Sunday, June 19, 2011

Travelling Abroad

"Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once."

— Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly)

This quote really made me think of Koreans I know who travelled abroad. Most of them went on package tours where everything was prepared for them. For the most part they only ate at Korean style restaurants. They saw all the sites tourists are supposed to see, and had their pictures taken in front of them.

To me going to another country should be an experience of all your senses. Not some antiseptic prepared tour where nothing is really a surprise and all you experience is the familiar. I believe you need to experience all the culture and food is a major part of that. I would be gobsmacked when I talked with friends and students who travelled abroad but never sampled the food. In many cases they brought Korean rice and kimchi with them.

I would look at them as if they were insane when they talked about going to Thailand but not even trying Thai food. They would say it tastes too strong or too hot. But ... how the kimchi would they know? They never tried it! One of the biggest complaints I heard was about how all Chinese food is too oily, too greasy. Yet this would be said after telling you they have NEVER eaten it. They never even tried a nibble. Why? Because they were TOLD, by Koreans, that the food was like that. So why bother trying it? To which I would say why bother going abroad if you are just going to see Korean related or approved sites and only eating Korean food?


  1. I agree with you too a point. Most young people I have known are alright when they travel abroad, it's the old people who complain the most.

    I worked with a lady in a middle school who went to Greece. I asked her how the food was and she said that it was too greasy. Greek seafood is almost exactly the same damn thing as Korean seafood. They eat all of the same octopuses and squid and shit like that. They also like to pour a bunch of oil all over spinach and eat it...much the same way that Koreans do, but no, Greek food didn't taste good to her.

    My first time coming to Korea, I came to a Tae Kwon Do tournament. I came with my instructor and some kid who also went to my school and his dad. This kid's dad was a midwestern optometrist who was just spending time with his kid...but this guy would bitch about everything. The dude enjoyed eating lotteria more than eating samgyupsal. And this was Lotteria from the year 2004, they didn't have any good burgers back then.

    So, while Koreans can be kind of insular I think being old is a bigger factor.

    Well, except for this one fucker I trained with. I bought a pizza that I got from a local pizza place in my home town. This pizza place is locally famous, and rumored to be the place that Mohammed Ali went to when he wanted a sneaky slice. (I've heard that Mohammed Ali has a vacation house on Lake Michigan somewhere...the slices are sneaky because pizza violates Muslim dietary law.) Anyway I got a pizza from there and this Korean guy wanted to know where the pickles and hot sauce were. When he saw that there was no hot sauce, he got some ketchup out of my refrigerator, and was going to pour ketchup all over the damn pizza. What he party foul. I told him to stop and just try the thing, and he was like, oh this pizza is good it doesn't need ketchup or hot sauce.

  2. Lotteria over samgyupsal? God damn. Pizza and pickles is something I never got used to either, but I don't like sweet pickles.

    I hadn't thought of the old vs young until you mentioned it. Many of the kids I taught and talked to about their travels were influenced by their parents. That is they had to eat what mom and dad ate. They also repeated what their parents said ... all chinese food is too oily and the like. Many, but not all.

  3. I just taught a high level conversation class where a lot of students studied abroad. These students all seemed very worldly so I got the impression that they had varied diets. The students that didn't travel abroad seemed mostly interested in gay people. Questions like, "Did you see gay people?" always seemed to pop up.

  4. heh :) I remember being asked by one effeminate adult student who was dressed flamboyantly how I could tell "a gay" from "a normal" man. I managed to give a non-sarcastic answer.

    One of my university students my 1st year had spent a year in NZ. He was eager to talk and his first act in class was to ask everyone if they had smoked pot and to talk about his experiences smoking pot in NZ. It made for an interesting class.

  5. This reminds me of what my mother use to say, "How do you know something, unless you try it?" (Note: Besides my mother being an accountant and saleswoman, she was also an accomplished chef. So I got international dishes.) Also, I have found it has been more the younger people that are reluctant to try something new. Have you tried smelly tofu? My co-teacher who is Hakka Chinese has a tendency to like the more blander foods and I like eating the more traditional spicier Hakka foods. The place that it should be hermetically sealed is India. Indians belive using utensils are unsanitary and by not using utensils, it forces you to wash your hands. Forget the fact that they are washing their hands in fecal infested water. (food poisoning!)


  6. I have never had the chance to try stink tofu. I would try it .... at least once. Maybe only once.

    Isn't India one of the places where there is the eating hand and bathroom hand? You never eat with your left hand because that is your bathroom hand?

  7. I was always taught to choose something on the menu I had never tried to before, because if you don't try it, how are you ever supposed to know if you like it or not? I was exposed to a wide range of food from a young age and never looked back.

    With the Confucius mentality, re-enforced by an education system that stifles creative thought, encourages rote memorization, dictation and group-think is it any wonder Koreans, especially older ones, act as they do in foreign countries?

    You're talking about a country that spends billions of dollars of year on language education that they study for years and years, yet can barely make a complete sentence in that language. Almost their entire technological economy is based on copying, not innovating. University students couldn't write an standard 5 paragraph essay if their life depended on it. We even have a description of their own special brand of logic and people like you have built a now-common catchphrase that so aptly describes it. Is it any wonder they behave as they do?

  8. David:

    Taking all that into account ... no. It is no surprise.

    My parents were never adventurous in their eating. Dad was a meat and potatoes man. One of the benefits of travelling around the country in the truck with him, and parts of the US, is that I was able to experience regional cuisine. Dad may not have been interested but he did let me try new things.

  9. Maybe they figure when they're on holiday is not really the time to be trying new stuff. Especially in dirty countries like SE Asia. As it is, you simply can't find non-Korean food or ingredients very easily at all in Korea. That's why they think we all eat pi-cha and ham-bo-go. There was a middle eastern chap at Mokdong Hyundai Dept. Store who was unable to continue cooking lamb in the foodcourt because it offended the locals delicate tastes (with a large chunk of xenophobia and bumpkin ignorance thrown in too). Some tastes are a little too much for Koreans eg cumin smells to them as bad as the smelly soybean soup (chungguk jang or something)but once over that they adapt. If I were to open any restaurant in Korea I'd open a kebab joint though I don't think I could deal with people asking for mayonnaise and ketchup then smacking away on it. Yom yom......yom yom yom.
    You can't do much when faced with a Korean who will say Korean rice is the right rice for Koreans.

  10. I heard some of the reasoning for bringing their own rice with them on vacation along that line. Korean rice is better. Korean rice is best for Koreans.

  11. "Almost their entire technological economy is based on copying, not innovating."

    "With the Confucius mentality, re-enforced by an education system that stifles creative thought...."

    Orly David?

    I don't know, David... looks like you just have a very biased, idiotic view there.

  12. Actually I think David was spot on when it cam to creative thought and education. The education system in SoKo does stifle creative thought with it's dependence on route memorization. Most South Koreans just can't think outside of the box.

    Maybe those sites consider copying tech and then improving it to be innovative but for me being innovative always meant creating new things or new ways to apply things.

  13. "Maybe those sites consider copying tech and then improving it to be innovative...."

    You're being illogically biased here, Flint. You're being an ass with that comment. That's not very characteristic of you. Did you read the articles? Did you see what the methodologies were? Or are you just assuming Korea was being given "innovation points" for improving old ideas?

    I don't doubt that the Korean education system prefers memorization over creativity, but I feel like Koreans have found ways to express their creativity anyways. They have good writers, innovators and artists. Maybe not musicians or TV drama writers, but their movies are decent.

  14. So ... their movies are decent which makes them creative and great innovators. And I am illogically biased?

  15. I went back and reread the sites and they still haven't changed my mind. Let's look at the sites.

    The first is a blog which the author uses to push his books. It starts off a little confused. It is titled The Most Innovative Countries but then talks about The top ten innovation friendly companies. I am guessing he really meant countries because it did mention basing this ranking on number of patents, tax policies, etc.

    2nd site, when it comes to South Koreas, sets its sights on the cell phone companies. As I said in my illogically biased comment ... is improving existing tech really creating something new?

    3rd site talks about the same sort of industry and Korea wanting to focus on green technologies. If this isn't just another "well being" or "hub of Asia" fad and Korea creates new things then yes. But that will be in the future, not now. I hope they can pull it off.

    The last site took more reading than the others but basically goes along the same vein. Once again number of patents is a part of it.

    They do, as I said in my "ass" like comment, consider taking existing tech and improving it to be innovation. As I said in my comment that offended your sensibilities so much, FOR ME being innovative has meant creating new things
    and new ways to apply things. Last I checked, I was allowed to have an opinion.

    A lot of Canadians think the CanadArm used in the shuttle was some great leap in tech. All they did was adapt a robotic arm for use in space. Much like some are adapted for use under water while others make things in factories. Is it an achievement? Yes. Was it some great creative burst? No. They created nothing new.

    You would have been better off to use the last part of my comment and talk about how revamping existing technology is innovation/creation rather than to start name calling. You would have had a better chance of changing my mind then. Odds are you could have swayed me or at least got me to think about it more. But you didn't.

  16. Alright. Let's play your game, Flint.

    By you standards, then, which country is really so much more innovative than Korea that it warrants someone like David, and yourself, to label Korea as uncreative, unimaginative, mechanical and un-individualistic?

    America? Because they brought out the iPhone? But how is this something brand, spanking new?

    And please, don't give me some random cool thing an individual in Sweden is doing it. I mean, show me a trend of amazing innovation. By your standards.

    BTW, let's also point out that BusinessWeek probably has a better understanding of trends and innovation in Korean technology than you or David. So when they say that these companies are being "innovative," I'm more inclined to believe it than when David says that they're entire economy is nothing but imitation.

    "So ... their movies are decent which makes them creative and great innovators. And I am illogically biased?"

    You're a great guy, but time and time again, you've shown that little offenses to you tends to mess up your reasoning and reading. I didn't say that these things made Korea a country of "AMAZING innovations." I stated that, despite the stifling educational system, Korea managed to produce good artists in many cultural areas... which, if I'm not mistaken, makes them, at least, some what "creative."

    Just because Korea has a very group-centered culture doesn't mean that they're not creative. Group-think is not a Korean problem; it's human psychology. But the way David stated it, and the way you so happily agreed seemed to imply that Koreans were mechanical (like how 1970's America saw Japan).

    I was especially sad that you said "most South Koreans can't think outside of the box." That's a broad, generalizing statement, and let's be honest, most PEOPLE can't think outside of the box, which is why those who can are seen as INNOVATORS. If Koreans were really as bad as you say they are, they wouldn't be where they are right now.

    But let's go to the heart of the problem and why I was so offended in the first place:

    WTF does being creative have to do with trying to eat new foods? David simply attacks Korea's educational system (which I agree has problems) unnecessarily. That's a topic for another discussion, and it doesn't have much to do with why Koreans don't like eating foreign foods. It's like telling a kid he sucks at math because he's fat. It's attacking for the sake of attacking.

    As for why Koreans don't like trying new food...? I don't know. I live in America, and the Koreans here don't mind trying new stuff. They don't actively seek it, but when asked they're usually not opposed to trying it. I would say that there is some merit in them avoiding the food though, as most of them tend to dislike almost everything other than Korean, Japanese and Mexican (and Tex-Mex) food.

  17. You ask a good question, one which I have been thinking of since your first comment. What country is the most innovative? I really don't know. It seems that a lot of what is "created" nowadays is just building on what already exists. It isn't really new.

    Like I said with the CanadArm. Canadians were being pumped up about it being a great creation ... but was it something great and new that was created? Not really.

    Much like movies today. How many of them are remakes, versions of TV shows, adaptations of a foreign film? It doesn't mean they are all bad ... but creative? I loved the new Batman movies but making a darker version isn't the same as coming your own creation. One of my problems with the new revamped Star Trek was that it was just a retread. Instead of starting their own new characters.

    I guess I just don't consider a newer version of something to be creating. Expanding on existing knowledge yes, but not creating. Maybe my benchmark is too high?

  18. whitey esl racist leave korea if no like it

  19. and with post-Freudian metaphysics, you have been logically outflanked my dear Flint. Your 'some aspects I liked, some I didn't' is always exposed to the Barthes-ian (PhD, Sorbonne) 'well fuck off then.'
    My only comment to anonymous 'whitey esl leave if no like' would be; only contribute to a discussion once you have embraced the concept of opposable thumbs and can walk without dragging your knuckles on the ground. Until then, grownups are talking.

  20. Ahem.
    To speak to the subject of the post, I remember my 2nd trip from Korea. During Chusok 2002, I went to China on a package tour. This was early on in my travelling, so I hadn't yet learned how to go off the beaten path, or even to arrange my own trip. I did tha next time, when I went to Russia.
    But I digress.
    The package tour was all Koreans. There was one guy there who spoke English, and he got stuck as my roommate.
    Wherever we went, the tour guide's commentary was in Korean, but that was okay. I had a good guidebook with all the info I needed.
    I remember the first dinner we ate together in Beijing. The Koreans brought out juice boxes of soju and foil packets of kimchi. They invited me to share with them that night but never again. I don't know if they ran out or they were keeping it to themselves.
    This was just after Korea had finished fourth in the World Cup that year, so there were a lot of red shirts being worn. When we were on the "dragon boats" at Tong Qing gorge, one of our group yelled "Dae Han Min Guk!" at another boat, and was rewarded when ALL of the people on the other boat screamed it back at him. So from then on, they would all yell it every time another boat passed us. Sometimes they were rewarded, but most of the time the passengers on the other boats would look at them with the expression on their face that said, "What the kimchi?"
    I have subsequently learned how to travel "off the beaten path" and have been rewarded with some pretty good food and drink.
    Whenever I discussed travel with my students, I would urge them to experiment. But not that many of them were even into travelling outside Korea, much less trying something like foreign cuisine.
    Oh well.

  21. I haven't been outflanked! I have the perfect response.

    Oh yeah?!?!?

  22. korean food is best why eat other food only make you sick