Happy Memories of 2016

I’ve been remiss and haven’t updated this blog in three months! Honestly, it’s been a rough couple of months, especially with everything that’s been happening with the Trump administration. I am an immigrant woman with a mental health condition. It would be a gross understatement to say that I was shaken by the election results.

However, I want to focus on the positive things that happened in 2016. I might be a little late with a New Year post, but seeing as I have a terrible memory, I don’t want all my precious and happy experiences to be buried under the shitstorm that’s raging in America right now.


• Bestest Movie Ever Podcast: My NYU Tisch friends and I created a podcast where we explore movies that we’ve never seen but other people have told us are the best. For our first episode, we picked RoboCop.



• Valentine’s Day with Deadpool: My boyfriend Dan and I were sick with the flu and had to cancel our garden date. We still wanted to do something special for the holiday, so we chugged our medicine and watched Deadpool.


Visited The Last Bookstore for the first time

• Reunion of the Soul Sassters: These two lovely ladies were my first L.A. girlfriends. It took six months for all three of us to be in the same room again, but we picked up our conversation as if no time had passed.



• Birthday at Harry Potter World: For my birthday Dan surprised me with an annual pass to HP World. The funny thing is that I didn’t realize what my present was until I saw the Hogwarts castle from the parking lot.


• Started streaming games on Twitch: We’ve fallen off the Twitch wagon due to technical issues, but Dan and I started streaming games together around this time.


• YALLWEST: My first book convention. I met a lot of interesting writing folks and nabbed a few ARCS. My favorite panel was where a group of YA authors read aloud pieces they wrote as teens. They were hilariously terrible.

• Joined the Bad Bitches Bookclub

• Beach picnic: Celebrated the first day of summer by going to the beach with friends.

• Wedding dress shopping: One of my closest friends got engaged this past year and asked me to be a bridesmaid. She wanted a ball gown that screamed Game of Thrones, so I had a lot of fun pulling the most dramatic dresses from the racks.


• Launched this blog! 

• Real Escape Room: That time when my friends and I were paired up with complete strangers and had to escape from a fictitious psychopath. We failed, but only by a very small margin.


• Voted in the CA primaries: My first time voting since I became a citizen!

• Black Milk sale: It was sad to see Black Milk L.A. go, but I won’t regret making out like a bandit at the clearance sale.

 Seoul Searching L.A. premiere + 80s prom: Had a blast dressing up and dancing to 80s hits at the Seoul Searching L.A. premiere party.


• Kollaboration L.A. 2016: Sean Miura and Jenny Yang’s lip sync battle will forever go down Asian American history.

• Anime Expo: First time Dan and I attended the biggest anime convention in the U.S. We got to see Yoshitaka Amano sketch Final Fantasy characters live and attend a panel featuring Kotaro Uchikoshi, creator of the Zero Escape series.


• KCON LA: For years I avoided KCON like the plague, but the 2016 lineup included heavy hitters like SHINee, GFriend, Block B, and DEAN. So yeah, I really wanted to go. Luckily, I was assigned to cover the event for YOMYOMF and got to watch the concert for free! I also got to meet a few online friends IRL.

• Haikus with Hotties 2017 Calendar: Worked as a PA on another Haikus with Hotties shoot. This time it was with the Sudarso Brothers. Throwing paint on them was really fun.

Photo by Melly Lee

• Miyazaki Tribute Art Show: Got to see some amazing Ghibli fan art.

• Family trip to Universal Studios: Dan’s family flew in from New York and took us to Universal. A lot of people complimented me on my Dobby dress.


• Moved to a new apartment

• Korea & Japan trip: This was the first international trip Dan and I took together. We were tight on money, but I’m so happy we were able to see, eat, and experience so many new things.

• Books & Boba launch: After much talk and planning with my co-host Marvin, I finally launched my Asian American books podcast, Books & Boba. I’ve always been passionate about reading and diversity in media, so I’m super proud of this podcast. I struggle with publicly articulating my opinions, and I’m more used to writing a script for more charismatic people to read off. I tend to support other people’s passion projects rather than start my own. This podcast has taught me to be brave and trust myself more.


• Hamilton PBS documentary: I watched this documentary twice on its release day. It will probably be the closest thing to me seeing an actual production of Hamilton.

• Carved my first Jack-O-Lantern: Of course I would carve a Monokuma for my first time carving a pumpkin. I paid for my ambition with a dozen cuts.


• Joined the Let’s Be Honest crew: My friend and mentor Christine Chen invited me to be a part of her creative team for her upcoming women’s talk show Let’s Be Honest, which will be uploaded to a new YouTube channel called, “Peaches and Tea.”



• Meeting online K-pop friends: My friend Lynne, a fellow TVXQ fan I met on Soompi, flew from Missouri to visit me. It’s sort of strange to think that we’ve known each other for 10 years and only met twice in person. Lynne has seen me mature as a writer ever since I wrote my first fanfic (may that never see the light of day). She and a few other forum members are the reason why I was able to polish my writing skills enough to go to college.


• Crush’s L.A. concert: As soon as Crush’s Wonderlust tour was announced, I booked two tickets. This concert will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first K-pop concert I’ve attended with a friend. I always go stag to concerts (a fantastic way to meet new people by the way), but it gets lonely sometimes. I was happy to surprise one of my oldest friends by taking her to see an artist she loves.

• Book of the Month membership: I caved and signed up for my first book subscription service. So far I haven’t regretted it. My library has been steadily growing with beautiful hardcover books.


• DEAN concert: DEAN is my all-time favorite singer-songwriter, so when I learned that all tickets were sold out for his L.A. concert, I was devastated. But by an unexpected stroke of good luck, I was able to work as a volunteer for the show! While I couldn’t get an autograph or photo with him, I did get to stand next to DEAN backstage and watch him perform live from a close distance. Aah!

 The Nutcracker ballet: My friend Kitty, who shares my obsession for ballet movies, invited me to see a local production of The Nutcracker. I absoultely loved it.

• Middle school reunion: I’m thankful that I’m still good friends with my middle school/high school buddies. Half of us live in California now, but it’s not easy to get all of us together.


• Pre-Christmas date at Universal: Christmas normally stresses me out with all the shopping, traveling, and socializing, so Dan and I decided to celebrate the holiday to ourselves a few days little early.

• Geek girls and food adventures: It’s always a delight to hang out with my fellow geeky girls, especially when it’s over AYCE Korean BBQ .


• Yuri!!! On Ice: It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an anime that has moved me to tears. As saccharine as this sounds, I think YOI came into my life at the perfect time—when I was deep in my depression spiral and desperately needed encouragement. I relate to the protagonist Yuuri’s perception of failure, his incredible lack of self-esteem, and his struggles with anxiety A LOT.


Not to mention, the show has some of the best animation, music, and sound design I’ve ever seen. Behold, look at all the gorgeous skating scenes!

So, that was the bright side of 2016 for me. I’m surprised that I made so many happy memories despite tumultuous events. Just goes to show that the little things in life add up.


‘It’s Asian Men!’: Asian American Men Are Sexy in ‘Magic Mike’ Parody

Originally published on NBC Asian America

Yoshi Sudarso is no stranger to being shirtless on camera, but performing body rolls while half-naked and drenched in baby oil is new territory for the “Power Rangers” star.

“I’m definitely not used to it,” Sudarso told NBC Asian America, laughing from the set of “It’s Asian Men!,” a self-described “Magic Mike” parody featuring Asian-American men. “The dancing, the sexuality, and just being the romantic lead isn’t really what I’m used to.”

Written, directed, and produced by NaRhee Ahn, the short film follows a young Asian-American married couple who try spice up their night in by watching “Magic Mike” only to find the mood ruined by the movie’s lack of hot Asian men. Dissatisfied, the couple go to bed early, and in her dreams, the wife (Junko Goda) fantasizes about her husband (Sudarso) wooing her with his dirty dance moves while being backed by his crew of Asian-American male adult entertainers (Bo Haan, Cedric Jonathan, and Randel Cuevas).

Ahn and her fellow producers, Goda and Dorothy Xiao, were inspired to make the short after seeing the 2016 “Haikus with Hotties” calendar, which featured a dozen Asian men and their original haiku poetry. Goda said that they were eager to produce a project starring an all-Asian cast in response to this year’s surge of Hollywood’s whitewashing controversies, including the casting of Matt Damon in “The Great Wall” and Tilda Swinton in “Doctor Strange.”

When the trio learned that Ada Tseng, the creator of “Haikus with Hotties,” was creating a 2017 calendar, they asked to partner with her and launched a crowdfunding campaign for “It’s Asian Men” last month with one more planned for post production.

“Instead of just complaining, we decided to add another perspective to the mix,” Ahn told NBC News in an email. “It’s time we proudly declare how sexy and desirable our Asian American brothers are.”

According to a 2016 study by University of Southern California’s Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Asians represented only 3.9 percent of speaking roles across film, television, and digital series in 2015 while nearly half of those projects featured no Asians at all. With a limited selection of roles available, Asian male actors often struggle to find roles that don’t reinforce negative stereotypes or desexualize them, the cast of “It’s Asian Men!” said. They relished the opportunity to flex their acting — and other — muscles.

“We’re basically in the shadows,” Randel Cuevas, a Filipino American model and dancer, told NBC News. “It makes us feel like they look down on the male Asian community, that [we] can’t be sexy as other guys. So it makes me feel good to be a part of this … To make Asian men feel like we can be a sex symbol too.”

When “The Haumana” star Cedric Jonathan saw the casting call for “It’s Asian Men!,” he was a little intimidated to audition, he told NBC News. He had seen Magic Mike and knew how much confidence and “swag” he would need for the role.

“I mustered up all the courage to submit myself to this project because I felt like it was very important to represent Asian men,” Jonathan said. “To showcase that we are very beautiful, that we can be sexy … and that we have the ability to be leading roles in this industry.”

Sudarso admitted that — in addition to learning seductive choreography — playing the leading man was also outside of his comfort zone.

“I’m used to taking the hit, being the guy who gets beat up,” he said. “So, it’s nice to do these kinds of projects to push for further diversity and for pushing the agenda to prove that Asian men aren’t just martial artists or nerds.”

Crew of “It’s Asian Men!”

Ahn took extra efforts to promote representation both on and off camera, filling the majority of her key crew with Asian-American women. Aside from Ahn and her co-producers, “It’s Asian Men” features a female cinematographer, choreographer, assistant camera, second assistant camera, and hair/makeup artist.

“On our first day, we had only one token male crew member. How many times have you heard of that happening?” Ahn said.

While “It’s Asian Men!” strives to promote a positive portrayal of Asian male sexuality, the cast and crew hope that the audience will enjoy the film as first and foremost a romantic comedy and be able to relate to the characters’ experiences without race being the primary factor.

“Being Asian American, I know that we are individuals, full-on multi-dimensional individuals,” Bo Haan, who also composed the film’s featured track “Backup man,” told NBC News. “I just wish that the general audience will have the opportunity to perceive Asians as the real humans that we are.”

“It’s Asian Men” has launched their second Indiegogo campaign for post-production. You can donate to the project by clicking on the link below. 


Seoul Trip – Day 8

I’ve finally reached the last recap of my Seoul trip. Again, I still have the entire Japan trip to cover, but I promised myself to not rush. I started this blog after my therapist recommended that writing down my thoughts would help me cope with my depression and anxiety. The last thing I want to do is make blogging another stressful obligation. With that said, let’s move onwards!

Ogada Café

It was Chuseok day, and most businesses were closed. Luckily, Dan and I managed to find a café that was still open. Stationed near the entrance to Insadong-gil, Ogada Café specializes in traditional Korean tea and snacks. We opted for coffee and a thick French onion and cheese toast—the closest thing to a bagel we could find on the menu. Can you tell that we’re New Yorkers?

Unhyeongung Royal Residence

After breakfast, we walked around the neighborhood to see what was open. We headed to Unhyeongung and saw Chuseok festival being held there. Children were playing traditional Korean games like Yut Nori and archery. Traditional dancers and musicians also performed in front of a live audience. I got a bit nostalgic because I used to learn Korean dance in grade school and high school.

Traditional Korean drum dance. #Seoul #chuseok #korea #koreandance

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Unhyeongung holds a reenactment of King Gojong and Empress Myeongseong every year in the spring and fall. Everything from the spectacular court dances to the grand ceremony is exactly replicated based on historic research and consultation by the palace’s counsel panel. We missed the timing to see the reenactment this year, but there’s always next time.

Jopok Tteokbokki

Since this was our last day in Korea, I wanted to make sure to eat my favorite Korean street food: tteokboki. You can find this spicy treat pretty much in every street corner in Seoul, but I wanted to try the very best. So, we headed back to Hongdae to eat some Jopok Tteokbokki.


Rumor has it that twenty years ago an ex-gangster started a tteokbokki food truck, which became so successful that the business branched out into two restaurants. While I don’t know how much truth exists in that rumor, I will say that the servers did slightly resemble gangsters. Hahaha! The tteokbokki was delicious and the price was only 3,000 won (approx. $3 USD).


Surprisingly, I drank very little alcohol during my stay in Seoul. I remedied that by visiting VinyL, a cozy bar that serves cocktails in ziplock bags. I ordered a Midori Sour to-go, and it felt liberating drinking alcohol in broad daylight with no one throwing me shade.

Grabbed a Midori Sour to go in a ziplock bag. #Seoul #Korea #Hongdae #cocktail

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Chuseok Dinner

We took the train back to Jamsil where we had dinner with my aunt and cousins. This was my first time celebrating Chuseok with my family. Dinner was a little awkward due the language barrier and everyone’s initial shyness, but we all warmed up to each other after a round of Rummikub. There’s nothing like intense competition to help break the ice. (Dan won twice in a row.)

I spent most of my time doting over my baby nephew. It saddened me to know that he won’t remember me the next time we meet, which probably won’t happen for a number of years. When I asked my nephew if he wanted to come visit me in America, he answered, “OK. How about tomorrow?” I laughed and told him to study hard, so we can talk in English in our next meeting.

Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had been raised in Korea. It would have been nice growing up next door to my older cousins, who could have guided me on all the tricky things about adulthood that my parents never taught me, like filing taxes or taking care of my body. I’m sure my relationship with grandparents would have been more intimate without the cultural barriers. Who knows? Maybe I would have had an easier time carving out my own identity in a country where I look like the majority and don’t have to reconcile my ethnicity with my nationality.

Still, I’m grateful that my parents chose to stay in the States. My horizons were broadened thanks to their decision to enroll me in schools with diverse populations. I might not have been exposed to as many different cultures, religions, and perspectives if I had been raised in Seoul. I owe my empathy and open-mindedness to my experiences growing up in America as an immigrant, and I would never want to change that.

After desserts, we said our goodbyes. It was a bittersweet moment, but we all took it in stride and agreed to not wait another eight years to see each other again. My cousins followed me on Instagram and exchanged KakaoTalk member ID’s with me. As Dan and I walked back to the train station, we kept glancing back to see my relatives waving at us.

Seoul Trip – Day 7

Miss Lee Café

While I don’t frequently watch the Korean reality show We Got Married, I am a huge fan of CNBLUE. I’ve watched every Yongseo and Gonglee couple episode at least 10 times, no joke. One thing I wanted to do with my boyfriend in Korea was dine at Miss Lee Café.

Once inside the café, we immediately noticed autographs by the Yongseo couple and other K-pop stars. The interior was cheerful and whimsical with notes hanging from makeshift trees and cute illustrations scrawled on the walls.

The menu was limited with no vegetarian options, so I ordered the lunch box for myself and rice cakes for Dan. The lunch box set consisted of mostly Korean comfort food: kimchi, rice, and seaweed soup. The food wasn’t anything spectacular, but it did have a nostalgic taste.

Of course, we couldn’t leave the café without writing notes! Dan and I wrote letters to each other and strung them up somewhere in the restaurant. It was another tourist couple activity we crossed off on our list.


Insadong-gil is best known for its traditional crafts and antique shops, so we spent a good hour shopping for souvenirs. Since we were in Insadong, we were hoping to eat some of its famous hotteok, or sweet Korean pancakes. Unfortunately, Samcheongdong Hotteok (삼청동 호떡) was closed due to construction, and we failed to find any other hotteok food stall. We did find a stall that sold poop-shaped bread with red bean and chocolate fillings though.

Hanbok Dress-up

We then headed to the Insadong PR Center, where they rent out hanbok for about 3,000 KRW for about half an hour. There are tons of professional hanbok photo studios in Insadong that provide hair and makeup, but we didn’t want to spend a small fortune on a few snapshots. The PR center had a decent selection of hanbok, but most of them were too short or small for us. Even the ones we ended up wearing didn’t fit us perfectly. Despite that, we received plenty of compliments from passersby, and our photos came out nice!  😀


No trip to Korea would be complete without a beauty shopping spree. We took the subway to Myeongdong, Seoul’s shopping mecca, and popped into every single skin care shop. I must have blown about $200 on beauty products. Yikes!


I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed by the lack of samples. If this was two or three years ago, shopkeepers would have given you free samples on the street, regardless of whether or not you bought anything. At most, I received two sheet masks for buying $30 worth of products.

Another big change to Myeongdong I noticed was the hordes of Chinese tourists. There were definitely moments when I wondered whether I was in China or Korea. Every store employee greeted me in Mandarin. All the merchandise had Chinese labels. I saw Chinese tourists empty out shelves, buying dozens of the same creams and serums. I guess it’s a good thing that Seoul is attracting so many Chinese tourists, but then again, I don’t think I heard a single word of Korean being spoken while strolling down the main road.


My cousin drove us to Garosu-gil, yet another trendy, artsy neighborhood in Seoul. Our first stop was Remicone, an ice cream parlor that looks like a laboratory on wheels.

Thundercloud ice cream shop. #remicone #icecream #seoul

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Remicone is famous for the unique ice cream concoctions. Their most popular item is the Thunder Bomb, a vanilla soft serve topped with cotton candy and Pop Rocks. We ordered one along with the Hawaiian Beach, the shop’s summer special. They both tasted like heaven in Seoul’s humid weather.

LINE Friends Store & Cafe

We stopped by the LINE Friends Store after seeing an adorable, giant bear by the entrance. For those of you who are unfamiliar with LINE, it’s a popular Korean-Japanese messenger app that’s operated by Naver, one of South Korea’s top search engines. (KakaoTalk, LINE’s competitor, is operated by Daum.)

I felt a little guilty for not buying anything at the store, but it was fun taking photos with the cute merchandise.

Gentle Monster

It was disgustingly humid outside, so we sought respite at a nearby café with a cave-like exterior. Inside, we were greeted by tables and chairs on dirt floors. An industrial coffee bar stood at the center of the room underneath a chandelier.

I was surprised to find out that the café was actually Gentle Monster, a Korean luxury eyewear brand renowned for its innovative designs. It was weird because I didn’t see a single pair of sunglasses on display in the shop. After much Googling, I learned that Gentle Monster had launched their BAT project last July and temporarily switched their goods from eyewear to coffee. Because why the hell not?

We headed upstairs with our drinks and relaxed in a lounge surrounded by wheat stalks. With the dim lighting and soothing house music, I dozed off a couple times on the leather couch. On our way out, we explored the basement and found towering shelves of coffee plants basked in soft pink lights. I don’t know what Gentle Monster’s Garosu-gil location looked like when it was selling sunglasses, but I loved its experimental café. I hope they keep it running for a little while longer.

Saint Augustin-Asian Cuisine

Our day ended with dinner at Saint Augustin-Asian Cuisine. Most of the dishes were a fusion of Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese cooking. If you’re looking for pescatarian options outside Korean cuisine, this little restaurant is definitely worth a visit.

Only one more day to recap from my Seoul adventures! I’m most likely going to take a break before writing about the Japan leg of my trip. Until then, I’m going to be working on other projects. 🙂

Seoul Trip – Day 6

This is Day 6 of my Seoul trip. Here are the highlights.


We woke up early to catch the train to Ilsan, a satellite city outside of Seoul. For the K-drama and variety show viewers out there, Ilsan is where MBC and SBS are located. Since my grandparents from my mother’s side of the family live there, we went to go pay them a visit. Of course, my grandmother prepared a feast upon our arrival. She was gracious enough to cook mild, pescatarian dishes for Dan.


Despite the language barrier, my grandparents seemed to get along well with Dan. They showed him old photographs of the family including, much to my embarrassment, my childhood photos. Just looking at the photos from my grandparents and mother’s youth, it’s surreal to see how far South Korea has evolved over past few decades.

I don’t know where this was taken or what I was doing there, but man, I look unhappy.
My grandparents and their family meeting Park Chung-hee, former president and anti-Communist dictator of South Korea.

War Memorial of Korea

After we bade goodbye to my grandparents, we headed to the War Memorial of Korea in Itaewon. The museum itself was closed, but we explored the memorial hall and the exhibits outside. In one of the courtyards, we saw row upon row of military equipment, including tanks, airplanes, and even a battleship.

Growing up in the States, I didn’t learn much about the Korean War in my history classes. My teachers would only mention it in relation to the Vietnam War, and I never had the guts to ask my family about the Korean War. I still don’t. How does one go about asking your grandparents to recount their most painful memories?

With a moniker like the “Forgotten War,” you would think the Korean War was a skirmish between two unknown countries with a low death toll. You would never guess that an estimated total of 5 million people died (with more than half of them being civilian casualties) and that 25 countries were involved in the war.

I was so surprised to see the names of soldiers from distant countries like Australia, Greece, Colombia, Turkey, Thailand, South Africa, and the Netherlands listed in the memorial hall. I’ve always known that the United Nations provided troops to aid South Korea, but I wasn’t aware of just how many people from all corners of the world came to defend a tiny country they never knew.

As I exited the memorial hall, I saw a stone wall with the words “Freedom is not free” engraved in both Korean and English. It was a poignant reminder that no war, nor the sacrifices made by the people involved in it, should ever be forgotten.



My cousin Taz met us in Hannam-dong, a hipster neighborhood that overlooks Itaewon. You’ll find a lot of boutiques, quaint coffee shops, and foreign restaurants in the area.

We ate dinner at a modern pizza place called Pizzeria D’Buzza. The interior decor was rustic and industrial with an open kitchen. We ordered the Buzza Classica, Margherita Originale, and the Alla Romana. All three pies were delicious, but my favorite was the Alla Romana because of the sweet potato topping.

Passion 5

My cousin wanted dessert, so we headed to a famous patisserie called “Passion 5.” The place was huge! There must have been over 300 desserts on display. It had everything from gelato to handmade chocolates and éclairs. After much deliberation, I ended up getting pudding. Simple, I know, but puddings are my absolute favorite dessert. I even kept the bottle because it looked so cute.

Han River

After the staff kicked us out of the bakery, we went back to Hangang and drank under the night sky. I envy Seoulites because of this beautiful river and park. Hangang is such a breath of fresh air at nighttime. It’s this safe space for people to lay down their burdens, whether it’s over drinks with friends or quietly reflecting on one’s day. I’ve been back in the States for a few weeks, and I already miss sitting by the river.

Seoul Trip – Day 5

Here’s a recap of my fifth day in Seoul. I apologize in advance for the lack of photos. A good chunk of them did not survive the importing process.

Kongji Patji 

We met up with my cousin Soyoung for lunch at Kongji Patji, a Korean-Italian restaurant in Jae-dong. The waiters seated us in the upstairs balcony, where we had a beautiful view of the hanok houses surrounding the area.

We ordered an array of dishes, including seafood pasta, ravioli, risotto, and honey margarita pizza. Thankfully, the honey was served in a separate bowl, so I didn’t have to endure eating honey-drenched pizza. I will never understand Korea’s honey obsession.

Ewha Womans University

After lunch, we headed to my cousin’s alma mater, Ewha Womans University (for some unknown reason it’s called”womans,” not “women’s”). The school was founded by an American missionary and was the first modern educational institute for Korean women. My grandmother also graduated from Ewha.

The campus is a mix of sleek, urban architecture and old gothic buildings. The large structure we’re posing in front of is the Ewha Campus Complex (ECC) designed by Dominique Perraut. Approximately 66,000 sq. meters with six underground levels, ECC houses classrooms, lecture halls, two theaters, a bank, gym, cafeteria, and even an optical shop.

It was pretty amazing to see the entire neighborhood flooded with women. All of the shops in the area were also targeted toward women. Though, many of the small, independent boutiques have disappeared, with franchises replacing them. As I walked past the myriad of beauty chains and Mandarin-speaking shopkeepers, I suddenly wished I could go back in time to a Seoul that I knew, a Seoul before the globalization of “Gangnam Style.”

It’s a common trait among Koreans to be nostalgic of the past. My parents’ generation miss Korea in the ’80s (despite democratic uprisings) while elders reminisce about a pre-modernized Korea. To me, Korea will always be defined as a country that is constantly chasing the future while desperately clinging to its past.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Most museums and cultural sights are closed on Mondays, so we traveled to the only place that was open: Gyeongbokgung Palace. Again, we saw a lot of people, both locals and tourists, dressed in hanbok.

Gyeongbokgung is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces, so we were unable to see everything within the limited time we had. There was also no guard changing ceremony that day due to rain (you can’t tell from the photos, but it was pouring an hour earlier).

Like the other palaces, Gyeongbokgung sustained heavy damage during the Japanese invasion and occupation. Restoration has been ongoing since 1990, but only about half of the palace has been reconstructed. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see the entire palace restored in my lifetime.

Han River

My cousin dropped us off at Hangang, and we ended our day strolling around the park. Although I have frequently complained about Seoul’s skyline being incongruous, I did find its city lights breathtaking.

Dan and I sat by the water’s edge and talked for over an hour, watching the lights shimmer and listening to old K-pop songs playing on the park’s speakers. It reminded us of all the times we used to sit on my rooftop in New York and share our plans for the future. We used to talk about visiting Asia together, and while this trip’s timing wasn’t perfect, here we were. We made it. It was a surreal feeling, and for the rest of that night, we were at peace.

Seoul Trip – Day 4

Ao Tori Bakery

After checking out of our Hongdae Airbnb, we grabbed a light breakfast at Aoi Tori, a cozy Japanese bakery. We each got a matcha melon bun, which was filled with semisweet matcha custard cream. It tasted so good!

The bakery also serves hot food and cocktails after 7pm, so if you’re planning to visit the place in the evening, you can eat dinner there.

Changdeokgung Palace

We took the bus to our hostel in Insa-dong, unpacked, and then walked to Changdeokgung, one of the Five Grand Palaces built during the Joseon Dynasty.

Surprisingly, we saw a lot of locals dressed in hanbok, or traditional Korean garb. Unlike Japan, Koreans usually don’t wear traditional clothes outside formal events. It was a little weird but refreshing to see Korean high school students stroll through the palace grounds in their colorful hanbok. I thought it was a cute way to celebrate the upcoming Chuseok holiday. Later I found out that people dressed in hanbok get free admission to the palace. What a clever way for the tourism office to promote Korean culture!

Ihwa Mural Village

Ihwa Mural Village was probably my favorite spot in Seoul. It’s a quaint neighborhood hidden in the hills with whimsical street art. I love this village because it feels like you’re stepping back in time, before Korea’s rapid economic development in the ’80s, before the legions of ugly high-rise apartments were built.

Back in 2006, a local committee recruited about 60 artists for the Naksan Project to revitalize the impoverished village. The change was unfortunately too drastic for residents, who complained about littering, graffiti, and noise from tourists. Almost half of the original murals were destroyed.

However, in 2013, a new group of professional artists and art students redecorated the area, bringing the total number of artworks to over a hundred. Since then, the village has flourished with residents opening small galleries, shops, cafés, and restaurants.

I was devastated when I saw the village’s famous, koi fish staircase grayed-over. Apparently, a pair of disgruntled residents painted over the mural back in April. The mosaic flower staircase was also vandalized by another unhappy resident, so Dan and I were unable to see any mural staircases at Ihwa Village.

While I can empathize with the frustrated villagers, I don’t approve of their actions. These artists spent countless hours to create these beautiful murals that the village financially benefits from, and now their works are destroyed, possibly forever. Not to mention, those murals were worth tens of thousands of dollars. It’s likely that those residents will face criminal charges for destroying public property.

We drowned our woes about the staircase in milk ice cream. Milk Gongbang served us two perfect swirls of heaven, and I was tempted to buy another cup to go. Next time, I’ll have to try their soy milk flavor.

Dinner with the Family 

We headed back to Jamsil to eat dinner with my family. We ate a seven course meal at a Korean-Chinese restaurant that had a lovely view of Seoul. It was a great time for the family to catch up since we didn’t get to talk much at the wedding.

After dinner, we went to my Aunt’s house for fruits and desserts. My nephews were adorable and kept repeating English words Dan and I would say to each other. Though, my youngest nephew started to cry when he was plopped onto Dan’s lap. Hence, the following photo now exists.

Btw, this is Dan’s current Facebook profile picture.

As we were preparing to leave, we said goodbye to my grandmother. I actually saw her last year when she visited California, but she didn’t recognize me this time around. Her Alzheimer’s had gotten worse over the past couple of months. She looked me in the eyes as she grasped my hands and said, “You’re from America? I’m an English teacher.” My grandmother hasn’t taught in over fifty years.

My aunt tried to help jog my grandmother’s memory, but all my grandmother kept saying was “Reera? Reera. That name sounds familiar.”

I’m not particularly close to my grandmother. Distance and cultural barriers have made it nearly impossible for us to have an intimate relationship. I do remember our last meeting in the U.S. though. She had given me her Carnelian bead necklace and told me I was her “favorite.”

My grandmother may not remember me, but I will always remember that I’m her favorite granddaughter.