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31 Jul 2012

A month in the States – It’s been two weeks now since we returned from our trip to the States, and somehow I am only now getting around to writing about it. For some reason it’s been really hard to get back into the habit of writing here—possibly because the prospect of writing an entry on our month-long trip is rather daunting. So I’m just going to get this over with and write a (relatively) brief post on the trip, and then if I want to expand on anything later I’ll do that.

“I don’t know how we managed to fit that much into a month...”

Only a few days after arriving, we drove up to Boston for two days. The first day was spent in Cambridge, where we spent some time with one of Hyunjin’s former students, Shira. Shira is now working as a director at the American Repertory Theater, and she showed us around the theater and Harvard as well, which is right next door. We also spent some time walking around the area by ourselves, and we went down to the Charles River to watch the rowers cutting through the water like knives. In the evening we joined Shira and her father for dinner at Legal Seafood for a really great dinner.

The next day we went into Boston proper, where we spent the morning walking around the Common and Public Garden. At noon we went to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt offices to see Larry, the executive editor on Black Flower. He was nice enough to buy us lunch, and he loaded me down with books before we left. We also got to meet Patrick, who designed the cover, and Megan, the publicist. The rest of the afternoon was spent on and around Newbury Street, where we dropped by some galleries and saw works by Dali, Picasso, Chagall, and many other artists. On our way out of Boston we stopped in Wellesley to have dinner at Blue Ginger, the restaurant of chef Ming Tsai.

When we got back from Boston, the next few days were spent preparing for a camping trip up to Lake George, and on Friday we went down to the city, where we spent the day in the Museum of Natural History and met the author of Black Flower nearby for dinner. Although I had communicated with him via email for many years, it was only the second time I had ever met him—the first was at a KLTI function before I started translating Black Flower. It was good to get together in person and talk over dinner at a nice Greek restaurant called Kefi.

Two days later we left for Lake George, where we stayed from Sunday to Thursday. The weather wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t really the worst, either, and even though it was supposed to rain the whole time it didn’t actually rain that much. It was much earlier in the season than when we used to go up to the lake (in August), meaning that the water was a lot colder, and we were reluctant to go in. After a few days without showers, though, we couldn’t take it any longer and had to jump in. And on the last day we went water skiing as well—and by “we” I mean “I.” Hyunjin gave it a try, but unlike wakeboarding she couldn’t quite get the hang of it. Luckily we had a tube, so we dragged her and Mom around behind the boat for a while. In addition to all that, we also went hiking and did a lot of canoeing as well (Brian and I canoed the ten miles out from the harbor to the island).

We spent most of that Friday morning unpacking and putting everything away, and in the afternoon we went with Mom to a place called H-Mart. It’s a chain of supermarkets that apparently are an offshoot of the Hanareum supermarket down in Koreatown. It’s huge and has a lot of Korean and other Asian products (not to mention the largest selection of Bob’s Red Mill products I’ve ever seen), but on the day we were there they had the air conditioning on full blast and it was freezing cold. I caught a cold while we were there and never fully recovered until we left the States.

On Saturday we drove down to Stamford, Connecticut, to see my friend Dave, his wife Carmen, and their son Longhai (aka Darius). Dave’s parents were there as well, and we spent a nice, relaxing day just hanging out with everyone. The next day we went to a nearby beach and then drove into downtown Stamford, where we stopped by the Burlington Coat Factory (apparently they sell a lot more than just coats now) and had lunch at a great Mexican place. Then we went back to Dave and Carmen’s place to watch the Euro 2012 finals and have a barbecue dinner before leaving.

The next day we went down to Manhattan with the folks. We started out by dropping by the World Trade Center, where they are building the new complex. After getting down to the entrance we found out that the tickets were being handed out six blocks back the way we had come. So I left everyone there and ran back to where they were handing out the tickets. The tickets are free, but apparently they want to limit the number of visitors a day so you have to line up to get tickets if you want to get in. The line was so long and didn’t seem to be moving, so we decided to just walk around the complex from the outside (which gets rather complicated on the west side, by the way). Then we took the subway up to Union Square and walked from there to the Times Square area, stopping at various shops along the way. In Times Square we went to an old family standby for dinner, Virgil’s, and it was as good as it always has been.

The following day we went to Woodbury Common, a “premium” shopping outlet, which means that it’s a collection of higher-end outlets. Shopping is never really high on my list of things to do, but they were having some Fourth of July sales (it was the day before the fourth) and we managed to get some good deals.

We didn’t actually do anything special on the Fourth of July itself. Our schedule had been so busy up until then that we decided we would rather just relax at home and watch fireworks from the back deck. As it turned out, it rained very heavily just as the fireworks were starting, and then an electrical storm came in and put on a show better than any fireworks. Lightning leaped from cloud to cloud and lit up the sky like it was day.

The day after the fourth we were back down in the city. We spent most of the day at the MoMA, where we got our fill of modern art, and then in the evening we headed over to the nearby Roundabout Theater to see Harvey, starring Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame. It was a good show and very entertaining, and all of the players were at their best. When the show was over we went out to the stage door to get Jim Parsons’ autograph—and ended up waiting an hour and twenty minutes before he came out. When he did come out, though, he somehow managed to be very gracious and very speedy at the same time. I got my autograph and a “Thank you for coming out!” and then we ran (literally) back to Grand Central Station to make the 12:06 train back north.

That was most of the excitement for the week. On Saturday my cousin Dale and his wife and kids came up to visit, and on Sunday Dave and Carmen came up with Longhai. We had invited them up after our visit the previous week so we could spend more time with them—it seemed such a shame to only be able to spend two days with them after seeing them for the first time in such a long time. Carmen and Longhai were due to visit Romania later than week, and when we heard that Dave was going to be home alone we told him to come up again the following week if he didn’t have anything to do.

The next day I took Matthew, Brian, and Brian’s girlfriend Dawn out to dinner at the Peekskill Brewery, where they had some pretty good beers. Matthew was kind enough to be our designated driver.

The following day, Tuesday, Hyunjin and I were back in Manhattan. We took a leisurely walk from Grand Central down to Union Square, where I spent a few hours in the Strand Book Store, one of my favorite places in the city. At four o’clock we stopped by the New York offices of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to complete the Black Flower Trifecta: meeting Jenna, the first editor I worked with. Then we went back to the Strand to pick up a book I had wanted but that hadn’t been available earlier (a very thick Lovecraft collection) and made our way back north to the insane monument to food built by Mario Batali in the Flatiron District: Eataly. We both had seafood: I had oven-baked branzino, while Hyunjin had what she declared to be the most delicious octopus she has ever had.

Wednesday we were up early for the final leg of our trip: a visit to Delaware and Virginia. The primary purpose of our trip was to visit Kevin down in Virginia starting on Thursday, but I figured if we were going to be driving south, I wanted to stop by in Delaware to visit the Dogfish Head Brewpub in Rehoboth Beach. No, it’s not really on the way (Kevin lives in Front Royal), but it’s close enough.

The Dogfish Head Brewery is in Milton, on the way to Rehoboth Beach, and we decided to stop by there first. The website said that tours were available, but you had to reserve spots in advance. Unfortunately, when I went online to reserve a tour, I discovered that there were no spots left on the day we were going. In fact, there was not a single tour with two open spots through August. But we figured that we would drop by anyway and see what happened. As it turned out, there were some no-shows and we were able to join the tour. Both Hyunjin and I had seen the brewery on the Discovery Channel show “Brewmasters” (a show that was tragically canceled after only five episodes), and it was great to be able to see it in person. Mike was a great guide, and we got to try four sample beers as a bonus.

For lunch we stopped by a local place called the Po Boy Cafe on Mike’s recommendation, where we had some excellent (surprise!) po boy sandwiches. Then we continued on to Rehoboth Beach, where we checked into the Crosswinds Motel. It was clean, centrally-located, friendly and helpful staff, and not too expensive, so we were happy. Oh, and it also happens to be located two doors down from the DFH brewpub. We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach and went to the brewpub in the evening. We ended up ordering way too much food, and decided to leave some of it so we could drink the ten sample beers we ordered (for a total of forty ounces, or roughly 1200 ml—which doesn’t sound like much until you factor in the high alcohol content of most DFH beers). After we finished we decided to walk back to the beach to see it at night, and then we went back to our motel.

The next day we went back to the beach in the morning and were pounded relentlessly by the huge waves. I don’t know if Rehoboth Beach is special or if it’s just been that long since I’ve been to an Atlantic coast beach, but the waves towered over us. When we had enough of being tossed around like rag dolls, we left the beach and walked around the neighborhood for a while. We went back to DFH for lunch, where we ordered four more sample beers and completed our tasting of everything they had on offer (eighteen beers total: four at the brewery and the remainder at the brewpub). Our food selections were better this time: fried pickles (tasty!) and a crab cake sandwich that we split. We then got bold and ordered a sundae for dessert, and it turned out to be three times the size I was expecting. Just as I was starting to tire, though, Hyunjin (who was facing the door) said, “It’s Sam!” I turned around to see that the owner of DFH had just walked in. So we got to meet him, too, making our pilgrimage to DFH-land complete.

After lunch we walked around the residential area north of Rehoboth Avenue for a while to walk off the beer before leaving. We stopped at some outlets nearby and then drove pretty much straight west to Front Royal, enjoying the traffic (and insane drivers) around DC along the way. We arrived at Kevin’s workplace at seven o’clock, when he was due to finish, and after getting a tour around the fabled YB Near I had read so much about on the Hairy Chasms we went next door to a pizzeria for a stromboli dinner. That evening we watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy at Kevin’s place, and I managed to stay awake for the whole thing, even if it was a bit difficult to keep track of the characters.

The next we spent almost the entire day in Shenendoah National Park on the Skyline Drive. We stopped at a number of points along the way, including Dark Hollow Follows, where we went on a short hike down to the falls and back. One of the highlights of the trip was almost running over a black bear cub on the road (so that’s why the speed limit is so low). We completed the entire 105-mile drive and then made the trek back to Front Royal. It was too late to stop for dinner, so we went back to Kevin’s place and had some of his famous budae jiggae, which lived up to its reputation.

The next morning we had to leave early, but Kevin got up and made us a breakfast fit for kings (and queens, I guess): a unique Big Hominid creation that could be called a “breakfast frittata” and waffles with berry syrup. After this hearty fare we said our farewells—it was too short a visit, of course, but as you can probably see by now, we crammed way too much into our short time in the States. We began the trek back up to New York, but decided to stop in Philadelphia along the way. You see, I had had a very disappointing cheesesteak at Woodbury Common, and I was determined to erase the memory of that inferior culinary product. So we dropped by Philly and had lunch at Pat’s King of Steaks, then walked around the area for a bit and had dessert at a gelateria before heading back to New York. (So, in case you were wondering: yes, I am the type of person who will stop in South Philly just to have a cheesesteak.)

The next day, our last full day in the States, Dave came up to hang out with us in the afternoon and stayed for dinner. It wasn’t until the next morning that we finished up our packing, shortly before we had to leave for the airport.

There you go—that’s a “brief” summary of our trip. I don’t know how we managed to fit that much into a month, but the time flew by and before we knew it we were back in Korea. I have a ton of photos that I need to sift through, but in the meantime you can look at some photos over on the Hairy Chasms (both from Kevin’s camera and from ours), as well as some photos from Dave (heavily featuring Longhai, whom I hereby christen “Cutest Kid on the Planet”).

It’s going to be a very busy August for me, but I will try to write more frequently than I have been. At the very least I want to talk more about Black Flower, which is due out in three months now. Before that, though, I’d like to write about a book Jenna gave me—that will probably be my next entry. So I have that going for me, which is nice.

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