Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

While it may be a few months since I wrote anything here, to put it into context I've been meaning to get around posting this entry for two-and-a-half years. The problem was that it's a video which I took so soon after I'd arrived, when Korean Mother hadn't yet learned that if she didn't want to become famous it was probably best not to talk when I was trying to take clips with my camera, and it's taken me this long to figure out how to strip out the audio so she doesn't have to share her innermost thoughts with the world.

It was a mere three weeks after I arrived in Korea that Korean Mother and my girlfriend decided to take me to the Songdo area of Busan to "eat fresh seafood", which as it turned out was an important hint which strictly speaking didn't tell the entire story, but then that's Korea for you. Whatever visions I had of a nice restaurant a few floors up one of the buildings, overlooking a bay glittering in the sunshine, were quickly dispensed with as we hurried through the rain and wind from our taxi, into a large tent that was so close to the angry waves crashing over the seafront that surges of water were regularly breaching one end of it and lapping around the tables and chairs. Apparently I was the only one in any way concerned by this, which as it transpired was another aspect of living in Korea I was going to have to get used to.

Before we'd entered the tent, Korean Mother had briefly paused to inspect some of the crates of sea life stacked outside, paying particular attention to a species I didn't recognise which resembled some kind of waterborne slug. This proved to be another important clue. Ten minutes later, these 'slugs' - possibly minus their insides - were sitting on a plate on our table, but evidently the loss of any vital parts of their anatomy was not something that the slugs were going to let get in the way of their attempts to escape back to the sea. So there I was, transfixed by a dish of rapidly wriggling creatures which for all the world looked like it would be more at home in an episode of Star Trek. This was the exact moment it dawned on me that dating a Korean girl in England might somehow have unknowingly set me onto the path of marrying into a Klingon family. As Klingon Mother began chasing her food around the plate, which only seemed to make these sea slugs angrier, I braced myself for my 'when in Rome' moment of initiation, which fortunately never came. I can't recall having much of an appetite, and had I known that the this creature also goes by the name of - and I kid you not - the 'Sea Penis' I doubt it would have done anything to improve the image. In fact, the Koreans call this 'gaebul' (개불 - 'gae' meaning dog, and 'bul' a colloquial name for the shape of testicles). Don't ask me how something approximating 'dogs testicles' became known as 'sea penis' even if the latter name seems more appropriate than the Korean entomology. Either way, they are regarded as an aphrodisiac.

I watched the uneven battle unfold - chopsticks would pick out a gaebul, and it would get dipped in sauce before its lively disappearance into Korean Mother's mouth. Sometimes they would get split apart, but it really didn't seem to discourage them - I'm told that they can often live for up to thirty minutes after their vivisections. Sadly it was some time before I remembered that my new camera could take videos - by which point a lot of the activity had died down - if you'll excuse the pun. There is still some movement though:

I didn't mean to cause trouble but as the last few gaebul cowered in a corner of the plate I voiced my thoughts to Korean Mother that these creatures would still be moving around in her stomach, and for some reason she reacted to this as though it was the first time the idea had crossed her mind as well. After this she pressed on with what was left of her meal, but without, I fear, the same level of enthusiasm. I felt quite bad about this because as I recall she didn't feel very well the next day and as far as I know she's never eaten gaebul since.