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April 28, 2006   

I know I should be posting more honeymoon stuff — not that anyone is asking for it, but for my bad memory’s sake — but I realized that for a long time, I haven’t really been… expressing myself in an honest and/or passionate way on my own blog for some time.

I’m not really sure why. This thought was brought into stark contrast when I stumbled upon an old thread on TGF. I think I’ll repost it here because it’s something that I want to have a copy of, with all its roundabout wording and its unclarity. It was posted on October 19, 2003 under a topic titled America-People. It’s about my feelings on racial identity, something that’s almost always been quite important to me. The topic was about the potential for labels to add to the polarization of races.

The polarization doesn’t find its primary source in the people who identify themselves by an ethnicity, but rather in the people who jump to label and stereotype others that are seen as different. It is a misconception to believe that it is the minority groups that are the divisive force in our American society.

When we look back on American history, it is the majority group that continues to create racial strife and to point out the otherness and differences that alienate the smaller groups. History shows us that it’s not just a white against other racial groups, although the most glaringly obvious problem is that of slavery and the enduring racism, whose ill aftermath we still can see today. Even looking back as recently as the late 1800s and early 1900s (actually, depending on your neighborhood, even to this day) shows hate crimes and rampant discrimination against white ethnic groups also, such as the Irish and Italians, because they were perceived as different and threatening to the dominant culture, whose members were worried about losing jobs to each new wave of immigrants. Sure, the immigrants were concerned with preserving the “old ways” and to make sure that their children loved the parents’ homelands, but generally, when people moved to the US, it was with the hope that we can begin anew and become more than we were in the previous lands, and to truly be Americans, which is why many people changed their family names or took on more American-sounding names in order to be a part of that “melting pot”.

When I immigrated to the US, I knew I was Korean, and would always be Korean. But I also expected that I would be an American and be accepted as an American. After all, it’s an entire nation of immigrants (aside from the Native Americans, obviously). But even to this day, after living most of my life in the US and growing up with the Transformers and Rainbow Brite and knowing almost every group on the 80s countdown on VH1 from my big-haired youth, people will still ask me on the streets where I’m from or comment on how good my english pronunciation is or tell me that they have a Filipina friend, as if this were relevant to me, a stranger in the street. As far as I’m concerned, I’m a Korean American, which is an American that has a Korean background. But alas, the mass populace does not accept me as an American and still sees me as an “other”. If you (generalized “you”) have asked an Asian person living in the US where they are from, then when they tell you a city in the US, then ask them again where they are REALLY from, then it’s not that person who is the one that is making a big deal about being different versus just being an American.

Back to the melting pot, the concept of the melting pot would assume that all cultures would learn from others. It is an admirable concept, but to buy into the pot would be to buy into the concept that we have been sharing equally. That is not true. How much do I know about the Portugese culture? How much do I know about Haitian culture? How much do others know about Korean culture? Not very much at all. We all share some dominant American culture, but it’s is a culture that is very slow to absorb changes. Because of its slowness, to buy into the melting pot concept would be to force everyone to abandon any differences we bring from our respective cultures at all, including regional/city differences. Philly would not be known for the cheese steaks. New York would not be known for the pizzas, etc. The melting pot assumes the ideal end result is homogeny. But why are differences bad?

Differences are great. Differences are why I’m not just sitting at home all by myself, being only friends with myself because no one else is exactly like me. I love learning about other people’s backgrounds and cultures. I love that I have a connection, albeit a more and more tenuous one, with a nation of people on the other side of the world. It’s cool to travel to a different country and be able to speak the language and not be totally weirded out by how different they are. I love eating new foods. I love noticing consistencies across cultures that seem to be polar opposites.

Some people are tall, some people are short. Some people are dark, some are light. Some speak with familiar accents, and some speaks with entirely different accents. Some people wear glasses, and some don’t. Some people like people of the same sex, and some don’t. We are all different, and ideally, everyone would accept that, and we wouldn’t have to explain anything to anyone, put ourselves under a label.

The world we live in is hardly ideal. We can’t address problems that exist in society unless we can identify them and try to address the source of the problem. We don’t cure cancer in a person by pretending it doesn’t exist. We learn what kind of cancer we have, then we find the doctors and right treatment and try to find a way to fight it. We have a problem in the US, and labelling the groups that we are perceived as does not intensify the problem, but give us a way to use linguistic shortcuts to address a larger issue, as well as identifying a community of people who are perhaps interested in pursuing a solution to a similar problem.

Labelling myself as an Asian American, a Korean American, a woman of color, a feminist, a socialist-at-heart-liberal-in-practice, a nerd, a math geek, a dog lover, none of these labels are intended to pull myself away from the rest of society. That is the last thing I want. They are to help identify me to other people, so that they know where I stand. Purposely presenting myself with those labels tells people that I have an interest in those issues.

The ideal society that I feel that we should strive for is not one where we all hope to be alike, but where we can truly celebrate and enjoy our differences, and not be threatened by groups that are different from ourselves. Then we can not only be citizens of the USA, but of the world community.

Damn, that totally sounded like some PSA. I can’t help it; I grew up with afterschool specials, dammit. :p

Some confusion

April 26, 2006   

It’s so funny because I was so sure that Seppo’s friends (who are also my friends too, of course!) would be the ones to do this (only because they know me less than the friends I grew up with, not because of any hidden agenda 🙂 ), but my friends from back East (ETA: and Edy!) have all been im-ing/emailing congratulations and asking me how it is to be Mrs. Helava. 😀

I am not Mrs. Helava (that’s my mother-in-law in my mind — hee hee) but still Ms. Choi. 🙂 And not because we didn’t get married! Because we did, and it was truly a wonderful day. We are so, so very happy to be married.

No one’s name changed though — Seppo is also still Mr. Helava. 🙂 Maybe I/we will change something sometime in the future, but not for the moment. I’ll let you know though. 😉 Also, the name-not-changing is not a “big” deal in any way, and neither Seppo nor I are sad/happy/upset/confused/anything about it. 🙂

Honeymoon: Day Four in London

April 26, 2006   

Unlike the other days, on Thursday, April 13, 2006, after a fast breakfast of instant curry ramen (instead of Pret!) we headed out to easyInternetcafe, then to Tottenham Court (instead of Picadilly Circus). OMG, a break in routine! Whatever shall we do?!

The British Museum

Our first stop of the day was the British Museum. I have to say, I got really spoiled with all the free museums. It’s so kick-ass that they are almost all free. All the building were so gorgeous, although as far as architecture, I loved the Parisian buildings far more on average.

After almost three hours of roaming around the museum and mocking various works of art

This is my fault

The great philosophers

this guy told us to go away

Creepy staring eyes

so we did. I mean, look at him! Wouldn’t you do whatever he said? His buddy showed us what he does to people (and animals) that don’t listen to them:

Slaughter, angle 2

Dude. That’s harsh. Anyway, we headed over to pretty much the first cafe we could fine, which was called “bibimbap cafe”, and found that kimbap tastes the same no matter where you have it.

We roamed a bit further in the museum area, where Seppo bought a camera strap to replace the one he left at home. What? I didn’t give him any grief over that, I swear! 😀 It was a camera shop/cafe, which I thought was an awesome concept. They had little chalk drawings of what the different coffees consisted of, not to mention dusty display cases of old and new cameras.

We returned to the hotel around 4:45pm and rested up for around 45 minutes, then headed out to eat at Marcus Wareing at the Savoy Grill. What an unwieldy and grammatically awkward name for a restaurant. We have this pic of the outside:

The Savoy

but we were too wussy to take any pics indoors. It’s a shame because it was a beautiful place.

The service was so good and attentive that I was surprised that they didn’t hold the fork to my mouth so that I could eat. It was weird: the service was almost so attentive that it felt intrusive, but it never really crossed the line. Even though it was extremely attentive, we never were made to feel like we were not doing something right or anything, and the waitstaff seemed to be so sincerely glad to hear we had a great dinner. I mean, it’s just excellent training, I know, but it was still very believeable. Still, the best service I ever had was at Chez Panisse. The difference was that it felt more… homey, and more inviting, whereas Marcus Wareing exudes a “this is a nice place so we are going to go the extra mile” feeling, if that makes any sense.

The food was, without exception, excellent. I enjoyed every bite of every course, including the little amuse bouches they served us. I will cover it more in depth in the food blog at some point. I would totally go back again. The prix fixe menu also makes this place a veritable bargain for the phenomenal service and quality of food.

At around 8:30, we left the restaurant and walked along the Thames to the Temple station. We went back to the hotel and rested up.

It’s so funny, because I feel like almost everyday in London, we had dinner pretty early (to take advantage of some of the prix fixe menus), but almost everyday in Paris, we didn’t even leave to get dinner until 8:30 or 9.

Honeymoon: Day Three in London

April 23, 2006   

Wednesday, April 12, 2006. We got up fairly early, tossed down some soup & tea, washed up, then dashed out of the hotel to the easyInternetcafe near the Bond Street tube stop. I think we were checking out the status of our toptable.co.uk reservations.

easyInternetcafe.com

It was upstairs of a Subways. Strange.

We then grabbed a Time Out London weekly guide at an HMV to see what was up for the rest of the week. This is another thing I recommend for London. It was worth the price (2.50 pounds) for the full coverage it had of the various events around the area, as well as information on lesser known corners of London.

We went to Frankie’s at the Criterion (near Picadilly Square) for lunch. We had dropped by the previous day to make reservations, so there was no wait. Actually, there would have been no wait anyway, but oh well. Between the two of us, we had pork belly (mostly tasty, but had a really strongly burnt area on the top that really made the dish unenjoyably bitter), bresaola (sp? it was completely different from what I was expecting based on what I’ve had in the past with a similar name), and penne primavera (flawlessly al dente, but nothing to get to excited about flavor-wise). It was ok, but underwhelming, given that it was rated well as a mid-rate restaurant. In overall pricing structure, it compared closely to Marcus Wareing at the Savoy Grill and to Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood cafe, both of which were leaps and bounds better than this place. Alas. The decor was quite nice, however.

We crossed the *actual* Millenium Bridge to the Tate Modern after lunch. This view is from the Tate Modern side:

The view from the Tate Modern

For some reason, I thought it would be a bit wider. Not a lot, but a bit. A word about the Thames is that it’s very narrow. It takes very little time — maybe 5 minutes at most — to cross it. So when you look at how far apart things are on the map for London, keep that in mind. Distances between any two closest Tube stations were anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes apart, and the terrain is pretty flat, so it’s pretty easy to walk. Not that walking didn’t totally kick our asses. We were popping Advils left and right, and half the nights, we took Tylenol PM. Oh noes! Addictions! Just kidding. “Day Seven in Paris” me says we are not addicted to painkillers.

The Tate Modern was interesting — some things, regardless of the fact that I had no context or history, just grabbed me right away with the illusion of action and/or use of color. I wish I had pictures or artist names to refer to, but I don’t, so it’s going to be really hard for me to try to figure out which ones they were. This is the one museum where I really regret not having ponied up for the audiotour. In London, most of the museums were quite accessible (National Gallery and British Museum, for example), but this was one a pretty big question mark for me. Seppo & A_B have had quite a discussion on this (will link later; me == lazy right now), which I largely agree with.

Boxes of plastic

I’ve always felt that to some degree, anything that claimed to be art had to stand on its own merit, relying on an interaction between the consumer of the art and the art piece rather than having the artist need to make explanations to the consumer. I don’t like it when a director explains how the movie was supposed to be; the resulting creation is what it is regardless of what she/he intended. If you made a movie about two teens falling in love, you can’t claim you meant for it to be about time travel if there was no reference to time travel in the movie itself. So in some small way, I want modern art to be self-explanatory.

However, as a consumer of movies, I bring a lot of context to the movie-watching experience. I know what it means when there is a musical montage meant to show the passage of time. I know what it means when different lighting or color saturation or costuming is used to indicate a flashback. I know when the scene fades to black, it doesn’t indicate the light had gone out. If you showed a modern movie to someone who was just getting used to the very idea of “moving pictures”, they would not understand a large subset of cinematic shortcuts that I understand as a result of growing up in an environment & time where they are commonplace. I recognize now that it’s that type of context that I lack for appreciating art. And I think I want to understand more. Some works of art are so provocative and maddening precisely because they almost immediately seem “interesting”, yet without the vocabularly and knowledge of symbolism common to the art world, I feel that the deeper meaning hovers just beyond my grasp.

Anyway.

We were exhausted so we stopped for juice at the museum cafe.

Museum cafe

Not the most interesting pic ever, but we weren’t allowed to take pics of most of the art there, so you get a pic of the cafe. 😀

By then, we had spent hours & hours walking around and were exhausted. We grabbed some early dinner sandwiches (Hoisin duck wrap, crayfish & rocket sandwich, chocolate “moose”, and caramel crunch cake) and drinks at Pret, then went to the The Comedy Store at… Picadilly Circus. I swear we should have just gotten a hotel in that area. 😀

The Comedy Store

We laughed for the full set of improv that evening, which was probably around 2 hours. I enjoyed absolutely every minute. The group had really snappy chemistry, so they were able to pick up and go when a piece was losing steam, which it rarely did. I have to say, the Brits know far more French on average than Americans, which should hardly be surprising, but I was surprised that they were able to have an entire improvised bit in French with which both the players and the audience seemed to be full onboard. Neat!

We stopped by the Food & News (a little “corner” store) near the hotel on the way in to our room to rest up from the long, enjoyable day.

Honeymoon: Day Two in London

April 22, 2006   

I woke up ridiculously early on Tuesday, April 11, 2006, at maybe 5 or 6 in the morning, because of my nap the day before, or going to bed earlier, or jetlag, or maybe even simply excitement. While Seppo slept, I read up on things we could do that day.

In a routine we’d find ourselves in the rest of the week, we got out of the hotel around 10:30 and grabbed breakfast at Prêt before taking the Tube to Picadilly Circus to drop by the British Visitor Center to get some info & recommendations.

Same day, same person, different angle

It was like… Time Square, minus the specific buildings. :p Oh, I just realized that I was wrong in the last entry when I said things were different on Day Two insofar as feeling like we were in another country. I think we didn’t really feel that way until the third day. We walked from Picadilly Circus to Leicester Square to see if we could get half-price tickets to anything at the tkts booth. On the way, we saw Planet Hollywood, TGIFs, and ads for numerous musicals (Chicago, The Producers, Footloose), performances (The Blue Man Group, Stomp), and movies (V for Vendetta). WTF?! Where the hell were we, the US? We left US to go to another country and experience the culture there, dammit! Hehehe. It was pretty funny.

We went to the National Gallery, which I absolutely loved.

National Gallery

On reflection, from the perspective of me on Day Six of the Paris leg of the trip, the National Gallery (and indeed, all the other museums we went to in London) was spectacularly well-labelled and contextualized. With virtually no knowledge of art history, the clear labelling and grouping allowed me to make certain connections and feel appreciation for why a certain piece of art or a certain artist may have been seen as bold/quintessential/experimental/traditional/etc. at the time.

We stayed there for a few hours and left for a late pub lunch at what was surely a tourist trap called Clarence’s.

Lunch at a pub

But it was cheap, tasty, filling, somewhat traditionally British, and friendly, so we had a good meal of meat pies.

I think we walked over to the London Eye next, crossing what I had mistakenly misidentified at the time as the Millenium Bridge, which is pretty dumb considering that they look pretty significantly different and that a cursory look at the map would have told me I was in the wrong place. *embarrassed*

A bridge

The line was short because it was raining. We waited maybe 5-10 minutes total. The view was pretty good, even with the rain, not that you can tell from this pic:

Space vision from space ferris wheel

We walked around to the outside of the Westminster Abbey around 5pm then headed back to the hotel for what was supposed to be a brief rest, but turned out to be a 2.5 hour nap. 😀

Around 9pm, we headed out and went to Wagamama for dinner.

I don't disagree.

It was pretty good, but not so great that I’d tell someone that they NEEDED to go or their visit will suck. 😉 But definitely good enough (and affordable enough) that I don’t regret going in the least. The service was nice and it wasn’t too busy.

We stopped by Tesco (a supermarket chain) to buy some biscuits and pastries and soup for a quick breakfast the following day.

We were exhausted from all the unaccustomed walking, so we went to sleep fairly early again. At some point, I’d like to map the areas we walked before I forget, because it was ridiculous.

I ::heart:: The National Gallery.

Honeymoon: Day One in London

April 21, 2006   

This post could also be titled: Ei-Nyung’s Detailed Yet Boringly Undescriptive Trip Report.

Obligatory... status screen

We arrived in London at 12:40pm on Monday, April 10, 2006, via a direct flight from San Francisco. I have to say, the ride did not feel much longer than when I fly to Atlanta, even though it’s actually about twice as long.

We took the Heathrow Express train into Paddington Station (yes, the Paddington Station, as in Paddington Bear) which only took 15 minutes, then fumbled about a bit trying to figure out how to get the week-long Travelcards we had just purchased at the machine at this very station validated. All the signs indicated that we needed to write down our Photocard numbers on them before we could use them. There were all these photobooths that said they were valid for Photocards, so we took a pic, after asking the person at the information booth where we should get Photocards. After taking the pic, we stood in like three different lines where people told us different things. Turns out that you don’t actually need a Photcard to validate your Travelcard. All the signs will say so, but you really don’t. D’oh.

Really, they are not kidding

Here is a tip for those of you going on 1-2 week trip to London. Get the Travelcard at one of the National Rail stations (this would include Paddington Station), NOT on the Tube. The guidebooks had conflicting information but most of them advised getting an Oystercard, which is a rechargeable plastic transit card that lets you put cash amounts on it or put one-/three-/seven-day passes on it. You get this at the Underground stations or at any store that has an Oyster logo. The Travelcard is a simple paper ticket with a magnetized strip, issued for the passes via National Rail, but you can use it for the Tube and for buses as well. The only advantage to the Travelcard — and the reason I recommend it over the Oystercard — is that you don’t have to put a refundable deposit down on it, as you do with the Oystercard, which means that either you are out a mememto of your trip or several pounds of cashola. Getting a pass is a pretty substantial savings over putting cash on the Oystercard (1.50 pounds per ride in Zone 1, with a daily limit max of 5.50), which is a substantial savings over paying cash (3 pounds per ride). If you decide to get the Oystercard, you don’t have to register it. Don’t be fooled by all the registration forms. Just buy an Oystercard and get a pass put on it (or put cash on it). Period. Also, don’t worry about having to go outside of Zone 1. You won’t. And if you do, you’ll be buying a different kind of ticket anyway.

In London, it is foolish not to take the Tube for most of your destinations. The Tube is awesome, clean, safe, and so well organized that Seppo and I agreed that if an English-speaking, literate person with no supposed mental handicaps were still confused by the system on their second ride, there was something serious wrong with that person. Actually, you prob don’t need to even be English-speaking, as long as you can match up the signs with the words in your guidebook or whatever. In addition to all the walking, Seppo and I must have taken the Tube anywhere from 3 to 5 times a day on average.

Whew, I need to take a breather after that. *pauses*

We arrived at our hotel at around 3pm after the Photocard fiasco and rested up [read: napped] for about an hour. We roamed around Hyde Park, which was spitting distance of our hotel.

Hyde park

It was big and… field-y. It was pretty disappointing, especially with the gray weather (which we had expected, at least), until we hit the south end of the park, where there were the Serpentine (a man-made skinny, snake-y lake), lots of birds, and flower gardens. That was more like it!

We took the bus to Oxford Circus (we didn’t know what to do with our Travelcards here, so we did nothing and were sort of worried about getting “caught”, but we figured we had the passes so whatever) where we went to Yo! Sushi for dinner. It was pretty much exactly as I suspected it would be — conveyor belts of really weird sushi and some normal sushi — but it was definitely worth going to once. Some of the dishes are a far better bargain and pretty far out of the ordinary than others, so it is worth carefully studying the menu before diving into your usual favorites. I took a video here, but no pics. Dang.

After dinner, we dropped into Selfridge’s (one of the gigantic, impressive department stores here) just to see how it was, then dropped by Prêt à Manger to grab a sandwich and passionfruit parfait to split later, as dinner was not very filling and we had already walked like maniacs. Let me just say, those passionfruit parfaits are AWESOME.

I think on reflection that we didn’t fully get the sense of being in a foreign country the first day in London. It really felt like we were just in NY or the busy part of SF. People were not any better dressed than I expected of people in those places, when you discount the tourists. 😀

I think we got back to our hotel room around 8pm and pretty much tried to figure out what to do the rest of the week now that we felt pretty oriented and crashed early.

Day Two was quite different.

Wedding reflections

April 20, 2006   


Credit: Edy

First off, we had the best wedding ever. No, seriously. No slight intended to the many wonderful, touching, personal, genuine, heart-felt, loving weddings we’ve been to, but our wedding was the best one I’ve been to. 😀 And I think every single person who ever gets married should feel that way, so I feel lucky that I do.

So many components made it wonderful, but basically, it boiled down to this: Seppo and I love each other madly, seriously, ridiculously, committedly and our family & friends — basically all the people we love in the world — made it so clear to us in so many countless ways that they support us and our relationship. So many people did so much to help us, and so many people came so far to see us get married. We were surrounded by people who mean everything to us, and we were able to have the words we really meant said at our ceremony on our behalf. We only had eyes for each other, too far in the moment of getting married before man and God to notice anything that might have gone awry.

It had been raining buckets for weeks, but that morning, the sun broke out and we were able to celebrate our day in the glory of the sun and take some photos to commemorate the day. We had a great time. We laughed, we hugged, we cried, we kissed, and at the end of the day, we were left with great memories and horribly aching feet. Luckily, I was able to retrieve some pain killers in some deft covert action at the hotel, so we didn’t actually die from the pain.

Our lives, other than being on vacation, are the same as before. The wedding day was our day to dedicate ourselves formally to each other, but we don’t expect that that will be the best day of our lives by any stretch of the imagination. To the contrary, I hope it’s the worst day of our marriage. 😀 Because it kicked some major boot-ay.

For those of you who missed the wedding, we may post our ceremony and game card online at some point. 😀

A look back

April 17, 2006   

Ah, reminiscing. So much fun. It feels like just yesterday that we were in London on our honeymoon. Ah yes, it was because we were.

Thanks to Becky, Edy, Eini, Anny, MJ, and Rye-Jin, we’ve been able to see some of the pics from the wedding, while honeymooning. And boy, have I mooned a lot of honeys in Europe! I have personally ruined the American reputation abroad. Just kidding. That’s already too late. 😀

Here is one for those of you who could not attend:


Credit: Edy

Yeah, aren’t we cute? Hee hee. ^_^

Personally, I am entertained by this one:


Credit: MacFadyen

Sorry about the jaggedness of the pics; I was lazy and just posted the pics as 90% of their real size just so they will fit on the webpage.

I am going to endeavor to do a blog-entry-per-day review of London & Paris, delayed by a week or so, so watch this space. 🙂

Thanks to all of you for making the wedding a fun, kick-ass, memorable, touching event for me & Seppo. We love you.

move it

April 4, 2006   

I am supposed to move into my new window cube today. No, really. Ok, if not today, maybe in three weeks when I get back from vacation. Hee hee. Either way, I don’t care.

Speaking of moving it, Seppo and I have been going to the Y four times a week, except last week when we only went three times. Yesterday, I noticed that my heart was able to sustain a significantly faster workout pace at the range of bpm I was targetting than just three weeks ago. As a result, I was able to work out to the point where my body was actually feeling it. Up until end of last week, the limiting factor for my workouts was not my muscle strength or endurance, but my weak cardiovascular system. So I’d work out, work up a sweat, and keep my heart in the cardio zone, but not really feel anything in the muscles.

So I’ve reached one noticeable benchmark. It’s nice. Also, my calves have a lot more definition, and my legs in general feel more muscular. I’m planning to get HUUUUUGE so that I scare little children. Look at my Hulk-like shoulders! *rips through back of jacket* Roar!

Maybe not.