Cathy's Vinegar Flytrap

This weekend involved a quick trip down to Houston for a dinner combining the Dallas Fort Worth Korean American Adoptee group and the Houston group. I think this was the Away game of the Home/Away series and DFW crushed it. Apparently, we travel well. As a proud Philly supporter, this is hopefully the last time I will ever say those words, "Dallas crushed it". Unless we're talking about Shittiest Sports Team Fans. Even with that, I have to say that Philly fans are WAY shittier than Dallas fans. We booed Santa Claus, beat that you brisket gnawing fucks. Anyway, we represented well. The reason for this trip was because the co-founder of an absolutely incredible nonprofit called, “Love Beyond the Orphanage” was in town. It was a very good reason to congregate and as I learned more about what Love Beyond the Orphanage does, we'll most definitely be discussing their mission in future posts. So, we all met for dinner at a terrific restaurant called, “Seoul Garden” (creative, I know). It was a fondue restaurant specializing in Russian cuisine. Of course, it wasn't. It was a Korean BBQ place. Actually, I can't recommend it highly enough. It's almost as good as Woo Chon in Chicago - if you haven't read the “To Woo Chon” post, you should do so! Right now! I can wait!

As a former server, I always empathize with serving large groups. Our group consisted of 18, of which 14 were ethnic Koreans and 4 were spouses. Fourteen people whom everyone in the restaurant automatically assumed spoke Korean. I always say the widely known phrase, "if you assume, you end up looking like a dickhead".  Fluent Korean statistics amongst the group was 0 for 18. We probably should have at least learned the Korean phrase for "May I please have a fork?" But, that's what our white spouses were for. "Hey honey, ask for a fork and when you do ask for 17 more while you are at it, so we don't look stupid". The problem is assuming is just so damn easy. Imagine you met a 7'2 black guy whose dad was Shaquille O'Neal. You would probably assume he knows a thing, or two about basketball, right? Now imagine that Shaq's imaginary son for this example actually hates basketball and doesn't know shit about the game. You would definitely still at times want to revert back to asking him about basketball. Especially, if he's wearing a Lakers jersey. Or, Orlando Magic if you want to go really old school. That's what the wait staff did for our dinner. How could a group of clearly Korean people not be able to communicate with us? Are they pulling a prank? Are we going to be on tv? I'd better go put on some makeup and pretend to not be frustrated!

I imagine our waitress knew she was in for a long night when the first issue arose about if the kimchi pancakes were gluten free. I'm going to call our server “Murtaugh” because I know she was thinking several times throughout the night "I'm too old for this shit". If you don't get this, please go watch any Lethal Weapon movie. They literally made about 15 of them. Or, at least it feels that way. Murtaugh's catchphrase was uttered anytime something happened that was frustrating. Murtaugh and her supporting cast of "we'll get you what we feel like getting you" suddenly realized they had their hands full. Thank goodness Murtaugh's English wasn't that great, because she was saved from hearing things like "I want the hot stone bowl thingy" or "I would like the short ribs, minus the meat". For those of you that aren't familiar with Korean BBQ, along with your meat, you get about 438 side dishes. I came to an epiphany as to why Korea is in the situation it is. Because Koreans have not figured out the concept that large groups should probably get larger bowls of side dishes. The side dishes range from potatoes, radishes, bean sprouts, tofu, and most importantly, kimchi. For some dumb reason, a typical side dish is about the size of Barbie's First Diaphragm. It holds about one good spoonful of whatever is in it. It's not even enough for one person, let alone 18 hungry people that have Texas sized appetites. I mean, it's just deductive reasoning that a larger group should be given larger containers of the sides, no? Like maybe Kim Kardashian's Diaphragm? This is Exhibit A in Not All Asians Are Smart. Murtaugh's blood pressure would have been much lower if this simple solution was applied. But, noooooo….. they persist on using the same sized dishes. So, what occurred was the beginning of Cathy's Reign of Pickled Cabbage Terror. And, it's all Seoul Garden's fault.

Cathy is an incredibly sweet and charming woman. Her smile lights up a room. She is an absolute pleasure to be around. As long as you have enough kimchi. If normal Cathy would be a golden retriever, kimchi craving Cathy would be a crazed and rabid pit bull. Including the drooling and snarling. She has a bright future in debt collection. I can see it now, 'Crazy Kimchi Cathy's Cash Collection". I'm very interested in investing in that incredible business opportunity. If I wasn't satisfied with the two atomic sized dishes of kimchi that was plopped down on the table, Cathy wasn't exactly going to be thrilled. Murtaugh hears Cathy's request for more kimchi, but she's still unloading more tiny dishes of shit that isn't kimchi. Have you ever seen great white sharks and dolphins devour an entire school of sardines? I think I still have an accidental fork stab wound on my thumb in the feeding frenzy that ensued. Exhibit B of Not All Asians Are Smart: everyone is eating the kimchi. No one is touching the disgusting fish cake. What should you put down next? Yup, more fish cake! Murtaugh is in the wrong profession. She should clearly be in customer service at Google. Me: "Hey, I really don't like popup ads". Murtaugh: "Got it, even more popup ads coming up."

Here is another thing. Our table is finite in surface area. A good chunk of the table is for the grill. There is a large portion of the table that is being used for important shit like soju bottles, beer and dumb liquids that aren't beer or soju. 438 side dishes takes up a good bit of space. At some point, there just isn't the logistics for adding more dishes. We reached capacity with cucumbers, radishes, and some weird shit that looked like grass but had a pair of eyes on it. We may not be very good Koreans, but we're Korean enough to want our damn kimchi. And, Cathy is our fearless leader. She wants kimchi. And, she wants it now. Murtaugh tries to ignore her. That's like ignoring a fat guy in a speedo. You just can't do it. After the fifth request for more kimchi, Murtaugh snarls to Cathy "You have to wait". The look on Cathy's face taught me to never make Cathy angry. The steam that came from her ears could power an aircraft carrier for the next 6 years. I figured I better jump in at this point to save Murtaugh's throat from being ripped out.

I asked Murtaugh if we could have some more kimchi. I think what made Cathy even more irritated is how quickly the kimchi appeared. And, not just one thimble of kimchi, TWO! I told Cathy that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I now have a fork stab wound in my thigh as well. Vinegar works, as long as it is accompanied by violence! The feeding frenzy slows down, and kalbi and bulgogi are expertly being grilled by Kimmi, the unofficial guest of honor. She claimed that it is the oldest person's responsibility to do the cooking, but I think since she's been back to Korea 19 times, she didn't trust any of us to not accidentally give her food poisoning. I'm glad she did though, because I discovered I like short ribs. Just burn all the fat off of it and it's delicious. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, fat gives it the flavour. But, that is what gojuchang is for. Fat also makes my waistline expand in unwanted directions.

I think the dinner was an appropriate allegory as to what it means to be an adoptee from Korea. There was an unfair expectation we should be aware and knowledgeable of what we are doing. On the surface, all you saw was a group of Koreans enjoying a night out. "Real" Koreans get frustrated because we don't know what to do, how to do it, or why it should be happening. Our cultural identity depends on being taught things that perhaps "normal" Koreans already know. It's nice to experience it with a group of people who share the same difficulties in knowing the proper way to do things. Some us don't like kimchi, and that's ok. Some of us never had soju, and they quickly learned it's fucking awesome! All of us wanted to use forks. But, we're at least willing to learn. We're willing to delve deeper into the food of our ancestry. And so, some patience has to be exhibited. Murtaugh was pretty happy with the tip she received and since they don't tip in Korea not all American customs are so bad, right Murtaugh?

Because of the generosity of Kimmi, my wife and I plan on donating to her cause, Love Beyond the Orphanage. Her organization focuses on people who never got adopted and have to live their childhood in state run orphanages. Life as an adult is painfully difficult as there is little governmental support for these forgotten individuals. I was adopted at an older age. If I wasn't a clearance sale, blue light, special opportunity, it is doubtful I would have been picked for adoption. I was filled with shame and embarrassment I had not considered the plight of the thousands of children who were left behind and unwanted by society. This is a cause the more I think about it, the more important it is I be involved in. Please follow the link below:

Please take a moment to appreciate what your life is today. Because there are so many of us who didn't get our opportunity. Without people like Kimmi working so hard to help, their lives will be so much more difficult than it should fairly be. If you have an ounce of compassion, please consider donating to a cause resonating within the adoption community and all of us. And, if you see Cathy, make sure you bring some kimchi. You'll thank me for this advice.