when my co-workers asked me last week what kind of food i wanted to eat for our teacher’s dinner, i remained open and polite. i knew they expected me to push for ‘western’ food, so i told them i’d eat anything they wanted, with one very simple exception: i didn’t want to eat any squid… or octopus. okay maybe that’s 2 simple exceptions. ok here we go: nothing with tentacles. that’s simple enough, right?
so, we ended up at a raw-fish restaurant. fine, fine. there was no complaints from me, as i tried to fold my massive legs into a pretzel that i could then shove under the low wooden table (i’ve never gotten the hang of this. i always hit my knees and my legs always fall asleep). i said nothing when i was handed bits of mysterious raw fish, whole shrimp with their buggy black eyes glowering at me, and dozens of kimchified vegetables. i’ve been here 10 months. i can handle this stuff by now.
well, a bunch of them showed up.
and they weren’t just raw.they were slithering off the plate.
a plate of live, writhing octopi were plopped down unceremoniously on our table. i cringed. without a word, my co-teacher picked up the nearby scissors, and started snipping them into bite-sized pieces. all the while, they continued to squirm and curl and creep off the edge of the plate. some even clung desperately to the blades of the scissors, like sticky purple caterpillars. i closed my eyes. this was a mistake.
my co-teacher explained that since it was a side-dish, and not the main meal, they didn’t think it’d be a problem if it happened to show up at our table. even though i’d told them all repeatedly the one thing i did not want to eat.
at this point, i’d already drawn too much attention to myself. the boys in the group were chuckling, and one started egging me on, telling me to eat just one bite. at first, i was completely adamant. this was not happening.
but then the collectivism of korea ignited at our little table, and before long everyone was pushing me to eat it, even the teachers who “don’t speak englishee.” i was then told it was “korean tradition” and “korean culture” and all this other nonsense, all while they clapped and cheered and pushed the moving mass closer and closer to my chopsticks.
as soon as the first crack in my armor showed, my co-teacher snatched my chopsticks from my hands, and chased around a lively little tentacle until it wrapped around one of the sticks. she handed it to me. i glared back.
all i could think of was the word “worm.” it looked just like a nasty worm, uncomfortably twisting around the ends of my chopsticks. the only difference were the dozen or so teensy suction-cups on its underbelly. and the fact that it was purple. and the fact that it was an octopus leg.
i didn’t want to eat it, but i had no choice in the matter, really. i scrunched my eyes shut tight (as if it would help) as i stuffed the little creature back by my molars and chewed rapidly. i hardly tasted it, but the texture was as disturbing as you’d expect, especially since the squirming didn’t stop until chomp 4 or 5. i swallowed and shrugged, trying not to think about what i’d just done.
they wanted me to eat more. i refused. i figured i’d done my amusing foreigner duty for the day.
and i think everyone should just be thankful that i didn’t throw up.