Books I Read in 2021

My goal this year was to read at least 25 books. In the past, my goal has been 50 but I hardly ever reach that, so I thought that 25 would be a good goal–it averages two books a month.

This year, I beat my goal but definitely with some help from my kindergarten class. In fact, uh, most of the books I read were children’s books? Whatever, stop judging me.

Here are the books I read in 2021:

  1. If I Had Your Face, Frances Cha
  2. Witnessing Gwangju: A Memoir, Paul Courtright
  3. Brief, Horrible Moments: A collection of one sentence horror stories, Marko Pandza
  4. Almond, Won-pyung Sohn
  5. My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store, Ben Ryder Howe
  6. Severance, Ling Ma
  7. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Bill Martin Jr.
  8. Go Away, Big Green Monster!, Ed Emberley
  9. From Head to Toe, Eric Carle
  10. If the Dinosaurs Came Back, Bernard Most
  11. Highway with Green Apples, Suah Bae
  12. Bear’s Busy Family, Stella Blackstone
  13. My Mum and Dad Make Me Laugh, Nick Sharratt
  14. My Messy Room, Mary Packard
  15. Hippo Has a Hat, Julia Donaldson
  16. The Pop-Up Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell
  17. I Broke My Trunk!, Mo Willems
  18. Lemons Are Not Red, Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  19. Can You Keep a Secret, Pamela Allen
  20. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen
  21. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, Mo Willems
  22. Can I Play Too?, Mo Willems
  23. Jasper’s Beanstalk, Nick Butterworth
  24. I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories, Bo-Young Kim
  25. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything, Linda Williams
  26. Don’t You Dare, Dragon, Annie Kubler
  27. The Odd Egg, Emily Gravett
  28. One Snowy Day, Jeffrey Scherer
  29. Amelia Bedelia’s Family Album, Peggy Parish
  30. The Lonesome Bodybuilder, Yukiko Motoya
  31. Bark, George, Jules Feiffer
  32. That’s Not Santa!, Leonard Kessler
  33. Wake Me in Spring, James Preller

Highlights of the year included Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, which I thought was beautifully illustrated as it placed 2D characters in photographs of the actual world, and the “I’m Waiting for You” and “On My Way to You” stories that began and ended the I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories. (Interstellar romance! Science fiction, but with romance added!) My students loved We’re Going on a Bear Hunt thanks in part to the great reading of it done by the author himself that you can find here. Overall, I didn’t read anything mind-blowingly good or anything terrifically bad this year. I’ve set my goal for 25 books again, hoping that I can fit in more adult books this year.

What did you read in 2021? What are your goal for 2022? Any book recommendations?

Kpop Music Mondays #36: Got7, “Encore”

On January 19th, 2021, I got the news that my favorite kpop group, Got7, had officially departed from their label, JYP Entertainment.

I meant to write about it because it was a huge thing, but I either couldn’t find the time or simply didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t a disbandment, this wasn’t a member or two not renewing their contract… the entire group just decided to part ways with their label.

As far as I know, nothing like this has happened in kpop. You’ve had groups that have sued for their contracts to be nullified before renegotiating their rights to a new company (Block B), and you’ve had groups where individual members have departed (there are too many of those to list here), and sued and departed (there are also too many of those to list here), and you’ve had one group launch their own label and rename themselves (Highlight, formerly Beast) but to have an entire group just… pop off was something new.

Got7 turned around and dropped a new single on us shortly after the news, appropriately titled, “Encore.”

Now, I won’t be one of those wide-eyed, naive kpop fans. I know that the likelihood of me going to a Got7 concert with all members present is now a pipe dream. With each member being picked up by different agencies, we get to see the members blossom into their own while remaining part of the group–a group that transcends record labels, a group of 7 ridiculously talented, good-looking, and altogether weird guys. Unlike a lot of kpop groups, these guys seem like they’ve created a family.

And from what we’ve seen of the guys in 2021, I think they’ll do just fine on their own.

Everything about you was a gift
Remember that
Right now too, all of you

We will sing for you
We will sing for you
Encore! Encore!

Kpop Music Monday #35: Lee Hi, “Breathe”

Kim Jonghyun, wearing a white sweater, blue jeans and a wide brim hat, sits and sings into a microphone

This past Saturday marked the 4th anniversary of the death of one of kpop’s brightest stars, Kim Jonghyun. We still hold space for his spirit; we still listen to his music when we’re feeling lonely at the end of a hard day.

This Kpop Music Monday is Lee Hi’s “Breathe,” which Jonghyun wrote for her.

There is another, harder to watch version I’ve linked below, a special stage at the 32nd Golden Disc Awards that sees Lee Hi have to break away from singing to compose herself before continuing the song.

Lyrics from azlyrics.com:

Take a deep breath
Until both sides of your heart get numb
Until it hurts a little
Let out your breath even more
Until you feel
Like there’s nothing left inside
It’s alright if you run out of breath
No one will blame you
It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes
Because anyone can do so
Although comforting by saying it’s alright
Are just words

Someone’s breath. That heavy breath
How can I see through that?
Though I can’t understand your breath
It’s alright I’ll hold you

It’s alright if you run out of breath
No one will blame you
It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes
Because anyone can do so
Although comforting by saying it’s alright
Are just words

Someone’s breath. That heavy breath
How can I see through that?
Though I can’t understand your breath
It’s alright I’ll hold you

Even if others think your sigh
Takes out energy and strength
I already know
That you had a day that’s hard enough
To let out even a small sigh
Now don’t think of anything else
Let out a deep sigh
Just let it out like that

Someone’s breath. That heavy breath
How can I see through that?
Though I can’t understand your breath
It’s alright I’ll hold you
You really did a good job

A baby pink-haired Kim Jonghyun, wearing a pink and white patterned suit, sings into a microphone on stage

정말 수고했어요

If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Kpop Music Monday #34: Bibi, “The Weekend”

Today’s Kpop Music Monday is a song entirely in English, a collaboration between Korean singer Bibi and 88rising, an “American multinational music company.”

You can read about the company in this Paper article.

88rising “provides not only the cultural support, but also the strategic and technical know-how to help emerging Asian artists cross over in an efficient but meaningful way.”

The reason I’m posting about this song for Music Monday is quite simply because it’s a total bop and has been on repeat on my playlist ever since I discovered it. Bibi has a beautiful, unique voice, and I’ve enjoyed past releases of hers.

And in case you want to listen to “The Weekend” again, check out this alternative official music video:

Café Review: Blue Bottle Samcheong

Apparently I have made it my quest to visit all the Blue Bottles in Korea. I have been to the one in Gwanghwamun Square and on Jeju Island, so it was only appropriate that I introduce the new teachers to Blue Bottle in a new-to-me location: Samcheong.

the iconic Blue Bottle logo on a white brick background

The Blue Bottle website describes the Samcheong location as follows:

“In the heart of Seoul’s historic Samcheong neighborhood, our three-story cafe all but shapeshifts as you climb its floors. Conceived by Schemata Architects, each level is as much about the breathtaking views as it is about coffee. The stand alone building is set between past and future: the Gyeongbokgung Palace of the Joseon Dynasty on one side, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) on the other. The ground floor offers a view of the museum. After you place your order there, you can head to the second floor, where baristas prepare pour overs and espresso drinks, and where the picture window frames the sweeping lines of the terracotta-tiled roofs of the hanoks, traditional Korean homes. Take your coffee to-go and meander the labyrinthine surrounding streets, or head to the third floor. There, on the outdoor patio on low-slung couches or inside by the topmost picture window, you can enjoy a siphon coffee or take in the panorama of the palace and the soaring hills beyond.”

I get what they were going for, and it’s true: one can easily peer out the windows onto the rooftops of hanoks, but it’s a bit annoying having to order on the first floor and walk upstairs to get your beverages, and then walk up another flight of stairs to (maybe, if you’re lucky) find a seat. Seats here aren’t plentiful but if you wait around long enough, a spot or two might open up. Good luck watching a barista prepare your siphon coffee though–I’m not sure what the protocol is here if you order one and there already happens to be someone sitting in front of them. (At Mint Plaza, we would kindly ask if guests would move so the siphon-buyer could get the most out of the experience.)

I confused the barista because I ordered two drinks. No, really. I want two coffees. First, a pour-over, because pour-overs are what Blue Bottle does best. Second, since the location has oat milk, I’m going to get a latte, and this location had an orange blossom latte that I decided to try because Blue Bottle doesn’t serve your typical caramel-mocha-praline-hazelnut-frappa-gatos. (Rumor is they never planned on selling mochas, but after adding chocolate to the menu to make hot chocolate, they couldn’t ignore customers’ cries to sell a mocha. For what it’s worth, Blue Bottle mochas are my go-to, because they make their own chocolate ganache in-house with Tcho chocolate and it is delicious.)

The Guatemalan pour-over I had iced would have been better hot, but the orange blossom latte was surprisingly really well-made. The orange blossom flavor fit with the espresso in a very nice way that balanced out the acidity of the espresso and the brightness of the orange flavor. It was tasty.

The space is bright and inviting and it was certainly busy when we went. We had to wait about ten minutes until we found a spot where we could sit on the first floor. There was a steady stream of guests that day and the baristas seemed equipped to handle the volume, even my sudden realization that despite asking the cashier if they had oat milk, I forgot to actually order my latte with oat milk and had to go back to the cashier on the first floor and change my order and had her run to the second floor to ensure my drink was made with oat milk. Whew. If only there was a better way to communicate to the baristas on the second floor.

Follow them on Instagram: @bluebottlecoffee_korea

Address: 76 Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea 03053

Making 깍두기, Korean Radish Kimchi

You know it’s 김장 (kimjang) season, the time when kimchi is made in large batches to last throughout the winter, when you see the following outside every market:

two large carts filled with packaged napa cabbage and one large cart filled with bags of large Korean radish

For a cooking exercise with our kindergarten students, we made 깍두기 (Kkakdugi), radish kimchi. Obviously they can’t use real knives, so their task was cutting pre-cut strips of radish into small cubes with plastic knives.

Here’s our steps for radish kimchi!

Ingredients:

  • Korean radish
  • red pepper powder
  • salted shrimp
  • minced ginger and minced garlic
  • chopped green onion
  • sugar
  • a pinch of salt (not pictured)

After you’ve cubed the radish, apply a good helping of the red pepper powder:

Mix the red pepper powder with the radish:

And continue adding the rest of the ingredients:

Mix all that up and you’ve got your radish kimchi! It tastes delicious fresh, but let it sit overnight in a sealed container to really become delicious!

Café Review: Café Ookii, aka Godzilla Café

Instagram knows that I like cafés, and one day it recommended a Godzilla-themed café that I instantly put on my to-visit list. Surprisingly, I happened to be in the area the very next day and made Mary trek out to visit it after we visited the Trick Eye Museum (underwhelming, to be honest) and the Love Museum (erm, over… something, it’s definitely something).

Café Ookii has a “no kids” policy and for good reason: the walls are lined with Gojira toys spanning all evolutions and editions of the well-known *checks kaiju wiki* “Irradiated Prehistoric Amphibious Creature.”

I ordered an iced americano, which was passable, and couldn’t resist one of their massive kaiju cupcakes which was mostly just icing. In retrospect, I wish I would have gone with one of their cutely designed cookies instead.

Two things of note happened while we were there: 1, I discovered that the woman who had swapped out my conch stud for a ring had managed to close the ring around the strap of my mask (which thankfully was a disposable one I could cut at home), and 2, a young man, obviously drawn to the Godzilla-aspect of the café, came in and struck up an intense conversation with the owner and barista.

If you’re in Hongdae, take a trip out to see this unique café!

Follow them on Instagram: @cafe_ookii


Address: 180-8, Donggyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 마포구 신촌로 44

Café Review: Soyosan Top Bakery

My friend Nora and I trekked out to Dongducheon to visit Soyosan Top Bakery, a pretty large coffeehouse and bakery in the same key as Geronimo Coffeehouse that I reviewed here.

The front of Soyosan: a large cylinder that is attached to the main wall, going up four stories.

There were a few art exhibits in the café itself, as well as a jewelry shop. You could watch the chefs preparing the pastries behind a large glass window. While there are no pour-over/filter coffee options, my iced mocha was good and the iced americano was okay, hitting more of a walnut-like flavor than I’d like in my espresso. There was also an espresso machine on the second floor that had been opened up so you could see inside, which was really interesting for me, seeing as I’ve used machines for over four years and have never seen the inside of one.

All in all, the brunch menu was tasty so it’s worth a visit.