Going on a Trip (5)
Jo Gyu-Min pleaded earnestly with Kang Jin-Ho.
“C-can't we stop by Hong Kong or Macau to relax just for one day first”
Since Kang Jin-Ho was dead-set on going to the middle of nowhere, it was safe to assume that the odds of him changing his mind were less than one percent.
Unsurprisingly, Kang Jin-Ho remained resolute.
“I'd have gone directly to Hong Kong or Macau in that case, Mister Gyu-Min.
But, you don't have to worry.
Once I am done with what I want to do here, I'll give you plenty of time to enjoy your time off to your heart's content.”
“...Once it's over, you say You promise”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled.
However, for now...
We need to rent a car...”
This time, it was Jo Gyu-Min's turn to chuckle hollowly.
“Mister Jin-Ho, we're not in Korea anymore.
Our driver's license doesn't work here.”
“Excuse me Wait, are you saying different countries have different driver's licenses”
“Isn't that obvious”
“...Huh. I haven't thought of that.” Kang Jin-Ho frowned a little, looking a little troubled.
Jo Gyu-Min inwardly sighed and shook his head, thinking that Kang Jin-Ho could be rather...
absent-minded on strange topics.
“I've already called for a company car to pick us up, Mister Jin-Ho.
And it comes with a driver, too.
No need to worry.”
“Oh, you did” Kang Jin-Ho was slightly taken aback.
Jo Gyu-Min smirked.
“Every so often, you seem to mistake Jaegyeong for some mom-and-pop corner store, Mister Jin-Ho.
May I remind you that Jaegyeong is one of the top three leading corporations in South Korea”
“Mm I heard it's one of the top five, though” Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head slightly.
“...Let's stick to the top three, shall we Chairman will get upset if he hears us.”
Yes, let us.”
“In any case.
A top-three corporation in Korea would obviously have business connections in China.
Not to mention, Jaegyeong also has a branch here.
The person coming to fetch us is from that branch.”
“Oh, I see.” Kang Jin-Ho nodded, then looked around his vicinity, wondering what he should do while waiting for the company car to show up.
Fortunately, his worries were unnecessary.
Jo Gyu-Min's phone rang, and the driver informed them that he would arrive at the airport shortly.
Soon, a large off-road vehicle came to a stop in front of Jo Gyu-Min and Kang Jin-Ho.
“Hello there! Nice to meet you!” A middle-aged man with a warm, generous countenance climbed out of the vehicle, then bowed his head toward Kang Jin-Ho.
Kang Jin-Ho also bowed back.
“You two must be from the HQ.
I'm your driver, gentlemen.
My name is Nam Sang-Hyeok, the department head of Jaegyeong Group's Guangzhou branch.”
“Nice to meet you.” Kang Jin-Ho shook the offered hand, then backed away, allowing Jo Gyu-Min to discuss something with Nam Sang-Hyeok in hushed whispers.
Nam Sang-Hyeok's expression changed several times, then he bowed his head even deeper in Kang Jin-Ho's direction.
Kang Jin-Ho could only awkwardly accept that second round of greetings.
Nam Sang-Hyeok straightened his back and asked, “Alright, then! Where would you like me to take you, gentlemen”
“Our destination is somewhere around here.” Kang Jin-Ho pulled out his phone to turn on the map app again.
here...” Nam Sang-Hyeok furrowed his brow at the location on the map.
“Mm This location seems to be close to the Zhuang people's autonomous region, Guangxi.
But, uh, there aren't any of what you'd call remnants of civilization there, though”
Jo Gyu-Min's anxiety level went up when he heard that.
“What do you mean Are there no cities Towns A-any buildings”
“Yes, none of that sort.
That's as mountainous as a region can get, and only the natives live in such areas, gentlemen.
Kind of a scenic spot you'd only see in nature documentaries, basically.”
“L-like, Asian Corridor in Heaven”
Nam Sang-Hyeok chuckled.
“Well, it's kinda similar, yes.
However, your destination will be a bit more... verdant than that.
How should I put this...
It's like, that's a breezy place you're going to, gents.”
“Breezy Huh” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head.
Lots of breeze from mountains and fields since those are the only things you'll find there.”
Jo Gyu-Min openly stared at Kang Jin-Ho without saying anything.
However, Kang Jin-Ho remained unconcerned as if he already knew the truth and simply nodded away.
“Yes, that's where I want to go.”
Nam Sang-Hyeok rubbed his chin.
“But, uh, why this particular location”
“I have something to do there.”
For now, please get in. Oh, and have you two eaten yet”
Jo Gyu-Min seized this chance and hurriedly raised his hand.
“I'd love to eat something before we head out!”
“...In that case, let us do that,” said Kang Jin-Ho while looking a bit dissatisfied.
However, Jo Gyu-Min remained unyielding on this one.
His response was obvious when considering how well he knew about Kang Jin-Ho's tendencies.
Kang Jin-Ho certainly didn't lack preparedness, but he also had this unfortunate side where he would take other people's hardships for granted.
Without a doubt, he had to be thinking about roughing it outdoors if there were no places with roofs to sleep in.
In other words...
today could very well be the last day Jo Gyu-Min would get to eat a decent meal in the foreseeable future!
That was why he had no thoughts of letting such an important opportunity slip through his fingers!
“Mister Nam! Please take us to the best-known diner in this place!” Jo Gyu-Min hurriedly piped up.
Nam Sang-Hyeok chuckled.
I'm pretty knowledgeable about this area, after all.
By the way, would you prefer Korean or Chinese cuisine”
Jo Gyu-Min harrumphed.
“Of course, I'd like to try Chinese cuisine.
It's no good to ask for Korean food in China, now is it”
“You think so” Nam Sang-Hyeok smirked ever so slightly.
That smirk was a little strange, but Jo Gyu-Min was in too much of a hurry to realize its oddness.
is this” Jo Gyu-Min quietly muttered while staring at the 'food' before his eyes.
Right now, he was wrestling against the absolute limit to what humans could consume as edible food.
The serving of fried rice came out utterly drenched in oil.
Meanwhile, the stir-fried vegetables also came out dunked in a pot of oil.
As for the bowl of noodles, Jo Gyu-Min didn't even want to touch it as it reeked of some weird make-up lotion chemical smell.
The only things he dared to put inside his mouth were dumplings with nothing inside and some kind of meat with way too much spices and flavoring.
Jo Gyu-Min made a fed-up face and asked Nam Sang-Hyeok, “Are you being serious This is delicious Is this diner really famous!”
Nam Sang-Hyeok chuckled.
“Can't you see the proof yourself”
Jo Gyu-Min glanced at the diner's jam-packed interior and could only frown deeply.
All these customers were hoovering up the food with great relish, after all!
Nam Sang-Hyeok grinned deeply.
“The spices here are pretty unique, don't you think so, Mister Jo”
“...Is this really traditional Chinese cuisine” Jo Gyu-Min quietly asked, knowing he had asked a dumb question just then.
They were in a Chinese diner located in China, so obviously, these dishes had to be Chinese.
However, he still had to ask to make sure, as these dishes tasted far too different from the 'Chinese cuisine' he was familiar with.
Honestly speaking, he had expected something like a local interpretation of world-famous sweet-and-sour pork or a more 'sophisticated' ganpengji.
But these dishes, they...
They had to be something else pretending to be Chinese cuisine!
“The Chinese restaurants in Korea have modified their cuisine to suit the Korean palate, Mister Jo.
And yes, this is real Chinese cuisine.
To Korean sensibilities, traditional Chinese cuisine is like... Mm... Well…” Nam Sang-Hyeok started explaining while pointing at the food, “Either they are too heavily seasoned or have a strong smell.
If not, it's just a lump of oil.”
“...Sounds like you're making fun of Chinese cuisine there, Mister Nam.”
“Oh, no, I'm not.
You'll eventually get used to it by eating it often enough.
Eat enough of this stuff, and pretty soon, the Korean cuisine will come across as rather flat and not seasoned enough.
For example, take this mapo tofu.
In Korea, we try to spice it up with chilies and other capsaicin, but here in the land it came from The locals use the Sichuan pepper to spice it, just like this.
Eat one, and your mouth will go numb from the heat.
Nam Sang-Hyeok chuckled while pointing at a different dish.
“It's the same story for this, cilantro.”
“Cilantro What's that” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head.
“It's this vegetable, the one with the make-up lotion chemical smell.
It's quite hard to get used to it initially, but once you do, it's got that subtle taste you can't help but enjoy.”
“Huh This has what now” Jo Gyu-Min blinked his eyes in sheer disbelief as if he would never agree with that assessment.
The grin etched on Nam Sang-Hyeok's face deepened.
“Chief Secretary Jo, whether its food or culture, they are all subjective.
I can't possibly guess what your opinion on this matter is, but well, please consider this.
What suits the locals' taste buds might taste bad to us, while what tastes good to us could be horrid for the locals.”
“E-even so, this is a bit...”
“Your current reaction reminds me of how the locals react to Korean cuisine.
Specifically when they are asked to try our perilla leaves.
The locals absolutely freak out, you see.”
“Huh Over the perilla leaves Why”
“To us, it has that unique piquant aroma, but its smell seems intolerable to the locals.”
“Oh, really” Jo Gyu-Min was taken aback.
“Yes, really.” Nam Sang-Hyeok nodded and continued, “That's why you shouldn't think such strong spices or the cilantro's smell as weird, Mister Jo.
Culture is subjective, after all.
And we humans are quick to adapt, are we not Even if you initially fail to understand the local culture, more often than not, you'll come to see what's what after spending some time here.”
“Mm...” Jo Gyu-Min slowly nodded away.
What Nam Sang-Hyeok said made sense to him.
It seemed like a good idea for Jo Gyu-Min to remember this advice.
Nam Sang-Hyeok made a serene face as he continued, “That's why when evaluating another country's cuisine, you need to be open-minded.
Think of it as exploring that country's culture, Mister Jo.
With the sole exception of this goddamn fried rice showered in oil, that is!”
“...Huh The conclusion to your lecture sounds a bit off” Jo Gyu-Min tilted his head while narrowing his eyes.
“Even though I told the cook to use less oil! Those bastards must be oil barons from the Middle East or something! Just how much oil do they need to use before they are satisfied! Can you even call this fried rice anymore It's more like oil rice at this point!!!”
“Please calm down, Mister Nam...”
“I'm telling you, this is why I just can't get along with Chinese cooking!” Nam Sang-Hyeok unhappily yapped on, undoing all the sagely advice he had offered until now in one fell swoop.
Jo Gyu-Min groaned and turned his attention away.
I get this whole thing about different cultures and whatnot.
However, the problem was that he had nothing to eat right now.
The idea of exploring another country's culture sounded all good and well, but that was a topic for another day.
What should he do about his current hunger in the meantime, then
“I guess the choice is between Korean cuisine and...
this.” Jo Gyu-Min muttered helplessly.
Nam Sang-Hyeok shook his head.
“Well, there are plenty of Western franchises in this city, too.
You know, fast food.”
Jo Gyu-Min stared at him, his narrowed eyes silently asking why Nam Sang-Hyeok hadn't taken them there instead.
Nam Sang-Hyeok could only chuckle hollowly at that.
“Mister Jo, if I advised you to go to a fast food joint, would you have listened”
“...No, I wouldn't have.”
This is an experience all first-time visitors must go through at least once.
So, please persevere and enjoy your food, Mister Jo.”
Jo Gyu-Min sighed grandly and took a look at the food once more.
'...What should I eat, then'
Left with little choice, he picked up a dumpling and silently munched on it.
That was when he finally noticed how Kang Jin-Ho was unhesitantly trying out all the different dishes on the table.
“Sheesh…” Jo Gyu-Min muttered in a daze.
He had witnessed many facets of Kang Jin-Ho, but this scene had to be the manliest of them all.
Jo Gyu-Min was sure of it.
Gaze in wonder at the sight of a man's man chewing on that sinew-like cilantro or whatever without a single complaint!
Jo Gyu-Min gulped nervously and cautiously asked, “Mister Jin-Ho, do you like the food”
Kang Jin-Ho smiled brightly and replied, “No, they all taste like crap.”
In all honesty, even Kang Jin-Ho was stunned by the food, and not in a good way.
Just like the language, he figured the cuisine would have changed somewhat since so much time had passed between then and now.
The amusing thing about this whole situation was that Zhongyan's cuisine was far, far smoother, cleaner—and lighter-tasting than this.
That made sense, though.
The only cooking oil found back then was 'layou' made out of lard.
And most restaurants and diners would have found this ingredient way too expensive to use liberally.
That was why most dishes back in Zhongyuan were either steamed or boiled.
But in a span of a few hundred years, most cuisines had 'evolved' into stir-fries or just fried foods.
'I can't tell whether the food in the past was better or my palate has changed...'
Having said that, Kang Jin-Ho didn't find this food inedible.
Hadn’t he rummaged through piles of garbage to find something to eat back in Zhongyuan He wasn't picky about food regardless of how it tasted, but even he had to admit that this oily fried rice was testing his limits.
“Gee whiz. Even the start of our journey is 'inauspicious', isn't it...” Jo Gyu-Min chuckled and tried to joke about this situation.
However, he was interrupted by a loud commotion coming from behind him.
When he tried to look, Nam Sang-Hyeok quickly stopped him.
“Don't look, Mister Jo.”
“This diner is frequented by the locals, so it often sees bastards like them spoiling the party, Mister Jo.
The Communist Party personnel usually manage those restaurants with tourist traffic, but not here.
Punks like them show up every now and then in places like this.”
Jo Gyu-Min was taken aback.
“Hmm Are they like those famous Triad gangsters or something”
“Not sure if they are.
The funny thing about the whole Triad thing is that technically speaking, every hoodlum is connected to the so-called Triad in some way, you see”
“At the same time, none of them are related to the Triad at all.”
“...Oh. So, they are just...
organized gangsters, then”
That was when Kang Jin-Ho suddenly got up.
“W-wait! Please sit back down!” Nam Sang-Hyeok freaked out and tried to stop Kang Jin-Ho, but Jo Gyu-Min reached out first.
He grabbed Nam Sang-Hyeok and pulled him back down to his chair.
Jo Gyu-Min lightly shook his head.
“B-but, those people are...!”
“No, it's alright.
Really.” Jo Gyu-Min calmly pointed, forcing Nam Sang-Hyeok to shift his puzzled gaze toward Kang Jin-Ho.
Kang Jin-Ho walked up to the group of hoodlums raising a commotion by the front of the diner, then whispered something to them.
The local hoodlums stopped raising a ruckus and began to discuss something amongst themselves before shooting murderous glares at Kang Jin-Ho.
However, they still backed off quietly before rushing outside the diner all together.
“W-what just happened” Nam Sang-Hyeok was taken aback, unable to figure out what he had witnessed.
In the meantime, Kang Jin-Ho returned to his seat, his expression as composed as ever.
Nam Sang-Hyeok hurriedly asked with his face flushed red, “Just what did you say to them, Mister Kang”
Kang Jin-Ho shrugged his shoulders.
“I didn't say anything important.”
“B-but, what was it”
“I simply told them to bring all of their bosses here if they don't want to die today.”
“Eeeeh!” Nam Sang-Hyeok's jaw dropped to the floor, and he hurriedly shifted his quaking eyes to look outside the diner.
Sure enough, he could see a large group of well-built men rushing over here while carrying sashimi knives wrapped in some newspapers.
“...Oh my god.
We're all going to die.”
Foam began to bubble out of Nam Sang-Hyeok's mouth.
“Asian Corridor in Heaven” is the English title of a 2007 six-part documentary series produced by Korea's KBS network.
Its original title is “Ancient Tea Road.” ☜
“Ganpengji” is a fried chicken dish.
“Ganpeng” means fried without soup, while “ji” indicates chicken. ☜