Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chopstick Fears

I've NEVER been good with chopsticks; by NEVER I do quite literally mean NEVER.  And to be honest, this has never caused me significant concern until my first trip to South Korea in November of 2009.  I'd been to India, Thailand, and Hong Kong as my only Asian destinations; chopsticks are not prevalent in India and most of the places in Thailand or Hong Kong I went catered to western tourists (I guess) and were very hospitable with forks.

I didn't look this cute
using my cheaters.
However, in preparation for my first trip to South Korea I had heard that while larger touristy places might have forks, most of the restaurants my group of teachers might visit would expect my usage of chopsticks.  I tried to practice and it just didn't stick (no pun intended).  So I visited my local Pei Wei restaurant and got some of the chopstick cheaters they make available to young children (it sounded like a good idea at the time).

Well, let's just say there were two problems with using these cheaters in South Korea: 1) the laughter and ribbing from my U.S. teacher colleagues, while all in good fun, was sort of embarrassing and 2) the cheaters were designed for a more traditional rounded Chinese chopstick set rather than flatter Korean styles.  The cheaters just didn't want to work for me.  It was like the fates were out to get me.  I wanted to use chopsticks, I tried to use them, I wanted to be culturally appropriate...but I usually ended up having to ask for a fork or make due with the soup spoon which accompanied the chopsticks.

And then about a year or so ago I was in a Asian restaurant and thought "let's try again" and WOW.  I was actually able to manipulate the chopsticks enough to get through about half of my meal.  It doesn't always work out; I often make a mess and grow tired of the struggle with the first couple of bites.  But at least now I have "hope".  Last week I was eating at Yaching's in downtown Louisville and made it through virtually my entire meal (including rice! with no cheaters!!!).  I was excited and wanted to do a happy dance...but it's Louisville...land of the Kentucky Derby...you don't happy dance you happy gallop or something, LOL.  I guess the excitement got me all inspired because upon my return to Oklahoma City on Saturday I went to Dot Wo with my mother and was eager to try the chopsticks again...eh...I made it through part of the meal...no rice success...and then forked it.

So with my upcoming return to South Korea and the land of flat chopsticks my fears are setting in.  I am committed to NOT taking any cheaters.  I just hope the fates smile on me so that I don't embarrass my hosts and colleagues and so that the food makes it, even if only quasi-gracefully, into my mouth.

I know that practice makes perfect so I plan to try several more times before leaving in a couple of weeks.  Word of warning to friends and family...you might get a call to go out with me to eat something Asian.  If you're too scared of the mess I might make landing on you then politely decline; but if you're willing to risk some laughs...let's roll!


  1. My kids always ask about your "cheaters" when I show my Korea pics! Glad you are finally getting the hang of it.

    1. Robin, I knew you would comment :-) I remember not having cheaters with me when we had our 2:00 AM street food experience. Oy vey!!

      The laughter, at my expense, from our group was a great motivator to at least "try" harder.

      "Getting the hang it" is still an understatement at the moment...but I vow to bring no cheaters this time!!

  2. I loved that you used cheaters. You will eat enough Korean food to becone proficient with the chopsticks - or at least I did.....so much so that I brought some nice ones home, thinking I would start using them.....NOPE!! :)

    1. Julie, thankfully you don't need them in Indonesia, right? Then again, you're changing islands so I don't know much about the culture on Sumatra.

      And those boxes of school supplies are WONDERFUL!!!!