Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Braai

One of the many pleasures of becoming a foreign English teacher in South Korea is joining the expat community. There are dozens of us here in Gunsan - Americans, Canadians, South Africans, Brits, Australians, Filipinos, and a strong Kiwi contingent. One of my closest friends here is an Afrikaner from Cape Town, and it was with her and a couple of others that I experienced my first braai in Seoul last weekend.

A braai is a South African barbecue, a casual social gathering where people stand around drinking, chatting, and grilling boerewors. The South African community across Korea regularly holds such events, and this braai in Nanji Park attracted well over 100 people, despite the rain. We sheltered under canvas gazebos until the weather cleared, chewing on biltong and waiting for the braais to heat. Unfortunately there was no beer available but I did enjoy acquainting myself with Savanna and Hunter's Dry, two eminently drinkable South African ciders.

The thing that struck me most was the openness and friendliness of everybody there. I had genuine, comfortable conversations with South Africans of all backgrounds, and a few other foreigners besides. When we needed a braai for the boerewors, a friendly Afrikaner named Karel was right there to help. On the way to the loos I started chatting with a young woman from Johannesburg, and on the way back bumped into a girl of Pakistani and Arab heritage who spoke with an English Midlands accent. When it was my turn to get the round I was instructed to greet the 'oke' selling drinks as 'oom' (uncle), and to ask for 'vyf Savannas asseblief'.

Chilling at the braai, surrounded by South Africans, I felt almost at home for the first time in four months. South Africa is a complicated tapestry of many different languages, histories, cultures, and politics. Beneath all that, to me at least, the people seem to enjoy a common easiness, an unhurried approach to life that is shared by New Zealanders. The braai wasn't quite the same as the Christmas Day barbie, but it will do handsomely until we get home.