Sunday, March 30, 2008


My grandmother is doing better. Thank you so much for the kind thoughts.

My aunt and uncle moved her to a nursing home near their house. I went to see her yesterday. She was sleeping when I came in. I woke her up, and she seemed pleased to see me. I asked if she was doing okay and if she liked it there. She said. "It's okay, but I have to, I have to . . ."

My grandmother rarely says anything substantive anymore. She doesn't talk about missing her husband who died several years ago and whose death devastated her. She doesn't talk about being scared or lonely or in pain. She never complains. (A few years ago, she complained so much that she was kicked out of an Adventist retirement center. We never told her why.) Anyway, I was pretty shocked that she was going to make a statement about her condition and was quite anxious to hear what she had to say.

She got distracted, but finally picked up the thread, "I have to wait around a lot."

Ah, I thought, I bet. "Are you bored, Nana?" I asked.

"I have to wait around before I can sleep," she said.

I had brought Nana mango juice, and so I ran around the nursing home trying to find a straw. It is a cheerful place. Lots of flowers in the lobby, several community rooms, a garden with fountains and benches, cheery wall paper, nice paintings. The halls were filled with residents chatting, and in the lobby, people were playing board games or watching TV. The only creepy detail: a lady kept screaming, "Help me. Help me. Help me." That was heartbreaking.

Nana took a sip of mango juice and gave a horrified look, the kind of face one makes when tasting something sour. "Delicious." She said. She took another sip and that was that. Though she would occasionally say, "mango" to humor me.

I had barely arrived when Nana looked at the clock with great concern and said: "It's 3:30, I guess I have to sleep." Since I'd only just arrived, I decided to keep her company, regardless of sleep needs. She said, "It's nice of you to come." Then: "I guess you have to go now." Then: "I should probably get some sleep." Finally, I took the hint.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"You just can't imagine how hungry a body can get."

My grandmother had a stroke last week. Considering everything, she's doing amazingly well. When I visited yesterday, she was sitting in a wheelchair, drinking strawberry Ensure. She said "talk to me," and I found that I was out of words. I finally leaned into her ear and shouted some about teaching. It seems as if she is going to recover, something we wouldn't have imagined last week. I'm so conflicted though. Getting old in America is brutal.

My grandmother was moved from the hospital to a nursing home, as she can't return to her assisted living apartment. The hospital nursing home is temporary--while we look for a better place. There were four ladies in my grandmother's room. The one across from my grandmother asked me what time it was. She was waiting for lunch. "You just can't imagine how hungry a body can get," she told me. I offered to find someone to bring her a meal, but she told me there were 10 aides and over 100 patients and not to bother. The meal did come before I left. While I was in the hall, a nurse walked by with a baby and you could see each person's eyes brighten as the baby passed by--the baby also helpless, also needing constant care, but cute and portable.

Yesterday, we moved my grandmother's things out of her apartment. I took her table--it is lovely and I have been living for many years without one. But I said no to the nick-knacks, to all the elephants my grandmother has collected, with their trunks down, not up--a detail of vital importance to her. I should mention that I'm not entirely without a heart, I have a beautiful quilt my grandmother has made. But I am interested in the items that we cherish but others do not. In Finland, my aunt and I sorted through my grandfather's slides--this was about a year after his death--and we threw most away. They were pictures purchased (lovingly) from museum gift shops. They were also pictures he took of strangers, people he had met on his travels: a smiling tour guide, a church elder. We kept only the pictures that captured our faces or those we recognized. I thought of my photo albums, and how they will be viewed by others. Picture of Salzburg? Throw away. Picture of smiling pig advertisement? Throw away. Picture of cow? Throw away. Picture of graduation? Keep. (or so I hope)

Saturday, March 22, 2008


"I was walking down Fifth Avenue today, and I found a wallet. I was going to keep it, rather than return it, but I thought: Well, if I lost $150, how would I feel? And I realized I would want to be taught a lesson." Emo Philips

"You have delighted us long enough." Jane Austin

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Farmers Market

Twice a month, I wheel my grocery cart through Farmers Market. It is a long way from my home, but I'm drawn here, pulled by the tangerines, green tea, and maeil coffee.

When I arrived in South Korea in 1998, I would wander through the grocery store, baffled. What is this? What is that? Even food that should have been familiar felt unfoodlike. The whole experience was otherworldly. The man standing in the produce aisle shouting out a string of numbers, the kimchi bar with its blood red cabbage, the console of nuts, shrimp, fish, dried bananas, dried mushrooms--all waiting to be chosen and then blended into a breakfast powder. (I would become addicted to a vegetarian version, including: sesame seeds, dried carrots, coconut, nuts, grains, dried mushrooms, and dried fruit.) But that first month, I was always hungry.

Now in California, I come to the Farmers Market. Outside in folding chairs, three ajashis sit and sell Korean newspapers. I nod deeply, throwing my shoulders into the motion. I want to say "anyanghaseyo," but sense it would mark me as the earnest pretender, which I, in fact, am. The store looks a bit like Lotte, a bit like Krogers. The produce section has the global staples: tomatoes, apples, cucumbers, garlic. The prices though are cheap. Grapefruits: 2 pound for 50 cents. There are also Korean staples: sesame leaves, lotus root, bokchoy. Normally, I am the only whitey, and this pleases me. I like to sink into the Korean announcements, the cutie packaging of choco pies and pepero. I buy fruit (grapefruit and tangerines and Asian pears) and I also buy ginger, red pepper paste, green tea. I toss the tea in my cart, three boxes at a time. I would drive here strictly for the green tea, which tastes so different from the American version that one can hardly believe they share the same name. It's like the difference between a giraffe and a moose.

But here is my confession, my guilty, guilty confession. The other items I can justify, but the Maeil coffee is an SUV purchase heavy and pointless. I think of the environmental footprints of these drinks, packaged in Seoul and then flown to LAX and then driven here, and I know that I should keep on wheeling my cart. And yet, and yet. In Korea, after a hard day of teaching, I would dart into a convenience store and purchase a Maeil coffee and know my day was going to be okay. When I first saw them here, lined up beside the milk, I wanted to cry. I stood holding one for a long time and finally decided to sell my environmental soul for the Cinnamon Latte.

The last time I visited Korean Market, there were other whiteys in the store. What are they doing here? was my general attitude. They were probably thinking the same about me. A friend recently pointed out this website: I am guilty of # 71, among others.