[FOUNTAIN]North’s utensils rustingPearl S. Buck, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her novel “The Good Earth,” visited Korea for the first time in November 1960. Since she had spent 10 years of her childhood in China, she was familiar with the East, but there were still a lot of things that seemed marvelous to her. This is an incident from Gyeongju. Near sunset, Ms. Buck made this comment after seeing a farmer carrying a sheaf of rice in an A-frame carrier and walking beside an oxcart loaded with rice sheaves: “If he was an American farmer, he would have loaded everything in the cart and have also ridden the cart himself. A heart trying to reduce the burden of the ox, this is what I want to see in Korea.”
When Ms. Buck saw shredded radish in a Korean restaurant, she asked “Weren’t these cut by machine?” When she learned they were hand-cut, she said, “This is not food but art.” When she witnessed a young student at an elementary school pick up beans with chopsticks, she exclaimed, “That is circus.” After she examined bits of Korea carefully, Ms. Buck wrote “The Living Reed.” This novel relates the life of four generations of one family during the period of 1910 to 1945, when Korea was liberalized. In this novel, she praised Korea as “a jewel-like country where elegant people live.”
Ms. Buck was surprised at the student’s ability with chopsticks but the Korean Peninsula has a developed spoon and chopstick culture. There aren’t many nations that use the spoon and chopsticks together. The Chinese and Japanese use spoons, but they mainly use chopsticks. However, in Korea a spoon is essential since soup is served with rice, jjigae and tang. In China, a spoon is used to serve portions or eat soup and in Japan they drink the soup and rarely use spoons.
Spoons and chopsticks are life companions for Koreans. On our first birthdays, we get our own spoon and chopsticks with a rice bowl and soup bowl. They are a present from our parents wishing us a happy life. As we grow, the spoon and chopsticks get bigger. When we get married, we get a new spoon and pair of chopsticks. And when we hear the words, “set down one’s spoon” it means the person is no longer part of this world.
Recently the Rodong Sinmun of North Korea reported, “Our nation’s custom of using a spoon and chopsticks to eat was created in ancient times.” It continued, “Through this, we can see how cultivated our nation is.” However, what is the current situation of North Korean citizens? Aren’t they starving so much their spoons and chopsticks are rusting? Isn’t the jewel-like culture declining? When will the day come for North Korean citizens to use their spoons and chopsticks without worrying?
by Lee Sang-il
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.