Over the past month or so, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to lead a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been working out regularly, cooking balanced meals and even taking a multivitamin. It feels good to know I’m actively pursuing my own wellness. I’ve noticed a difference in my overall mood and the positive feelings are motivation enough to stay disciplined. However, I’m only human and there’s one craving that I don’t think I will ever be able to shake for the life of me. As the title of this post would suggest, I’m talking about a tasty little snack called spicy ramen. Cheap and chock-full of MSG. Yum.
You might assume I developed this affair in college seeing as ramen is a poor undergrad staple, but no. If anything, college actually turned me off to ramen, particularly the chicken and beef Cup Noodles which I now feel nauseated by. I won’t eat any kind of ramen anymore except for the spicy variety. On rainy days I especially crave it, more than soup or a hot cup of tea. I just want a bowl of those fiery noodles with my name on it.
My body has a number of sensory memories stored in it, but the one associated with spicy ramen is maybe the strongest I have so far in my 25 years of life. It takes me back to Buan, my birthplace. In my entire life, I have spent less than 24 hours there. I was born in the evening and shuttled straight to Seoul, my omma relinquishing me immediately. It wasn’t until this past June that I finally went back to see the city for myself. A cheerful young guide accompanied me on a three hour bus ride and it was cloudy when we arrived. We only spent around four hours there and didn’t do anything too extravagant. It is not an extravagant place to be honest, but it was my entry point into the world. An imperative piece of my life. To simply be there with all my senses snapped on was enough. There was no joy or even deep sorrow for that matter, but some amorphous mix of emotion that I still fail to find a name for. I had initially hoped to purchase an item there to remind me of the experience, but as we passed stores on the street, the notion began to feel cheap. No single item could ever capture what it felt like to be there.
So, the souvenir I ended up bringing back with me is a love for spicy ramen. We missed our intended bus back to Seoul and ended up having a hurried lunch before catching the next available trip. By then the cloudy sky had burst with heavy rain, so we ducked into this small restaurant where a woman made us fresh kimbap and brought us large bowls of spicy ramen. I had never had spicy ramen before and my mouth was on fire after a few bites, but we didn’t have time to eat it slowly, so I kept shoving it into my mouth even as my nose started running. We were sitting at a wooden bar and I had my wet umbrella balanced between my knees. I realized that my time in Buan would be ending very soon and the only thing I had left to do there was eat well, so I did. When we were finished, we literally ran to the bus station and climbed onto the heavily air-conditioned bus all soggy and shivering. And just like that, Buan became a known part of my past.
I hope that I can go back again one day. Maybe stay for a more extended period and get to know the place better. Talk to people (or at least try to). I couldn’t resist the temptation to carefully observe the people, especially those who might look to be near my omma or appa’s ages. Maybe I could walk into a shop and the owner would exclaim my striking resemblance to someone they know. If only, right? For now, I am settling for a bowl of spicy ramen on a rainy day because it brings me back to Buan. I eat it quickly, too, even if I have the time to go slow. I set my mouth on fire because I don’t want to forget what it feels like. What I felt like finally back in the context of where everything began.