If I’d only understood just how important food is in Korean culture, I would have made more of an effort to eat school lunches from the start instead of taking the easy way out and bringing foods that I recognise and eating lunch separately with the Kiwis. I’m determined to try and eat lunch with the Korean teachers in an effort to get to know some of them better but the lunch options seem equally determined not to let this happen.
Shellfish, I Loathe You
On a shopping trip in Seoul at the beginning of December, I discovered the hard way that I’ve developed an allergy to shrimp. We’re not quite sure if it’s only shrimp that I need to avoid but I’m not too keen to test the extent of my allergy so I’ve been advised to stay away from shellfish in general unless I particularly feel like visiting an ER. Since cute doctor doesn’t work in the ER, I have no desire to visit an ER again anytime soon. Unfortunately, Korean school lunches seem to favour shellfish – particularly since Gunsan is a coastal town so being served fish of some sort on a daily basis is to be expected. This means that there are several days at school where all I can eat is rice and kimchi.
How Allergic Are You?
Several of the Korean teachers don’t seem to believe that someone can be allergic to a particular food so they probably think I’m just being a picky eater – especially since I usually only have half the quantity of food on my tray that most of them have on theirs. The latest teacher to ask me why I don’t eat shellfish seems to understand very clearly – despite broken English – when I say: I eat seoo (shrimp) or chogae (shellfish), one hour and I can’t breath so I have to go to the ER! Her eyes widen as she seems to process my simplified explanation complete with actions of my choking myself and dying before she swiftly moves her shellfish far away from me and tells me “Don’t touch!”.
You May Eat Only What You Can Hold...With These Two Sticks
With the question of my allergy now apparently cleared up, the second question of why I take considerably less food than my Korean colleagues remains. Yes, I eat less than they do but they’re still all so thin is my first answer and the foods that I can eat at lunch are all carbs. Their response: Everyone knows Asian people are too skinny and we’re all built differently. This is such a sweet response considering the horror stories I hear from several other GETs whose teachers seem to constantly be commenting about their weight – even when they’re a healthy size. My second, and more honest, response is simple: Whatever I put on my plate, I have to eat…with chopsticks! Using those blasted metal sticks takes twice as long for me as it does for my Korean colleagues and since I can only eat what I manage to hold between this foreign torture device, I tend to take only a little food at a time.
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I have good and bad chopstick skill days. The wooden chopsticks are generally easier for foreigners to use that the metal ones which take considerably more practise. My colleagues seem to find it rather entertaining to watch me attempt to use the metal chopsticks at school. I diligently attempt, repeatedly, to pick up small quantities of food no matter how awkward it may be and when all I really want to do is stab a chopstick through the food from hunger. Picking up food is the easier part; keeping it between the chopsticks en route to my mouth requires more skill and this is what my colleagues find so amusing – I can’t seem to keep the blasted chopsticks balanced long enough to not drop the food before it gets to my mouth. I smile graciously while thinking to myself Let’s give you a knife and fork with which to eat lunch and then see who’s laughing as I discreetly stab the food with both chopsticks so that I get to eat some lunch in this half hour.