A little late on the now hilarious night out Uri, Monique, other Kat and I had the other week. It was our second weekend as fulltime native English teachers, and we went down to Taehwa river park to participate in sports day; though we were there to raise money for an expat family who had suffered a tragic loss earlier that week, it was still a great excuse to make a team called the Canucks and play kids’ party games for the afternoon…supplemented by bigger kid apple juice though, of course.
After the Canucks won the award for best spirit – and how could the Canadians not? – the 4 of us decided to bring our richly won bottle of soju, and head out to find a place to eat. While Kat and I played kids games, Monique and Uri had been touring Grand Park, so needless to say we were all feeling more than a little peckish by this point.
Maybe it was the fact that we were weighed down by our hard-won prize, or we were just desperate for any sort of grub, but we made one of the biggest mistakes a foreigner can make when they’re stomach is bigger than their eyes…we picked the first place we found that had tables and chairs, and walked in. Unfortunately for us, our eyes also neglected to notice that there were very few people in the restaurant, and that there was a big pig’s face outside the 24-hour “establishment”. When we got inside, there was no menu…save for the one outside, that was all in Hangul and had no pictures. Well, now we were really in a pickle, especially since other Kat is a vegetarian and we had to somehow mime, dictionary translate and stumble our way through asking the server whether or not they had vegetarian options. Turns out, we were at a restaurant that served only pork. Oh.
We spotted a nearby father and son chomping down on some soup, so we attempted to order one of those for other Kat, and just smiled and nodded for the rest of the meal order. What was actually brought to our table was 4 bowls of watery, pig broth that I couldn’t stomach for the life of me, and a platter of weirdly coloured, undercooked pork that had to be heated at the table. If the colour wasn’t enough to turn us off, the fact that the server kept coming by to turn off the heater while we were trying to turn the colour of the meat to something a little more appetizing, made all of our stomachs roll.
At this point, we were all looking at each other thinking, I’m sure, the same thought, “can we leave without eating this, or is that too rude?” Whatever our own opinion was, the decision was taken away from us when another customer stopped at our table. I’m sure she was only trying to help the crazy foreigners who had attracted a lot of attention from the other patrons (they giggled during our exchange with the server), but what she did goes beyond comprehension.
The woman in question proceeded to poke at all of our food, and I mean really poke at it; her hands got down-and-dirty with our lettuce leaves, and developed a very intimate relationship with the side dishes. Nothing was sacred. After feeling around our food for a while, she picked up the FATTIEST piece of pork (still undercooked, I’m sure) and wraps it in one of her seduced leaves before trying to give it to other Kat to eat. Trying to avoid an awkward situation of Kat either being forced to eat meat, or appearing rude, I took the wrap and popped it in my mouth whole. I thought getting it over with quickly would lessen the foulness of the meat and the taste of her dirty fingers…it didn’t. Looking over at Uri with a stitch in his side from laughing didn’t help much with the poker face either.
When I resurfaced from my torture, I expected to find that the overly-friendly culprit gone; that was not to be. Instead, I found the woman digging her hands into even more of our food and wrapping up another fatty pork dream…which she promptly tried to feed TO Monique. I don’t mean hand to Monique to eat, I mean “here comes the choo-choo, say ahh” feed. The result was that Monique tasted the woman’s fingers and ended up with a pile of hastily pushed away lettuce leaf and meat on the side of her plate.
While we died with laughter (my own misery was put on the back burner at this recent development), we also naively assumed that this was SURELY the last of it. Nope. Instead, the woman presented us with her coup de resistance: she picked up the spoon that was IN other Kat’s bowl, dished up some soup from the bowl, put it in her OWN mouth and then put the spoon back INTO Kat’s bowl. Well at this point I thought we were going to bust a gut or die from horror.
I’m not sure if the woman finally caught on or had just decided that her duty was done for the night, but at this point she left us to put back the pieces of our shattered innocence. Needless to say, we got out of that place very quickly after that, feeling uncomfortable, internally gross, and like a shot of that soju would go a little way to cleaning out whatever germs we had just picked up.
While I’m sure you might think this story is exaggerated, I assure it is not. I also know that this is not normal social etiquette in Korea, Uri checked with his Korean friends and they were aghast to hear of our experience. So as wild as this night was (oh baby do we know how to have fun), every other dining experience I have had has been a great one, and at least I now have a great story to spice up the genuine, and commonplace, courtesy and generosity of South Korea.