Friday, May 17, 2013

last supper (with Charles and Hyunjin)

So I had my goodbye dinner with Dr. Charles and his wife Hyunjin this evening. I don't have any photos, alas, but maybe that's for the best. I met Charles in Itaewon at 6PM; his wife was already at the Brazilian rodizio Copacabana, wisely holding a table for us. As a point of comparison, I had been to only one other Brazilian steakhouse in Korea: Brasilia, back in 2008. Brasilia was pretty limited, as rodizios go: it served me only one type of steak the entire time. Tonight's culinary foray to Copacabana was a bit more like my experience at the high-end Chima in Tysons Corner, Virginia: different types of meat-on-swords were on offer, to varying degrees of doneness. Copacabana's selection of meats wasn't quite as expansive as Chima's, but the meat, an assortment of beef cuts, sausage, and chicken, was tender and juicy and perfectly cooked. The salad/hot-food bar was fairly basic (it is perhaps unfair to compare Copacabana to Chima; Chima is huge and glitzy, with a football-field-sized salad bar; it also averages about $70 per person, whereas tonight's meal was about half that), but what was there was excellent, including some lovely beef stroganoff that I happily piled on a mound of rice. Later in the meal, the sword guys came around with pineapple that had been lightly roasted after being coated with sugar and cinnamon; quite delicious.

Conversation focused, once again, on beer, which I'm now convinced has become Charles's second religion, close behind his Christianity. His loving descriptions of different types of beer, and of the evolution of beer culture in Korea (where, according to him, the scene has rapidly, radically improved), were fascinating to listen to, even though I, as a teetotaler, had no insights of my own to contribute. (I did mention, tangentially, that he might appreciate the new documentary "Somm," which is about people trying to pass the elite-level exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma. Charles, though not a wine fan, can easily relate to the sommelier's need for a discerning palate when tasting alcohol.) But we also talked about job-hunting woes, our difficulty with swallowing postmodern thinking, the awesomeness of Benedict Cumberbatch, and Charles's recent "lasagna throwdown" with a Franco-American couple (the husband, a French-speaking Alabamian, made a lasagna to challenge Charles's). That contest ended in "a gentlemen's draw," as Charles put it.

We spent nearly three hours at Copacabana, grazing on food from the salad bar and dining on delectable hunks of meat whenever the sword-wielders came our way. The dinner was very French, in a sense: the French like to traîner à table, i.e., linger at the table—quite unlike Koreans and Americans, both of whom seem to prefer to eat and scram. My French family easily spends two to three hours at dinner, just sitting and talking. It's a relaxed way to live, and probably healthy, too, in terms of cementing human relations. I can't imagine a group of Koreans acting the same way. Koreans do like to linger and chat, but not at the dinner table.

Afterward, we said our goodbyes, had a round of hugs, and went our separate ways. I have no idea when I'll see my friends next; perhaps it'll be in a few months, or perhaps a few years. Much depends on how my job search goes.


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