Koreatown, Toronto

I lived in Busan, South Korea three different times, for a total of four years. It’s the most I’ve ever lived in one place since I was seventeen. And that makes Korea close to my heart. There is so much I love and miss about South Korea- the Kimbap Chunguk’s (a small chain restaurant with the best food), the people, drinks outside Family Mart, the late night noraebongs (singing rooms aka karaoke), the cheering section at baseball games, beach volleyball days. I could go on and on. But the best part, as with anywhere, is the people you might along the way.

I spent my last year in Busan straddled between 2011 and 2012, and in those 12 months, I made the best of friends. We took scooter trips outside of the city to practice photography and visit monasteries. We took the train hours away, to Daegu, so I could buy a sewing machine. We took sailboat trips, and trips to the jimjilbong (sauna room). We had weekly dinners and weekly dance parties. We all bought matching shirts. It was my last year in Busan, but by far my best.

Since then, we have all mostly stayed pretty close, even while off in different parts of the world. We’ve had 4th of July’s on the lake in Michigan, and nights out in Denver. I traveled throughout Central America with Niki, Jil, and Erin. I visited Erin in Spain where she did her masters degree. We bond over travel and feminism. Culture and social justice. These are my people.

I’m not often in North America, and there isn’t usually a global pandemic, but this year both occurred at the same time. As soon as Canada announced it was opening its borders to US citizens on August 9, I booked my ticket. I didn’t want to miss this chance to see some of my favorite people in the world.

I met Tim in 2008, and Erin in 2011 in Busan. In 2016 they got married, and in 2021 that’s who I stayed with in Toronto.

Over my first weekend there, we wanted to relive our Busan days, so the day started with a driving tour through the streets of downtown Toronto, and ended in one of Toronto’s two Koreatowns, at Bloor and Christie.

We strolled through Christie Pits Park, and the businesses along Bloor street, admiring the large quantities of noraebongs (singing rooms), bbq joints, and hangul (the Korean alphabet) everywhere, as we reminisced of who did what and when, like the time Tim and his friends saved up thousands of plastic bottles for over a year, and then built a raft with duct tape.

We decided to make a stop at Pourboy, which is decidedly not Korean, but does have the cheapest pints ($5.75 CAD) and pitchers ($15 CAD) in Toronto, while we waited for our friends, the sisters, Jil and Corrine, to arrive.

Once the sisters arrived, we had another pitcher while Tim called Sunrise House, which Tim and Erin have decided is the best Korean food spot in the area after many trials and errors. We shouted our kimchi jiggae and bibimbap orders at a flustered Tim who tried ordering in Korean, but quickly realized it was a mistake when he couldn’t understand the responses, and sweat drops formed on his forehead.

With our takeaway in hand, and a few pitchers deep, we headed over to Christie Pits park for a Korean feast picnic. Laughing with my friends from South Korea in Koreatown, Toronto while eating Korean food, I was filled with hangbok (happiness). So many memories, and so much gratefulness for these people I have shared so many parts of my life with, and so glad to be here in this moment in time with them.

As the sky started to get darker, we packed up our leftovers, and headed to Echo Karaoke where our reservation awaited us. A two hour reservation that would send us back to 2011, late nights in Busan, norae after hours, singing our hearts out to classics of the 80’s and 90’s. Macarena. Betty Davis. I Would do Anything for Love, but I Won’t do That. Whatever that is. We even managed to sneak in tiny little Frannie, Tim and Erin’s pocket sized pup.

That night we headed back home, a bit earlier than we would have in our 20’s, but with both our bellies and our hearts full.