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Diary: This American Road, Portland

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As a wise friend once told me, “Powell’s is what Portland is for.” Since I seem to come to Portland about once a year these days, I’ve found plenty of other purposes for the city — to provide pods and pods of food carts, for instance — but that proposition holds basically true: no trip to Portland, whether a dedicated visit by air or a stop on a road trip like this one, feels complete without at least an hour spent exploring Powell’s City of Books, and at least another hour spent reading the fruits of that browsing at the Powell’s City of Books and watching the Actual City of Portland just beyond its expansive windows.

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Not wanting to load myself down with many more books just two months before moving to Korea (although I really don’t have as vast and unwieldy a library as some friends expect), I decided I’d only buy something from Powell’s for myself if it seemed put on the shelf specifically for me. Lo and behold, in the “TRAVEL — ASIA” section (always an early stop) I found a crisp copy of Michael Stephens’ Lost in Seoul, one of the few modern book-length, first-person narratives by a westerner in Korea. It came out in 1990, two years after Simon Winchester’s cross-country foot journey Korea: A Walk Through the Land of Miracles, four years before Clive Leatherdale’s Olympics-era travelogue To Dream of Pigs, and the same year as Michael Shapiro’s season-by-season chronicle of development and democratization The Shadow in the Sun.

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I’ve enjoyed all these books, but Lost in Seoul, though long out of print and likely the least known of the bunch, stands out. Stephens writes not just a Korean travelogue, but the story of several different visits to the country over a period of years during which he comes to grips with not just life in another culture, but life among his Korean wife’s extended family. (“For Okhee,” reads his dedication page, “nae boo-in kwa chin-goo.”) He also has somewhat different professional interests than the average westerner writing on Asia. The copy I found at Powell’s contained a letter, written on Princeton stationery from Stephens himself, addressed to a certain Carolyn Kizer. “As the enclosed book, LOST IN SEOUL, is as much about language, and specifically about poetry, as it is about Korea,” he writes, “I thought it might interest you.” Kizer, I later found out, became poetry famous herself by writing about the Pacific Northwest, and died October of last year. (The book’s price sticker says it had hit the shelf that May.)

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With the Korean life coming up ourselves, we’ve made this west coast road trip as part of a sort of American farewell tour. In Portland, we saw Garrison Keillor doing more or less the same thing, putting on one of the shows that makes up A Prairie Home Companion‘s “America the Beautiful” tour, Keillor’s last before finally passing along the mic and retiring from hosting duties. We actually structured our whole trip around this event, since I got Jae the ticket as a birthday present months ago. I’ve never followed A Prairie Home Companion very closely, but I wanted a chance to see the show’s demographic up close and personally, and what more vivid way to do it than in a sold-out crowd in one of the four or five cities, as Keillor chided, “that actually believe Bernie Sanders could win?”

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I get why a personality-driven variety show like A Prairie Home Companion would, after more than forty years (mostly) on the air, gain a fervent following. But how, I’ve always wondered, has it gained such a fervent following — and such a large one? It makes sense that some people enjoy bluegrass, some people enjoy gospel, some people enjoy long improvised monologues filled with jokes about the difference between Lutherans and Episcopalians, and some people enjoy nostalgic jingles for nonexistent products, but the very center of that Venn diagram has somehow turned Keillor’s project into an international phenomenon. More power to him, I guess, though he also has his haters. Relaxing in the Division Street Townshend’s Tea the day before the show, I came across a Q&A in Willamette Week with one of America’s foremost Keillor-haters, the man who launched the  “Cancel Goddam Prairie Home Companion petition on Change.org.

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Personally, I hope Keillor devotes his the time freed up by retiring from the show to writing more about Denmark. Those who prefer his singing about power milk biscuits might not know this, but the man has made quite an investment in Danish culture, going so far as to marry a Danish woman and move to Copenhagen in the 1980s (which put A Prairie Home Companion on hiatus). He’s on the next wife now, but he maintains the affinity for Denmark. “Everybody ought to have Denmark as a possibility out there in the future somewhere,” he said just before making the move, “wherever you think you might need it.” It makes me think of that Thomas Jefferson-attributed line, “Every man has two countries — his own and France.” It also makes me wonder whether Michael Stephens has returned much to Korea over the past 25 years. And it makes me realize that, whenever I again live in the United States, I’ll have two cities — my own and Portland.

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Diary: This American Road, Ashland

One pro of a west coast road trip: you get interesting cities and towns spread out the whole way across it. One con of a west coast road trip: not many of those come between the San Francisco Bay Area and the middle of Oregon. This dearth of civilization becomes especially pronounced in the proposed State of Jefferson which, if its on-again-off-again movement one day succeeds in turning in into an actual state, would encompass most or all of this punishingly rural stretch of northern California and Southern Oregon. Sometimes I wish Jefferson could get up the momentum not just to form a new state of the Union, but a new state entirely; then maybe it could break off the continent and we could somehow close the geographical gap it leaves, thus improving all future west coast road trips for everyone.

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But I never wish that for long, since a loss of Jefferson would mean a loss of Ashland, Oregon. I first saw Ashland at the very end of junior high, on a school trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, pretty much the main thing the world knows Ashland for (though I’d consider “festival” a bit of a misnomer, since the thing runs nearly ten months of the year). We’d considered taking in a performance on this very road trip, but the stars aligned against us: when we got into Ashland, nearby fires had smoked out the evening’s show at the outdoor theater, and as for the following afternoon’s show at an indoor theater, well, the cheap seats had already sold out.

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I didn’t mind so much, since it would’ve been hard to beat the Oregon Shakespeare Festival of my eighth-grade year. We stayed in the dorms at Southern Oregon University (home of Jefferson Public Radio) and, apart from a handful of mandatory theater experiences, had the better part of a week totally to ourselves. The memories of even the titles of the plays we say have dimmed, but the memory of getting away from adult supervision hasn’t. I remember bargaining with waitresses at downtown restaurants to split single dishes between three of us so we could save our meal allowance on more entertaining things, roaming the streets in search of convenience stores with arcade games on which to spend some of that money, and as many trips as possible to More Fun (“Comic Books for Grownups”) to spend the rest of it, where I purchased and binged on the complete run of Peter Bagge’s Hate, and thus became, in some sense, a grownup.

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But now that I’ve become in every sense a grownup, the downtown restaurants are the entertaining things. (Not that I dropped out of Hate fandom; in fact, I’ve interviewed Peter Bagge three times over the past five years, all of which you can hear in the Notebook on Cities and Culture guide to the Pacific Northwest.) Our sidewalk-table dinner at an Ashland wine bar counted as one of the meals by ourselves of this trip precision-engineered to provide as many opportunities for meals with friends as possible. We know people in our other stops — Alameda, Auburn, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Eugene, Sunnyvale, Santa Barbara — but not in Ashland, which I suppose makes the fact that we spend a decent chunk of time in Jefferson’s cultural capital (and will spend another on our way back) an advertisement for the place in itself.

Diary: This American Road, Alameda

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Last year I wrote up a meeting of Bay Area mayors for the Guardian, held because the Rockefeller Foundation had named San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda part of their “100 Resilient Cities” program. The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley all turned up (all dressed very much as local politicians do), but I didn’t spot anyone representing Alameda. One of the notes I got back in editing asked whether I could say something — anything — about that perhaps least-known of all Bay Area cities: where is it? What is it? What sort of people live there?

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I ultimately described Alameda as “a smaller city spread across Alameda Island and Bay Farm Island.” The word “quaint” also found its way in (code, in this and other cases, for “train desert”). I got the opportunity for a closer look on the first stop of this road trip, where we visited friends who’d recently set up home in Alameda themselves. They told us what sort of people live there: rockabillies. Apparently the city has held out as one of the last bastions of rockabilly culture, and I held out hope that I might see one or two during our stay there. No such luck, but we did get to spend an hour or so in one of the Alameda rockabilly’s watering holes of choice: Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge.

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I’m no tiki fetishist — if I was, I’d have gone to Tiki Oasis in San Diego the other week — but going from tiki bar to surviving tiki bar seems to me as good an exploratory framework as any for exploring America. (Los Angeles has an important node on that map in Los Feliz’s Tiki-Ti, or at least it had one before the place recently closed and re-opened in non-smoking form — and thus, to my mind, might as well not have re-opened at all.) Just as Forbidden Island provided an energizing burst of tiki early in this west coast road trip, Burt’s Tiki Lounge in Albuquerque will provide one early(-ish) in our cross-country road trip this fall.

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On one of Forbidden Island’s walls we noticed a portrait that looked awfully familiar. I could think of no other way to identify it than Googling “green face oriential” (what other chance would I ever have?), which led to a Daily Mail article on the famous picture and its rather less famous subject, the then seventeen-year-old Monika Sing-Lee. The image lands in my wheelhouse in a number of ways, not least because of its unexpected internationalism: painted in 1952 in South Africa, by the Russian Vladimir Tretchikoff, ultimately titled The Chinese Girl. Since then it has become a kitsch icon, adorning what the Mail describes as “a million living room walls.” To that I raise my China Clipper.

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Diary: A Tourist in Los Angeles

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“So you really feel like you’re ready to leave Los Angeles?” asked a friend whom I told about my upcoming move to Korea. Because I said I didn’t consider it “leaving,” I then had to trot out the same vague plan that’s seen so much trotting out in recent months: the ultimate idea involves going back and forth between Seoul and Los Angeles with some kind of regularity, though I reckon I’ll have to put in some reasonably solid time in Asia before I can achieve true trans-Pacifism. I can say with something like certainty that, if I live again in a city in the land to which I claim citizenship, that city will be Los Angeles, which has become far too interesting in the 21st century not keep a foot in.

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The friend who asked me the question has his own addictive fascination with Los Angeles, which he also uses for professional purposes. He asked over a lunch of Ethiopian food, a culinary genre for which I’ll certainly come to long in Seoul (though Club Zion in Itaewon does in a pinch). Just last night I asked a Korean-American I happened to meet, as she worked through a dish from the new-wave Thai spot Pok Pok recently opened in Chinatown, whether she could ever live in Korea. She didn’t think so, but her reasons why boiled down, essentially, to an indictment of Seoul for not being Los Angeles — a fairer charge, to my mind, than it sounds.

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And so I’ve spent some of this last stretch of this particular period in Los Angeles taking in the city by approaching it like a tourist. This has in large part involved taking architectural tours from the Los Angeles Conservancy, a preservationist organization that gives a variety of walking tours, mostly in and around downtown. Having already done the daytime Modern Skyline tour, I’m now looking for an excuse to also take its evening version, Modern by Moonlight, which itself offers an excuse to wind up at the Bonaventure Hotel’s revolving lounge afterward.

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Los Angeles has a pretty robust movement for architectural preservation — sometimes a bit too robust, if you ask me. I’ve made myself laugh with a variety of slogans along the lines of “Los Angeles: The City of the Future (Unless Someone Tries to Take Down a Neon Hamburger Sign from 1963)”. I don’t necessarily dislike neon hamburger signs from 1963, nor Googie diners, nor even suburban pipe dreams like the Case Study houses, but I do dislike the debilitating idea that Los Angeles’ built environment, and by extension its culture, somehow hit an irretrievably high water mark at least a half century ago, and the best we fallen 21st-century mortals can do is keep its remnants polished.

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You don’t see that kind of thing in Asia. The demolition of Tokyo’s Hotel Okura, going on even as we speak, provides the ideal case in point. Western architecture enthusiasts went white at the mere notion that the Japanese would even consider tearing down such an elegant work of East-West postwar modernism. But the Japanese, as Pico Iyer recently put it,

are different from you and me. They don’t confuse books with their covers. Over the course of my 28 years in the country, I’ve come to see my adopted home as a land of pragmatic romantics; it’s strikingly unsentimental — to our eyes — in finding new ways to generate sentiment. This is, after all, the place where those who are missing grandparents think nothing of turning to a company to hire elderly actors when a family dinner is scheduled; it’s a place where I watched Kyoto celebrate its 1,200-year anniversary in 1994 by erecting a 17-story hotel (now also run by the Okura chain) that destroyed the classic sightlines from the center of the ancient capital to the magic mountains to the northeast. A quarter of a century earlier, Frank Lloyd Wright’s celebrated Mayan Revival-style Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, having survived both the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the firebombings of World War II, was unceremoniously torn down to make way for a generic tower block.

Few cultures in Asia, I argued later in that Ethiopian lunch, confuse the built environment with the culture itself. “Japan is ready to change its clothes so often,” writes Iyer, “in part because it changes its soul so rarely.” In the West, by contrast, I sense a kind of insecurity bordering on mortal terror: if we toss our old clothes, we assume our soul goes with them.

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My planned oscillation between Korea and America will place me somewhere geographically between East and West, but my view on preservation has, in a sense, arrived there first: I’m all for keeping the old buildings up, but only if we repurpose them, the more radically the better, to suit the needs of the 21st century. Los Angeles has actually done more than a bit of this already; I recommend the Conservancy’s Downtown Renaissance tour if you’d like to see just how much can be done with former bank buildings. And it would pain me to see a curiosity like Tokyo’s Kisho Kurokawa Nakagin Capsule Tower come down entirely, but it pains me more to see it in its current disused and increasingly decrepit state.

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As our group on the Modern Skyline tour passed through the Bonaventure Hotel — which comes in the middle of the tour in the daytime version — I asked the guide what he thought of its prospects for qualifying as officially historic a decade or so from now. He said he didn’t think it counted as endangered enough a building to need that kind of protection, but he did add that he’s heard rumors of extensive renovation: specifically, that “they talk about turning one of the towers into condos.” That plan will no doubt take a while to come to fruition, but hey, when the time comes, I will need a place to live during my Los Angeles parts of the year…

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Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Jay Rubin

Colin Marshall talks to Jay Rubin, Takashima Research Professor of Japanese Humanities at Harvard University, translator of such books as Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84 (parts one and two), and author most recently of his own debut novel, The Sun Gods, a tale of the love and hatred between Japanese and Americans in postwar Seattle.

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, download it on iTunes.

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Miracle Mile (Steve de Jarnatt, 1988)

Again and again, the movies have visited the apocalypse on Los Angeles. Miracle Mile did it at the end of the Cold War, with both a city and an apocalypse perfectly suited to the zeitgeist of the era: mutually assured nuclear destruction. But despite the global stakes, the story stays local, focusing on not just one particular couple in this particular city, but in one particular stretch of Wilshire Boulevard: the titular Miracle Mile, home of such Los Angeles landmarks as the Pan Pacific Auditorium, Johnie’s Coffee Shop Restaurant, Park La Brea, and the Mutual Benefit Life building — all of which play important roles in this totally non-transplantable story of the end of the world.

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.

일기: 스텀프타운과 데미따스

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샌프란시스코에서 온 블루 버틀 커피는 메트로 역에서 많이 먼데 포틀랜드에서 온 스텀프타운 커피 로스터는 더 멀다. 그래도 나한테는 걸어 갈 만하다. 이유는 몇 개 있다. 처음 갔을 때는 마셔 보고 싶은 게 있었다. 나는 포틀랜드에 여행갈 때마다 꼭 스텀프타운에 커피를 마시러 갔기 때문에 스텀프타운의 맛에 익숙했다. 그런데 스텀프타운은 로스앤젤레스의 아트 디스트릭트에 지점을 연 후에 새로운 커피를 소개했다. 나이트로 커피였다.

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나이트로 커피는 맥주처럼 탭에서 나온다. 게다가 맥주처럼 생겼다. 막상 마셔 보면 사실 맥주가 아닌 게 조금 놀랍다. 나무로 마감 되어 있고 천장이 높은 카페 자체도 술집과 약간 닮았지만 술집과 큰 차이가 하나 있다. 뒤에 굉장한 커피 볶는 기계가 있다. 내부 창문 앞에 있는 스툴에 앉으면 나이트로 커피를 마시면서 기계를 쳐다볼 수 있다.

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포틀랜드 밖에서 스텀프타운은 포장된 더치 커피로 유명해졌다. 병이나 초등학교 때 받은 우유같은 곽에 담긴 커피를 살 수 있다. (어린 시절의 형태를 가진 어른의 것들은 포틀랜드의 전문이다. 다른 예를 들면 포틀랜드 사람들은 미국 아이들의 대표적인 음식인 구운 치즈 샌드위치를 고메 버전으로 많이 먹는다.) 포틀랜드의 날씨는 흐린 편인데 로스앤젤레스는 더운 날들이 많다. 그때는 특별히 아트 디스트릭트같은 콘크리트로 된 내륙 지역에서 스텀프타운의 시원한 더치나 나이트로 커피를 마시는 게 그만이다.

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요즘 나는 리틀 도쿄라는 로스앤젤레스 도심의 일본인 동네에 커피를 마시러 자주 간다. 옛날에도 리틀 도쿄를 좋아했지만 커피와 관련해서 갈 이유는 별로 없었다. 왜냐하면 그때는 평범한 보바 찻집 하나 밖에 커피를 마실 수 있는 곳이 거의 없었기 때문이다. 그리고 어느 날, 그 찻집도 닫았다. 그런데 다시 열었을 때는 로스앤젤레스의 제일 좋은 커피숍 중의 하나로 변해 있었다. 바로 내가 자주 가는 데미따스라는 카페다.

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데미따스는 작은 커피잔이라는 뜻인데 데미따스의 메뉴가 작은 잔에 담은 블랙커피뿐인 것은 아니다. 데미따스의 바리스타들은 대단히 폭넓은 종류의 음료를 만들 수 있다. 박하, 검정깨나 레몬그라스까지 재료로 쓴다. 리틀 도쿄에 있으니까 명물 음료 중에는 쿄토아이스커피라는 음료도 있다. 하루 종일 내려서 굉장히 진한데 신선한 맛도 있다.

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다른 명물은 코코아인데 일반 코코아와는 다르다. 독특한 맛이 있고 위에 정육면체 모양의 큼직한 마시멜로가 떠 있다. 가끔 어떤 아버지와 어린 딸이 들어오는 걸 본다. 딸은 항상 코코아를 주문하는데 마시멜로만 먹고 남은 음료는 다 버린다.

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데미따스에서는 그런 단골 고객들을 많이 볼 수 있다. 이 카페는 문을 연 이래로 동네 사랑방이 되었다. 스키드 로에서 가까워서 노숙자도 때때로 들어온다. 한 번은 바리스타가 병원에서 탈출한 정신 질환자를 쫓아내는 걸 봤다. 그 후에 바리스타는 “DTLA의 즐거운 순간”이라고 비꼬듯 말했다.

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Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Bae Suah and Cheon Myeong-kwan

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Colin Marshall talks with two of South Korea’s best-known novelists, Bae Suah and Cheon Myeong-kwan, as they visit Los Angeles on a trip with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. Bae’s Nowhere to Be Found and Cheon’s Modern Family have both recently appeared in English translations. Colin also speaks with the Translation Institute’s president, Kim Seong-kon, who gives us an introduction to these writers and places their themes in the context of modern Korean literature.

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, download it on iTunes, or read a bit about the experience of recording it here.

Diary: Blue Bottle Coffee

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For a couple years now, I’ve met my Korean speaking partner Mi-young once a week at a coffee shop. During the first few months we always met at the Tom N Toms just up the street from me, but you can only hear their corporate-issue music loop so many times before it becomes a problem. Besides, life’s too short, and the city too big, to indulge in that kind of brand loyalty (especially loyalty to a brand that weak). Since breaking away from our original venue, we’ve met at a different Los Angeles coffee shop almost every week, using that mandate as an excuse to set foot in neighborhoods we might not normally have a reason to visit.

Some neighborhoods change noticeably between one time we visit them and the next. Unlike Mi-young’s hometown of Seoul, Los Angeles doesn’t tear down and rebuild its structures so fast that you get lost in a neighborhoods you haven’t seen a month or two. But things do pop up here at what American standards counts as a dizzying pace. This goes most for third wave coffee shops, those harbingers of gentrification and perfect spots to study languages. (I once tried to explain to Mi-young what “third wave” means in Korean and it kind of worked, although I doubt I’d be able to explain it to anyone in English.)

I started meeting with Mi-young well before ever having visited Korea, so she helped to prepare me for her homeland not just linguistically, but culturally. Quite a few of our early conversations touched on one Korean culture in particular: coffee culture. She described the sheer quantity of coffee shops in Seoul as “beyond imagination,” and my first experience of the city suggested she might’ve even downplayed it.

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My first morning there, I walked down the street in search of coffee and passed up the first four places I came upon, because all would have required me to enter a plastic surgery clinic to get to them. (Apgujeong, am I right?) International chains, national chains, and most of all independents: you can hardly go a block without seeing one or all represented. And unlike American cities, Korean cities don’t labor under the delusion that you can have chains or independents, that the former “push out” the latter. They all just get in on the action at once.

So robust a coffee culture has Korea developed in so short a time that is has also produced its own impressive body of modern literature. Honoring the old language-learning principle to study subject matter that interests you, I’ve used some of it for my own reading practice. These past few weeks, I’ve been plowing, dictionary in hand, through 오늘의 커피 (Today’s Coffee), a comic series that tells the story of a young sugar-hating “coffee otaku” barista and his challenge to turn his struggling coffee shop around by winning a world barista championship. (Given the Korean tendency to infuse even the lightest fluff with educational material, its chapters come separated by sections straightforwardly explaining coffee’s history, nutritive qualities, and preparation techniques. I’m learning a lot.)

I also picked up 카페 서울 (Café Seoul, not to be confused with Café Noir), a well-designed guidebook to thirty of the city’s most distinctive coffee shops, at a used bookstore here in Koreatown. Though it came out in 2009, making it preposterously old by Korean standards, I haven’t read it out of a need for up-to-date information on Seoul’s cafés; I’ve read it out of pure fascination that coffee-shop writing has become a genre of its own in Korea, and one with enough interest behind it to support pretty lush publications. It also locks right in to my own worldview, or at least the part of my worldview that knows no more effective way to explore a city than through its coffee.

So when Mi-young and I met up one week at the Blue Bottle Coffee in Los Angeles’ Arts District, I decided, as Korean writing practice, to do some coffee-shop writing of my own. At the moment, you can see Blue Bottle’s trademark blue bottles popping up on empty storefronts all over down, signaling the large-scale San Franciscan invasion on the way, but the Arts District branch led the charge. Blue Bottle got into town by buying the Los Angeles-based Handsome Coffee Roasters, which started up in 2011 with a philosophy somewhat like the 오늘의 커피 dude’s: no sugar, no soy, no baked goods, no wi-fi (which I guess I admire in the abstract but can’t stand in reality) — just coffee, espresso, and “espresso plus milk.”

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Naturally, this sent the adult babies on Yelp into paroxysms. I got even more good times out of reading their “reviews” than I did out of actually going to Handsome; I remember the particularly entertaining phrase “I want coffee the way I want it” popping up more than a few times. When the Arts District Handsome changed into Blue Bottle, its form stayed basically the same, though the menu expanded: now you can get sugar, cookies, a suitably fabulous milk, and so on.

Blue Bottle still has pretty much everything I went to its predecessor for, although sometimes I miss the old Handsome asceticism. And really, I didn’t go to Handsome that often, not because I wanted coffee the way I wanted it (they served it exactly the way I wanted it), but because of their inconvenient distance from a Metro station. Hopping as the place seems now, that makes me wonder about its long-term viability, and even more so the viability of the Stumptown Coffee Roasters that appeared more recently even deeper in the Arts District. Something tells me Blue Bottle (which has already succeeded in Tokyo) will be smarter about that when they open in Seoul.

And so my Korean-language writeup of Blue Bottle follows. If you meet up with a language partner, whatever language you may study, I highly recommend bringing them pieces of writing and asking them to correct it. If they’re anything like Mi-young, they’ll get a kick out of doing it, and no other method will more clearly indicate to you the parts of the language you haven’t mastered. You can get away with criminal amounts of solecism in conversation; in writing, your every mistake blinks like a warning light, especially in the aspects of the language that most frustrate non-native speakers (particles, am I right?).

Hmm, 카페 로스앤젤레스 — I feel like there’s a market for that.

 

최근에, 로스앤젤레스 곳곳에 파란 병들이 생겼다. 에코 파크, 베벌리가, 베니스와 브래드베리 빌딩의 빈 가게의 창문 위에서 볼 수 있게 됐다. 도대체 무슨 뜻일까? 그것은 침략이다. 샌프란시스코에서 온 블루 버틀 커피가 도착했다고 한다.

그것은 조용하게 시작되었다. 블루 버틀의 첫 (번 째) 지점은 원래 핸드섬 커피 로스터였다. 핸드섬 커피 로스터는 로스앤젤레스에서 설립되었고 빠르게 커피광들에게 존경을 받기 시작했다. 그렇지만 일반인들은 이의를 가졌다. 인터넷에서 왜 설탕은, 빵은, 두유는, 와이파이는 없냐고 불평했다. 사실 핸드섬의 메뉴는 세 가지 밖에 없었다. 커피, 에스프레소, 에스프레소와 우유 뿐이었다. 스타박스에 익숙해진 사람들은 조금 불편하게 느꼈다.

어느날, 블루 버틀은 핸드섬를 송두리째 사버렸다. 그래서 핸드섬의 첫 로스앤젤레스 지점이 블루 버틀의 첫 로스앤젤레스 지점이 되었다. 메뉴는 신속하게 많아졌다. 지금은 몇 가지의 커피, 에스프레소와 차가 있고 과자나 케익도 먹을 수 있다. (특별한 우유도 쉽게 주문할 수 있다.)

많은 것이 바뀌었지만 장소는 같다. 도심 옆에 있는 아트 디스트릭이라는 동네에 위치해 있다. 옛날에는 공업지구였는데 요즘에는 그런 활동이 덜 보인다. 사실 블루 버틀의 큰 창문 앞에 앉았을 때 주로 눈에 띄는 건, 젊은 사람과 예술가처럼 생긴 사람들이다.

물론 다른 미국 도시들처럼 노숙자도 보인다. 그렇게 아트 디스트릭은 아직 발전하고 있는 동네이기 때문에 핸드섬나 블루 버틀 카페같은 상업의 기회가 촉망되는 지역이다. 포틀랜드에서 온 스텀프타운 커피 로스터도 걸어서 15분 거리에 있다. 그런데 두 곳 다 단점은, 지하철역에서 좀 멀다는 것이다. 그럼에도 불구하고 (그들은 그래도) 결국 성공할 수 있을까?

전반적으로 블루 버틀은 성공한 회사이다. 뉴욕과 도쿄까지 커피를 사랑하는 사람들 사이에서 이미 유명하다. (그래도 내가 아는 커피광 몇명은 맛이 없다고 주장한다.) 나도 좋아하는데, 가끔씩은 핸드섬의 엄격함이 그리운 것도 사실이다.

Santa Monica: the city that wants to design itself happier

Those who envision themselves living in Santa Monica, the wealthy and politically progressive coastal enclave west of Los Angeles, no doubt envision themselves living happily there. It would seem to have everything: miles of coastline with beaches open to all, the striking Santa Monica mountains just to the north, plenty of equally striking southern-Californian architecture (its many celebrity residents include the illustrious architect Frank Gehry), top-rated schools, police and firefighters, and, of course, that world-famous pier.

It has also avoided some of the problems that plague Los Angeles, from the financial (its general fund reserve exceeds that of LA, which has over 40 times Santa Monica’s population) to the cultural (that population itself – among which you more often hear British accents than the babel of tongues that characterise the big city just east – appears to get along without much visible conflict). Given this sun, sea, stability and prosperity, one would imagine that one’s wellbeing would take care of itself.

However, starting in 2013, the city of Santa Monica began developing a means by which to gauge, both objectively and subjectively, whether its citizens really do enjoy such a famously high quality of life. The Wellbeing Project, funded by a million-dollar grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ first Mayors Challenge, a competition meant to spur city leaders to come up with, in the words of founder and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, “innovative new ways to address urban challenges – and then share what’s working with the world”.

The same year the Mayors Challenge awarded a grant to Santa Monica for the Wellbeing Project, it also awarded grants to four other American cities – Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Providence – to fund their own ideas. As the smallest in that cohort by a wide margin, Santa Monica looked like an outlier from the beginning, but its modest size also made its proposal more viable, given its stated ambition of not just breaking down overall quality of life into a set of measurable factors, but actually going out and measuring them in its population of 93,000.

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.