Sunday, August 30, 2020

a quiet birthday party

I visited my #3 Ajumma tonight because she had asked me over in order to throw me a quiet birthday party. I think she has long felt a lot of sympathy since my mother passed away, and she doubtless feels a bit lonely since her husband, my #3 Ajeossi, passed away from liver cancer in January of 2019. So I went over to her place, and her eldest son—my cousin Gi-yeol—was there with his young son. Gi-yeol is a professional singer. Like my brother Sean, he performs at prestigious venues with prestigious groups, and he also does plenty of tutoring on the side. A musician's life is never easy. Gi-yeol named his firstborn something like "Ayn" (pronounce it like the German "ein," i.e., "ah-een"). You'll see a few pics of him below.

In fact, we'll start off with a shot of Ayn (not sure of the romanization; I'm basing it off Ayn Rand), who is developing a bigger-than-life performer's personality like his dad's:

And here's my cousin Gi-yeol:

A wide shot of the meal as it was being assembled:

Gotta get that "V" sign in there, or as Biden might say, you ain't Korean:

It went whenever I did go... until it ended up on a plate:

Myeolchi bokgeum (anchovies):

The star of the evening—bulgogi:

The traditional birthday soup is miyeok-guk, i.e., seaweed soup:

Since I'm unmarried, I guess some chonggak-kimchi is appropriate (chonggak = bachelor):

Little galettes of meat and egg:


After almost sixteen years here, I still don't know the name of this dish:

And here is #3 Ajumma, painter extraordinaire, who almost managed to avoid scolding me for my weight tonight until she made a silly remark about my hefty man-boob while she was forcibly stuffing W100,000 in cash into my shirt's breast pocket:

The Paris Baguette chocolate cake, which Ayn loved:

The ritual candle-stabbing of the cake:

A cool shot of the cake in shadow when the lights were turned off:

Happy Birthday!

Turning 51 isn't anything special. It's not even a prime-number birthday. I think I have to wait for 53 to celebrate my "primacy." After that, I think the next prime-number birthday is—what—59? I'd note that 61 is the next prime after 59, but I'll consider myself lucky if I make it past 60. With my history, in which both sides of my family have trouble making it beyond 60, it's best to think of this as, quite possibly, my final decade of life before I either cark it or go radically downhill thanks to a constellation of bad habits.

Don't worry: I say this with more amusement than gloom as I stare into the yawning gulf of my own nonexistence. I don't fear death at all (although, like a lot of people, I fear certain ways of dying): death is either going to be a great blankness that I won't even experience or, quite possibly, the next great adventure, and I'm already reconciled with either outcome.

I suppose the one outcome that would bother me would be reincarnation: I can say with assurance that, after living this life, I'll have absolutely no desire to live this life again, re-suffering all the bumps, scrapes, fears, and anxieties of childhood, relearning all the hard-earned lessons learned in my previous life, etc. No, thanks. Once around the samsaric circle is enough, and it's easy to see why Indian religions believe in samsara yet generally fear and loathe it: Indians don't want to be recycled, either. Better to strive for blessed release, for moksha—liberation from the wheel of samsara.

Oh, and as for the prospect of hell: that would bother me if I believed in it.


John Mac said...

Happy Birthday to you, young man! I envy you that fine Korean birthday meal with the family.

51 ain't nothin', but I do get your point about never knowing how much time is left and that feeling only exacerbates as we grow older. Still, I expect you to overcome those genes and set a new standard of longevity. After all, none of your predecessors have walked from one end of the ROK to the other multiple times. You are clearly the exception to any genetic rule. And I hope I live long enough to say "I told you so!"

I'm not a religious man so I'm not holding out much hope for an afterlife, including reincarnation. Unlike you though, I wouldn't mind a do-over. My favorite bedtime fantasy (the kind to stop my f'n brain from thinking about reality so I can sleep) is to travel back in time knowing what I know now. There are all kinds of new mistakes to make!

Here's hoping this year is the best year (so far)! Cheers!

Kevin Kim said...

Many thanks for the kind wishes!

Charles said...

Happy birfday, dude. Keep on keepin' on.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, Charles. Will do.

motorrad said...

Happy Birthday, Kevin. Keep on blogging, you always make me think about something.

About 10 years ago during one of my early trips to Korea, I was in Nam Dae Moon market thinking about buying some really good looking donuts from one of those fry to order kiosks when an Ajuma patted my stomach and asked, "8 months"? Ajumas, you have to love them.

BTW. That's a long sentence. How's the grammar?

Kevin Kim said...


Thanks for the well-wishes. As for your sentence... I can't tell whether you're joking, so I'll put on my Mr. Spock hat and take you literally. The sentence is perfectly readable and coherent, so I'd say it needs only a few stylistic tweaks, some of which you might disagree with. I'd rewrite the sentence this way:

About 10 years ago during one of my early trips to Korea, I was in Nam Dae Moon market, thinking about buying some really good-looking donuts from one of those fry-to-order kiosks, when an Ajumma patted my stomach and asked, "8 months"?

So: a couple commas to aid clarity, some necessary hyphens for phrasal adjectives, and that's about it. Nothing major at all. Oh, and spelling "ajumma" with two "M"s to make it more consistent with the Korean spelling: "ah-joom-ma" (아줌마).

By the way, I still feel guilty that you ended up buying my incorrectly designed tee. I'd really like to send you a correct one.

Daniel said...

Happy birthday Kevin! Looking forward to hearing about your plans for the walk (if it pans out) this October. I myself am of the opinion that a great nothingness awaits us after this life. From the nothingness we have sprung and to the nothingness we shall return. "To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there's the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” (Hamlet)" is about the only thing that worries me. Until then, let us press onward with the journey of life. Quick bit of trivia before I disappear once again into the ether (promise I have been reading the blog at frequent intervals, just been crazy busy over the summer). Apparently, Jeju island has 425 km or so of Olle trails with the most amazing views on the peninsula. They're well marked, extremely accessible but quiet enough for a solo walker and offer a glimpse of Jeju's diverse landscapes. I took the family along a few during our week-long summer vacation and was not disappointed. If you're looking for something COMPLETELY different but don't have enough time for the East Coast trial, well worth a look. Check out

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for the well-wishes!

I've heard about the Jeju trails, and I'd like to try them someday. 425 km is a good, healthy distance, and from what I understand, the trails are mostly loops that you can do as segment hikes. At some point, when travel restrictions are lifted, I might go down to Jeju and hike a few of those loops.

Thanks for the link to the trail guide. Rock on!

motorrad said...

Thanks for the grammar review. My mother taught English and I like to think my grammar is above average.

I can't tell that your shirt is incorrect and I'm happy that I could help fund a bowl of GS25 Ramen during your walk. You can join me for lunch in Seoul when this Wuhan epidemic is over and i will call it even.