[Viewpoint] Political inspiration at the dinner table

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[Viewpoint] Political inspiration at the dinner table

The Korean foods Japanese people like the most are bibimbap and bulgogi. Bibimbap especially is unusual for Japan. Japanese people never mix different foods together. They say mixing food is “something unimaginable.” Therefore, they consider the “bibim” (“mixing”) part of bibimbap a sort of crime against form.

There is a reason behind this. Japanese consider the best food to have the “taste of the original ingredients.” Therefore, soy sauce or mustard or any other sauce is tolerated only to the extent that does not change the taste of the original ingredients. Therefore, sashimi, or raw fish, will still taste like sashimi, vegetables will still taste like vegetables, and meat will still taste like meat.

This does not apply to food only. It also applies to religion. There are 8 million gods in Japan - there is a shrine in almost every alley. In a certain area, there is a shrine that is famous for giving blessings for traffic safety, while another famous shrine helps students pass their university entrance exams. People from the whole country gather at these famous shrines. That’s why there can be 8 million gods at 8 million different shrines.

This is also the case with Buddhism in Japan. When Buddhism was first introduced from Baekje, the emperor of Japan considered Buddha as “one of the gods of a neighboring country.”

Shintoism is still a strong influence on Japanese Buddhism, while less than 1 percent of the population is Christian. It is difficult for Christianity, which worships “the one and only God,” to coexist with traditional Shintoism and its 8 million gods. Thus, Japan keeps its tradition of separation in food and religion.

What about Korea? In short, we have a “culture of mixing together.” Buddhism in Korea has a strong characteristic of harmony. And it is rare to find a country that accepted Christianity as quickly and independently as Koreans did. Ingredients that do not look like they go together, such as vegetables, rice, gochujang pepper paste and sesame oil are mixed together to make bibimbap. The same logic applies to kimchi and Korean stew. Salted seafood, Chinese cabbage, oysters and garlic are mixed together and fermented. This is how the taste of kimchi, which is completely different from the taste of the original ingredients, is born.

However, a “culture of mixing together” is necessarily one that sees things as unified. This culture considers me and another person to be one, not two. Bibim is only possible when vegetables, gochujang, sesame oil and rice are considered one. Bibim is created when people accept the idea that “we are beings that can all be mixed together” and “we are renewed every time we mix together.”

It is only through mixing that fermentation can begin. When the original tastes of each ingredient are mixed and dyed, leading to chemical reactions, the whole dish rises to a higher level.

This is how the taste of “matured kimchi” and the taste of bibimbap, distinct from the tastes of gochujang and sesame oil and rice, are born. These are tastes of mutual understanding that come only as the result of interaction.

People and society should be mixed together, too. Labor and management are not “soup with rice,” where soup and rice are served separately. The government and opposition parties are not soup with rice, either. This also applies to fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and husbands and wives. They have to talk, communicate and compromise continuously to be mixed together. This is how they mature, because while they are mixed together they ferment and create a new taste.

The “middle-of-the-road leadership” of President Lee Myung-bak is actually the story of bibimbap. The left and the right wings are just the ingredients. It is foolish to think about and fight over whether there are “more of our vegetables or more of their gochujang” in the dish. The mixing does not take place for the sake of the vegetables or gochujang, just as these decisions are not for the left or right wing. There is only one reason for mixing, and that is to make the best bibimbap.

Therefore, we need to think: Are we ready to be mixed? This is the decision the Democratic Party faces. Will it become “soup with rice,” focusing only on fighting against the government, or become bibimbap, presenting actual solutions and alternative policies? The future of the Democratic Party depends on this decision.


*The writer is a culture and sports writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Baik Sung-ho
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