Mar 292020
 

Since there’s not much else going on in life during isolation aside from lounge wear and calling into meetings, I figured I would start a new “series” (but you know how I am with these things; I’ll probably do two and forget about it) featuring items around my house, tchotchkes and souvenirs that have little stories behind them, etc etc blah blah blah.

To start out, let’s talk about this stuffed hippo that I have had since I was 16, and in every place I have lived, he has always been out and about on display.

Please say annyeong to Steve the Hippo!

But, let’s back up. Like, back waaaay up to the summer of 1995. I was a freshly-minted 16-year-old on one of those coach bus tours through Europe with my aunt Sharon. These tours were always the same: a bunch of retirees, maybe some middle-aged couples, and then me, the lone kid. Lots of continental breakfasts where the hot chocolate is ACTUALLY OVALTINE, and hectic tours of one cathedral after another. And Sharon and I were so hot and cold with each other and more often than not, we would bicker and then go half the day giving each other the cold shoulder. But this time, on this particular trip, there was a slew of young’uns in our group and I could not have been happier. I had other people to sit with, walk with, eat with, and Sharon HATED THAT.

This tour consisted of mostly elderly people, still, but we also had Nick (14), who was traveling with his grandma; Amanda (15), Natalie (13), and Noah (10), who came with their single mom; Andrea (19) and Sarah (22), on a girls trip with their mom; and Greg (14), Steve (20), and Amy (22) who were with their parents. This was my favorite trip ever. Normally, when we had travel days on the bus, I would sleep or read, or stare out the window sullenly after having another argument with Sharon (seriously, oil and water, but damn do I miss her and these wild adventures she took me on), but now, I had friends to sit with and let me know you – we were total jackasses.

Sharon ended up befriending Andrea (who reminded me so much of Alanis Morissette – I was enthralled by her) and Sarah’s mom, Mary. When we were cleaning out my grandparents’ house in 2016, I found a bunch of cards and letters from Mary in Sharon’s room; they apparently had kept in touch for quite some time after the trip ended and that made me simultaneously happy and sad, because Sharon didn’t really have friends “in real life” so it was nice to know that she had made a somewhat lasting connection with someone from the group, but it also made me sad because I started to wonder about Mary – is she well? How are Andrea and Sarah? I was inspired to look them up on Facebook when I was still on there, and I actually found someone who might have been Sarah, but I felt weird about sending a friend request, like “Hi, I was just over here in Pittsburgh cleaning out my deceased aunt’s bedroom and found letters from your mom and so I did a deep-dive on the Internet and you probably don’t remember me because we only knew each other for three weeks in 1995 but wanna be friends?”

I guess it’s not that weird, really, but I was so emotionally drained during that summer in 2016 that I let it go.

Right before that trip, I had gone to get my hair cut at some shitty salon in Century III Mall called Shear Talent or something and I even brought a picture of Carrie Brady from Days of Our Lives with me and told the bald hairdresser that this is what I wanted, but he listened to my mom instead and cut my hair IN REALLY SHORT LAYERS, literally the shortest my hair has ever been, and it was actually traumatizing (oh, don’t act like you have never thought your life was over because of a bad salon experience!!!) and I remember wailing, “I NEVER SHOULD HAVE TRUSTED A HAIR DRESSER WHO LOOKS LIKE MR CLEAN!!” So, I went into this trip with relatively low self esteem. I was ultra-conscious about my hair cut and basically just didn’t want anyone to look at me.

But then one day, Mary looked at me and said, “You know who you look like? Drew Barrymore.” And just like that, my confidence soared. All these years later, and I still remember this so vividly, this nice woman named Mary from Michigan telling me I looked like some cute actress instead of the total toad I saw every morning when I looked in the mirror. She was being very generous with her compliments, though.

I know, you’re thinking, “I thought this was about a stuffed hippo?” We’re getting to that! I just get derailed sometimes.

Out of all the young people in our group, Steve was the one with whom I had the best rapport. At first, it started with just little sarcastic jabs here and there, but then I found myself looking for excuses to talk to him. I have always been super big into souvenirs. On one of our trips, I was obsessed with obtaining a collectors spoon (????) from each country, and I’m currently a serious magnet hoarder. But on this trip, it was all about key chains. And European key chains, at least in the 90s, were really hard to open. So I’d buy a key chain in every city and then sidle up to Steve and ask him to do it for me. Even if I could do it for myself.

I mean, I definitely have not outgrown this at ALL.

I totally had a crush on him—and even admitted it at one point in my vacation journal so you know it’s real—which probably definitely was not reciprocated by him because he was in college and I was some chubby, brace-faced 16-year-old from lame-ass Pittsburgh but our hyper-snarky love/hate banter always gave me that super minuscule inkling of hope that maybe THIS WAS LOVE.

In a truly passive-aggressive declaration of love, I bought a this small stuffed hippo at an Auto Grille in Italy, on a travel day from Venice to Florence. Back on the bus, we were trying to decide on a name for him, and I smugly said, “I think I’ll name him Steve.” And everyone laughed because you know, wow, Erin is insulting Steve, she must really NOT LIKE HIM AT ALL. (I was so fucking transparent.) All of the kids on the bus were obsessed with Steve the Hippo, for some reason. He became kind of a mascot and everyone would take turns holding him during the long bus rides.

Near the end of the vacation, we were on the bus, going to the overnight ferry that would take us to Greece. Natalie asked Steve, “If you were stuck on an elevator, who would you want to be stuck with?” and without even a millisecond of hesitation, Steve said, “Erin, because I’d like to get to know her better.”

My heart. My goddamn coal-chunk of a heart. I still get a little jolt in it when I remember this moment.

I mean, he also said I was the meanest person on the bus but that’s just because my flirting tactics are borderline-bullying.

Of course, we never kept in touch. And every once in a while, I would get inspired to Google him but always came up empty.

All of these years later, Steve the Hippo is still out and about, and oddly is one of the most precious and sentimental (and cheapest) souvenirs I ever brought back from one of those trips. I was inspired to write this because a couple months ago, I was leaving the bedroom and said goodbye to Steve the Hippo, who lives on my dresser, and Henry was like, “?” so I yelled, “DO YOU NOT KNOW THE STEVE THE HIPPO ORIGIN STORY?!” Needless to say, he was subjected to a much more winded and gushy version than you just read here.

While reading my vacation journal to get details for this post, I said, “Steve threw Steve the Hippo at me so I hit him. Oh look, Steve and I arm-wrestled!”

“Of course you did,” Henry mumbled.

Every time I look at Steve the Hippo, I think about how one time, years ago, someone chose me in the hypothetical elevator game. As I age and lose more and more of my personality, become more introverted and wallflower-y, and am having a particularly low self-esteem day, this memory gives me a boost.

Steve is the first guy there on the left.

On the last day of our vacation, we were on the bus en route to the airport and Steve was holding the hippo. “You’re going to go home and rip all the stuffing out of this thing, aren’t you?” he said to me. I joked that I was going to give it to my dog, but man, if he only knew!

If.He.Only.Knew.

(I wonder if he even remembers me?)

Mar 252020
 

For today’s virtual quarantine road trip, let’s visit the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, Michigan, where our friends Bill and Jessi took us one summer in 2014. I liked it there. Sigh.

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It might seem weird since I’m a vegetarian and all, but what I was most looking forward to in Frankenmuth was eating at one of their famous Bavarian chicken joints. There are two to choose from: Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s, and they supposedly HATE each other. My friend Michelle told me that the two families basically built Frankenmuth so no matter which place we picked, it would be a big deal.

I mean, if you’re like me and give a shit about these things.

Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn really are right across from the street from each other, but there were no picketers or chicken dinner sabotage that I could see. No one was egging each other’s windows or passing out derogatory flyers. But since Roadside America mentions their rivalry, I know it must be true. I just wish it was more blatant and spectator sporty.

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I personally wanted to eat at Bavarian Inn, because it just had more of a Black Forest aesthetic to me, but Bill kept piping up with the merits of Zehnder’s, which just looked like some dumb colonial slab and not at all lederhosen-y. Turns out Bill might have eaten there once sometime in his liftetime and I think he forgot to tell us the part about how a Zehnder’s busboy saved him from choking on their world famous chicken dinner so now he feel indebted to them.

But then Jessi mentioned that she has eaten at the Bavarian Inn before and liked it, so PRAISE JESSI, we settled on the Bavarian Inn because girls rule! There was no blantant anti-Zehnder’s propaganda inside the doors of the BavInn (my new, sweet pet name for it), but I should have at least wrote “for loose bowels, call Zehnder’s” in one of the bathroom stalls. Ah, hindsight.

Fuck you, Zehnder’s.

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I want shutters like that on my imaginary never-house. 

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I anticipated a long wait, since this  seemed like the type of place that was like the Disneyworld of Old Country Buffets* for elderly tourists, but we had a table within 15 minutes!  And even had a scantily-clad Bavarian beefcake entertaining us with an accordion. (I mean, he was showing a lot of thigh and calf, but not a lot of below-knee, because that was covered with a modest swath of wool.)

*BavInn isn’t even a buffet so I have no idea why I wrote that, other than the fact that it’s 150 degrees in my house.

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I told Chooch that this place was going to be like the Hooter’s of Frankenmuth, with Bavarian boobs spilling out of corseted beer garden dresses. Partially because I was trying to get him stoked on eating there (he’s at that age, guys; boobs are everything), and also because that’s what it looked like in my hopes and dreams. Turns out the waitresses’ costumes were way more modest than the accordion player and his scandalous leg-skin.

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There was no cleavage to be had. Not even of the accidental variety.

Back to being a vegetarian: I was pleasantly surprised that the Bavarian Inn had an entire vegetarian menu! Bill said he only asked for it because he overheard someone in front of him asking for it. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to ask because places like that usually don’t cater to my kind and I was fully prepared to just get some side dishes but instead I got to have vegan chili and BY GEORGE it was fucking great. It had quinoa and perfect little cubes of sweet potatoes and was just a true delight my tongue even though I can’t imagine a real Bavarian eating that on their lunch break at the cuckoo clock factory.

It didn’t matter, because I still ordered a side of SPAETZEL. You guys, spaetzel. That is my ultimate comfort food because my Pappap, whose family was from Austria, made a huge pot of these buttery Alpine dumplings every Christmas and they were just spectacular. After he died, my mom tried to carry the torch but they just never tasted quite right. And then I asked Henry to make them one year for Thanksgiving but his came out really small and pathetic because he doesn’t have any of the good European regions in his genes, I guess. I  mean, I still ate them of course because anything coated in that much butter is still going to taste rad. But I just haven’t had any as good as my Pappap’s, not since 1995.

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And these noodleturds were by no means bad! Bavarian Inn has their shit together but these were just seasoned in a way that deviated from my Pappap’s spaetzel perfection. I still ate the ever-loving fuck out of them though. Why wouldn’t I?

Can we talk about our amazing waitress Kristi for a minute? Chooch spilled his lemonade all over the table so she swooped in and moved us to a clean table right next to us, all without making Chooch feel like a heel for being a normal 8-year-old who spills things in restaurants. And she brought us copious amounts of this delicious sweet bread (bread that’s sweet, not sweetbreads) which we enjoyed with ridiculously magical homemade strawberry jam. And our lunches were delayed so Kristi also brought us out bowls of German potato salad, coleslaw and something else that I forget now, but it was all perfect and made me want to book a Globus tour ASAP.

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Chooch was really anxious to sayeth Prayers from the Psalms before he ateth his chickeneth. (Everyone at the table got chicken, because duh—Bavarian Inn is world famous for that shit. Maybe one day they’ll be renown for their faux-chicken too. Now I wish I had ordered the fake chicken patty on pretzel bun. Oh well, there’s always next summer when we go back and stay at the Bavarian Inn, because yes, they have a huge resort-y hotel too. WITH WATERSLIDES.)

My second favorite part of the experience (hello: Spaetzel #1) was when I mused out loud about the comfort of the waitresses’ dresses and then a few minutes later, upon Kristi’s return to our table with more iced tea for Henry, Bill asked her what might have been the creepiest thing she had been asked by a man all day:

“Excuse me, but is your dress comfortable?” he asked casually, like he works for Cotton and it’s his job to determine a woman’s comfort as research for the next commercial featuring some random blond actress who can also kind of sing alright.

The Fabric of Our Lives: Dirndl Edition.

“You know,” she said after thinking about it for a few seconds, “it really isn’t too bad. It’s the nylons that drive me nuts, though. I can never wait to get home and peel them off, you know?” And Bill nodded knowingly.

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PSHHHHH. You wish, Zehnder’s. In your dreams.

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This is the back of the glorious Bavarian Inn. Surely there’s a nook or cranny somewhere in which I can live undetected.

You know I must have been stuffed full of spaetzel when I declined dessert, and they obviously had streudel, you guys. Motherfuck, do I love streudel. My grandma’s side of the family always made some sick streudel.

Streudel and spaetzel. These will be served at my pretend wedding. By Bavarian beer maidens, all named Gretchen.

Jesus, is it any wonder I’m a slut for Bavarian things? My childhood memories practically reek of edelweiss.

Mar 232020
 

SATURDAY: a blend of reading books, watching YouTube videos, exercising, eating, fighting. It was a real mixed bag.

In the late morning, Henry and I took a brief walk around the neighborhood – it’s important to still get some air but we still gotta be safe about it so there’s definite strategy and major awareness involved. I was impressed to see that most people we passed were maintaining their distance, but I was HORRIFIED when I witnessed a family of four going into Pitaland–it’s a market so it’s still open because it’s essential, but it is SMALL and gets crowded VERY EASILY. So really? Both parents and two kids all needed to go inside together during a fucking pandemic? What fucking assholes. I bet they didn’t even wash their hands afterward either. Stupid people!

I want to say that I can’t believe there are people out there not taking this seriously, but…my opinion of humanity is not very high.

Henry spent a lot of time working on my huge Seoul Subway wall art over the weekend and I’m so happy about that!

It is going to light up, God willing* and also play the Seoul subway music, which Chooch and I have been obsessed with since our very first subway ride. I need this joy in my life again!

*(I had a friend in high school who would say that. Like, if you were like, “Call me sometime” she would be all “God willing.” I wonder if God is still willing her life or if she took back control?)

Um, then we watched Ready or Not that night, which was so good and I haven’t seen Adam Brody in anything in a good long while and it made me yearn for The OC, ugh he was the best character in both of these.

But fuck, Ready or Not was wonderful. I love horror movies that are also comedic without being an outright spoof or parody.

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SUNDAY: I had the dumb idea that we should go out to the “wilderness” for a bit since it was such a nice day. We drove over an hour away to Ohio Pyle, which is in the Laurel Highlands for those of you not from Pennsylvania who maybe feel like looking a map because what else is there to do? WHY NOT LEARN SOME PENNSYLVANIA TOPOGRAPHY*?

*The word “topography” always makes me think of this amazing song:

There’s also a really fantastic version by A Perfect Circle. Shit, I used to love both versions so much. I need someone to hold me now.

OMG Henry remember when I was so obsessed with Jeordie White because of A Perfect Circle and I swear he looked at me at their concert in 2003 and I almost died?!

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I had a journal at the time that had a little spot on the front cover where you could slip in a photo, and I definitely 100% had that picture up there of Jeordie White in it, much to Henry’s delight.

Anyway, Ohio Pyle was a fucking hot spot, man. I don’t think Fayette County understands the concept of social distancing – there were little restaurants/cafes that were open and people were eating at tables outside! In Pittsburgh, all of the restaurants are now take out only during this pandemic, no exceptions! People were walking in groups! I was fucking screaming!

Luckily, once we got to the actual trails, it was way less dense with humanity, thank the fucking lord. We made sure to keep a good distance anytime we had to pass people, which wasn’t often, but I can tell that this is the last time we will attempt to do something like this for quite awhile, my good lord. I saw a guy sneeze! OPENLY! HE JUST…SNEEZED! STRANGERS WERE COMMINGLING ON A PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE!

I honestly thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown.

Log sitting.

As someone who compulsively molests signs and ropes, this warning really made me throw my hands up and retreat in shame.

This was after he pretended to slip and fall off the cliff, which made me scream, “CHOOCH” and promptly succumb to jello-legs. I hate him.

Social distancing over-achiever.

We were mostly alone in the woods, but every so often, I would look behind my shoulder and yelled, “Horde!” and pick up my pace.

“What is this, The Walking Dead?” Henry laughed without mirth. YES, HENRY. IT SURE FEELS LIKE IT. I have never been averse to fellow mankind than I am right now, March of 2020. Get the fuck away from me.

We were obsessed with this jungle-esque little clearing! Then this family came out of nowhere and were practically on our backs, I couldn’t fucking believe it. (Henry said they actually came out of the trail that was CLOSED AND PROTECTED BY THE SIGN THAT IS NOT TO BE MOLESTED.) I started speed-walking in an attempt to lose them and then I tripped and almost fell and Chooch laughed at me and I was like, “Oh OK, you tripped and ACTUALLY FELL ON YOUR FACE 15 minutes ago, at least I goddamn caught myself!” He’s such a little bitch sometimes! IT’S ONLY OK TO LAUGH WHEN HENRY TRIPS, EVERYONE KNOWS THAT.

Which he did, by the way. Trip, I mean. Henry tripped. We all had our turn tripping but Chooch was the only one who fell, hahaha.

Got back in the car to leave and we all bathed in hand sanitizer. (Chooch literally did – he spilled half the bottle on himself because he’s a Big Dumb.)

 

Back at home, Henry made me some dalgona coffee – it was so good, but very strong! Now I want some right now. HENRY!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s just instant coffee mixed with sugar and maybe something else, I can’t remember. You have to either stir it by hand 400 times or use a mixer for 7 minutes, I think. Then you dollop it onto whatever milk/milk-like substance you prefer. It’s so strong and sweet! My friend Jiyong made it too and we KakaoTalked photos to each other since we can’t meet up during this time. We also chatted about dramas we’re watching so it felt like I had a little bit of normalcy this weekend, I guess.

I ended the night watching another shitty episode of The Walking Dead, which means that it was on in the background while I edited photos and added books to my Goodreads “want to read” list.

And we lost Kenny Rogers. I’ll cap this off with my all time fave K-Rog song, which I had on a cassette and used to play over and over while rollerskating on my front porch when I was like 8 or 9. Sigh.

Mar 222020
 

Since we’re all being responsible and self-isolating (RIGHT? Now is not the time to be deviant and rebellious!), I’ve been revisiting old blog posts and traveling vicariously through Past Erin. Last week, I was reliving Disney World 2016, and Thursday night I was re-reading my totally cringe-y recount of Australia in my 2000 vacation journal. (I was going to transcribe it here on this blog one day for posterity, but after reading it in full that night, I was screamed into a pillow and wailed, “OMG I WAS SO ANNOYING” to which Henry quietly murmured, “You still are.”)

Anyway, then I started reading recaps from our first Korea trip and I wanted to repost this particular day from Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, because the photos are so colorful and…I just need some joyous memories right now! If you could be anywhere aside from shut into your house right now, where would you choose to be?! Tell me. I’m starving for interaction. Sigh.

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Hello! The following is a collection of photos that we took with the actual camera (as opposed to my phone which is mainly what I used on this trip because CONVENIENCE) at Gamcheon Culture Village on Thursday, March 29th in Busan, Korea.

Gamcheon is considered to be Korea’s Machu Picchu and Korea’s Santorini. It’s also known as the “Lego Village” because of the brightly-colored block-shaped houses. It went from being one of the poorest areas of Busan to a thriving cultural village brimming with boutiques, cafes, and quirky art installations tucked away in the twisting maze of alleys.

Unbeknownst to us, there was something akin to a scavenger hunt that we found out about in the visitor’s center, so we easily spent the whole freaking day here. I’ll get into that more in the next post, where we will do a more in depth exploration of the village! But for now, please enjoy the beautiful colors of this village, and add this place to your bucket list because it was definitely a sight to behold!

The start of our Gamcheon experience, unless you count the long trek up the mountain.

There were so many photo op areas!

Korea loves their poop-themed food. (Also, because I know he’s going to bitch that I put this picture here, Henry’s not actually pregnant in this picture; his shirt was too big and was blowing in the breeze.)

Randyland vibes (but better, because this is Korea. Sorry, Randy).

Yes, I paid 500 won for this picture even though no one was around to know the difference! #respectforkorea

I had a picture similar to this one as my desktop background at work last year and when I got to look out over all these rooftops in person a year later, it felt so surreal. Fight to make your dreams come true, guys.

Oh, thanks for taking this picture, Henry, so that I can show everyone the BACKPACKS YOU MADE US LUG AROUND. Also, that’s Song Joong Ki in that Hite beer ad on the store window. I get so happy every time I saw his face!

Chooch was in novelty photo-posing heaven.

 

 

One of the many break-your-neck alleys. Surprisingly, we only had one close-call with Chooch that day!

 

Ugh, take me back.

I’m going to do this thing where I pretend like I’m a legit blogger instead of someone who writes on their dinky WordPress site using an app on their phone while laying in bed half asleep, and actually give you some FACTS about Gamcheon Culture Village. And by FACTS I mean various tidbits that I have collected from the Internet so that you don’t have to go Googlin’.

  • This area only had around 20 houses pre-Korean War, but then once the war started, Busan became an area of refuge to many Koreans, and the hills of Gamcheon acquired about 4,000 of those refugees. Shanties were erected out of scraps and rock, and Gamcheon became synonymous with poverty and slums.
  • Sometime in the mid-50s, Gamcheon was infiltrated by the Taegukdo religion, the leader of which helped them build up their shanties into better houses. But even as recently as the 90s*, this area was still considered to be the poorest part of Busan.
    • SHUT UP, THE 90s WILL ALWAYS BE LIKE 5 YEARS AGO TO ME.
  • Anyway, in 2009 some Korean tourism organization started panting over it like a mountainous slab of samgyeopsal and came up with the “Dreaming of Machu Picchu” project. Artists and residents teamed up and turned this town into the magical maze of art installations and culture that is now known for today.

GUYS DID I DO GOOD?!

All I knew about Gamcheon prior to visiting is that it’s a must-see in Busan and full of things I like: cafes, pretty views, and quirkiness. But I wondered how Chooch would like this place, since it seemed more geared toward touristy shopping and, you know, walking. When I was a kid, my family would go to Wildwood, NJ for vacation every summer which I loved because hello BEACH AND BOARDWALK. But there was always one day when we would take a daytrip to Cape May because my grandma loved it there and I absolutely hated it because it was so slow-paced and all we did was go in one boutique after the next and I didn’t care about that shit when I knew that there were RIDES WAITING FOR ME back in Wildwood.

Morey’s Piers for lyfe, yo.

But as it turns out, Gamcheon is pretty much a dreamland for people like Chooch who like to have something to work toward, a goal to achieve.

Because what I didn’t know about Gamcheon is that there is a sort of scavenger hunt you can partake in by stopping in the tourist center and getting a map. Hidden around the village are “stamping zones” where you go in with your map and have that certain spot stamped. I became immediately obsessed with this idea too and even backtracked to the entrance of the village because the first stamping location was in a small museum there and we had passed it up!

“We’ve been here for an hour and haven’t made it more than 100 yards yet,” Henry mumbled, because we totally pissed around when we first arrived, getting ice cream, waiting for Henry to find a bank, taking pictures at one of the photo points, waiting for Henry to find a map, buying dried flower tea from some old lady selling them next to her house, chasing a cat down an alley, waiting for Henry to stop yelling at us, buying postcards, and stopping at the Gamnae Cafe:

 

RUNNING MAN HAS BEEN THERE!!

I got a sweet potato latte and cherished every last drop of it while we kicked back and wrote out some postcards which sadly wouldn’t be mailed until we got back to Pittsburgh because we forgot to look for post offices in Busan and then the post offices in Seoul are closed on Saturdays! So, I was that totally That Person, sending international post cards from a post office five blocks away from my house in dumb Pittsburgh. Lame.

I know, I posted like ten rooftop shots in my last post about Gamcheon, but I was just so enamored by the colors!

 

 

 

 

 

In case anyone was wondering what Janna’s favorite picture of our vacation is, it’s this one. SHE TOLD ME SO ON INSTAGRAM AND ALSO IN REAL LIFE.

 

This is a really good example of what a lot of the alleys are like in Gamcheon. It was a breeding ground for sprained ankles. Surprisingly enough, Chooch only fell once, and it was UP a set of steps, thank god. I get jello-legs just thinking about him walking on steps, if we’re being honest.

One of my favorite things about Gamcheon is that you would find yourself wandering off the main road, into an alley full of residences* and then suddenly here’s a random room housing a confusing art installation. Mattress Factory vibes, for real, and you all know how much I love the Mattress Factory! This place was like walking through an artist’s dreamscape and I felt like a little kid again, all excited about what was going to appear next.

*(We were literally walking right open doors of peoples’ houses — there were signs posted everywhere reminding visitors that people do actually reside here and to be respectful and quiet; Chooch and I managed to keep our giddy braying to a minimum.)

Chooch loves posing for pictures on his own terms and this town provided him with so many opportunities! You think this post has a ton of pictures? You should see how many I didn’t post.

Before you raise hell about rude Americans being vandals, writing messages of peace on the wall of this little room was encouraged and markers were even provided! It was one of the hidden gallery-type spaces that we stumbled upon thanks to the map. (Finally, Henry got a map that worked.)

This room scared the shit out of me because those hands are motion-sensored and started clacking away when we walked in!

Imagine coming home drunk, though.

 

This is a picture of me with art in the back. In case you didn’t know.

Chooch’s review: “I really liked it there! I feel like it was my favorite place in Busan. My favorite part was following the map because it took us to really cool places like when we went through alleys and saw all of the cats and the scary motion-sensor typing thing. And ‘Henry’ couldn’t effing take it seriously and kept saying ‘shut up people live here’ and I was like ‘eff off mate.'”

We strongly considered visiting. Henry (and his lack of map-reading skills) was tearing us apart! But for the most part, our afternoon in Gamcheon was a good one…

…because Chooch was in control of the map. Henry didn’t know what to do with himself!

We made friends with two cute girls from Shanghai here after they asked me to take their picture. Henry thought it was SO FUNNY that everyday, someone was asking me to take their picture. I was once told I was stand-offish but clearly I’m not anymore. :/

 

 

Chooch was in his glory.

 

고양이! 
We followed this cat around for awhile and it was just the cutest thing ever and I want 
a Korean cat!!

 

I was obsessed with getting to this particular art installation because I had seen videos of it and Chooch was getting so annoyed with me because I kept trying to grab the map from him to see how close we were/if we missed it/if it even really existed. Finally we found it and he was like, “here’s your precious house thing” and I was convinced that it wasn’t it because it wasn’t moving and here that’s because IT WAS BROKEN.

Oh, I was so sad. But yeah, there’s a crank and if you turn it, the roofs will lift up and down.

 

This was inside a small market where we got the second to last stamp.

 

Cheetos chicken endorsed by Wanna One!

We made it all the way to end of the longest path in about 2 hours, I would say, and it was totally worth it. The weather was perfect that day and the town wasn’t over-saturated with tourists. Most of the time, it felt like we had the whole town to ourselves once we ventured away from the entrance. I suspect most of the people there that day eschewed the scavenger hunt portion of the Gamcheon experience. Their loss! This was such a highlight of the whole trip for me!

Anyway, once we made it to the bottom / end of the maze, we tortured ourselves by WALKING BACK UP TO THE ENTRANCE because we needed to catch that shuttle bus thing to take us back down the other side where the subway station was. It wasn’t so bad though because we just followed the main street back up to the top.

When Henry went inside the tourist center to inquire about the bus, Chooch slyly slid his completed, fully-stamped map on the counter and cleared his throat until the person working there noticed and gave him his reward of two free postcards.

Then we got street food!

I FINALLY GOT SSIAT HOTTEOK! So, “Ssi” means “seed” in Korean, and these Busan-specialty hotteok are prepared much like traditional Korean hotteok but THEN THEY ARE SLICED OPEN AND FILLED WITH A GENEROUS SCOOP OF SEEDS (pine, pumpkin and sunflower seeds). I had to wait quite a while for one because the ahjumma ahead of me had ordered like 10 of them. I really liked this lady a lot because some tourists tried to cut in front of me while I was waiting for my turn to order and she quickly scolded them. Then a group of school boys around Chooch’s age came walking by, as school was just letting out, and they very cheerfully and respectfully greeted her because she must be a popular fixture around Gamcheon, and I got so much joy out of listening to their interaction. She seemed like such a great lady!

And then finally, my ssiat hotteok was handed to me, piping hot in a paper cup, and I thought my eyes were going to roll back into my head. IT WAS SO GOOD. I wish I could hand them out to everyone reading this right now who has never experienced the tongue-burning glory that is hotteok. You can typically find them in the freezer section of your local Asian market but brother there is nothing better than being served one sizzling hot off a griddle-thing in Korea.

I probably ate more hotteok than anything else while we were there, now that I think about it.

Afterward, we caught the small bus at the entrance and survived a harrowing, careening recreation of a scene from Speed down the mountain. The bus was full so we had to stand and Chooch almost wound up in the laps of numerous ahjumma and at first I was annoyed by the driver’s recklessness until I caught a glimpse of him in the mirror and HE WAS SO FUCKING YOUNG AND CUTE.

And then we took the subway back to Busan Station, where we took the short walk to our hotel for the night. Thank you for reading my fake travel blog.

Mar 202020
 

MONDAY

Made Chooch exercise first thing in the morning. This isn’t vacation! I picked a workout that was annoyingly strenuous though and I don’t like hard workouts in the AM, so I guess the joke’s actually on me.

Chooch started watching some stupid show on Netflix called On the Block. I hate it.

The school is handing out Grab-n-Go lunches for the students. Chooch was like, “Thank god” and went to get one but I was like WHAT ABOUT MEEEEE?! Much to his chagrin, they were also passing out assignment packets, so now he has legit work to do, which made my PROFESSOR MOMMY’S ASSIGNMENT LIST backfire. :( He still wrote about bibimbap though because he could see how sad I was that my Thinking Chores don’t matter now.

At one point, I realized I hadn’t seen him in a while so I started screaming his name. He called back from his bedroom so I was like, “OH NO, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SPEND ALL AFTERNOON LAYING IN BED WATCHING TV” but when I went up there, I found him sitting in a chair with a book. “You told me to read a book so I’m reading a book. ‘Mandatory reading time,’ remember?”

Oh yeah, I did say that.

So far, isolation was *shrug* because I work from home at least one day a week anyway, but WE’LL SEE HOW LONG THE NOVELTY LASTS. Adding a smart-mouthed teenager to the package really adds a new layer, though. But at least he doesn’t expect me to do things for him. I mean, he’s known me for 13 years now and is quite aware of what I am and am not capable of.

TUESDAY

I forced Chooch  to start the day with 20 minutes of K-pop cardio! He actually kind of put forth a bit of effort.

Chooch wishes he knew how to hard-boil eggs. “Same,” I say. Later, Henry comes home from work and points out that we already had hardboiled eggs in the fridge. We did not know.

Henry came home from work and we mauled him. WE’RE HUNGRY! FEED US! we cried.

Jesus, it’s only day 2, he sighed.

On my break, we walked to the library so I could dump some books off into the return thing BUT IT WAS LOCKED – originally, they were still going to accept book returns during  the isolation period, but I guess they changed their mind and there was a sign that says to just hold on to your materials until they reopen, ughhh I was hoping that at least one tiny part of my beloved library process would still be intact.

Don’t worry, we maintained social distance on our walk to the library, touched nothing, talked to no one, entered no store. Came home and scrubbed our hand-flesh off.

  • That’s too loud.
  • What are you watching, that’s dumb.
  • Shut up, I’m on a call.
  • Turn that down.
  • Shut up, I’m in a meeting.
  • Go watch a documentary.
  • Shut up, I’m in a training.
  • Mandatory reading time!

— Chooch’s compendium of things I yelled today, apparently, recited back to me in A TONE THAT WAS NOT A FAIR REPRESENTATION OF HOW I TALK, THANKS.

Saw an Instagram ad over the weekend for fire blankets and panicked that we might need those so I made Henry buy two. Instagram ads is the QVC for the next generation. Today they arrived. I didn’t even open the box because the excitement had already worn off.

WEDNESDAY

Chooch is letting me use his fancy gaming headphones for when I have to call into meetings, except that I found out the hard way that the mic doesn’t work. I emailed the Help Desk and they responded with instructions that were more than 2 steps so I replied, “That is too complicated. I will just continue to call in using my cell phone.”

Some group emails are going around because people apparently miss each other. I mean, I guess I miss some people but I’m perfectly fine in my covid-less cocoon at home, thanks.

Chooch chose the Zac Efron Ted Bundy movie as his choice of documentary when I urged him to watch something educational. I mean, that probably counts, right?

Then the Census came in the mail!

So far the most exciting part of isolation was cracking up with Chooch while trying to find what best describes Henry’s relation to me. We are deep in the throes of cabin fever slap-happiness. Check back tomorrow when we’ve surely resorted to acute psychological torture for fun. We ended up selecting “opposite-sex unmarried partner” in the end because I was afraid of going to jail, also one time before I started working at The Law Firm, I tried to get a job with the census and I had to take a test in the basement of the library but I guess I failed because they never called me back. I mean, it DID have word problems on it.

Why, tho.

THURSDAY

Chooch, at 8;50am: Don’t you have to start working soon?

Me, from the couch: Yes.

Chooch: Are you already logged on?

Me: Yes.

Chooch, in a parental tone: Oh OK, I was just making sure you’re ready.

NO HE WASN’T. HE WAS JUST HOPING HE COULD USE THE COMPUTER.

Chooch and I had a play-fight with an empty water bottle, still made less noise than Blake’s crying kids next door.  Our cat Penelope has basically stopped coming downstairs now because we’re here all the time and she hates it.

Had to call in to a short meeting using my cell phone on speaker. “Holy shit that was boring,” Chooch said from the living room when I disconnected. YES, I KNOW. THIS IS MY LIFE.

Around 5:00, Henry left to go and pick up our dinner from Onion Maiden because we wanted to try and be supportive I guess, saints that we are. I was still working so I was sitting at the computer for a good 5 minutes talking to Chooch only to find out from his silence that he went with Henry.

While they were gone, a cop car went flying past the house with the sirens on and then a police helicopter circled overhead for approx. 10 minutes. That combined with the coronavirus really gave me that nice “end of the world” sensation.

 

War Pig with cashew cheese and jalapeños, and Crucifier Rising dumplings. Chooch got the Kimmy Gimmler (comes with kimchi yessss) and the Bunn O))).

I love Onion Maiden but I don’t eat there very often for some reason that probably involves the fact that I don’t eat out at all very often because I’m pretty sure I have some type of eating disorder.

Henry wasn’t allowed to sit on the floor with us because he had meat. He was like WHATEVER I CANT SIT ON THE FLOOR ANYWAY and then that made me think of my birthday lunch at a traditional Buddhist restaurant in Seoul where Henry almost couldn’t get up after sitting on the floor and now I am so fucking sad. I miss you, Korea. Hopefully this pandemic ends someday and I can go back.

Chooch and I also shared a piece of Terrormisu. What a nice little quarantine picnic!

7:46pm: Chooch just chased me around the house, throwing an old spare key at me and I ran to Henry for help but he’s half-asleep in bed and mumbled for us to separate. Then Chooch laughed too hard and almost threw up on Henry.

It’s a…real haven up in here.

FRIDAY

“Chooch, we’re going to make bread today.”

“……without HIM?” (HIM = Henry, clearly.)

“Yes! Someone posted recipes on Twitter. It looks easy.”

“Well, THAT’S something I can tell I’ll be quoting you on for the rest of my life.”

OK, scratch that idea. I just went back to the recipe I saw on Twitter and realized that there was way more to it than just this:

Apparently, the rest of the recipe was in the comments. It’s involved. Do we have baking powder? What is kosher salt? Something about sitting in a greased bowl for 30-60 minutes? I’ll pass.

In good, non-COVID news, Taemin has black hair again! Also, I really wish I was going through this pandemic hell in S. Korea, not the fucking dumb US. God, can we screw this up anymore? FORGET I ASKED THAT. DO NOT HOLD ANYONE’S BEER. GET BACK INTO ISOLATION.

UPDATE, 12:09:

Chooch is making the bread on his own. Where the fuck is the baking powder, he asked, gesturing to the open cupboard full of UNLABELED CONTAINERS OF WHITE POWERS.

‘This could all be cocaine for all we know!” I cried. Now Henry is on speaker phone. He is very unhappy about how this Friday is progressing.

Apparently the baking powder is in a plastic container that says “baking powder.” I would have hung up on Henry’s ass by now.

OMG IF I HEAR “BAKING POWDER’ ONE MORE TIME. This call has dragged on for like 11 minutes. Henry just yelled, “I have to go! I don’t have time for this!”

Lol, I found the baking powder immediately  and now Chooch is mad. He dropped the butter on the ground so I told him  to just wash it off but then we both looked at it and I said, “Um, just throw it out.” Then we fucked up because I dumped all the water in at once, before Chooch had a chance to “mix the dry ingredients” and then apparently even the the water was supposed to be added gradually? Why? It’s all going to end up in the same place eventually anyway?

I feel like we made some progress because after stirring it for a but, it resembles real life dough! I got bored though so now Chooch is doing the rest alone.

12:44PM This might go down as the worst idea ever. The dough is like melted paste – is this right!?

The recipe never told us what to do with the butter. We used our collective noggins to assume that it was for greasing the bowl, so then Chooch made me wash out the Pam that I had originally (handsomely) spritzed it with. We are now letting the dough sit for 30-60 minutes. Is it going to expand into a carb-loaded Jabba the Hut and suffocate us? TIME WILL TELL.

1:50PM: Time to cook this gooey blob! I just noticed that the recipe on Twitter said to HEAT A GRIDDLE. THE FUCK? I was like “Can’t we just use the oven?” and Chooch was like I don’t know so I was scrolling through the Twitter comments and I said, “Oh look! This person asked, ‘Can I use an oven'” and Chooch goes, “Yeah that was me. That was LITERALLY ME.”

I have a headache.

Good thing we have those fire blankets.

YOU GUYS I’m positive we didn’t make these as intended but, against all odds, they taste fucking delicious. The first one came out the most normal looking. The rest are like, dough scraps but still delicious.

We made a penis-shaped one for Henry!

A half hour later, I glanced in the kitchen. “I guess we should just leave this for him to clean up?” And then Chooch and I scream-laughed our faces off. I think we’ve reached peak isolation. It has to be all downhill from here.

Oh wait, but then Henry told me that he ripped his pants today and didn’t realize it until he went back to the office and one of his coworkers said, “Nice underwear.” Yes, this is my favorite part of today’s isolation.

In case you were wondering if beverage deliverymen are essential during a pandemic, that would be a yes. Henry still has to work and his skin is basically burning off his hands from manic-application of hand sanitizer.

5:00PM: Henry just came home and is so mad. “I’m not cleaning that!” he yelled, but now he’s in there cleaning it. Chooch let the “dough” dry on the rolling pin and Henry is very upset about this. Also, he tried the bread and threw it back on the plate. Chooch and I were so insulted, but then I took a bite, and you know, now that they’ve been laying there for a few hours, I can tell that um, these actually aren’t fully cooked, lol. It’s pretty raw, is that why my stomach hurts do you think?

Chooch reminded me that there wasn’t egg in it at least.

I doubt anything exciting will happen for the rest of the evening. My plans are:

  • cereal for dinner
  • exercise
  • read
  • watch “Kingdom”

If anything noteworthy goes down, I will update this!

Mar 192020
 

THE WINDOW” 

Hound at my window

Barking at the passersby

Comfortable he sits

Image result for dog at window

THE DOG PARK”

Arlie Dog Park sits

Filled with dogs on the daily

How I wish to go

Image result for DOG PARK WITH MANY DOGS

“THE MAILMAN”

Charlie sits right there

On the mat by the front door

For that darned mailman

Image result for dog at door waiting for mailman

“UNTITLED”

Petrified and scared

Standoff with outdoor rodents

SQUIRREL! SQUIRREL! SQUIRREL! SQUIRREL! SQUIRREL!

Image result for dog staring at squirrel

“BELLY RUBS”

I lay belly-up

Hoping for Master to come

I need belly rubs

Image result for dog waiting for belly rubs

 

Mar 182020
 

Well, weekends sure do look different, huh? Actually, mine still looks about the same because I’ve been practicing social distancing for the last decade haha. I already talked about my Saturday, which included hoarding books from two libraries, but here are some pictures from other parts of the week’s end, because what else do you have going on right now? Sigh.

Henry and I got some to-go coffee from Muddy Cup. They have a slew of St. Patrick’s-inspired specialty lattes on their menu right now so I’m glad I got to grab one before COVID-19 has them temporarily shuttered.

Henry made me a plate of banchan (Korean side dishes) for lunch, so that was nice.

Henry was scrubbing vegetables in the kitchen like a good apocalypse-preparing housewife, but then he only made enough for dinner that night so Chooch and I have been left to fend for ourselves during the week, after all.

Then we went for a walk in Allegheny Cemetery. Quite a few people were out, but we maintained our distance. At one point, an entire crowd of people (?!!?) started shambling in our direction, so we took a different path to avoid walking past them, and it felt exciting, like we were actively fleeing from zombies.

Yeah, we laugh now….

Drew slept on the wheelchair, clutching her little toy donut, and oh, how I wish to be a cat right now.

All our cats know is that their peoples are home more now. I can’t tell if they like that or not though.

When in isolation: mandatory reading time!

I guess next weekend we will try to get out and do more nature-y things if weather permits. But as of now, it’s nice to have less distractions from all the DIY projects I have on Henry’s agenda, like the giant Seoul subway map that will eventually be on the wall above the couch (hopefully).

Other things, not pictured: The new season of Kingdom is out, just in time! Prior to that, I had been catching up on the latest episodes of The Walking Dead but I swear to Good Glenn’s Dangling Eyeball, that show pisses me off so much. Every time it reels me back in with a decent story arc, it loses me again with shitty characters (Alpha may be the WORST villain on any show ever) and boring episodes of nothingness. (That episode where they were in the cave made me so angry.) I think the only character I care about anymore is Judith, which is hilar to me because all those seasons when she was just a pointless baby, I was always screaming, “JUST DUMP THAT LUMP AND RUN!” Anyway, all of this is to say that I’m glad to have a good, solid zombie drama back in my life. 킹덤 감사합니다!

Wow, these blog posts are only going to get more boring over the next coming days, lol.

 

Mar 162020
 

Hi, it’s me. Erin. Since Pennsylvania schools are temporarily closed due to COVID-19, I gave Chooch some writing assignments because I’ll be damned if his mind is going to subsist on YouTube videos and Switch games during this time. But then the school provided assignment packets so I guess I’ll lighten up a bit. Today, he has written about his favorite Korean dish, bibimbap, and he actually didn’t complain!

Bibimbap (비빔밥). Where do I even start. The Korean dish filled with crispy rice, sauteed vegetables, meat, or meat substitute, gochujang, sesame oil, and the best part, in my opinion, the egg. Bibimbap, in Korean, means: bibim: mixed together; bap: rice.

Well, I guess we can start off with a little history lesson. It is estimated that bibimbap was created in the 10th century in the Koryo dynasty by the wives of farmers who were just too busy to serve a large traditional Korean meal. Now in present day Korea, many families eat this common dish by using leftovers and mixing it together to create this fantastic meal.

Now, I have had many bibimbaps, but the best one I ever had had to be the one we had on our tour to the DMZ, or demilitarized zone. I don’t know why I loved it so much. It could have been the crispy rice, or the just perfect egg, or maybe even the delectable seaweed. Whatever it was made it very easy for me to just devour the whole Dolsot bowl.

There are many kinds of bibimbap, but the two most common are bibimbap and Dolsot bibimbap. Bibimbap is served at room temperature, while Dolsot is served in a hot pot keeping it nice and crispy while you eat it. It also differs from the region you are in, for example in Busan, we got to crack our own egg into our bibimbap and it also wasn’t served with gochujang (spicy red pepper paste).

We also had another kind of bibimbap in Jeonju, or the hometown of bibimbap. The one I had was basically just the original bibimbap, but with cheese melting on the top. I thought it was very good, because prior to my consumption of it, I was totally hangry. There is a trick to eating the Dolsot bibimbap, though. If you stir the vegetables, but keep the rice at the bottom, the rice will be crispy by the time you eat all the vegetables and it will taste 200% better, or if you add gochujang it starts to taste otherworldly.

Here I am eating bibimbap on my last day in Korea, so sad. ;-;

I did like every bibimbap I had in Korea, don’t get me wrong, but nothing compares to the DMZ one. So, if I were to make a bibimbap, I would choose Maanchi’s recipe,

But, without the meat!

Mar 142020
 

Hello from Brookline. So far, there have been no reports of anyone testing positive with coronavirus in my neighborhood, big it was announced last Thursday that a student at Chooch’s school may have been exposed to it from a relative who had traveled out of state, so his school, along with 4 other schools in Pittsburgh, were closed yesterday as a precaution and so the schools could employ “electro-magnetic” sterilization, which sounds super space-y.

But then on Friday, the governor announced that all PA schools will be closed for at least two weeks, at which point they will reassess the situation. Chooch, being a kid, is excited because it’s like a snow day on steroids, except that some of us could die, but that’s OK: live it up, kids.

Because of this, our director at work gave us permission to work from home, so when Chooch found THAT out, the desirability of staying home from school was suddenly tainted, lol. MOMMY AND CHOOCH TIME. I’m going to make sure he has designated blocks of reading time, he’s going to do writing assignments, and he’s also going to watch some documentaries.

(“I’m watching one on Ted Bundy, then,” he said today, and that’s fine. He can help me design some new cards afterward.)

So it’s kind of like being quarantined, but not. Henry still has to go to work, but I am happy that I won’t need to be taking public transportation now during such uncertain, unclean times.

Then I got an email from the library, saying that after today, they are going to be shutting down until the 31st. I figured this was coming because Chooch was there on Friday and the entire children’s area was closed off, and that’s where he and his friend Markie have to go to use the computers because Markie isn’t 13 yet so he can’t use the ones upstairs. So last night, I frantically made a list of some of the books on my Goodreads “want to read” list that are available at the local branch of my library, leapt out of bed at 8am, got showered and dressed, only to remember that the dumb library doesn’t open until 10, ugh.

Anyway, I got there right at 10 and Chooch and I put on gloves that were available on a cart of sterilization products, and I acted like all those preppers hoarding toilet paper, except instead of Charmin, I had an armful of fiction.

I checked out 7 books, plus I still have 4 already checked out, so I’m hoping this will tide me over! Especially since I will have extra free time on Saturdays for a bit because Jiyong suggested that we hold off on meeting up for now, considering we meet in a perpetually-crowded Panera. Paneras are gross enough without a pandemic in the midst. Henry said he will help me practice my vocabulary though which scares me but we’ll see; maybe he will actually help.

But he will probably fall asleep.

Don’t judge me by YA/Teen Fiction selections, OK! Sometimes I like having something light to fall back on after reading something especially scary or ultra-literary.

I hope everyone’s staying safe, smart, and healthy out there and don’t forget to check in on your elders. It’s fucking scary, but we will get through this if everyone takes it seriously and stops doing selfish things.*

*(For instance, all of those idiot YouTube travel vloggers are still out there traveling for content and it makes me so angry. Especially when I see them getting all combative and responding to coronavirus-related comments with snarky slapbacks like “We’re healthy and not worried about dying from it but you do you #thumbsupemoji” NOPE. NOPE NOPE NOPE. That’s exactly what I was saying too A MONTH AGO when we started to consider postponing our trip that’s scheduled for April, except that MY sentence had a “but”: “…but I don’t want to risk contracting the virus and spreading it to those who are weaker/older/more susceptible than me, just because I wanted to go to some amusement parks and have fun.” That is the part that not everyone is grasping. We will go another time. Right now, the most important thing is to stay sanitary and informed. Fuck those people.)

UPDATE! I remembered that another library exists within walking distance so I ran down there and expanded my pile. Look, I can’t request books during this time so I need to be prepared! Worst case scenario, I start pulling from Chooch’s bookshelf. Minecraft 101, oh boy.

Mar 122020
 

I’m trying to support Asian establishments as much as possible since this pandemic has stoked the racism fire. Yesterday, I restocked my snack pumpkin at Lotus Foods then got coffee at Bae Bae’s Cafe, and tonight we ordered dinner from Tong Garden.

This was my fortune, which is SO APROPOS it makes my stomach hurt.

I keep thinking that someday this will hopefully be a distant memory, a chapter in an upcoming Trump Sucks biography, a segment from VH1’s I Love the 20s that makes us groan, maybe even something that WE CAN LEARN FROM?! One day there will be a list of Worst Coronavirus Responses and the good ol’ bull-headed USA will be right at the top.