Happy Pi *π* Day!
Do you remember this post? Where I asked you to vote for my entry for the <Korea Our Stories> Contest?
First thing first! THANK YOU for the 1335 clicks on that heart in only 10 days!
The result came out weeks ago, and I just found the chance to share it with you all today. I feel bad to let you all know that I did not win. Sorry to disappoint you all with that. But no, I’m not sad/disappointed at all for so many reasons more amazing reasons.
Let me tell you that this would mean I can *finally* share what I actually wrote for my entry (yes, it’s in English – not in Korean), which I’m so ecstatic about! Before that, I just want to tell you that I’m not disappointed at all for the result. It was such a rewarding experience by the fact:
- I passed the first round! LIKE WHAT?! As you would be able to see *and be annoyed by it* this writing is kinda messy. I did this just to proof something to myself, so polishing it was my second priority *which I regretted quite a bit*. But seriously, submitting it was already a big personal victory – which I celebrated/rewarded myself with yum stuff.
- and my essay was displayed in a MUSEUM! At the lobby of the Children’s Museum in the National Museum Korea. I mean. SAY WHAT?
- The amount of support was overwhelming(and LIKES, shares, friends who were more passionate and excited that I was *Ci Sophie and Ko Andry for the moral support that I actually whipped my self to write sth and actually submitted it, Mom et friends, Christina and hubby, Cherlene, Hera, Joanna, Sel JP II members, M3LCY, Vincy, 우성걸, 김민국, 김은총, 은혜 언니, 영해 언니, 윤주 언니, Kevin Kwok, Cathy 언니 and 형부- just to name a few cause you guys are just . . .*tears of happiness and 감동*). Never had I, in the x years of me pursuing this passion, felt so supported and motivated. I always felt that I was going against the grains, and no one would understand why I love this world so much.
So all in all, it was a HUGE honour to be a part of this contest and what an awesome experience! THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR LOVE AND SUPPORT! I love you all!
So without further due, to celebrate my personal victory, here I share with y’all my entry for the 국가브랜드 공모전 – 글(Writing):
JEONG (情), K-FOOD, AND “HAVE YOU EATEN YET” – ME**DA ED**A JOSEPH (CANADA)
Jeong. It is a concept that cannot be easily translated with plain words. Jeong is an emotion that has multiple spectrum and could be defined as love, connection, bond, or affection, etc.. The concept of jeong is not exclusive to Korean culture. However, the Korean concept of jeong is radiated through its heritage, and garnered from the cultural bound of the societies’ interpersonal interactions.
You might wonder, how a foreigner like me would be able to grasp the essence of such profound Korean concept of jeong, let alone to be able to share it as an introduction of Korea to other enthusiasts. The understanding that I have might still be shallow; however Korean jeong, that could be found through its food and from the intriguing figure of speech of “have you eaten yet?”, is to me the very soul that makes Korea. Since it is really hard to describe the concept with words and only words, let me share you my experience on how I could portray Korea as Jeong.
Into the Koreaness – The Experience
My name is Meda, known in the web as edrea or edrea MJ. I am an ordinary 8-5 office worker during the day, a “blogger” whenever I’m not on my day job, and a dreamer in between. It all started from the early 2000s, during which time, everyone else around me was emerging themselves in other cultures. That was also the time when the first Korean drama was broadcasted in Indonesia. The new language and the different culture exhibited in the drama grabbed my attention and interest. And from then on, I started on my journey into picking up bits and pieces of Korean language and its culture, and planting them in my brain and heart.
Fast forward to a couple years later, I found myself in Vancouver, Canada, where I encountered the “real” Korean people and culture. And not from behind the TV screen. My learning journey started to become as real as it could be. I might not have the chance to sit in a classroom to formally learn about Korean history, language, and/or culture. But my kind of learning had started to feel real to my senses, through the interactions with my new found Korean friends, unnis, oppas, dongsaengs, hyungboos, seonsangenims, etc.. And I started to be able to taste the culture. Literally. Through food.
Korean food, to be exact, is the first tangible cultural item that could reach Korean enthusiasts all over the world. It should, in my opinion, be named as the true pioneer of Hallyu wave. As, through the five senses, K-food opens the gate to the introductions of Korean heritage and tradition. K-food introduces us to the land-sea-sky harvests in each bite of it, while bursting your palate with the tastes of its heritage, tradition, and personality.
I could not think of a meet up with my Korean friends, unnis and oppas that happened without an eating scene. A couple years ago, while organizing a summer event for a Korean-English language meet up in Vancouver, I had the chance to have a team meeting over a Ramyun and Kimbap lunch session. I was so ecstatic to finally try the two most famous food items that had always seen in Korean dramas. That was the first time that I saw and tasted danmuji and burdock root. To be honest, I had not even heard about them before eating that first roll of kimbap. Many casual lunch sessions later, I discovered the practicality of a bowl of ramyun that somewhat reflects the fast pace culture that most of Korean people have. And if a roll of cheese kimbap could tell you anything about the culture, it would be that they are not afraid to embrace the traditional ideas together with the modern ones.
As we got to know each other better, our quick and practical lunch sessions slowly turned into gatherings of a bunch of good friends and acquaintances. During a very wet-and-cold fall, one of my unni invited me to her place to celebrate Chuseok with a few other friends. As it turned out, she made us an abundant pot of steaming galbi-jjim. She served us a very special traditional Chuseok dish that was slowly prepared with care and stuffed with ingredients that Fall in Korea has to offer. Through her galbi-jjim, she introduced us to one of the biggest holiday in Korea, while preserving the Chuseok tradition with her new found family.
Another thing that I got to love is how banchan/side dishes is served, in Korean restaurants, along with whatever you actually ordered from their menu. A tradition of sharing, that will make sure that you are going to be well-fed. The vast varieties of banchan dishes show multiple techniques of cooking in one seating. Banchan is also the most common thing Korean mother would send in their care-package to their children who are studying or working overseas. And anyone who received it would treat it as a very precious treasure. If I were them, I will try my best to save my mom’s home-cook banchan and eat it only when I’m feeling homesick.
But that was not the case for one of my dongsaeng. One day, when I was feeling under the weather, she texted me saying: “Unni, I just received some banchan from my mom. I want you to try my favorite myeolchi-bokkeum/stir-fried dried anchovies”. I was really touched by her one text. But, to my surprise, she continued on: “Also, since you are having a cold, I will give you some homemade yuja tea (tea made with thinly sliced yuzu citrus’ peels with honey and sugar). Drink it and you will feel better”. On the day we met, she gave all her precious goodies and explained to me how good yuja tea is for your health. She listed out the health benefits of it from head to toe. And it came to me, not only from picking up Grace’s passion about yuja tea, but also from learning bits and pieces of Korean ingredients and cooking techniques, that Korean people cares a lot about health properties of their food. And when they are sharing that food for you, they are caring for your well being.
On one of my visit to Seoul, I toughen up myself and decided to make it as a solo trip. I stayed at an apartment owned by a Korean-American couple that I found through the internet. A total stranger’s place. The owner, who is Korean, picked me up at the nearest subway station. After talking to the owner of the apartment, he found out that I’m a Korean enthusiast who has been learning on my own and blogging about it online. Since I came to Seoul on my own, and it was my first stay without a tour guide is Seoul, he invited me to hang out with some of his friends at a traditional market near his place. So I spent the first night of my solo adventure, at the bustling Sindang Market, savouring the scene of regular Korean life during the night with Korean jeon/pancake and makgeolli/rice wine.
Once we were done with the so-called 1-cha/first hang out base, we moved on to 2-cha/second hang out base in another the glitzy glass and hip side of Seoul: Gangnam. My korean hosts know the owner and bartender of the bar we went to. And to my surprise, they kept on talking to me in Korean and were so friendly. Even though I understood only 30% of it. For the rest of the night, they tried their best to show the Korean fusion style of food and drinks and hosted this foreigner who fell in love with their culture. And once again, I was mesmerized by the harmony of the solemn tradition and the dynamic modern feel to the Korean society. And I was, and still am, grateful for Korean people’s welcoming gesture to a stranger like me for embracing their culture.
There are many other instances that I could share to show, that what you see in Korean shows, especially the ones displaying Korean food, its origin, health benefits, and cooking techniques, are not just shows. You could relish Korean jeong and its nation’s personality from their food and the gestures that come along with it. Well, at least that is what my experiences taught me.
It takes time to get to know someone. From being just an acquaintance, I spent a lot of time and shared a lot of conversations, before I feel comfortable to call someone my chingu, sunbae, unni, or hyungboo.
As it takes time to develop jeong with the Korean people around me, and so it is for an Korean enthusiast to develop jeong with all the Koreanness, and vice versa. It is like the uniquely Korean art of preserving food. As time goes by and as the more it becomes well fermented, the deeper the taste will be. It might started from a song, a dish, a place, or an item. If you reach deeper, those things are your gateway to find the true characteristics and many rich layers of Korea. And before you know it, the interactions from getting to know Korea, will turn into the warmest and welcoming affection that will introduce you to a more dynamic world of Korea.
At least for me, when I decided to pick up an Indonesian-Korean dictionary at a local bookstore when I was in high school, I would not have had been able to imagine that one day I would found myself in such an ever learning wonderland as this is. There are so many other instances in which I could connect the dot between the jeong of Korean people and K-food. And before I know it, these greetings: “nice to meet you!”, “do you speak Korean?”, “how come you can speak Korean?” and “what is your name?”, has slowly turned into jeong filled greetings of: “I have not seen you for a while, let’s have dinner!” and “Meda-ya, it’s good to see you. Have you eaten yet?”
“Have you eaten yet?”
Every language has their own way, words, and figure of speeches to ask, what is in plain English, “how are you”. One way of how Korean expressed “how are you” is by saying a greeting that literally means “have you eaten yet”.
At one of the Korean language club at the university I attended, my group’s tutor explained that the greeting derived from a heart wrenching condition surrounding the history of war. As we heard, from stories of wars around the world, war caused hungers and devastation to humanity. Deriving from the hardships that war brought upon the nation, Korean started to use the phrase, in its literal meaning, to ask if one has had food to fill and warm their body. Flourishing as a great country with abundance of food, the figure of speech is still widely used to show concern of someone’s well-being. As their everyday “how are you”.
“Have you eaten yet?”is a simple greeting. It often becomes a rhetoric question. It embodies, nevertheless, the jeong that Korean people has for their own kind and for everyone that shows deep interest in their country and culture.
The Soul of Korea
So, what makes Korea? Well, discovering Korea for me is like tasting a well fermented kimchi. Starting from the taste buds that discover the unique taste of it, to the acquiring knowledge of the rich tradition that is embed in every ingredients used to make the kimchi, and finally to the discovery of jeong of very hands that prepared it. As kimchi tastes gets more profound the longer it gets fermented, so could one foreigner discover the warmth welcome and the deeper of jeong, Korea has to offer once one has started to emerge deeper into the history, the heritage and the culture.
And the next time you receive an invitation to devour Korean feast of food, accept it with an open heart and mind. Be prepare to discover the harmony and the dynamic of Korean jeong. From past to present, from its land and its people to your soul.
Now, have you eaten yet?
Unto the next exciting adventures of learning and exploring Korea!