The Evening I Ate Live Octopus

It was my first year in Korea.  I was a single mother of two teenage kids.  I had gone as an English teacher to an elementary school in Paju City, up in the northern part of S. Korea.  I was co-teaching with a Korean English teacher. I had been teaching about six months, and we changed Korean English teachers, and the new teacher wanted me to get to know her friends from her old job, so she invited me to go out to eat with her and her friends from he former school.

men s wearing black suit jacket and pants
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I met them at a restaurant. I had no idea what she had in store for me.  She introduced me to her friends, and one of the guys seemed to focus in on me and wanted to spend all his time talking to me.. He was cute, and he was wearing a suit, but he was married, and I thought it was strange that he hadn’t brought his wife.  Our new Korean English teacher encouraged him almost like she was trying to set me up with a date, but I didn’t want to go out with a married guy.

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The Korean English teacher told me she was so excited for me to try the food in that restaurant!  They brought a hot plate to our table.  They put a big pot of water on the hotplate.  Next, they brought a live octopus and threw it in the boiling water.  Immediately, without letting it cook at all, they grabbed it again, took a pair of scissors, and cut one of the legs off and threw it onto my plate.  It was still squirming.  She cut the other legs off and threw them on to the plates of the Korean teachers who were there.

cooked food in container
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They all began eating, and I sat there looking at mine squirming. How could I eat something that was still moving?  I told the Korean English teacher that it was still alive, and I just couldn’t eat it!  She cut a piece off and said, “Just take a bite,” and I kind of nibbled at the piece she gave me, and it was rubbery. but the sight of the leg still moving was more than I could take. I didn’t swallow. I spit it into a napkin. I just couldn’t really eat it.  I tried to eat other things because in Korea they always bring side dishes with your meal.

woman in floral long sleeved dress
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All the Koreans were eating everything; nothing on the table bothered them.  There was a Korean woman from the other school trying to get the guy’s attention who was trying to give me all his attention.  I appreciated his attention, but there was no way I was going to go out with a married guy!

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He began saying he was going to get drunk after we ate, and he asked me to go with him to get drunk. I don’t even drink. Of course I turned him down. When the meal came to an end, I got up to go, and he walked me to a taxi and held the door for me.  He was so sad that I wouldn’t go get drunk with him, and I heard one of the Korean women who were watching us say,  “Don’t worry! I’ll go get drunk with you!”  He just shook his head “no” and said he was going to go home. I went on home waving goodbye to them.

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The next day, the new Korean English teacher in my school was completely angry with me!  How could I not eat the dinner she thought was so special?!! How could I not go with the guy who liked me so much?!  She raked me over the coals. She talked bad about me to the other teachers.  I never could get her in a good mood again.  I didn’t realize it, but I was learning about Korea.  She did everything she could to turn all the teachers in the school against me.  If one Korean likes you, they all like you, but if one Korean doesn’t like you, then you have trouble. I left that school and made more friends, and I found friends who didn’t want me to get drunk or go with guys who were married, but they still want me to eat crazy food, but my real Korean friends forgive me for not eating the craziest thing they can find.


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