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11 Mar

Dinner and a movie – As many of you probably already know, my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary this past Monday. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to check out my last post, which was basically the past ten years in photos. I kept the words few, partly because going through all those photos took a lot of time and partly because I was a bit overwhelmed emotionally and didn’t really know what to say. So I decided to save what I was originally planning to write—something a bit lighter and more mundane—for today.

“Monday was a busy day for Hyunjin, so we celebrated our anniversary in advance last Friday.”

Hyunjin had classes from morning to night on the actual day of our tin anniversary—wait a minute... tin? No, that’s not a typo. Apparently the tenth wedding anniversary is the tin anniversary. You’ll forgive me if I am a bit underwhelmed. After a decade I was expected something cool, if not sharks with lasers on their heads then at least something like, I don’t know, chocolate. The chocolate anniversary. I realize that the traditional anniversary names are the materials of which the presents are supposed to be made, but does anyone actually do that? We don’t exchange gifts on our anniversary, so it’s kind of meaningless for us. Still, tin is kind of lame. The eleventh anniversary is steel. That’s pretty cool. You could buy your beloved a sword. But tin? Lame.

Anyway, as I was saying, Monday was a busy day for Hyunjin, so we celebrated our anniversary in advance last Friday. We met in the afternoon in Gangnam to see a movie—we had decided on the Hugh Grant/Drew Barrymore rom-com Music and Lyrics. We had a number of options, of course, but it was our anniversary, so we figured something light and romantic would be appropriate. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it. It’s not that I dislike rom-coms, but I don’t really like them either. They are predictable, of course, but you can’t really hold that against them—the predictability is one of the things that makes them so popular with fans. What I don’t like about them is that they are often not that funny (and with the word “comedy” in the genre title, you’d think they would have that down) and they get way too sappy. A little sap is OK, but if I don’t want to be drowning in it.

Well, it turned out that my mild fears were unwarranted. Not only was Music and Lyrics tolerable, it was enjoyable. It is quite funny—and I mean laugh-out-loud funny at points, not just chuckle funny—and there is not too much sap. And over a week later I am still walking around the house singing, “I said I wasn’t gonna lose my head and then pop! ...goes my heart.” Seriously. I cannot get that song out of my head.

If you haven’t seen the movie, in short it is about a washed-up 80s pop star (Grant) who gets a second chance writing a song for a modern pop diva. The only problem is that he doesn’t write lyrics, which is where the quirky Barrymore comes in. I’ve read that it’s kind of a take on Wham!—basically, whatever happened to Andrew Ridgeley (i.e., the guy in Wham! who was not George Michael)—but I went into the movie thinking Depeche Mode. Now, if you know a little about Depeche Mode and you’ve seen the movie, you’re probably thinking, “Huh?” Because PoP! (the fictitious 80s band from the movie) and DM are nothing alike, right? Well, blame it on the trailer, which prominently featured the early DM hit, “Just Can’t Get Enough.” And DM weren’t always the dark, brooding songsters they are now (or were back in the late 80s and early 90s—I don’t have any of their albums after Songs of Faith and Devotion). When they first came out, in fact, they were considered teen idols—just like PoP! And Grant’s character in the movie is named Alex Fletcher, which sounds suspiciously like Andrew Fletcher (one of the founding, but less prominent, members of DM—who is a keyboardist just like the fictional Alex Fletcher). Anyway, I’m sure there was an overall 80s influence going on—I don’t think it’s a flat-out parody of Wham!

I am not ashamed to admit that I am a big fan of 80s music, especially New Wave and synthpop acts like DM, Erasure (still my favorite group), Pet Shop Boys, New Order, etc. So Music and Lyrics was right up my alley. If you haven’t seen the movie and want to see what all the fuss is about, then you need to check out the video for “Pop! Goes My Heart.” It is a hilarious send-up of 80s music videos, but if you’re anything like me you’ll love it. If you’re not like me, well, you’ve been warned.

In addition to the music and the funny dialogue, the singing abilities of the two leads was a pleasant surprise. After having seen About a Boy, I knew that Hugh Grant could sing, but I was surprised to hear how well he could sing here. He has a really good voice. I realize that things get cleaned up and boosted and all that, but that happens to everyone, including professional singers. Even more surprising was that Drew Barrymore can really sing as well. There is one scene where they sing together and Barrymore comes out with this whispery, croaky voice at first, and I thought, “Ah, this is going to be one of those scenes that is funny because she can’t sing.” When she started to sing for real, though, Hyunjin and I just looked at each other with wide eyes. Hyunjin whispered, “is it a law in Hollywood that all actors also have to be really good singers?” In Korea, it’s no surprise if an actor can sing well. In fact, it’s almost a crime in Korea to not be able to sing. But given the number of people in the States and elsewhere in the West who couldn’t carry a tune if you strapped it to their backs and whipped them (I happen to know a few), there seems to be a disproportionate amount of actors who can sing really well.

Anyway, long story short, we both really enjoyed the movie. After we got home I looked it up on to find that it got a 65% rating, which just goes to show you how much the critics know. Yeah, OK, so Music and Lyrics doesn’t push any envelopes or break any boundaries. And if you dislike rom-coms, chances are you’re not going to like this one either. But it does what it sets out to do and it does it well. And it has the catchiest music I’ve heard in a movie since That Thing You Do (this is what I was thinking as we came out of the theater—okay, well, actually I was thinking, “I said I wasn’t gonna lose my head, but then pop! ...goes my heart”—and I later found out that there’s a good reason for this: the same guy who did the music for That Thing You Do did Music and Lyrics).

After the movie we went to Apgujeong to have dinner at a place called Ceia. It’s a Brazilian barbecue restaurant—you know, one of those places where they roast meat on skewers and then bring it straight to your table and slice it right off the skewer. We got there rather early. I think it was around 5:30 or 6:00, and we were the first people there. At first we were concerned about being too early, but the guy who seated us told us that this was the best time to arrive. It turns out he was right. Not only do you get the first servings, but when the restaurant started to fill up there was a longer wait for the meat boys (as we nicknamed them) to get around to our table. By that time we were starting to fill up and eating slower anyway, so everything worked out.

Hyunjin got a coupon online for one free glass of wine each or free beer with unlimited refills. We went for the wine for two reasons: wine goes better with steak than beer, and we came to eat some barbecued meat, not fill up on beer. As other diners started to come in we noted that almost all of them chose the beer, causing us to snicker at their foolishness. It reminded me of that Japanese restaurant in Ulan Bator where you cooked your meat at your table on a big iron griddle. It was all-you-can-eat, so we would focus solely on the meat, but the Mongolians who came in would just fry eggs all night (there were eggs because Japanese meat dishes like sukiyaki are often dipped in a beaten egg). Why? Because eggs were more expensive than meat. So I’m sure the Mongolians were snickering at us back then just like we snickered at our fellow diners last Friday.

We did make one miscalculation, though. Some of Hyunjin’s coworkers had been there before and they told her to order a small salad. This makes sense—just like with the beer, you don’t want to fill up on salad. So we ordered the smallest salad they had, a salad for two at around 10,000 won. We were rather shocked when they brought out this mountain of salad on a large dish. I think it rose almost as high as our wine glasses. It was like someone had gone to an all-you-can-eat salad bar and piled everything they saw onto as big a plate as they could find. For the amount of food you get, it was probably the best value salad I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, we barely ate any of it. I think we nibbled at some of the greens and left the rest (and because it is an all-you-can-eat place, we couldn’t take it with us). In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to skip the salad entirely.

As for the meat itself, it was varied and generally quite good. Since we were the only people there in the beginning, we got the royal treatment. The first to come out was the sausage. Now, I don’t know what it is about sausage at barbecue places, but in my experience it is always the weakest of the offerings. Ceia was no different. The sausage wasn’t bad, mind you, it just wasn’t that good either. A bit on the dry side and not all that flavorful. Fortunately, the rest of the meat was much better. All told, there were ten different skewers that came around. I can’t remember them all, but they included top sirloin, tenderloin, and other cuts of beef, as well as chicken. My personal favorite is a cut called “anchangsal” in Korean, but I don’t know the English term. According to my Korean dictionary, it is the portion of meat between the diaphragm and the liver. Based on what I can decipher of online beef charts, I’m going to take a wild guess and say it’s something like a flank steak. Whatever it was, it was served rare with an herb butter and it tasted great.

One thing I will say is that the meat was a bit on the salty side, but this was also my experience at the only other Brazilian barbecue place I’ve been to (in San Diego). I guess they figure why just go for clogged arteries when you can have high blood pressure as well. Still, it wasn’t so salty that it ruined the meat, and the salt was mostly on the surface anyway (the what-I-assume-to-be-flank-steak was less salty than some of the other cuts). Oh, one of the choices was lamb, but you actually have to ask for it—they won’t bring it out to your table otherwise. Apparently Koreans dislike the smell of lamb, and I didn’t see any of our fellow diners ask for it. We did, and it was good (and also not as salty as, say, the top sirloin).

There was also a nice twist amidst all the meat—one of the ten items on the menu was pineapple. It was skewered just like the meats and sprinkled with cinnamon before being grilled. I don’t remember having this at the restaurant in San Diego, but it was the perfect counter to the meat. We probably had the pineapple three or four times as a sort of palate cleanser.

We stayed at the restaurant for a few hours and were stuffed when we left. All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening. If you happen to live in Seoul and enjoy meat, you may want to give Ceia a try (unless you are the walrus, in which case you are probably crying by this point—sorry dude).

So that was how we celebrated our anniversary—well, that was how we publicly celebrated our anniversary. And I’ll just leave it at that.

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