Happy covid birthday to me

Doing my damnedest to get a whole birthday festival, covid be damned.

It was my birthday at the end of August. I’m officially out of the 18 to 35-year-old marketing bracket.

It’s been a big year. About a year ago I moved to Korea, again.

I thought it was going to be easy.

It wasn’t.

It never is, I suppose. Moving to a foreign country is a big adjustment and I’m probably still adjusting.

In the first six months, I hit a few milestones that seem appropriate to list in a birthday post:

– I got my first Korean apartment. On the first couple of nights, I was welcomed by a bunch of cockroaches that I dealt with (killed). Now I even have three plants and a tiny cactus (that doesn’t quite count as a plant for me) that I haven’t managed to kill…yet. (*Correction: the tiny cactus is now dead. Overwatering, or underwatering, may have been the culprit.)

– I got my first job at a Korean company.

– Before the job, I held my first bake sale, dance event, and wrote articles for a beauty/lifestyle website—things that I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to try before.

– On that note, I started writing more and now writing is the main skill I use at work.

– I went to the east coast beaches (Yang Yang, Gangwondo) for the first time, when I’d all but given up on Korean beaches, and I really loved it.

– Together with my fried Ryan, I made some podcast episodes that I’m proud of (ok—that I’m satisfied with—because I’m a Virgo and it’s hard to praise myself for anything). Particularly this suicide awareness series.

But then, after all these firsts, I guess covid happened, and an unusually long jangma (rainy season) happened, and some typhoons too. Summer hardly happened at all. And life slowed down.

It slowed down so much, that lately it feels like it’s at a standstill.

Although covid hasn’t hit Korea as hard as other places, I feel the same inertia and uncertainty about the future that many of you have probably felt for a while. That I can’t really go anywhere and no one’s coming here anytime soon either. That all holiday celebrations for the year—Chuseok, “Adoptee Solidarity Day”, and Christmas—will likely be cancelled. I’m not sure what I’m looking forward to right now. Nothing feels urgent or particularly important. Things feel a bit…meaningless.

Because of social distancing regulations, I’ve been working from home again in my little apartment, and I feel this mild depression creeping in. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.

Anyway, back to my birthday. The day before, I got a call from a delivery man asking where he should leave some flowers and how to get into the building. It must be from my parents, I thought. Few people know my Korean address—no mysterious lovers, that’s for sure.

Arriving home late that night, I was excited to discover my “flowers”: a very odd-looking, bulky pot plant. My first reaction was to feel loved (and impressed that my parents managed to arrange a Korean delivery from Australia), but then it gave way to a sharp, bittersweet pang in my chest and I burst into tears. Full, ugly tears. On 364 days of the year, I miss my friends and family a little, but push it aside and it’s fine. But on special occasions I really feel the distance and it all comes pouring out.

I’m the kind of girl who plans her birthday in advance. I think I’ve had a birthday party every year since I was about 10. Each one had a particular concept that I come up with about 3-6 months prior. (No, I am not kidding.) This year I envisaged an English garden party theme at a very cute, very kitsch bar/café in the hip inner city neighbourhood of Euljiro, with Pimms Cups and sparkling wine and mini sandwiches and cheeseboards, starting from about 5pm until late and messy, when we push the furniture aside and dance in the middle of the room. Sounds fun, right?

Covid doesn’t do fun.

But pandemic or no pandemic, I believe in celebrating life, the milestones big and small. When life is meh, in millennial speak, it’s probably even more important to find moments of joy. This reminds me of the idea of “stubborn gladness” from Elizabeth Gilbert’s favourite poem:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.

– Jack Gilbert, “A Brief for the Defense”

So, in that spirit, I was determined to celebrate my birthday, covid be damned. Instead of the big party I’d usually have, social distancing restrictions inspired me to extend the festivities over a week or two—hell, I’d do a whole month if I could swing it—of smaller celebrations.

After that rather long preamble, here are some highlights from my birthday festival:

1. Afternoon drive to Eunpyeong Hanok Village (은평한옥마을)

This could probably be a separate post but I’m lazy so I’m going to cram it into this one.

My actual birthday fell on a Friday so I took the day off work. A generous friend (and fearless driver) hired a car, picked me up, and drove us out to a newly built hanok village in northern Seoul near Bukhansan mountain.

My knight in shining metallic armour

We went to this multi-level restaurant/café with average food but gorgeous views. It rained a lot so there was a soft mist rising from the mountains (isn’t that romantic?).

This view!

I fought random Korean women for this window seat. It was a downright stand-off. As soon as I saw the previous occupants get ready to leave, I rushed over, followed closely by the other three women. I stood there determined, clutching my bag, avoiding eye contact with my competition, heart pounding in my chest.

And victory was mine.

Ironically, it was really hot and stuffy in that spot so then my friend and I moved somewhere else.

After lunch and coffee we drove through the hanok village from the comfort of the air-conditioned mini, stopping here and there to take photos. There are so many cute details in the hanoks. I want to go back in autumn or winter, or both, and walk around, perhaps stopping into one of the teahouses. I hope it’s still relatively quiet and undiscovered by tourists then.

So cute!!!

2. Saturday night cocktails at Cham

One of my favourite cocktail bars is Cham in Jongno-gu, which I’ve already written about here. They were recently one of four Seoul bars to make the list of 50 Best Bars in Asia.

Every drink I’ve tried here has been so well-balanced. I guess tiny tweaks in ratios make a big difference in a small concoction, and those tiny tweaks make all the difference (in my very non-expert opinion). But my favourite thing about Cham, perhaps even more so than the cocktails, is the staff. They are SO LOVELY. When they don’t have to be because they’re well-established now! And when they’re dealing with foreigners, who are a little bit drunk, a little bit loud, and a lotta indecisive over an extensive cocktail menu. By the way, don’t you love that feeling of reading over a menu and wanting to try everything?

A twist on a negroni, presented on a dried sheet of lasagne!

After I shared the cocktail above on Instagram, captioned “happy birthday to me”, one of the staff came over with a “service” mini grapefruit and Aperol cocktail for us. It, too, was delicious!

The moral of the story is to be shameless and get free stuff.

The grand finale—“Islet”—was a delicate, frozen cucumber confection floating in sparkling wine, named after an Korean indie song with a music video set at the beach. Also they made cucumber delicious! It was the perfect dessert for my friend, who’d always forgo a regular dessert in favour of booze.

The Islet.

3. Italian dinner with my brothers

On Tuesday after my birthday, my Korean brothers took me out for dinner, which was really sweet of them. They asked me to choose the restaurant, so I suggested a place with a chef from Sicily, called Salon de Joo.

The food was excellent! The restaurant been highly recommended in this obnoxious Facebook group called Restaurant Buzz Seoul, dominated by a bunch of middle-aged white and gyopo men (some of them are very nice, to be fair) where everyone plays restaurant critic so you gotta take the recs with a big grain of salt. But you do find out about new and lesser-known foreign restaurants, and sometimes they’re gems.

Paccheri with black truffle cream sauce

I really love pasta. I love it so much that if I became gluten free, that would be a problem, and if my partner became gluten free, well, that would also be a problem.

4. ANOTHER Italian dinner plus dessert & wine at a friend’s place

Because I’m very spoilt, I had another Italian dinner with two friends on the following weekend, at a little place tucked behind a discrete door just off the park path, near Gongdeok station.

This was also delicious! Wow, I’ve been lucky with Italian restaurants lately. I recommend the lasagne, one of the best I’ve had in Seoul for a very reasonable 19,000won, and this perfect salad, with elegantly peeled cherry tomatoes, candied pecans, a tart vinaigrette and a mountain of salty-sweet Parmesan. Maybe I just haven’t had a great salad in a long time, but I think it gave me a minor orgasm.

Just delightful.

Covid restrictions mean that we currently must leave bars and restaurants by 9pm, but no matter; we walked to my friend’s place—it was a lovely, mild night—for homemade chocolate mousse, cheesecake, and wine. That’s a lot of dessert for a regular person after a full dinner. But no match for me.

Plus, I was greeted by a birthday bunting! Thank you, friends.

Well, that’s a wrap for this post, but additional celebrations and even a belated birthday party may still be in the works!

I hope you’ve been stubbornly taking delight and being glad too, wherever you find it.

x Hana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: