[OUTLOOK]Politicians and the code of tastes

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[OUTLOOK]Politicians and the code of tastes

This is the age of taste. These days, only if your “code of tastes” accords with the times can you make your fortune. The explosive popularity of “Daejangeum,” the television drama of a palace cook in the Joseon Dynasty, testifies to this.
An acquaintance of mine who is a weapons dealer recently said it was probably more profitable to set up a restaurant with the right “code of tastes” in a posh neighborhood in Seoul than to sell missiles.
But these days, the taste that most Koreans have in their mouths is bitter. Politics has once again made us lose our appetite.
From olden times, Koreans have eaten well-matured kimchi to restore their appetite. But it is an extremely tricky affair to get the taste of kimchi just right. It is said that the cabbage must die five times for the taste of kimchi to turn out properly.
The cabbage meets its first “death” when it is harvested. It dies again when it is split and again when it is pickled in salt water. It dies for the fourth time when it is mixed with hot powdered red pepper and salty fish or shrimp seasoning, and finally it meets its last death by being buried underground in a clay jar. Only then can it be reborn as a true kimchi.
The presidential election was held one year ago. As if to remind us of the past year, the two presidential candidates at that time, Lee Hoi-chang and Roh Moo-hyun, held a debate through separate news conferences at the beginning of this week. In a simile appropriate to an age ruled by the “code of tastes,” Mr. Lee and President Roh can be compared to kimchi.
Mr. Lee could be described as being kimchi that failed by pretending to be wilted cabbage, although it has been pickled too much to be called wilted cabbage. The cabbage was all right and the amount of seasoning and powdered red pepper was right, too. But it was pickled in salt water too long from the beginning.
Mr. Lee won 10 million votes in the election only because the people missed the taste they were used to, not because they were enthralled in particular by Lee Hoi-chang’s kind of kimchi.
As mentioned above, a cabbage must die five times to become the right kimchi. Mr. Lee, who entered politics at a late age when he should have never set foot in it, can be said to have died four times so far. He died his first political death when he was replaced as prime minister in 1994 under the Kim Young-sam administration.
He ran in the 1997 presidential election and lost, his second death. Afterwards, he was plagued by allegations that the National Tax Service and other government agencies secretly and illegally aided him in his campaign. His fourth death came last year when he again lost the presidential race.
Now, Mr. Lee seems ready to face his fifth death, declaring that he is ready to take all responsibility and go to prison for the allegations of illegal campaign funds used last year.
While it is a highly personal opinion, I believe that by this action Mr. Lee has shone as never before since he entered politics. Since his kind of kimchi can only find its true taste after being buried underground in a clay jar, the only way for Mr. Lee to truly survive is, perhaps, to volunteer to go to jail.
That would be the way for Mr. Lee to respect himself and to repay the 10 million votes that were given to him. It could perhaps also be the best sort of revenge he could have on this ridiculous administration.
Roh Moo-hyun’s kimchi is no kimchi at all. It is just wilted cabbage that swam around in salt water, pretending to be pickled. Last year, there were many who welcomed his version as a fresh taste.
But wilted cabbage is only wilted cabbage. It is not true kimchi. Try burying wilted cabbage in a clay jar in the ground and see what happens. It becomes limp and soggy before long. Then it starts to rot. The reason that President Roh reached the point of declaring that he wasn’t capable of being president was because he was like wilted cabbage in a clay jar. The most important thing to remember when making kimchi is to pickle it well. Only proper maturing will bring out its true taste.
Lee Hoi-chang has been pickled too well while Roh Moo-hyun hasn’t been pickled at all. The president’s kimchi might serve as wilted cabbage, but it has been impossible to eat it as kimchi from the beginning.
It is now almost a year since we’ve buried our kimchi underground. The people of Korea, as the owners of the clay jar, have thought of making kimchi over again but, finding it too burdensome, have just decided to stick to the first kimchi. It could still be edible if made into a stew, we thought.
But the cabbage in the clay jar couldn’t stand its heat itself, bubbling up to the point of rattling the jar cover. Such kimchi we’ve never seen before, we must say. Isn’t it just asking to be thrown away? Then again, how could we expect cabbage to know the mind of the jar owner?

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Chung Jin-hong

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