a (korean) family’s day out (2024)

Do you remember the nights we would fall asleep in the car on the way home? The sweat from our nap cooling as the windows rolled up and down because we couldn’t turn on the car AC?

Yesterday I went to Koreatown Galleria in search of gong-gi, a game that Thomas and my mother-in-law have revived in our household. Its presence in our life is fueled by their competitive nature and the comedy that my lack of skill at it brings. No matter how many tangerines Thomas eats as punishment for losing, they haven’t stopped playing for months, gong-gi slowly becoming a nightly tradition in our family.

So we decided to go out and buy a set for ourselves — in secret — so that we could practice at home.

a (korean) family’s day out (1)

I didn’t expect the feeling of nostalgia to wash over me like it did when I went to Koreatown Galleria. I thought back to all the times before that I had come with my family — all those times we would make the one and a half hour drive to go to LA, the mecca of all things Korean. Although traffic-filled, torturous, and hot (no car AC, remember?), we made the journey and made it a family day out.

We needed kitchenware? Kim’s Home Center. We needed groceries and the good, affordable meat? Hannam Chain. We needed to eat lunch and have Korean shaved ice before going home? Madang Mall. We needed to do all of these errands in one place? Koreatown Galleria. We would hit as many as we needed — even if it took the whole day — because this was our family day out.

As I parked the other day, I couldn’t help but notice how little had changed since the last time I had been there: the family vans in the parking lot; the ahjusshis1 pushing the shopping cart lazily as the ahjummas2 pored over the shopping receipts; the barely passable parking jobs that always went a bit over the line, always enough to irritate me but never enough to stop me from parking next to them.

I entered the galleria and was instantly welcomed by the usual suspects: the skincare shops, clothing boutiques, and food court. They were all strung together randomly and beautifully in this one huge AC-ed building in the middle of Koreatown. The familiar, clean, and homey smell welcomed me only in the way that a place as nostalgic as this could. I walked around, reminiscing about each store and remembering the shaved ice that we scarfed down one time because my mom hangrily craved it. I was a real life Pac-Man, avoiding ahjummas that walked around unaware of the people in front of them because they were too busy rummaging through their deep, wide purses.

I finally stepped into the little knick knack store that was littered with stuffed animals, notebooks, and patterned socks. Memories of me and my mom coming here to pick out our matching notebooks for the year as my dad loitered in the corner flooded my mind. Images of us from the past flitted in front of me, images of us promising that we’d finish our notebooks together and fill it with our summer schedules, to-do lists, and journaled thoughts.

When I found the gong-gi, I stared at the transparent plastic blue case holding it all together. I couldn’t believe that I was back here, all these years later, looking for these little cubes that sounded like tiny maracas whenever we threw them up in the air. I checked out, thanked the store ahjumma for showing me where the game was, and left. Walking out the store, it felt like a crime to leave the galleria so soon after arriving.

When I was younger, it was an all-day affair as one parent ambled around the bookstore with me as the other went grocery shopping. We’d all reconvene forty-five minutes later when we met up at the food court for jjajangmyeon. And when all was said, done, bought, and eaten, we would hop back into our car and make our way home. I would always fall asleep in the back of the car to the white noise of my parents debriefing the day and then wake up to the sound of the car doors unlocking as my parents went to grab me and the groceries.

This time when I went to search for the gong-gi, it was a ten-minute affair. A quick in and out. There was no grocery shopping, no food court, no bookstore detour. As I wondered when the last time I came with my parents was, I realized that there was no way I could have known when the last family day out was going to be.

I figure that this is the nature of growing up, the nature of not knowing when our lasts are as children. To us, these days weren’t about the errands but about the adventures. Not about bargaining with random store ahjummas, but about eavesdropping and rooting for our parents’ win. Not about hunting for our weekly groceries, but browsing a little store to find that one notebook that you and your mom would use for the year.

To us, it was simply about being a child in a galleria where — for a few hours — that was your whole world

until one day it was just a place to buy gong-gi.

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a (korean) family’s day out (2024)
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