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Monday, 23 March 2009

The Art of the Korean School Lunch - Page 3

Written by Jon W. Wick
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If I had a nickel for every time I responded ‘hello’ to one of my students in the lunchroom, well, let’s just say that would solve a lot of my problems. Since those coins aren’t showing up on my doorstop anytime soon, I’m slogging through the days teaching English in rural Korea. Stepping off the airplane blind to the place, culture, or customs, I’ve come to take solace in the most unassuming of places - the school cafeteria.

Your neighbors will almost certainly heighten the dining experience. Lunch is not treated as the social hour it often is back home. Save that for the post-lunch coffee. It’s business as usual. Don’t be surprised with hearing noises you thought may never come from a living human, and be on the lookout for spat out animal bones flying through the air. The slurps and lip smacks are a mainstay. Table manners, as we know them, are virtually nonexistent, but I recommend familiarizing yourself beforehand on the Korean versions; they will score you huge points with everyone.

Even before you get those darn chopsticks situated in your hand so they’re usable, you may find the person you sat down with already sucking up their remaining morsels of rice. Yes, this will happen; Koreans have been described as ‘voracious’ eaters. They may finish a day and a half before you, but are always quick to compliment or give chopsticking pointers. Of course, you could always visit a few sushi restaurants before getting on the plane.

When the dust settles on the eating extravaganza, you may notice what I’ve coined, ‘the kimchi tie.’ This happens when an inexperienced Korean eater, pairs their chopstick ability against the wide range of potent spices found here. Many times I have gripped those slippery pieces of fermented cabbage or radish cubes, and brought it to my mouth just as it slips free, marking a scarlet racing stripe from my breastbone to my lap. Along the same lines, be careful of the soup - the spicy splatters make a cute polka-dot design. You may want to ask your mother to send a box of red lobster bibs in her next care package.

Now all you have to do is say ‘hello’ every three seconds to eager-eyed students, navigate your way through the lingering crowd, discard your leftovers and tray, put silverware in their appropriate containers, and start preparing to do it all over again tomorrow. Bon appetite!

© Jon W. Wick

(Page 3 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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