Of Kimchi and other Korean freebies.

On my first trip to Brisbane some four years ago, I discovered the delight that is tucking into a piping hot smooth earthen bowl full of Kimchi stew on a cool evening. While the contents of the stew warmed my insides, the slightly cooled bowl midway through eating warmed my hands in much the same way as a mug of cocoa.

Since I am a terribly social person, I conducted a short conversation with our waitress, who also doubled up as the cashier, while dining. She had studied for a short spell in the Malaysian state of Sabah and as such, was eager to try out “Selamat Pagi” and “Terima Kasih”, Good Morning and Thank You respectively in Malay, on me. I was interested in picking up a fourth phrase since the other three I knew needed company. “What Korean do you know?” she asked when I finally asked her to teach me one more.

“An yong ha shi mi ni ka?” How are you? “Kam sa hap ni da?” Thank you. “And Kwon Sang Woo.”

She burst out laughing for the third wasn’t really a phrase at all but the name of a then-reigning thirty-something year old heartthrob in Korea.

“It seems to work better on old ladies,” I added, telling her how I had an entire conversation in a Korean grocery store with just that name. There were many “ums” and “ahs”, as though we were having a meaningfully deep conversation, and my daughter left with two free pouches of lollies. Speaking of the great generosity of Korean people, this restaurant, Madtongsan 1, located in a small arcade off Queen Street mall in the city, had already given me a complimentary mini seafood pancake and a plate of six dumplings, so the least I could do was compliment them on the food. “How do you say very tasty or excellent?”

“Chuai yah.”

I parroted her, beaming. As I paid, she gave me ten percent off and a discount card to be used towards all future visits. Who says it doesn’t pay to learn a second, third, fourth or in my case, fifth language? I’ve been back many times since, but unfortunately neither is my Korean or the discount card applicable at Madtongsan 2, their sister restaurant, located nearby.