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Tag: korea Namyangju

Discerning Dinner and Strange Plaices

Octopus. ‘Yum’, I hear you cry.

I’ve had 24 hours to digest now, so I’m fairly sure I’ve escaped the grasping clutches of Tempting Fate.

The grisly remains: the mollusc-like things in the middle were apparently as ‘living’ as the undulating things in the shell.

Last night was an Educational Experience in many ways. Firstly, it is entirely the norm for the director to take out the whole staff (at great expense, I guiltily suspect) to a local restaurant after work. Secondly, it is also entirely normal for the entire group to drink merrily and continuously; I’m still not entirely sure who was meant to be driving, but everyone turned up hale to work today. Thirdly, such merry drinking is rarely, if ever, a good idea the night before teaching, especially when one is expected to live up to one’s energetic expectations in the classroom.

Fourthly and finally, it is apparently customary to ingest food which, over the course of the meal, appears to gradually require less actual heat to prepare in the kitchen. By this, I mean that the last thing I ate actually wriggled in its beautifully-prepared little grave – leaving me with a mixture of guilt, intrigue and hedonistic gluttony. I never even knew its name.

Relatively few worries about the mortality of this fish, at least.

Despite our phobia of consuming anything intestinal, tentacled or still-respiring, I took childish joy in slurrrrping several octopi limbs while Meg eyed me with disgust and rage, clearly having doubts about this man she was stuck with in Tentacleville. Nonetheless, I persisted in my carnivorous endeavours, gleefully downing shellfish with varying levels of consciousness and mobility. We were proudly presented with an enormous, somewhat belligerent plaice which made a heart-wrenching bid for freedom, flapping about the tiles at our feet, before being wrestled to the kitchens by its unsmiling executioner. When next we met, it was on a bed of (as it transpired, artificial and therefore inedible) noodle-like strands, raw and beautifully prepared. I can only hope to have a similar experience when I go.

A pot of, for pathetic English tongues, Unbelievably Hot Stuff.

Dining in Korea, especially with Koreans, is particularly poignant to observe – even if one observes in hindsight, with gochujang still smeared about the mouth. As Westerners, we are particularly prone to the defensive this is MY food attitude towards dining, regularly resorting to wielding utensils as a deterrent to reaching fingers. I know of one particular incident whereby a (otherwise peaceful and lovely) friend of mine defended her pizza from opportunism by burying her fork in her assailant’s tendons, thereby disarming said poacher and saving her dinner. I know that my chopsticks are a barely-discernible blur to spectators when presented with a group-size pan of dak galbi, but this is a result of both my own greed, and my culture’s encouragement of said greed.

(사진= Photo, I believe) – taken by Amy’s phone, featuring (left → right): Eric, myself, Amy, Jun, Meg & Sunny. The pictured beers show that this was the START of dinner.

When eating with others, I realise that is must be a relatively violent scene for them to behold: a smear of sauce across the table, a mumbling and smacking of lips and three people’s dinners are gone. And yet, I found myself defeated by two-thirds of the way through the meal, while the rest of the school hadn’t broken stride in their conversation. Apparently patience is not only a virtue here, it’s a recommended dietary technique. I’m taking notes.

Also, an entirely unrelated but nonetheless bizarre story to end on: yesterday morning, shortly before school started, the staff room was filled with the heartwarming sound of tweeting infant birds. This in itself was not entirely unusual – plenty of trees around – but for the fact that it was coming from a bag in the very confused Sunny’s hands. As it turns out, a young student had decided (without her parent’s knowledge, I gather) to purchase two chicks from just outside the school, casually bringing them in with her. We placed the entirely confused birds under a colander in the kitchen for their stay.

Terrified beyond reason, I believe.

I am duly informed that they were intended as pets, and choose to believe this to be the case.

* A note, for credit/information: the majority of photos in this particular post are mobile-phone pictures taken by either myself or colleagues. Had I actually brought my camera to the seafood slaughter, I would have taken more.

 

 

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Wildlives and Disappointed Retrospection

A surprisingly vain neon dragonfly – one of MANY.

I like titles with syllables.

Another two days, another single post. C’est mon vie en Corée, eh? (Bad Ben – I’m having enough trouble learning Korean without looking up the French name for the country.) To quote myself repeatedly this week, choe soong hamnida – yong-guk saram (‘sorry – I’m only British, ie. crap’).

We’re two weeks, four restaurants, ten schooldays and (nearly) one birthday into our expatriation, and slowly starting to acclimatise to the madness surrounding us. I now bow respectfully/sycophantically for wizened ladies and gentlemen in the street, cautiously eat gimchi and slur annyong-hi kaseyo whenever I say ‘goodbye’ in the vain hope that I’m getting it right.

If spiders have the capacity to be ‘endearing’, this is it: wee little thing. For size context, it’s on the same pillar as the above beastly dragonfly.

On the subject of local customs – never, or rarely in England would one’s colleagues collectively opt to go on a lakeside stroll in the hour before starting work for the day. One expects others to loathe any such suggestion, and to veer away from the notion like a hypochondriac from lepers.

In Korea, the headmaster gets the iced coffees ‘to go’ en route to the lake.

Juliet made me a little spoon out of a nutshell and a twig which I now love with all my heart (think ‘double-headed daisies/daisy dumbbells’ arboreal wizardry from your youth, and translate it to Korean).

Avec caramel mocchiatos.

Such is the way here; I’m only now starting to realise exactly how much Westerners fear and despise one another as a rule. One cynically expects anything of beauty or value in a public space to be defaced, stolen and/or set alight – and one is usually correct in such an expectation. In Korea, you can walk down the high street at 11pm, with closed shops having left rails of clothing, etc. outside the locked building. Crime just doesn’t seem to occur to the population in general – even littering doesn’t seem to be much of a pastime for local youths.

My nut-spoon. Thank you, Juliet.

The main, daunting crime central of Korea is claimed to be the Itaewon district of Seoul, and guess why? That’s where we live (and by we I mean the vast majority of expats, not ourselves per se). Westerners are the thieves here, preying on the generosity and resources of the natives, and taking their jobs and getting drunk and living illegally and where have I heard this before? (answer: any given English pub)

Also, we’re totally going to Itaewon tomorrow to ‘splore, browse and try desperately not to get mugged by a fellow British scrote. I paid for the privelage of escaping that fate when we got our plane tickets.

Kang’s Gang, from left: yours truly, Juliet, Amy, Meg, Sunny and Eric.