Dog Tastes Like Meat
My first year in Korea is coming to a quick end.
When I took the plane ride over last year, I didn’t know how long I would last out here. To be TOTALLY honest, I had visions of landing in the country…looking around for a day…getting some sleep in a hotel…and purchasing a return flight to the US the next day. I can remember rationing the $1,000 US dollars my father put in my hand the day before I left. I practice extreme frugality with that money because that plane ticket home could have been necessary at any moment….or so I thought.
But, alas, I stayed. —and it has made all the difference.
In fact, I ‘ve had such a good time, I’m staying another year. I’ve managed to land a job at a Korean university; so now I have an additional year to increase my knowledge of the language and culture, get some additiona work done, and continue a process of living and learning in a culture that is significantly different from the one in which I was raised. Which brings me to my latest intercultural experience….
June 30, 2010 marked the day I opened wide and ate Dog Meat for the first time.
It was an end-of-the-year lunch for the teachers at my school. (We have various dinners/luncheons throughout the year; large luncheons are a typical practice.) The day prior to this particular luncheon, a close friend of mine informed me that “Dog Meat” 개고기 was going to be served. In previous conversations, I had told this particular colleague that I was open to try it…and at the end of the semester, the opportunity now presented itself.
Since living in Korea, I have eaten a number of foods that I had never eaten before. Tofu is a food item I had tried in America, but did not care for. Now, I will eat tofu without much hesitation; and this is probably because of the way it’s seasoned in Korea. 된장찌개 (twen-jang-chee-geh) makes tofu much more enjoyable than a bland piece of tofu. I have eaten raw snail (escargot), dried squid, raw squid, raw fish, cooked octopus, chestnuts, persimmons, kimchi, and 청국장 (fermented beans). In Texas, we would refer to the smell of fermented beans as “pretty bad,” but it actuality, it tastes “pretty good.” In any regard….DogMeat was still a significant step for me, but it was a step I was willing to take.
On the day of the luncheon, we all left school, as usual, and to my surprise, we pulled up to a restaurant where we had dined two or three times before. Interesting. When my party and I arrived, all the other teachers were already seated together on one side of the restaurant. My group took an empty table on the opposite side of the eatery. This is a bit different…we usually eat as one cohesive unit. But, anyhow…. We sat down and engaged in a bit of small talk. A teacher motions for someone to bring us some Soju (a popular Korean alcoholic drink). This is normal. I’m assuming we’re all about to get pretty “lubricated”…and this is normal–alcohol flows freely at our outings. But, to my surprise, he pours one glass of Soju for me…and everyone else takes some water. This is a bit unusual. But, anyhow….
When our food arrives, it is served to us in the same steaming hot bowls which are used for other Korean soups. When the waitress places the bowls before us, I must admit—it smells good. I could smell the onions and peppers that are typical of most Korean seasonings. As a result, the aroma eased my nerves a bit. I’m still thinking, though…I’m about eat Dog. I looked into the bowl and saw the green onions, peppers, and soup before me. I’m still thinking….Dog Meat lay just below the surface. I bowed my head to pray, just as I would any other meal. During this prayer, I could feel my curious colleagues watching me. After finishing my prayer, I grabbed my spoon, stirred the soup around, found the pieces of Dog with my chopsticks, and begin to eat.
The taste was Wild—like that of Wild Game. It didn’t resemble Deer. It didn’t resemble Alligator. It didn’t resemble Wild Boar. —and no, it didn’t taste like “chicken.” I must say, Dog has a taste all its own. Lamb is the CLOSEST example of meat that I can use in relation to a Dog. Lamb always has a “medicine-like” aftertaste; it reminds me of eucalyptus—and DogMeat had a similar type of taste…not JUST like Lamb…but similar. It’s a combination of tangy, wild, and “gamey”….that’s how I’d have to describe DogMeat. As far as texture goes, you DO have to chew on him a bit more than other meat. He’s kind of gummy. In any regard, I ate my soup. I mixed my rice with it, like I do most soups, and enjoyed myself. Interestingly enough, there was a lot of fat in this soup. I don’t eat much fat from Beef, Pork, or Chicken…so I wasn’t going to change that up for the Dog. I left the fat behind.
Of course, what was more interesting than eating the dog, was the human interaction that surrounded the event…..
The conversation was a bit strained in the car. No one was speaking as much as they usually do. Everyone was nervous. In this particular case, I assume the teachers were more nervous than I was. I DO know that Koreans understand Westerners don’t eat DogMeat. I’m sure they’ve learned this through a variety of interactions…and I’m sure some of these interactions were coupled with deragatory attitudes. I was a bit anxious, too. I WAS going to eat DogMeat; something that is not done in my culture AT ALL. So, here we were: at a Intercultural Nexus–and it is at these particular moments where our moral fiber is tested.
Yes, it’s EASY to talk about intercultural interactions amongst friends.
Yes, it’s EASY to write/blog about intercultural interactions behind the veil of the internet.
Yes, it’s EASY to ponder and pontificate on theories, and history, and case studies.
But, when you allow yourself to LIVE….
….To truly LIVE,
To let go,
To place yourself in a vunerable place where insecurities abound,
All of sudden it ISN’T SO EASY.
If you allow yourself to be challenged, you begin to understand yourself and another culture on a level that the books, the articles, and the intellectual debates just don’t provide.
You learn through LIVING…if you’re strong enough, patient enough, humble enough, and disciplined enough to do so.
On a FUNDAMENTAL level, ghettoGEEKS is built on a conversation on CULTURE. I am forever reminded just how DEEP and CENTRAL culture is to People. People take Culture VERY seriously. —and we ALL have it. We all have Culture. –and when we learn to respect the differences, we will simulataneoulsy learn to live Peace and Harmony.
I am under no illusions. I know it is not easy. I know it is uncomfortable. But, for all the differences between Koreans and Americans, White Americans and Black Americans, Black Americans and Koreans, Koreans and Japanese, Tibetans and Chinese, African-Americans and Africans, Mexicans and Central Americans, English and Irish, and every other relationship that has been riddled with difficulty—there is also the possiblity of healing, if we commit ourselves to that possiblity as well.
On the way home, I remember thinking, “Korea is INSIDE me.” There’s no going back. After I ate the Dog, the reality is I have always eaten a Dog.
—and yes, Dog IS Different….but, at the same time, Dog IS Meat.