Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Otter Limits

I have a hard time, as a veghead, finding stuff for lunch. There's a little kimbap restaurant near the school, and it makes a quick, cheap takeout lunch...

but I can't get across to them that I want it with no meat, no fish, no crab. They have bibimbap (veggies with rice and hot paste) and ice noodles for eating in, but the place is always packed with LG employees at our lunchtime and we can't get a table.

A nice big restaurant has just opened around the corner from there, and, wonder of wonders, they speak English! But when my friends and I went there for dinner, our hosts were so flummoxed trying to find something for me to eat that they finally came up with a bowl of sticky white rice and a kind of tofu broth; they thought so little of their own creation that they gave it to me, apologetically, for free. Tony suggested I put the rice in the broth and bake it on the grill set in our table, and it wasn't bad, but still, it would be an awful hassle explaining what I want and having them figure out what to charge me.

I'm sick of walking home for eggs and I'm sick of taking pb and j's to work and I'm sick of Costco pizza, let alone the hassle of getting in there, fighting through the crowd to the basement, standing in a long line to order (twice, ajummas [aunties-- middle-aged ladies] have butted in line right in front of me as if I didn't exist), waiting in another line to pick up the pizza, and riding back up two escalators to the outside.

It all kind of came to a head the other day when I went to a coffee shop and was ready to pay six bucks for a veggie wrap; they don't have one, just chicken or ham or tuna, but I decided to order a chicken wrap without chicken, just the lettuce and tomatoes and such. With my pidgin Korean and the two girls' pidgin English (despite the fact that everyone their age has taken several years of English in school), it went something like this, in a mixture of Enrean, Konglish, and gestures:

(Me:) Chicken wrap, no chicken, please...      (Girl:) What?
No chicken. Chaesik (veggies)...      No chicken?
No chicken...      (girl points to menu) Ham?
No ham...      Menu changed: no ham, bacon.  
(At this point I'm willing to settle for a wrap without bacon instead of without ham; I'm easy.)
Bacon wrap, no bacon. Chaesik...      No bacon?
No bacon...     Tuna?
No tuna. Chaesik...     (silence)
Chicken wrap, no chicken. Bacon wrap, no bacon. Tuna wrap, no tuna, I don't care...     (silence) 

Chaesik wrap, please...    Oppseoyo. (We don't have that.)
:: sigh :: Thanks. Bye.

It's sometimes hard to stay true to my beliefs when I seem to be the only one in the country who believes them. Even most of my Western friends say either they've eaten dog (and it's delicious) or they'd like to, and sometimes at the grill-it-on-your-table restaurants, the pork sizzling under my nose is too much, even though most of the restaurants have these aluminum elephant-trunk things hanging from the ceiling to suck away the smoke from the grill. And I won't walk into a restaurant that has, as so many do, fish and eels and octopi on death row out front.

Speaking of our aquatic amigos, I did something a couple of weeks ago that I'm not proud of, though most of you will think I'm nuts for minding and one or two will be disappointed in me. I was at the huge underground COEX Mall, which looks like it was designed by moles with architectural training; it has tons of really upscale stores, and the corridors wind around and around, giving few clues as to whether they have three Adidas stores, or whether you've just passed the same one for the third time. COEX also has a Kimchi museum and a stage where they tape videogame championships, which constitute full-time programming for two tv channels. Be that as it may, they also have the biggest aquarium in Korea, and... I don't know why... I visited it.

Now, animal rights people, of whom I'm one, believe that animals are not our property to do with as we like, to kill, eat, imprison, wear... I haven't been to a zoo in twenty years, and for all the times I passed Marineland and Sea World in Florida, it never would have occurred to me to go inside. They need to buy all the imprisoned animals one-way tickets home. And yet, somehow... boredom, sightseeing frenzy, the idea that, hell, they're fish, they'd have been eaten by now if they were in the ocean, I don't know... I went in.

I'll admit that the gigantic tank where you walk through the tunnel and let the sharks and rays and all swim right by you and over your head is cool, and I don't quite know what to make of the "whimsical" room where they have live fish in mockup toilet bowls and bathtubs and the bases of lamps and the front of a Coke machine:

...but, though I was only theoretically opposed to their keeping the fish, however hypocritical or illogical that may be, I hadn't counted on the penguins, the lizards, the bats, the toads, and (my favorite animals in the world) the otters...

..all of which were in enclosures entirely too small and immeasurably smaller than their rightful enclosure, the planet.

I'm sorry I went, sorrier than I am for my troubles finding lunch in Korea. If I'm the only living veghead on this peninsula, then I guess that makes me Korea's Sexiest Vegetarian. Always look on the bright side of life.

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