Sometimes too spicy, for words or foodWhile trying to come up with creative responses to friends who asked about my recent trip to Jeju, I confronted the issue of truthfulness in our use of adjectives. Come to think of it, it's amazing how much adjectives say about our attitudes to what we are trying to describe. They’re such a potent reflection of how one feels, it almost seems impossible to use adjectives and be objective at the same time.
Often in journalism, I find the more adjectives a writer uses, the further the writing strays from its essence. Maybe that's precisely why some writers love to use refined adjectives: to blur a piece’s essence and evoke fantasy.
For whatever reasons, I prefer using metaphor. Still, there are situations where adjectives are a helpful tool to get across cultural nuances.
In the world of girl talk, for example, the word "cute" seems a universal expression for almost anything that's charming and cool. "Handsome" has a subtle undertone of detachment, while the word "sexy," for those foreigners who still haven't worked it out, is almost banned among everyday Koreans, especially when describing women. Often licensed fashion magazines in Korea make the mistake of directly translating the word from an English article, but "sexy" in Korean is likely to sound parallel to "cheap" or "weird."
Unlike the Americans, the Korean word for "beautiful" is also intended for situations, to praise a thought or an act of behavior, rather than a person. An act of charity may be beautiful, such as a man who saves a child's life in the subway. But a man, or let me rephrase it, most Korean men, without excessive training in sports, dancing or acting, wouldn't normally describe a person, especially a woman, as "beautiful."
It’s almost as if for a person to reach the state of beauty, he or she has to embody some grand utopian ideals. Or perhaps Koreans truly believe that beauty is only skin deep.
Instead of "beautiful," common adjectives to compliment young people in Korea reflect societal values, such as "trustworthy" for men or "subtle" for women. It's hard to think one can tell a man's trustworthiness from his appearance, but many Koreans seem to believe they have that skill.
In the end, adjectives are like extra spice in food. But, like a good dish of raw arrow squid I had in Jeju, you don’t always need the extra spice when the ingredients are fresh. Who needs adjectives when lying on a bench overlooking a pool, sipping fruit punch ― seriously, truly, really?
How to Cook
Raw Arrow Squid
Ingredients (for 2 servings): 1 arrow squid, 1 cucumber, 2 green chilli peppers, 1/2 carrot, 1/2 radish, 5 sesame leaves, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds. For sauce: 1/2 cup water, 2 teaspoon of red chilli paste, 1 teaspoon of red chilli pepper, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar, a little crushed garlic, crushed ginger and sesame seeds.
1. Clean the squid and slice into thick strands.
2. Cut the radish, cucumber, carrot and sesame leaves into bitesize pieces. Cut the green chilli pepper diagonally. Slice the garlic thinly.
3. In a bowl, mix all the sauce ingredients.
4. On a separate dish, place the squid in the center and surround it with the vegetables. Serve the sauce separately.
by Park Soo-mee