November 5, 2010

Memories of Korean Encounters and My First Taste of a Korean Delicacy

So I came home late last night (again) and found a strange-looking bottle placed atop the dining table. It's one of those large bottles that are used to store strawberry jams and peanut butter. You know, the ones that are so ubiquitous at the Baguio City Market and at the Maharlika Livelihood Center. The one atop of our dining table, however, didn't contain strawberry jam nor peanut butter. It instead contains something that looks like decaying vegetables mixed with some orange-looking powder and juice.

“KIMCHI”, the label of the bottle said. Ahhhh...I said to this is KIMCHI, the ever-famous Korean delicacy. I've heard so much about it but I never really got the chance to taste it. You are probably laughing right now or even worse pitying me for not having ever tasted the KIMCHI when the city I call home is starting to be taken over by our eyeglass-wearing brothers and sisters from Seoul, Pyongyang, NorKor,'s getting really confusing where these people come from nowadays.

I never really had a long-term Korean friend so don't blame me for my total KIMCHI-ignorance. I never tutored a Korean so there was no one to give me “gifts of KIMCHI on garapons”.

The closest I ever got to closely befriending a Korean was in Saint Louis University when I was studying there. I've had many Korean classmates before and I never came to personally know them but there was this one in particular who became my seat mate so there really was no choice but to get me to know her and get her to know me. We were seat mates for Jesus' sake. Ignoring her would be inhumane.

I really can't remember her Korean name but she wanted me and everyone else to call her Natalie. You gotta give it to these Koreans, they are pretty good in choosing sweet-sounding names for themselves.

Saint Louis classrooms have these long tables as student desks which can accommodate up to 4 heads. I and my new Korean friend had a table all for our very selves because we were seated at the back of the room. It was pretty awkward at first because she was a girl and I was a guy. We did nothing more than exchange forced smiles during the first days of classes.

As days and weeks went by, we naturally became more and more comfortable with each other. The forced smiles turned into genuine ones. Hand signals turned into touches. She was really struggling with her English that more often than not we are communicating with hand motions and signals. You would think we were a couple of mutes if you would've seen us. There were times when I had to repeat what I just said five times just so she will understand. But other than these communication barriers, we were really turning into something. We are starting to become really good friends. We had lunch at the school canteen several times. We wrote a 12-page school report together. We watched a movie once (if I remember it right, it was Babylon AD starring Vin Diesel). She introduced me to some of her friends. We cheered for and watched her younger brother play soccer at the Melvin Jones Football grounds. We watched an amateur boxing card at Malcolm Square. We even played bowling once at a bowling alley located along Mabini Street (I'm not sure if it's Mabini or Juan Luna St.).

I don't know why but she never introduced me to KIMCHI. We were friends for just a semester because she got out of the country before the second semester even began. She never told me the reason and I entertained the idea of an “obligatory military service” back in Korea but I don't think it applies to women. So there's gotta be another reason. I've never had any contact with her after she went back home. I sometimes meet her brother along Session Road but I just couldn't muster enough courage to approach him and ask about his sister.

Anyway, back to the KIMCHI thing. I got a spoonful of the thing and stuffed it into my mouth. And I was like...this is KIMCHI!!!? If this is KIMCHI, then I have been eating KIMCHI all my life. The only difference is that we don't call it KIMCHI. I don't know about you but KIMCHI is just “wombok” with too much chili sauce.

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