When Kimchi is Traded with Jengkol

Ahn Bak-hyun is a nice, decent, withdrawn Korean man living next door. Literally the next door because we stay like in a rented house with a bunch of separate rooms inside it.

He speaks very basic Indonesian, which makes it almost impossible to sustain a long conversation with him. His command of English is not quite impressive but when I compared to the girl at a booth where I got shirts at Yeosu premium outlet last year, he is a lot better. Living in Seoul for his entire lifetime, he couldn’t fathom the heat of living in the tropical Jakarta. But from what I heard, he had traveled extensively to some islands other than Java. His job enables him to do so. That’s the privilege I don’t have. I am Indonesian with literally no traveling experience in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Western Papua. But ironically enough, I have visited Macau, Hongkong, Singapore and South Korea. That said, I really feel like a fraud. “How dare you declare yourself an Indonesian native?”a voice inside me protested. I shrugged and argued,”I had no option. Air fares to Papua, for your information, is much much higher than ones to Singapore or Malaysia!”

Mr. Ahn says he’s got a grownup daughter. I saw her on the laptop screen a long time ago when they were Skype-ing. The connection speed was a top source of frustration. It didn’t work afterall and it seemed to him that chatting by text is the most plausible type of interaction with his daughter in Seoul.

So one afternoon, mbak Erna, the caretaker of the rented house (she is paid to stay with us by the house owner and to do the laundry and she sells foods too), was seen busy in the kitchen. She cooked jengkol, the type of food you cannot see anywhere else but in Indonesia.It is more or less like “petai” or “pete” but bigger in size. Some people still consume it although obviously consuming petai and jengkol makes you urine stink. Yes, literally and seriously STINK. I am not lying or overstating. You’ll know the smell of the urine of jengkol eaters instantly, at times so effortlessly you may frown and stop inhaling for a moment so as not to be choked by the intensity.

And mr. Ahn smelled the fried jengkol mbak Erna just cooked. He was walking down the stairs and yelling,”Apa ini?” (What’s this?).

“Jengkol”, mbak Erna replied.

He picked some and tasted the jengkol served on the plate.

“Enak,”mr. Ahn said. Delicious. He was awestruck by the taste of jengkol, something I couldn’t describe by words simply because I have NEVER tasted that before.

I, however, have eaten kimchi. A few times. And I feel like I am a fraud once again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Korea, writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s