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Notebook on Cities and Culture’s Korea Tour: Out of Excuses with Mipa Lee

mipaleeNotebook on Cities and Culture‘s Korea Tour is brought to you by Daniel Murphy, David Hayes, and The Polar Intertia Journal, an outlet for artists and researchers documenting the urban condition.

In Seoul’s Gangnam district, Colin Marshall speaks with Mipa Lee, proprietor of Itaewon’s vegan cafe and bake shop and café PLANT and author of the blog Alien’s Day Out. They discuss the unlikely country in which she became vegan; her journey from Korea to England to Africa to the United States and back to Korea again; her constant expectation of a move that had kept her from putting down roots or buying furniture; how her parents became early international Koreans; how her boarding school gave her blog its name; how much distance she now feels from “Korean Koreans”; PLANT’s role as a kind of international waters in the international neighborhood (and tourist space for Koreans) of Itaewon; how her return to Korea initially happened against her will, but how she then turned it to her advantage; how Korea’s advanced delivery infrastructure aided her initial baking ventures; the way to integrate into Seoul’s vast ecosystem of coffee shops, in which many Koreans want to participate at least once in their life; why you don’t get tainted for life here if your business goes under, unlike in Japan; when vegan desserts became widely viable, and which desserts quickly became successful for her; how exotic Koreans find “comfort food for foreigners”; when she discovered the fact that people want to indulge in “heavier and heartier” foods, vegan or otherwise; why, in Korea, she often has to “explain exactly what meat is”; the challenge of finding even kimchi in vegan form (and her memories of the kimchi situation in Ghana);  the popularity in Korea of Ghana brand chocolate; the “laid-back culture” she misses from Africa; the search for Ethiopian food in Seoul, and how seeking out vegan cuisine in general got her exploring the city, even in places she’d never go otherwise; the difference between Seoul and her birthplace of Busan; how she might one day balance her culinary, artistic, and exploratory interests; the way Korean eminence leads to more work, not less; where she dreams of traveling while spending six weeks at the shop; the contrast between her childhood memories of Korea and her experience of it today; whether the world might inevitably turn vegan; how she deals with eating vegan amid Korean social culture (by, for example, hanging out with foreigners); how different Seoul looks from the vantage of Itaewon; what she learns from getting to know, and in a sense “traveling” through, her international clientele; what art she dreams of creating while spending six weeks at the shop; what advice she gives to other vegans and vegetarians about existence in Seoul, such as how to obtain kale.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

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