[FOUNTAIN]Chopsticks shall conquerGermany is a forerunner in technology yet with all its advanced technology, there seems to be too few good dentists around. I have met too many Germans with tears in their eyes, bemoaning a recent visit to the dentist. Once, a Korean acquaintance of mine living in Germany went to a dentist for treatment. When he saw the gold crown my friend had gotten in Korea, he commented admiringly, “This isn’t a gold tooth, this is art!”
Gold teeth are not the only things from Korea that get expressions of approval here. Even simple hairdos and gift wrappings done by Korean hands are done as no German ever does them. One wonders where this comparative manual dexterity among Koreans comes from.
The whole world knows Koreans have skillful hands. Korea has won first place in the annual World Skills Competition a total of 12 times since 1977, including a nine-year-run until 1991. The contest includes teams from different nations vying in categories ranging from tailoring to machine operation. Koreans are not the only Asians good with their hands. Japan did well in these competitions before Korea, and China is following close.
So, where does this dexterity in Asians come from? To answer this question, many pundits of the Western world point their fingers at those slender and tricky devices called chopsticks. Renowned historian Albert Toynbee once predicted that the four countries of Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam would rule the world one day. These four distinct countries share the common ground of being rooted in Confucianism and all use chopsticks. Thus, it seems that using chopsticks is the way to train oneself to conquer the world.
A person uses more than 30 joints and 50 muscles in the hand and arm when manipulating a chopstick properly. That is twice as many as when using a fork and knife. And probably twice as much brain power. Try eating green-lentil jelly, a Korean delicacy, with chopsticks. Many natives of non-chopstick using nations are fascinated at the way Koreans can pick up small beans and jelly with chopsticks.
These days, Koreans apply their dexterity to semiconductors, mobile phones and TFT-LCD monitors. They are also good at such sports as table-tennis, archery, badminton, shooting and golf that need manual skills. This is another reason to teach my fork-wielding daughter how to use chopsticks.
by Yoo Jae-sik
The writer is the Berlin correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.