Kimchi is an extremely popular traditional Korean dish. This spicy fermented cabbage is ubiquitous throughout Korea and is basically served with every meal. To say that Koreans love kimchi would be an understatement.
When you dine at any type of eatery they will bring you kimchi before you get your food and they will also make sure there is enough on the table to compliment your meal. I have really taken a liking to kimchi and I think it is best with a mouthful of beef. People are in a kind of panic here because a very rainy September ruined much of the Chinese cabbage crop that is exported to Korea.
I cannot really think of America’s equivalent of kimchi. I read an article that said kimchi for Koreans is like pasta for Italians, people cannot go without it (or how about potatoes for the Irish) . The price of kimchi has gone up so much that some restaurants are becoming much more frugal with their kimchi and the people here are referring to it as gold. The city government of Seoul recently initiated a kimchi bailout program. Seriously. In the US, the government bailed out failing banks, here in Korea the government is rescuing cabbage consumers. Apparently the government is shouldering 30% of the cost of roughly 300,000 heads of cabbage it has purchased, making it more affordable for consumers.
No pot to piss in
For those of you who have not been to Korea before and are coming I would like to offer you a valuable piece of advice. Before you leave your house pretend like you are going on a long road trip in a car. In other words, make sure you relieve yourself before heading out, because it’s likely to be difficult to find a bathroom. Decent restaurants typically have restrooms but you have to dine to use their toilet. Most small family run eateries do not have accessible bathrooms nor do convenience stores and the like. I have been here for three weeks so I do know of a place or two that I can go to in case of a dire situation, but the scarcity takes some getting used to; my body is becoming conditioned and quite adept at operating at a high level with a bladder that is on full.
Another thing … when you actually do find a restroom there’s an excellent possibility that it is a mixed gender bathroom. It would have been nice if someone told me this before I nearly pissed all over myself at a urinal when a girl walked passed me and into the stall behind me. At that moment I was utterly confused: Am I in the women’s bathroom? If I am in the women’s bathroom why are there urinals? Maybe she is in the wrong bathroom. Did she see my package? Did she look impressed? Why does it sound like she is dumping a bucket of water into the toilet? I alerted a coworker when I got back to our table and he explained to me that it is not uncommon. I can deal, but a warning would have been nice.
Sans trash cans
Whereas public restrooms are a challenge to find in Daegu, trash cans are impossible. I’m not sure if this is the case in other cities, but in Daegu there are no public trash cans outside, anywhere. I have come across one since I have been here and it brought me so much joy that I went into a corner store and bought a candy bar just so I could use the garbage can by throwing away the wrapper, and because I like chocolate. Remarkably the streets are relatively well-kept and for the most part free of debris and litter.
What Daegu lacks in trash cans and restrooms they make up for in mirrors. There are mirrors everywhere. I am used to seeing mirrors in many places in America so it is not foreign to me, but I’m not used to having the opportunity to look at my self so frequently. I often see women standing in front of mirrors fixing their hair, reapplying makeup, or just staring. Nietzsche wrote that “vanity is the fear of appearing original” and this seems to be a perfect explanation for Daegu’s abundance of mirrors where people can make sure they fall in line with the rest. People here tend to value collectivism more than individuality and self-differentiation. You see a lot of the same hairstyles and people wear the same kinds of clothes because being different is not something that too many strive for – although this seems to be less the case in the younger generation where personal self-expression is manifested more often. What does this mean for me? I find myself singing Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror more than ever before.