The Korean so far has been faithfully answering your questions. (If you are wondering what happened to your questions, well, the Korean is now going through questions that he received in May 2007. But the Korean admits that he answers questions that he likes almost right away.)
Now it's time for the Korean to ask a question. It's a topic that the Korean has been struggling with for a while, and he would appreciate some input. We can discuss either through the comment section, or through emails.
The question is: "How much authenticity can one demand in a transplanted culture?"
The question underlies many of the posts that the Korean has written so far, and recently it implicitly surfaced in posts about Korean food. In the post, the Korean bitterly complained that people simply don't know what is the right way to cook Korean food in America. In reply, one of the commentors suggested that it was irrational for the Korean to demand everything to be completely authentic.
So one side of the debate can be elaborated thusly: In any piece of culture, there is a perfectly authentic form of that piece -- sort of like the perfect forms of all matters envisioned by Plato. Any deviation from that authenticity renders that piece to become something else entirely. Therefore, a person who enjoys the imperfect piece of culture cannot be said to be enjoying the foreign culture, for that imperfect piece does not actually exist in the authentic culture.
The particular example in the previous post was sullungtang, a creamy Korean beef soup. The "authentic" way to make the dish is to boil cow's legs for at least 8 hours, until the bone marrow produces the white broth. But since this is not efficient enough to be commercially profitable, many Korean restaurants (and almost all Korean restaurants in America) uses a trick to imitate the flavor. They use regular beef broth, and add coffee creamer (!) to imitate the creaminess.
According to the first perspective -- let's call it "cultural purist" -- anyone who thinks sullungtang in America is delicious simply does not know what he is talking about. It's a fake thing! It's not a real sullungtang! If you say you enjoy Scotch whiskey but all you ever drank in your life is Jack Daniel's (a Tennessee whiskey), is it not obvious that you don't know what you are talking about?
The other side of the debate -- let's call this one "cultural evolutionist" -- would retort: How does it make sense to demand a crystallized, perfect form in every piece of culture you enjoy? Cultural pieces evolve and change over time and place. If many people like the way the cultural piece has evolved, why does someone with the knowledge of "authenticity" have a monopoly over the question what is the superior? I like my Korean food in America just fine, no matter how different it is from Korean food in Korea. Can't we just call it American-style Korean food and be done with it? Why do you have to ruin my appetite by screaming "bastardization?
Moreover, how do you pinpoint the time of history when something became "authentic"? For example, the cultural purist would be aghast if Americans made a version of kimchi with less red pepper because Americans like it better that way. No "true" Koreans would condone such a travesty! But wait - kimchi only turned red in the 18th century, because red pepper was not introduced to Korea until then. In fact, red pepper originated in the Americas, and it was a distinctively foreign element in the food. Is it not completely arbitrary for a cultural purist to say that 19th century kimchi is authentic, while 17th century kimchi is not?
This debate can go into all kinds of different areas. Take Engrish t-shirts, for example. The cultural purist would simply laugh at the dumb Chinese/Japanese/Koreans who would sport such ridiculous things. In English, those things say really dumb or inappropriate things! They are ignorant for wearing such a thing.
On the other hand, the cultural evolutionist would say that, if those folks like the way their shirts look, who are we to judge? It is clear that the English alphabets on those shirts do not serve the function that English-speaking people presumes that they have. The alphabets on the shirts are purely decorative, like an elaborate pattern. From the perspective of the child in the picture, it would make little difference if he was wearing a t-shirt that had race cars. So who are we to laugh?
Wanna try to take this debate into a less-PC (and more odious) area? How about the idea of "white man's Asian woman"? Lucy Liu is the most popular Asian American actress in America at this point, but the Korean has never met a single Asian man who found her attractive. In the Korean's experience, near-universal reaction of all Asian men who saw a picture of Lucy Liu for the first time was "What the hell is wrong with her eyes?"
It is true that Liu's eyes are extra-squinty, and hardly anything like an average Asian's eyes. Based on that, many Asian American men consider Liu the prototypical "white man's Asian woman" -- someone who fits the image of an exotic creature, which has no basis in the "authentic" reality. Because of this perception, the Korean is positive that most Asian Americans would believe a movie like House of Flying Daggers would be ruined if Liu replaced Zhang Ziyi, because Liu would ruin the authenticity of the vision of ancient China.
Underlying the idea of "white man's Asian woman" is a cultural purist attitude. "White man's Asian woman" is someone who is clearly inferior to "Asian man's Asian woman", because after all, who is a better judge of Asian beauty than Asians themselves?
But -- a cultural evolutionist would point out -- Lucy Liu is a real person! She did not choose the way she would look. What is wrong with people liking her for the way she looks? How does white people liking her make her "less real"? Is she supposed to decline the fame and fortune because she is not "authentic" enough?
On the whole, cultural evolutionist view is closer to reason, and cultural purist view is closer to gut reaction. We would all like to say that we are reasonable people who are not swayed by unreasonable gut reaction, but admit it -- you are a lying liar if you say you did not laugh at the picture of the child whose shirt said "Wake Up! Mother Fucker." If you have more knowledge on a topic, it's difficult for you not to mock those who flaunt less knowledge.
So, the question again: "How much authenticity can one demand in a transplanted culture?"
The Korean awaits your response.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.