The Things You Miss

Sometimes I fear that this space is becoming a shrine to the places where I am not. When I’m not decrying Fayetteville, I’m planning for the Bebe and all that she’ll bring to my future. There’s nobility to that. Expectation, longing, and love. How could you resist meditating on a blessing, albeit mysterious and possibly volatile? (Note: it’s the year of the dragon. I’m going to have a dragon baby.)

When my focus isn’t on the future, it’s on the past. Again, not a bad thing. I’ve lived in wonderful – dare I say *magical* – places, and quite honestly they make for good posts. I haven’t told you very much about my life in Chicago, but it was a very fulfilling time just by virtue of the fact that it was a bona fide Big City and I was a truly naive girl when I lived there. That combination always yields painful, awkward fun.

So I said that I fear the in-between place. The waiting. (Hey, that’s the name of the blog!) I guess “fear” is a heavy word to apply here. I’m really just simply making an observation I haven’t made before and it doesn’t entirely flatter the person who I see myself as. I want to be moving forward. Literally moving, with locomotion. I suppose my pregnancy requires me to be relatively still just for a time.

But sometimes the past is just so chock-full of wonderful things that I can’t help but relish them and pretend they’re still on my daily agenda. Which brings us to the topic of today:

Cafes in Korea.

Cafe Street; Jukjeon, S. Korea

There is a street in Bundang that we often felt existed simply for our happiness. In our town (Jukjeon) alongside the canals and streams that inevitably flood every summer when the rains come, there is situated a cosmopolitan pedestrian street lined with cafes and boutiques offering up refreshments to the predominantly youngish patrons of the town and surrounding areas. The businesses came and went pretty frequently since apparently the operation of a small business has not been completely nailed down in Korea as of yet, but the majority of the good cafes thrived throughout the two years that we spent in Jukjeon.

The first restaurant on Euro Row/ Cafe Street – whatever you want to call it – that we discovered was aptly titled I’m Home.  Yes, we were. They had sandwiches. And they were good. Like, really good, despite the fact that none ever exhibited a great quantity of cheese, the one element I previously thought would have to be present in generous quantities to make any sandwich decent. My hypothesis on the absence of cheese on an I’m Home sandwich is that it would drag the cost up too high. Twenty-something Koreans on dates and foreigners in search of a meal from the Homeland would pay top dollar for a lot of things, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

Bacon and shrimp sandwich from I'm Home

Inside I'm Home

During our first months in Korea, we ate more of these sandwiches than you could count, partially because our kitchen at home was unequipped to prepare any sort of meal worth eating. We were limited to a dorm-sized fridge, very little counter space, and two stove burners. We’d get off work at the end of the day and just walk across the street to I’m Home and get sandwiches.

At the beginning, we often felt like we were doing the staff a favor by ordering them so often, not only because we were giving them business but also because we were providing them practice in assembling the decidedly non-Korean fare. The first time we ever went there, it took them no less than 35 minutes to get the sandwiches out to us, but by the end of our time in Korea, they had brought it down to 10 minutes. Little did we know that their sluggishness had nothing to do with supposed ineptness. This street was erected to the pastime of staring into your beloved’s eyes and buying her mass quantities of food that she very well may not eat but expects nonetheless as a sign of your devotion. The waffles, the cakes, the coffees, and the sandwiches were props in a romance. We were the ones who needed to slow down.

Many teachers say that it’s their constant interaction with children that makes them less likely to want to have their own. It’s the perfect birth control. But being in Korea with B only intensified my desire to have our own kids. B doesn’t remember it, but it was in I’m Home one Sunday afternoon that on a supreme kid-high he told me that we should start trying that day. Our students were perfect in their own little ways, and at the end of the day when we went in search of food on Cafe Street, smaller ones were always everywhere. They would be doing the things you imagine small kids  do in a staged version of childhood: chasing insects, hopping around on hobby horses (I have no idea where they got them), squealing, eating candy. Despite seeming so fabricated, you couldn’t help but believe in its authenticity because the actors were too small to feign glee.

In Korea, there’s a lot of carryover between cutesie romantic date paraphernalia and the things that appeal to a four-year-old. Waffles. Ice cream. Rabbits. Photo shoots. In the hours that we spent at those establishments, we conflated the surreal, orchestrated surroundings with our need for a baby. However artificial and other that experience seems now, I still trust the impression of childhood it left me with.

Stroller parking and a rabbit outside the now-defunct Mr. Panny

You go for the food because you have no other choice. You order a coffee at the end of your meal because you’re in Caffeinated Korea.

And you’re amazed.

And you’ll pay what they ask you.

Cafe Moi

Cafe Street was date central and the quality of the coffee we had there set the bar for what we now know as coffee nirvana. I wonder if there was a correlation. In a sea of hack purveyors suck such as Holly’s, Tomo Tome, and Dunkin, you occasionally come across these little cafes that are doing things absolutely, perfectly right.

Enter Cafe Moi.

It was located on a side street adjacent to the building where we worked. Cafe Moi was owned and operated by Joanne and Ryan, a sweet Korean couple who for some reason came to love us and treat us as their own. They struggled with their English and asked if we would tutor them. Since getting paid to tutor them wasn’t worth risking our visas over, we agreed to meet with them several times a week and just converse socially in English over coffee. They showed us their love through their coffee and by including us in their lives.

Ryan taught classes on the correct way to perform the hand-drip coffee method. Like, series of classes. This stuff is serious, as it should be. It’s not about dumping some water over the beans. Get what those beans can yield by just doing it correctly. We rarely ever brew coffee in a pot anymore. Instead, B and I primarily use our hand drip. It makes all the difference.

From what we could collect, Ryan (and occasionally Joanne) flew to various coffee locales around the world shopping for the best beans and then roasting them in their gorgeously airy cafe. Their employees fussed with the machine as much as they fussed over us when we dropped in for a panini and an iced coffee during the summers. We insisted on paying. They insisted against it harder.

Goliath coffee roaster at Cafe Moi

Cafe Moi played the coffee game right. They offered fantastic pastries (and, of course, waffles) but it was their coffee and the chance to hang out with their little boy, Eugene, that we kept coming back for.

There are so many other nooks on Cafe Street that I pine after.

Parc de 607, LikEat, Cafe Asome, Havana.

My memories of the places are hazy, like Korea. I was tired either because of lack of rest during the week or too much on the weekends, so it was in this state that I floated down the streets, drank coffee, and stared blissfully back at my own beloved.

Happy.

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31 comments

  1. This all looks awesome! I am especially impressed with that huge coffee roaster. Props!

    1. You would’ve LOVED it. LOVED.

  2. Who knew coffee was so big in Korea??

    1. People are really surprised to hear it. The whole country is is on all the time and just needs to be caffeinated. Granted, 90% of it is really, really bad. But the good stuff is incredible.

  3. I miss living in San Diego and being able to walk to the beach. But then I think about my tiny apartment and the constant sound of amorous activities through my paper thin walls and suddenly I don’t miss it as much. Maybe that’s not the same as living in a totally foreign country.

    1. There are ups and downs to everything. And noisy neighbors are a global phenomenon. The only difference is that in our apartment in Korea, it wasn’t an amorous couple but a seven-year-old who ALWAYS practiced piano from six to nine AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Oh joy.

  4. Love getting to see these beautiful places you’ve been!

    1. We should all travel together :)

  5. I look at that sandwich, and I realize how very much I miss eating fresh vegetables!

    1. Yes! Everything served to us at restaurants in Korea always seemed very fresh. Accept the kimchi, and that was OK.

  6. No wonder it’s easy to yearn for other places besides where we are. The grass is always greener when you’ve BEEN there :D

    1. Absolutely! It’s also very curious how you tend to remember the good things. Lord knows there were so many not-so-good things about being over there (ie, being less than 100 miles away from the DPRK.)

  7. :) I love hearing about what happens in lands far from mine. I’ve never been out of the US or even on the western half, so I get to live vicariously through others on cyberspace:) Angie

    1. That is one of the best things about the Internet, for sure.

  8. Reading your blog brings me a whole lot of feelin good !

    1. Awwww! I love you!

  9. I am a professional coffee snob. Yes, hand drip and French press are the way to go. I love the freshly roasted beans. I especially love them dipping into chocolate, dark, dark, dark chocolate.
    Red.

    PS Americans generally have no idea what good coffee tastes like, for failure of having been exposed. I was in the alpha test group for Dunkin Donuts coffee before it came to grocery shelves. They were disturbed at my results. I told them which of the blind bags was decaf, dark and medium…and how revolting all three were.

    1. I completely agree. We get so used to drinking garbage that when we drink something worth its cup, we are astonished. My husband and I love going to cafes and just lingering, but often the coffee is so disheartening that it’s not worth it at all, even if it was only $4. We recently found a place 60 miles away, though, that’s very good and honestly we’ll find several other things to do in the town while we’re there and not feel bad about making the trip for it.

  10. Perhaps the lack of cheese had more to do with lacto intoloerance and culture than money savings?

    1. Maybe. It’s not that Koreans are really lactose intolerant but that they generally just don’t like strong cheeses very much. At least that’s the general impression I got.

  11. I’ve never seen froth heart/faces! So cute, as was the post!

    1. One time my friend took a picture of the face foam on her latte and the face recognition thing on her camera came up. Loved it!

  12. Coffee is incredible, no matter where you are. Good coffee is even better, and a good cafe is priceless.

    1. Is that from the Bible? You speaketh the truth.

  13. Great post! I like the part about buying overpriced food for a date who may not actually eat it. I remember paying for a $10 ice cream at an ice cream cafe in Shangai and watching guys buy it for their dates who would eat a bite or two and push it away. (This American girl was not proper or dainty. I housed my ice cream.)

    1. Hehehe yeah, it seems to be kind of typical date behavior in young, affluent places in Asia.

  14. [...] The Things You Miss 1.23.12 [...]

  15. [...] The smaller poster hanging over the changing table is a promotional brochure with a map of Cafe Street where we lived in Korea. It’s an awesome little piece of nostalgia. The frame was only $8 [...]

  16. [...] one Friday night after dinner on Euro Row, B and I headed over to Geckos to meet our friends for some drinks and general revelry. As part of [...]

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