Sunday, April 30, 2017

City O' City

Last summer I stopped by City O' City after an interview to reward myself for a job well done and to get lunch before heading to work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. It was the best interview I've ever had--which is odd since the interview I recently had for my new position in the same department was the worst interview I've ever had, but more on that later. I ordered a red wine & cola drink called the strummer. It was delicious. I tried to recreate it at the MCA Cafe & Bar later that night with no such luck. We must not have had the right kind of red wine. I had heard of this drink before from a friend who spent some time living in Spain. I now dream of someday sitting outside of a cafe on a sunny street in Madrid, sipping a kalimotxo with Brian and our dog, Kiki.

City O' City is a vegetarian restaurant with kombucha on tap. It strikes me as the type of place that even a strict meat eater would enjoy--as long as they could let go of that need for meat long enough to embrace the creative and varied menu. One of my favorite things to order is the City O' burger with sauteed mushrooms and onion rings on the side. They have the best onion rings that I have ever had. They're the perfect amount of crispy with just the right amount of grease. Every time I order this, I forget how much food it really is and remind myself to just order the onion rings or the burger with a side salad the next time I'm there. There's a lot on the menu that I still want to try. They have noodle dishes, waffles with fried "chicken", kimchi stew, a cheese plate, and much more.

City O' City is often very busy at night and on the weekends, as you would expect from a popular restaurant in a booming city. However, it is sometimes uncomfortably busy. It's still worth going, just expect a wait and be prepared for it. If you are with five or more people, make a reservation. City O' City has a certain amount of quirkiness and people are drawn to that. The front part of the restaurant feels more like a diner with futuristic lighting features and an impressive window shelf full of plants. To the right of the entrance there's a seating area with a cozy couch and armchairs. The back of the restaurant is reminiscent of an old-timey bar. We've found quite a few restaurants with a good atmosphere that we enjoy so far in Denver, and we're looking forward to finding more in the future.

One thing that I appreciate about City O' City is that it supports the local art scene by hosting monthly art shows. Whenever I eat there, it makes me want to make more art, frame it, and hang it up. I had my art in a solo show at a vegan cafe in Seoul two years ago. I haven't made much art since then--the move to the US has been stressful and chaotic enough to make me question whether I have any art left to make. Maybe it's time to start again. We'll see. I didn't take any pictures of the art on the walls while I was at City O' City, but I did appreciate the colorful graffiti in the bathroom. It reminds me of the bathrooms at the park in Hongdae, Seoul which were just as covered in graffiti, but way less clean.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dae Gee

Last night Brian and I went to a Korean restaurant called Dae Gee. It really does remind me of Korea with its glass garage door and posters for Korean beer, as well as the general design of the restaurant. It brought back memories of eating barbecue on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant, sitting on plastic stools around a plastic table with the grill on top. I've been feeling very nostalgic for Seoul lately and would love to fly back for a week of eating and sightseeing. There were so many good nights gathered around a table with a dozen good friends and countless bottles of makgeolli, soju, and Cass.

When we went to Dae Gee for the first time last summer, I was happy with the atmosphere and Korean alcohol, but disappointed with the food. We ordered the all-you-can-eat meat dinner. It came with marinated chicken, thinly sliced beef, and other kinds of barbecue. I had a hunch that it just wasn't the type of meat that I was looking for. Maybe if we came back again and ordered something different, we would satisfy our craving for the food that was so readily available to us during our time in Korea. We knew that it was unlikely that Korean food in Colorado would live up to our favorite restaurants in Seoul, but I was hoping for more.

I decided to give Dae Gee another chance, this time with lower expectations. We ordered just one type of meat that we knew would be closer to what we usually ordered in Seoul. The L.A. Galbee was thicker and more like the BBQ I was craving. The fish cakes, cucumber kimchi, pickled radishes, seaweed crumbles, and other side dishes really hit the spot. They give you unlimited refills on side dishes when you order two entrees. We also ordered a bottle of magkeolli to go with the meal, although it pained us to pay $13 for what would've cost about $4 in Seoul. It was served in a big black bowl with a ladle and we were given traditional metal cups to drink from.

Sitting and sipping our makgeolli as we waited for the meat to cook, we reminisced about our time in Korea. We talked about our trip to Seoraksan and the little cafe where we stopped after the hike on the side of the mountain. I thought about meals with friends in Korea and how much more of a community I had there than I have here in Denver. It's easy to relate to people when you are all going through the same things and living in the same type of situation. We all had a lot in common in the expat teaching community. After years of becoming comfortable in Korea, I now feel like I am in a new foreign country. I miss the restaurant culture of Seoul. I miss walking down a busy thoroughfare lined with restaurants and people eating and having a good time. Everything seems more spread out in Denver and less connected. Even on the 16th Street Mall, the atmosphere just isn't the same.

Although this meal at Dae Gee was more enjoyable than the last, it still pales in comparison to the two-story samgyeopsal restaurant on that one side street off the parking lot street in Hongdae. It was a traditional-looking wooden Korean building with the most delicious Korean pork belly I've ever had. If you've ever been there, you might know the one I'm talking about, or you might have your own favorite Korean restaurant tucked away down a side street that was just as good. I'm sure we'll go back to Dae Gee sometime and try their kimchi jjigae and bibimbap. We'll probably even give Seoul BBQ in Aurora another chance, but for now I plan on making a trip to H-mart for high-quality samgyeopsal to cook at home, side dishes galore, and a few bottles of makgeolli to wash it all down.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lovely Spring, Terrible Allergies

I am usually able to get out of bed easily in the mornings, even when I'm extra tired or sick. I've been feeling differently this week. It feels like a rut or a slump. I thought it was because I've been working overtime and it was finally hitting me. Walking to work this morning, I thought about how I need to rest this weekend and enjoy myself. I need to sleep in and take time to get some things done around the house -- then I would feel better. It was only as I rubbed my eyes while appreciating the greenery and the flowers in bloom that I realized that it was allergies.

I love my walk to work. I've been walking for 9 months now. It took me ten minutes longer to get to work when I first started walking because I was taking in everything around me. It wasn't that long ago that I was living in a city of 10 million people and endless apartment buildings -- some reaching a height of 32 floors. American houses still hold my attention although I now need the support of allergy medicine to exist comfortably as the outside world comes back to life.

I'm hoping that this bout of allergies passes quickly and painlessly. I'm hoping that the swelling of my eyes goes down and they stop itching like mad. I'd like to be able to go outside and not feel like I'm a character in an M. Night Shyamalan film. Once I get a doctor set up, I plan on asking for allergy shots. In the meantime, I am a sleepy, swollen-eyed shell of my former self -- but the trees are still pretty.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Weathervane Cafe

We went to this quirky, quaint little cafe a few months before moving to City Park West. I was getting a haircut across the street and only stopped in for a minute. I wished that I would've been able to spend more time there, but we had plans. Brian and I both said that we wanted to go back there soon. I missed the sheer amount of coffee shops and places to spend leisurely afternoons outside my tiny apartment in Seoul. Denver does have coffee shops, but not so many with the same homey vibe that brings to mind meeting up with friends in Seoul to plan our lives and lament our lack of planning thus far. What have we done with our lives? Why have we wasted so much time? What are we going to do next? These are questions we asked ourselves a lot. I miss my friends from Seoul and our lazy Sundays together. I miss meeting up to work and plan. I wish I could fly to Seoul, Berlin, Dublin, New York, Glasgow, and all of the other places my friends from Korea have gone.

We didn't know it at the time, but we would be moving to this neighborhood a month or two later. We found our tiny Denver apartment just a seven-minute walk from the cafe. This was back when we were still getting to know the area. I didn't realize that we were so close until we drove past on our way home. When we moved, I said that I was going to go there all the time. I have only been back a couple of times since then. I work a lot and when I don't work, I enjoy exploring the city or staying at home and getting things done or just relaxing. I recently started a new position and have been working a lot of overtime. I've worked the past three Saturdays, plus a few extra hours during the week. I am determined not to work overtime this week and I think I'll spend some time at the Weathervane Cafe rather than the office on Saturday. Maybe I'll meet my Denver friends there for a much needed "life planning" session and quality friend time. I'm sure that someday, when we decide to go elsewhere for our next adventure, I'll be saying how much I miss my Denver friends and my old Denver neighborhood.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Four Days in Denver

Earlier this month, I surprised Brian by inviting his family to visit us in Denver for his birthday. We were secretly planning the visit for two months. When the day finally came, I started getting nervous about how to get him outside in time for his parents’ arrival. I told him that we were going somewhere special, but wouldn’t tell him anything about it. When his parents were a few minutes later than expected, I kept making up reasons why we didn’t need to leave right away. After I got the text saying that they were ten minutes away, I informed Brian that I was playing a game of Sudoku on my phone and that we couldn’t leave until I won. I told him that it was his fault for getting me addicted. When they texted to say that they were outside the house, I pretended to be completely fed up with the game and quit playing.

We walked outside with Kiki and found his parents standing in front of their rental car. Brian was confused and shocked. It took him a minute to comprehend that his parents were in Denver. He was very calm and collected on the outside. However, throughout the next two days he kept saying, “I can’t believe my parents are in Denver.” Little did he know, his siblings and their families would be joining us two days later. We kept it a secret and they showed up while we were getting ready for dinner at his parents’ rental place, which just happened to be big enough for the entire family. One of the reasons why we moved back to the US from South Korea was to be able to visit our families more often. Brian has a niece who is about six months old and a nephew who is almost a year old. I know that it’s important for him to be a part of their lives and I was very happy that his brothers and their wives were up for the visit.

Since we moved to Denver, we’ve often talked about what we would do when we have guests. We talked about where we would take them and activities that different friends and family might enjoy. I even brought it up again as I was planning his birthday surprise. We had a running list of favorite restaurants, museums, parks, and general tourist attractions. The thing we look forward to the most is someday having visitors during camping season and sitting around the fire after a full day of hiking and enjoying the mountains. However, having visitors for two days in a colder part of the year with babies in tow calls for a different set of activities to accommodate everyone’s needs. Regardless, we were very excited to show off our beautiful new city and our new life here.
The sun was out when Brian’s parents arrived that Thursday. It was in the 70s at the end of March and we were expecting snow that weekend. It’s what I like to call “summer-winter” in Denver. We took advantage of the warmth and sat outside at Vine Street Pub, a brewery and restaurant down the street from our apartment. Kiki came along and relaxed on the sidewalk just on the other side of the patio fence. Vine Street Pub has great burgers, vegetarian or vegan food options, and a large selection of beer, much of which they brew on the premises. The little row of restaurants and cafes near our apartment is one of the reasons why we’d like to stay in this neighborhood. It’s a residential area where houses built in the early 1900s have been mostly turned into apartments or businesses such as a law office and a literary arts center. The streets are lined with trees and the houses have unique architectural features. After living in Korea for the better part of ten years, I can sit on Denver patios and stare at surrounding houses for an entire meal.

For our first weekend adventure, we drove out of town to Red Rocks Park. If you don’t have enough time to drive into the heart of the mountains, Red Rocks Park is a nice drive out of Denver with a view of the mountains and a short hike at the park itself. The rocks are a very cool natural phenomenon with an incredible view of the plains, including the Denver skyline and beyond. We went up to the amphitheater and walked around for a short time. It was a last minute decision to go there and we weren’t prepared for hiking. Our goal for the summer is to go on at least five local hikes and Red Rocks is definitely on our list. After enjoying the park and the drive, we went back to Denver and had dinner at the rental with Brian’s parents and my friends who were visiting from the mountains. The rental had an amazing backyard that we can only dream of in our 300 sq ft apartment. There was a patio, a fire pit, and a lush expanse of Astro Turf. We sat on the patio with beer and pizza and caught up with my friend Ashley and her husband Josh. I hadn’t seen them for years and was eager to hear about their nomadic lives driving tour buses in Alaska during the summer and working at ski resorts in the winter while traveling the world in-between.

On Friday we drove further south than we had ever been. The weather was not our friend that day and had us questioning whether we should be going anywhere at all. It turned out to be a good decision as we were able to take in the landscape of Colorado beneath a rare misty, rainy sky. We went down to the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs to take a look at another set of Colorado rock formations. At first we were all disappointed that we weren’t able to see them with a beautiful backdrop of clear blue skies, but we soon realized that the mist and the rain made them seem even more majestic and otherworldly. There were also not as many people around as there surely would be during peak tourist season. Although we’re more likely to seek out trails and wilderness in more secluded areas in the mountains, we added the Garden of the Gods as another place that we would like to return to this summer. If we can handle the crowded hikes and sidewalks of South Korea, we can handle whatever Americans consider to be a crowd at the height of summer.

We drove back to Denver and it was time to prepare for the arrival of Brian’s siblings. His parents didn’t have the two months of practice that I had in trying to keep the secret. They almost mentioned the others coming at a few different points during the two days that they were here alone. Luckily, Brian didn’t notice. We were all going to rest and meet up again for dinner at the rental. It was the perfect excuse for giving his dad the time to get the others from the airport. Brian was getting antsy to go as I woke up from my two-hour nap. I had been texting his mom and knew that they needed more time. Although I was able to stall with a leisurely trip to the liquor store, we still arrived before Brian’s first sibling. We were in the middle of getting dinner ready when they walked into the house. Again, Brian was shocked and didn’t show it on the outside. It was then that I told him his other brother was also coming. I couldn’t handle any more secrets or scheming. When the last sibling arrived, we all had a short visit while enjoying some local beer before we went home and went to bed exhausted from travel and socializing.

For the next two days, I had planned activities that would give Brian’s family a good introduction to Denver while not being too strenuous or inconvenient with the babies. Our first stop was the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where I worked for six months last year. It’s big enough to be interesting and small enough not to take too much time to make your way through. They always have interesting art on show in a beautiful building. I could go back to the same exhibit time and time again. Although it was a busy Saturday, we were able to find a table in the cafe on the rooftop after our leisurely walk through the galleries. It was my first time back in the cafe after my last day in late October. I ordered one of the most popular cocktails for the few of us who were interested. It has whiskey, lime, ginger, and basil. The rooftop of the MCA has a great view of the city from downtown to the Highlands. They often have fun events that are worth checking out even if you just have a layover in Denver and want to take the light rail from the airport to Union Station just a few minutes away.
Our next stop was Union Station. It’s a beautiful historic building with an open seating area furnished with cozy couches and lounge chairs. There are two shuffleboard tables in the middle and the entire place is surrounded by restaurants, bars, and shops. It was a nice place to relax and chat with the family while we decided on dinner plans. We ended up going to a restaurant not far from our apartment on Colfax. For the population of the Denver metropolitan area and the constant influx of tourists, there really aren’t that many restaurants. There are enough to choose from, but they are often packed to the brim and a reservation is a necessity if you don’t want a 45 minute wait. Our restaurant was attached to the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax. It has a patio that we have our eyes on for the hot summer months. We enjoyed our dinner and celebrated Brian’s 30th birthday. It was nice having family in town, even if just for a short visit. It made Colorado feel more like home, being able to show people around.

A visit to Colorado wouldn’t be complete without a good view of the mountains and enjoying a bit of nature. It’s what draws so many people here in the first place. For the last day of the weekend, we took everyone over to Dry Creek Trail in Boulder. We were excited to bring Kiki along, as Dry Creek Trail is known to be a great place for dogs. Someday we’ll go to the voice training class and let her run around freely, but for now we have a long leash that gives her some freedom to explore. Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend and we were all getting too much sun despite being slathered with sunscreen. We made it to the view of the lake and the mountains before the heat got the best of us. Ready for lunch, we headed back to Denver. We went to the place where Brian and I had dinner on our first night in town. We sat at Mockery Brewing and got dinner from the food truck at Great Divide Barrel Bar. Brian’s oldest brother and his family had to get a taxi to the airport soon after we arrived. The rest of us went on to Infinite Monkey Theorem before the rest of his family had to drive back to the airport. We found a little nook with sofas and sat enjoying wine with Kiki on the couch between us. It was a little sad to see them all go, but we both felt that we had given them a good taste of life in Denver and we were already making plans to visit later in the year. Although Colorado has mountains aplenty if that’s what you’re after, there is also much to enjoy in and around Denver if you are here for a short visit and don’t have time to make it that far into the Front Range.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Cheesman Park

Not enough time has passed for me to stop comparing life at home to life in Korea. One of my favorite pastimes was escaping my tiny apartment and traveling by subway to one of the many lush parks of Seoul. This often saved me from the crushing weight of the Sunday blues or Hongdae hangovers. Rather than drowning my sorrows and lining my stomach with a comforting bowl of cheese ramyeon, I basked in the sun with dear friends and cemented a bond that was destined to be ripped apart when we all left Seoul for our next adventures.

Brian and I have been going out to parks in Denver every Sunday since adopting our dog in January. Today we took Kiki to the groomers for the second time since adopting her and weren't planning for a day at the park. Luckily for us, two friends from Seoul have also moved to Denver and recall days spent at the park with the same amount of fondness as I do. They invited us to the same park that we went to last weekend, which also happens to be a ten minute walk from our house. With a grand pavilion, vast green grass, and those blue Colorado skies, Cheesman Park has become my favorite Sunday place and another reason why we desperately want to stay in this neighborhood.

We usually tie Kiki up with a paracord and let her chase her squeaky tennis ball. After a long day at the groomers, she wasn't as excited or energetic as she normally is. However, our friends from Seoul were enchanted with her as always. We're very happy to provide them with vicarious pet ownership. We sat in our little spot in the shade until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Last night we made a failed attempt to attend a midnight madness viewing of a Studio Ghibli film at the Esquire Theater. We weren't able to make it to the end of the film, but it was still late enough to leave my eyes drooping today -- not unlike the certain magical features of the tanuki in Pom Poko.

The park was filled with dogs, frisbees, volleyballs, hammocks, picnics, park games, and camp chairs. The people next to us were slapping a frisbee thrown by a teammate into a plastic bucket. Some of them were also bouncing a ball back and forth on a trampoline with their hands. I have no idea what games they were playing, but it looked like a good time. While it was nowhere near as crowded as the Han River Park on a summer day, there were enough people to create the cheery park atmosphere that I crave. I plan on spending as much time there as I can this summer. There's not a convenience store nearby or silk worm larvae roasting and for sale on the sidewalk, but there is that Colorado sky. Although I still often point out the differences between living in Seoul and living in Denver, I find myself once again escaping a tiny apartment and fending off the Sunday blues with good friends and acres of grass.

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