HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 650: 23 January 2013

The first supper

Mata Rakanui lectures English at Soongsil University in Seoul, South Korea and is also a Director of Apple English Recruitment which specializes in recruiting English teachers for positions in South Korea. He is of Atiuan descent on his father’s side through the Rakanui family and Mitiaro/Rarotongan on his mother’s side from the Putaura family.

What is it like to live in a country of 50 million people? To wake up each morning in a sprawling metropolis and one of the world’s biggest cities numbering 12 million people? An unbelievable 17,000 people per square kilometer in a city that has the highest population density in the OECD. Eight times the population density of New York. In comparison the Cook Islands has an estimated 83 people per square kilometer. It’s hard to imagine 17,000 people per square kilometer but it exists in this city.
To wake up each morning surrounded by these numbers takes some getting used to. On my arrival over 12 years ago it left me a little more speechless than it does today. However, that wasn’t the only reason I was speechless as I had no idea as regards the language, food or culture of this place called South Korea.
Twelve years ago as I completed the interview process with the recruiter the final question he asked was when are you ready to go? Maybe the youthfulness in me or that exploring Polynesian made me respond with “as soon as possible.” Within a week I was on a plane to this country far away called South Korea. There began a journey which 12 years later still has me residing in South Korea and making it at this time my home away from home.
By answering the question from the recruiter I suddenly realized the leap I had made and also more than a few important points;
1) Where is Korea?
2) How am I going to explain to my family (especially my parents) and friends that I’m off in a week to a country in Asia where everyone thought was a war zone.
South Korea is located in what is termed North-East Asia between China and Japan. Actually, it takes about 90 minutes to fly to Japan and about two hours to fly to China. Divided between the communist North and democratically controlled South it is now one of the major players in automobiles, electronics, and super fast internet services.
Explaining the idea of going to a far off country that I had no knowledge of is naturally hard for parents but thankfully my parents reluctantly gave their support as they always had.
After a 16 hour flight from Wellington-Sydney-Brisbane-Seoul (never again!). With memories of Island food in Wellington quickly fading. A combination of hunger and Polynesian curiosity caused me to seek out some of the local delicacies by myself. After about 15 minutes of walking and not understanding any signs, sounds or smells I noticed what appeared to be some kind of BBQ restaurant.
Upon entering there was a complete silence as I later came to realize that I was the first foreigner that had ever entered this particular restaurant. With hunger in my stomach I looked around and took in the sights and sounds of the Korean BBQ complete with vegetables and plates upon plates of marinated beef or pork.
As the waitress approached I had no idea what to say or what to order so as she said what must have been “What would you like?” I simply pointed to a table next to me that had six people happily dining away with what seemed to be a more than hearty amount of marinated beef and pork. After a few seconds of looking at me with a look of “Are you sure?” She returned and began to bring out dishes for the next twenty minutes which I finally realized were for in fact six people.
Unable to communicate and explain to her the mistake I gave up and enjoyed my first Korean meal or should I say six meals. Not as good as Island food but it did the trick on my first day and still provides a laugh now and again.
A side note, Korean BBQ’s allow the customers to actually cook the meals themselves which is an added bonus to all budding chefs out there and enhances the experience.
Next time I’ll talk about how the Korean people are descended from tigers and bears. Also why Koreans feel garlic can change your identity.
Kia Manuia
Annyong e Kaseyo

Brief history
Mata was appointed Professor of English at Soongsil University in Seoul, South Korea in 2007 after teaching English at various educational institutes in South Korea since August 2000.
In 1996, Mata gained a BA in English Literature from Victoria University in Wellington.
In 2012 he was awarded a Masters Degree in International Security Studies from Leicester University in England. He also holds an Advanced Certificate in Multi-Media Studies.
In 1997 from January to October he worked for the Cook Islands Parliamentary Services as Editor of Hansard before leaving for New Zealand.

Herald Issue 608 21 March
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- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

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