From the BK to the SK
There is a lot, a lot of pressure in Korea on a daily basis to succeed, and though I am only a native English teacher, I feel it all the time. I never want to let my co-workers or co-teachers down, I don't want to disappoint them or be rude to them, especially because they always compliment me on me adaptive attitude and traveling ability. They are impressed with how well I can adjust to a culture and embrace a culture and really allow it to challenge my mindset and thinking. Whether they mean this, I am not sure, because I know there are some things I can be resistant to. But I do my best and give everything a try, which is why the picky-eating nature I had for 20 years of my life had to change once I moved to Italy.
Western Europe wasn't too crazy, and I was sort of just getting my feet wet with the whole trying new foods thing when I traveled to new countries. I was the QUEEN of saying, "Oh, I don't like it", about a food or drink when realistically, I never even tried it in my life. I just didn't think I'd like it.
China was obviously no time to play around. Either I ate or I starved. It is really no different here.
I went to dinner with my co-teachers, principal, vice principal and other co-workers to celebrate the success of my open class. Let me preface this also by saying that Koreans know how to eat. I mean, this is coming from a girl who grew up in an Italian family in Brooklyn, where pizza and pasta and sandwiches and huge portions (thanks, America) was all I knew.
No. Koreans run stuff.
The amount of food that Korean women and men consume without even gaining a single ounce of fat is incredibly impressive. There are some bigger built Korean men and women in comparison to the people in China, yet still - it is so baffling to me that people can eat the way they do and lose weight doing it.
We went to a buffet with such delicious food, and I piled endless amounts of sushi onto my plate. I brought my plate back to the table and ate some of the best sushi I've ever had in my life. I sat there in a food coma, wanting nothing more than to be carried to my apartment and to my bed and sleep for the next five days.
Before I knew it, the waiter put down three plates on the table, and my eyes grew wide with horror. Now, I've seen some pretty gross stuff living in China and ate some pretty shocking things, but everything I ate was already dead. Well, I guess everything aside from the snake whose blood I drank and meat I ate in my snake soup. But at least when I drank the blood and ate the meat, it was dead. The snake was dead. I saw it murdered, yes, but it was dead.
These plates were small, side dish plates covered in octopus tentacles. Again, I've seen some pretty gross things, and this isn't the first time I have encountered octopus while living in Korea. I am pretty sure there was a whole one in my soup at lunch once.
The octopus tentacles were cut up into tiny pieces, smaller than my pinky finger, and they were moving. Yes, that's right - they were moving wildly about the plate. They were flailing around, doing flips and turns and wriggles and wiggles in every direction. My mouth dropped and I looked at my two female co-teachers.
"We highly suggest you try. It is delicious. Soaked in soy sauce and peanut sauce."
I looked at them. All I could say was, "But it's still moving."
They laughed. They told me it was very fresh and that I really should try it. Basically, all eyes were on me.
I played dumb, trying to somehow postpone the minute to picking up the wiggling octopus legs with my chopsticks.
"Do I have to chew it? Or can I just swallow it whole?"
They laughed again. No, silly, you chew the moving octopus legs. Duh!
I searched for a small one, which wasn't hard to do. I didn't have to sort through the plate since all the tentacles were moving from one places to anothe for me. It was wiggling out of my chopsticks. It didn't want to be eaten. It knew its fate, and it was doing its best to release itself from my grip. It wiggled pretty violently, as if it had eyes to express its fear and a mouth to scream with. My mind was racing. What if I get sick? What if it starts moving around in my mouth? There is no way I will be able to control myself from projectile vomitting all over this table (I know, I am such a lady). I finally got a hold of it and held it tightly between the points of my chopsticks so it wouldn't get away. It was now or never, and it was doing its best to swim through the air, trying to find its way back home.
I ate it, chewed it as quickly as I could. It felt extremely chewy - like e x t r e m e l y chewy, and the fact that it was still moving didn't make it any easier. I tried to keep it to the left side of my mouth, and I raced to chew it and swallow it as fast as I could. As I am trying to get it down without thinking about the fact that I just ate a moving, living thing, my co-teacher goes to get a piece, also. The tentacle she wanted  was more reluctant than mine was to be eaten - it was literally suctioning itself to the plate. We all watched - I'm still chewing while this is happening - as she struggles to rip it off the plate and eat it. One by one the little pores give way to her fierce pull, and before I know it she's eating a tentacle, too.
I can successfully say I've eaten something that was moving. I've joked before, saying the meat on my plate winked at me because I was certain it was still alive, but this was no joke. These little legs had life.
Another plate comes out, and I feel my stomach do a flop: No more. That's all I could think.
This didn't look too bad. It sort of just looked like raw clams that were orange. I've eaten raw clams before at my Uncle Gerard's house, as for some reason he and my father and my brothers found it would be a great lifetime experience to eat the clams raw ("best way to eat 'em!") rather than have them cooked for dinner. I am pretty sure if my Aunt hadn't stopped them, there would have been none at all for dinner.
Naturally, my co-teachers suggested I try, and naturally I had to ask what it was. I should learn my lesson by now and stick to my rule: DO NOT try to figure out what it is that you're eating.
"How can I explain this?" is never a good sign when your best speaking co-teacher is unable to even put into words what it is you're about to eat. Instead they translated it for me on their phones: Sea squirt.
It just sounded dreadful. The name alone sent a chill through my body. Was I really about to eat something called a sea squirt? I picked it up and noticed on the understand it had two, huge brown spots. The one thought that went through my mind was: Oh, shit. Literally. I was petrified that these were saw raw they weren't cleaned, and I was about to eat something terribly crappy. (Good play on words. I know, I know - once again, I am SUCH a lady.)
I asked again if I swallow or chew only to receive the same response, and so I ate it and chewed it as quickly as I could. It tasted like drinking absurd amounts of very, very, very satly ocean water. It wasn't terribly bad, but it wasn't something I'd really ever crave during my time here in Korea.
They asked me which I liked better, and my answer was so incredibly simple:
"This one," I said, pointing to the sea squirt. I honestly did like it better. "It isn't alive."
They laughed at me, "It is alive, it just isn't moving!"
I smiled and laughed. "Ok, Ok. Then I like it beacuse it isn't moving!"
Aside from moving animals for dinner, the other aspect about eating out with Koreans is the drinking. Korean men LOVE to drink. Asians in general love to drink. I remembered going to lunch at work in China and seeing some of my "bosses" chugging pints of beer on their lunch break. Koreans, though they don't drink on the job (my one co-teacher does drink boiling hot water....kind of weird, no?), they love to drink in social settings.
We did a toast with our beers, which I don't really like but I take a sip out of respect, and my principal spoke in Korean about how pleased he's been with my performance and my hard work. My one co-teacher must have told him to say "Bottoms Up", because he looked at me and forced the awkward and unfamiliar sounds out of his mouth. I smiled. They're always doing one thing or other to bring a smile to my face, even if it's highly suggesting I eat something that is still moving or something that's called a sea squirt.

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