Sunday, August 03, 2008
The Food Adventures of Rom, Lowly Son-in-Law
Over the years, the day’s duties have changed from elementary school to high school, from high school into college, from college to desperate job searching, and from there on to actual employment coupled with the somewhat desperate search for a better job. These tasks have changed, but I still need cereal before I can face any of it.
Occasionally the cereal itself changes, becoming something new and so exciting that I actually eat two bowls of it, but on most mornings one serving of something reliable, familiar and boxed is usually enough.
There have been periodic attempts to add to it with things like eggs and toast, but after sleep I simply haven’t burnt enough calories for such foods. Cereal is all I need to face the day’s duties, and any more than that will probably slow me down.
This has been proven through years of personal empiricism. If such data is not good enough, then I really don’t know what else it will take to make my mother-in-law understand.
In the months between my acquisition of a new job in Seoul and my forthcoming wedding, she has taken me into her home and done all she knows how in order to strengthen the bonds of family with me. However, it would appear that the bonds between Korean mothers to their children (even their children-in-laws) need copious amount of home-cooked food to hold.
She prepares food for me every evening. The entrees and side dishes she provides may include: fish, beef, rice, kimchi and assorted vegetables cooked and/or pickled in an assortment of ways. I eat all of some of it and some of all of it while being careful to follow the Korean Method, meaning that I take somewhat random bites of each different bowl/plate of food. If I eat it the American way, meaning that I eat all of one food type before moving on to the next, she’ll point to the temporarily-neglected dishes and say to me, in Korean, “Not delicious?”
Sometimes she comes home in the evening later than usual, and I do what any American parent would expect of a son in his twenties: I take care of myself. Personally, self-reliance requires nothing more of me than a handful of eggs and some of the toast that I couldn’t have fit into my digestive tract in the morning. After a day of work, however, it squeezes in just fine. When mother-in-law comes home after 9 and I’m still awake, she will ask me if she needs to cook for me. I tell her she does not, because it’s late and I’ve already eaten.
However, she needs to cook for me much, much more than I need to be cooked for, and her face sinks when I tell her I don’t need her food. I know this means trouble; a special kind of trouble will continue until the morning.
When I wake, adjacent to the cereal bowl that she’s laid out for me, is the fruit that she’s chopped into slices and placed next to the bowl (a compromise I’ve been willing to accept), and next to that will be a sandwich. The sandwich will contain leftover meat and vegetables from whatever she cooked last night. The bread’s crust will have been meticulously removed, no matter how many times I’ve made it clear that I consider bread crust a wholly edible commodity.
As I take in my precious cereal and perfectly acceptable fruit, I study the sandwich: Not only does it not look appetizing, but it appears that it will be time-consuming to eat, and I need to get going right away. I already know that I won’t eat it; my hope is that after looking at it long enough I’ll think of the best way to get out of this morning’s sandwich consumption.
If I simply walk away from it, she’ll call after me in only the latest way in which I’ve heard a Korean butcher the pronunciation of my name.
Rom!” she’ll say. “Not delicious?”
I’ll have to explain to her yet again that I’m just not that hungry in the mornings. She’ll say “Aigo!” (which translates into something similar to “Oh, dear!”) and I’ll have ruined her day. There must be another way.
Then, hope appears on my horizon: She has her back turned to me, engrossed in the television program she watches every morning. Silently, I open the refrigerator, slip the offending sandwich plate inside, and head to the bathroom to wash my hair. I enter not as “Rom: Lowly Son-in-Law” but “Rob: The Young American Master of Stealth.”
Then I emerge, and see her looking in the refrigerator. She bends suddenly, I realize she’s seen the plate.
This was a development I had not foreseen.
Aigo!” she says, and I know that I’ve ruined another day for her.
Well, maybe not quite.
Rom!” she says, followed by a Korean sentence that roughly translates into: “Tonight I will be here. Will you eat supper?”
Okay,” I reply. Maybe by tonight our cultures will come to an agreement on food. Probably not, but one can always hope.
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