Under the category of “intercultural opportunities I haven’t taken advantage of…yet”: hot spicy kimchi, the popular Korean dish of pickled garlicky vegetables, usually cabbage. And the DobiDos DB-1000.
My nobler self wants to connect with a culture that is new to me, while I am here in the Republic of Korea for the World Council of Churches Assembly. I find, however, that sometimes my desire for openness has been overwhelmed by caution.
I haven’t yet tasted spicy kimchi, even though it has been served as a side dish with several meals. I think my fear is a result of hearing people describe it as “an acquired taste.” This is completely irrational, because all of the Korean dishes I have eaten here have been delicious, without exception.
Am I depriving myself of something I would really enjoy?
In the same vein, at lunch the other day with the Brethren group, Samuel Dali from EYN endured ribbing for refusing to taste the octopus. Fortunately I wasn’t on the end of the table that was served the dish with fish in it because I don’t do octopus either. I successfully avoided eating octopus throughout a college semester abroad in Greece, and am not ready to give up my anti-octopus stance. No offense to octopi, of course.
On the other end of things, so to speak, I am afraid of the toilet in my hotel bathroom–the DobiDos DB-1000. I had heard mechanized toilets are popular in Asia but I’ve never seen one before. One gathers it fulfills all hygiene functions up to, and maybe including, scrubbing your back for you.
It has a console full of buttons and dials. They are all identified in Korean. Four of the largest buttons feature icons intended to help out international guests like me, but I can’t figure them out. One looks like waves. Another looks like a fountain–I’m not planning to push that one because I don’t really want a fountain erupting in the middle of my bathroom. The most mysterious looks like a man rising out of the sea. If the toilet ever does erupt I plan to push the one that looks like a stop button.
Fortunately I found the simple flush lever hidden behind the console, which was a relief.
My husband routinely pushes every button and pulls every lever when he encounters a new gadget, and he would have figured out the toilet in five minutes. So I ought to be able to.
After all I’ve been spending my days doing much more difficult things, like getting to know Christians from many different countries, communicating past language barriers with others who share a common commitment to building relationships, witnessing the ecumenical family trying to figure out how the churches can address hard issues that affect the whole world.
I have resolved to push one button–maybe on my last day here so if I flood the bathroom I won’t have to feel embarrassed in front of the hotel staff for long. And I will take a small taste of hot kimchi too. After all, I might really like it.
Octopus will have to wait.
–Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren