Thursday, April 30, 2009

If you read something about Korea before you come here, you might come across the idea of Confucian harmony. Seeing harmony everywhere seems like nonsense, but an integral part of the Korean cultural experience is experiencing the harmony. Harmony here is really just another word for sameness. Consider dining out with Koreans. If you're not picky and agree to be taken to a typical Korean restaurant, you're in for a treat.

First of all, every single Korean I've ever met likes every single kind of Korean food. Odds are you've met a Westerner who, say, doesn't like pickles but likes tomatoes, and another who likes pickles but won't eat eggs. This is not the case in Korea. No matter what random, unappetizing concoction you put in front of them, they'll eat and tell you how delicious it is. Like everything else about Korea, they are loathe to criticize it because they are Korean. This means you can go anywhere from a place that serves pork intestine to acorn jelly to grilled meat to ground-up soy bean paste.

Second, a Korean restaurant will have something like 6 things on the menu, which is on the wall and entirely in Korean. Two of the dishes might not be available, two of them you'll have never heard of, even if you can read the Korean, and the waitress will passionately dissuade you from ordering the fifth one for reasons you don't quite understand (eg it's not the season for it).

This lengthy description, however, doesn't do the process justice. What will actually happen is that someone will mysteriously ask you if you like soy beans. You, having no enmity towards them, will say yes. You will then go to a soy bean paste restaurant. The Koreans will discuss the matter among themselves in astonishing depth for 5-10 minutes, and then they will order without asking you what you wanted, or without you even knowing that you ordered. This process will repeat itself for a year or two or however long you stay here.

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