Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Korea still surprises me

Wednesday: We had some morning lectures, made our way to lunch with NGO professionals, visited an NGO and made PB&J's and hot dogs for dinner.

This just goes to show that I can never let my guard down. I should have become suspicious as soon as we stepped into the alley. You see, in Korean business districts, many business people go out for lunch in these restaurants lining narrow alleys. The restaurants themselves are usually depressing from the outside but really nice and good quality on the inside. They also tend to be seafood or Samgyeopsal - literally translates to "pig with three layers of fat." By "tend to be" I mean always.

So, our lunch was down an alley. We walked into a restaurant with a tank of octopus in front of the door. Okay, I told myself, you'll probably skip lunch today. I started planning how I would strategically eat all of the vegetarian side dishes and slip into a convenience store for something with more substance and nutrition before our next activity.

We sit down and the waiter puts this in front of us. (Warning: graphic content)

What you don't see is me coming to the terrible realization that this poor creature is being boiled to death. As soon as the camera stopped, I spun the other way, trying everything in my power to keep myself from throwing up and crying.

Needless to say, I was too nauseous and upset to even think about eating anything for quite sometime. The video still makes my stomach roll.
Kim Dong-myeong (AKA: "Michael") is my only actual student that is in my AYLP group. When he realized that the only meal option was octopus, he nearly left the table to hunt down some vegetables. Cute kid.

Solution? My group and I made dinner at the hostel. I showed them the different techniques for PB&J's (standard PB+J, PB only, PB+potato chips, PB+bananas). For those that didn't like bread and/or peanut butter, I offered hot dogs.

It was a success. Not only did the kids have fun making strange sandwich combinations, but I got a good dose of American comfort food.

The NGO we visited dealt with foreign refugees living in Seoul. It offered assistance in something like 7 languages, had night classes and offered rooms for holiday celebrations (because there are more holidays than Christmas and Korean Thanksgiving). The hospital was your typical underfunded NGO hospital, packed with second-hand everything and nestled in a musty, cold, narrow building. But it did the trick, I guess. I was a little disturbed by the cafeteria. We walked in to find an ahjummah (old woman with nothing better to do in life than sell fruit and make food) cutting through rotten cabbage sprawled out on the dirty, wet cafeteria floor. Shocked, I asked my Korean co-leader if people would actually eat that. She replied, "No way! She'll only use the non-rotten parts."

The non-rotten parts of the cabbage (sprawled on a wet, dirty cafeteria floor) would make kimchi (cabbage seasoned and then allowed to ferment) to be fed to sick, scared foreign refugees. In a hospital too poor to reject any kind of free food that comes their way.

Be careful what you take for granted. Maybe give a little more moment's thought to how lucky you are to be eating your apple skin without worrying about some terrible germ. Or how you can walk into a restaurant without even thinking about the state of the silverware and plates.

But who am I to preach.

Visiting a broadcasting company tomorrow. The kids are excited. I forgot to mention that Day 1 one of my Gurye students got a bad case of the stomach flu. I was up until 1:30 am with her in the emergency room. So, I'm happy that the kids are healthy and *fingers crossed* hope they'll stay that way until at least Saturday. Damn, lovable ankle-biters.


  1. Your video isn't working and now I'm way curious to see what the heck you saw.

  2. OH MY GOSH, your video worked for me, and I am sorry it did. Looked at this before I went to breakfast, and now am considering never eating fish again. I understand now why you are living on PB&J.

    Hope you are having a good time, looks cold, but looks like everyone is having fun.

    Talk to you soon.

    AS & UJ

  3. Protein?? What made you go to that restaurant. Was it pre-planned by the conference? Pretty disturbing. I think it is interesting that even the kids thought it was bad.

    What does NGO stand for?