Korea: <i>Ah! Vous dirais-je maman, ce qui cause mon tourment</i> Korean passive turns to French active
It seems that this whole week has been about food. Well, it's hard not to let a whole week be about food when so much about life in Seoul seems to revolve around eating and its traditions, customs, history and processes. Thursday continued the pattern. Lunch was at a Japanese restaurant where Gracious Host offered me a particular spicy fish soup mentioning it would have been a good cure for my post-sam-cha morning the day before. I have never been, and still am not, a fan of fish soup, and this one with the same chilli paste used in kimchi was particularly tough to down, but I took another one for the team, all in the name of good cross-cultural relations. A couple of the other Korean twists on Japanese food (all the time Gracious Host suggesting that these were either original Korean things that the Japanese took or that they were Japanese things that the Koreans did better) were offered to me, emphasizing that it was good for "stamina." The word "stamina" was said with such a particular wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone to it that I think he was referring more to the Viagra kind of stamina than the "I think I'll run a marathon today" kind.
Thursday night, after the obligatory drive home by people-I-had-been-teaching, the gentlemen who drove me to my hotel again offered to have dinner with me. It seemed, from what I could tell and from the insistent way in which they had offered both nights, that they had been asked/encouraged to do so by Powers That Be, so I acquiesced. For some reason, the bellhop only seemed to mention the French restaurant and the trattoria in the basement. Now, it doesn't take too much to realize that a meal at the French restaurant inside the Hilton is going to be very, very pricey, and I had no intention of putting two salaried employees of a client company in the situation of having to pay for an absurdly expensive meal, so I suggested that we go to the Italian joint instead. However, and for some reason, they settled on French fare, despite their confession to me that they had never had French food and despite their very visible apprehension about the whole thing.
In any event, it was quite a dramatic turn of events that I became the de-facto culinary host for a meal that was unusual on its own merits. The silverware arrangement was elaborate enough to inspire terror in most humans. My eating partners were particularly amused by the semaphore of silverware used to indicate to any one of the three waiters tending our table that they could clear the table. Amongst the fabulous delicacies we enjoyed were a duck liver patÃ©, enough amouse-bouches to cleanse all the palates in the Loire valley, and a cream of mushroom with escargots that was tasty if ghastly.
I guess it's always good to get a reminder that just about every culture has some food stuff or other that is, at a philosophical and conceptual level, fundamentally fucked up.