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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Korean tastes (reading Taebaek Sanmaek)

Finally gathered the necessary courage and started reading Taebaek Sanmaek by Jo Jung-rae; no, I haven't been afraid of becoming a ppalgaengi for reading it, but I've had the idea that there's too much Jeolla dialect in the dialog to enjoy the reading. There is a lot of Jeolla dialect, but that is not the main obstacle; I can grasp the dialog written as spoken language well enough. What makes Taebaek Sanmaek more laborious reading than for example Jo's later Han'gang (Han River) is that Taebaek Sanmaek is literally much more complex, the narrative techniques are more various and temporarily not linear, and even the vocabulary appears more complex and unfamiliar than in Han'gang. Perhaps it's partly a matter of period and setting: late 1940s and the time of Korean War in rural southern Jeolla versus 1960s and 70s in Seoul.

The problem of making sense of the Korean terms for tastes of food is not special to Taebaek Sanmaek, but reading the description of the taste of dishes made of kkomak shellfish showed me once again how my own language really lacks much of the vocabulary to grasp the nuances. (Would I consult the dictionary for the vocabulary, there'd need to be yet another translation from the English to my own language.)
Kkomak is a tasty clam which appears especially in the muddy shores of Beolgyo (벌교) on the coast of Southern Jeolla, where much of the events of the book take place. One of the main characters Sohwa, a young shaman who gets romantically involved with Chông Ha-sôp, one of the communist rebels, is described to be able to make especially tasty dishes of kkomak, which taste kan'ganhada, cholgitcholgithada, alk'ûnhada and paerithada. Now would I check every word from the dictionary when reading the novel? No, I'd just be content knowing that the young shaman makes tasty dishes out of the clam.

Ok, let's see the dictionary now that I've done a blog entry:
kan'ganhada = saltish, have a briny favor (could be thought out from kan)
cholgitcholgithada = sticky, chewy
alk'ûnhada; not in my dictionary, but most likely related to ôlk'ûnhada, which I know to be the spicyness of good kimchi
paerithada = somewhat fishy --> pirithada

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