Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tribute to a country I barely knew two years ago...

Before I move to China, I knew the name of the country South Korea, but that was about it. South Korea has always been this 'small country' that seems kind of far away and has a complicated history/political system (thinking of its strained relations with North Korea), as well as a place that I would associate with dog eating... not a place on top of my 'visit wish list' in other words.

Then, I came to China and suddenly I was surrounded by Korean restaurants, Korean shops and Korean people.

Discovery number one: Korean clothes are some of the coolest clothes I have ever seen (and, plus points to them for having bigger-sized girls, because that means even I can wear their clothes.. yey!).
Discovery number two: Korean food is not only healthy, but also super yummy.
Discovery number three: Korean people are polite, friendly and great fun.
Discovery number four: Seoul is (after my first visit in Jan earlier this year) one of my fave cities where I would be happy to live for some years later in life.
Discovery number five (while in Seoul, this one): Korean guys are kind of... hot!?

Wow... South Korea, what can I say? How can I have not realised how great of a country it is? The Korean family who 'picked me up' at Starbucks once and asked me to be their private English tutor for their 10-year-old daughter, are now some of my closest friends in Suzhou. We go for dinners, I come to their place for dinner (and what dinners then?! I almost roll back every time), I teach the daughter English, I play with the daughter's little sister (something that is kind of odd to me, seeing that kids normally start crying when I approach -I don't know what it is... but they just don't like me), and we even exchange Xmas gifts. It doesn't even matter that the mom doesn't speak any English and barely no Chinese. In some odd way we still manage to communicate (a lot via the daughter who speaks good English and Chinese -her Chinese is so much better than mine.. grrrr!) and it's not even strained or uncomfortable (like it easily gets when u don't speak the same language) but more like easy-going, fun and interesting.

Except for this family, I also study together with a bunch of Koreans (have been since level 2 basically, and I can imagine level 5 that I will take on next semester to be no different) and they are great fun, although the young guys can be a bit... shallow at times. (But I guess that has to do with the fact that a lot of them are very young) Anyways.

One of my fave restos in Suzhou is a small Korean joint. We accidentally discovered it one day: we used to go to the Korean restaurant next door (because it was run by one of my Korean classmate's dad) but then one day that place was closed, so we headed for the next-door option. The next-door-option's big boss (always a senior man sitting by the till next to the door. It was the same at those restaurants that I visited in Seoul) greeted us with big smiles, the staff was friendly and the food was divine. We came back for more only some days later. The big boss' smile was even bigger that time, and that's also how the whole 'free food frenzy' began...

Yeah, because that time we got an additional pancake on top of our bibimbaps. For free. And the next time we got a plate of Korean sushi. And the next time another kind of pancake... and then some free beers... and then, well, I am sure u get the point.

The additional free food just continues to pile on. We never ask specifically for it, we have also tried to pay for it at numerous times, but the boss just laughs and says no. "It's on the house," he states, leaving us more or less rolling back from the restaurant every time, since we always over eat while we are there (fortunately the food is kind of light.. I always go for bibimbap, tofu stew or kimchi stew rather than the BBQ.. although he BBQ is sooooo good too...).

Some weeks ago we found out that the big boss had decided to go back to South Korea and the place had been taken over by a young, Korean guy. To say that we were a bit crushed would be an understatement. I almost cried, especially since I never got a chance to really thank this man for his hospitality. The staff at the restaurant was still the same, however, and so was the food, so we continued to pay our weekly visits. And, only after 2 visits, the young guy came up to our table with some beer bottles, two glasses, and a big smile:

-Something to drink? It's on me!

.....And it's on again.

What can I say? I'm so happy I discovered this country?!


Anonymous said...

Great post, but you forgot to mention Korean cold noodle soup in the summer -- one of the most seriously glorious foods ever created by the hand of man.

Jonna Wibelius said...

I haven't tried that soup... but I definitely will next summer. Sounds really good from what u saying! :)

Anonymous said...

yeah, their food is good and their cloth is ok. they often bow which seems they are polite. but you will not discover more of them until you are famous all over the world, cause then they will claim you one korean. The worst thing about this country is denying that their culture,even the whole country,has learnt a lot from the ancient China and Chinese.their culture roots in the long and spectacular Chinese culture. I call koreans the worst thief, who stealt but does not admit they are thieves, or even borrower.

Jonna Wibelius said...

anonymouse -whoa.. this is all new to me. Never heard anyone call koreans theieves before, I thought China and Korea had a quite good relationship? The Koreans I know over here are nothing like my Chinese friends anyways, especially not when it comes to behaviour and culture. But when it comes to history, I cannot speak.

I don't think Koreans 'seem polite' simply because they bow?! When I was in Seoul I was amazed of how helpful people were, even though they could barely speak a word of English. Every time I was in the metro trying to read a map someone came up to me asking where I wanted to go and helped me buy tickets.

Anonymous said...

Korean people is awesome!

The first place I lived in China had no people speaking english at all, except a fellow korean student, so we ended up as best friends, doing all kind of stupid things together. And after a while I got introduced to his cousin and his friends, it was such a nice time. Koreans are really friendly, funny and they wear really cool clothes. The only thing I might not like that much is the enormous respect for the elders, which at some points almost seems silly

Anonymous said...

OK, Jonna probably will not let me post this, and I would not blame her, but seriously -- Anonymous, what have you been smoking?! How can the Koreans have "stolen" Chinese culture? China's still got her culture! No one's absconded with it! It's still right here in the Middle Kingdom, and it's still alive and kicking in families and street parades and classrooms all over the world, from New York to Sydney.

I'm Caucasian, and I was taught my numbers and colors in Cantonese when I was in kindergarten. San Francisco public school, see: 33 percent Chinese, more than any other single ethnicity in that district.

What you're really talking about is being open to influence. Just how is that a bad thing? By the way, whenever anyone tries to tell me how xenophobic the Chinese are, I point out China's cultural genius for adoption and adaptation -- everything from Buddhism to tomatoes. Any civilization that can borrow and recreate with such glorious zest and such terrific results hardly deserves to be called xenophobic.

But when people raise their concerns about the wave of national chauvinism that seems to be sweeping China's youth, I'm afraid I have no answer.

Anonymous said...

I dont think any Asian country along the Pacific rim can deny some amount of influence from China in the past, whether it is in the form of language, clothing, or just Chinese migration.

But anyway, I wanted to ask you Jonna- did the Koreans restaurants only give you guys the freebies, or all customers?


Jonna Wibelius said...

adrian -I have no idea if they give freebies to only us or to all customers.. I am normally to busy stuffing myself to check out what other people get/pay for/don't pay for... ;) I just know I have never received so much free food (and beer) at one place ever before. It's grande!

Flyingfish -I couldn't have said it better myself. It's not like the Koreans have taken anything from China that the Chinese now don't have, from what I am concerned...

Furthermore, I don't think it is uncommon or strange in any way that contries that are geographically close to each other are influenced by each other.
Scandinavian countries share a lot of common cultures, simply because they share a lot of history. A lot of things that origns from Sweden (like Midsummer) take place in Finland, and vice versa -that's just how it is.

Anonymous said...

Jonna, I don't mean to disappoint you, but your experience with Korean folks is strictly a Laowai's experience. I am Chinese living in the U.S. and love Korean food, shop at Korean-run farmer's market. I don't have any Korean friends even though my next door neighbor is Korean. We have tried to befriend them, but they are just snobbish. Koreans are not open to outisders. They are racists in every sense of this hideous word. One time while vacationing in Canada, I went to a Korean restaurant but was only told to leave because I was Chinese. The hostess's exact words were, "We don't serve Chinese food here. You are Chinese. Right?" And her expression said we were not welcome. Koreans (and I must say Chinese and Japanese as well) also have this inferiority complex. They are extra nice to Westerners but simply mean and nasty toward their own fellow Asians.

Anonymous said...

i know Mr Anonymous is talking about the World Heritage incidents. There are rumors around chinese media and the internet that South Korea is going to nominate the Duanwu festival 端午节,chinese medicine中医, for UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Anonymous said...

I would rather suggest you pay a visit to Japan and to see what a real Asian developed and most advanced country is like.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jonna,

I am offically jealous :)


Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymouse -I'm sad to hear that u have had such a bad experience with koreans in the US. In my opinion, obviously there are nice and not so nice people from every country, no matter where in the world u go. The Koreans I have met here in China are very friendly, not only to me and other lao wais, but also to Chinese people. They have Chinese friends, speak Chinese, and so on. Likewise, many of my Chinese friends here in Suzhou like Korean people, like the Korean food, fashion, and so on... So for me it is hard to imagine what has happened to you. Really sad. But like I said, there are rude people everywhere.

When I first move to Finland I had an experience similar to yours. While most Finns understand Swedish (they have to learn in school) and think Swedes are OK, there are also those who truly HATE Swedes because of history. I was in a small food shop speaking Swedish to a friend when I suddenly heard someone yell:

-Who the f*** is speaking Swedish in my shop?! No bloody Swedish in my shop! Get out. Get OUT NOW!!!

So... I was thrown out of the shop. First time ever. But not the last.

Anonymous said...

i wouldn't call them thieves especially when they are actually trying to get rid of the influences from ancient china

or do they still use hanzi? i don't think so

Anonymous said...

Jonna, I bet you have learned a lot about Asians and some of their inner most thoughts of other people from comments here. What a great way to get to know them.