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X Rated Foods – A Personal List of Korean Culinary Nasties

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, seafood by 노강호 on June 3, 2012

shite made pretty

If you can eat a MacDonald’s burger you should be able to eat anything. However, the grey, dry, tasteless shite that comprises  a Mac patty, which according to the docu-movie Food Inc, may contain mechanically rescued meat sludge from as many as a thousand different carcasses, is masked by pickles, sauce, mayonnaise and other gubbings. I often hear people declare a Mac burger to be ‘delicious’ and instantly know they’ve probably never eaten a real beef burger in their life. A real burger tastes of meat, it is slightly pink and it is succulent. If you asked for a burger steak in a restaurant and were served a pallid, dry Mac patty you’d probably complain because void of distractions such as tomatoes and mayonnaise, a Mac patty clearly does not contain meat as we know it. Indeed, separate the individual components of a Mac burger and their ersatz quality is exposed. The bun, pumped full of air, can be squeezed into the size of a dice and the cheese is totally cheese-less and useless for making cheese-on-toast – believe me – I’ve tried! Mac ‘food’ is a triumph of science in which assembled components, all individually tasteless and inferior, combine to satisfactorily tingle all the important sensory receptors. I’m quite sure if most of us were to witness the mechanically rescued process and the gullies of meat slurry slopping through stainless steel channels, we’d never eat a Mac burger again. But with the tweaking of science, shite, especially when it’s decorated in pretty boxes and wrappers, given brand imagery with accompanying little plastic toys on which kids are weaned and where burgers are mutated into cartoon characters led by a clown, can be somewhat satisfying. A lot of R and R, little of it culinary, has gone into the success of  Mac food and I have to agree, that while they can be highly satisfying (the right: temperature, balance between salt and sugar, just enough oil, the combination of different mouth-feels for whatever components are in the burger etc, etc,) they are never delicious. Indeed they are a simulacrum of a burger, of food!

And so, while I can easily enjoy a Big Mac, all the horrors of production, which should really make me gag, hidden from me, there exists a large menu of Korean foods that despite their honesty, I simply cannot eat.

Here’s my list of X-rated Korean foods that I personally avoid:

13. Chickens-arse – ddong-jip (똥집) – except it’s not really arse at all but the gizzard. Koreans always delight in trying to shock you with this food but the fact is that as a fan the ‘parson’s nose’ (pygostyle), that fleshy protuberance  at the very back-end of a chicken or turkey which twitches every time the animal has a shit or gets excited, the ddong-jip is lame. If you like the parson’s nose, and as a boy my family competed for it at Sunday dinner, you’re eating portion a of a chicken or turkey much more equated with anuses and poop than the gizzard.

chewy

12. Intestine – mak-chang (막창) – chewy and tasty but the thought of it being part of the poop-shoot is always too overpowering to allow me to enjoy it. Actually, mak-chang is almost an enormous ‘dog dick’ (see number 11). The dislike is of course cultural because in British food intestines are always integral ingredients in sausages and pork pies, especially the working class pork pie – and as such are minced and hidden.

and chewy, again

11. Gae-bul (개불) – commonly known as ‘dog-dick’ in Korean. This is chewy, rather like squid or octopus and has little or no taste other than the sesame oil in which it is often drizzled. What makes them particularly memorable is the fact they actually look like turgid penises and before you eat them you usually have the pleasure of seeing them squirm about in the tank before their being slaughtered. The gae-bul is basically a piece of rubber tubing with a mouth at one end and anus at the other.

What happens to a ‘dog-dick’ when squeezed. Incidentally, they are eaten raw

10. Sea Squirt (멍게) – I’ve written about this bloated monstrosity before. They are a mucous mess of bright, glistening colours, most notably orange, if there’s one food which comes close to resembling a tumour, this is it but I have two Western friends who actually find them delicious and ironically, both, unlike me, never eat Mac Shite!

An interesting medley of ‘dog-dick’ and sea-squirt

9. Spinal column soup (뼈다귀감자탕) – I guess there isn’t anything too revolting about this but I never enjoy it. There is something disquieting about eating what it basically an offshoot of the brain and which carried all the animals’ motor commands. A few weeks ago it happened to be my turn to pay for lunch and the unfortunate choice of my friends was spine-soup! I quite hated having to pay 70.000 Won (£35) for a meal I hardly touched – but they loved it!

the actual soup is delicious but I have a psychological barrier with the spine

8. Chicken feet (닭발) – well, there’s a distinct lack of any meat on a chicken’s feet. Instead, you’re rewarded with a mouthful of little bones, bits of claw and hard skin. Worse, is the thought the chickens spend most of their life traipsing over the shit of other chickens.

crunchy

7. Dog stew (보신탕) – I’ve eaten this several times and there’s nothing unpleasant about it. However, it’s hard to swallow if you love dogs!

6. Silk worm cocoon (번데기) –  mmmm… the taste of damp soil followed by shards of exoskeleton and embryonic antennae which lodge themselves between your teeth. And that steamy, nauseous smell!

and the smell is just as bad

5. Midoedeok (미더덕) – horrible. First, I still don’t really know what they are or whether they are animal or vegetable. If the dubious greeny-brown colour and ultra smooth texture experienced by your tongue is not enough to put you off, the sour, detergent like substance spurting into your mouth when compressed between your teeth, will.

chewy and revolting

4. Raw beef (육회) – well, perhaps not the worst of experiences but personally, I like beef at least singed by a little heat before consumption.

totally raw

3. Raw ray fish (홍어) – probably the most disgusting smelling food I’ve ever eaten and I know plenty of Koreans who find it repulsive. A mouthful of smelling-salts, a stinging assault of pungent ammonia, best describes this ‘delicacy.’ Apparently, ray fish urinate through their skin and when fermented the smell is intensified. It is suggested you eat this food while breathing through the mouth and out the nose.

the most hideous stink

2. Raw liver and raw tripe, simply ghastly!

unlike a Mac Monstrosity burger, the detraction is simply a sprinkle of sesame

And the winner –

Boiled lung – so far I’ve eaten everything above, but this is one Korean ‘nasty’ I’m not going to taste. Not only does it look gross, like a great bluey-brown clump, but there is a lack of any sauce to mask what it really is.

Of course, the ghastliest food of all is a Mac Burger simply because you haven’t the least idea exactly what it comprises. I imagine the flesh is mechanically rescued from every part of the animal – eye lids, lips and all!!! However, disguised and nicely packaged, the sludge of a thousand cattle can be surprisingly satisfactory.

one of my favorites, raw crab

By the way – I’ve still to try eating live octopus (산 낙지) and grasshopper (메뚜기). Other weird foods, such as raw crab (게장), acorn curd (도토리묵), jellyfish (해파리) and sea cucumber (해삼), I enjoy.

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One Word – Vile!

Posted in fish, Food and Drink, seafood by 노강호 on January 3, 2012

the garden of a traditional Korean restaurant

Even for westerners with eclectic palates who enjoy flitting between the spicy and tantalizing subtleties of Thai, Indian, Mexican and Chinese food, a Korean specialty can chuck a spanner in the works. Of course, most of our knowledge of such cuisines has been doctored and what comprises their menu has been selected to appeal to our tastes. Chinese food in the UK is nearly always Cantonese or Peking and the enormous silk worm cocoon sautéed with scorpion, a cuisine typical of the Gobi region of China, is not likely to appear on the menu of your local takeaway.  I’ve never seen the boiled duck embryo, khai khao, cooked alive and served with the shell intact, in my local Thai restaurant and some of the food I ate in India I doubt appears on any menu outside the country itself.

Korea has a number of foods which cause a foreigner, especially those accustomed to European traditions, to stifle a retch. Dog meat is perhaps the most infamous and is likely to shock us with as much revulsion as Koreans find at the thought of eating rabbit. And if a westerner gags at the idea of sushi they are likely to do far worse if faced with sashimi (known in Korea as ‘hoe’ – 회) against which sushi is positively tame. Anything which crawls, swims, floats, buries itself in the mud or simply hangs about on rocks, is fair game for the sashimi platter where it is usually eaten raw. If raw fish isn’t enough to empty your stomach, there is variety of raw meats, the tamest of which is thinly sliced beef steak but venturing into the Klingon domain are raw tripe and liver. However, a few cooked meats, intestine and boiled lung, are likely to repulse a healthy hunger after which steamed silkworm cocoon or pan-fried grasshopper seem almost civilised.

Over the New Year, I ate at two traditional seafood restaurants. The first specialised in a particular kind of clam and the entire menu, apart from side dishes, focused on this local delicacy. I wasn’t too happy when the hors d’oeuvre arrived; an unceremonious bowl of clams which had been warmed rather than cooked, and hence the shells required prizing open with a tool I’m sure I’ve seen in an electricians tool-bag.  Have you ever been dumped on by a passing pigeon? Once prized open, the clams’ innards were just that; a messy splurge of white and brown pudding that dripped onto the paper table-cloth like diarrhoea. I silently cursed my Korean friend and prepared to stifle the retch reflex that was sure to follow but surprisingly, they were very delicious. The rest of the meal contained clams in one form or another – in pancakes, as sweet and sour, skewered, in a soup, and in the sauce of a bibimbap.

 

painful on the eye but pleasing on the tongue

My evening delight was in an enchanting traditional restaurant in a small outhouse. Here I was served the entire gamut of food at which the European usually cringes. Apart from insects and dog, there was a selection of all the nautical nasties, sea squirt – which resembles an acned, bulbous boil (멍게), ‘dog dick’  (개불 – Urechis unicinctus) – a slimy type of spoon worm which has no English name, a type of shellfish with the texture of slightly meaty, raw cauliflower, raw squid, the unpleasant orphaned testicle thing known as mideodek (미더덕 – styela clava) which many Koreans hate. Other delicacies, less shocking, included raw oyster and I even managed some raw sliced beef. Along with a fine spread of kimchies and as a veteran of Korean food, I managed to eat with apparent pleasure.

more still to come

Then I picked up what looked like raw tuna, which I actually like, and slipped it onto my tongue. I hadn’t even shut my mouth when there was a sensation of something very unpleasant. ‘Can you smell it?’ my friend asked. ‘Ugh,’ I managed to mutter without moving my teeth for fear of stirring whatever was on my tongue. I wanted to swallow it but it had bones, cartilaginous bones which demanded chomping and I could smell what seemed like neat ammonia invading my nasal passage. ‘Urgh!’ I gagged again. I couldn’t spit it out, that really isn’t an option with Koreans and though I scanned the ‘banquet’ fom some friendly food that might speed it into my stomach, everything was both raw and slimy.  It was truly like a mouthful of smelling salts and my eyes were beginning to water. ‘Ugh, ugh! ‘I gagged as I furtively eyed the table from the dish of raw oyster on one plate, the messy sea squirt on another to the slivers of sliced dog dick. In the end I was rescued by a bowl of seaweed soup from which I slurped before swallowing the entire slice of fish, unchomped cartilage as well.

raw ray fish (홍어) – revolting!

I’ve eaten dried ray fish in sauce and really enjoyed it but fresh (홍어) and uncooked it is the most revolting thing I’ve ever eaten; worse than all the crud of the sea, the insects, dog and probably worse than boiled lung – which I don’t ever intend eating! If you want to eat something truly awful, something that makes even live octopus tame, this is your baby.

recuperating

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©努江虎 – 노강호 2012  Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Food to Put Hair on Your Chest (Bathhouse Ballads Sept 2010)

As Tasty as it Looks (Mideodeok). (Bathhouse Ballads Sept  2010)

Monday Market – Sea Squirt (멍게) (Bathhouse Ballads May 2010)

Monday Market – A Mixed Bag of Seasonal Interests

Posted in Monday Market (Theme) by 노강호 on April 7, 2011

For the last month I’ve been waiting for the appearance of mistletoe and durup in the street markets. Durup (두룹), aralia elatia can sometimes be found in places like E-Mart but it is usually on the expensive side if out of season. Mistletoe (겨우사리), viscum album coloratum, is something I’ve never seen in supermarkets, not even in tea bag form and many Koreans don’t even know what it is.

fresh mistletoe – 10.000 won (five pounds UK) which I’m told is a little expensive.

I’ve had a bag of mistletoe (dried branches and leaves) in my fridge for the last year and used it regularly during the summer when made as a tea, and chilled, it is wonderfully refreshing. Last year’s bag I purchased in May and it was already dried. Yesterday however, I saw the first bags of mistletoe and they were fresh so this morning I boiled the last of my old batch and will try the new ones in a few days. After which I will simply lay them on newspaper on my veranda and dry them out for the forth coming year.

Warning – there are many varieties of mistletoe and I’ve read the berries, possibly in European varieties if not further afield, are poisonous.  Apparently, ewes abort their young if they graze on fallen mistletoe! If you are a reader outside Korea I would be very cautious about making tea out of the next batch you see.

durup (두룹) aralia elatia

Durup, for which I can find no common English name, costs between 3000-5000W (£1.50 – £2.50) a bowl and is surprisingly tasty with a mildly nutty taste. I generally blanch them and eat them with red pepper sauce (초고추장), which can be bought ready made like tomato sauce, or with swirled in sesame oil, minced garlic and sesame seeds with a little soy sauce. I use them as a side dish. They can also be used in kimbap and pancakes but I have not tried such variations. I would imagine there are numerous other ways of using them.

a street vendor selling durup

Durup and Misteltoe will appear in street markets until about mid May after which they are difficult to find though I would imagine large markets will have dried mistletoe all year. Both are worth trying.

Don’t forget that mugwort (쑥 – sook), artemesia asiatica and mong-gae (멍개), ‘sea squirt,’ are also currently prolific.

mong-gae, or sea squirt (멍개), a delight of the deep?

For my previous posts on posts on these seasonal items, click:

durup

mistletoe

sea-squirt

mugwort

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.

FURTHER REFERENCES

Mistletoe Magic (Telegraph Newspaper. UK.  Dec. 2010)

Food to Put Hair on your Chest

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Gender by 노강호 on September 14, 2010

Klingon Gourmet – Food to put hair on your chest! Raw stomach and liver!

‘Klingon’ was how I used to describe Korean food in my first six months of living in Korea. I’m sure many of  the first Koreans I met, and probably everyone meets on their initiation into Korean culture,  enjoyed taking me to places where eating was either a trial or simply difficult. Everything seemed to be either raw, alive, recently butchered, or some part of the animal associated with intestines or anuses. Even the infamous dog stew is almost an English Sunday dinner in comparison to some of the ‘Klingon’ menu. I’ve eaten dog meat twice under the assumption it was another meat and masked by copious soju,  was unaware. Not the same can be said for some of the other foods which would chill your spine in all but the most extreme states of intoxication. And if the initiation to Korean cuisine isn’t focused on eating as a test of will power, basically of suppressing revulsion, getting it into your mouth is problematic.

No matter how good a westerner’s chopstick skills are, eating a bowl of noodles without a splash zone encompassing anyone sat at adjacent tables, is difficult. Usually, it’s the final little suck that whips them into the mouth and flips soup broth over yourself and your neighbours.  Eating noodles is an art and Koreans only have to purse their lips as if kissing, for the noodles to levitate into their mouths. Only Koreans seem able to eat noodles so effortlessly and without actually sucking and hoovering them. Eating buckwheat noodles, traditionally eaten chilled in a broth, in the summer, is weird. If I didn’t cook naengmyon (냉면) myself,  I would assume the noodles were several meters long because as you start to suck them up, more and more are dragged up into your mouth. Naengmyon must be the only food where one end arrives in your stomach as the other end is leaving your bowl.

Barfing up ectoplasm? No, but a great photo which captures the art of eating buckwheat noodles. Once you start you can’t stop!

But there are stranger foods for the ‘gourmet’ and the naive to ‘stumble’ upon: Sea squirt (멍개), the Jekyll and Hyde of Fruit de la mare, has flesh which is beautifully orange and inviting, resembling a juicy peach but the outside looks more like a biological hand grenade genetically modified from a bloated tumour.  The detergent taste of its flesh certainly cleanses your palate as does the watery bile from the innards of the closely related, styela clava, midoedoek ((미더덕), which I’d trade for a silkworm cocoon or spoonful of dog-stew, any day. Then there’s ‘dog dick’  (개불 – Urechis unicinctus), which resemble large pink worms and which you’ll enjoy far more if you haven’t witnessed them in their living state. The rubbery bodies are tasteless but coated in sesame oil, they slip down the gullet with ease.

the vegetable-leaf wrap (쌈) typifies much of Korean eating

Raw fish, often killed at your table or within sight, is a mild experience, though I have to put a tissue over the heads of fish when their eyes twitch manically as they are being slowly sliced to death. And raw meat thinly sliced and eaten in a similar style to the fish, that is wrapped in various leaves (쌈) with kimchis, garlic and chili, is fairly tolerable; at least you haven’t watched the cow being slaughtered but raw liver and stomach are certainly not my choice for a delicious meal. I ate raw stomach pissed and nearly gagged and the liver I mistakenly took for acorn curd (도투리묵). In the restaurant’s lighting the colours weren’t so distinguishable.

Raw liver (생간) prettied up with sesame seeds…

acord curd (도투리묵) sprinkled with sesame seeds

If you like healthy snacks, nothing could be more natural and packed with protein than silk worm cocoon (번데기). Indeed, the silk worm was an important food along the silk routes though Chinese silk worm is generally much larger than the type eaten in Korea.

Chinese silk worm snacks – meaty!

Being pissed helps swallow this delicacy and a chaser of soju or  beer will purge the mouth of the muddy flesh but will do little to remove the aftertaste which incidentally, tastes exactly like the smell they exude while being steamed. A toothpick is a necessary to dig out the numerous shards of exoskeleton that lodge between the teeth. In reality, eating this should be no different from eating a prawn or shrimp but of course the dislike is cultural and as Herodotus said, Nomos is king of all.

you can definitely taste the land in the flesh of a silk worm (Korean silk-worm)

Not my bag!

Grasshopper (메뚜기), coated in red pepper paste (고추장) is another crunchy, healthy snack and I know a few students, usually boys, who eat these and silk with as much enthusiasm as many kids eat candy. However, cultural chasms are narrowing and this year a London pizza restaurant started serving a grasshopper topping.

How to ruin a good pizza. All the rage? I don’t think so.

After a line up of insects, barbecued intestines (막창) are un-adventurous, especially after a soju and even the infamous chicken’s arse hole (똥집),  in reality the gizzard which functions as a secondary stomach, or chicken feet (닭발), are palatable.

Chicken feet, (닭발), spend most of their life walking on shite and where’s the meat?

For a real experience, you can try saeng-nakji (생낙지), small octopuses swimming in a sea of sesame oil and swimming they are as they are still alive. Whether it is urban myth I am unsure, but apparently, a small number of people choke to death every year from octopi which refuse to go down without a fight.

Nakji (the small octopus) often eaten alive.

I love black pudding but some cultural obstacle stops me enjoying, sun-ji-guk (선지국) which is basically soup made with blood. Sundae (순대), is pig intestine sausage stuffed with noodle and vegetables but I find it difficult to eat perhaps because it often appears in small road side stalls accompanied by pigs intestines, and boiled lung. Most of the food you’d class as ‘Klingon’ are the types of food Koreans believe increase a man’s virility, ‘put hair on your chest,’ and are usually predominantly eaten by men (and in some cases boys). Korean food tends to leave you either in a cold sweat or totally impartial and so many examples are simply – ‘okay,’ or as Koreans might say, ‘just’ (그냥). Personally, I don’t think Korean food rates alongside Cantonese, Thai, Indian or Mexican, but there is nonetheless something alluring and fascinating about it.  However, one shouldn’t  think their culture aloof, I can remember, as a boy, eating pig feet and distinctly recall the bristly hairs on the shins that tickled your chin as you gnawed the meat. I can remember my mum cooking tripe, probably the only meal she cooked which I couldn’t eat and occasionally, I’d arrive home on Saturday afternoon to the welcome of a pig’s head bobbling in a pot as my father prepared brawn.  When I was still a teenager I can remember traversing Limassol, Cyprus, trying to find a restaurant that served cow brain, a supposed local delicacy. Thank-god I never ate it! Most of the food we would class as ‘gross,’ we unwittingly eat,  pulverised  to a paste in potted meats,  formed into patties or luncheon meats or destined to appear in those famous anatomical dumping grounds, the pork pie and the sausage.

Like northern English black-sausage

But don’t worry, alongside the foods fit for a full-blooded Klingon, are the burgers, pizza and  fried chicken we waygukin love so much. Burgers, I can leave; I don’t trust them and the patties just don’t look like meat. At least with Korean ‘horror food’ you know exactly what you are eating, a silk worm is a silk worm but in the modern food industry, typified by the USA and Europe, knowing exactly what your food consists of is becoming both a secret and a rapidly disappearing right. And have you noticed when eating Korean pork, that it doesn’t drown the barbecue in water…?

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As Delicious as it Looks! (미더덕)

Posted in bathhouse Ballads by 노강호 on September 11, 2010

The first time I ate midoedeok (미더덕) it was hidden in a bowl of soup and probably bobbling under a slice of kimchi, either way, I didn’t see it.  After wedging it between my teeth I crushed it and was shocked when it spat out a horrid sort of detergent. I almost threw up! I’ve never eaten midoedoek since and if I get any strange soup I dredge the bottom of my bowl looking for it. Don’t accuse me of being politically incorrect, I know plenty of Koreans who hate it.

Animal, vegetable, alien?

For years, I had no idea if it was animal, vegetable, or possibly alien, most likely from the Klingon home world! For a while I believed it may have been some sort of testicle and its texture confirmed this, a hard exterior, smooth and slippy with some dubious inner core, but there was an absence of any tubing and because it resembled a mammalian testicle, I was bewildered because, being not much bigger than an acorn, I couldn’t think what animal owned such a nut. Rams’ bollocks are huge, a pair being as large an weighty as a coconut, and there aren’t many cats in Korea and those silly little handbag dogs Koreans are into, the sort that are too flimsy to walk against the mildest breeze, their balls can’t be much bigger a peanut. So it must come from the sea, I thought. Do fish have bollocks? Or perhaps they belong to the octopus but balls are usually carried in a bag and I’ve never seen an octopus with a knacker sack! Well, my Korean friends seemed to have no idea what they were and were equally as mystified.

Related to the sea squirt (멍개)

Then I discovered, they are related to the sea squirt and that monster of a tumour, the mongke (멍개), which also tastes of detergent. You can see midoedoek in the street markets and supermarkets and you either love them or hate them – a bit like olives really, which is interesting as they are the same shape and size. Unfortunately, they don’t have a common English name so,  should you want to order them from your local fish market back home, you will have to ask for styela clava. Mmmm! Sounds as delicious as it looks which is why they are usually hidden in the bottom of your bowl of seafood soup….

Midoedok (미더덕), Styela Clavca get erect when hungry and look like this!

Fondling them obviously causes arousal. A particularly long styela clava. Why are so many Korean foods phallic?

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© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

Song-So in Transition

Posted in Daegu, Diary notes, Westerners by 노강호 on June 19, 2010

E-bente-tang (이벤트탕)

In the Ebente Tang (이벤트 탕) today the additional essence was pine (솔입). It was slightly busier than usual for a lunch-time and I got talking to the westerner who isn’t afraid to bend over. It’s actually the first time I have sat with a westerner, naked in a bathhouse, since I visited Korea a few years ago with a friend. I passed another westerner on the way in;  I was taking my shoes off as he was putting his own. He didn’t want to talk, I could tell, and he was a dirty looking backpacker type with grungy looking clothes and a month’s stubble. I almost  let him escape then said, ‘hello,’ after which he had to exchange some conversation with me. I’ve not really seen him around before but of course, he’s lived here for a few years, which means probably 13 months.

I’ve had a few drinks. This evening, as I left work, I felt like a stroll down to where my old school  used to be which involves crossing a large cross-road near the Lotte Cinema. I  hardly ever go Keimyung University side unless I want some Baskin Robbins ice cream.  The cross-road forms a barrier, an asteroid belt between my realm, a few blocks, and what is basically another universe. I usually experience a sense of adventure as  I cross it and begin journeying where I haven’t been before.  Of course, I probably have been in this location before but the transformation of the buildings and businesses occupying it generally make me feel passing them is a first encounter.   I’d started the journey from my bank and half way towards my old school, as it starts to rain, I realise my umbrella is in the bank foyer. It’s pointless turning back and beside, this is Korea and the chances are very high it will be there when I return.

Song-So in 2000 from the top of E-Marte. This area still had patches of farmland all since developed

2010. Same location

The businesses towards my old school, a hideous factory in which I worked for 18 months, have changed. KFC has gone – the first pace I ate on my own in Korea, so too has Lotteria burger bar where I’d hang out in the most humid part of summer because contracts back then didn’t include air conditioning, and where a bedding shop used to be I’m treated to a reminder of life back home  in the form of a Tesco’s Home Plus. Not content to have invaded every corner of England, they are now starting to terminate all small businesses in Korea. My old school is no longer Di Dim Dol but some other school, still run by a money grabbing businessman boss. On the huge poster on the third floor,  some round-eyed western kiddy stares out at Korea, pen in hand, looking studious. Of course, the truth is most western kids couldn’t give a fuck about English and the native language skills of both Britain and the USA fall behind that of Korea, which for all its faults, has one of the most successful education systems in the world. My old Taekwondo Academy has gone and so too has the Pizzaland underneath it.

This entire stretch of road used to be the most affluent part of Song-So but since a mega cinema complex, known as Mega Town, was built some 6 years ago, opposite where I currently live, the money has moved into the next block. It was an obvious transition; near the Cinema is the E-Marte supermarket and surrounding it are buffet restaurants, pizza restaurants, coffee shops and a Dunkin Donut. Further down the road towards the university, the area in which my old school used to be the atmosphere is  now slightly shabby and deserted. When I cross the large crossroads and venture into the unknown I often feel guilty of being lazy but nowadays I just remind myself I rarely come here as there isn’t really much to see.

Sea squirt (멍개)

I end up eating dinner in an Oyster restaurant where I know the owner. It’s one of the hardiest local businesses. The first thing he says to me is that I have put on weight when indeed I have lost it. Not a good start to the evening especially as my favourite food here was oyster tempura. Ten years ago this restaurant was a North Korean restaurant  and was where I regularly used to meet my friend Cherie, currently my boss after she quit Di Dim Dol Factory School. The owner is really pleased to see me and wanting an excuse to drink, plies me with plenty of ‘service’ in the form of beer, makkalli, sea squirt, and sliced jellyfish.

If you’ve ever wanted to know what its like to eat a boil, Sea Squirt (멍개) is a close approximation. I’ve eaten them before and never found them delicious. Sliced jellyfish (햅아리) however, I like especially if in a sauce. The specialty in this establishment is oyster. My home town in the UK, Colchester, has existing oyster pens built when the Romans occupied Britain. Indeed the oyster trade dates back 2000 years. You wouldn’t really know this as oysters are probably no more visible in Colchester than in any other town especially as they cost about a pound a shot – approximately 2000 Won each. My basket of delicious Oyster cost 20000 Won (£10) and there are probably 30 oysters – enough to make me feel a bit sick. And this is where I have to laugh because they cost the same price back in 2002!

I left the Oyster restaurant feeling a little sick and pissed and on the walk home passed a restaurant in which sat a group of around 6 waygukins. I stopped for a moment and spied on them. They were all young and shabby, the men unshaven and clearly back-packer types with a touch of goth about them as they were all mostly dressed in black and drab colours. One dumb-ass  had a tea cosy on his head and sat next to him was the guy I met going into the bathhouse today. No wonder he didn’t want to talk as he obviously has a gaggle of mates to chat with.

I ended up back at the bank where my little sojourn had begun and there, where I had left it, was my umbrella.

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