The Lady from Kazakhstan, The Man from Korea

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We all probably have heard of – if not read – John Gray’s best-selling novel “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.” The story is about the differences in language, behavior, or ways of understanding between men and women, ending with advice on improving mutual understanding.

Differences exist not only between the two sexes but everywhere: among colleagues at work, between friends, and further, among the various cultures in this world. It is a truly meaningful effort to have an open mind and make a sincere effort to understand and sympathize with others. This is why the POSCO TJ Foundation invites open-minded brilliant talents across the globe through the POSCO Asia Fellowship program. Today Hello, POSCO blog introduces the story of Aigul Kussaliyeva, a fellow of the POSCO Asia Fellowship program from Kazakhstan. Let’s hear about her experiences of cultural understanding during her weekend trip to Insa-dong and Dongdaemun in Seoul, Korea.

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Her Story: Aigul on Korea

I was looking for something that would be very Korean and practical at the same time to give my sister and parents back home in Kazakhstan. My sister was getting married soon, and I wanted to find something meaningful for her. My friend in Korea recommended getting some green tea, but I was still a newbie about Korea – I had been here for just two months – and didn’t know where to go look for it. Luckily, my friend Gun Huh who works at the POSCO TJ Foundation offered to be my guide, and that’s how our date started! 🙂

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We looked for a place where we could purchase the best gift while getting to experience Korean traditional culture, and Insa-dong was the perfect place to do just that. The weather was pretty hot, but everything was so fun and interesting that we were barely affected by it. The streets were teeming with cultural goods, and we even got to take a picture with a pair of young people in traditional Korean clothes, supporting the preservation of the Korean language. They taught us a lot about Korean language and culture, including the phrase Ari Ari which means “Go for it!” in old Korean.

2picWe stepped inside “Osulloc,” which was a shop full of various kinds of organic tea. After a sniff of the wonderfully tasteful aroma of the green tea leaf, I found myself buying 5 sets of green tea even before I knew what I was doing.

IMG_0199After buying the tea gifts, my friend and I had a lovely time chatting about Korea sipping cool traditional tea. I talked about how joyous and nice Koreans were, especially during drinking parties. There was this one guy who went out of his way to mix up a drink just for me! I think Korea’s unique vibe comes from the intimacy and joyfulness of its people.

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After the relaxing tea time, we headed for the Ssamjigil of Insa-dong. One of the things that interested me the most was the wall of letters at a rooftop at Ssamjigil. I was astonished to find out they were letters of love written by lovers who visited the Ssamjigil. Back home at Kazakhstan, people don’t express their love for one another so much. I thought it was very cute and lovely for Koreans to be so affectionate to each other.

[box] About Ssamjigil

ZIO_4689(Photo courtesy of Ssamjigil, http://www.ssamzigil.co.kr/)

Ssamjigil was opened to the public on November 18, 2004. It is a road full of cultural goods and merchandise, just like a shopping mall. The unique architecture that connects the first floor to the fourth floor with a single road makes it an attractive place to visit not only for Koreans but also for tourists. The plaza in the center of Ssamjigil is where various exhibitions and plays are held, making it a famous location for cultural experiences, sightseeing and ethnic food. [/box]

His Story: Gun on Kazakhstan

Taking Aigul out to experience Korea together was both fun and challenging. I realized that it doesn’t necessarily mean you know all about your own culture just because you were born and raised in it: you really have to think about the culture and have a deep understanding of the history that formed that culture. Such was the mindset I had when I guided Aigul to Insa-dong.

After our tour of Insa-dong, Aigul offered to introduce me to a little bit of her own culture. She took me to an ethnic restaurant at Dongdaemun that had traditional Russian food. Aigul told me that Kazakhstan is a multi-cultural country home to various unique dishes. The most prevalent are traditional Kazakh and Russian cuisine. It was my first time to try Russian food, and I totally loved it! 🙂

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One thing I noticed about Russian cuisine was its unique aroma. I learned from Aigul that Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan cuisine share a common aroma. When I asked her for the secret recipe, Aigul happily revealed Ukrop, an annual herb used widely in Russia and Kazakhstan cuisine as a spice. She even gave me some as a gift to use when cooking soup! I was delighted to have had learned something about Aigul’s home country; it made our day a mutually learning experience.

The lady from Kazakhstan and the gentleman from Korea had a meaningful time explaining and experiencing each other’s culture and food. We hope to see more meaningful cultural exchanges in the future through the POSCO Asia Fellowship program! 🙂

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