards are scant, save for the soba noodles and baking products. I've been meaning to replenish my jar of cotton balls for Lord knows how long, and the lightbulb in my room blew out three-and-a-half months ago. I've an abundance of CDs and books neatly stacked. I will read them one day. But in the meantime, I think I shall cart home some more. It takes me 3 weeks to unpack my suitcases, and sometimes, I fall asleep face down on a pile of clothes, as if I fell timberrrrrr unto the bed.

Just today, I toted home a paper Walgreens bag - its contents: jumbo cotton balls, a peach eye shadow palette, volumizing shampoo (having forgotten to purchase alongside conditioner during my last Target run), and one Symphony bar, the blue kind. This set me back $24, and I'm quite certain that my mother would have doubled the quantity of haircare products, amassed dental floss to last another seven years, and fed the family four times over with the same amount. I buy on the fly, and can barely even plan for the upcoming weekend, let alone two hours from now. All of that effort goes to work.

My mom is what they call boo-jee-ruhn-heh (that's uber-productive for non-Koreans). I'm nothing of the sort. Around the time I wake up on a typical Saturday morning, er.. afternoon, she has cooked up a storm, watched a Korean drama, gone hiking with my dad, picked lemons from our backyard tree, and visited her own mother - my grandma - in Irvine, one hour away. I, in turn, rub the sleep out of my eyes and happily munch on a Noah's bagel. And three hours later, drag myself to the beach for a leisurely jog, being sure to take the scenic route.

She says that she was the same way at my age, wandering down grocery aisles, contemplating the different soup cans, before sitting at home, sampling each and every one. Rarely cooking until she got married, which she tries to push upon me. I politely decline. I kind of want to fall in love, and I haven't done that yet. But what I don't tell her is, I've grown a little too comfortable being on my own; I find it hard to be convinced otherwise.

I suppose one day I'll learn to cook. And to plan. And to clip coupons. One day. But I'm not there yet.

Monday, June 15, 2009


27. It seems I am 27 now.

I'm 2 years into a new demographic.
I'm older than there are hours in a day.
I'm what the show would be called if Jack Bauer's daughter had more airtime.

When my mother was 27, she was married and living in a new country.
When my father was 27, he had earned his Ph.D.
When my grandmother was 27, she was working to provide for her 3 children after her husband had been kidnapped (& possibly killed) by the North Korean army.

And now that I'm 27..

Friday, April 17, 2009

Foiled Attempts at Joining Twitter (& Sleeping Early).

* generika
* erikac
* wanderlust
* audreyh
* misshepburn
* cleareyes
* fullhearts
* kaleidoscopeyes
* marmaladesky
* golightly
* funnyface
* attraversiamo
* haricotvert
* mascarpone
* bananapancakes
* typewritten
* rhapsodyinblue
* twittersucks

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The One That Got Away.

I had this vivid dream the other night, and I couldn't wake up - didn't want to wake up - even when I was supposed to help a friend move. And so I selfishly willed myself not to wake up. (Sorry Parkie.) It's not often that I have dreams, let alone remember them. But for some reason, I can't seem to shake this one, mostly because of who was in it. If ever there was a one that got away, this would be him. And I didn't want him to disappear.

I try not to let myself ruminate on boys past, and I often don't. With the exception of one. I suppose it was unlikely that we would have ever met, were it not for a single mutual friend. And even the memories that I have are random. A trip here, a storied confession there. Random questions and random locations, and me being ever so clueless. Knowing, yet not knowing. Denial, perhaps, sprinkled with a dash (okay, more than a dash) of ill-fated timing.

But when I explained my theory on timing, I had a friend call me out on this: "What you're doing is romanticizing the fact that you screwed up and were too immature to see what was right in front of you," he said. "Don't relegate this to timing - it's all on you."

Maybe he's right.

But maybe, you can't help what life stage you happened to be in and when, and it happens that way for a reason.

I'm not entirely convinced I believe in 'the one that got away.' Rather, I'm not convinced I want to believe it. Truth be told, it sounds completely one-sided - a creation in retrospect following a need to assign significance to events and possibilities past. I don't know that I like the idea of that. I guess I just don't like the idea of regrets, period, however nebulous. It is in some ways nothing more than a justification of a lack of foresight. And where is the closure in that?

Yeah, I wonder. I suppose I'll always wonder. Who knows if it would have even worked? Maybe, maybe not. Although it's been a while, I'm surprised to find he's still there, hiding out in the recesses of my mind, resurfacing in fleeting memories where I felt more alive than I can remember.

But things happen for a reason. And I'm a firm believer of that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Defying Gravity.

It's a Saturday afternoon, you walk into this place, and the regulars are doing their thing on various apparatus. Scott, the instructor, greets you, and you immediately take a liking to him and his quips. It's almost like a regular gymnastics gym - chalk bins and flexible people stretching and practicing handstands against the walls. And then you look up and see the net and trapeze bars and wonder how on earth this place came to exist. But you're glad it did.

And then you start watching the people around you. One starts bounding on the trampoline - using his body rather than feet. Bouncing off his chest, reaching the heights of the trampoline net. And in the corner of your eye, you see the guy juggling what resembles 8 orange bowling pins. The girl who was stretching on the mats next to you is now spinning upside down, contorting into forms seemingly unnatural to humans.

And then you snap back to reality and remember why you're here - trapeze. Trapeze, like surfing, is one of those things you figure would just come naturally to you. On your first attempt, you'd master the catch and release without a second thought. It looked easy enough.. on tv, that is.

Dora and Jennings saunter over and spot you as they walk you through the steps to trapezing. Step 1: Practice swinging your legs over a practice bar while Dora gives your butt a little shove. Step 2: Practice on actual trapeze bar, 20 feet in the air. Whatever happened to steps 1a, b, and z?

But all delusion melts away as you climb the long ladder to the podium. And as you grab the bar, right hand, then left, step off the podium and screeeeeeaaaam, the terror/delight/exhilaration rushes to you, and for that moment, you feel more alive than you have in ages.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Best Laid Plans.

It's a new year, and I feel the need to say something profound. But I don't know what that is. Instead, I'd like to kick off this new year with a plug:

Watch Friday Night Lights. Watch it because it's the best hour of drama out there, the best portrayal of marriage (Eric & Tami Taylor) possibly in the history of television. Watch it for the glimpse it offers into working class life in small town Texas - its ambitions and its hang-ups. Watch it for the inter-workings of faith in the South - sometimes genuine, sometimes not. Watch it for the beauty of awkwardness (Matt Saracen) and the sometimes honorable, often destructive charm of Riggins. Watch it to fall in love with a community as it rallies around its sole bright light and source of entertainment - the Dillon Panthers high school football team. Moving right along..

I've begun this new year with determination. Not the saccharine, resolution wielding kind of determination of years past. Simply, determination.

Determination to not mess it up.
Determination to be more honestly me, and less what I'm supposed to be.

I'm sitting here, typing away on my laptop, drinking tea. Well, inhaling the steam that arises from the tea, as it hasn't yet cooled to a temperature friendly to my tongue. I'm not quite sure what kind of tea this is, only that it's not a) green, b) chamomile, and c) earl gray.

I'm sampling music I don't particularly like. Yet. I feel as though I'm supposed to like it, but it simply hasn't caught yet. Arcade Fire, maybe I'll fall hopelessly in love with you 4 and a half months from now. But right now, I'm still stuck on Rihanna. I may quite possibly be the only San Franciscan not sick of Umbrella.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm kicking off this year not having anything in particular to say, no grand sweeping message to convey. No particular gesture of optimism or despair. I've yet to make a resolution, although the calves could use thinning, and avoiding the emergency room in my 3rd year at Google couldn't hurt (the statistics aren't in my favor for this one). Maybe I don't have to buy the 3.1 dress, even if it's massively discounted. I could actually listen to the podcasts I download, read those books I've left impressively on my shelves for years and years untouched. Jane Eyre & Murakami, for instance. Perhaps I can place less value in accomplishing, but reclaim my old passions. I think I'd like to be able to do the splits again.

I do know one thing though, and I'll leave you with that. If there's one thing I've learned from Coach Taylor and the Dillon Panthers, it's that clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.