Friday, November 20, 2015

my buddy's birthday

My buddy Jang-woong had a birthday on Thursday. I had originally thought I might cook something for him and his family, but working at an office full-time has worn me down, and I normally come home tired and barely able to cook for myself, let alone for others.

This all started earlier in the week. I had texted JW out of fear that I had missed his birthday. "No, it's the 19th," he replied. Ultimately, he ended up inviting me over for dinner—a dinner that his wife Bo-hyun gamely cooked.

Below are some pics of the evening. None of Bo-hyun herself this time, so if you want a reminder as to what she looks like, click this link.

The amazing dinner spread:

Cute little Min-ji surveys her domain:

Ji-an did his best to look goofy every time one of us tried to take a photo of him. I can't blame him: I hated pics when I was a kid, too, and I did my damnedest to ruin Mom's shots.

JW himself has become much more philosophical since his return from India. He's always discoursing to me, these days, about this or that metaphysical insight. Tonight, it was all about how we live in a shifting existential context, which means the declarations we make today will have no force or relevance tomorrow, so it's best to approach reality humbly, without trying to assume things or trying to make forceful statements about how much we understand ourselves and the world. Quite a mouthful. I basically listened and nodded a lot.

When JW stepped away for a smoke, his wife picked up the slack and spoke passionately to me about the trouble with Korean education, which she contrasted with her kids' education in India, where they had attended a Western-style international school, i.e., a school that allowed kids to be kids—to explore and discuss as they would, without forcing them into regimented activities or a conformist paradigm. I felt her pain.

Here's JW, probably lecturing:

I had bought a cheesecake for the man of the hour; Bo-hyun brought out plates and forks, and Min-ji was allowed by Dad to try to cut the cake into evenly sized pieces. Her first cut didn't pass through the center; it divided the cake into a roughly 5/4 ratio, but none of us minded: we all ended up with sizable wedges of cheesecake.

Before the cake-cutting, though, was the candle-lighting:

The cheesecake had come with these tiny, antler-like sticks of pure chocolate stuck in the cake's surface, giving off a sort of wimpy satanic vibe. JW gave one antler to his daughter and one to his son, as you see here:

Bo-hyun wanted to take a family pic, and she didn't seem to be in a mood to appear in any pics herself, so she snapped the following image and emailed it to me:

I had also brought along a huge sketch pad and some markers; Ji-an and I went nuts with those, drawing stupid cartoons and making up bizarre games with constantly changeable rules. That's what it's like to inhabit a kid's mind: for a kid, the world is malleable, with fluctuating boundaries and no discernible limits.

I also learned a little bit about Korean chess (janggi) from Bo-hyun, who seemed as eager as her children were to interact with me. Later on, she declared that her birthday was in February, and she was going to invite me for that event. She also effusively proclaimed that she wanted me over this Christmas if I had no other plans, and on top of all that, she declared, "Just come over whenever you're bored and have nothing to do." I got the impression that she really, really wanted me to be a more integral part of her family's life, which was a touching sentiment. JW, for his part, understood that, as we get older, it's harder and harder for us to achieve the proper planetary alignment in our crowded schedules, so he knew I wouldn't be able to visit as often as his wife would apparently like.

A bit after ten o'clock, I heaved my sweaty self off the warm floor, tottered over to the bathroom, made my statement, then prepped to go back to my place. Bo-hyun, perhaps not knowing how to handle a Westerner, shook my hand twice in valediction. As an American, I'd normally expect to hug a friend's wife, but I'm a foreigner in Korea, which means that we sometimes have to improvise when it comes to figuring out customs, rituals, and gestures of politesse. The night air was blessedly cool; JW's apartment had been too warm for my taste. JW accompanied me to the subway station; he thanked me for my visit, and I thanked him and his family for the kind invitation.

And that's when I took my leave and trundled back, my belly pleasantly full.


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