Tuesday, August 05, 2014

kimbap diet

You know kimbap, of course.* Tomorrow, along with moving to Seoul, I begin an astringent regime: the kimbap diet. A single roll of kimbap costs about W1,200 to W1,500. If I eat that thirty times a month, I'm paying anywhere from W36,000 to W45,000. That's not bad, and it's way better than the W300,000 I'd normally spend on myself. I can save over W200,000 a month just by being frugal with food.

So to be clear, I'm not going on this regime because I think it's especially healthy (kimbap, filled with rice, is mostly carbs, after all). I'm doing it because it's cheap, and that's it. Nothing deeper. While I'm in Third Ajumma's building, I'll have my portable gas range, but I won't have a fridge, and there's little reason to buy shelving or cabinets (expensive!) if I'm planning to move back out in a month. So: thirty days of prandial frugality, because what's the point of setting up the place to cook?

*This word has, unfortunately, many and varied romanizations. Gimbap is tolerable—and arguably more accurate, since in Korean the first letter is, in fact, the Korean "g." Among the absolute worst of the romanizations, though, is kimbob. I don't know how someone can write that with a straight face and then look at himself in the mirror afterward. That romanization is wrong—all wrong, I say: first, there's the problem of the final "b." In Korean, yes, the final letter in the word is a Korean "b," but final "b"s in Korean are pronounced as unaspirated "p"s. Next is the problem of the "o" which, if you're reading a romanization of Korean, should by all rights be pronounced "oh," not "ah." Only in English is it conceivable that an "o" might sound like "ah." Kimbob only works, then, if you divorce yourself almost entirely from the Korean discursive context and pronounce that mutant spelling as if it were the English-language names Kim and Bob. But even if you pronounce the word as "Kim-Bob," you're still mangling the original Korean. My feeling is that good romanizations make it easy for a non-speaker of the target language in question to simulate the sounds of the target language, i.e., it's about transcription (faithfully reproducing sounds), not transliteration (faithfully reproducing spelling). Kimbob is a piss-poor transliteration.

There will, inevitably, be problems and exceptions. Take samgyeopsal, for example. A person unacquainted with the Korean government's romanization scheme might look at the "gyeop" part of the word and pronounce it something like "ghee-yupp" or "ghee-yahp." This may be why some bloggers romanize the word as samgyupsal, assuming the "u" will be read as an "uh" sound, as in "Yup." But I think using a "u" is dangerous because of its multivalence: if a Korean woman romanizes her name as "Sun-hae," her intention is for the "u" to sound like "uh," but what about former president Kim Dae Jung? Is that "joong" or "jung," the latter rhyming with the English "sung"? (In fact, it's "joong.")

My point is that there's no such thing as a flawless romanization system, but some renderings are obviously better than others. Not kimbob, then: gimbap or kimbap.



John said...

So much for variety being the spice of life. Good luck with that. Sounds boring, but I can't think of anything cheaper in which you might indulge. Other than the generosity of friends. I reckon we'll need to get together two or three weeks in for some proper dining...

Kevin Kim said...

That would be nice, although I'd hate to be a moocher yet again.

Variety still is the spice of life, I should think; it's just that I won't be tasting that particular spice for a month.