This speech went over very well. In Toastmasters, you're given this sheet with tear-off strips that you can use to give people feedback. I got so many of those after this speech and it was all positive. It felt like when you're in elementary school and get the most Valentine's Day cards (when you could be selective, before the participation trophy era).
I know some of you guys are ready to hear me talk about all the crazy things I ate like pig intestines and live octopus. Well, if you ever hear me say that, either my body has been taken over by aliens or I bumped my head really hard. I have a hard enough time trying to eat more vegetables, although my adult taste buds are helping out tremendously. I will, however, tell you how my food experiences in South Korea were different, deceiving and shocking.
First off, for any of you who don’t know, Koreans use thin metal chopsticks instead of the wooden ones you may be used to. The history behind this was that a royal family many years ago used silver chopsticks to detect poison. The silver would change colors when it came in contact with the poison. Today, they’re made out of steel. Another difference is that a metal spoon accompanies every place setting. This makes things interesting when you’re trying to eat pork cutlets. You’re either trying to use two chopsticks which makes you feel like you’re cutting with toothpicks, or you’re trying to use the strength of Zeus to use a lone spoon to cut into a fried hunk of meat. Luckily, I never put anyone’s eye out when first trying to master this skill. When eating at restaurants, you remove your shoes and sit on the floor. This is no problem for practically everyone, but me. My legs are what I like to call, anti-flexible. So me crossing my legs results in me looking like an origami project. I just sat straight-legged my entire time there making sure my feet didn’t hit anyone on the other side. These differences weren’t too bad, but my deceiving experiences made for a fascinating time.
After a few months, I had figured out that usually, when they start bringing out fruit and/or coffee, that signifies the end of the meal. So, we’re at a restaurant for a teacher’s retreat and they had already brought out four to five courses of food and we were looking for any end in sight. They finally start bringing out some grapes and I’m thinking, “Thank you, Jesus!” It’s almost over!” Only for them to start bringing out fish several minutes later. We just wanted to yell, “Stop bringing us food!”
Then there was the multiple times I went into the school cafeteria and was excited to see what I thought was chicken, but had my dreams shattered when I realized it was tofu. It’s really hard to justify throwing away three pieces of tofu when you’re living in a country that was in starvation when ruled by Japan 60 years earlier, but you figure out how to do things.
My last deceitful experience is from a dish called 부추생채, which is a Korean chive. If you saw it on your plate, you might think it was blades of grass. And when I ate it, it tasted like it too. It was like I could still taste the dirt as if they had clipped it from the ground right before they put it on my plate. Mmm mmm dirt. That’s what you call fresh!
Freshness reminds me of one of my shocking experiences. Something you wouldn’t think would be a shock was my first experience with apple juice in Korea. In America, if I go to a restaurant for breakfast, I’m an apple juice kind of gal, so I was looking to continue this trend in my new country. I’m on the way to school one morning and stop at the friendly, neighborhood Family Mart. I make my purchase, open the bottle, and take a swig. I don’t think I even finished the rest. And the reason is sad. Not boohoo sad, more…oh, bless your heart sad. It was too real! It tasted like they took an apple, put a faucet to it and bottled it. I’m so used to the artificial stuff that I just couldn’t do it. Which was for the best. I’d rather not drink apple juice for two years than get used to theirs and not be able to drink it for the rest of my life.
Another shocking experience was a travesty. A staple in Korean cuisine is what’s known as kimchi. There are multiple different kinds, but the most popular is made of cabbage. Kimchi is fermented cabbage with red pepper paste and other spices. I just call it spoiled cabbage. As you can tell by my pet name for it, I don’t like it. When I went out to dinner on vacation, I knew this already. We were sitting at the table and the waitress was being really nice and encouraging us to eat the different foods. At one point, she stopped by and suggested we eat the kimchi. People had already eaten some, but I guess it didn’t look like it. Before you know it, this lady is somehow stuffing kimchi in my mouth! Oh my goodness! Why’d you pick me?! Of all people! It was horrible! And I had to chew and swallow it because it would have obviously been rude to spit it in her face. No amounts of Coca-Cola can get rid of that taste. I told everyone at the table, “Let’s mess up this other stuff before she tries to feed me something else!”
My final shocker was the first time I had wasabi. My animation team went to a restaurant and my director was encouraging me to try it. Hey, why not! I’d tried so many other things. So I put some on my chopsticks or on my sushi; I can’t remember and go for what I know. The only way to describe eating wasabi for me is LIVING DEATH! I just wanted it to be over. Not many people who know what dying feels like are here to tell the story, but I’m pretty sure that was close. I have never touched the stuff after that.
Despite all of these interesting episodes, my Korean food experience ended up being pretty good. I found some staples that I enjoyed and found some things that I avoid at all costs. If you have any questions on what you SHOULD eat, just let me know. I’m an open menu.
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