Archive for June, 2011

Cannonball 26: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was younger, I had a lot of conflict with my parents due to cultural differences. They were raised in a conservative, strictly Korean culture. But they didn’t have enough time to raise me in the same way, so a lot of American values and cultural mores seeped into my mind.

Whenever they demanded that I conform to their Korean values, I balked. I didn’t understand why they were so adamant about preserving a culture in me that they seemed too busy to impart to me in the first place. I didn’t understand why they made such a big deal out of being Korean, or why they got so angry when I rooted for the United States to win more gold medals than South Korea in the Olympics.

Gradually, we kind of learned to accept each other despite our differences, but I still secretly thought they were being a little unreasonable when it came to preserving Korean culture in our home.

high expectations asian father

Reading Things Fall Apart helped me to see things a little better from their point of view.

Okonkwo is a powerful man living in the Nigerian village of Umofia. His father was a deadbeat, so he has dedicated his life to being everything his father wasn’t: rich, powerful, strong, respected.

Everything’s going great for him until a boy from another village is taken prisoner and sent to live with Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s family becomes fond of Ikemefuna, and the boy begins to think of Okonkwo as his own father.

The village then decrees that the boy must die, and an old man warns Okonkwo not to have anything to do with his death, since the boy is like a son to him. But Okonkwo, unwilling to seem weak, participates in Ikemefuna’s execution, inflicting the coup de grace himself.

It’s all downhill from there for Okonkwo. When his gun accidentally goes off during a funeral ceremony, killing another man, he has to flee and live with his relatives in another village, losing all of his wealth. When he returns to Umofia, he finds that white missionaries have arrived in the village, and that the village is being changed by their influence. Okonkwo’s attempts to preserve his village’s culture end in tragedy.

chinua achebe

Chinua Achebe

Achebe not only tells the story of a driven man of a dying breed, but also of what shaped him to become so driven. The context is specific to Nigeria, but the basic tale is universal: not wanting to repeat your parents’ mistakes.

I also appreciated that he was very fair in his treatment of missionaries. Instead of painting them as either saviors of a savage people or as Pharisaical monsters determined to destroy a culture, he showed both sides: a good, kind missionary who simply wanted to help people and share what he believed, and a cold, proud missionary who wanted to force his views on a people that he saw as inferior. There have been both kinds, and it’s not really fair to ignore one or the other.

Most of all, Achebe was able to draw the reader into Okonkwo’s dying world; I was able to understand his despair and frustration at not only losing everything he’d worked so hard to gain all his life, but even the cultural structure that made his goals worth attaining.

It’s true that change is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any easier to adapt when change does come. I can’t go back now and make myself more Korean. But when I have children and they don’t understand some of my cultural values, I’ll think about my parents and appreciate a little more how hard it was to raise a daughter of a different generation and culture.

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I’m Just Here for the Food: Jangmo Jip

sullungtang

If you’re Korean, the phrase “chicken soup for the soul” does nothing for you. But talk about sullungtang, and you instantly recall the comfort that a hot bowl of beef soup, noodles, and thinly-sliced beef served with sea salt, green onion, and radish kimchi brings on a cold day.

The sullungtang at Jangmo Jip (which translates to “Mother-in-Law’s House,” by the way. HA!!) is tops, providing maximum flavor for maximum comfort.

It’s a simple establishment, and because their menu is so simple, you get your food almost before you even order it.

Get the traditional white noodles. They’re the best.

One of these days, I’m going to write a book. I’ll call it “Sullungtang for the Korean Seoul,” and it’ll be filled with pictures of sullungtang and kimchi from Jangmo Jip. Koreans will shed emotional tears over it; I guarantee.

Jangmo Jip
4877 La Palma Avenue
La Palma, CA 90623
(714) 402-7212

Cannonball 25: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, I loves me some Neil Gaiman, and everyone tells me that I will also love Terry Pratchett. And I did enjoy this book, but I guess I just didn’t think it was quite as LOLworthy as other people did.

Good Omens outlines the fulfillment of a Doomsday prophecy made by Agnes Nutter, a witch. The prophecy is mainly revealed to the reader in bits and pieces by the characters, who are themselves trying to make heads or tails of it.

The cast of characters in colorful and quite charming. Aziraphale, the angel whose job it was to guard the gate to Eden with a flaming sword, and Crowley, formerly known as Crawly, the demon who tricked Eve into biting into the forbidden fruit, have both grown rather attached to mankind and have even grown an unspoken liking for each other.

Adam Young, the Antichrist who was switched at birth, and his hellhound, Dog, are blissfully unaware of Adam’s powers until the Apocalypse draws near.

Anathema Device, a descendant of Agnes Nutter herself, is the latest in a long line of descendants trying to decipher Agnes’ accurate but somewhat trivial prophecies.

Newton Pulsifer, a descendant of the man who led Agnes’ burning at the stake, is a witch-finder who winds up being attracted to Anathema.

Then, there are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, represented in this book as a biker gang.

the teutuls

They're missing one.

I enjoyed reading it, and found the story quite clever and charming, but it just didn’t really stick with me. Maybe it’s because it was rather sacrilicious, and I happen to believe that the end of the world will be far less charming than this book portrays it. I know it’s just fiction, but in the same way that some people will never be able to laugh at a Holocaust comedy because they can’t laugh at something so terrible that really happened, I can’t really laugh at an end-times comedy because I can’t laugh at something so terrible that I believe is going to happen.

If you don’t believe a word of the Book of Revelation, you’ll probably enjoy Good Omens. I mean, I believe Revelation, and I still enjoyed parts of it and found it to be well-written. But it does make me pray harder for the people I know who don’t believe that the Bible is true.

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I’m Just Here for the Food: Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant

enrique's

Appearances can be deceiving. Looks like nothing but a hole in the wall, doesn't it?

In my lifetime, I’ve known two different kinds of Mexican food: the Americanized stuff that is covered in cheese and the authentic kind that you can only get at some hole-in-the-wall with sticky tables.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love those sticky-table places. That, to me, is true auténtico. But Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant has showed me what can happen when you elevate Mexican food beyond the taco. I can’t believe that I’ve lived in Long Beach for thirty years and never even heard of this place. I’d driven past it thousands of times, but never even noticed it was there.

I was out with some girlfriends who just got their hurrs did. Their fabulous stylist told them that they just HAD to try Enrique’s, and we took his advice the next day. BOY, is that Martin gonna get a fat tip the next time the girls go in! Enrique’s is amazing.

The second we walked in, we saw another diner feasting on the pork shank, an off-menu item that’s legendary on Yelp. We knew that we had to try it. We ended up ordering that, the sea bass, the frog legs, and the carnitas taco.

As we waited for our food, we nibbled (okay, gorged) on complimentary chips and salsa. Their salsa is something else: it’s like a baja salsa mixed with a pico de gallo. It’s both fresh and saucy, just like us girls.

Then, the food came. OH, the food.

The pork shank is the size of your head and swimming in a tangy sauce served over rice. The meat fell off the bone, and was so tender and juicy that we were all practically in tears.

The sea bass was served over wilted greens with a bit of broth. It was perfectly cooked, and the greens added some freshness to the dish.

The frog legs were covered in glorious amounts of garlic and served with buttery rice and grilled zucchini. There were four legs on the plate, and they came from a frog that probably told all his friends in a defensive tone that he was big-boned, but, trust me: he was just FAT.

a froge praye

"... don't eat me. Even though I'm SO TASTY."

The carnitas taco was the size of a burrito, contained two fistfuls of meat, and was doused with a healthy serving of guacamole. It was served with rice and a sea of beans.

By the end of the meal, all of our waistbands were begging for mercy.

Our server was great; attentive without being intrusive, funny without being obnoxious. He told us that we just had to save room for dessert. When we asked if they served Mexican coffee, he quipped, “No… but the guy who makes it is Mexican.”

We cracked up and, when we calmed down, he told us that the coffee really was good there. So we ordered two cups of COFFEE to split. He was right; it was really good; rich, but not too bitter. And they serve it with full-on heavy cream. None of that half-and-half crap for Enrique’s! It was the perfect way to end the night.

After we’d paid, the server came back and told us that he’d see us next week. And, you know, he just might.

Enrique’s Mexican Restaurant
6210 E. Pacific Coast Highway
Long Beach, CA 90803
(562) 498-3622

Cannonball 24: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

Ender in ExileEnder in Exile by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ender in Exile follows Ender from the end of the Formic Wars back to Earth, and then through the stars to find a new home for the Bugger Queen, whose egg he’s smuggling around with him. It takes place in between the events of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, and during the events of Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and Shadow of the Giant.

We do get to see some familiar faces in this book, and it’s nice to have these familiar names to ground the story and make the book less a sequel and more an explanation of events to which we were not previously privy (the pretension of the sentence I just wrote sets my own teeth on edge. BAH).

We follow Ender back to Earth, where he agrees to become the governor of a new outer space colony. We meet Alessandra Toscano, whose mother signs them both up as colonists and is determined to see Alessandra married to what will be the most powerful man on the new colony of Shakespeare: Ender. We follow Ender’s journey to Shakespeare and his struggle to establish peace and order there.

We follow Ender to Ganges, another colony, where he meets Randall Firth, a boy who believes that he is the son of Bean’s arch-enemy, Achilles des Flandres. Ender is able to prove to Randall that he is actually Bean and Petra’s son, and Randall changes his name to Arkanian Delphiki, acknowledging his true parentage.

sleeping in class

SNOOZE.

Is my review boring you? It’s kind of boring me. These stories are a perfectly serviceable way to pass the time, but, all in all, there was nothing too terribly exciting about them. It’s kind of like someone telling you that they grew up with an acquaintance of yours, and then telling you all these stories about their childhood. It’s vaguely interesting, and good to know, but it wouldn’t have killed you not to know about the time your acquaintance tracked dog crap into the house.

If you’ve got the time and you’re jonesin’ bad for some Ender, this book is a quick way to get your fix. But you’d probably do better just to reread Ender’s Game.

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