What do I have in common with President Trump?

Week two of quarantine, and I’ve been passing the time by getting to grips with all things Korean – or more specifically, with Korean food and the language.

I do love a country that takes its food so seriously that it provides written instructions on how to eat certain dishes. I first came across this in Japan, where the instructions for eating braised eels ran to two sides of A4 paper, with added diagrams for clarity. So when I grasped the culinary nettle and asked for Bibimbap for dinner on Korean Air, I was delighted to be given a set of instructions on how to eat it –

This is definitely a country that takes its food seriously, I thought with approval.

But quarantining in an Airbnb and not being allowed to leave to go shopping has presented certain problems, only resolved by looking at the pictures on a Korean supermarket website and then asking a Korean colleague to place an order for what I thought the particular items might be. This has resulted in a lot of fruit and vegetables on the menu, because they’re easy to recognise in a photo, whilst jars and packets could have absolutely anything inside them.

We chomped our way through a plant-based diet for a few days, but then I found a food delivery app and suddenly mealtimes got a lot more exciting –

And then we ordered our first Korean meal –

Beautifully packaged and thoughtfully put together, there was a corkscrew provided with the wine, and a little pink plastic knife to cut through the plastic lids of the hot containers and a disposable glove for hygenic serving.

On the right are two Korean pancakes – one with prawns and chives, and the other with bacon and eggs. They seem to be made of batter with added grated potato. Front left is steamed egg – with more chives – a dish that I remember from Malaysia too. Behind the egg is bulgogi with rice cakes – bulgogi is very thinly sliced marinated meat, and the rice cakes are not at at all like our rice cakes. These are like mochi – very chewy – and served in a spicy sauce. The container of rice was topped with seaweed on one side and then with cream cheese and some unidentifiable yellow stuff on the other side … my least favourite part of the meal.

So – having got to grips with the food, it was time to move on to the language, and I have to announce that I have found a new hero: the inventor of the Korean alphabet, King Sejong.

My Learn Korean app tells me that ‘King Sejong and his Hall of Worthies invented Hangul, the most elegant and rational alphabet in the history of mankind in 1443.’

This is a 15th Century man with a 21st Century sense of hype. And if you do have to collaborate, how much better to have a Hall of Worthies than a Band of Merry Men ?

So, after two weeks of incarceration, I’ve mastered the 14 consonants, 10 vowels and 27 digraphs in Hangul, and I can tell you that …

… the setting I have selected on the left says ‘neng-su‘.

And …

this water bottle starts off mark-neun-sem-mul.

And the Trump connection?

It was a joke that Anthony was sent the other day –

 During a dull U.S Senate dinner, Melania Trump leaned over to chat with Vice President Pence. 

“I bought Donald a parrot for his birthday. That bird is so smart, Donald has already taught him to say over two hundred words!” 

“Very impressive,” said Mike Pence, “But, you do realize he just speaks the words. He doesn’t really understand what they all mean.” 

“Oh, I know”, replied Melania “But neither does the parrot.”

I read it and thought … well, that’s you and me, both, Donald.