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Hey, Bruce Lee!

NoahSchool

If my life ever became a book that became a tv show or movie, which may never or somehow happen, my biggest fear would be that I can’t recognize that life that’s being portrayed as mine…I think I might know just a little bit of how Eddie Huang was and is feeling to this effect about his memoir being made into ABC’s show Fresh Off The Boat, which premiered Wednesday…

FOB

Eddie’s the 11-year-old in this photo, set in 1995 (Courtesy of ABC)

 

Aside from the forced and inconsistent accents of broken English, there weren’t actually as many “negative stereotypes” of Asian people as many feared there’d be. And Randall Park seemed to just have been plucked out of Kim Jong Un mode in The Interview, and dropped right onto the set of Fresh Off the Boat as far as his speech was concerned. As a matter of fact, there wasn’t very much to grasp at all in the way of “real” scenarios growing up in an Asian-American family. The show was all over the place trying to please everyone, that too much was lost. The best and comedic moments were those in which network propaganda was dropped and we got actual glimpses into shopping/shouting in the “Taiwanese market” and what happens come “report card time” in an Asian-American household.

I have to assume Eddie Huang’s memoir is better than what ABC put forward, despite having some of the cutest and endearing little boys in the cast of this family. To say the show is white-washed would be an understatement.

I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that when All-American Girl came out, starring my Korean sister-from-another-mister Margaret Cho, in 1994, I was so excited to see a Korean person on a major American television network that I didn’t care whether or not the show was actually good. To me, at the tender age of 19, I felt validated as a young Korean-American. There she was, funny-as-fuck-to-me at the time, Margaret Cho, on her very own tv show! I ignored the fact that everyone else on the show wasn’t Korean, hell, MASH was supposed to be set in South Korea and there were no Koreans ever to be found in the cast. That was never a huge problem for me, just like it wasn’t in All-American Girl, because above all else I’m a realist. And no major television network is going to employ a slew of Koreans, or Chinese, or anyone who checks off the box labeled “Asian or Pacific-Islander” on government documents, for one television show. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a fairy princess, actually writes specifically about this on the regular.

So bearing in mind that not everything you see on television is accurate, let alone real, how much are we actually supposed to take away from this new ABC show Fresh Off The Boat? Well, I’ll tell you what I walked away with and what left an impression…

“Yo Chinese kid. What’s your name again? Something Chinese?”

This quote is taken from the first school lunchroom scene which young Eddie finds himself in. He’s questioned as to what his name is, in a most rude way, by another student. It seems everyone in this particular Orlando grade school is white, with the exception of Eddie and one black student.

This scene also happens after his teacher pulls this face…

Eddie

…while attempting to pronounce Eddie’s “Chinese” name, on this, Eddie’s first-day-of-class-in-a-brand-new-school…

This teacher’s face bugged me, and not just because I’d seen that same expression on some of my teacher’s faces, growing up, trying to pronounce my own Korean name. And also because this week in particular I had a putting-it-mildly-unpleasant experience with a teacher myself. Specifically, my almost-three-year-old-son’s preschool teacher…

I’ll rewind.

My husband Davy and I were eating dinner with our little Noah on Tuesday evening, when Noah tried to get my attention across the table.

“Hey, Bruce Lee!”

I tilted my head in cartoon-like confusion. Where had he picked that up? Bruce Lee? He knew nothing of martial arts nor had he ever watched Kung Fu Panda (this is where my brain went). So I asked Noah to repeat himself. Perhaps I’d misunderstood or heard it incorrectly.

“Hey, Bruce Lee!”

I put down the taco I’d been eating (it’s usually taco night in our home on many given Tuesday), and I asked Noah where he’d learned that name Bruce Lee. He replied that his teacher called him that at school. And he mimicked again…

“Hey, Bruce Lee!”

I was shocked. I didn’t want to freak out Noah by freaking out myself. He had no idea the significance of that name.

I exchanged a glance with my husband and continued to eat, although I could barely taste my homemade salsa anymore. Like I said before, I’m a realist. I know that raising an interracial child in a homogeneously-white country such as Belgium comes with its pros and cons. I just didn’t think I’d have to deal with it so soon, and certainly not involving a teacher, Noah’s teacher.

Thoughts raced through my mind as I watched Noah finish his dinner. But I knew the answer in my heart was that he was, in fact, telling the truth, as children his age brutally do, and that there simply was no good explanation for an adult and educator calling my Noah “Bruce Lee.” And obviously repeatedly, for Noah to have brought it home.

Noah is his name. Noah is what he should be called, at school and anywhere else for that matter. I told Noah that the next time someone called him by another name he didn’t know, that he should reply, “My name is Noah!” We practiced this a few times. Silly stuff. I called him by different animal names and cartoon names and each time he replied, “My name is Noah!” I felt better about it all going to sleep on Tuesday night.

Davy and I decided to nip shit right in the bud and have a private talk with Noah’s teacher on Wednesday morning. We arrived at school early, determined to get to the bottom of Bruce Leegate, and were disappointed to learn that Noah’s teacher was in another building “making copies” and we should return in the afternoon. I actually did learn later what these “copies” were, and what was so important about them that she wasn’t available to talk that morning…

So Davy and I returned in the afternoon, to collect Noah, and to speak with his teacher. We started the conversation off by relaying our taco night conversation and the teacher’s eyes bugged out, and before we could even get to the part where we ask Noah where he’d learned “Hey, Bruce Lee,” we were interrupted. The teacher pointed out the window to the courtyard and claimed Noah must have heard it outside playing. We replied that most toddlers don’t know who Bruce Lee is. The teacher quickly replied that it must have been a third-grader then, and that “a talk would be had with the third-grade teacher.”

Strange.

Stranger still, the teacher went on to say that sometimes “handicapped people with mental issues pass by the school and one of them must have said something to Noah.”

?!

The whole time I had my head tilted and my lips pursed, as I listened to this teacher (in Dutch mind you) go on and on until she finally asked, “Did Noah say who said it?” And before I could answer she answered herself with, “No, Noah doesn’t know everyone’s names.”

But oh, Noah knows names that matter. Still, I never answered, and I looked right into the eyes of the teacher and saw that she knew I knew she knew I knew. And I made a decision then not to crucify her or vilify her because I saw in her eyes fear and remorse and…

That was enough for me, and for Davy, and for Noah for whom we are the greatest advocates. We told the teacher that this was unacceptable and that we didn’t want this happening again, without pointing our fingers at her, because we all knew what had happened. And she knew we’d all but called her out. And Noah’s teacher is in fact a fine and good-hearted soul who simply let her ignorance shine on the wrong side of right. I don’t believe in my heart that it was done maliciously. And I do believe said teacher got the message. And that’s all that matters. The message.

Since then, Davy and I have shared this experience with several friends and family members. Most decent human beings were rightly outraged and supportive of our reaction and handling of the incident. Those less decent have made excuses as to why any white figure of authority would call a small child of Asian descent, Bruce Lee. Some people choose to ignore ignorance, which is a whole different kind of ignorance unto its own. Some choose to deny it, and excuse it, and even consider me “too sensitive.” Because I’m a minority? Because I’m Asian? What if I was Black or Hispanic or Middle Eastern? What are the Bruce Lee equivalents of that?

“My name is Noah!”

This is what I’ve taught my son to say proudly.

Fast forward, and coincidentally, to the lunchroom scene I mentioned above from Fresh Off the Boat…little Eddie’s response to “Yo Chinese kind. What’s your name again? Something Chinese?”?

“My name is Eddie!”

Kinda perfect.

And that all-important document that was being “copied” by Noah’s teacher on Wednesday morning? It turns out it was copied eight times because eight students, including Noah, out of the twenty-two in Noah’s preschool class, are being advanced to the kindergarten class mid-school season at the end of this month. We discovered the photocopied letter and evaluation, in Noah’s backpack, after we left his teacher and awkward conversation. It turns out we probably did do the best thing in this case, since Noah’s teacher will no longer be his teacher come March.

And in particular, Noah was evaluated as demonstrating very advanced lingual capabilities. Not surprising as he’s fluent in both Dutch and English and picking up new Korean words every day, and explaining a lot, and another reason why Davy and I must always listen. Always listen to your child. And always stand up for what is right.

NoahSchool

Noah will be the youngest student in the kindergarten class, which usually starts at age 3.5, something Davy and I are most proud of.

Now if we can only get him to tackle potty-training…

Always dishing,

Jun

Thanksgiving in Belgium

photo-16

There is no Thanksgiving in Belgium. But there is Thanksgiving in Belgium. There’s Thanksgiving in our home every year, because our son Noah is raised in a Korean-American-Belgian home. However, we didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving until today.

And celebrate we did…

photo-16Noah squealed with joy at all the cheesy little “Happy Thanksgiving” turkey printouts I’d hung up on the walls and doors, because at two-and-a-half, everything is exciting.

DSC05517Along with our turkey I threw in some (left to right): eggplant parm, sugarbread stuffing with sausage, sweet corn, candied yams, mashed potatoes, gravy, mac ‘n cheese and cranberry relish. All homemade, because cooking is therapeutic for me.

This has been a very rough year having to adjust to my leaving the stay-at-home-world and into the working world, in a big way, with the opening of Rice House, among other growing pains in our household. And most recently, Noah starting school off with a bang, including two stitches in his forehead, on top of all my ups and downs that come along with living as a newlywed expat in a country foreign to me. Despite this being my fifth Thanksgiving here in Belgium, I still sometimes feel like a foreigner though I’m often told I speak the language like a proper Belgian.

Our Thanksgiving table was light but full…

DSC05520Our honored guests this year from left to right: Noah’s best friend konijn (koh-nehn) rabbit, Opi and Omi

photo-15

As expected, Noah was down for some Flinstones action…

photo-14And he did not disappoint…

photo

He took his wishbone fight very seriously…

photo-2

And he won! He beat his papa!

Want to know what he wished for? Here’s the full video…

~

After dinner, I even tried to get Noah to go potty…even read him a finger puppet book to entertain aka distract him.

DSC05527

Wait for it…

DSC05525

It was a no-go. Maybe tomorrow. For sure by this time next year…but alas…

This year is drawing to an end yet I feel years older than I did this time last year.

I’m thankful for that.

I’m thankful.

Always dishing,

Jun

 

Just Stay With Me Holmes and Rahe: Staying Married in Belgium and Anal Sex and Alcoholism, Etc.

Polos

Just stay with me…

Because I’m dramatic and an admitted hypochondriac, I used to refer back to that list on the internet where they list stressful life events, just for fun. I Googled it now and it turns out it’s called the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.

Fancy.

I used to tally up my points, but not to feel sorry for myself. I always did it to give myself a break, to literally cut myself some slack by just stepping back to see just how much was going on in my life. To reassess what is important. It helps me cope and deal with stress and figure out next steps. I don’t recommend this for everyone because it might not work for everyone. In fact, it may depress some of you.

I hope not.

Holmes-Rahe-Stress-Inventory

Mine adds up into the 560s in the last four years of my life.

Why four years?

Because in January, I’ll be living in Belgium four years. I’ll be married for just as long too, considering there’s only a two-week gap between marrying my husband Davy and moving here to Belgium. Hypothetically speaking, this is where my blogs, about being an American expat in Belgium, will go from woohoo-happy-levels down to what the fuck have I gotten myself into-depths and back up again.

Thankfully, I chose to live here. Nobody made me and I didn’t have to, and so this isn’t a boohoo blog, it’s just not a woohoo one. I’m sure there are veteran expats and people married longer than me who are chuckling reading this now. The thing is…

Getting married and staying married, is like comparing oral sex to anal sex. Obviously one’s nothing compared to the other. But in both cases there has to be enough love and lust to happen. I’m not saying you have to have anal sex to stay married. Maybe you do. Maybe I do. Maybe we all do have anal sex when we’re married, if not in practice then surely in mind-fucking. Staying married will ass-fuck you in the mind all the time, which is the ultimate kind of mind-fucking. If you don’t work at your marriage and for your marriage, then it’s not a marriage.

Add to all this a very random and sobering unknown fact about Belgium…

ALCOHOLISM IS RAMPANT.

And particularly in small towns like I’m living in where nobody ever leaves, or goes anywhere for good for that matter, alcoholics are alcoholics until they die, in Belgium. Basically. It doesn’t matter if said alcoholic is a raging one or a functional one, or what age they are.

And then there are the enablers that will always be around and stay around, and cover for the alcoholics and pick up the pieces for them until there’s nobody left and the alcoholic finally dies. I’ll probably be public enemy number one to everyone I offend with this blog, but since I live a life in the 560s on the stress scale, being number one in anything often enough becomes okay.

If I cared about gossip then I wouldn’t have time to care for my marriage and my son. My food business is a whole other baby. If I cared about gossip then I wouldn’t be where I am today, and willingly at that. Talking about alcoholism in 2014 shouldn’t be taboo, here or anywhere…

I tried “way back” in 2011 to seek resources, online and otherwise, and I discovered that AA and Al-Anon are not readily “available” in Belgium like in America. Nothing in Ghent as far as Al-Anon. Shocking and not shocking, but disheartening. Books and forums don’t compare to real conversation.

And it was almost like I was the only one who saw and acknowledged the damage of alcoholism all around, in a country I newly call home. Families breaking up left and right and generations rotting their livers away. Really, the proverbial elephant in the room was a welcomed guest compared to the drunk one who hurt people at every party. I really thought I was the crazy one for a while until I started meeting more people like me, whether expat and born-and-bred Belgian, who acknowledged that yes, the culture here ignores the “problem of alcohol” yet still, gossip about it is like cocaine in the form of the Dutch language. Small-town stereotypes come to life, every day in Belgium.

So this small environmentally-sound and so far fiscally-solid country in the middle of Europe, has some of the best beer and basically-free healthcare…and a shit-load of alcoholics.

Everybody’s living in their proverbial glass houses and most pretend they don’t look into yours when really they watch it obsessively because they hate being in their own house. The chances of people here, particularly women, standing their ground to an alcoholic man, are lower than that of said woman giving up her ass for you to fuck anally. I’d bet my rice that more women in Belgium have anal sex than they do stand up to an alcoholic. And those that do are met with indifference and sometimes ostracized by the very people who should be protecting them.

That is some fucked up shit and I’m sick of seeing it.

Too many people die every day because, you just never know. Alcoholism kills. It kills people but their souls die first, and there’s almost always collateral damage.

I’m a realist, and as a realist, I knew coming into this marriage in a country foreign to me, that I’d be the outsider, and for a very long time. That was fine with me, because I was here forever I do’d to Davy and having a baby was one of our early goals. We achieved this goal and our son Noah shines bright.

You have to have goals. Without goals you’re just living in a broken glass house bleeding imaginary blood. So every now and again when I refer back to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, I’m reminded of what and who is important in my life, to help me cut out people and things that aren’t. Only then can I focus on Davy and Noah, and other goals in my life.

I said in a recent interview for OneChicklette.com:

Interview

I know now what I want my next big goal to be.

I’ve taken steps to start an Al-Anon program here in my town of Evergem, out of my own pocket if I have to. Size doesn’t matter when all you need is conversation. And most likely I will be using Rice House as a venue for meetings. So I don’t write this to hurt anyone, but merely to inform and hopefully relate, and provide a forum where people feel safe to start that conversation, publicly or privately.

Why? Mostly because I love Davy and Noah, who mean everything to me, and the life we have created here. But there’s alcoholism all around us. I don’t want to ignore it or sweep it under the rug anymore…

Whether you live in Belgium or not, please share this blog. You never know…someone you know who knows someone somewhere may know someone in the Ghent area.

Please also feel free to share your story about life, marriage, expat-living, alcoholism, anal sex, rice, whatever…in the comments section below. As a thank you and welcome back, and gesture of good faith in the world, I’ll be giving away Rice House polos (one women’s and one men’s) to two subscribers. Winners to be chosen in one month’s time.

Polos

So please be sure to subscribe to the site for your chance to win.

And this is basically what my absence here, and recent stresses have manifested in, a big weird “just stay with me blog”…

Always dishing,

Jun

 

I’d Never Do That. I Couldn’t.

MomzMe

I’ve always been a risk-taker. Not for others, but for myself, a risk-taker.

Anyone who happens to come along for the ride gets to feel the effects good and bad.

Although she’ll deny it damn convincingly, my mother was also a risk-taker most of her life.

MomzMe

 

She left Korea for America, to give me a better life, and together owned a fruit and vegetable store with my father. I left America for Belgium, for a new life and to start a family, and now own a Korean takeout place called Rice House. Not exactly the same, but lots of risk-taking all over the place between two generations.

Just because you own a business doesn’t mean you’re rich. In fact, it means that you’ve probably invested most of what you had in life savings plus maybe a loan from the bank, and you’re now poorer than you were before. But you own a business! It’s pretty much the coolest thing ever after winning Big Brother and marrying Davy and having Noah, and still having fans who throw me love and support every day in different ways.

The risk is great but I choose to believe in my Korean heart that more often than not, the reward will be greater.

But…and I never thought I’d say this, my American citizenship is proving burdensome. More specifically, the IRS. I don’t understand people who say it’s “so complicated tax-wise” being an American expat anywhere, regardless of the country you were born in, because it’s actually not that complicated. You’re basically fucked. Any income must be paid in your country of residence, and also kicked back to the IRS. Even when I obtain my Belgian citizenship, I’ll be required to send a check to the IRS, plus…

I’m not eligible for a loan. As an American citizen you can’t get a loan in Belgium (and other EU countries I presume but I’m NO tax expert). As a Belgian married to an American citizen, my husband Davy can no longer take out a loan in his own country of birth Belgium. Crazy right?

The thing is, Davy and I haven’t taken out any loans since we’ve been married so we never knew we were ineligible in the first place. Belgians by nature don’t live on credit, unlike most Americans, and so we’ve always lived within our means. When I did my research before moving to Belgium, I didn’t anticipate opening Rice House or taking out loans. Maybe I should have. But maybe I was too busy packing to move here and getting shit translated at the Korean Consulate, and oh well.

And…it turns out Noah, by his American citizenship, is required by law to pay taxes in both countries as well. As soon as he’s old enough to work, he’ll have to pay taxes to a country he’s never even lived in let alone worked in. I guess that’s the cost for admission? Like a grand scale American Buyers Club without the drugs?

I’ve read articles recently, stating alarming numbers of Americans renouncing their citizenships and choosing to live abroad paying taxes where they reside yet cutting ties with the IRS. I’d never do that. I couldn’t. Give up my American citizenship?!

But I can see why some Americans would…

Nevertheless, Davy and I move forward counting pennies to the euro and we’ve made it thus far without a loan from the bank. We’d applied for less than $10,000, small in the grand scheme of starting up a business, yet we were shut down because of my American citizenship. Belgium and America are the best of friends that way it seems. They shut us out like mean girls.

Our accountant recommended something called the Win-Win Loan or WinWinLening open only to Belgians. It’s a 2.5% tax credit for a friend or member of the family who’d would loan money to me and Davy. This all sounded great but Davy and I laughed because we don’t have friends or family in Belgium, with money to invest in Rice House. I can’t imagine asking anyone struggling anyway, to lend us money. But if you do know a Belgian who’s got extra disposable income, then please do tell them about Rice House.

For now, I’m just literally watching every penny going into our business without compromising quality. I figure this is all just stuff to laugh about later. Right?

Always dishing,

Jun

 

 

 

Rice House: Updates

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPG

I picked out paint colors yesterday for Rice House. Let the painting begin!

Ahhhhhhh~

They will be the colors found in the Rice House logo. Bold orange and bold blue, and colors found in the Korean flag:

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPGI’ve never done this before, opened a food business, my own shop. I don’t know all the lingo but I base all my decisions on my own foundations, and with my husband Davy together on big decisions. All major ones have been made and now it’s just a waiting game and working and growing pains until Rice House opens its doors on May 1st.

I’ll be attempting to display something like this on May 1st, for show:

KoreanFlag - Sydney

It was presented at the Sydney International Food Festival last year and I’m excited to try and recreate it for the Grand Opening! Here’s a cheat-sheet on what each part of the Korean flag means:

KoreanFlag

Rice House in its entirety is about 600 square feet counting both floors (or 60 sq m), with a bathroom and ample storage on the top floor. The actual shop space is about 250 square feet (or 25 sq m). My conversions aren’t exact but they’re close enough because it’s easy enough to remember.

This is what I have envisioned for the ground floor space and shop:

GroundFloorPlan

Work continues at Rice House, and we’ve already removed one small wall:

Wall

Also, all the stickers and branding from the former sandwich shop are now gone!

I can now start from scratch with my own branding!

BeforeAfterOutside

But work also continues at home as Noah approaches his second birthday. It’s almost two years now since I live-tweeted my early labor and delivery of Noah (tweets all here). Time has flown but Noah’s grown, and he’s already practicing playing shopkeeper…

NoahShopkeeper

Noah’s been to Rice House a couple of times now, and he’s comfortable there as if he knows already that it’s “ours.”

Ours.

It’s why I’m putting a “Kiddie Corner” into the space, because I want Noah and other children to feel safe and special while they’re at Rice House. It sounds super corny but I mean it. Rice House is a business but it’s very much still real life. As such, the plan is to keep everything as simple as possible. This is easier to do in Evergem than in Manhattan.

I’d say one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make as a business woman, is to slow down. Nobody answers work emails at night and nobody breaks their neck to get anything done around these old parts of Europe. It’s refreshing yet frustrating at the same time, balancing my New York City killer instinct with diplomacy in patience.

So, simple it is.

The menu will consists of (sushi) rolls and (rice) bowls, and soups. There will always be a stand-by menu and specials-of-the-week. Here’s an example of a Rice House Shrimp Bowl:

ShrimpBowl

I’m so glad all those food photos I took are paying off, in what is now the Rice House Menu. Vendors have been chosen and bids are in, and my husband Davy and I have trust and understanding in each other’s different strengths. We are doing most everything ourselves and calling in professionals for what professionals do…

But Davy drew a map on which Rice House stands, and I created it simply in Power Point:

 

RiceHouseMap

 

It’s the cutest map I’ve ever personally made, and it’s good enough to give to the printer for now so he can do his magic. Flyers and stickers and posters are being printed very soon! Rice House will get a make-over before May 1st. Opening Hours coming soon!

My mother will be coming in May to help with everything and to spend warm days in the sun with Noah. I need momz here for this. I’m glad she’ll be here.

I’d like to thank everyone for your support. Stay tuned!

Always dishing,

Jun

 

A Photo Blog About a Castle and Facebook

BoatRide

There are more castles than Koreans in Belgium, yet I’ve yet to blog about a one.

tweet

I’ve been to a few castles in Belgium now living here some years, but there is one that stands out:

– It’s right in the middle of my city of Ghent.

– It holds fond memories for me.

– It’s the first castle I laid eyes upon my first day visiting Ghent.

On July 3, 2010, I reunited with Davy for the first time since leaving the Dominican Republic. It was my first of many long-distance relationship trips to come, but on my first day I remember seeing Het Gravensteen…

All photos happened before I ever joined Twitter so they may be new to many of you…

BoatRide

There once was a castle called Gravensteen, or Castle of the Count if you will. I saw it for the first time by boat and took this photo, on a boat ride with Davy down the River Leie. Canals and a river and a castle, right in my city. I was in. I could totally picture myself living here.

 

Kisses

You can tell we were dripping in honeymoon phase love because we took this photo and uploaded it to Facebook, tagged and captioned all mushy and everything. Davy was always down for a photo op and I take photos obsessively, so it was a match made in Facebook heaven.

 

StepsJuly6th

Then the next day we actually returned to Gravensteen and took the obligatory tour. Davy hadn’t done it since grade school and as a Belgian citizen he didn’t have to pay the entrance fee, which I did. I don’t have to pay anymore so that’s some consolation. Also, my legs look really good so I love this photo.

 

eightjudicialswordssymbolizingthepowerinthe16th-18thcenturies

We saw cool things like these “judicial swords that once represented power in the 16th-18th centuries” and I made notes of these things while I was touring the castle, so I could caption them accurately later on Facebook, but none of my Facebook friends cared. Nobody commented. Ugh.

 

guillotine

The castle last served as a jail, and there was a guillotine I was disappointed I wasn’t allowed to get closer to. I wasn’t allowed to touch it either, which I wanted to so for some reason.

 

OnTopOfTheCastle

When Davy and I got to the top of the castle, I managed to climb the steps all the way up for this photo AND not bust my ass on the way down. Big feat for me.

 

ViewBelow

We looked down and saw where we’d passed by just the day before, by boat.

 

wishingwell

We made our way back down below surface and found this “wishing well” that tourists, who came before me, threw coins down into. But I imagine it could have been a toilet way back when for all I know. I threw a one-euro piece down the well and wished, “I wish to marry Davy.” 

Corny but true.

 

~

PosingInFront

The following month, in August, I returned to Ghent with my mother. I introduced her to her future son-in-law Davy, and then I introduced her to the castle.

 

MeAndMomzWindow

The next day, Davy had to work and so my momz and I took the tour of the castle alone. We both paid the entrance fee. I had no problems handing my camera over to tourists to get these photos. My momz and I look so happy! She loved that Davy went to work. She said he was a hard-working man with his priorities straight. So sweet!

 

MeAndMomzRoof

We got to the top of the castle and saw most of Ghent before our eyes. My mother asked me if I could really see myself living here. I answered yes.

 

MomzActionShot

While we were making our way out of the castle, my mother thought she saw something in the cross window. I love this photo of momz. Action shot!

 

ColumnI hugged a column in the basement of the castle. My mother begrudgingly took the photo. Plus, I love the flats I’m wearing!

~

And that’s my photo blog about a castle and Facebook.

Always dishing,

Jun

But I Didn’t Steal Anything!

barrette

The first time I ever stole something I was 5 years old. I didn’t even know I was stealing at the time. My mother had taken me to one of the wholesale stores near 32nd Street, in Koreatown. It’s where she bought frilly Korean bows and hair clips for me in wholesale quantities growing up, imported straight from Korea. There was never a day in my childhood that I did not have some barrette or headband with little birds or butterflies, or other tiny creatures of wildlife, adorning my hair.

Five

But on that one particular day, as I waited for my mother to pay for seven dozen new hair accessories, I noticed on the floor a little plastic bumble bee that had fallen off a headband nearby. It was covered in yellow and black sequins and glitter. I picked up the little bumble bee, saving it right before it was swept up by a store employee. It would have gone right into the trash had I not saved it!

My mother and I went off to lunch, and at some point during the meal I fished my little bumble bee out of my pocket and began to play with it.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I answered my mother quickly. I wouldn’t have lied had it not sounded like an accusation!

My mother eventually confiscated my new toy, but then she gave it right back. I thought I’d won the battle, but then she marched me back to the store from whence it came. She explained to the store owner that I had taken something from their store without asking, and that I was there to return it. But I didn’t steal anythingI shouted in my head. But I felt ashamed. I handed the bee over to the owner.

“Oh but this is trash!” cried the owner in Korean, laughing.

My mother maintained that stealing trash was was still stealing. I had not asked permission to take it and therefore it was stealing. There was no grey area for my mother, just black and white, or black and yellow in this case. The bumble bee.

Both the store owner and I thought my mother was crazy. I realize now that my mother was right, in the end. I never asked anyone if I could have that little trashy bumble bee. It was the principle!

That was then.

~

This is now…

Yesterday I went to a baby fair alone, without Noah or Davy. Davy had gone to pick up my iPhone from the repair shop, and he’d taken Noah with him so I could quickly make the rounds at the baby fair before their return. Baby fairs, or babybeurs in Dutch, are basically swap meets but strictly for baby clothes and products. There are so many different beurs and markts (markets) going on, on any given weekend, that Belgium is basically one huge swap meet of a country!

So there I was in the very small and homogeous farming town of Kluizen yesterday, looking like I was on my way to a winter funeral in L.A with a little fur, a little Prada, and some suede ankle boots…

I’d just snatched up some long-sleeve shirts for Noah, and for a steal. The shirts still had tags on them so I was quite pleased with my purchase. I was enjoying all my conversations in Dutch here and there as I shopped. I liked flexing my language muscles without Davy around.

I knelt by another table to fold away the shirts I’d just bought, into my bag. I was about to move on to the next room of baby goods, when I was stopped. A woman’s hand gripped my forearm. She was the vendor whose table I’d knelt in front of. There were boxes of her children’s clothes she was selling, right where I’d been kneeling, and she asked me in Dutch if I’d taken anything from her box.

“Wablief?!” is what I asked the lady vendor.

Wablief is Dutch for what/huh/Whatchoo talkin’ bout Willis? It’s pronounced “wah-bleef” and it’s one of my favorite words in the language.

The lady vendor then repeated herself, louder, and by then everyone in the room was staring at us, in anticipation. For her, it was probably a mix of her own prejudices and jealousy over my tiny feet. I noticed her feet were huge. I couldn’t help it.

I told her in my best Dutch, “I took nothing. You don’t have to ask me again. Look in my bag.”

I’d opened my bag for her, and everyone else, to see. There were lots of sympathetic faces around me but it didn’t help. I felt like I was 5 years old again! Tears welled up in my eyes but I blinked them back. I swallowed the lump of humiliation in my throat. I wanted to run out of there and wait for Davy outside, but it was freezing out and I had no phone! I couldn’t even call him to hurry, and I couldn’t even tweet about it! I felt so alone.

I rarely feel outnumbered “because I’m Asian” because I don’t go around thinking about it consciously, but then some days it’s brought to my attention like yesterday. But my pride was intact and I continued shopping. I even had a cup of coffee at the refreshment stand. I looked fine.

When Davy finally arrived I told him there was nothing left to buy at the baby fair and we left. He was psyched to avoid the chaos inside and we drove off. He handed me my phone and I took it quietly. Davy knew my reunion with my iPhone should have been a bigger deal and he asked me what was wrong. I launched into the story, crying, while all the adrenaline drained from my body. Davy wanted to turn the car around and give the lady vendor hell, but I stopped him.

I’m not into Davy fighting my battles anyway, and I didn’t want the people of Kluizen to remember “that” couple on their gossip train. And I didn’t want Kluizen thinking I was anything but a well-dressed and gracious Asian woman who was falsely accused of stealing by a beast with big feet. It’s better than being called the crazy screaming anything. That never help.

Then this morning Davy saw that there was a babybeurs happening in our own town. We had nothing to do and so we went to check it out. And who did I see as soon as I walked into the fair? Big Foot from the day before! Apparently she’s a regular on the baby fair circuit.

I gasped. I couldn’t even help it. There she was.

She looked at me, and she saw I was not alone this time. She looked away quickly and never looked my way again.

But Davy had seen my mouth hanging open and he’d followed my gaze.

“She’s here? That’s her?”

I didn’t answer him at first but he knew it. He started to walk over to her with steam coming out of his ears. I stopped him. We went in the other direction. Noah found a set of wooden puzzles he wanted, and we made our rounds until we go to the front door again.

Davy and I discussed possibly stopping by “that” stall to say something, but we didn’t in the end. The fact of the matter is, I am a minority here and as such, shit happens. I stand out, which means Davy and Noah do too. How we stand out is what matters.

Short-term it would have been great to shame that sasquatch but long-term, I have to raise a family and live amongst her and other big feet like her. I’m okay with walking away from a fight I know I’d win, if it might make someone think differently about what they already assume. I hope that sasquatch realizes I didn’t destroy her, on principle, although I could have.

At least I have a good story to tell my mother on Skype tonight.

I’m sure we’ll reminisce about the stupid bumble bee…

Always dishing,

Jun

 

Tupperware and Feeling Old

TupperwareCrew

I once attended a sex toy home party here in Belgium. I bought some disinfectant cleaner in a sexy-looking bottle because the prices of the rest of the products were ridiculously high. My husband Davy and I have a decent-sized pleasure and torture chest and I personally don’t need a home party to buy my sex toys. In New York I once attended a sex toy party for a Christmas charity. But I never attended a Tupperware home party in my life until I moved to Belgium. I’ve now attended two, one thrown from someone on Davy’s mom’s side of the family and the other from Davy’s dad’s side of the family.

I’d never actually been invited to one until I moved here. Nobody I ever knew in New York threw them. I knew nothing about anything about what a Tupperware home party was and it had always been more like an urban legend to me. My mother always used Rubbermaid anyway and she just bought it at the store.

So I’m about to overanalyze the shit out of Tupperware parties, in Belgium, and you can tell me if it’s similar where you are or were.

My first Tupperware party in Belgium was at the wife of Davy’s uncle Danny, Carine’s. She was the host and there were about a dozen of us in her dining room. Mostly friends of Carine and Danny’s and some family like me. Everyone was 30+ in age. I was very pregnant with Noah. Carine, our hostess, laid out crackers and cookies and I was so disappointed. I was pregnant! I needed to eat more than hostage in kidnap! I was shocked at the prices of the actual pieces of Tupperware. My urban legend had some legendary pricing. Geez.

I ended up buying the “cheapest” expensive freezer container at around $30 and getting something for free while other guests bought hundreds of dollars of Tupperware like it was nothing. The Tupperware Consultant had been very good at her job in selling fun and gadgets. She cooked a whole meal of raw meat and veggies in one one Tupperware bowl in the microwave. In the microwave! Her cooking demonstration was taste-tested by all guests including pregnant me. I felt weird about eating “microwave cooking” and I still do.

Carine and Danny ended our relationship soon after that stupid Tupperware party, and also cut off anyone else who bought just one “cheapest” expensive item like I had. Coincidence? A lost bond for the price of Tupperware. Tupperware is thicker than blood apparently. How sordid!

My second Tupperware party, last night, happened at the home of Davy’s dad’s girlfriend’s daughter Lindsay. Complicated-sounding but basically my future step-sister-in-law’s. Lindsay’s also, incidentally, the hostess of the only sex toy home party I’ve attended in Belgium. Connection? Lindsay likes to throw home parties.

But besides Tupperware and sex toys, there’s lots of other kinds of home parties all the rage here in Belgium like it’s 1949 or 1979, you choose.

The whole Tupperware thing makes me feel uncomfortable. All of it does. There. I said it.

I feel like I’ve taken a time machine back many decades to a time where I’m supposed to be barefoot and pregnant and pouring milk out of glass jugs brought to me by the milkman. It does help when hostesses like Lindsay put out a thoughtful and tasty spread of finger foods. She and I share a love of preparing and devouring party foods. So at Lindsay’s Tupperware  home party last night there was lots to eat and drink and nearly 20 of us under one roof in the living and dining room with the Tupperware Consultant.

Lindsay’s Tupperware Consultant was soft-spoken and nervous and not as polished as Carine’s Tupperware Consultant, but she was a nice Belgian lady. She also did a demonstration of microwave wonder meals and it took everything in me not to stand up and shout, “Microwaves are not for cooking! Nooooo! This is wrong!”

Cooking in microwaves is now a Tupperware thing?! You want me to stick a whole raw chicken with all the fixings in a Tupperware bowl costing $150 and call it dinner after 15 minutes in the microwave? No way! Microwaves are for reheating food, at best, and not for cooking. I can’t stand with Tupperware on this.

Am I just old-fashioned? Possibly old? I felt old last night and not because I was the oldest person at the Tupperware party. Lindsay’s guests consisted of a mostly of her best girlfriends, all aged similarly in their youthful and bouncy booties of their early 20s.

Lindsay’s standing 3rd from the left, with the short blond hair.

TupperwareCrew

Then there was me and the rest of the “older” ladies at the party, all family of Lindsay’s. We’re not in the photo, clearly. And I learned at this particular Tupperware home party that younger ladies don’t purchase as much ridiculously priced Tupperware as older ladies do. It’s the moms and aunts and grandmas of Tupperware home party hostesses that Tupperware should target. Not younger ladies.

The theme here being ladies.

All these home parties are hosted and attended and consulted by vaginas. Vaginas staying in while any corresponding penises are not present. I get all the good reasons for such vaginal gatherings but I can’t help but think it’s all a bit anti-feminist. I’m no bra-burner but I’ll let my tits fly free for a cause if I have to. I just never thought Tupperware would be it. I don’t think it’s any kind of conspiracy to keep women in the kitchen or home, but it does make me wonder.

However, I did purchase two items both for Noah…some “Lollitup” freezer pop holders and straw-sippy-cups. I did it because Tupperware kid’s stuff is built to last and Lindsay was a great hostess. I really wanted her to get the free mandolin she could be awarded as incentive for throwing the Tupperware party in the first place. I spent nearly double the amount I had at my first Tupperware home party at Carine’s and I was happy to do it. Lindsay’s mom, Myriam whom Noah calls Oma, and Lindsay’s aunt and grandma contributed greatly towards Lindsay’s goal too. I’m happy to report that Lindsay will get her mandolin!

There will be no third Tupperware home party for me because it’s just not necessary. It’s been fun and a huge learning experience in a country where the learning curve is brutal in its climb. As an afterthought I will add that Lindsay and all her girlfriends went out for the evening after Tupperwaregate and then I really felt old. Me and the rest of the 30+ ladies went home. I was strangely comforted by the fact that Lindsay and her bevy of Belgian cuties were out while I was home on the sofa with Davy.

I remember those days I still went out after a long day…

Always dishing,

Jun

Chaotic Christmas Blog

Christmas

I love Christmas and I always have since my very first Christmas in America. I was 4 years old and it’s the first one I remember at all anyway. All my Christmases up until then had been in Korea.

In Korea my life was nothing like the brights lights and sparkle of New York City during Christmas. There’s nothing like it. I’ve never spent Christmas Day anywhere else but Seoul then New York, and now Ghent.

Three very different eras of my life if I can even call them eras at my age…

Seoul: It was just me and my father’s mother in Seoul. She was my family and I was hers. I’m told we had very nice Christmases with money my parents sent from New York for 3 years.

New York: All of a sudden in New York I had a new life and new family…my mother’s side of the family and it was a large family.

(I grew up in a pretty big family as did my husband Davy. We all know…the bigger the family, the bigger – proportionately – the number of crazy aunts and uncles and in-laws and cousins galore. It’s one of the things that make Davy and me stronger. Our understanding of completely crazies in the bloodline.)

My family was dysfunctional just like many other Korean and non-Korean families everywhere and our Christmases were always a zoo. My entire extended family always crammed into my grandparent’s 3-bedroom apartment in Masaryk Towers on the Lower East Side, and it was always complete chaos. Once more grandkids, other than me and my brother, started being born in the family my grandparents’ place was pretty much a fire hazard because you just never knew what half the kids were up to. Probably very much like your family except nobody’s threatening in Korean to spank anyone. Or maybe they are. Maybe it’s in English or Spanish on your Christmas Day. But for me, Christmas Day really was like a Chevy Chase movie except with three types of kimchi present at all times and chopsticks and lots of respectful bowing to elders and praying before we ate anything.

My grandmother was notorious for the longest prayers ever and she always got to pray for all the major family meals which me and the rest of her grandkids hated.  Especially on Christmas! All the adults dreaded it too but they pretended to be pious through the whole prayer.

As my grandmother got older her prayers got longer because she kept repeating things and forgetting her grandkids’ names or keeping track of whom she’d blessed or didn’t.

As we grandkids matured we stopped laughing and giggling at grandma’s long prayers as we noticed her memory failing then Alzheimer’s getting bad.

Christmas Day became less about the grandkids and more about grandma in recent years. We always made her laugh as much as we could because when my grandmother laughs nothing else matters. Alzheimer’s didn’t stop her from laughing then, or now when I Skype with her. Our family always laughed a lot on Christmas Day and other days because of my grandmother or grandfather or one of the grandkids. It was always chaos…you can ask anyone in my family.

Ghent: I married into a family in Belgium that laughs and laughs and laughs. For me it’s a new country and new marriage and new family of my own. Davy and I strive to raise Noah so he’s aware of all his roots near and far. Noah thought our Christmas tree was magical too, until he figured out where the switch to the lights were and fast. Now each morning he yells “On! On!” and the lights go on, on our Christmas tree:

Our Tree

By the way, I brought some of that Christmas chaos with me here to Ghent and it started this morning as I failed to find regular white marshmallows anywhere. Apparently in Belgium, marshmallows are a “summer treat” and therefore not carried in stores or supermarkets during other seasons. What?!

It was getting so chaotic that we decided to go pick up Noah from daycare looking like Christmas.

Christmas

Noah seemed genuinely confused and then pleased to see us looking all Christmas.

Oh and I have to go now and be Ms. Chaos because we’re hosting Christmas Eve Dinner in our home for eleven adults and one Noah, in roughly 24 hours.

How’s that for a Chaotic Christmas Blog?

Always dishing,

Jun

Things You Can’t Do in Belgium, Specifically in Flanders

belgium

There are ridiculous but real laws existing all over Belgium, because each little town and municipality has its own little laws aka fundraisers. In Flanders, which is the northern part of Belgium where I live, there are some especially insane ones. They all come with some hefty fines.

belgium

I’ve collected some of the oddest ones for you to use should you need a conversation changer or ender in a pinch this holiday season. If things get awkward or you want things to get more awkward, just open your mouth and announce:

“Did you know that in Northern Belgium in a town called…

Merchtem, it’s forbidden to play soccer in the park when pigeon breeders are playing with their pigeons.

Dendermonde, it’s forbidden to interrupt someone who’s sliding down a waterslide.

Mechelen, it’s forbidden to drop garbage into a garbage can unless you produced the garbage while standing at the garbage can.

caterpillar

Arendonk, it’s forbidden to have “Oak Processionaries” in your yard or property because the caterpillars are considered a natural plague. It’s also encouraged that neighbors tattle on their neighbors at the sighting of these caterpillars.

Deinze, it’s forbidden to pick up confetti already on the street or floor and throw it back up in the air.

Hasselt, it’s forbidden to scare carnival parade spectators

Lokeren, it’s forbidden to scare ANYONE.

Wellen, it’s forbidden to use anything but non-biodegradable confetti or confetti that’s >10mm in diameter. The diameter will be checked.

Lokeren, it’s forbidden to throw a snowball.

Beerse, it’s forbidden to vomit unless you’re pregnant.

And there you have it. Some conversation changers or enders.

Always dishing,

Jun