Born in Los Angeles and currently a resident of California’s Bay Area, author Nancy Jooyoun Kim focuses on a daughter who investigates her mother’s mysterious death in her novel “The Last Story of Mina Lee” (Park Row, $27.99). An avid traveler, Kim says she still has a destination she’d like to check off her bucket list. “I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and dive or snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef,” she says. “(It) is now in so much danger, because of climate change and global warming.” For more information on Kim and her book, check out her website (www.nancyjooyounkim.com).
Q: What is your best vacation memory?
A: Greece in 2011 with my dear friend, Eva. We ended up on the beautiful island of Ikaria without a plan. We spent a few days bumbling around, avoiding goats, in the only automatic rental car we could find. On a dusty deserted road, an elderly woman stood beside our car as she attempted to explain through gesture how to reach this one particular hot spring that I had read something about somewhere. I could tell that she really wanted to take us to this hot spring, but was too scared to get inside our car. So instead, she sort of jogged beside us while directing where to go. What I love most about this memory is not only the beauty of getting lost, but the fact that there are so many genuinely kind people who will sometimes go out of their way to help you feel welcome. We did find the hot spring, eventually, which was this tiny bubbling pool between beach rocks. But what I remember most is the elderly woman, head-to-toe in black, jogging beside our car. It had to be a metaphor of some kind.
Q: What are your five favorite cities?
A: Los Angeles, Seoul, Rome, Mexico City, New York City.
Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?
A: I love the Mediterranean. Italy and the South of France — the beautiful architecture and gardens, swimming in that clear blue-green water and having the most amazing meal by the sea. I would highly recommend taking public transportation whenever possible and seeing sights and overhearing conversations. The people-watching is the best when you walk and take the bus or train. You get a real sense of daily life. With the money you save from not renting a car or taking a taxi, splurge on a day or two at a beach club where you can reserve a sunbed and umbrella. Order drinks and read and lounge all day long.
Q: If you could only pick one place to eat, would you opt for a street cart or fine dining at a nice restaurant?
A: I like the bustle of markets (with) the people watching and the sampling of so many incredible foods at once. I’m thinking of Seoul’s sprawling marketplaces where you can grab a seat and have the most amazing bindaetteok or tteokbokki in your life, or the best blue-corn quesadilla on the sidewalk in Mexico City. I have a deep admiration for the vendors and chefs who work long hours and dedicate their lives to the craft of even one or two dishes. I think there’s something really beautiful and extraordinary about that. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend the “Street Food” docuseries on Netflix for a glimpse of the individual stories and the creative endurance of these chefs.
Q: Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it’s a blessing for weekend getaways, since you can drive to so many places from here. For a day trip, I like to go hiking in the East Bay or in Marin County or walk around and explore a beach town down south like Santa Cruz and Monterey. It’s also fun to go to Sonoma County up north for wine tasting. The Russian River is a great place to swim and forget about work.
Q: What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?
A: I don’t do a ton of research. I try to read books by authors of that country. Online, I look up where to eat and explore. At a minimum, I learn to say, “Thank you” and “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” I buy maybe one travel guide, but that’s it.
Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A: Books, a notebook and pen, earplugs, sunglasses, Aquaphor, and contact lens solution.
Q: What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?
A: Most people are kind, or want to be kind, as long as you’re respectful of their traditions and the conditions of their daily lives. Traveling reaffirms my belief in humanity and that as a species, we are worth saving.
(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow “Go Away With…” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)(c) 2020 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.