Have you ever had a past you just wish you could shed like a snake?
I think many people might feel that way about certain parts of their history. There might be certain things or people that jolt an uneasy memory…memories that have stayed vivid and raw in their hearts and minds.
For me, though…somehow I started associating the whole of East Coast with the place where I had to worst times of my life. East Coast = the old Sophia, the Sophia that was emaciated, yellow-tinted and almost bald, the Sophia that was so full of bitterness, hate, self-pity and disappointment towards life and God.
I meant to write a Weekend ED post about this, and maybe I will…but one price most persons with history of eating disorder must pay is that indelible stamp across their identity.
They are forever that person who used to have an eating disorder. You always feel watched even if you are not; you are the first to freak out when you unintentionally lose a bit of weight because you worry that people will worry. You can’t blithely say “no thanks, I’m not hungry” when someone offers you food because then you start agitating that the person might think, “Oh no, is she anorexic again?”
I’m also a stubborn, stubborn person.
I’ve been avoiding going back home for two and a half years because even the last memory I have of that place is the fight I had with my parents at the airport over my eating disordered past.
I remember stalking off past the departure gate without even hugging my parents goodbye, and I remember thinking tearfully, “I’m never coming back again.”
And unconsciously, I guess I still haven’t let that last thought go. Winter break, summer break, spring break, and yet another winter break…I stayed safe and comfy in Los Angeles.
I know it’s my problem. It’s something I need to work on, and I thought I just needed time away to get over this kind of negative feelings.
I was wrong.
Avoiding home didn’t mean the animosity I have towards it will dissipate—it was just muted, but ready to spark the moment I stepped on that familiar territory again and be whirled into a tremor of unhappy memories.
I hate feeling like this, especially because I’m just hurting myself and my family. It’s also damn stupid—I miss my family so much yet distance myself because I’ve stigmatized my East Coast home for stigmatizing me. It was high time I got over this thing.
Inviting my two L.A. friends–Marilyn and Tracy– over to my home in the East Coast was the motive I needed to finally change my negative perspective. I consider it a blessing, and I think it happened at just the right moment.
You see, nobody wants to introduce friends to their hometown and just talk trash about the place. You can’t help but want to boost it up a bit, and when you relate stories, you dig out the ones that are sweet, funny and warm. That’s what I found myself doing.
It also helped that my friends were absolutely in love with the East Coast. They marveled at the peaceful quietness of my town (Vienna), the spring flowers blooming in the fields, the diverse stretches of trees that weren’t just the typical palm trees you see in Southern California.
Taking my friends around Vienna meant I started extracting the positive aspects of the place, too. I remembered how clean and fresh Virginia air is (compared to the L.A. smog). I loved how considerate and mild-tempered the drivers are. And dang it, I love my parents—they were so hospitable to my two friends, and I really appreciated everything they did for us.
(Picture by Marilyn)
Sadly, Sunday was the only full day my friends and I shared together in the DC metro area. But we made the most of it.
My mom made a traditional Korean lunch for us:
Nothing too extravagant; I knew my friends would rather have something simple and homey, so my mother made something we typically eat at home.
Bibimbap (비빔밥)! She purposely made it vegetarian for Tracy (who rarely eats meat), so instead of the usual ground beef or short ribs, she just used spinach, shitake mushrooms, cucumber kimchi and soybean sprouts.
Topped with a brilliant runny egg, of course. My brother, however, groused that it’s a bit too healthy and green for him. The boy missed his meat.
She also made some sort of kimchi the night before.
The red sauce at the back is the sauce that you mix into the bibimbap.
I think the kimchi my mom served that day was not the regular napa cabbage kimchi but some kind of different, more leafy cabbage. Hm, I’ll have to ask her about that.
Despite our expressions above…my friends LOVED my mommy’s bibimbap. I ate something else because I didn’t feel like eating Korean food but when my friends kept moaning about how good it is…yeah, I regretted my fallback decision to reject my mom’s cooking. I know, I’m kind of a brat.
And then I took my friends to my home church, which is in Rockville, Maryland.
I missed my church so much. Seeing all the aiyis (阿姨) and shushus (叔叔) (“aunts and uncle” in Mandarin—that’s how we call people older than us) brought such brimming joy in my heart, and it really touched me how delighted they were to see me after so long.
(snack time after church)
“Our precious baby is back!” an elder exclaimed, giving me a kiss on both cheeks. “我们宝宝回来了!!” How can your heart not melt?
After church, my parents treated all of us out for dinner, including my brother, my friend Joyce and our pastor-in-training, Joanne. We went to eat at the same restaurant my family dined in about three years ago:
Jang Won Korean-Chinese Restaurant. I’d already blogged about it once, but I don’t mind talking about it again—after all, new company, new story.
Jang Won is a restaurant in Annandale (northern Virginia’s own unofficial Koreatown) that specializes in Koreanized Chinese cuisine. I’ve also briefly blogged about what Korean-Chinese cuisine means.
Korean-Chinese cuisine is to what Americans did to American-Chinese cuisine: it’s a completely new breed of its own. The sauce is goopier and sweeter, and a lot of the dishes are deep-fried and uh, not the healthiest food in the world. It’s the kind of food you eat once in awhile, the kind of delicious, guilty fare that you crave late at night.
The restaurant was decked out in traditional Korean decorations, like the above traditional door frame.
It felt SO nice to have the whole gang of my favorite people all together under one roof, around one table, sharing delicious food and wonderful stories. I truly think these are one of the happiest moments of my life.
Banchan (Korean side dishes): pickled radish, radish kimchi, fermented black bean sauce, raw onions and pickled radish again.
We started out with the Korean version of everybody’s favorite sweet and sour pork:
We call it tang soo yook (탕수육), which is directly translated from Chinese characters: “sweet water (?) meat.”
It’s basically bits of battered and deep-fried pork loins that’s been coated in a sticky, thick, transluscent sweet and sour sauce with onions, bell peppers, carrot and cucumber. I’m actually not very hot about this dish…I think the sauce is kind of nauseatingly sweet.
We also had Gan Poong Gi (깐풍기 or Peking-style spicy fried chicken):
Nothing very Peking about it, really. It tastes like KFC: Korean-Fried Chicken. I like this dish because not only is it spicy, it’s got this yummy, sensuous sticky glaze.
Nobody can say no to this. Not even Tracy the Vegetarian.
Okay, time for the “main” dishes!
My mother was worried that some of us couldn’t handle spicy food, so she made sure to order this Ulmyeon (울면):
It’s a dish derived from the Chinese wen lu mian (温卤面), which is a seafood-based soup noodle, sort of like udon except the noodles are Korean hand-pulled style.
If you’re a spice baby who loves seafood, you’ll love this dish. It’s full of seafood like shrimp, mussels and calamari, and the broth is so refreshing, steaming with aromas of the sea. The broth is a tiny bit thicker than just plain seafood broth though, because I think it’s been slightly thickened with cornstarch.
For those who love spicy foods (like me and my dad!) we had Jjam Bbong (짬뽕):
Spicy seafood noodles kicked up with tons of chili oil. YUM.
The broth here is amazing—piquant, sort of sour, full of intense seafood and vegetable flavors.
I might get into trouble for saying this, but my personal opinion is that Korean noodles are…sort of mediocre. It’s not as hefty and chewy as Chinese hand-cut noodles…they just lack character! Sorry, that’s just my opinion!
And the grand finale of the meal is seafood zha jang myeon (자장면):
Literally, fried sauce noodles. You can read this article on the differences of Korean and Chinese fried black bean sauce noodles if you like. Look at that steam:
It was Marilyn and Tracy’s first time trying Korean-Chinese food. I’m glad it was a first for them, but Marilyn and I both agreed we prefer the Chinese zha jiang mian to Korean zha jang myeon.
After the big, heavy meal, it just seemed like the natural choice to end the night with dessert so the younger gang (My bro, Joyce, Tracy, Marilyn and I) trucked out to a nearby Korean bakery for something sweet and refreshing.
Breeze is a new cafe/bakery open in Annandale that is new to me. It’s a really sweet place to hang out, and they dole out free samples of the baked goods.
Not only do they sell baked goods, they also sell fabulous lattes (black bean latte, anyone?), shaved ice (of course), gelato, sorbet, sandwiches and salads.
I found the bread selection sort of lacking, but the atmosphere is lovely and Breeze seemed really popular with both the young and older Korean crowd.
Loved the random tree in the middle of the shop.
I’ll bet they deck it out during Christmas with twinkling lights and seasonal decorations.
This bing soo had a lot of different fresh fruits in it, including mochi bits, frosted corn flakes, some kind of strawberry milk, condensed milk and sweetened red beans.
I thought using strawberry milk instead of regular milk was genius—this was so good especially at the end when everything melts down into a pink slush.
We also split a cream-filled soboro bun:
Soboro bun is a popular Korean pastry; it’s basically like a buttery roll that’s been topped with a cookie-like peanutty crumble. If you ever hit up a Korean bakery, that’s one of the first things you should try.
This one came with sliced (and canned, I suspect) peaches in there, too. Or maybe it was apricots. Or pear. You can never tell with canned fruits.
(picture by Marilyn)
A perfect ending to the night, and an appropriate beginning to a three-day gluttonous storm across New York City.
It’s hard to change a certain feeling towards a past. Despite being open about it, I still have remnants of shame and disgust towards it just because it was such a time of pain and suffering for me. But I also feel that I’ve indulged those negative emotions and thoughts enough.
When I’m being truly honest with myself, I really haven’t made much of an active effort to do something about it. I’ve just either stuffed it down deep somewhere, avoided it, or just let it fester and overwhelm me. But guess what? Life is a continuous road in which you’ll occasionally step on dog and pigeon crap. The logical and smart thing to do is wipe that crap off and keep on walking, instead of dragging that dirty, smelly smudge along with you.
And that’s as “insightful” as I want to get. I’m excited to share with you what’s next: New York, New York!
Question of the Day: What’s your favorite art/music/film/etc. about New York? I love Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”