Jun Dishes

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Confronting

Wishlist

Mama, that boy has girls’ shoes on.”

“No dear, that is a girl.”

“But she has no hair, like a boy.”

“Because she is also sick like you and she lost her hair. And you will lose yours too, like her one day, because that’s what will happen.”

“But Mama, I don’t want to lose all my hair.”

~

How is a mother to respond to such a plea?

And what of the angst, when this child pleas with her mother and father that she doesn’t want to feel the cold and relentless prick of a needle in her arm? That pain and discomfort, all too familiar now, as she endures such steps in this many years’ journey that has just begun. This little girl, so charming and so smart, as smart as a slap to the face of reality that so many lives have changed overnight. Because, that’s what really happens when cancer hits close to home. Maybe you have cancer now, or your spouse or child, or you had it or know someone who did, however close or far the relationship. Maybe I’m just late to writing about cancer, but as much of a challenge it is, it brings together people who truly care about people. People.

We lose people in the news headlines every day it seems, that it’s an everyday occurrence that social media is filled with loss every day. And then the countless lives lost that don’t even make it to the ugly pretty news. Lives that are never even mentioned but are lost all the same.

And somehow you forget or maybe overlook the little victories, about people who live and survive, like a beautiful little girl who is taking well to the chemotherapy and eating and enjoying all the things children are supposed to enjoy. She may look different on the outside but she is the same spritely and joyous soul in a little body. Davy and I got to spend some time last week with Noah’s friend, Farah. She is just short of two months into treatment for leukemia. I’ve written about her before, and her parents Houda and Daan and baby sister Lynah.

Last week was emotional but we had fun that night with Farah in our presence. It was so very special. We did not bring Noah with us. One day when it’s possible we will.

But Davy and I saw Farah and she was as sweet and girly as ever, her eyes twinkled as always. She was her coy self and talkative in spurts, when I sat with her. We had blankets beneath us. We laughed, trying to get a video up on the iPad, because she wanted to show me something in English because she knows it is a language I speak.

Farah’s spirit sparkles and she is still everything good and right with the world, though her little body has been through many changes from head to toe already. And I wished I could take away as many daily dilemnas and pains as I could for Farah, as a mother and as a friend to Houda.

I say Houda is one strong woman. No matter how weak Houda may think she’s being at times. But she should never think herself weak. Houda keeps it together and she lets go when she has to. There is no shame in that. You must cry and lose your shit, in life, because it keeps you balanced and human and honest. But it takes a strong person to keep that balance. And I think Houda is really cool. That’s a rarity these days, sadly. But it makes you cherish it when you find it.

Since we last saw Farah, Houda and Daan have had to make the tough decision to cut her hair very short, because she started losing it at an alarming rate.

~

Since we were all last together, there has been one word that’s been stuck in my head because Houda kept using it in conversation. Confronting.

Confronting, as it relates to seeing your child go through drastic and sometimes overnight changes, and to be able to handle that kind of change. How you handle it truly shows what you are made of as an adult, as a parent.

Confronting. It’s actually the perfect word, and maybe often not used enough. Because sometimes shocking isn’t the right word but we use it, because I feel like I can’t use confronting because what I feel is not the same as Houda’s. But we are both mothers so I know well where Houda is. And she’s so honest about it it’s something to truly respect.

It must be indeed confronting. And maybe lonely. Because how many parents do you know in your immediate and one degree of separation’s away radius, whose child was just diagnosed with cancer?

Confronting. Even though you may tell your child, during chemotherapy, that this will inevitably happen. Maybe that conversation happened just a week ago, and it’s a most difficult reality to swallow for everyone. But I truly appreciate Houda entrusting me with her family. I try to balance what is customary here with who I am as a person.

Since then I’ve been wearing half my clothes inside-out some days, because so much has happened while my brain is trying to catch up with it all. Davy has since the last blog basically changed “bosses” at the Port of Ghent, where he’s a heavy machinery dockworker. So there’s a whole new hierarchy of authority for me to get to know, as “a docker’s wife.”

And Noah, he deserves all the love and attention he gets from those who love him, as he should.

The Little Shop

Noah takes very seriously his “little shop” where he parks his stroller outside and tends to business selling me croissants and cakes. He grows by leaps and bounds faster than my iPhone can capture, but I try. He is unabashedly wiser than his years but frolicking his childhood away. We have much to be thankful for every day, but especially cognizant of Thanksgiving coming up…

Memory

Noah also takes seriously indulging my mother in New York, when we all Skype after school. Lately we’ve been playing some of Noah’s simplest games and it gets pretty intense and very funny watching the whole thing unfold. There’s lots of love  not to be taken for granted at this pace of life we all fall into place in. We hope to, in the future, Skype with Farah, as both she and Noah both have already agreed happily to a date.

And…

Wishlist

This

This is a photo of love and support sent from many parts of the world to be donated to the children’s cancer ward of UZ Gent, the hospital where Farah is currently receiving her care and treatment. Cancer has far too many faces.

At first Davy and I were piling boxes into the dining room but then the boxes transformed into just outpouring of love. Even the always cynical Davy was touched by the immediate response from so many of you. It’s right there in our personal space, it can’t be missed.

Thank you to everyone who has given their words of wisdom and love and support, and those who were able to give through the Farah’s World wishlist and fund. Your cash donations will be matched and the wishlist fulfilled. I had no idea what to expect, and the boxes of love keep coming.

It’s not really done here. Fundraising and donations, mostly because civil and social functions in Belgium are well-funded. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need, even at basic humanitarian levels just to bring smiles to children’s faces. I struggle with riding the line between who I am and stopping myself because “it’s not really done here.” Because I don’t want to change too much while adjusting to life here. Since starting the wishlist of animal blankets, I have talked to parents and grandparents and friends and fans who have all been touched, in some way.

Thank you. For whatever your reason for being kind today, it has made a difference in someone’s day. That’s a good thing, still, that nobody can take away.

Always dishing,

Jun

 

 

Blame Oreos!

Oreos

Today…

It was 5pm and I wanted Oreos. I had thirty minutes left before I’d have to open Rice House for dinner service, and I still had a few items to prep before I was fully ready for customers. I could either ignore my Oreos craving or cave in, and run to my town’s sole and small stationery-grocery story by Rice House, and get a pack.

It was an easy decision. Being on your period means satisfying cravings. Period.

Map

So I locked up Rice House and ran down the street and across the parking lot of my town’s center, Evergem, population basically-nothing-compared-to-Manhattan. There weren’t many people around outside as it was a cold and windy day, but I did notice one couple having a cigarette outside a nearby cafe. And there was one girl waiting for the bus at the local stop. I remember she looked cold and definitely not dressed warm enough.

iPhone in hand, I checked my Twitter account, and was about to open an email when I walked into the only store for miles where I could buy Oreos. Friendly faces greeted me and I spotted immediately shiny blue packages of O-R-E-Os waiting right there for me on the counter display. I put my iPhone down on the counter and grabbed a pack, just ONE pack mind you, and I paid for my purchase. My greedy little hands pushed the pack of Oreos in my coat pocket and I said goodbye to the cashier and turned, with my arm extended to open the door leading out.

A very young and very skinny girl with black hair down to her ass was on the other side of the door. She looked like a slightly lighter-skinned-but-anorexic Nicki Minaj. I held the door open for her, smiling, and I gave her the once-over. I can’t help but judge people by what they’re wearing, and this girl was a walking mess of fashion faux pas. Very Minaj.

I’d smirked and left the store, crossing the street before realizing I’d left my iPhone on the counter at the store! I’d turned to cross back over when faux-Minaj ran out and down the street – loudly – in her four-inch faux leather ankle boots and metallic jewelry. She even turned and looked right at me. And still I’d thought nothing of it, because, maybe she was just in a rush? I was in a rush myself, needing to collect my iPhone and then get the hell back to Rice House for opening…

When I walked back into the store my eyes went directly to the counter where I’d put my phone down. It wasn’t there. Duh. I realized that chick had actually been running away with my phone. And now she was gone. Fuck. I felt so stupid, but not stupid enough to stop the ideas spinning in my head.

I saw there was a surveillance camera in the store and I asked the owner to go through footage from the last ten minutes. She got started right on it. I used her phone to call my husband Davy. Then I ran back outside, feeling helpless, knowing I should probably call the police too, and at least report the incident.

But then I turned and noticed that at the bus stop was the same girl who’d been waiting there the whole time. I approached her.

“Did you see the girl that just ran out of here?!”

The girl answered, “Yes, she’s my friend.”

“What?! Well, your friend just stole my phone.”

The girl, “Melissa,” looked suitably shocked and I actually believed she was a good person despite having a thief for a friend. I couldn’t believe my…luck?

“Did she get in a car or leave by foot?! Which way did she go?” I was basically screaming at this point.

Melissa told me that the thief, “Ani,” got into a grey Mercedes and took off, and that Ani lived a few blocks away from a supermarket close by. Melissa was very helpful and even offered to call Ani. I needed a phone with which to call the cops, but I didn’t want to take my eyes off Melissa, so I took a few steps over to the cafe next door. The couple from earlier was outside smoking again so I quickly explained the situation and procured one of their phones to call the cops with.

Granted, the police station was literally around the corner from where I was standing – because my town is that small – but I just didn’t want to let Melissa out of my sight. It turns out it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d run to the police station, because the police station is close on Saturdays. Yes. Closed. On Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. Because this is Evergem.

Nevertheless, I called the “911” equivalent here in Belgium. I explained as best I could in Dutch what had happened and I was told a police unit would be arriving at the scene of the crime asap. Meanwhile, Melissa had hung up the phone with Ani, who of course denied stealing my phone. Uh-huh.

Melissa’s bus eventually came and she had to go to work. I thought about detaining her by force but instead I asked her nicely to give me her contact information and to also hand over Ani’s number (and full name). Melissa actually complied. She turned out to be my savior. Without her and all the info she provided, my Oreos would have been worth nothing in the end.

Because when the police arrived, we checked out the video footage at the stationery store, and indeed we confirmed that the bitch Ani took my phone. She’d simply dropped her purse on top of my phone and then swiped it when she left. It was all on film.

But by then, my iPhone had been turned off and SIM card removed so the “Find My Phone” function wasn’t really useful, although I did manage to set a password on it remotely…

So I handed over Ani’s name and telephone number, and Melissa’s too, to the cops. My husband Davy arrived on the scene too, just in time to accompany me to the police station, which the cops opened the doors to just for me, and we filled out all the necessary paperwork. Deep down, I didn’t think I’d ever actually get my phone back.

And so I returned to Rice House a bit defeated, and iPhoneless, an hour later. I did have a flip phone on me though, an extra we keep around the house for our babysitter, that Davy brought with him. But I’d already lost an hour of business, and also any calls that may have come in for orders. My iPhone also serves as my business phone.

Sigh…

I felt like all was lost, and I couldn’t even bring myself to eat the stupid Oreos I fished out of my coat pocket. There was no way I’d enjoy them now…

Oreos

 

~

I was serving my first walk-in customer of the evening when the police officers from earlier walked into Rice House. They had my phone! They’d tracked the thief down using her name and phone number and Facebook account! They went to her house, and she eventually handed the phone over albeit SIM-card-less, and claimed she never stole anything. She insisted that she had simply found it “somewhere.” No confession. No remorse.

Thankfully SIM cards are useless here, because they all come with a personal pin code known only to the owner…

The thing is, If she’d at least fessed up and maybe cried and apologized I would have been okay with simply seeing my iPhone again. But now I want more justice done… What kind of idiot steals shit from the town’s only grocery store when they actually live in said tiny town? I’m sure I’ll run into her at some point again, whether or not it’s in or out of court…

I hope to run into Melissa at some point so I can buy her a free meal at Rice House.

Oh, and I definitely won’t be having any Oreos anytime soon…

Always dishing,

Jun

The Tale of Three Croissants in Evergem

CroissantsTest

Sometimes I set mini goals for myself, stupid shit I can accomplish, so I can then reward myself. Big goals are great, but the little ones keep your happiness in check. Last week I actually accomplished one of these little goals and it turned out to be one of the best buttery breakfasts of my life, involving three croissants.

Anyone in my family tell you that I love a fresh croissant more than anyone else, dead or alive, in my family. I. Just. Love. Croissants. You’d think France would have the best ones, but Belgium’s got freaking fantastic ones, considering the two countries are connected in geography and war.

Anyway.

Ffter dropping Noah off at daycare last Friday, and on the way to open my place for lunch service, I managed to collect three freshly baked croissants, from the three closest places to Rice House. I wanted to taste-test them all at once and decided whose was best. So I did just that.

First, Croissy Annelies, which nobody actually calls it. Everyone calls it “de franse bakkerij” or as Noah and I call it “the French bakery.” They have a godsend of a playground, and small farm on their property, so it’s nice to be able to sit there and have coffee while Noah plays and has ice cream.

Then there’s Bakkerij Debacker which actually sounds in Dutch like “Bakery The Baker” because the kk and ck are pronounced the same in Dutch, and de is “the” and  bakker is Dutch for baker, and I could go on forever about this. But Debacker is the name of the baker who owns the bakery (bakkerij) and the whole big family is adorable, especially their youngest son who’s enthusiastic about just about everything.

And last but not least there’s Pistoletta, which is right on the square of the town center in Evergem, before I turn right to get to Rice House. Pistoletta is a very tasty sandwich shop that is also a breakfast stop and overall cozy soup bowl kinda place. The ladies run a tight ship and I admire them. And I believe one of the ladies used to work at Annelies for a very long time before jumping ship for the newly-opened Pistoletta. Scandalous.

So these three shops make up one of of my routes to get to Rice House.

Here’s a view of then (1930) and now (2010), of my view heading into the center of my town of Evergem (population of 32,000 that feels like 320 on any given day).

1930andNow

Heading into Evergem Dorp (Photo credit: Het Nieuwsblad Online)

On this route I’ll grab an occasional croissant from anywhere randomly.

Except last Friday when I got three:

CroissantsTestCroissants from: Left to Right – Annelies, Debacker, and Pistoletta

I know. The croissant from Annelies looks like it’s doing something dirty to the Debacker croissant. I’d wondered, while I stood in line at Annelies,  if I’d get the defective croissant when I saw it in the display case. Of course I did. It felt like the croissant was trying to punch me for eating it.

I took two bites at a time, from each croissant, left to right, comparing the texture and flakiness and the butteriness of their respective croissant layers.

The Annelies croissant was like a mouthful of butter and goodness with a light crisp shell and doughy-chewy inside. It was glorious. And the croissant from Debacker was crispy and flaky on the outside and layered forever on the inside, and butter was plenty. And Pistoletta’s croissant was super flaky and light on the inside and extra crispy on the outside, and definitely the lightest on the butter of all three croissants.

I reported back to my husband that night, and he asked me which croissant I liked best. I answered that if I was dying tomorrow and had to choose one croissant to die with, it would be…

Debacker

I now have to stay away from croissants after gaining at least two pounds last Friday. Then I can reward myself with something else…

Incidentally, when I turn right at the church (the same church our Noah was baptized in this year), to get to Rice House…

This is the then (1910) and now (2010):

1910andNow

Leaving Evergem Dorp (Photo credit: Het Nieuwsblad Online)

 

Rice House stands “just down that street from ING.”

How times have changed. Croissants are forever.

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

 

What Rice House Means to Me

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPG

Not many people outside my immediate family know this, but…

When I won Big Brother in 2003 and returned to New York, I told my parents that I wanted to invest my winnings in opening a Korean takeout place on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. It’s where I was living at the time and I thought there was a hole in the market. My parents freaked out completely. Freaking out was my momz thing and never my dad’s, so it shocked me. He’d become fearful.

My dad was still in the Intensive Care Unit at Beth Israel Hospital at the time, and he almost cried, saying he didn’t want me to open a business. He said it was too risky and that I should invest in real estate instead. But I knew what he really meant.

My dad was dying and we all knew it. His kidneys were barely functioning and dialysis was making his sicker. He just wanted to see me stable and back to my old life, before Big Brother ever happened, before he died. My dad wanted me to go back to work at Citigroup or any group comprised of bankers, and have a “steady job” again so he could die in peace.

Except he never said it like that, at least not to me.

I felt like a monster that day for making him worry, when all he should have been doing was resting and recuperating and staying alive. So I didn’t invest in the takeout place. But I didn’t go back to work right away either. I spent as much time as I could with my dad and my family, and months later I did end up buying real estate with my Big Brother winnings and I returned to work in finance too (more on this).

My dad passed away shortly thereafter, in 2004, knowing I could take care of myself but probably never considering I’d do anything as crazy as illegal (more on this). I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. I’m a different person but I’m the same person.

And now I’m finally opening a Korean takeout place – in my little Belgian town in Ghent called Evergem (Everville), no less! Rice House is happening and my dad’s not around to see it. But I can picture him laughing from heaven because I’m getting everything I wanted in the end.

I am his daughter after all.

This is what I’m starting with:

TakeABreakOutside

 

Where now stands Take A Break is where Rice House will open its doors on May 1st!

~

Every time I embark on a new adventure I try not to dwell on bad shit that’s happened in my life, but I do acknowledge that it made me who I was and who I am today. You cannot forget where you came from because nobody else knows but you, in the end. You owe it to yourself to never lose who you are, and to not listen to people’s advice to sell sandwiches AND rice. Um, no.

And for me and my husband Davy, Noah priority #1, and Rice House #2. At some point Noah will be “helping” me at Rice House and things will fall into place. I can’t wait for that day.

I’m lucky to have a man in my life after my dad, who believes in me wholeheartedly.  I couldn’t do this without Davy.

Always dishing,

Jun

 

 

Rice House: For the Love of Rice

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPG

I’ve been blog-silent for a week mostly because my Noah was plagued with a bad cold and pink eye. Life handed me a fevery toddler with conjunctivitis so I went into full mommy combat mode. Today on the other side of the week I’ve emerged triumphant with a healthy child, and I also happen to be the brand-spank-me-new owner of a Korean takeout joint!

What?

It all started a week ago, on Wednesday afternoon. Davy and I found out that a tiny sandwich shop called “Take A Break”, in our town square of Evergem, was looking for new owners. I never imagined I’d ever live in a “town” let alone blog about a town square, but for the love of rice anything can happen!

The monthly rent sounded too low and too good to be true. Plus, Davy attained all the necessary study and licensing for a start-up business way back when, “just in case,” before he ever even knew what Korean food was. By marriage I can also use the licenses.

The current owners of Take a Break are opening a bigger eatery next month in the city, Ghent-proper, hence their selling the smaller business. So Davy made some more calls and left some more voicemails so we could gather as much information as possible. My OCD took over.

Then that evening I was featured on a Flemish television program called Fans of Flanders and Noah made his television debut:

Noah ate through half the filming that day Fans of Flanders was here in my home including the Korean food I’d cooked in the segment.

~

Before the segment ever aired last Wednesday, I’d had a craving for Chinese food. I can make Chinese dishes just like I can make most dishes not necessarily Korean. But sometimes I just don’t want to cook! It happens to all of us.

So last Wednesday night I wanted Chinese takeout!

Here’s the thing…there is NOT ONE decent Chinese (or otherwise Asian) place we know close by (meaning 15 minute drive), but on top of it all most of them are closed on Wednesdays. But Davy and I drove on, with Noah in his car seat behind us, and searched for an open Chinese or otherwise Asian food establishment. Nothing.

We were about to head home when we got a call. If we were around, we could take a minute to take a tour of Take of Break! So we did. Davy and I saw potential. The owners told us that they’d leave behind most of the commercial appliances and display cases behind for pennies to their euros spent, because their new restaurant in the city was all stocked and furnished. With take-over and start-up costs so minimal I wanted it, but there were two other business-minded couples ahead of us, and both wanted to open sandwich shops. There are HUNDREDS of tiny sandwich shops in all of Ghent, but not one Korean food establishment. But we were third in line for the place.

I ended up making my own stir-fry and rice that night, and cursing the fact that I had to. Davy and I were convinced that one of the other couples would take the shop.

On Saturday we got the call that the first couple bailed, and the second couple seemed too hesitant, so if Davy and I wanted to open our Korean takeout…we could! Davy and I scrambled together, getting paperwork and accounting and finances in order, and as of today…

RiceHouseLogoFinalJPG

I am the proud new owner of a Rice House in Evergem!

It sounds insane but what about my life isn’t, really?

~

Rice House, a Korean takeout restaurant, will be open on May 1st, 2014.

It’s on “Library Street” (Bibliotheekstraat 6, Evergem) and just three bus stops away, or a walk, from my home. There is indeed the town’s library down the street. But there’s also the pre-school that Noah will be attending, in November, right across the street! I blogged about our first tour of Noah’s school last May…the one with the napping room:

NappingRoom

The idea of dropping Noah off at school and picking him up from across the street at Rice House makes my heart race it’s so cute.

Thanks to socialism and all its wonders, it’s easier to open a one-woman business in Belgium than it is in the States. How else would I have a (legal) business in my name in less than a week? This would never happen in Manhattan. But this is Ghent. This is a country based on the honor system and entrepreneurship in good ways and bad, and this last week proved very good for me. All signs seem to point to rice in Evergem!

If I can maneuver through Wall Street, be Head of Household in the Big Brother house, and mamasan in a whorehouse, then I’m up for the challenge of being Rice Queen in Evergem!

Always dishing,

Jun

Manhattan Rent

Apt

This morning I came across a Craigslist apartment listing in Manhattan.

I haven’t lived in Manhattan since 2011, when I moved here to Belgium, and so it’s not like I’m in search of 1-bedroom apartment in the sky. No, I saw the link pop on my Facebook timeline. A friend for a friend was sharing the link for the rental…

 

Ad

 

This Craigslist ad will die and expire into cyberspace eventually and so I took a screenshot of the ad as well.

$3,050.00 is the monthly rent for 700 square feet (that’s about 65 square meters for the rest of you).

Here’s the floor plan to the space, which I faithfully downloaded as if I’d do if I was actually interested in the place.

Apt

 

I know this is a Manhattan rental because I lived in New York for 30 years of my life. Granted I lived paying rent myself for only 10 of those years before buying a condo with my Big Brother winnings and even then you pay for costs and maintenance to the common areas of your building. Who knows they probably charge you a few cents every year for breathing the air in the building. I kid. This isn’t a rant blog.

I believe $3,050.00 is a fair price for said apartment. I’ve lived in expensive Manhattan 1 bedrooms the size of decent McDonalds’ bathrooms. I’m not going to play real estate agent, but I’d say that Craigslist Upper West Side listing isn’t ridiculous by any means…to New Yorkers. Whether or not one gets approved through the application process for rental is another story.

It’s money you’ll never see again because it’s rent and not an investment, but all’s fair in the context of living in Manhattan. Whether you’re trying to keep up with a Sex & the City lifestyle or you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars in yearly bonuses on the job it doesn’t matter because you’re living in Manhattan. It’s not glamorous for everyone but if you have a Manhattan address then you’re a statistic many people all over the world would trade places with, given the opportunity. Let’s be real…

Admittedly, I was sheltered growing up. My parents and brother and I lived in an apartment complex in Lower Manhattan. My parents had snagged our low-income housing apartment in 1976, when they first moved to New York without me. I joined them in 1979 and my neighbors were immigrants of every color and flavor. When I moved out on my own, in dramatic fashion, I didn’t move into Manhattan. I didn’t even know to open a ConEd account for electricity! My parents had always done everything for me and I sucked at reality. It was either moving into a basement apartment in Queens or going back home, and so basement it was. I had two more apartments in Queens before moving into Manhattan in 1999.

Making enough money to pay your rent and the rest of your bills in Manhattan, and not starve, is not easy. Some years I did better than others working in banking, and other things, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world because there’s nothing like it in the world. If you can do it, then all the more power to you. Not everyone can. Is it possible for honest hard-working people to live in Manhattan? Sure. A lot of things are possible including getting help from family or working little jobs on the side that you don’t report as income…

Now nearly 3 years and so many thousands of miles away from Manhattan I’m sitting here married and a mommy in a small farming town called Evergem, in Ghent. In contrast to the UWS apartment rental on Craigslist above…

My rent now is 25% of the price and 400% the value in square footage and outdoor space and amenities. Salaries here are limp leaves lettuce compared to the steak salads at Smith & Wollensky’s that I miss in Manhattan, but transitioning to life here has been an extraordinarily grounding experience for me. I can sit here and see links my friends share on Facebook, for 700 square feet living for thousands of dollars a month, and think yeah that sounds about right. Manhattan rent.

I don’t miss “it” but I miss parts of it. I get asked all the time if I’ll “ever” move back to New York. My answer is always maybe.

Always dishing,

Jun

 

People Stare

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People stare. This is nothing new to anyone.

This morning I stood at yet another check-out line with my husband and my baby, waiting to pay for a few groceries in our cart plus a fresh warm baguette I was holding in my hands. And there was an old man, staring down at my little Noah in his stroller. Just staring first at Noah then at me and Davy, and back and forth between my family of three, for far too long for it not to be rude.

When I lived in New York, I assumed people stared at me because I was devastatingly beautiful (sarcasm alert). Or because they were wondering where my pants were. I abhor pants and often wear dresses meant to be shirts because pants and I just don’t get along. This especially applies when I’m on vacation somewhere.

Now that I’m living as an expat in Ghent, I assume people are staring at me because I’M NOT WHITE. Sure I am convinced that it’s also my fashionable devastating beauty, and the whole pants-less thing. But with a population not much bigger than that of New York, Belgium is 23% non-Belgian and that’s not based on skin color. Most of that 23% reside in the capital of Brussels, where 70% of the population is tagged “foreign”.

map_belgium

But I don’t live in Brussels, I live in Ghent (spelled “Gent” in Dutch). Specifically in Evergem, that is mostly once farmland, where I can easily go days and sometimes weeks without seeing skin that is anything but white. I married a white man and into his family of white people. I love white people. But I love all people. But that doesn’t matter when I’m standing on line at the supermarket or getting cough syrup at the “apotheek” (pharmacy) or chewing on chicken at some restaurant here. I just get stared at.

And I don’t know if I’m noticing it more now because I have a baby of mixed Belgian and Korean-American love, or if people are just staring more now that I’m prancing around with a little mixed baby. It’s ignorance and lack of tact that causes my discomfort and feelings of offense. I’m sometimes tempted to carry a few family photos around so I can hand them out to those who stare too long. And charge them a euro or two for it.

I don’t mind so much being stared at, as long as when I meet a stare there is a softness in their eyes telling me they mean no harm and merely lack social skills. Sometimes we can exchange smiles and there’s even small talk. But if and when I am eye to eye and confronted with cold cobwebs of muted racism, I will still smile and nod while cursing them under my breath and carry on with my day.  I’ve never lived anywhere where Asians were the majority in number, but I know I’m not going anywhere and so I’d better get better at dealing with the stares.

But I do believe every once in a while, before I can even help it, I’ll be guilty of beating someone over the head with a perfectly lovely baguette I was waiting to pay for. Because I do love living here.

Always dishing,

Jun

 

 

A Long Distance Love Story

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ENGLISH TRANSLATION BELOW.  PLEASE SCROLL DOWN.


BY — Kaatje De Coninck

“The Huge Love Between a Flemish Dockworker and Winner of Big Brother America”

Het Nieuwsblad (De Gentenaar)

*** Copyright Het Nieuwsblad/De Gentenaar ***

http://www.nieuwsblad.be

July 28, 2012

Pp 20-21

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INTRO:

She is Korean, and for 12 years long worked on Wall Street. She lived most of her whole life in New York City and has thousands of fans. They follow her on Twitter and her blog as she, in 2003, became the winner of Big Brother, yet still the most popular reality-show in America.  He has worked for seven years as a docker “longshoreman” in the Port of Ghent and was always the picture of “cheerful bachelor”.  One you thought you’d never see married, but you knew sported a hard shell to mask a golden heart, and a smile always on his face.  A most unlikely couple, they, Jun Song (36) and Davy Goethals (32) found each other on holiday in the Dominican Republic.  Scarcely two years later  – and a marriage, a baby and a pet rabbit richer – live they together between the chickens and the cows in Evergem.  Living in love,   ‘After five days I knew this man would become the father of my children.’

STORY:

Paintings of the skyline of New York, photographs of Wall Street, pinstripe suits hanging in the closet upstairs…these being the memories of the fast life that Jun left behind.  Today, the life of the American Jun Song consists of a lovely and lovingly decorated rented house in Evergem, with a garden connecting a patch of land  for homegrown vegetables.  Their kitchen is in red and white, in a specific corner of their house, for according to the rules of Feng Shui (the philosophy that teaches you how your surroundings can influence your luck, etc.) this corner stands for love and marriage.  She loves Belgium, says Jun.  And of Ghent, ‘After 32 years in New York, I had the urge for something more stable…healthier surroundings.  Somehow I found the place to start a family.’

Jun scarcely knew Belgium existed – ‘I knew about the waffles, that’s about it.’  Huge was her surprise to be meeting four Belgian dockworkers on a trip to the Dominican Republic, one of whom grabbed her attention immediately. ‘I had just gone back to school and finished a semester, and I felt that my father dying and a lot of other heavy events were behind me. I wanted to just get away, thus went I to the Dominican Republic…with three other girls I scarcely knew.  Our hotel was so dreadful that we left it and chose a new resort, and there I spotted Davy.’   He had ignored her at first.  ‘I had thought, why is he not trying to get with me?’

What Jun didn’t know, until much later, was that there was a girl back in Belgium that Davy was seeing and had promised to stay faithful to on this trip. ‘I knew right away that things were about to get complicated,’  Davy laughs as he recalls it.

Four days later, things finally happened between Jun and Davy.  Both having led very adventurous single lives consisting of many relations and plenty of one-night stands, they both sensed they had found something special. ‘After four days I put up a photograph of him on Facebook, with:  This is my future baby daddy.  I don’t know how I knew since we had not done anything yet, but I just knew.   Our last evening together we spent the whole night just talking, about what we wanted out of our lives and how we saw our future.  It was real.’   But that doesn’t mean it was easy. Davy’s family and friends wondered what he was doing, and tried to convince him that it really could not work.  ‘And living 6,000 kilometers away from each other.  Believe me, it was not easy building a relationship’, smiles Jun.  The two held on through six roundtrip visits within six months, Skyping and telephoning everyday.  Jun once even fell off her chair while she was trying to be creative and acrobatic.  They laugh with the memory.

With the last visit, Davy asked her to marry him and after scarcely six months they got married in New York around Christmas.  They celebrated New Year’s in Times Square as a honeymoon, then Jun packed all her things and moved with Davy to Evergem.

With the regularity of the bell, the mailman stands at their door with special packages from America.  Donuts, American treats, bibs for baby Noah, her fans do not forget her.  ‘Davy is a huge fan of cream soda (a kind of soft drink in America) and someone was wonderful enough to send us a sixpack’, tells Jun.  ‘It is crazy how much Jun and her fans mean to each other,’  says Davy, in his usual down-to-earth manner.  ‘It’s as if Jun’s fans live with us through Twitter. For us, Flemish people, reality tv is not a big hype.’   But there are also some poisonous reactions from Jun’s audience, like someone telling her: ‘I hope you fall and lose your baby. ‘

‘Those we try to ignore.  But I presume those sick people won’t come to Evergem, right?” questions Davy.

$500,000

It is nearly nine year ago that Jun joined the fourth Big Brother-season in America.  The program began this summer it’s fourteenth season and still draws 8 million viewers. That is almost as many viewers as there are Belgians in this land.  ‘After four year my ex and I had split up, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. When I saw the commercial for BB asking if I had what it took to win. Hell yeah, I thought, and I applied. I wanted to get out of NY, away from everything that reminded me of my ex. I wanted the experience, the money but fame didn’t really interest me.’  And yes, she won, Jun:  500,000 dollars.  Half of it went to taxes and the other half went into an apartment.  ‘People think she’s rich but Jun hasn’t worked for three years so not a lot is left, “ Davy smiles.  If there was one thing that would help a lot, ‘Davy works intensely hard to support me and Noah, but it is hard living off one wage.’

All true Flemish have in their hearts the desire to own their home. And so Davy, and Jun, desire to own a home one day. ‘Finding work here is not as easy as I thought it would be. Especially with the language barrier. I understand perfectly most Dutch, but speaking it is really something else.  For now I am content as a housewife, but I hope to contribute more soon.’  Thus Jun currently does what she’s good at: taking care of her home and her family and writing part-time for a reality tv blog.  Reality tv is a big business in America.  ‘I am also writing a book.  Do you know Fifty Shades or Grey?  The mommy porn that’s a hit right now? Well I know I can do better than that.’

Exotische Liefde

One thing is for sure, they never had to defend themselves to either embassies on suspicion of a fake marriage… ‘I come from the U.S. People all know that Davy didn’t mail-order buy me’, laughs Jun.  Yet people still stare, especially when shows like Exotic Love are airing on television here.  ‘When we run errands together, or Jun goes to the bakery alone, people stare at us. To them, she might have come from anywhere…  Oh, but we laugh about it.’  One thing is thing is certain, their life together is never boring. Not even living between cows in Evergem.   ‘Drama pursues us’, says Jun, with sparkling eyes.  And they actually enjoy it too because how boring would life be without it, they believe.  ‘Davy and I are so much alike.  We live full days from day-to-day and go with whatever feels right in the moment.’   They were simply the same person, just in a different body on a different continent. You hear people say that it seems they’ve known someone their whole lives. ‘Well, now I know how that feels. It must have been something close to destiny that brought us together in the Dominican Republic.’

Their son Noah is in the meantime almost 4 months old.  He was premature, but is all but caught up and healthy and happy.  ‘When he is old enough we will, with pleasure, tell him the story of how his dad and mom found each other and how they conquered all the obstacles and doubts because they knew that this was the love of their lives.’

Admit, it is a beautiful loves story, no?

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