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[Opinion] “Memory of Pots”

Posted December. 16, 2004 23:05,   


The most basic symbol of reconciliation is shaking hands. When people have meal together, it is safe to assume their reconciliation has taken root. Playing golf together alongside their spouse or traveling together means that their relationship has been mended to eventually reaching a stage in which they are close enough to become intimate friends. A talk of plans to mate their son and daughter is a sign of a trust not only between the two but also among their entire family. The symbol of the greatest intimacy in a certain relationship is going to the public bath together in the case of people of the same sex, and sleeping together in the case of men and women respectively.

In the world history of diplomacy, sports and animals are often seen as symbols of reconciliation. The most glaring example is in the early 1970s when the U.S. and China thawed their long-held hostile relations by performing “Ping-Pong diplomacy” and using the “Panda gift.” Another example is Russian defector and cellist Rostropovich’s passionate performance before the collapsed Berlin Wall right after the German unification. Likewise, Chung Joo-young, late founder of Hyundai, visited his hometown in North Korea, herding cattle in 1998, an idyllic move that was seen as a true embodiment of reconciliation of the East and West and the South and North of our time.

Leaders of the two Koreas exchanged a Jindo dog and a Poongsan dog with each other back in 2000, as a token of reconciliation, putting an end to the 55-year-old hostile mood on the Korean Peninsula. What should be noted with attention is that the “first products made in the Gaeseong Industrial Complex in the North, an emblem of economic cooperation of South and North Korea, were pots. Unlike foreigners who eat food on their own plate during meals, Koreans have a tradition of eating soup and rice together ladled out of a single pot. This explains why Koreans see a pot not as a mere “plate to serve food,” but “a receptacle of familial affection and solidarity.” In a cultural-anthropologic perspective, members of a family are Koreans mouths that eat ladled food out of the same pot in a family.

On its first day of release to the South Korean market, 1,000 pot sets sold like hot cakes in a specially prepared shop at a department store in Seoul. They were reportedly purchased en masse by people who came from the North during the Korean War. To them, pot sets from the North must have felt not as “mere pots” but as “relics or touch of their family they left behind in the North.” The sets are all the more trusted as they were made by “meticulous producers from Gaeseong,” who are well-known to easily match “meticulous ones from Seoul.” Our hope is that the “Gaeseong pots,” a mixture of Koreans’ sincerity and care, will thaw strained relations and eradicate confrontations on the Korean Peninsula.

Oh Myung-chul, Editorial writer, oscar@donga.com