Hello, hello! Guess where I am now? I’m in my Mother Country, Korea! I left Singapore last night and took an overnight flight with my parents to Incheon, and now we are spending a day here to recuperate before meeting my grandmother in Seoul, then traveling 4 hours down south to my “hometown” in Jeon-Ju.
It’s been such a pleasant and rewarding and exhilarating trip to Southeast Asia. There are many, many things running in my mind—the biggest emotion being gratefulness for the opportunity to come back, but stabbed with a dart of sorrow that I had to leave my dear friends behind. I’m not sure when I’ll see them again, but they will always be in my heart and mind.
I need a bit of time to process all the blessings and insights I’ve received from my SE Asia trip, and I still have a LOT of pictures to share with you…but for now, I think I want to revel in the fact that I have my parents all to myself, in the country I was born in.
You know what? Before I left Singapore, I was complaining about going back to Korea, and not only because I have to leave my friends. You see, even though I was born, bred, and identified as Korean…I can’t say I have the deepest affection for my own country. My passport clearly states that I’m a Korean citizen, but I rarely feel, act, think, or dress Korean. And yes, I have a certain bias against my own countrymen.
But I now realize that I was being immature and silly. Even before I set foot on Korean grounds, I was preparing myself for a boring, awkward time here as a misfit and an outsider. So what if people stare at me that I am wearing flip-flops. So what if the saleslady gasped in aghast when I told her I don’t use cream or lotion or sunscreen. I still share the same blood as them, and I have to admit, it feels…kind of good.
There is a particular…smell in Korea. It doesn’t smell good or bad; just a distinct, familiar smell that washes me with some unidentifiable emotion close to nostalgia the moment I step out of the plane. No matter what prejudice I may have, this place does hold a sentiment for me. No matter how much I may clash with the culture here, I was raised with the culture printed somewhere within me.
So. This return back to my homeland with my parents? I’m gonna treat it exactly as so—a return to my “ancient home”. I may feel awkward. I may feel out of place. But I want to embrace this place, and learn to be able to appreciate any place I am in at the moment.
Oh, and another thing I’ve realized? It’s childish to complain because for God’s sake, has anyone been more pampered during this trip than me?! Hello?! “Forced” to take business class. Loved and spoiled by everyone she meets. Hosted by the most wonderful, liberating couple in the world. Fed glorious food, meal after meal.
Lord, thank you. I am the luckiest brat in the world.
I was very spoiled on my way back, too. I had 21 of my church friends out to send my parents and I off. They treated us to a multi-course feast, too. Remember Crystal Jade restaurant, where I had the four-colored dumplings with Jing Wen?
We went to another branch, this time specializing in exquisite Cantonese cuisine. Since it is located in Changi Airport, we met up for an early dinner before our departure. We were such a big group, however, that we had to split into two tables:
Look at us. One big happy family.
My parents and Pastor Vincent:
And here’s the pastor’s wife blessing us with her prayer:
The food was served family-style, too, in big portions, one by one. And they were all meticulously chosen by our church’s own food gourmand, Vilon:
I’d say he’s the Jonathon Gold, the Mark Bitterman of our church in Singapore. Just look at that expression. It’s the kind of face and precise criticism that causes chefs to quake in their chef whites (or clogs).
First up, was the Mapo Tofu, or Braised Beancurd with Minced Pork & Chili Sauce:
This wasn’t my favorite, but Jing Wen dominated this dish. She loves tofu like I love cheese. I can get this dish anytime in America and I dislike soft tofu, but I had to admit this was done really well.
The tofu was smooth like pudding, the sauce intensely flavorful from liberal pork meat, fat, and juices. Still, I tried to save my stomach space for the next dish, which was Sautéed String Bean with Preserved Vegetable and Minced Pork:
Yet another familiar dish you can get in America. If you like green beans, you’ll love this dish. It was cooked perfectly—crunchy yet softly cooked inside, glistening with flavorful oil, and jazzed up with some pork and pickled vegetables.
The next dish is something you see regularly in Chinatown, probably hanging ostentatiously in a showcase window:
Roasted duck, Hong Kong style! I wish I could sound like a roast duck connoisseur as I analyze its level of crisp skin and tender flesh, blah blah blah…but all I can say is that it tastes good. I haven’t eaten enough roast duck in my life to compare it to others.
Next up, Stir-Fried “Hor-Fun” with Beef:
If you remember from this post, I’ve had hor fun (flat, wide rice noodles) but it was drenched in gravy. This one came dry-fried, but I didn’t taste anything “dry” about this dish, possibly because I was salivating so much while eating it…it was so good!
Once again, a dish you can get anywhere in Chinatown…so I highly recommend seeking it out! And if you like pig, and don’t mind the smell of it, I also recommend this dish:
Roast suckling pig and Char Siew slices:
I avoided this dish because I couldn’t really stand the overpowering smell, but it was gone within seconds so I’m guessing it was good! But the best dish, in my opinion, was this dish:
Braised Kailan with Lingzhi Mushroom & Oyster Sauce
Oh my God! Delicious! The vegetable was just so fresh and perfectly cooked, and I adore mushrooms, so this was the perfect dish! The next dish was also surprisingly good:
”Yang Zhou” Fried Rice. I say with deep humility that this rice dish rocked my socks. I admit, rice can be pretty good if cooked the right way. Preferably, wok-fried Cantonese style with juicy shrimp, Chinese sausage, peas, cabbage, eggs and scallions.
The next two dishes paled in comparison, though. Here’s the Baked Spare Ribs with Sweet & Sour Sauce:
My dad told me he loved this dish, but I found it horrible, simply because it combined two of my least favorite things: ribs, and sweet & sour sauce.
But if you like ribs and sweet & sour sauce, do give it a try. Be prepared to pay quite a bit for it, though. This dish is not cheap! The next dish was also a sweet & sour dish:
Deep-Fried Diced Fish with Pine in Sweet & Sour Sauce.
Hm. I did try one and it was amazingly crispy with a lovely batter, but the pungent sweet & sour sauce kind of ruined the good fish. But the next dish was stellar:
Pan-Fried Diced Beef in Sliced Garlic
My second favorite dish!! This had TONS of deep-fried, beef-juice-soaked garlic in it, and you bet I scraped out every last crispy garlic I could get! And the beef was so tender! YUM! Every meal has to end with a sweet note, so the last dish was a unique dessert:
Chilled Water Chestnut Cream with Pomelo, served in individual portions
This dish was clear, light, and refreshing, with a lovely citrus note from the fresh Pomelo flesh.
The ending to the day was sweet too, but with a hint of bitterness. Pretty soon it was time for departure, and my parents and I had to hurry off. We huddled into a big group to say a final prayer together, and then hugged good-bye. I didn’t cry. But I already started missing each one of them as I walked away. I really, really hope I can see them again soon.
I drowned my sorrows in yet another multi-course dinner during the flight back. Yes, I’m still miraculously in business class! Look, I can stretch out my legs and still have room to wiggle them around!
With pretty air stewardesses to bow to my every whim!
We were given a choice of western or Asian cuisine, and I chose western. They started me out with a small appetizer platter:
Smoked salmon with asparagus:
Cold rice noodle salad:
Fresh garlic toast:
And then, main course:
Braised beef with ginko nuts, chestnuts, goji berries, and dates. Served with sauteed vegetables and white rice.
Next up, my favorite dish…a mini cheese platter!
Blue cheese, cheddar cheese, fresh fruits, and a wedge of brown bread. And ending with a sweet note of cheesecake in strawberry sauce:
Suffice to say, my stomach was bursting by the time I was done and I slept like a baby. When I woke up, the plane had already reached Incheon Airport in Korea. I met up with my parents (they had to take another airline), and now we’re spending a night in Incheon.
We crashed when we reached the hotel. Several days of little sleep finally caught up with me, and my poor parents did not get a wink of sleep because they were cramped up in economy class. We took a very long nap, and when we woke up, all of our stomachs were growling.
Since my dad had worked really hard from his mission trip, we let him choose the place of venue to dine. Of course, he chose his favorite Korean-Chinese place near our hotel:
My parents always visit this place when they’re around, so the owner actually recognized us. She’s Chinese, so she seemed to relish in the opportunity to speak Chinese with her customer. Meanwhile, I relished in enjoying the interior design:
We started off with the usual side dishes that come with all Korean-Chinese ciusine:
Fresh sliced onions doused in vinegar, kimchi, black bean sauce, and pickled radish.
Then we shared a dish of boiled dumplings:
Because this is Chinese style, the filling was heavy on meat and the dumpling skin was thick.
My dad ordered a bowl of spicy seafood noodles, called Jjam Bbong:
Pungent, spicy, and chock-full of onions, zucchini, and seafood.
My mom and I shared a deluxe plate of black bean noodles (jja jang myeon) for two:
This is one of my favorite dishes in Korea. It looks black and hideous, but is so, so good. I can’t explain the taste—you’ve got to try it for yourself. Ours came with abalone, shrimp, onions, and beef.
And for our sweet end, sweet, rich pieces of mooncake:
And right now, I’m cuddling with my parents, slurping on shitake oyster porridge, dumplings, beef jerky, chocolates, ice-cream, and the World Cup, where Portugal is brutally butchering North Korea.
I really am the luckiest brat alive. I’m not sure when is the next time I can get Internet access, but I’ll do some updates on my last days in Singapore when I get back. In the meantime, please have a pamperful day for me yourself!
Question of the Day: When do you feel like the luckiest person in the world? How do you like to be spoiled?