Friday, June 20, 2014

Since we have to wait another year for Game of Thrones... (Warning: Spoilers!)

Was season 4 of Game of Thrones spectacular or what? The Battle of Castle Black in episode 9 was probably the most tense TV experience I've ever had because I was genuinely thinking that this could very well be the end for Jon or Sam. I don't think I've ever been as heartbroken by a duel as I was after Prince Oberyn vs. The Mountain, except for maybe Rufio vs. Captain Hook. 

It's a shame that we have to wait a whole year before we find out what happens to the surviving characters in this universe. But since we have nothing much to do except to mull over the season that has been, here are some of my thoughts.


1) Lady Olenna was a BABE

British actress Diana Rigg

Lady Olenna quickly became a fan favourite because she was one of those whip-smart grannies who just didn't give a shit anymore and told it like it was. In a society where everybody is scheming and lying, she seemed like the only honest one (and not in a dumb and naive Ned Starkish way). Moreover, this past season, she proved to be the one with the ovaries to do a certain deed that everybody, including God, wanted to do but lacked the courage or intelligence to do so. MC, if you're reading this, you still owe me that drink!

But did you know that she was a total heartbreaker back in her day? I mean, sure, she's still an adorable granny now and still breaks hearts, albeit mainly by puncturing fragile egos with an acid-tipped verbal stabbing.

Take this little monologue of hers from episode 4:

"So the evening before Luther was to propose to my sister, I got lost on my way back from my embroidery lesson and happened upon his chamber. How absent-minded of me. The following morning, Luther never made it down the stairs to propose to my sister because the boy couldn't bloody walk. And once he could, the only thing he wanted was what I'd given him the night before. I was good. I was very very good."

Yes, Lady Olenna. I very very believe you.


2) Maybe Tywin Lannister just needed more freedom to express himself

I wonder if his face aches from perpetual grimacing


I wouldn't exactly call Tywin a joyless human being because he seems to be very happy when extinguishing other people's bloodlines. But that's not a very pleasant life, is it? I don't think you could say that anybody loved him, nor that he loved anyone. His children's attitudes toward him range from severe dislike to outright murderous. Generally speaking, if you meet your demise by being shot by your own son while on the toilet, you probably haven't led the most fulfilling life.

So why was Tywin such a miserable man? Perhaps it was because he felt constantly repressed by the strict and backwards social mores of King's Landing and Casterly Rock?

The evidence is below:


Okay, he doesn't look too pleased to be dressed in a leopard print top and red leather skirt. But maybe he just has Resting Bitch Face Syndrome. Maybe he's actually feeling very happy and liberated inside. Perhaps Tywin Lannister would've been better off having been born in Dorne.


3) Westeros needs campaign finance reform
Where's John McCain when you need him?
Big shady ultra-wealthy organization is unhappy with a certain person in power. Organization decides to get rid of the current office-holder, even if he is doing a decent job and/or popular with his constituents. Organization empowers a small-but-dedicated group of extremists by giving them endless cash to viciously oust the office-holder out of power.

Astroturfed Tea Party primary challenge? Or Iron Bank of Braavos?

It seems rather unfair that some foreign financial institution can wreak havoc on Westerosi politics. Therefore, I think there needs to be a campaign finance reform movement in King's Landing that would limit the Iron Bank to contributing no more than 2600 oz. of gold to any single violent usurper rebellion.

After all, a wise man once said that Whoever-Has-The-Dragons-Wins Monarchy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Korea at the 2014 World Cup: The Awkward Adolescent Years?



See that gangly and moody kid leaning against his locker? The one who seems promising but is inconsistent, lacking in focus, and temperamental? The one who is, at times, good enough so that he gets away with being cocky, but usually looks like he could use a good ass-kicking?

Say hello to Korea's 2014 World Cup team in all its awkward adolescent glory. Not only is this the youngest team that Korea has ever sent to the tournament, but for the first time since 2002, none of the Guus Hiddink Era veterans will be on the team as players.

Those who've followed Korea national football over the past couple of years should be well aware of how volatile it has been. The Olympic bronze triumph in 2012 was Korea's greatest national footballing achievement since finishing in 4th place in the 2002 World Cup. Furthermore, it was my favourite sporting memory of all time, For related posts, read:

Korea beats Team GB in epic football QF shootout

Korea's football team should be exempt from military service, no matter what

The most golden bronze medal ever

To commemorate the happiest sporting memory of my life thus far

The medal seemed to be the latest milestone in the steady progress of Korean football since 2002. In 2006 Germany, Korea earned its first World Cup victory on foreign soil over Togo. It also drew with eventual runners-up France and earned 4 points in the group stages, which often is enough to see a team through to the knockout stages but unfortunately wasn't the case that time. In 2010 South Africa, Korea notched its second foreign World Cup victory, this time against a more quality opponent in Greece. It also achieved its dream of progressing to the knockout round for the first time away from home. Though the team put up a good fight, it lost to eventual 4th place finisher Uruguay.

The camaraderie, intensity, and focus of the 2012 Olympic campaign has eluded the World Cup team


But ever since that happy peak in London, Korean football has stagnated, or even regressed. Though the Olympic tournament is nowhere near as prestigious as the World Cup or Copa America, the 2012 one was still a competitive affair that featured excellent—even world-class—players like Luis Suarez, Thiago Silva, Daniel Sturridge, Neymar, Juan Mata, Ryan Giggs, Javi Martinez, Edinson Cavani, Hulk, Aaron Ramsey, Giovani Dos Santos, Oscar, and Marcelo. And amidst all this, Korea managed to finish third.

The victory was more than just a prize; it was significant because it excused all of the players from mandatory 2-year military service, an obstacle that has been a major impediment to the development of Korean football, especially for players seeking to play abroad. The idea was that without this career-killing obligation hanging over their heads, more Korean players could develop their skills overseas and help strengthen the national program.

But was the accomplishment a double-edged sword? In its aftermath, it appeared to have split the team into factions: one side consisted of the more talented Europe-based players (most of whom were part of the Olympic team), and the other side consisted of the domestic players (many of whom were left out). The previous senior team manager, Choi Kang Hee, tended to favour K-League players, the most glaring example being the divisive veteran striker Lee Dong Gook. The fractured locker room prompted public insubordination from certain players, culminating in a much talked-about incident on social media and the abrupt dismissal of Choi Kang Hee after the final WCQ match.

Such turbulence might've been weathered better had there been established leadership in the team. However, Korea is the 5th youngest team and the 4th least capped (a player is "capped" when he plays in top-level international match) team in the World Cup. Ever since 2002, the national team has relied on the veterans from the Hiddink team to be stars and leaders, from Choi Jin Cheol to Lee Young Pyo to Seol Ki Hyeon to Ahn Jung Hwan to, of course, Park Ji Sung. The 2014 World Cup will be the first time that no player from that era will be on the team.

The heroes of 2002 will all be on the sidelines and beyond this time
Furthermore, in 2002, only 2 players on the national team played in Europe. In 2006, it was 5. In 2010, it was 6. In 2014, it will be 9, most of whom are key starters. The most consistently excellent national teams tend to have players who all play in the same domestic league (e.g. Serie A and the Bundesliga), with certain teams like Juventus and Bayern Munich effectively becoming the national teams themselves. Historically, most (if not all) of Korea's national players came from the K-League. Maybe a few from the J-League. Occasionally, there may have been one or two hotshots who had been picked up by European teams to decorate their bench. But the team was built around a core of domestic players. This did not guarantee success, as evidenced by the fact that Korea did not win a World Cup match until 2002. And I am certain that there was factionalism in the past as well.

But expectations are and should be different now as unlike with prior Korea teams, this squad has a load of individual talent that has done rather well abroad against elite competition. Ki Sung Yueng is one of the best passers in the Premier League and he played a pivotal role in saving Sunderland from relegation. Koo Ja Cheol and Ji Dong Won also helped save Augsburg from relegation in the Bundesliga with their offensive prowess. Son Heung Min has been very good in Germany for the past couple of years and is poised to break out as a true star soon. Lee Chung Yong was one of the better wingers in the Premier League before a devastating injury sidelined his career; he has mostly regained his pre-injury form but unfortunately and unfairly remains mired in the Championship League). Hong Jeong Ho hasn't played much in Germany, but he is young and actually has a realistic chance at becoming a rare sight: a regular starting Korean defender in a top European league. His compatriot Kim Young Kwon may join him one day soon too.

Yet this team generally plays below its overall talent level, the 2012 Olympics notwithstanding. The World Cup Qualifiers (WCQ) were a near-disaster, resulting in the unceremonious firing of two managers within 3 years: Cho Kwang Rae and Choi Kang Hee. Had Uzbekistan scored one more goal in its final WCQ match, Korea would've missed the World Cup for the first time since the Soviet Union became Russia.

Korean's legendary libero and architect of the Olympic bronze triumph, Hong Myung Bo, was brought in to right the ship. But there is only so much a national manager can do in so short a time after a period of upheaval. Consequently, the team's record since the managerial switch has been mediocre-to-troubling. The last few prep friendlies leading up to the World Cup have not gone well at all. But if there's anybody with the charisma and reservoir of goodwill to help guide Korea through uncertain times, it's Hong Myung Bo.

Hong Myung Bo has been put in a very difficult position against his initial wishes, so he should be afforded
great leeway in putting his mark on the team and system


The astute website Zonal Marking hit the mark when it proclaimed that a new golden generation of Korean football is likely at hand, but it will not dawn until a few years later from now. The team is too young, and it's not blindingly talented enough to make up for that with raw ability.

I hope the team does well in Brazil, but I'm not as desperately invested as I used to be. I saw the team achieve its longed-for goal of making it past the group stages on foreign soil in 2010, and I saw them win the coveted bronze medal in 2012. Furthermore, with the success of people like Ryu Hyun Jin, Jeremy Lin, and Masahiro Tanaka, I'm not as personally thrilled anymore by the achievements of Asian athletes. And that's a good thing.

Korea has some excellent young players being cultivated by Barcelona's youth system. My biggest hope is that no matter what happens in Brazil, Hong Myung Bo will be afforded the time and patience to put his mark on the national system because we saw what he could do 2 years ago in London. More than anything else, the failure of the Korean Football Association to decide on and stick to the right course of action after the successful 2010 World Cup has derailed the trajectory of Korean football. As a comparison, just look at Japan. This was a team that was thought to be DOA at the 2010 World Cup. But they somehow found themselves in time, had a great run, and afterwards, the national association hired the right manager with the right vision. Now, Japan is a highly respected team and on the verge of perhaps becoming world-class. There's no reason to think that Korea can't do the same.

So unlike with 2010 South Africa, I won't dread having to spend the rest of the summer in despair if Korea fails to make it to the knockout stage. I've seen them succeed, and I know that the team has the talent (both in the present and future) as well as the managerial leadership to truly turn heads soon.

Just maybe not this time around. We can all sit back and enjoy the ride, though.

Do Koreans dare dream that Lee Seung Woo really is the Korean Messi as the European scouts say?



Thursday, May 29, 2014

The UCSB Shooter and How Self-Hate Works

 

One of the things that struck me most about the UCSB shooter was the intense self-hate that he had. He was half-Asian, yet he hated people of his own race (especially Asian guys) and had an unhealthy reverence for White blonde people. The main focus in the mainstream media, and deservedly so, has been about his misogyny; we do need incisive discussions about how to stop treating women as little more than winnable prizes to boost men’s egos in order to further their ascent into Greatness (see Amy Schumer’s funny satire of Aaron Sorkin's work).

However, I want to focus more on the self-hate aspect of this disturbing equation, which has gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media. Thankfully, some writers such as Jeff Yang, Emil Guillermo, and Grace Hwang Lynch—all of whom are, unsurprisingly, Asian—have noticed it. The Atlantic sort of brought it up, but it failed to pinpoint the racial basis for it.

I’ve written about some of the driving reasons that some Asians, including myself, have had at times for veering away from their heritage: The Places That Matter and The Question: “So Where Are You From?” So this is a topic of great interest to me.

Just take a look at what the UCSB shooter wrote in online forums or in his manifesto:

"Shoes won't help you get white girls. White girls are disgusted by you, silly little Asian."

"Full Asian men are disgustingly ugly and white girls would never go for you. You're just butthurt that you were born as an asian piece of shit, so you lash out by linking these fake pictures. You even admit that you wish you were half white. You'll never be half-white and you'll never fulfill your dream of marrying a white woman. I suggest you jump off a cliff."

"I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with."

"As my frustration grew, so did my anger. I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I'm attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them? I thought with rage."

"Two new housemates moved into my apartment for the Autumn semester. They were two foreign Asian students who attended UCSB. These were the biggest nerds I had ever seen, and they were both very ugly with annoying voices. My last two housemates, Chris and Jon, were nerds as well, but at least they were friendly and pleasant. Thes two new ones were utterly repulsive, and one of them had a very rebellious demeanor aout him. He went out of his way to start arguments with me whenever I raised the issue of the noise he made. Hell, even living with Spence was more pleasant than these two idiots. I knew that when the Day of Retribution came, I would have to kill my housemates to get them out of the way. If they were pleasant to live with, I would regret having to kill them, but due to their behavior I now had no regrets about such a prospect. In fact, I'd even enjoy stabbing them both to death while they slept."

Some people don’t understand how self-hate works. “How can you be racist against yourself?!” they ask, with a kind of smug incredulity as they think that they’ve just posed an impossible-to-answer rhetorical question and can just drop the mic.

I once took a class that examined fairy tales and their role in Western culture, and we learned that one of the foundational tropes in fairy tales is the wishful desire of a child born into ordinary circumstances that his or her actual parents are royalty or all-powerful, or both. It was called the "heroic fable" or "personal fable" or something. It’s why stories like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and tale of Anastasia are so popular, because they tap into that longing we all had/have that we too could somehow secretly be mythically special.

Don't we all wish that our dads were secretly powerful Jedi masters?
 
Self-hate can work in a similar way in that you think and hope that you’re actually somehow better than the lineage that you’ve been given. If you’re multiracial like the UCSB shooter, then you disown the “inferior” part of your heritage. If you’re not, then you see yourself as some kind of special snowflake exception who’s not like all the others in your group. So you don’t hang out with them and you certainly do not want to procreate with them.

The rationalizations usually go something like this:

“I don’t identify with Asian culture!” As if all Asians, even Asian Americans, are somehow genetically unable to extricate themselves from their old wacky Ming Dynasty ways. Except, of course, your special snowflake self. Moreover, who says that “Asian culture” is something to run away from at all costs?

“I feel more American!” Asians can be American too. The fact that many Asians internalize the whole "American=White" mindset is so frustrating. It's as though I spend a lot of effort in the West trying to fight against this harmful idea, then I go to Asia and have other Asians reaffirm the idea that "American" is an Anglo-Saxon ethnic identity.

“I don’t find Asians attractive because they remind me of my siblings!” Funny how you never hear White people say this. Evolution must've also really screwed up if it instilled in certain groups a sexual aversion to the people who for thousands of years were the only potential partners around them. Sounds like a freeway to extinctionville.
 
It greatly bothered me how ordinary some of this murderer’s identity issues were: the blaming of your disappointments on your race, the desire to match society’s image of an ideal man (which doesn’t look at all like you), the disdaining of others similar to you in hopes of differentiating yourself from their lower castes. I’ve either experienced them myself to some degree or have known others to express them.

Extreme incidents like the UCSB murders give us a chance to critically examine all the everyday circumstances that played a part in allowing such a thing to happen. Yes, there will always be crazies, but insanity and the way it manifests itself don’t happen in a vacuum. And it’s all too easy to handwave away difficult questions by invoking “mental illness.” This move is such a cop-out because it makes it seem as though sexism and racism are the exotic domain of a few incomprehensible individuals and can't possibly exist within us. It is a false protestation of innocence, and its invocation is a surefire sign that we're dealing with issues that require the kind of unflattering self-examination that leads many to want to shut down discussion at all costs.

Remember when this mentally ill murderer killed a ton of people and everybody just said, "C'est la vie. Oh well, can't
stop these things?" It's not like we started decade-plus wars over him or anything.
 
So let’s ask the hard and uncomfortable questions about why men feel that they’re entitled to sex from beautiful women and become murderous when they don't get what they want. The mainstream media has jumped on this, and though we're far from the ideal place, we at least seem to have started down the path towards it.

But let's not forget to also ask why a half-Asian kid so desperately wanted to be White and blonde, and why he hated his Asian side. Yes, the UCSB shooter was abnormally pathetic (for god's sake, his life goal became winning the lottery so that he could become attractive to girls), but I guarantee you that a lot of guys, including myself, can disturbingly see some snippet of themselves or their former selves in this murderer's rants and ravings.

Let's ask these questions so we can try to find the answers instead of constantly ignoring the problems because these perpetrators are all "mentally ill."

 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Donald Sterling Admired Koreans? What An Insult.


As a Korean guy, I can think of few greater insults than being racially praised by someone like Donald Sterling.

So he has seriously slandered me and many others.

Like many good old racists, Sterling looked down on Blacks and Latinos but had a paternalistic admiration for Asians, Koreans in particular. He loved the fact that they apparently were willing to put up with any living conditions without complaint and pay the rent on time. He loved them so much that even though he hired almost no minorities in his real estate business, he hired a very high number of Asians. And predictably, almost all of them were women. According to a former employee named Sumner Davenport, it was because these Asian female employees supposedly knew how to please him and could teach other female employees like Ms. Davenport on how to be properly deferential. And in a shocking twist, Ms. Davenport also once sued Sterling for sexual harassment.

Sterling dislikes Black people to the point where he will not hire them or let them live on his property. He doesn't even want his people to associate with Magic Johnson, a superior in almost every respect. But he will have sex with their women. Why aren't You People more grateful?

It's the old La Malinche/Pocahontas Complex: Look down on another race, kill the men, but keep the women if they submit to you in a ego-gratifying way.

Beautiful exotic wind-talking woman falls in love with colonizer and brings peace everywhere. Why, it's practically as if European imperialism and colonialism was good for everyone.


No wonder Sterling loves Asians. He can use us to attack racial AND gender equality. When other minorities complain about racism, he uses us to say, "Be more like Asians." When women complain about sexism, he uses us to say, "Be more like Asians." We're the Swiss Army Knife for bigots lost in the wild forests of progress.

It'd be bad enough if it were the peculiar opinion of some old kook whose world view would soon rot away with his carcass. But it's a prevalent and influential belief that has defined the image of Asians in America as the Model Minority. We're sometimes called "Honourary Whites," as if that were something to aspire to. Furthermore, if you an honest conversation with Asians, they can tell you the exact moment they realized that they were not and would never be White.

What an honour


Asians in America are constantly redefining ourselves and making progress, and I am very proud of that. I will be satisfied with our level of achievement when the next Donald Sterling comes along and we find out that he absolutely despises us.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

HBO's Girls: The Perfect (Anti) Etiquette Guide



There's a great Seinfeld episode in which George, in order to not be such a repugnant human being, decides to do everything opposite of what he'd instinctively do. The result is that he gets the job of his dreams and starts dating women way out of his league.

The entire series of Girls could be approached in a similar way. While I enjoy its bleak and cringe-inducing criticism of self-absorbed Brooklyn hipster culture (as well its female-centric focus, which the media needs more of), the show is also quite useful in dishing out life lessons as a guide on how NOT to live. If you want to be perceived as a compassionate and mature human being, you would do well to carefully take note on how the characters on the show (to be honest, mainly Hannah and Marnie) behave and do exactly the opposite.

And if you find that your behavior parallels theirs too much, you should probably take a moment to ponder a serious turn in the arc of your life.

So here are some anti-etiquette lessons from Girls:

***Spoilers Ahead***


1) When friends talk about their problem, actually listen and get them to open up more if they want to; absolutely DO NOT pivot to talk about your own issues or experiences



2) Don't tell rape jokes at job interviews




3) Don't use funerals as professional networking events (or at least be very tactful about it)




4) Don't only call your parents when you need something




5) Don't live through life's moments as chapters to be written in your grand memoir about your great self that's lived all of 25 years




6) Don't use other people's celebrations as opportunities to promote yourself




7) What's good news for you may not always be good news for others; and if there's any doubt, DO NOT drop this news on them before their Big Moment (like a Broadway premiere)




8) Don't say aloud about how you wished you spent a semester abroad in Africa and saving the continent if you want to sound intelligent




9) Don't assume that you know better when people tell you that their family members are fucked up; they've only known them for, you know, their whole life, while you're clueless




10) Don't steal, especially from people less well-off than you




11) Don't ask for feedback on a piece of writing from the person who's the object of ridicule in said piece of writing




12) Don't let others treat you badly just because you think having a sad backstory makes you a more interesting person




13) Don't resort to the "Your dad is gay" insult if you want to seem non-childish




14) Don't remain best friends with people you hate



Friday, April 11, 2014

The Popularization Of Kimchi (And The Many Ways To Eat It)



According to this Salon article, kimchi is thoroughly mainstream now in America. Driven by big name Korean American chefs like David Chang and Roy Choi, kimchi has become something like arugula: kind of exotic, but only if you're not "with it."

To me, this is all a bit amusing because when I was growing up, kimchi was that pungent staple of Korean cuisine that you were always wary of serving (or having waft through the house) when you had your non-Korean friends over. In high school, I remember some of my friends thinking that kimchi was actually instant bowl noodles. I guess they saw the "kimchi flavored" label on the bowl and got mistaken.
No, this is not kimchi

As for myself, I like kimchi but I don't miss it the way I may miss a ton of other basic Korean foods (like jjajangmyun, salted mackerel, doenjang jjigae, etc.).

There are also a lot of kimchi types. The most familiar one is reddish with flat, ridged cabbage pieces. My favourite is called yeolmoo kimchi. It's green, with little cylindrical shoots and ample leaves. I think I like it because (A) it's generally more tart and refreshing than most kimchi types, and (B) I like leafy kimchi.

Yeolmoo Kimchi: My fave!


One funny type of kimchi is called cheonggak kimchi, which translates to "bachelor's kimchi." It's made with small, roundish vegetables. I'm not sure why it's called this, and neither do my parents. I did some basic internet research and supposedly, the shape of the radish is similar to that of hairstyles that were worn by Korean bachelors back in the day.

Cheonggak Kimchi


Non-Koreans should know that kimchi is not a meal onto itself. Apparently, some people eat it as they would a salad. I believe that people should eat a food any way they want, but in case anyone wants to eat it the "right" way, kimchi is not a main dish. Nor is it often a primary side dish. Go to any Korean restaurant, and kimchi will be just one of many little dishes, along with soy beans, perilla leaves, potatoes, anchovies, and so forth. Maybe this is what Italians feel when they come to the U.S. and see us eating huge bowls of pasta as a main course.

Best thing about kimchi is that it's very versatile. Whether it's cold or cooked, it tastes great. Here are some common and easy ways to eat it.


1) Kimchi Bokkeum Bap (Fried Rice)

My own handiwork

When I'm in Seoul, this is my go-to lunch when I'm at home and don't have any lunch plans. It's super easy to make: just chop up some kimchi and onions, fry'em up, and add some sesame oil. This is a dish that is actually elevated by spam due to its softness and saltiness. You could use ham or beef or other meats, but it's not the same.


2) Grilled Kimchi



Kimchi, like garlic, is a food that tastes wonderfully different when grilled. Gone is the tart spiciness, and replacing it is a kind of rich smokiness. Always grill your kimchi when you're at a Korean BBQ.


3) Kimchi Jeon (Pancakes)



This is a very useful way to use old kimchi that may be a bit too ripe for normal eating. This is good because the batter will dilute the flavour, so you want kimchi that's very strong tasting. Only trick is to get that crispy outer layer that's hard to achieve with typical frypans and stoves. I've tried making this at home, but I can't get that restaurant-style crust.


4) Kimchi Jjigae (Stew)



A very easy dish to make that can turn any boring pile of rice into something mouth-watering. If you're in Seoul, the one at the ubiquitous Saemaeul Shikdang is very well-known. You can pretty much add anything to kimchi jjigae (pork, tofu, tuna, etc.) and it'll taste great.


5) Steamed Kimchi with Pork Belly



Very simple dish. Steamed kimchi and uncured pork belly, with some plain tofu if you want. Sounds boring by themselves, but eat them together, and it's a very satisfying combo.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

I Miss Pojangmachas (Korean Street Food Vendors)



Walk around Seoul enough and you're bound to spot them. They'll often be covered in brightly coloured tarps, and inside, a huddled few sit on stools while a man or woman keeps stirring a large pan of rice cakes covered in a red sauce. Sometimes, a canopy extends outwards from the main "kitchen" to a picnic-ish area of plastic tables and chairs. People of all sorts—young, old, male, female—are there, eating something off a long pointy stick and throwing back shots of soju.

These are the pojangmachas.

A "pojangmacha" is a street food vendor in Korea. Usually, it consists of a food cart with a griddle for serving up ddeokbokki (spicy rice cakes), hoddeok (small fried pancakes). There will be a frying pot for various fried foods like fried squid, fried sweet potatoes, and fried noodle rolls. Also prominently displayed will be a long roll of soondae (Korean blood sausage) as well as a bamboo forest of long sticks protruding out of a tub of broth. This is eomuk, or fish cakes (delicious, but their PR team really needs to come up with a better name because "fish" and "cake" really don't belong in the same sentence). And of course, they'll often serve beer and soju.

Some of the pojangmachas in crowded areas like near Gangnam Station only have seating available around the cart itself. Others are more expansive and have little plastic tables and chairs underneath a vinyl canopy.

A lot of Koreans attach a sentimental and romantic value to pojangmachas. For starters, they're almost always the setting for emotional scenes in Korean dramas and movies. Often, when the hero or heroine experiences heartbreak, s/he will go to a pojangmacha alone and drink so much soju that the ajumma who runs the place has to cut them off. Confessionals are common as well. In Architecture 101, when the male protagonist first tells his friend of his fervent crush for the female protagonist, they're both at a pojangmacha, eating eomuk and drinking soju.

A pojangmacha scene from Architecture 101


On a personal level, my mom often told me that when she was younger, she and her friends would stop by these things after school and it'd be the best meal of the day. I never grew up in Korea, so eating at these places was one of the few ways for me to vicariously live that experience.

Contradictorily, when I was younger and visiting Korea, I would usually be discouraged by my parents from eating at pojangmachas because they're not as well-regulated as established restaurants. But starting in late 2010 when I was living for the foreseeable future in Korea and getting used to life there, I started to stop by once in a while at these places. And for whatever reason, food just tastes better when you're outdoors, sitting on plastic chairs, and huddled over a small table.

A unique pojangmacha I went to in Apgujeong that served breakfast sandwiches



I haven't ever gotten drunk at a pojangmacha, though. Yet. I guess this is one of the things I should try the next time I'm there!


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