Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Korea - The first gaegogi

Hello everyone!

It has taken me longer than normal to get over my bout of man flu. It was up and down all week - some teachers suggested I should go back to the doctor's on Wednesday and Friday. No chance, I'm not paying money to have stuff injected into my bottom. I was told on Friday that I sounded worse than I did on Monday (when I had no voice?), so took their advice and opted against going out that night.

I probably would have been OK to do so on Saturday, but played tennis during the day. In the cold and the rain. That didn't help. Back to bed. As a result, I was determined to be proactive on the Sunday, so woke up early and headed into Seoul. I went solo due to a combination of me going to places that may not have been of interest to others, and the fact that my friends had probably only just got in from Seoul.

My first port of call was the Seoul National Museum of History. It wasn't the easiest place to find, because my book told me the wrong subway exit. Once I jogged through the rain to get inside (for free), I saw lots of traditional Korean stuff. There were fun activities for kids, but I also remembered why I don't go to museums at home. I was longing for the exit pretty much as soon as I went in. That's not a view on the museum - it was interesting - it's just that museums as a whole don't really appeal to me. Coming from a history major, that really doesn't sound good...

I was in there for a while. After abandoning my plans to go into the nearby palace, Gyeonghuigung, because they were constructing a stage in front of it, I moved over to the Independence Park in Seodaemun. This is a really nice area, but the reason for its construction is a bit more sombre. It is to celebrate the Korean martyrs who fought for independence from the Japanese. The centrepiece of this area is the reason for my visit - Seodaemun prison.

The Japanese occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945. This prison was where many Koreans were housed. It struck me as an Asian Auschwitz - not quite as harrowing, but still a very disturbing place. It was actually constructed before official occupation, in 1907, but was done so under immense pressure from their aggressive neighbours. It has been renovated to be more of a museum, but the key parts of the prison remain. You can see, for example, that the cells are tiny.

Until recently I've been wondering why Koreans hate the Japanese so much, and have been asking them about it. My naive attitude was that perhaps they should get over it, much like the West has with the Germans. But there are differences, and this place highlights some of them. The most disturbing part of this area is the execution building, as shown in this sneakily-taken photo (bad Matt). Behind it there is a tunnel where they removed the corpses. They did not do so in public because they had been so badly maimed. The Japanese tried to cover this up, but it was discovered in 1992. Bad Japanese.

That night I went for dinner with Tom, Matt and his Korean friend Chris. Chris is the guy who introduced me to eel, and tonight was another new culinary experience for me. It's one that a lot of people in the Western world will frown upon. We ate dog.

Now before you start burning effigies of me in the street, let me defend myself. I've never shied away from eating food - my idea is that, in terms of food, you should try pretty much everything. In addition to this, it is part of Korean culture. I am a guest in their country, so should introduce myself to as much of this wonderful culture as possible, even the parts which may not be acceptable at home. They are acceptable here, and this is where I am. Finally, if you eat pork, bacon or beef, don't be a hypocrite. Cows are sacred in India and Muslims don't eat pig, yet you do all the time. That may horrify them, but not you. So you may not want to eat dog, but many Koreans do, and I do too.

We went to a local establishment in the middle of nowhere. There are different ways of serving the meat, but we had it in its most common form - a soup. Verdict? It's really, really...good! Very tender because it is cooked in the broth, and has a similar texture and taste to lamb. A bit fatty, but a lot better than what I was expecting. This was all washed down with copious amounts of soju, and I arrived into school on Monday on very little sleep and a banging hangover.

We were given two different warnings about the effects of eating the pooch. Firstly, Korean people often eat it for 'sexual stamina'. Along similar lines, I can tell you that I was pumped for most of Sunday night and Monday morning after eating it. I did feel as if I wanted to deck someone. Secondly, it cleans out your digestive system. This we found to be very true. Very true.

Only a three-day week of lessons for me, as school have midterms starting on the Thursday. Why am I leaving again?

Love you all


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