Saturday, December 30, 2006

Trip of tummy troubles

I haven't been posting lately. But here is a little taste of what we've been doing:

Dec 21. Finish frantic packing. Attend kids' school pagent. Hop on airport bus. Terrible traffic. Arrive at Incheon 40 min before scheduled departure. Check-in agent doubts they can get the luggage in on time, tells us we need to be at the gate by 5:20 or we're screwed (in nicer language). Luckily no one in immigration and customs, though I get stopped as always for having many tiny metal objects in my carry-on (trains, cars, etc.). KC leaves first to pick up the stuff from pre-shopped duty free. Of course our gate is the farthest away. I hold Max, pull the suitcase, Aiden pulls his and we sprint through the airport (Aiden, I have to say, is a trooper and a born athlete) and arrive at the gate soaking with sweat and panting at 5:15. I hover around the entrance blocking them from closing the gate and KC sails in at 5:18.

On plane. Serving Singapore slings (Singapore Air: love that airline). Haven't really drunk in the last 6 years, am parched from running, didn't get to have dinner before boarding as in previous plan. Tastes pretty good. 10 minutes later am drunk.

Dec 21 (U.S. time now) arrive in SFO. Due to rental car gaffe am upgraded to an Infiniti with bluetooth and GPS device. We like it. We'll take it.

Dec 22. Eat excellent Cuban food in San Jose. Declare "this is now one of my favorite restaurants!" Begin what appears to be several weeks of gluttony. Eat and enjoy to fullest extent.

That night: 10pm - 4am. Discover that after 3 years of Korean food, stomach is not able to handle other delicacies. Spend 6 hours vomiting. Did not know that it is possible to vomit that much and still be able to walk around. Did not realize how much food I had consumed. Was given opportunity to relive the night's meal over and over again. Max keeps waking up and searching the house for me, calling "Mommy where are you?" Vocal chords stopped functioning after the first hour of puking so can't respond. KC wakes up periodically and reigns him in. Our friends (whose bedroom is next to the bathroom) will never let us stay with them again.

4am scheduled departure for drive down to LA and San Diego. Am still clinging to the toilet and covered in sweat, mumbling "Please god make it stop"

7am After shower manage to regroup and hit the road.

9am Aiden throws up all over himself and car seat. We pull over by a farm in Gilroy, smell of garlic mixing with vomit. We thank the stars for wet wipes. Cover the car seat in plastic (impossible to scrub all the fabric now, can't detach it) and continue.

11am? More puking. me again. Bag leaks and our poor Infiniti is baptised yet again.

Time has no meaning. Aiden again. We decide to skip LA and head straight to San Diego.

3:30pm. Arrive in San Diego. Collapse greatfully into bed. KC hoses down the car seat.

next day or so... rest. Start feeling human. Dare to engage in a tete-a-tete with some food. Spend another sleepless night with my new intimate friend, Percy the Porcelin Convenience.

Skip to the 27th. Drive 12 hours from SD with a stop in LA to SF. Make it to within 20 minutes of our destination and Max lets loose with his share of puke. Too much, in fact, for us to clean up, so we opt to speed to my cousin's house, showing up at the doorstep demanding towels, running water, and disinfectant. His care seat gets thoroughly sanitized.

Today. Finally made it through a day with no gastrointestinal difficulty. We are leaving California, the state of Puke, and heading for Washington, D.C. -- a new time zone and a new chance at gluttony? Or at least putting some color into my cheeks again? Getting something out of the trunk of the rental car I pull a back muscle.

Somehow we make it through the flight, through getting steadily demeaned at every turn in the airport (when did Americans become so rude? And why do TSA agents feel the need to make everyone feel stupid and small?) Am now settled into my mom's place, coked up on expired Advil and immobile for the time being. Good time to update my blog, right?

Happy Holidays everyone!

Friday, December 15, 2006

a good way to give

Looking for last minute gift ideas or ways to help out this time of year? Check out today's printculture article on

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Crap. I thought I was picking an unusual name. So much for that.
After growing up with such a common name, we really tried to find something uncommon. Can't tell you how many times I got e-mails intended for someone else, or how many times they mixed up my chart in the doctor's office.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

text msgs

November and December have been busy months. Haven't had much time to post.
I have been compiling a list of uses of cellphone text messenging... seems like a good time to post what I have so far (especially since this time of year brings SO MANY MESSAGES!)

short list of text msgs:
-results of hospital tests
-confirm appointment with doctor
-reminder of school field trip
-coordinating soccer schedules
-confirmation of receiving tuition for taekwondo
-exhortation to pray for church member who is having surgery
-notification of death/funeral
-advertisements for money loans, other spam
-message from foreign ministry about leaving the country
-reminder of elementary school, middle school, high school reuinions
-credit card charge
-notices from the government about: missing people, inclement weather, etc.
-all other social uses: "I will be late," "it was good to see you," "where are you?" "what time will you be home?" "can your kid play today?" "do you have so-and-so's number?" etc.

KC: You can’t be an adult without a cell phone. You miss too much information.
Like not wearing underwear. You can do it, but its uncomfortable.

Am sure I’m not the only one who considers this a new medium, with new grammer, abbreviations, physical skills, and a new way of tying people together.

But also new systems of doing things. Koreans don't leave voice messages, either text or call back. They don't worry so much about being on time or setting definite meeting places, because they can always call. Phones are also used to pay for things -- on public transportation, in cafes and conveninece stores.
The phone has become part of one's identity, even part of one's body. Cyborgs of the world, unite!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Interpretive Eating

The new Rorschach medium: rice.

This fine one was done by Aiden. Can you guess what it is?

OBVIOUSLY it is a map of the world. He likes to say, "Mommy, I'm eating North America! I'm eating Antarctica!

That's my boy.

Here is another map of the world, this one done by me:

Those are collages of our travels around the border. You can't really see the color coded post-it flags on the map, but they're there (though Max likes to move them around). Aiden made the flags. I used to make these out of real photographs, but they curled at the edges. Now I do them on powerpoint and get them printed and laminated. Much better. Plus I like going to the office supply store. There's something very satisfying about laminating things.

Hmmm. I just re-read that last sentence. I can just hear someone screaming, "Get a life!" If I start sculpting things out of rice, I know I'm really in trouble.


We recently returned from a trip to Shanghai. Interesting: I can’t hit any blogger sites from there. Blocked? A problem with my Dad’s provider?

Observations of myself from this trip: you know you’ve been traveling too much when you no longer get excited or panicked about it. I used to start packing at least a week ahead of time -- not so much because of the clothes but because of all the bribes, toys, medicines, and just-in-case things needed for travel with small children. I would hide old toys away a month in advance so that I could magically produce them on the plane/restuarant/etc. and the little ones would be distracted for a little while. Now I have my systems in place: my stash of old toys, my Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase full of stickers, stamps, paper, crayons, matchbox cars, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, colored rocks, etc.; my ziplock of medicine and my first aid kit (which I carry every day anyway, complete with about 15 different types of band-aids). And my kids have been trained pretty well too; something I realized when I travelled with my in-laws recently. It was like having 2 extra kids, but kids who were not accustomed to traveling and didn’t know all the rules. KC and I have done trips together so many times that we work well as a team, communicating almost telepathically, each knowing our duties. I remember heading to the States last year; we were, as always, running late and rushing toward the gate with our friend Joe whom we happened to meet at Duty Free. No time to take off all of Max’s coats, no hands to carry them. So as soon as we got to the gate Max threw up all over himself and me (he is very sensorially sensitive, overheating makes him puke). Joe pulled back in horror and surprise as we wordlessly went to work, me quickly stripping off Max’s clothes and putting them into a plastic baggie, changing him into set of spare clothes and changing my shirt as well; KC going at it with the wet wipes, Aiden checking the status of the boarding. Five minutes later we were on the plane, leaving an impressed Joe to admire our particular version of parenting triage. (Tangentially, I brought 4 changes of clothes for Max and 1 for myself that trip, and we needed almost all of them: he vomited again on the plane and also in the car on the way to my mom’s house.)

Anyway, this was a short flight, and we go to Shanghai several times a year to visit my father who is living a truly cushy ex-pat life: nice serviced apartment, driver, the works. Basically we go to mooch and eat really wonderful food. We stuff ourselves silly, use the hotel pool, sit on a real SOFA (we only have a kid’s sofa) and CHAIRS (we sit on the floor at home). The kicker is figuring out how to fit the 4 of us on the queen-sized bed. We push one side against the wall and push a small sofa on the other side, then KC and I squeeze ourselves rather uncomfortably around the kids, trying not to move or get kicked, dealing with the small space and weird sleep effects of MSG and heavier Chinese cuisine.

One effect of moving to Korea was to “go native”: we have very little furniture. We sleep on the floor, we eat on the floor, we recline on the floor. Originally we wanted to avoid buying furniture because we only intended to live in the country for a year (we’re now 3.5 years into this adventure) and anyway our apartment is so small that it is a much better use of space to sleep/eat and then put away the “yo” (like a futon) or table and use that space for legos or train tracks. But we’ve gotten used to sleeping on the floor now and quite like it.
We are big co-sleeping people. The four of us all sleep together, kids talking in their sleep, rolling and kicking around, and occasionally peeing in the bed. On the floor we have more room to spread out (we put 2 “yo”s together), we don’t have to worry about them falling off, and movement doesn’t disturb the others as much as on a mattress. I know co-sleeping is still a matter of debate in the U.S. but I just have to jot down my thoughts on the matter.

1. It is not for everyone. I haven’t really had a good night of sleep since I had Aiden 6 years ago, but that also has to do with breastfeeding and with other work I was doing. My husband sleeps through it well though.
2. I find the arguments about co-sleeping somehow hampering the development of independence or damaging the child psychologically to be, well, bullshit. I agree with Dr. Sears on this: making the child feel safe and cared for will encourage independence. Aiden is incredibly independent, and part of that is his personality, but it is also because we make him feel safe enough to venture out and come back. KC slept with his parents and brother in one big room until he was quite old (9?) and still remembers waking up from nightmares, reaching out for his mother’s hand, and going right back to sleep. Co-sleeping is still pretty common here, for reasons of culture and space, and although I can see that there are different cultural understandings of “independence” I don’t see that they are so large that we should embrace a psychological theory that puts so much of this world into the category of deviant and psychologically doomed.
3. Personally I love sleeping with my children. We experimented with having Aiden sleep in his own room when he was young (because my pediatrician recommended it, he was anti-co-sleeping) and I got even less sleep because I was always going in to make sure he was still breathing, make sure he hadn’t been kidnapped, etc. I like having them next to me where I can see that they are safe and admire the beauty of their sleeping forms. I envy them for surrendering to sleep so completely and for being so ecstatic to wake in the morning.
4. As adults, don’t most of us prefer to sleep with someone else? Someone we love, with whom we feel comfortable and safe? Why wouldn’t that preference be stronger in children, and is preference something that needs to be weeded out from a young age?

built environment 1

Walking thoughts (I was going to make this “Walking in Seoul II” but it is more like “random thoughts about the built environment”)

Me: dark hair, dark eyes, glasses, MP3 dangling from my neck. My internal beat: newly downloaded song “Naughty Girl” by Beyonce. That Beyonce, she has some talent. I can walk really fast to this music, I can shove old ladies aside with abandon. That’s the thing that sets me apart in this picture -- the way I walk. Long Stride. Brisk Gait. What they call here “씩씩해” (I love that word.) A Whatchoolookinat kind of walk.

Uneven pavement. Construction. Each street corner could potentially end your life. Delivery men on scooters who could join Cirque du Soliel with their amazing balancing acts: I’ve seen them carrying an umbrella (in the rain), talking on the cell phone, balancing hot food AND still managing to weave through traffic all at once! Now that’s skill. Of course I’ve also seen them cleaning the blood off the street and the funeral procession coming to visit the markings on the street afterwards: “feet” “head” “motorcycle.” This man, he wanted to be a writer, a street artist, he wanted to make his mark on the world. Instead his life and body are reduced to painted descriptions, to be run over again and again.

City life: what an interesting textual and sensory jungle. This new apartment building is “More Human Than Human.” (I have to remember to take a picture of that sign.) People talking loudly into their cell-phones. The smells of sewers which for some reason are always placed at intersections. Tent “restaurants” ("포장마차") set up on the sidewalks and in alleys, emitting smells of ddokboki and soju, drunken laughter and “Aigu, what is to be done. It is too difficult.” Riding the subway in the morning you can smell the garlic and alcohol seeping from the pores of barely-sober men hanging onto the handles for dear life. Jackhammers. People gently pushing and shoving their way through the crowd. Honking. Smoking. In the morning, occasionally a puddle of vomit in the sidewalk. Dogs, usually no larger than my diaper bag, wearing fancy outfits and elaborately groomed. Old men and women picking up trash.

Buildings are a jumble of signs of all colors and sizes proclaiming their contents. Samsung Tower Real Estate + phone number + 4th floor. Idea Glasses + phone number + 3rd floor. Myung-Ga restaurant + phone number + 2nd floor. Character Dentist + phone number + 1st Floor. You get the idea. It is the visual equivalent of electric shock therapy. Or perhaps an experiment: how many colors and words can this young, music-video raised generation take in at one time! This old fogey sure has had trouble. When my reading speed was slower it took me too long to sort through all the text and the stimulation so I made an effort to tune out. Now I’m better at subconscious scanning.

Why all the signs? This is a walking city. In the U.S., if you suddenly break out in hives and need to see a dermatologist you look online, or in the yellow pages, or ask your friends for the name of a good one, look up the address, and drive there. It is a goal-based drive, point to point. Here you can just walk around until you find one. That’s precisely what I did -- just walked down the block looking at the buildings until I found one a stone’s throw from my apartment. The doctor wasn’t in so I continued on across the street and found another. Walked in and had allergy medicine in no time. Back home it was the trees and grass that got to me; here it is the dust. That, perhaps, and the air pollution.

We live in Gangnam (literally “South of the river”), which was farmland before the 1970s. Now it is high rises, gridded streets, Starbucks on every block, and rows and rows of apartments. Gangbuk (“North of the river”) is the older part of the city with a labyrinth of alleys and buildings from multiple areas (the occasional colonial building, rebuilt Chosun dynasty palaces, and many buildings from the 50s on. I know pockets of Gangbuk, which is where KC grew up, but in general it confuses me geographically and architecturally.

Gangnam doesn’t look that different from parts of Eastern Europe: rows and rows of concrete apartment blocks. We live in one of those rows, in fact -- a squat, unadorned block of concrete with cracks and fading paint. The first time my parents came to visit and saw our apartment they asked, “Is this subsidized housing?” No Mom, but thanks for the compliment. The cheapest and most efficient way to build, KC reminds me, for a country with few resources to spare. (aside: Look at Malaysia, I argue. They’re building like crazy but they add a little something here and there to give the high rises some aesthetic value, and to give them the flavor of more traditional Malaysian architecture.) Here in Seoul the beautiful mountains are being raised to fill up with more ugly apartments.

Seoul is a wonderful, safe, livable city, but it is not a beautiful city. Coming from the Land of Strip Malls I don’t know if I have any right to complain about the aesthetics of Seoul, but every time I go to a city with beautiful buildings, or see any of the older temples nestled in the mountains of Korea, I wonder what Seoul would look like with just a small attention to architectural beauty and more of an emphasis on retaining some of the traditional architectural forms. Stop cutting down mountains, for goodness sake! What would Tangun say???

That was my rant about aesthetics.