Time to braai . . . in Korea

By Kirstin Buick
19 September 2013

Joe Makka, our South African blogger who teaches in South Korea, gives the locals and an American a little taste of his home.

Joe Makka, our South African blogger who teaches in South Korea, gives the locals and an American a little taste of his home.

Dancing fun at one of our South African parties – Picture: Marco Clarkson www.facebook.com/eutychiaphotography

Travelling can be fun but to live in another country, particularly one where the culture is vastly different from where I grew up, remains a novelty. After an exciting first year living in Seoul, South Korea, the novelty started to wear off. By that time culture shock has mostly washed over you, and hopefully not swept you up in the current.

The longing for anything South African took hold of me good and proper after 18 months. Whether it’s missing mom’s cooking, Mrs Ball’s chutney on a sausage roll, the popular TV music show Noot vir Noot, a braai with pap and chakalaka or my favourite, peppermint tart, sooner or later every expat experiences acute withdrawal symptoms. It’s so easy to lose touch with your SA roots and feel your identity is shaky.

A great bunch of South Africans live here in Seoul. There are 1,5 million foreigners in Korea, 20 000 of them, like me, English teachers from the UK, Canada, United States, New Zealand and SA. South Africans number about 2 500 and although we’re a relatively small group we do not rest on our laurels.

In fact, Saffers, as we’re known, are among the most active expats in Korea. We socialise, have braais and revel in our languages wherever we go. It’s great to be in a position every day to interact with people in my home language Afrikaans, despite being so far from home.

Joe Makka shows off his braaing skills. Picture: Melissa J Jacobs

Every summer, usually in June or July, some 500 South Africans get together for the annual SA Braai in Seoul. We celebrate our backgrounds, languages and cultures with fellow expats and, of course, the locals. Complete with chops, SA drinks, biltong, dried wors and even milk tart for those with a sweet tooth, the braai is the highlight of the SA social calendar in Korea.

The kids are winning the water gun games! Picture: Annie-Louise van Vreden

There’s dancing, feasting and jolling as only South Africans can do it. Apart from feeling closer to home, one of the best parts of the occasion is we share our culture and way of doing things with our new Korean and other expat friends.

A vuvuzela on display at the party. Picture: Annie-Louise van Vreden

We all tend to do things our own way but when it comes to braaing South Africans really know their stuff. Americans, for example, believe their barbeque (braai) and beef jerky (biltong) are the best – that is, until they taste real SA braaivleis and can’t resist biltong when the bag is passed around.

Check out that impressive braaivleis. Picture: Annie-Louise van Vreden

At the annual braai early this year, I listened patiently as an American friend explained how meat should be cooked on the grill. The Koreans don’t have a tradition of grilling meat, so they tend to do it the American way. Americans eat everything directly from the grill, as it is done. They don’t marinate the meat. And the spices go on as the meat is being grilled. I agreed that my friend could show me how to braai a few chops, American-style. But, as with the biltong, he couldn’t keep his hands off my braaivleis. I think his “Joe, this tastes great!” meant he really enjoyed it.

Fun in the sun with water guns and our Korean friends. Picture: Annie-Louise van

To be able to stand around the braai and share in such a down-to-earth way with other people immediately made me feel rooted again in my South African identity. When surrounded by the familiar sounds of SA languages, I could forget I was far from home – even if only for one day.

Till next time,

Joe aka Anchored in South Africa  Joe Makka is from Hopefield in the Western Cape and has taught English in Seoul in South Korea for the past five years.   More from Joe:

Letter from Seoul: The gift of patience

Greetings from Seoul

Find Love!