I ventured into H-Mart for the first time ever. A new H-Mart store opened near me about a year ago, but I had never gone in. Choosing South Korea as my destination for December gave me the perfect excuse to force myself to explore it. There was definitely a lot of food with which I wasn’t familiar, but I think I made some decent choices in the end. And I’m proud to get out of my comfort zone and try some new things. With my dietary restrictions and introvert tendencies, that’s not always easy for me (especially during a pandemic). I was astounded by the variety of food available in H-Mart and look forward to going back at some point to sample all the different Oreo and Kit-Kat flavors not available in regular, US grocery stores!
So much variety meant I had a hard time choosing what to eat, watch, and read for South Korea. Therefore, I ended up doubling up in just about all the categories. Twice the fake traveling is twice the fun!
Meals:Â I know my limitations Even though I was slightly tempted to try kimchi again, because it is such a staple, I knew it would be too spicy for me. My memory of seeing a jar or two of it fermenting every time I visited the house of one of my best friends is something that will stay with me forever. But I think it’s best for me to only admire it visually.
My first meal for this month’s fake trip consisted of Korean BBQ vegetable dumplings. With plant-based protein instead of meat, they were a vegan way for me to enjoy Korean BBQ in a way I’d never had a chance to before. I also had fried glass noodles, which I was able to heat up at the same time as the dumplings, even though I overcooked my first batch. Even overcooked, they were both delicious. My second batch (pictured here) was even better! And there was enough to last me three separate meals.
My second meal was Sweet Earth’s Bulgogi. This is another extremely popular Korean food, and one I have never been able to try before. Because Sweet Earth used Awesome grounds instead of real meat, that made the dish with its brown rice, carrots, and bell peppers vegan and all right for me to try. I was worried it might be too spicy, but it turned out to be wonderful. Not many grocery stores near me carry it, but I would happily get it again the next time I see it. It was packed with protein and iron, and it was tasty as well!
Desserts:Â I ended up having not one, not two, but three desserts. What can I say? I’m a sucker for sweets and terrible at making decisions! After my first meal, I tried some labeled “White Kong Sulki” at H-Mart. It was a sweet rice cake with red beans and raisins. It wasn’t as sweet as I like my desserts, but it was good enough that I ate a second piece immediately after the first.
Before heading to H-Mart, I went on their website and saw there was a sale on custard cakes. That gave me something specific to hunt for when I went to the store, and I was happy to have found them! I ate two of the little cakes after my second meal. They were a little dry and not as custardy as I was expecting. But I still made my way through the box of them during the week to follow. Remembering the first time I’d ever had an Asian pear, again, at the house of one of my high school best friends, I picked one up as well. It was much more expensive than it probably should have been, but I am just one person and didn’t want to end up trying to eat an entire case of them on my own.
Music:Â When it comes to music, K-Pop is obviously what first sprang to mind. The music genreÂ is undeniably popular, even here in the US. I have a few friends who are obsessed with it and who follow some of the bands like BTS closely. I listened to a few playlists as I went about my daily chores. And when it came time for my daily workout, I found a KPOP BOPS HIIT Dance Workout that was part of emkfit’s 2020 12 Days of HIITmas series, which was perfect for a mid-December workout.
Books:Â I read two graphic novels this month and enjoyed them both. The first was The Legend of Hong Kil Dong: The Robin Hood of Korea by Anne Sibley O’Brien. This classic folktale from the seventeenth century was expressed wonderfully in graphic novel form. We get to see our hero struggle with his lot in life as an illegitimate son and overcome that to lead a band of men against injustices. The legend was the first story ever written in the Korean language, and I am glad it endured all these years and was presented in a fun way to attract new readers to it.
The second book wasn’t available at my library when I wanted to read it, so it took me until the beginning of January to get ahold of it and finally read it. But it was well worth waiting for. Banned Book Club is Kim Hyun Sook’s autobiography. Set in the 1980s, it shows a much different picture of South Korea than the one I knew about. We follow the main character as she goes to college and is exposed to activism. She becomes a member of the Banned Book Club, where students can safely think about and discuss the concepts within books their government has banned. But its members also take action, printing alternate newspapers, participating in protests, and networking with activists on other campuses. She goes from not wanting any part of politics to brilliantly standing up for her friends and the freedoms she believes in.
Movie/Show: I recently watched The Squid Game and loved it, apart from the English dubbing. At one point, I switched to subtitles instead, which worked better for me. The Battle Royale feel was ever-present, but it had some unique psychological aspects as well in this examination of human nature and desperation. And even though I predicted a few of the bigger twists early on, I still really enjoyed the series from beginning to end.
This month, I decided to finally see Parasite. As it won so many awards and came recommended from some people whose opinions I respect, I felt bad for having not seen it before now. This was a perfect excuse to finally watch it. I had read a few things about the movie, so I thought I knew what I was in for. I was surprised to find it was nothing as I’d expected. And even when some elements showed themselves (I had a brief recollection of someone living in/hiding in someone else’s basement) they were still shocking in the way they played out. I definitely don’t think I could use the word “enjoyed” to describe it, but I am certainly glad I watched it. It was also a fascinating examination of human nature and the lengths and creativity some people will go to. I think I sympathized and hated just about every character at one point or another. This movie is going to haunt me for a while, I think.