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Ms. Diana Underwood.

More than Gamboling in the Grasslands
Ms. Diana Underwood, who hails from the city of Melbourne far away down under in southeastern Australia, has been living in Korea for six years. Diana, who used to walk down the green roads in her expansive country, is now working as an ergonomics consultant and president of the Australian and New Zealand Association (ANZA) in Korea. Back in her home city, her father in his 80s is still working on family farm where flocks of sheep and some thirty beef cattle graze peacefully. Diana, now a refined elegant woman reminisced: “When I was young I used to give my father a hand milking cows and shearing sheep. I was very much a country girl.” In Korea she is now far away from the farm chores, but still she is concerned about agriculture and farming back home as well as now in Korea. Diana is well aware that agriculture is faced with several challenges, especially these days during the current global economic downturn.

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Australia and Korea alike share similar problems in their respective agricultural sectors - input prices including for fertilizers, fodder, or farm machinery have been rising; food security issues like the commotion caused by Chinese powdered milk interests people around the world ever been topical; climate change is gradually taking its toll; and, as farmers are getting older, who’s going to look after the farmland is a pressing matters now. In particular, the issue-area of water has a high priority in Australia given the experience of droughts. Korean farming also often suffers from drought. In addition, the size of Korean farms is relatively small whilst Australia is predominantly a flat country that has broad grazing lands. Diana said that she misses the big farms back in Australia.

Turning to the Korean dishes she likes Diana named ‘Japchae’ (potato starch noodles stir-fried with vegetables), ‘Bulgogi-ttukbaegi’ (‘Bulgogi’ [Korean barbecue] in a stone pot), ‘Mandu’ (dumpling), and really fresh kimchi. About Mandu she mused that they takes a lot of time to make, the little delectable pouches that are eaten with ‘Ganjang’ (soy sauce) containing vegetables to meat. But Diana confessed that she had never tried Korean dishes back home in Melbourne, although she had often eaten Chinese and Japanese food.

When it comes to promoting Korean food around the world, Diana does not think it is the matter of whether the dishes taste good or not. In a globalizing world it is more a matter related to the recognition of a country. She said pointedly: “Korean food is not able to be appreciated in Australia because the country itself is not well known down under. To be honest, I did not know about the famous Korean kimchi until I came to Korea. If the Korean government wants to promote the country’s food, spreading its whole culture first is needed. In this regard, a lot of advertising and marketing activities are needed. In particular, it is best to promote Korean healthy food as being healthy and wholesome including, if possible, any image of if being slow food.

Diana commented on the presentation of Korean food on the table. She said that she is impressed by a number of ‘Banchan’ (assorted side dishes). Unlike the fact that a main dish dominates a table in western countries, various side dishes are served to accompany a main dish in Korea. It’s small wonder then that it takes some time to prepare a full Korean meal.

Diana likes signature Korean flavors like ‘Gochujang’ (red pepper paste) and garlic, but she usually prefers to cook creative fusion dishes. Speaking of flavors, she mentioned that Australians are used to various flavors. Due to the relatively short history of her country, fusion food is highly developed and so the Aussies are very much open to taste different dishes from other countries. Diana herself also does not frown when she tries unfamiliar flavors including unique spices like ‘Chamgireum’ (sesame oil), Ganjang, or Gochujang and can enjoy spicy food.

Along with Korean dishes, Diana is very interested in Korean culture as well. She is well aware that Korea has a long and rich history so there are many cultural contents she liked to mention. She enumerated various Korean cultural things such as ‘Samulnori’(Korean traditional percussion quartet), Korean calligraphy, ‘Hanji’ (traditional Korean paper) ‘Hanbok’ (traditional Korean clothes), and Buddhist temples which are all unique and beautiful. In particular, she likened Gyeongju in North Gyeongsang Province to an outdoor museum. In Gyeongju, there are famous Buddhist temples including ‘Bulguksa’ (a UNESCO world heritage site). And regarding tourist attractions in Korea, Diana did not forget to mention Jeju Island with all it has to offer to the foreign visitor to Korea.

Diana was open to talk about the things she felt hard to get accustomed to in Korea. She frankly remarked: “Korea is a country that is more conscious of hierarchical respect than other countries. This Confucian legacy is sometimes hard to get used to for those who treat people equally. My best friend is a man who is older than me, which Koreans who seem to believe people with same sex and age can be evolved into being called ‘friends’ don’t seem to understand. In Australia we befriend anybody regardless of sex and age.”

Lastly, Diana added regarding the relationship between Korea and Australia. “Negotiations on a Korea-Australia FTA are on the way. I think it is a good opportunity for both countries to bring reciprocal benefits in many ways.” 

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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