I don’t know when it started–wait, I do. It started in 2015 during my first month of study abroad when my Korean host family took me to a local dessert cafe to take shelter from scorching afternoon heat. Four of us shared a traditional patbingsu with injeolmi powder and sipped Americanos and it was just wow…
I suppose I don’t know how–wait, except, I do. See, I’ve always been a little obsessive, and if I liked something I wanted to collect it every available option. When I was a kid I wanted all the versions of Barbie (much to the chagrin of my parents) then it was the Polly Pocket playsets and American Girl book series. I’m sure my obsession would have extended into Yu-gi-oh and Pokemon cards if my mother didn’t think they were demonic. As it happened, I took a liking to Inuyasha (literally demonic) and every Square Enix game in existence (somewhat demonic.) With age, my obsessions grew to encompass the immaterial–cultures, societal structures, theories, ancient stories passed by oral traditions. I wanted to know everything about whatever subject captured my interest. Japanese culture. Greek mythology. English Etymology. Poetics. I shouldn’t have been surprised that my bingsu fling went as far as it did.
What I mean to say is: I didn’t expect it to go as far as it did. I’d eaten plenty of sweet treats before bingsu and had never experienced the desire to eat every available flavor. In fact, I was more the type to stick to the basics and turn a cold shoulder to the varieties. There was no reason to sully the good Lemonheads name with the lime, cherry, or chewy tropical varieties.
So what made bingsu different?
One: It was one more new dish in the range of Korean cuisine that I was fervently exploring, and I knew that my time to enjoy it was limited. At the time, I was only planning to be in Korea for three months and then go back to my home country without definitive plans to return. Knowing that my love affair with bingsu had a deadline made me double my efforts to eat every available flavor, like any tourist who packs their schedule full of activities knowing that time in paradise will come to an end.
Two: Friends and family responded particularly well to the bingsu pictures on social media because they’re eye-catching and again, the dessert a new concept to the average American. Many of them had not had the chance and would not be able to visit South Korea, so my photos and stories were little windows to this side of the world. Those that could visit reached out to me for bingsu recommendations or directions to the cafes. At that point, my bingsu consumption wasn’t just benefiting me. It was helpful to other people, and the Virgo in me leaped at the chance to be obsessive, critical, and helpful all in one go. Hello, new hobby.
When I met new people, they would see my bingsu reviews and say, “You know, these are pretty entertaining. if you do it long enough, a company might sponsor you to eat bingsu,” or “You could really be a bingsu reviewer. I don’t know if that’s a thing, but you should make it a thing.” Though said (mostly) in jest and in passing, the comments got my brain to working, and bingsu reviewing quickly turned from a hobby to an investment in my future “brand.”
Three: Bingsu had become such a apart of my identity that both Korean and American friends would mention my love for it when introducing me to new people, right after my name. Instead of asking me out for coffee, people wanted to catch up over bingsu. My Korean host family knew me as 괜찮아 보아 (read the story behind this here) and 빙수를 사랑하는 보아. Whenever my Korean teacher at Sogang used me in an example sentence in class, it had something to do with bingsu. Having my bingsu love as such a part of my identity in Korea made life easier because I could keep talking about it in simple language instead of engaging in deeper conversations about politics, morals, and cultural differences which would no doubt, dredge up some uncomfortable feelings (considering huge differences between me and my host family at the time.) My love for bingsu reviewing enabled me to don a cuter, cheerful (nonetheless authentic) food-obsessed persona that people found likeable and also fed my obsessive, goal-oriented side.
When I left South Korea the first time in September 2015, I left that persona behind and focused my energy on surviving the rest of college.
When I returned to Korea two years later, I felt this pressure to pick up right where I had left off, but I was two years older and a college graduate and things had changed. I’d already had some thoughts about dairy consumption that were in direct conflict with my love of bingsu and bingsu reviewing. That’s when things got uncomfortable. How could I turn down invitations to eat bingsu? Wasn’t I the one who knew all the good bingsu cafes? Wasn’t I the “bingsu connoisseur“? More than once, I gave in to play the role of good hostess for solo visiting friends who couldn’t enjoy bingsu otherwise. In those moments, I remembered how delicious it was and began to seek it out on special occasions as a “reward,” despite my attempts to give up dairy.
I wondered if I could just continue to follow a plant-based diet that included the occasional bout of bingsu. But if I did, I would never get my clear skin and never phase dairy out of my diet like I had resolved to do. More than that, I also had to come to terms with the fact that something so delicious was ethically questionable, and that my helpful and obsessive nature, which had done nothing but serve me well so far, was in direct conflict with my own long-term goals of becoming the clear-skinned goddess (okay, clear skinned potato) I wanted to become.
So I put my foot down. I turned down offers and told myself to stop feeling guilty about it. In the long run, bingsu isn’t that important to a tourist’s experience anyway. My friends would live. The world would keep turning without a great bingsu reviewer. It would have pained me to say that four years ago…funny how things change. To be honest, I anticipated some kind of backlash–People unfriending me in protest until I post bingsu reviews again or pestering me incessantly about it or calling my new attitude towards food “ridiculous,” but the accusations haven’t come. They were just figments of my anxious imagination.
Changing my food habits is easier than I originally thought, if I let myself evolve instead of holding on to old versions of myself. We often construct our own prisons, thinking we have to follow how we were raised, or do what others tell us, or what we think will make others happy, when it’s okay to change. Stop eating something. Start eating something. Revise an opinion. Redirect your feet. Change of pace. “The only constant in this world is change,” right? Didn’t someone enlightened say that?
(My word, when did I get so dramatic…?)
That’s not to say I’ll never eat bingsu again, though. While the incessant need to eat and review bingsu is no more, I still enjoy vegan bingsu on occasion. Next week I’ll let you know where to find them just in case you wanna get a little bingsu happy yourself.