Young and Beautiful 二十年

Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?
Will you still love me when I got nothing but my aching soul?
I know you will, I know you will, I know that you will

-Lana Del Rey

Well, this is a long neglected blog. I owe my lack of blogging enthusiasm to the fact that our American life seems rather unremarkable. Who cares what I found on sale at Sprouts? Furthermore, blogging seems to be going out of style. Vlogging on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are replacing blogs like high-rise jeans are edging out skinny jeans. On that note, my 16 year old self would be shocked and horrified to know that my 40 year self wears high waisted mom jeans (gasp!) and runs around in public (even dining out) in workout pants and running shoes. Back to the early 2000s practice of blogging... Does anyone read this anyway? Does anyone read a blurb longer than two sentences?

Even if my blog readers mainly consist of our mothers who we see nearly everyday, leaving out one of 2021's major milestones in the birdMAN and Huixin saga does seem remiss.

So here goes...We have been married 20 years! Our marriage is now approaching the US legal drinking age of 21.

We celebrated our twenty years anniversary in true birdMAN style: we went to Moonraker Brewery for beer and picked up In N' Out cheeseburgers on the way. Yes, this was a few months ago back in September when the weather was still dry and hot.

So happy anniversary to us! May we always be young and beautiful.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 二十年 (Èrshí nián)
English Translation: Twenty years
Chinese Sentence: 我们结婚二十年了!(Wǒmen jiéhūn èrshí niánle)
English Translation: We have been married twenty years!

2021 makes 20 years of marriage for the Bai's and us,
more than 20 years of friendship, and countless burgers and brews.

Burgers + Brews = Celebration
Burgers + Brews = Celebration


Give it Away 给别人

What I've got you've got to give it to your mama
What I've got you've got to give it to your pappa
What I've got you've got to give it to your daughter
You do a little dance and then you drink a little water
- Red Hot Chili Peppers

Over the years that we lived in China, we inherited a lot of stuff from people that emptied their apartments before heading home or elsewhere in the world. Afterall, there's only so much you can bag in a bag.

Each time I used something that had been passed on to me, I fondly thought of its previous owner. Each time I slow-cooked carnitas or baked banana bread, I thought of fellow Californians Zhiruo and Xueshan who bequeathed us a slow-cooker and mini oven before heading to warmer climes. The one time I attempted to make gluten-free cookies with coconut flour, I thought of my French amie and health nut. Before settling back in the land of baguettes, she had unloaded gluten-free flours, flaxseed, and blueberry tea on me. Each time I used a cute plastic bag, a pink and white polka dotted cupcake liner, or floral contact paper, I thought of prolific baker and big-hearted Taoyu. She really baked the scrummiest (as they would say on the Great British Bake Off, my quarantine guilty pleasure). A caboodle of clothes, cleaning supplies, stationary, face masks, utensils, Japanese flavor packets, etc dotted our shelves from a succession of people that have come and gone.

And I remember each and every one of them. Each inherited thing is like a hello from a friend.

Here is Zhiruo saying hello

Now we are part of that great crowd of those who have come...and gone-- except we didn’t have the opportunity (uh hum! hassle) of purging our stuff accumulated during the seven plus years living in China.

As you may know, back in January 2020 we had left China expecting to return three weeks later. More than a year later, we had yet to return and decided conclusively that Beijing would not be a part of our immediate future. For nearly the whole of 2020 and the early part of 2021, our Beijing apartment collected dust. Now the time had finally come to deal with our abandoned apartment and the stuff in it. This task (uh hum! hassle) primarily fell on fellow Californian, Xialian, and local friend, Fanglan.

Fanglan along with two other Chinese friends had already cleaned out the food in early January 2021. They had oohed and ahhed over the booty (bottles of wine, the bag of quinoa, the stockpile of dried beans, rice, nuts, semi-sweet chocolate chips and a large jar of pure vanilla extract) as they helpfully divided up the loot. I can’t help but wonder what happened to my treasured quinoa. Surely not wasted, it was probably made into 粥 (porridge). Someone is eating the most expensive porridge ever.

Wine comes to those who clean out our place
Now mid-February, Xialian arranged for an exit permit to leave her college campus where she lives and works. She and her husband, XP, had been on strict lockdown since January 2020 only leaving campus a handful of times. Unfortunately, one of their first outings since the Pandemic hit was not a dinner date at Great Leap Brewery for cheeseburgers and beer. (But they did inherit our humongous chili pot emblazoned with a Great Leap logo. See Pork and Beans.) Even so, Xialian and XP cheerily offered to help.

And oh boy, did Xialian, XP, Fanglan, and all the helpers rise to the occasion. Once I told Fanglan, “很可惜,我们决定我们不会回北京” (Sadly, we have decided not to return to Beijing), and I gave her the greenlight to give away stuff, there was a flurry of texts swifting from Beijing to California and back again: So-and-so or so-and-so’s relative needs a sofa, a crib, a room screen, etc, and would it be possible for so-and-so to take the wok and soup pot? And I said, Give it away!

The word spread and people came and requested what they wanted. Two days later, the good stuff (our furniture, oven, and birdMAN’s bike) had been snatched up. A week later, Xialian and XP had sorted through our stuff, and set aside things to be shipped 5,900 miles from Beijing to California. Soon thereafter on a Monday afternoon, Xialian and Fanglan neatly laid out the goods not yet spoken for or not yet taken.They put out the invitation: Open house everybody! On such and such afternoon, come one and come all. Please take what you want.

Come they did--at least that’s what I figured from Xialian’s instant messages. As I laid in bed (there’s a 15 hour time difference), fragments of our Beijing life were dispersed and divided amongst our friends. Even our set of IKEA matching dishes of six bowls, six plates, and six large shallow bowls were divided up one by one. I wonder if the same thing happened to the complete set of silverware. A single fork for this person and a single spoon for the next guy. Ahhh that’s China for you. Nobody cares if the bowls match the serving dishes. China kitchens brim over with a hodgepodge of dishes snagged from the mobile pottery cart or someone’s abandoned stuff.

Soon our apartment had been stripped bare, and then our friends scrubbed the place top to bottom. I might add a thorough cleaning was hardly necessary. The apartment was already cleaner than 99% of most rentals returned to a landlord. Nonetheless, our amazing friends cleaned the place spotless worried that the landlord would quibble and withhold our deposit.

Xialian and XP going to work

Scrubbed clean

After Fanglan reassured me that she had diligently cared for the apartment and arranged a walkthrough with the landlord, she sent me this message:


(“Thank you! As we finished cleaning, I felt sad. This house is full of good memories! XX asked me to find pictures of you, and I have many pictures from your baby’s birth until now, and that time with you all was so wonderful! It’s unbearable that you are not here!”)

That really tugged at my heartstrings. Okay, I admit it! That made me weepy and nostalgic and regretful that I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to all our Beijing friends. I do, however, take comfort that at the very least somebody is using our stuff.

Hopefully every time someone eats noodles from one of those white IKEA bowls, they think of birdMAN, Huixin, and Dumpling. Those crazy Americans that spoke crazy grammatically incorrect Chinese and cooked crazy food with a lot of cheese and cinnamon. Those crazy Americans who laughed a lot and welcomed them into their home for dessert and lively conversation. Those crazy Americans who broke all kinds of rules like drinking cold water and eating ice cream in the winter. Most of all though, I hope that every time they clink a chopstick on one of those white IKEA bowls, they remember how much those crazy Americans loved them. A white IKEA bowl sending a message of love--or at least a 你好 (hello).

Here is a huge 谢谢  (THANK YOU) to Xialian, XP, and Fanglan for taking the lead in giving away our stuff! Also to TF who helped us with complicated bank stuff. You and all our beautiful friends in China will always and forever have a special, special, special place in our hearts.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 给别人 (Gěi biérén
English Translation: to give something to someone

Example Sentence: 我把所有的东西都给别人。(Wǒ bǎ wǒ suǒyǒu de dōngxī dōu gěi biérén。)
English translation: I gave all my things away to people.

Our place goes up for rent! Apparently no one wanted the electric kettle.

The rocking chair and lamp chilling in a new home

There goes my coat and DIY art

Special delivery! Now we know it takes two months to get stuff delivered via snail mail from Beijing to California.


Time to Move On 往前看

It's time to move on, time to get going
What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing
But under my feet, baby, grass is growing
It's time to move on, it's time to get going
-Tom Petty and Heartbreakers

For the better part of 2020, our Beijing apartment echoed empty awaiting our return. The sourdough starter along with a chunk of vacuum-wrapped gouda cheese languished in the fridge. A stockpile of quinoa, dried beans, rice and spices stored away to be cooked into something delicious. Four bottles of wine bought on special stashed in the closet. A throw pillow, bedding, storage baskets, a bathtub, a down coat all recently purchased on China’s Black Friday, November 11 (Singles Day, Double 11, or 双十一). The laundry in plain sight hanging out to dry.

Our home waited for us.

Sometime in April, restrictions in Beijing had eased somewhat and our American friend was able to get past the guard and into our apartment complex. Via video call, we toured our apartment and our friend commented that the place fragranced clean and minty. Maybe it was the eucalyptus oil I use for cleaning. Anyway, everything was in order and no pipes had busted. As a reward, she snagged the nearly full jar of Kirkland peanut butter and the vacuum wrapped gouda cheese.

Our Beijing apartment waited for us. And waited some more.

As the months marched steadily on, spring heating into summer, and summer waning into winter, returning to our little Beijing home seemed more and more unlikely. The Pandemic raged on around the world and China and US international relations frazzled like a strained thread. China imposed strict restrictions on international travelers making obtaining or renewing a visa uncertain or impossible. Furthermore, once international flights were available (after a long hiatus), they were extremely limited and absurdly expensive.

By the close of 2020, most of birdMAN’s fellow workers had slowly returned to China. During the journey, each of them took several COVID-19 tests and temperature checks. Upon arrival, each spent two weeks quarantining in a hotel. Most of them said the experience wasn’t so bad. They had time to rest, read, and chill out in solitary.

I, however, dreaded the prospect of quarantining for a full two weeks with a four year old child. I imagined all the art projects, the tickle fights, the bath time, the snacks, book reading, and the screen time. How many bags of goldfish crackers would I need to pack? Would I need one or two jars of peanut butter? I imagined putting Dumpling through reading and math boot camp. Yeeessss...quarantine would turn Dumpling into a genius. But a more likely scenario was that all my parenting sensibilities would vaporize and Frozen II would be on repeat. Which reminds me, how many Disney dresses should I pack? Definitely bring Ariel and Elsa dresses, but Belle dress may not make the cut.

Meanwhile, surely our Beijing home had descended into despair, its door hinges rusting from disuse.

Over here in California, we had settled into a predictable weekly routine. birdMAN worked online in the evenings. Friday was Papa Murphy’s pizza night. We spent a lot of time walking or biking the nature corridor near Moomoo’s house. We renewed our 3 month mobile plan for the third time. Dumpling knew the way to the park and could distinguish between Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Safeway. As our American life habits developed, we stopped looking at available flights into China, and half-heartedly applied for China visas. While birdMAN could be approved because he had a job, Dumpling and I did not qualify for visa consideration.

So the question, “Will you return to China?” lingered like Beijing air pollution--there but barely noticeable. Over the year, I went from feeling anxious to return and gung ho about quarantine, to unsettled limbo, to acceptance that living abroad had finally come to an end. Then one day, birdMAN simply said, “I don’t see us going back.” And I nodded. That was it.

Beijing no longer waited. Time to say goodbye.

The answer to, “Will you return to China?” is now definitely, positively, once and for all…


Chinese Word of the Blog: 往前看 (Wǎng qián kàn)
English Translation: Look forward

Example Sentence: 我们没办法会北京去,因此要往前看,要往前走。
(Wǒmen méi bànfǎ huì běijīng qù, yīncǐ yào wǎng qián kàn, yào wǎng qián zǒu.)
English Translation: We cannot return to Beijing, so we must look forward and move on.

Back when we would just hang in our cozy home

In Beijing, we improvise furniture

Getting around Beijing style

Exercising Beijing style

Exercising California style

How we used to do Moomoo time

In California, Moomoo time is so much better!

Yaya time = Zoo time

California has an abundance of goldfish crackers!


Splish Splash 洗澡

Splish, splash, I was takin' a bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
A rub dub, just relaxin' in the tub
Thinkin' everythin' was alright
-Bobby Darin

One afternoon during the summer of 2019, Dumpling was banging around in the bathroom, perhaps inspecting the drain or the shower. At 2.5 years old, Dumpling’s burgeoning curiosity drove her to explore the most uninteresting areas of our apartment. Suddenly Dumpling shrieked and ran out of the bathroom and into my arms. Tears spilled out of her eyes, her mouth contorted into a downward crescent. What happened? All she could sob was, “scary, scary.” The shower is scary? Yes, she confirmed. The shower is scary. 

That shower. That weird shower. That decrepit shower that looks like it once belonged on the set of Buck Rogers.

In China, nabbing an apartment with a shower unit would seem like hitting the jackpot. Most bathrooms in China are “wet” bathrooms: the shower, toilet, and sink all occupy the same space. So you can imagine, as you shower everything in the bathroom also gets showered. Stray shower droplets dampen the toilet paper and towels, as well as any shedded clothes left on the floor. Using a shower-sprayed toilet conjures up all kinds of not so awesome feelings (especially if you are at somebody else’s house). Also, the shower water usually pools before it slowly drains leaving a soapy film on the floor. If you are fortunate, the bathroom floor slopes toward the drain. More likely, however, water pools in a low spot behind the toilet or sink exacerbating an inevitable mold problem. A “wet” bathroom is why plastic slippers are placed outside the bathroom for guests to slip on before entering the bathroom. How terrible if their socks got wet.

This is a wet bathroom, aptly named because
everything gets wet when you shower

Our bathroom, however, was outfitted with a “luxurious” shower unit. A decade ago potential renters oohed and awed at this modern home amenity. In its prime, the shower stood proud as a space pod ready to launch. Press buttons with pictures of a telephone, radio, light, and other conveniences arrayed the interior wall. The curved plexi-glass doors confined the shower spray, leaving the toilet nice and dry. Maybe at one time the phone worked (you know, once upon a time when people had landlines). No need to interrupt your soap scrub to answer a pesky telemarketer. With the shower radio you could simultaneously rock out and steam up like Ferris Bueller singing “Danke Schoen” before he plays hooky from school. 

But our shower never met those lofty aspirations. Nobody had bothered to plug in the shower so that the radio might play or that the telephone might be answered. The water feed line had sprung a leak, and water flowed underneath the unit and pooled on the floor sometimes flooding the base of the toilet. All that water gushing around underneath the shower surely left the floor tiles in a deplorable state. How many swimming pools could have been filled with the wasted water? Inside the shower, a calcified crust coated the unreachable crevices of the door track. Now rusted and the metallic coating wisping off like snowflakes, the shower nozzle, hose, and handle valve hung limp like broken branches. The shower head support was broken, on top of which we jimmied the shower nozzle downward so we could shower handsfree. Yes, this shower’s heyday--if there had ever been one-- was long over. 

The space pod--uh, I mean, shower

Over time, the shower became one of those “things” that aren’t ideal about China living but tolerable. We ignored the door’s janky squeak, the rusty hinges, and the flooded floor. We did what we always do when it comes to China life: focus on the positive. Hey, we had a shower, didn’t we? That is definitely something to be happy about. But we got even happier when that shower became where Dumpling took her nightly bath.

Bath time, ah bath time. Bath time was our reward for chasing around a toddler all day, successfully getting her to eat vegetables at dinner, and not going plain crazy. Bath time was also the prelude to bedtime, after which we could truly unwind and take deep breaths and focus on something for longer than five minutes without interruption. Not only does bath time mean peace out time for us, watching an elated toddler sudsing up and splashing around was an absolute delight.

Ahh, the days before the shower became "scary"

That fateful day. That fateful day Dumpling came running out of the bathroom screeching, “Scary! Scary!” marked the end of an era. Any attempts to take Dumpling into the bathroom for a bath or potty training resulted in fountains of tears and sheer panic. Resigned, we moved the little training potty permanently into the living room. Every night, birdMAN lugged a water-filled IKEA plastic tub from the bathroom and placed it in the kitchen. With the shower out of view, the kitchen was a safe haven for Dumpling to bathe.

We hoped that sometime before Dumpling outgrew the little IKEA white tub she would conquer her fear of the “scary” shower. So we carried on. Potty training in the livingroom and bath time in the kitchen. That’s totally normal, right?

Green training potty became a living room fixture

Some months later as the ginkgo trees were turning a glorious golden yellow, I had taken Dumpling over to a friend’s home for a playdate. The apartment had a "wet" bathroom, just like most homes in China. But just below the shower head was a newly installed bathtub. This bathtub was much smaller than a standard 5 feet long alcove bathtub that is found in most American bathrooms. This tub was more square than rectangular and deep. An adult could sit upright in it with his knees crunched up to his chest. Perfect for Chinese apartment living.

I ahhed, “哦!太好了!你们有新浴盆!在哪里买的?“ (“Ooooohh, how nice. You got a new bath. Where did you get it?” )

“淘宝“ (“On Taobao”), she replied. Right. Taobao, the online market where anything--absolutely anything may be purchased and expeditiously delivered to the front door. 

“你告诉房东吗?” (“Did you tell the landlord?”)

“没有!他没关系!” (“No! It doesn’t matter to him!“)

At that moment, I realized we no longer had to put up with that “scary” shower. We could do a small-scale bathroom remodel ourselves. Aaaaand...we did not need to tell the landlord. As long as we made our rent, he really is 没关系!(没关系 means “it doesn’t matter“.) Certainly he wasn’t going to do anything about that leaky, broken down, and ugly shower. If we wanted to replace something that wasn’t completely broken, we would have to do it ourselves.

So here’s the rundown how we did our first ever bathroom remodel:

  1. Shop online and order a new shower head (400 RMB) and tub (1,840 RMB).
  2. Find someone to demolish the shower, take it away and install the new shower head (300 RMB).
  3. Spend an entire day scrubbing the tiles that had been previously covered by the “scary” shower.
  4. Put the tub under the new showerhead. No sealing, no grouting. Fill it with water, and watch Dumpling splash around like the happy ducky she is.

The total cost came to 2,540 RMB (370 USD). Yes, just a little pricey. But while we footed the bill for this house improvement project (and saving the landlord the hassle of dealing with the leaky shower), Dumpling’s bath time glee was totally worth it. She was THRILLED with her new spacious tub. As a MasterCard ad would succinctly put it: Shower. $370. Happy bathing baby. Priceless.

Two months after our bathroom “remodel”, we left for California with only two weeks worth of stuff. You know the story: a global pandemic that delayed our return to Beijing. Sadly, our Beijing apartment--along with the newly installed bathtub--sits idly awaiting our return.  Meanwhile, we are waiting out the pandemic at Moomoo’s (aka birdMAN’s mom) house. After six months of splashing around nearly every evening in a spacious tub scented with lavender bath gel, Dumpling rarely mentions the “scary” shower or her Beijing bathtub.

When (and if) we return to that long overdue new shower, hopefully Dumpling will find bath time as delightful as ever. And we once again will get peace out time as she splashes herself silly.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 洗澡 (Xǐzǎo)
English translation: take a shower

Shower delivered in four days from Shanghai
Thank you Demolition Guy.
"Scary" shower be gone!
Shower removal aftermath. So much cleaning with toxic
chemicals that are probably not approved for use in the US.
Rub-a-dub dub, Dumpling in a tub


Float On 东西

Bad news comes, don't you worry even when it lands
Good news will work it way to all them plans
-Modest Mouse

Eight years ago, on August 13, 2012, we landed in Beijing, China. We had said, “We’ll give it a year, or at least until we can’t take it anymore.” After all, nearly every expat living in China has an expiration date. No matter how much the expat thrives on noodles or fluently speaks Chinese, there will eventually be a thing that will drive him/her back to his/her homeland. That thing may include family obligations, financial reasons, physical or mental health reasons, or perhaps, simply because it was time to go. 

Over the last eight years, several things could could have sent us packing. After the first year of teaching English for a serious wage reduction compared to our previous jobs, we could have said, “Well, apartment living was fun but let’s pull the plug on this China deal.” Thereafter, return to our former careers and once again settle into suburban comfort. Instead, we jazzed up our Beijing apartment with used furniture and our Beijing bikes with new chains and bike bells. In 2014, birdMAN’s father was diagnosed with cancer. While we spent more time at home that year, not even his illness and death prompted us to move back. Instead, we planted our feet a bit firmer on China’s soil. We saw life in China precious and fleeting, impelling us to spend more time with our students and local friends. Then in 2016, I got pregnant. Surely, everyone thought, a baby would bring us home. Nope. Instead, we envisioned our future chopsticks wielding baby singing “一闪一闪亮晶晶” (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") and eating weird snacks like dried squid. 

As we ignored all those things, unconsciously Beijing became “home” and California became that other place that we sometimes call “home”. 

But perhaps the thing finally came. You totally know what I am talking about. It is the thing that made words like quarantine, social distancing, and Zoom part of everyday language and donning a face mask in public as important as wearing underpants. It is the thing that makes you shudder when you watch a TV show with people hugging and having conversations without maintaining 6 feet of distance. It is the thing that you are all sick of but at the same time have grown accustomed to: the Pandemic.

Back in January when we were visiting California and news of the novel corona virus broke, we thought the whole thing would blow over fairly quickly and we would be back in Beijing in a few months. Well, eight months later, here we are, deep into August, and we are hesitant to say with any certainty about our prospects of returning to our Beijing home. If the pandemic drags on--which seems likely--and international relations continue to worsen, we may just be forced to throw in the towel and set up permanent residence in the Golden State.

While the pandemic has thrown a wrench into our plans, there is a BIG upside. Dumpling is getting a lot of Moomoo and cousin love, and having two extra adults around means I can often leave Dumpling behind for a solo runs. Quarantine has done wonders for my exercise regime. I ran 67 miles in July! There's also the washer and dryer and Netflix. Oh, and family that has swimming pools and Papa Murphy's take-n-bake pizza.  While we wait to figure out what the future holds, those things make life pretty good.

Chinese Word of the Blog: 东西 (Dōngxī, literally east, west)
English translation: thing

This is a good place to social distance

Sometimes we leave the house

I definitely wouldn't see this in Beijing

Zoom service: how we socialize

Dumpling makes dumplings
Bringing some Beijing to California



On the Road to Find Out 在外国生活

Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there
-Cat Stevens

I may have given my readers the wrong impression about how I felt about living in South Korea. True, the first couple weeks in South Korea were a bit jarring. Not being able to speak or read the local language, living in a dimly lit and dinky apartment, the weather being really cold, coupled with travel and social restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 made life slow and sometimes boring. Even so, life in South Korea was pretty good and improving as the weather warmed up. If living in South Korea had been a long-term commitment and the pandemic hadn’t put all my friends and potential friends into lockdown, living there would have been pretty sweet.

Here are some great things about South Korean life:
  • Internet and WiFi:
Restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, malls, outdoor recreation areas and playgrounds,and literally every place had super fast and free WiFi. One playground even had a solar-powered bench with wireless and non-wireless cell phone charging stations. The one exception to our Korean WiFi heaven-- infuriatingly-- was the WiFi in our apartment. Why our devices couldn't get on the WiFi or randomly got kicked off the WiFi remains a mystery.

Wireless charging at the playground plus WiFi

  •  The Food:
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Korean food! In fact, when we had decided to leave, I panicked a little that I hadn't sampled every sort of delectable Korean deliciousness. From temperature to spice and flavor, Korean cuisine turns up the notch to full amplification. Hot food is HOT. Cold food is COLD. Spicy food is SPICY. Plain food is PLAIN. Soups and bibimbap (mixed rice) are served sizzling in a scalding hot stone pot. Cold noodles should be called ice noodles because the broth is literally shaved broth ice flakes. Even a simple poached chicken soup satisfies with just a few scallions swimming in the broth. And don't even get me started on the millions of banchan (side dishes) that come with Korean barbecue. Four more sides of kongnamul muchim (spicy bean sprouts) puh-lease.

Of course, nothing can be eaten without kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage or vegetables). Kimchi is an absolute staple in Korean cuisine-- probably more important than rice. Whether having traditional Korean grub, pizza, or beer, invariably pickles or kimchi will be served as a side dish- which was fine by us. Even Dumpling developed a fondness for sweet pickles.

Did I mention how much I love Korean food? In case you didn't get it, I LOVE KOREAN FOOD!

Cold noodles to the nth power
Little dried fish in spicy sweet goop - So yum!
  • Coffee 
The vast selection of cold brew coffee, lattes, caffe americanos, and mochas in the refrigerated section of any 7-Eleven and grocery store shows how much Koreans love coffee. A coffee shop-- or two, or three-- literally stood at every street corner. In these quiet refuges Dumpling colored in her first coloring books, smooshed her first play dough, and completed her first puzzle all by herself.

The following are a few of my favorite SK coffee shops:
    • A Twosome Place: This coffee shop was literally a five minute walk from the large closet we called home, so we spent many mornings and afternoons enjoying the sunshine gleaming through the floor to ceiling windows. The close proximity to home, chill music set at an appropriate volume, a nice strong Americano, and a decent 6,000 Won (5 USD) breakfast deal for a coffee and a sandwich lured us back again and again.
Me + Dumpling =  A twosome chillin' at a Twosome Place
    • Coffeesmith: Dessert waffles (~12,000W) for Dumpling and a pricy caffe americano (~4,300 W) burned a little hole in my pocket, but Coffesmith made my coffee heart sing. Not only were the bathrooms fragrant with floral hand soap and clean as a whistle, the WiFi ridiculously fast, and the ambiance soothing as a ritzy spa, but the staff unfailingly threw in a free hot chocolate (made with real milk) for Dumpling on every visit.
Waffle heaven at Coffeesmith plus hot cocoa
    • Starbucks: If you are a coffee aficionado living abroad, Starbucks is a comforting sanctuary in a land of the unfamiliar. Just like Any Starbucks in Any City, Any Country, Starbucks brews up a reliably strong cup of black coffee. 'Nuff said.

  • Eating out
My American friends were surprised at my Instagram posts showing us eating at restaurants and playing at the park. You can go out to eat? Our part of South Korea never went full throttle into lockdown, which meant we freely ate out at restaurants. South Korea has been highly praised for early and aggressive intervention to limit virus spread [1]. Restaurants, parks, and the like, all remained open for business. The only visible sign of a pandemic was that everyone wore masks and the unmasked faced stern scolding from strangers.
Pandemic? What pandemic? Let's go out to eat!
  •  Cleanliness
I can’t help but draw comparisons between China and Korea. Renting an apartment is one stark example of the differences between the two neighboring countries. You can pretty much assume that when you move into a new place in China, you will spend anywhere from a month to year scrubbing caked dust off the floors, accumulated oil droplets from the stove vent, or waiting for that cigarette smell to slowly dissipate. I still have nightmares about the state of the toilet when we first moved into our last Beijing apartment.

In contrast, our SK apartment rental was squeaky clean and faintly smelled of bleach. No pre-cleaning required, no accumulated mold behind the toilet, and no dust balls anywhere. In fact, our rental contract stipulated that renters must prevent mold from growing. The apartment manager repeatedly reminded us not to wear shoes inside, even demonstrating shoe removal and placing them in the shoe closet before entering.

Public bathrooms-- from hole-in-the-wall fried chicken joints to the airport-- sailed high above and beyond sanitary expectations. To reduce virus spread, hand sanitizer was as available as ice (Koreans love ice!). Bottles of hand sanitizer affixed above push-to-walk buttons on traffic light poles eased a pedestrian's virus fears. Coffee shops laid out a variety of hand sanitizers, sprays, and wipes like a buffet. Meanwhile, US supermarkets suffered from a shortage of sanitizer (and toilet paper, diapers, flour).

Forgot your hand sanitizer? No worries! South Korea has your back.
You could eat off this floor
  • Seoul
Seoul gets a special mention as one of the coolest cities I have ever visited. We only spent a few weekends exploring its plethora of restaurants, neatly laid out pedestrian friendly alleys, family friendly parks and gardens, and the murals that donned the sides of multi-story buildings. Seoul was where we ate legit Italian thin-crust pizza (served with spicy pickles), tandoori chicken, and found a grocery store stocked with sharp cheddar cheese and lentils.

Seoul stole my heart. She is an elegant lady who I would love to get to know better.

So that’s that in a nutshell. Hopefully, someday in the not-too-distant future we can visit South Korea again and do the things we didn’t get to do. For instance, visit our good friends G&C who went into strict lockdown not long after we arrived. They live in the Korean BIG HOUSE and we want to meet all their amazing family. Aaaaannnd....I wouldn’t mind getting a few bowls of cold noodles.

Chinese Idiom of the Blog: 在外国生活 (Zài wàiguó shēnghuó)
English Translation: to live abroad

Beer + Pizza + Pickles = Happy Tummy
Domino's pizza never forgets the pickles
Can you tell that this is the entire cast of Frozen?
Trippy art in Seoul
Dumpling takes art seriously
Sometimes A Twosome Place is A Nap Place