Monthly Archives: March 2007

A List So I Can Remember How Time Flew By Recently

Hillman Curtis on Creating Short Films for the Web by Hillman Curtis (see his stuff here)
Puppies (cleaning poop and pee for five days)
Island Cafe & Lounge (two blocks from my apt.)
Securing the blind emboss on biz cards
Meetings with clients in small diners/coffeeshops/Thai joints
Rats by Robert Sullivan
Kilian’s Irish Red
Trying to claim SkyMiles from Delta
Feeling special about a discount subscription rate from The New Yorker
Entering contacts into Highrise
This American Life, First Episode on Showtime
McSweeney’s No. 22 (magentic binding – cool)
The Believer 42nd Issue
Wondering when I’ll ever watch Flags of Our Fathers from Netflix, which has gathered dust for the past month.

Bonus – upcoming things that make me seem cosmopolitan:
San Diego for three nights to give a workshop at a conference
Madrid, Spain with a teacher on break for four nights
Taking days off to attend Tribeca Film Festival

Seventh Floor Exchange

Note: A juicy short story – sort of.

I think it first started the day she baked a cake and didn’t want it to go to waste. We lived across the hall from each other on the seventh floor of our apartment building.

She rang my doorbell and stood there holding a plate with a very large wedge of cake.

“Howdy neighbor, I made way too much and thought you’d like some,” she said. “It’s just butter pound cake with some nuts.”

I gratefully took the cake from her and said I’d return the plate promptly. The cake was moist and the nuts added extra flavor.

About a week later, I made too much shrimp fried rice, so I thought I’d ask if she had had dinner yet. I prepared a big bowl and garnished it with a lemon wedge and some cilantro and left it on my kitchen counter. I walked across the hall and rang her doorbell, empty-handed.

“Nope, haven’t eaten yet – I’d love to have some,” she said when I asked. I told her I’d be right back with her bowl. I returned and she received it with a big smile. “I’ll bring the bowl back when I’m done,” she said.

And without any deliberate attempt – at least for the first few weeks – we alternated cooking for each other. She made meatloaf. I made her penne a la vodka. She prepared teriyaki short ribs (very tender). I roasted chicken with garlic and herbs. She made me mac’n’cheese from scratch, using six different cheeses and small cubes of pancetta. The more times we went back and forth, the more elaborate the dishes became. I baked thin slices of salmon and wrapped them around grilled artichokes topped off with a lemon cream. She bought over a small bucket (no idea why she kept one) of steamed mussels in garlic and white wine sauce. I made pizza with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and prosciutto, nicely spread over my thin handmade crust. She brought over a mini Peking duck kit with juicy boneless pieces, fresh flour wraps, and plenty of green onions and cucumbers. She admitted that the sauce was store-bought. The serving size could not have been more perfect – I finished every morsel without feeling too full.

Then one day, I decided to try one of my grandmother’s classic dishes – the sam-gye tang: steamed chicken stuffed with sticky rice, dates, chestnuts, garlic, and ginseng in a clear broth. I had to call my grandmother – still ripe and constantly cooking at 82 years old – for her exact recipe and ingredient amounts. I was a bit frustrated when she instructed me to “use my best judgement” for some of the seasoning, so I had to call my mom for more precise measurements. I found the all the ingredients in Koreatown and even stopped by Whole Foods to pick up an expensive, free-range chicken. I spent about a total of four hours making the dish, paying extremely close attention to the chicken, which I prayed wouldn’t overcook and become too tough. When I finally finished, I dumped the chicken and broth into a smaller, cuter pot and heated it a few minutes longer before taking it across the hallway. I also had with me a small Tupperware container of pickled daikon since I was unsure if she tolerated kimchi.

“Here you go – it’s a Korean classic. Hope you like it!” I said, handing the pot and Tupperware over to her.

“Wow this is a lot of food,” she said. “I might have to call Steve over to help me.”

“Yeah, it should be good for two servings – or dinner tonight and tomorrow,” I said. “Who’s Steve?”

“Oh, it’s my boyfriend,” she said. I thought I noticed a slight hint of regret in her eyes, as if she felt she had said too much. “That’s right, you guys haven’t met yet. I’ve been telling him so much about you and all your amazing dishes. I’ll be sure to introduce you two to each other the next time.”

“Great,” I said, forcing a girn. “Well, hope you guys enjoy!” I turned around and walked across back to my apartment, my appetite for my own serving of sam-gye tang completely obliterated. I stored it in the fridge for later and reached for the Heineken.

She returned the pot a few days later along with the Tupperware container. She told me she really liked the dish and asked if I could write down the recipe for her sometime. I told her I would. She said thanks and left.

The next week, she didn’t come. I made myself some Shin ramen with large chunks of Spam. I dropped two eggs into the pot after turning off the stove, letting them poach in the high-sodium soup. The next week, I switched to Neoguri ramen and decided not to use any Spam.


A month or so later, I ran to the elevator door as it was closing on the first floor. I got my hand in just in time, forcing the door to re-open. As I entered, I noticed her standing there with a tall guy. He seemed athletic and had a strong jaw and curly brown hair. His green eyes briefly met my eyes as I awkwardly stared at him for a moment. I heard her speak.

“Hey, haven’t seen you in a while,” she said good-naturedly, breaking the silence.

“How have you been?” I asked.

“Good,” she said. “Oh, this is my boyfriend Steve. Steve, this is Ryan, my neighbor across the hall.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said as we shook hands. “You’re quite a cook, aren’t you.” His palms were large and his grip was tight.

Before anything else could be said, we reached our floor. I let them out first and watched their backs, their hands linked together.

“Oh yeah,” I said loudly. She turned around sharply. “You guys should come over for dinner sometime. I’ve been itching to cook something fancy.”

She glanced over at Steve as if to communicate something by eye contact and then looked back at me. “Sure, we’ll definitely do that,” she said. We said bye, and I watched them go inside.

Back inside my place, I took out Spam and a big jar of kimchi. I didn’t feel like having ramen again. I washed some rice, turned on the rice-cooker, and waited patiently for the rice to finish cooking.

Rushed Thoughts from Korea

I have a few spare minutes before I need to get to my client site for one last full day of work here in Seoul. I thought I’d jot down a few of the experiences I’ve had during this brief week-long visit to Korea.

A Trip Outside
I got a very nice glimpse of the Korean landscape outside of Seoul for the first time in seventeen years. We drove a few hours out to Sokcho (on the eastern side of Korea in Gangwondo) and made stops at Sorak Mountain, a gorgeous and breathtaking sight, as well as Nak San Sah, a Buddhist sanctuary right by the ocean. The Nak San Sa area had suffered a massive forest fire a few years ago that burned down most of the old shrines, but it looked as if there was substantial rebuilding going on, including a charming tea house where we had ginger tea. For dinner, we went to a restaurant in Sokcho, which overlooks the Sea of Japan. We had fresh sashimi, octopus, and various Korean dishes. The trip was long and at times a bit tedious, but I definitely cherished the opportunity to view the Korean natural landscape.

A Bad Cab Trip
After endless cigarettes and drinks with my cousin Daniel in the bright district of Myeongdong, I stumbled into a cab that seemed pimped out a bit more than the other ones. The cab driver mumbled something about the rate being higher, but I didn’t expect it to be more than double what I would normally pay. Before long, my intoxicated mind came to and saw that the meter was running up at an incredibly fast pace. Before half a mile was up, the meter read that I owed more than 40,000 won, or about forty bucks! I expressed my surprise to the driver and told him to pull over since I didn’t have more than fifty bucks. I was let off in the middle of the highway with no stores in sight, and worse, with no money at all – the guy had cleaned me out. I kept my calm although a few expletives escaped my mouth every now and then and walked around in search of a bank or convenience store. After about half an hour of random wandering, I luckily came upon a 7-11 and withdrew some cash. I found a proper cab this time – the one that says Gaein, or Private – on top and hopped in for a cheap fifteen dollar ride back to my hotel. Gosh, what a bummer it was, but then again, it was kind of exciting to feel so helpless and lost in an unfamiliar place.

Coffee Here Sucks
I went to the Starbucks near my client site and ordered a tall coffee. I took a taste and noticed it was very bland. It tasted almost like a really weak cafe americano – about half a shot of espresso and a whole lot of water. I asked them why it was so weak, and they said they would remake it for me. I waited around for a fresh brew and tasted it the new one. Same result. I had to get back to work so I told them I’d just take it, but I was seriously disappointed. I came back the next day hoping the coffee had improved, but when I received my cup, the result was the same. I guess they just brew weak coffee here. I complained to someone who lived in Seoul about the coffee and he, in turn, said that New York coffee was unnecessarily strong. I’ve craved strong coffee all week.

I’m on this trip with my friend Novi, who actually introduced me to this client and also works as their consultant. I’ve been friends with Novi for many years but this is probably the first time we’ve spent so much time together. I guess I’ve been extra mean to him this past week, pointing out his clumsiness and awkwardness every step of the way, but he’s been very pleasant to work with and it’s been fun sharing our insights on our client and Korea in general. Also, people here seem to treat me as Novi’s guide – my “Western guest” – whenever we walk around or order food at restaurants. He’s been here more than me! Anyway, I tried hard to come up with a term for Novi’s behavior whenever he gets cranky, either from discomfort, impatience, or hunger, and the one that’s worked the best has been the “Novi Nag.” Now whenever I hear the rumblings of crankiness from Novi, I let him know that “the Novi Nag is now in effect.” That sometimes curtails the nag, and I think, to a degree, he appreciates the personal branding.

Okay, it’s off to work now – I can see Korean men on rooftops of office buildings smoking their cigarettes.