Click here for Video of Hope and Mike Smith shopping at the Korean Market!
I love fish! That is to say I love to watch fish, swim with fish, look at pictures of fish, take pictures of fish. Just please don’t ask me to eat any! I would blame this on genetics or being brought up in the corn-fed beef territory of the Midwest, but that would be futile since everyone in my family, including my perpetually picky son, loves fish! Loves to eat them, that is. I’m not sure how they feel about the other jovial activities involving fish.
So as an army wife, moving to Korea has been a bit of a challenge for me. Not with the culture, the people, the newness of the experience (although those do have their moments of difficulty), but because their staple food is fish.
People say, “Don’t you just love the Korean food?” I awkwardly answer, “I love bulgogi,” (Korean spiced beef), “and really enjoy cucumber kimchi.” (A fermented Korean side dish of seasoned vegetables.) By focusing on the positive and living in my own denial, this helps me save face, at least a bit.
So when my husband asked me if I wanted to go to the Korean market, I happily said, “You bet,” ready to greet another new Korean cultural experience. Now, I expected it to be like a farmers’ market back home with tons of fresh fruits and veggies. And it was partly, anyway, with their bowls of bright peppers, humongous carrots, juicy Asian pears, etc. But mostly it was fish.
So being the non-fish eater I am, instead of making a bunch of joyous purchases, I took pictures because the bins, vats and tables full of fish were fascinating to me. At one point in my picture-snapping, video-making journey of the market, a Korean vender harshly said, “One carteen, one dollar! One carteen, one dollar!” I did not at first realize he was talking to me as I took short videos of his tables covered with rows of vividly blue fish. And I certainly didn’t know what a carteen was. Still don’t.
When it finally occurred to me he was actually directing his broken English to me, I repeated what I thought he was meaning, “One dollar for a picture?” And I’m pretty sure I made a little scrunched face along with my question. He just laughed, revealing his jesting – I think we had reached the limits of his English-speaking ability – and I laughed, too.
At that moment I realized with just our short exchange we had bridged a gap in communication, not with words, but with laughter. When two people of different languages, different cultures can laugh together, a higher connection of the joy of life is made. Even if one of them doesn’t eat fish.