In the English language, “enough” presents some interesting problems. It doesn’t sound the way it’s spelled, and it’s difficult to explain. The dictionary defines it as an adverb meaning “so as to be adequate or sufficient; as much as necessary.” In other words: when used to describe quality, enough is a matter of opinion; as a quantity, it is a matter of fact. Goldilocks did not want to eat the baby bear’s porridge because she deemed it not warm enough, and she could not sit in the baby bear’s chair because it was not big enough.
The children I taught in Korea understood this complex concept more easily than I expected. After all, when you are a child, your life is defined by the gap between expectations and experience, desire and ability. You want to ride the rollercoaster but you are not tall enough. You want to have ten cookies but there are not enough. You want to play but your parents believe that you have not worked hard enough on your chores. We all learn early on that the pursuit of the elusive enough, and the equally important avoidance of too much and not enough, is what drives everything we do. And everyone has their own personal definition of what that means.
When I began to write about food, there was no such thing as too much. Too much food writing to do? I’m just lucky to be living the dream. Too much free cheese? Please. Too much wine? Unthinkable. Too much healthy, organic, vegetarian whatever? How is that possible?
As it turned out, it was possible. The people who populate the food world are, almost as a rule, generous, kind, forgiving, uninhibited, fun, creative nurturers. But they can also be martyrous, amoral, self-serving, undisciplined alcoholics who rarely know when enough is enough. Keeping up and keeping company with them, I gained weight and burned out.
This motivated me to move to Asia, where definitions of enough differ dramatically from those in America. In Seoul, people live in smaller houses, import less foreign or non-seasonal ingredients, and eat less in general. By embracing their definition of enough, I felt healthier immediately.
Slicing up fresh chamwae melon to share with my neighbor, Kate
I still defined myself as a food writer, however, and began to reassess how my work would change in this new world. What I now had in abundance was curiosity and new foods to try, yet I had less time, resources or information about that food. This gap presented a few issues:
1) I did not want to write about food without having enough information about it. Being a journalist, my standards for enough information are high. I had to learn the language, make the necessary contacts, do the historical and nutritional research, and try out recipes in my own kitchen before I felt I knew enough about Korean food to write about it.
2) I did not want to write about food unless my writing was useful enough. The Interwebs are lousy with people making Momofuku recipes to the letter and posting snapshots of the results with their thousand-dollar SLRs. This is their prerogative, of course, but I did not want to add to this noise, to brag or to keep a public diary of my eating — I wanted to make actionable art that could help and inspire people. Which, again, in my mind, depended largely on the first condition of having enough accurate information to share.
These two conditions took a long time to fulfill. But, I needed to keep writing, and eating. So, in the fall of my year in Korea, I did some food-based translating work for the Blue House (the President’s residence here in Korea) and taught a few cooking classes. In the winter, I co-hosted a 25-person Thanksgiving party called WARMTH, and drew on my experience with Wine Riot to help to plan and pull off an event called Fermentation Celebration, which brought together a dozen creative vendors and over 300 hungry people to sample homemade beer, kimchi, rice wine, kefir and other treats. In the spring, I helped to plant two small gardens with friends, and raised a few plants of my own with my adopted Korean grandmother.
Garden party: image courtesy of Jessica Perlaza
And just a few months ago, as my confidence and comfort in Korea grew, I began to write about food again, and to respond to invitations from publications there to submit my work. First, I created a mixed-media piece of artwork for a literary journal called Obstructure. Then, I wrote a long feature about Korean rice wine for Groove, Seoul’s main English-language glossy.
Then, I decided to create my own useful, informative project: I felt Korea needed an English-language pocket food guide for cooks like me, as I had found nothing of the sort in all my travels. So I put a team of talented illustrators and designers together, researched and wrote the history and current conditions of Korea’s food industry, and made about 60 copies of the book, bound with handmade covers created by my friends. I gave them to Korean friends, to American food writers, and to my students (who fact-checked them for me). Nearly every person in my in yeon has touched this project, or will do so in the future. And by their definitions and mine, this project was both informative and useful enough to justify improving it and building on it in the future. (The ongoing news about that project, called What Is It?, lives here on Tumblr.)
Binding books near Noksapyeong
The irony is that now that I’ve left Korea (yes, sad but true), I finally feel like I have enough to say about it. Too much, now, actually: I have a backlog of photos and stories to tell, about all of the above and more, and not enough time to tell them. But over the next few months, I’m going to try.
The story of my food writing this year has one other interesting epilogue, at least for me. As I poured my energy into making art and connecting with my loved ones near and far, a strange thing happened: I started eating less. Much less. I’ve lost weight, stopped eating at restaurants (fancy or otherwise) and drinking fancy booze except for on very special occasions, and decreased the food I buy and eat on impulse alone. In general, I spend my nights cooking simple food for friends and my days doing other things. Once it became clear to me that the world is full of enough food and love to go around — provided we don’t take more than our fair share — I did not need to have it all anymore.
I just needed to have enough.
Just-warm-enough sticky rice porridge (rocky road and apple pie flavors), made on behalf of Obstructure (recipe here)
“How are you guys doing?”
My family has heard this question many times since my brother was diagnosed with cancer, from people on both sides of the Pacific. I don’t know how to answer it. How calls for adjectives as answers, and I’ve taught my students to both revere and mistrust adjectives. Fine is a word used for its consistency, not accuracy. It’s a culturally acceptable evasion of an answer — not an answer. Same with okay, which can mean anything. Anything negative, even a not-so-good, obligates the polite English-speaking listener to ask why, which is perhaps an even more difficult, more personal question than how. (This is why most of us stick with fine.) Meanwhile, the truth, which must be made from scratch each day, is a luxury that many of these quick conversations cannot afford.
What, however, is simple. I like what. It asks for something tangible. “What are you doing?” calls for a verb, and verbs call for action, creation and motion, which are three states of being the Weavers particularly like.
So, what are we doing? Usually, getting moving or telling stories. My brother’s diagnosis has not changed this.
In fact, the best stories to tell about my family are about how Dave’s diagnosis has determined the verbs, and inspired the what.
When my brother Dave completed his first round of radiation treatments and chemotherapy following his brain surgery, he was given a month off to rest. However, having already taken a leave of absence from school, he took this time to hit the road. He set out with a friend from New York across America, driving nonstop past Chicago and Denver and landing near Salt Lake City, where my dad lives.
From there, Dave and my dad headed to San Francisco for Dave’s birthday. I caught them on Skype somewhere outside of Reno. Thanks to the power of the iPhone 4, they were able to update me on their progress and share the Southwest sunset with me, and I was able to sing my brother an off-key “Happy Birthday.”
After San Francisco, this duo went off the radar on an exclusive father-son jaunt to Portland, Oregon. It took them a little while to recover before I got the full story of their last leg—first, through my brother’s casually beautiful photographs of the coast, and then through talking to my dad about the trip. His narration of their journey was such a charming piece of cowboy poetry (as is most of his speech) that I transcribed it as such, and saved it.
Later, my brother also made a short film from the footage of this trip for Obstructure, an art magazine to which we both contributed this spring (more on my submission later).
Below are the resulting photos, words and video, which may help to answer the question: how and what are we doing?
We’re getting moving, and/or telling stories.
Photo of Bradford D. Weaver by David G. Weaver
by Bradford D. Weaver, as told to me (Ryan)
We took the 1 to what was it
what was it
let me get my atlas
I like telling stories this way
there it is, Stinson Beach.
You’ve been there?
We got there at nine oh-five.
Nine oh-five is significant
because everything in Stinson Beach closes at nine
except for this little tavern
with two little waitresses runnin’ the place,
closin’ it down
they were cute.
We sat and ate 2 bowls of clam chowder each
because we hadn’t eaten anything all day
then we looked for a place to stay, hunted
down my friend Keith Hammond
looked him up by iPhone, god
bless him he’s listed in the phonebook
went into his yard,
not a lot of life there, it seemed
but his wife answered the door
holding their new adopted baby son
She said, “Brad Weaver?
Come in, I’ve heard of you!”
Keith’d gone surfing, so she told us
how to find his black Suzuki whateveryacallit
so we went out to the beach,
streets just crammed with cars,
pulled up to this intersection, looked over
left as we were about to turn right
saw a black Suzuki whateveryacallit
and a guy loadin’ a surfboard in the back
i looked out the window and I knew
that hairy back, that’s him
so we pulled right instead a left, said hi
couldn’t believe it
Then we were on our way
After that, one day kinda melts into another
Dylan Beach, Fort Bragg
every day we’d look for a place to sleep after dinner
wake up, have the obligatory coffee
sometimes have a kitchenette, make oatmeal
other times, have an included breakfast
(breakfast included in the room rate
counts for a lot on a trip like this)
Then we’d head out, you know
at the crack a noon
drive out as close to the coast as we could
stopping a lot
to look at stuff.
waves crashing on rocks
cool stuff all the way up the line
David G. Weaver
We had fish and chips
at this restaurant
we thought was unique
but we were actually at the flagship
they’d franchised it
and there was the same restaurant
all the way up the coast.
Another place we stood in
there was a giant rock, waves crashing against it
right near shore,
standing behind it, our feet barely got wet
we stayed there for a long time.
Kept getting calls from your mom
How’s he really doing?
We took it easy
we understood our ambitions
had to conform to his current
One night we stayed in a Super 88
in a town with a casino
and Dave was happy
to sit there while I played blackjack
I totally broke even
i put down 20 dollars
and I put my 20 dollars back in my pocket
when I left
it was very pleasant
Coos Bay, it was
with a little Native American gal at the table
all those casinos are owned by Native Americans
she was cute.
There was a couple sitting next to us
making ridiculous, stupid moves
that was a cool place.
All the way up, it was like southern Utah
55 degrees and windy
all the time
kept us in the car most of the time,
but that was fine
One time the door flew open on the highway
we pulled over, I told Dave
look back and see if we lost something
he looked back quick, said nope
but it turned out, we had
It was a small bag, it had
this gift he bought for Clara in Haight-Ashbury
(I’ll tell you about Haight-Ashbury later)
Gold tights were the theme of the trip
he found them in Haight-Ashbury and they were
just the thing
We looked for another pair
but there were no other gold tights available in any store
on the entire Oregon coast
they just didn’t have ‘em
but they could order ‘em
in about two weeks.
OH THE BRIDGES.
The bridges were cool.
I was really enamored by the bridges
all these Art Deco bridges along the way
we went across one to Washington,
then turned right around
and came back.
David G. Weaver
Then we ate dinner in Portland, a cool Thai place
Clara chose, best place we ate all trip
She was properly aloof, you know, and all that
I tried to give ‘em some time alone
Then I headed straight home from there
got home at about midnight
Yeah, you can make a lot of miles
if you just stay in the car
and don’t open the doors
if you open the doors, it’s gonna cost you
Sunset over Gyeongnidan, via Jorsh.
Almost time to renew my visa, for a few last weeks in Seoul. I remember when I got this alien registration card, with its accompanying creepy photo. It seems like ages ago.
Ironically, the same month that the NYT was mourning/celebrating the demise of the Korean corner store, the kids at my school were starting up a new junior economics class project. Guess what it was?
That’s right. A mini grocery store. And it is making a killing in the teacher’s room.
Pretty adorable, 그래? And well-priced. (All the rameon cups are just under a buck, and candies are about a nickel a piece.) I’m going to miss this kind of thing, among so many other things.
“Many, many people closed,” said Eun Sook Maeng, 52, a Korean grocer in Flatbush who has contemplated selling. “Everybody is leaving.”
Instead of taking over the businesses when their parents retire, as some Italian- and Jewish-Americans did generations ago, the children of Koreans are finding work far from the checkout counter, in law firms, banks and hospitals. And parents insist on that, Mr. Lee said.
“They want their children to have a higher position,” said Mr. Lee, who shelved his dreams of studying philosophy to run a grocery, and now owns a supermarket in Flushing, Queens. For years, he visited the Hunts Point wholesale market in the Bronx before dawn, and worked grueling shifts with little help. “I don’t want my children to go through the same thing,” he said.
This article is tinged with nostalgia, but to me, it sounds like good news for New York’s Korean-Americans: their children are finding opportunities in our country beyond the fruit store. It also reflects good news for South Korea, which has become a booming democracy full of many opportunities as well — not so earlier in the 20th century, when many of these greengrocers may have been immigrating to escape post-war starvation or military dictatorship. It’s strange that the writer of this piece fails to mention this context; you can’t talk about America’s long-ago Irish immigration without mentioning the potato famine, but nowadays, we know so little about the driving forces that bring immigrants to our shores, about the incredible things they’ve been through in order to make a living in places like New York doing whatever they can … so little about the world outside our doorstep.
This week, South Korea celebrated Buddha’s birthday in a big way.
It was an incredible week full of colors, parades, and quiet moments of meditation. More to come once the photos are edited.
Now, looking ahead to Friday, which is my 26th birthday. I will officially be entering my late 20s. I’m looking forward to that.
WHO AM I? Lion teachah, of course.
Our youth are starting to change
Are you starting to change?