Intrepid Girl Reporter

Wednesday, 7/16: the mysteries of Mr. Bing
July 17, 2008, 2:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Once, when I was seven or so, I caught my grandmother trying to escape. She was living with us for the time being, maybe just visiting, and I came into the living room one day to find her sitting on the floor, surrounded by my sister’s toys, speaking entirely and rapidly in French on the phone. Afterwards she told me she was going to the airport. When I told my father he started grilling me: what did she say? Who was she meeting? What transpired over the course of that conversation? She said something about a friend, I told him. I don’t remember what happened after that, but she didn’t leave, at least not then.

Once upon a time there was a nice bourgeois Vietnamese girl who would grow up to run her own businesses and become a compulsive gambler and eventually conscript my younger brother into bringing her Newman-Os every day at three o’clock, at least during her visit. My father met my mother because he moved to Pensacola a year before she did, because his mother wanted to take advantage of the influx of boat people and start a shrimping outfit based on cheap labor. Now my grandmother is old, not as old as she looks and acts but old nonetheless, and she speaks in a strange and unique patois of English and French and Vietnamese and she can’t move around without a walker. My father and his siblings cleaned out the last apartment she lived in and found, among other things, two mandolins. She lived with my father’s youngest brother for a while after that before she decided to move out again. Now she has a boyfriend.

All of this happened when I was gone. I learned about it because Mr. Bing – it’s a nickname, his last name is Crosby – called our house tonight. The happy couple wants to visit, which is unfortunate, because no one is here but my brother and I. All sorts of things happen when you disappear for a year. Now I am learning my way around America again, and having everyone around me allude to the things that I missed. Apparently Feist’s “1234” was also used in an iPod commercial. Apparently my dog has learned how to use the back stairs now and my friends created a fictional morning show called “Good Morning, Topeka!”

I feel like I don’t even speak English.


Tuesday, 7/8: to the winner go the spoils

A good rule of thumb for shopping in Korea is, “Did I own this in 1993?” If the answer is “yes,” which it often is, the clothes are best left in the store and on Shannon Doherty in “Mallrats.” This is apparently a rule I did  not regard once this entire year, as I discovered to my chagrin during my packing, when I pulled out item after item that was either a) consigned to a box for the after-school program or b) donated to HM. HM has never seen “Mallrats,” which is probably for the best.

Such packing is part of how I would like to account for my lengthy blog absence. I also spent a good deal of the time fielding letters from my students (to be reproduced here later) and receiving a touching and bizarre array of gifts. These included:

  • a Rubik’s cube
  • five different cell phone charms (a lollipop, a rabbit in a hanbok, half a fake stone heart, and two that said “Love,” once of which came from PopSongBoy#1)
  • a bag of junk food from Family Mart
  • a snow globe with a teddy bear wearing a crown that says “King of King”
  • cross-stitched models of kids wearing traditional Korean clothing
  • a $65 purse from Fila (!!!)
  • a planner that says “I ❤ NY,” followed by the subtitle “It’s clean, and it’s easy to find everything”
  • some beautiful photos of Jeju that I think my student actually took
  • perfume from a boys’ class that is borderline unwearable
  • multiple packs of gum


I also, of course, spent a lot of time saying goodbye, which is something at which I’m pretty good by now, having had lots of experience. HS cried when I left. HB disappeared, so I didn’t actually say goodbye to him, but I’m scheduled to call home on Friday night, so I should be able to figure it out then. HM kept looking up words that translated to things like “among the missing” and “lost in a sea of doubts.” Perhaps I should have studied my Korean a bit harder.

Now, of course, I am home. The Program, instead of routing me through Seoul to Atlanta and Johnson City, sent me from Seoul to Narita to Detroit to Johnson City, which makes a lot more sense, obviously. I was concerned about culture shock, but fortunately for me I spent FIVE HOURS in the Detroit airport, which – although it almost gave me a seizure – accelerated my culture shock and helped me get over it pretty quickly. Like shock therapy. I forgot how fat we are in America.

Also, I would like to offer a hearty non-recommendation to Northwest Airlines, which made me yearn for the halcyon days when I spoke broken Korean to the understanding clerks at KoreanAir. I tried to ask them to help me get my backpack, which I couldn’t reach, from the overhead compartment and they told me to get the guy next to me to help. For a moment, I wondered if I had made the wrong decision in coming home.


PS. I would like to plug my favorite two stores in all of Seoul, if I may, one of which I visited on Sunday in an attempt to assuage my loneliness (no, really). A-Land does not seem to have a website, even though I know perfectly well that it must, but it’s like a discounted and expanded Anthropologie, with more recycled products and stationery. I’m no design expert, but I do enjoy a good one, and the products they carry never cease to amaze me. It’s near American Apparel in Myeongdong.

My second favorite store in Seoul is mmmg (millimeter milligram), which makes the most brilliant paper products in Korea, bar none. Bizarre usage of English has its place, of course, but mmmg’s stuff is genuinely cool, fun and innovative. I have spent a lot of money there. Their products are available in the store below the Kyobo Bookstore in Daegu, and there are several stores in Seoul as well; there’s one n Myeongdong that I can never find, and an easier one to locate next to the Anguk subway stop, on the edge of Insadong. There’s a list of locales if you can go to their website, which used to work for me and does not anymore.