Saturday, November 27, 2010

I've moved!

To a new city in a new country: Seoul, South Korea.

And to two new blogs where I am cataloging my experience here:

1) Speaking Konglish, a site where I am writing about teaching, politics, culture, language and the like as I explore South Korea and attempt to explain my new life here to the folks back home.

2) Seoul Food, a food journal where I keep notes on what I'm eating and learning about food.

Why two sites instead of just one?

Because sometimes I feel the need to be silly, and sometimes I feel the need to be serious.

Sometimes, I hear from people that they'd love to know more about what I'm eating; at other times, people ask me what I'm thinking.  And sometimes these answers go together, while sometimes they do not. 

Sometimes I feel the need to focus in on one image, like the face of my elderly neighbor as she offers me a plate of Korean grapes or the sight of red peppers drying on the streets of Incheon. And sometimes I feel the need to take all of the disparate themes and ideas I'm exploring and tie them together in an essay about spirituality, adventure or ambiguity.

Sometimes I find America's super-seriousness around food to run directly counter to the greater aims of advocating simplicity, pragmatism, environmentalism and humanitarianism which drew me into the profession (that, and the free cheese). From where I sit in this tiny out-of-the-way country, where cabbage shortages cause panics and it's difficult to find cilantro, much less artisanal coffee liqueur or the like, it all seems monumentally wasteful and silly. The impetus behind America's food revolution was, I thought, to reduce consumerism, not fuel it, with 50 new and expensive ways to make your coffee and "authentic" food flown in from around the world at great cost to our environment.

At these times of frustration, I find myself writing about things that have implications beyond the table, such as education or politics.

But at other times, I use food as an alternate dialogue, a second language like Spanish or a discipline like painting, in which I can express things through metaphors or images when I can't transmit the truth about a thing in plain English. As one of my heroines, MFK Fisher, once wrote:
"People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, about love, the way others do?. . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.  But there is more than that.  It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it. . . There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk."  
I still love to eat, for better or worse. And sometimes, I think I'd like to spend the rest of my life writing about food, cooking food and talking to makers of food as part of my profession. But sometimes I think I'd like to leave that life behind for something different and as-yet-undetermined. Less tainted with guilt and gluttony, artifice and oil. More ... transcendent.

The search for this unknown thing is one of the forces pushing me across the planet, even as I slurp down kimchi and experiment with persimmons along the way.

So, this blogging situation arose organically from the state that I am in, and though I maintain the two sites separately, they often overlap -- as they did when I wrote about my visit to the Mungyeong Apple Festival in the Korean countryside.

Such is my privilege in a time when blogs outnumber books, and the Internet still offers free software and infinite space to anyone with a story to tell.

So, if you're still reading mine, thank you, and please drop me a line if there's something you'd like to see or ask about what's going on over here. I get the sense that the Western media is becoming increasingly interested in South Korea, but that there are not enough reporters taking the time to truly understand it. And while I can't promise that my perspective is any more enlightened, I do think that spending more than 36 hours in a place, having a stake in its fate and forming friendships with everyday people, rather than interviewing only top-level sources from afar, makes for better, truer stories. Especially when your stories are also informed by the uncensored opinions of its children, expressed in a language their parents often cannot understand.

I am also conscious of the potential opportunities opening up for women writers during a century in which women have unprecedented freedom, and the ability and permission to redefine political and economic landscapes around the world. Being a woman has always been central to my writing experience, and it continues to allow me to go places that men cannot go and see things they will never see. (It also allows me to get into trouble in ways that men would never get into trouble, because the rules are still different for us, but that, too, is part of the everyday experience that I feel it's important to capture.)

So, as I explore these opportunities (and eat a lot of kimchi along the way), please wish me luck, write me letters, and 안녕히 계세요 (be peaceful!)
Photo above courtesy of Dawn Kang.