By Stan Stewart
I can’t remember how we met, but we soon became friends. Our South Korean friends were insistent that they provide a meal for us. Our expectation was casseroles or other food in plastic containers. Wrong! They wanted to cook a meal for us and to do this they brought all the necessary equipment.
Containers and a portable stove were set out on our kitchen table. Soon aromas we were not familiar with, filled the room. They served the basic food and then introduced us to the pre-prepared garnish - Kimchi (fermented cabbage). They told us that this addition is what made the food they were cooking, ‘Delicious’ Hmm! The aromas made us hesitant, and the flavours (a number of different flavors) set our teeth on edge. This was 22 years ago.
We have since enjoyed Korean hospitality on many occasions and even to Korea. Kimchi is always offered. There is a large variety of Kimchi - some we can manage but others are way beyond our ability to consume. We have learnt to add kimchi to our meal with caution. Another part of that story. We felt it was only right that we offer our Korean friends some kiwi hospitality. What better than a barbeque - sausages, hamburgers and onions all garnished with tomato sauce. Their comments were complimentary, but we noticed they ate very little.
One Saturday, they arrived with three guests who they obviously wanted to impress. They told us their friends wanted to sample a kiwi barbeque. That was fine with us, but their next action took us by surprise. They had a large wide roll of foil and proceeded to wrap the barbeque in this. It dawned on us that the blackened surfaces of our barbeque grill appeared to them to be unhygienic. (the reason they had eaten little, previously. Their meat was soon sizzling on the gleaming foil. But then the barbeque exploded. Flames a metre high shot out from around the foil covering. A quick-thinking Korean man turned off the gas. Our house was saved but the meal was lost. I forget what we ate but I know it was cold and I am sure it included kimchi.
On another occasion, our friends brought with them their aged parents. As the day wore on it dawned on us that they were expecting to stay the night. It seemed to us the only appropriate thing for us to do was to offer them our bed. The old couple gladly accepted our bed and we prepared for a night on the floor in my study. The other members of the family had the two guest rooms. We lacked a mattress of any kind so we slept on a two thicknesses of rug. What a terrible night that was for us on the hard floor. In the morning I noticed our old guests looked haggard. Through their daughter (they didn’t speak any English) I enquired how did they sleep. The answer was they didn’t. They couldn’t get comfortable on our soft bed. They were used to sleeping on hard surfaces. Talk about the best laid plans of mice and men! What a stuff up!
The wife and teenage daughter of our Korean friends were enamored of my wife, Pauline’s looks. They felt she was beautiful but could be more beautiful if she was made up the Korean way. They persuaded us to spend a Saturday afternoon at their Auckland apartment. On arrival we realized that the plan for the afternoon was to make Pauline beautiful. Hair, makeup, nails were all made over to a Korean style of beauty plus a floral suit she was to wear for our dinner date. When it was finished, I thought Pauline looked rather like a Japanese Anime style of glamour. That night we went out as a couple. Her make-up make-over only lasted till the toilet stop in the restaurant. She deconstructed the make up and hair style. She came back to our table as a hot chick kiwi style. I was relieved.
To re-cap my life, In the matter of three weeks, my son went from a fully functioning athlete to bed ridden, paralysed from the chest down. For the last four months I have been with him every day. In that time he has been in two different hospitals in Brisbane. We have seen many different doctors and specialists and a myriad of nurses. My impression is that more than half the doctors and nurses in Australia are from Asia. Nursing for a paralysed person is much more that fluffing pillows and dolling out pills. It is my understanding with which my son agrees, that two of the best, most thorough, most skilled, most understanding nurses that care for him are Korean. They are now Australian citizens and what an asset they are to the health system of Australia. The future will not allow us to live in our grand and privileged isolation. As with the rest of the world, we will have to take in migrants. My hope is that many of these will be from Asia and Korea in particular. As well as kimchi, they will bring with them skills and abilities that we need now and will need in the future.