Sung and I were both born in the month of May, on opposite sides of the USA. We met in the month of June. So we were nearly a year into our relationship when we finally celebrated each other’s birthdays.
May 2020. Let me set the scene:
We’d been laid off from our restaurant. Tossed all our stuff in my truck and drove from Hollywood up to the small town in Northern California where my mom’s parents live. I call them Grammy and Grampy. Sung and I moved into their garage for the summer.
Sung turned 25 a few weeks into our stay.
The morning of his birthday, Grammy wanted to go on an excursion. She drove us 45 minutes, to the only Asian grocery store in the area. She kept saying she wanted to buy kimchi because of a cooking show she’d seen on TV. But I knew she just wanted to do something nice for Sung.
He’s Korean. Me and my family are white. And we’d been eating only American food for a while.
We bought a cartload of Asian food at the store, including a gallon of kimchi.
Later that day, a bunch of my relatives came over for dinner. It was just a coincidence that it was also Sung’s birthday. And he was fine with that. He hadn’t met all my family yet, and he didn’t want his birthday to be the center of attention.
Grammy and Grampy’s house quickly filled up. Especially once my younger brother arrived.
It’s hard to describe my brother.
When he walks into a room, everyone is aware of his presence. Partly because he’s a big guy, but mostly because he has a loud voice and he talks a lot.
He was my best friend growing up. But since we become adults, he irritates me more and more each year. He broadcasts his opinions like they’re God’s gift to planet earth. He thinks his sh*t doesn’t stink. He never reads the room.
“The room” that day was the kitchen, where everyone was gathered for dinner. On the counter was a spread of classic American food: grilled hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. At the very back, behind the bowls of potato chips and potato salad: the big jar of kimchi.
I made myself a plate and sat at the table next to Sung.
That’s when I heard my brother’s blaring voice.
“Yuck, what’s in this? FECES?!”
I turned around and saw him in the kitchen, sniffing the kimchi.
Embarrassment burned through my body. I was furious. He was 22 years old with a college education. Zero excuse for such disrespect.
I glanced at the circle of pink faces around the table. They all seemed blissfully ignorant of my brother’s comment, preoccupied with talking and eating.
Were they oblivious, or pretending to be?
Next to me, Sung bit into his burger. I knew he was pretending he hadn’t heard.
My brother plopped down in the empty chair on the other side of me. I leaned over and hissed “what the F did you just say?”
He was silent.
“How about you shut the F up” I muttered.
His blue eyes did not meet mine. For a second, I thought I detected a glimmer of distress behind his brash exterior. But it faded as he began to devour his meal.
Our sibling relationship has not been the same since May 2020. There’s no animosity. We just don’t really talk. We’d already been growing apart, I guess. His arrogance and lack of self-awareness exhausted me long before the kimchi comment. But that’s the one incident my mind won’t let go of.
Sung and I laugh about it now. I told him that was the worst birthday dinner he’ll ever have with me.
Honestly, if your palate can’t appreciate kimchi (or any culture’s beloved dish), that’s fine. No one cares. All the more for those of us who do enjoy it! Just don’t be like my brother, announcing his ignorance to anyone within earshot. Not every thought should be shared.