Friday 5: Korea Guidance

I see your pun, Friday 5. Well played.

What would be a better name for the color of goldenrod-colored paper?

What’s wrong with “goldenrod”?

Where did you get your silverware?

Either IKEA or the grocery store downstairs.

It is a weird tradition in America (and possibly elsewhere) for parents to have their children’s baby shoes bronzed. What artifact from this past week would you have bronzed as a keepsake and heirloom?

Last week was pretty unremarkable. If I had to pick anything, it might be the toy dinosaur that lives with Chuck, one of my snake plants.

I have no sentimental attachment to the dinosaur or anything. (I bought as part of a Jurassic Park costume a few years ago.) I just think it would be funny to have it bronzed. Maybe I’ll just spray paint instead?

What was the most recent ceremony you attended?

The wedding I went to in August.

What east Asian cuisine is good for your Seoul?

I lived and taught in South Korea for over two years, as I’ve probably mentioned before, and one of the (many) things I miss big time is the food. The Korean diaspora means that Korean barbecue is familiar to most non-Koreans who live in any metropolitan area that approaches international; it seems that bibimbap is also gaining traction thanks to the recent health food obsession with “Buddha bowls.”

But that is only the tip of the iceberg, my friend.

Korean street food is the best, hands down. (Apologies to all of the gatuköks and Philly pretzel carts out there, but it’s true.) My favorite in this genre is tteokbokki: dense rice cakes in a sweet and spicy sauce. It wasn’t uncommon for teachers at my first school to spring for a whole tray of these for a “snack party” after a particular class finished a level test, since they were cheap, tasty, and filling. It helped that we had a little snack shack in the first floor of our building.

A step up from street food are the ubiquitous gimbap restaurants. I don’t know enough about Korean food history to know whether or not these restaurants predate the appearance of American-style fast food chains in the peninsula, but I would guess that they did. These places specialize in cheap, easy-to-make meals and are popular with broke students and people with criminally short lunch breaks. (This is also the kind of restaurant built into Korean spas.) The backbone dish of these restaurants is gimbap (rice, veggies, and sometimes meat rolled in a sheet of dried black seaweed) and all of its varieties, but the menus always include a wide assortment of variations on jjigaes, larger portions of popular street food, and a few odds and ends. Anything off the menu here will be fantastic, though my personal favorites are dolsot bibimbap, rabokki (a combination of the aforementioned tteokbokki and ramen), and cheesy ramen. I actually don’t care that much for gimbap, ironically enough, because I’m not a huge fan of black seaweed.

When it comes to “real” restaurants, places start to narrow down their menus to a handful of specialty dishes (or a handful of variations on one particular dish). Now you have your Korean barbecue restaurants, with various cuts of pork or beef to grill at your table. I preferred the chicken stir-fry equivalent, the marinated version known as  dak galbi; sometimes my coworkers and I even went out for duck. You have seafood restaurants, with raw fish, squid, and octopus. You have, borrowed from Japan, shabu-shabu. On a slightly lesser tier, you have chicken-and-beer joints. You have what are theoretically restaurants but are really bars with obligatory anju (bar snacks, or bar more-than-a-snack-less-than-a-meal), like stir-fried rice or seafood or kimchi pancake-fritters. (These bars are usually famous for the quality of their anju, though, so having to order to be allowed to drink isn’t a problem at all.)

But for me, the crown jewel of Korean cuisine is something else entirely. The city where I lived, Uijeongbu, is famous for budae jjigae, a relatively modern invention that takes a traditional jjigae and incorporates the kind of meat found in American military MREs: sausages, hot dogs and (of course) SPAM. Unlike other jjigaes, it’s usually served with ramen and glass noodles right in the dish.

A bowl of budae jjigae.
By LWY at flickr –, CC BY 2.0,

As far as I can tell, Korean entrepreneurs haven’t brought budae jjigae abroad yet. I guess the immediate connection with scraps and cast-offs from American military bases doesn’t really jibe with the image Korea wants to present to the rest of the world? But that’s a tragedy, because budae jjigae is so damn good. I’ve learned to make a lot of Korean food myself, to scratch my Koreastalgia itch, but the one thing that you can never just make yourself is budae jjigae. It’s a dish best cooked in huge heaping batches, tended by a watchful restaurant employee, and enjoyed in the company of others. Like, if I were fabulously, obscenely wealthy, I would open a budae jjigae restaurant in Stockholm. That is how much I love this dish. One day…!

Friday 5: Dog

Happy year of the dog!

What doglike traits do you possess?

I’d like to think that I’m an unflaggingly loyal ride-or-die friend. I’m also usually pretty optimistic (or as optimistic as being a realist gets you) and bounce out of bad moods easily, though I wouldn’t call myself full-on “cheerful.”

What’s your favorite dog movie?

I’m going to go ahead and count Babe in this one. It’s about a pig who acts like a dog and does a dog’s job in a dog’s world, so I say it’s close enough.

When did you last have a hot dog?

Probably when I had a tunnbrödsrulle from a random gatukök (literally “street kitchen”) back in the fall. For the uninitiated:

Two tunnbrödsrullar sitting next to each other on a wooden cutting board, one wrapped up and one open to display the contents (two grilled hotdogs, mayo, and salad).
Image from

I don’t really like hot dogs at all, but in the interest of Drunk Swedish Tradition opted to try one. The standard recipe calls for two but I could have sworn that mine only had one. It’s some of the heaviest drinking food I’ve ever had; it’s not a snack, it’s a full-on meal. (These days I opt for the sit-down kebab places and go for a plate. No less filling, but more manageable. And no hotdogs.)

Who is (or was) a good celebrity dog?

I always felt sorry for the chihuahuas that got toted along in celebrity purses. Has that stopped being a thing? I hope so.

What are you doing for chow this weekend?

Friday nights are pizza nights. Saturdays I usually have tea or coffee and some sweets at my morning tutoring appointment, then a small lunch at home,  then either dinner with one of my tutoring families (usually homemade pizza or a Persian dish of some variety) or at home. Sunday will be a morning tea and snack with another tutoring appointment, and then either food at home (sandwiches, pyttipanna) or take-out at a friend’s.

Friday 5: Rockit

What’s your favorite instrumental hit song?

You can never go wrong with Booker T and the MG’s!

What’s a good movie with rockets in in it?

October Sky? Apollo 13? I assume they’re good; I haven’t seen either in a long time.

The cover of the Voyager record.

In 1977, Voyager I took off on its very long journey, loaded with two golden records containing sounds meant “to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them,” according to Wikipedia. The contents were chosen by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan, but if Dr. Sagan called you today (you know, from beyond) and said there was room for ten more minutes of music and he was letting you choose it, what would you fill the ten minutes with?

Oh man, what a toughie! The original list is actually quite diverse (NASA has the playlist posted here) so the obvious answer would be musical genres that didn’t really peak until after 1977. Rap and hip-hop are, then, obvious contenders. Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything” has long been one of my favorites and incorporates the best elements of the genre.

And then for peak silly (because what are humans if not silly?), “Gangnam Style.” Of course, aliens won’t be able to understand what’s so silly about the song if they just listen to it divorced from the music video, but maybe they’ll still like the beat.

And much as I love Bach (the Brandenburg concertos are part of my work playlist), I would suggest maybe taking a couple of those of in favor of something else.

What’s something you know about constellations?

That for a star nerd, I’m really bad about actually being able to point them out. I can find Orion and Cassiopeia, and that’s about it. Finding the north star? Forget it.

When did you last spend time in a rocking chair?

So long that I can’t remember.

Friday 5: Goundhog Day

What’s your favorite Bill Murray performance?

His cameo in Zombieland is one of the best cameos ever, in any movie or TV show.

What’s been a highlight of your winter so far?

I’ve got some very good news about a couple of creative projects, which I’m being vague about here for multiple reasons.

What’s there to look forward to in the next six weeks?

The return of the sun and an end to the ice. I want to be able to go out running again!

Too early for flapjacks?

Maybe, but never too early for waffles.

If someone in a bar asks to buy you a drink (and let’s just say for the sake of the question you are amenable), what do you order?

A Long Island iced tea. Always a Long Island iced tea.

Friday 5: Returns

A few people skateboarding down Twin Peaks Blvd. in San Francisco on a sunny day.

What was the last item you returned or exchanged at a store?

I’m generally pretty conservative in purchases and don’t need to return or exchange things that often. I guess the last thing was some moldy veggie burgers? You can’t exactly see that something’s moldy through the cardboard packaging.

When did you last leave the house and then turn right back around and go back inside?

I do this fairly often, because I don’t have my life together. The last time I wish I had done that but couldn’t was when I realized I had forgotten the right journal page en route to a student.

What’s the latest you’ve ever returned a library book?

I’m a really good library user; I’m never more than a few days overdue, and rarely then!

What location among places you’ve traveled would you most like to see again?

I absolutely loved my long weekend in Indonesia and would love to go back for a longer visit. I’m also looking forward to traveling to South Korea for a wedding in 2019 (knock on wood!) and revisiting all of my favorites there–and possibly making some new ones?

What’s an unlikely movie sequel you’d like to see?

One of my fellow teachers in Korea once joked about “why didn’t anyone make a sequel to Titanic” except I wasn’t entirely sure that he was joking. I’ve never seen Titanic, though, and I have no interest in it, so that wouldn’t be a sequel I’d like to see (unlikely as it may be). Otherwise, is anything really an “unlikely” movie sequel these days? Anything and everything is up for grabs in terms of becoming a franchise, or at least a trilogy.

Friday 5: Just Desserts

What’s your favorite breath mint?

I don’t have one. I don’t use breath mints. I drink copious amounts of tea in the mornings, before I go anywhere or meet anyone, and hope that covers up anything objectionable.

What’s your favorite chewing gum?

I was partial to Wrigley’s when I was a kid. I tended to chew at least two sticks at once, and had a habit of just popping in another stick once the flavor ran out. Inspired by Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (not intended as a role model, I’m sure), one time I actually stuck one of those two- or three-stick wads behind my ear. It’s not as convenient as Roald Dahl makes it sound.

What do you like on an ice cream sundae?

Jimmies and crumbled cookies! I don’t really care for whipped cream, chocolate syrup, or cherries.

What do you put honey on?

I save honey for my tea when I have a cold.

Where do you go for a good muffin?

I’m rather fond of Espresso House’s Choco Fours, even though I am ambivalent at best about Espresso House.

Friday 5: Better Cliches

What’s something you really never forget how to do?

I think riding a bicycle really is one of those things, though? Swimming, too (if you ever learned how to, anyway). I would have been tempted to put down “The Electric Slide,” because it seems that anytime it comes up, it’s a collective cultural memory and that even if you couldn’t so it by yourself, the group knows how to do it—but at my friend’s wedding back in August the DJ put on “The Electric Slide” and no one could remember, so another friend who does contra dance had to actually call the moves for us. I guess you can forget how to do The Electric Slide!

It’s been going on five years since I worked as a cave tour guide, but I suspect you could put a maroon polo shirt on me and send me down as an auxiliary back-up guide without any problems.


What really has charms to soothe the savage breast?

And I still think music is the best answer to this one.  Otherwise: dopamine? sedatives?

What really makes the world go ’round?

When I went to Google a good explanation for the original cliche for this one, I automatically looked it up as “love makes the world go ’round,” forgetting that “money makes the world go ’round” is equally fixed in the English language. I guess I’m a little bit of an altruistic idealist after all!

But of course, what really makes the world go ’round is gravity.


What really makes the heart grow fonder?

Absence, but punctuated with periods of proximity.


What’s really the sincerest form of flattery?

I think imitation has some very creepy vibes to it. It says more about the person doing the imitating feels about themselves than how they feel about the person they’re imitating, a lot of the time. And I mean: flattery is usually about trying to get something out of someone, right? You wouldn’t go into your boss’s office to ask for some extra time off wearing the same watch and suit, for example. (You might mirror their body language, for example, but that’s not quite imitation, is it?)

So if flattery is an attempt to get something, and is by its nature insincere, what’s the most sincere form of that? The most honest form of flattery is, I suppose, a bribe.

The most sincere way to compliment someone, or to indicate your admiration, affection, or respect for them, is another matter entirely. For me, it’s the little things that count—randomly texting me when they think of something funny or sending me a link they think I’d be interested in, remembering something I’ve mentioned before. Small things they by no means have to do when it comes to being a friend, but do anyway.

Friday 5: One is Silver; The Other’s Gold

Gold and silver Victorian fascinators and lockets suspended from an unseen hand or display.
Image courtesy Alex Chambers

Who made you laugh most in 2017?

I guess my sambo, since I spent more time with him than anyone else.

What’s something you learned or discovered in 2017?

A friend of mine directed my attention to Ester Blenda Nordström, about whom there has been a recent spate of new media, including a documentary and a new biography.

In what way was 2017 better than 2016?

I think worse things might have happened in 2017, but they felt less bad (for those not directly impacted, obviously) because they were largely things we could see coming. The celebrity deaths in 2017 also seemed to have relented, at least a little, though my heart broke over Adam West.

What was your most pleasing purchase in 2017?

Houseplants! A humidifier! A stepstool! I’M A REALLY BORING ADULT, Y’ALL.

When in 2017 were you pleasantly surprised?

The way that people, especially in the US, have banded together against bigotry and hatred. Love always wins, but let’s help it win a little faster!

Friday 5: Seasons

Image courtesy Chris Lawton


What foods are most representative of each of the four seasons?

Summer for me is ice cream, strawberries, smoothies, and salads. Fall is apple EVERYTHING, and tea. Winter is chili and more tea, and also cookies. Spring is a trash fire of a season and I hate it.

What are good songs to represent each of the four seasons?

What would be good films to represent each of the four seasons?

I always watch The Big Lebowksi  on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know how or when or even why I picked up this habit, but there it is, so that’s my pick for winter. I also always watch Groundhog Day on, well, Groundhog Day, but I think that’s close enough to spring to count. (Again, spring is a garbage season and I hate it.) Alternatively, I always like to watch The Pirates of Penzance on Leap Day, which is that much closer to spring, so maybe that one? The Fourth of July is always a good time to watch something with explosions and punches and ridiculousness: “(Jason) Bourne on the Fourth of July,” for example. Or a Rambo marathon, or Independence Day. Any one of those will work. And with Halloween, fall is the perfect time for your favorite scary movie. I have a soft spot for mid-century horror movies, myself: spooky but not terrifying. The best of those isn’t even a horror movie, it’s a straight-up black comedy: The Comedy of Terrors. Vincent Price, u da reel MVP.

If you could divide the calendar year into four seasons some other way with some other theme besides weather or major professional sports, where would each seasons begin and end, and what would each be called?

If there were any rhyme or reason or pattern to my Etsy sales, that would probably be a way to do it: busy seasons and off seasons. The same goes for editing. But whether or not I’m busy with those seems pretty arbitrary, at least for now, so…meh.

What’s something in your area that’s extra fun in the winter?

I guess if you like skiing, there’s that. But I don’t. There’s nothing really extra fun about winter for me.

Friday 5: Finding a Way

What’s something you’ve been unable to find?

Once in a while I get in a real sour mood over this or that weird obscure weirdo Soviet children’s book from my childhood that’s inexplicably gone missing. I’m kind of approaching one of those moods right now.

Lime green and yellow books on a shelf, backlit by daylight from a window.
“It was green?” is all I can remember. // Image courtesy Maarten van den Heuvel


How’s your sense of direction?

I’m really bad at actually having a sense of “which way is north” kind of direction, but I think I have a pretty good intuitive sense of my position and my direction relative to where I want to go.

How good are you at sitting still?

Extremely good. Probably too good.


What’s something your parents always said you needed to get better at?

Not being a space cadet. Can’t say I’ve improved much in that department. Sorry, folks.


In what way are you a better person today than you were ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was much more Internet edgelord adjacent than I am today. There but for the grace of God go I.