No Place Like Home.
I miss coffee. I miss it a lot. For now, the can pictured above is the closest I will come to both Starbucks or Seattle for quite some time. Kinda depressing. Out here in Seosan, there are only two types of coffee: the kind that tastes bad the kind that tastes like total crap. Oh, and you can forget about baristas too. Most of the time when you “go for coffee” you are really just going to an automated machine that spits out some hot brown liquid into a dixie cup. If you do find a real human to make the stuff, it always seems to turn into a huge ordeal. Most of the time drip coffee isn’t on the menu, and a simple Americano can take up to 10 minutes to make. There is no milk or cream, and the closest you can get to sugar is some high fructose corn syrup which the person manning the counter will give out upon request. You can forget about swizzle sticks and those little cardboard sleeve thingees that protect your hand from the heat (what are those called anyway? Might I suggest “Coffee Jockeys”?). If you somehow manage to get to the bottom of the brown water, you will notice that bottom of the cup is coated with a sludgy substance reminiscent of crude oil (both in texture, and one can only assume, taste).
If someone offers you coffee don’t assume that they are being kind and brewing up a fresh batch just for you. Rather, they are probably just emptying out a powder pack and adding hot water from a dispenser. You needn’t worry about getting a caffeine buzz because there is no caffeine to be found, but you might want to brush your teeth because the contents of these packages seems to be 99 percent sugar and one percent poo coloring.
Even though I gripe about the dire java situation out here, and even though the closest Starbucks is an hour and a half away in Seoul, coffee still holds a convenient cultural cache that helps me connect with the locals. When people ask me where I’m from, I always start by telling them I’m from Seattle, the place where Starbucks comes from. That usually gets a nod of knowing approval. If that doesn’t work, I remind them of that movie with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, “Sleepless in Seattle” – or as it’s called out here, “Can’t Sleep in Seattle.” And if for some reason that doesn’t work, I go to my fail-safe backup plan: I tell them I’m from Hollywood. Close enough to get the point across but really not the same at all – kinda like the coffee.