By Eric Fahrenthold
Kimchi is a favorite dish throughout Korea. Many Koreans eat it with every meal. What is it? Cabbage mostly but it is pickled with spices that when done right will light the taste buds on fire. There are of course milder versions. My knowledge of Korean culture is amazingly small. Several years ago, when I was in the Navy, I was fortunate enough to spend a little bit of time Pusan and Chenhai but certainly not enough to be an authority
Culture is a complex subject and one not to be taken lightly. One can certainly understand all the concerns that have been voiced regarding the impromptu meeting between Trump and the North Korean Leader. A meeting of such diverse characters is certain to be packed full of offensive moments. The stakes could not be higher, so I do sincerely concede my appreciation and concern for those whose job is to advise president Trump on matters of diplomacy.
My first exposure to diplomacy happens to have occurred in Pusan, Korea on Texas street. I have stationed onboard the USS Fife, and we had docked at the military base in Chinhae to do some things I can’t talk about. It wasn’t a liberty port though and even if it was there is nothing to do in Chinhae except shoot pool. The real fun was a forty minute cab ride away in the city of Pusan. Every night after work we would all pile into several taxies and head out to that destination, and the drivers knew exactly where to take us, Texas street. It was the bar district full of street vendors and merchants. A really good place to drink, spend your money, and get into trouble if you weren’t careful. It was there a group of my friends encountered Russian sea merchants and challenged them to a game of who could punch the electronic punching bag the hardest.
It was also where I got a really good deal on a leather jacket. It was a very exciting a buzzing atmosphere. Everyone was drinking bottles of Oscar; it’s a cheap sparkling wine that was being sold instead of beer. There was also a delicacy known as a ‘hamOeggOcheeseO” cooked right there in the street on a grill that smells like heaven at about 3 am. That is where I was standing and waiting patiently for my sandwich to be made when I was accosted by a South Korean gentleman that had been drinking a few too many Oscars.
In fact, he had a bottle in his hand when he started in on me. It wasn’t the first time I had seen him. In fact, I had been avoiding the guy all night. He was a South Korean soldier. Actually, he was a South Korean special forces soldier. They call them “Roks” (Republic of Korea) and from what I had been told they were trained very well. This particular one had been intimidating people all night by shouting loudly in Korean and displaying his martial arts skills in close proximity to folks at random.
Like I said I spent most of the night avoiding him, but there I was at 3 am, holding my freshly made HamOeggOcheeseO when said Korean Bruce Lee grabs my arm. We looked at each other for a second before he pointed at my sandwich and then he pointed to his mouth. I suppose some people would have caved but that’s precisely why I had been avoiding the guy because I’m not like some people. I shook my head no and tried to walk off, but he didn’t let go of me. Instead, he repeated his demand that I give him my food.
It was then it occurred to me that I had spent all my money on the sandwich and had no money to buy an Oscar. So, I pointed at the man’s drink and then back to my own face. What happened next was a very quick simulation of him kicking me first at my knees, midsection, and finally about an inch from my nose with his foot and all without removing his hand from my shoulder. I was very impressed, however still very thirsty.
Knowing this person could destroy me in a matter of seconds I was not deterred. When he was done, I once again pointed at his drink. Reluctantly he conceded and handed me the bottle as I too in return allowed the man a bite of my sandwich. Afterward, the ROK shouted some stuff in Korean and patted me on the back a few times. Some of the Korean bar girls started shouting at him. He argued with them for a short while then disappeared into the night. I think they had told him he was drunk and should go home.
In conclusion, there are some things that transcend both language, culture, and aggression. Regardless of preconceived notions, human beings are very simple creatures with very common needs. The world has stood by abated breathe at the situation on the Korean Peninsula for far too long. The Korean War was a devastating event for everyone involved. The situation that exists today is not one that benefits anyone. In fact, it has escalated to the point of threatening the lives of millions. I can think of nothing more significant in my life than to see the end of the Korean War.
It makes the wall coming down in Germany look like a renovation on an episode of Flip this House. Again, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Fortunately, we are sending a guy that isn’t like most people to negotiate. If I could make one suggestion though, make sure there is lots of food. Breaking bread is a good way to break the ice, and It looks like Kim Jong doesn’t miss many meals.
I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject in the comment section below.