San Nak Ji 2008
Last night was a regular night at work. Teaching kids, handing out detentions, making jokes, really just a regular night. It wasn't until classes were done at 9:30pm tonight that things got a little weird. Somewhere around 9:45 Sharon, one of the other foreign teachers at the school says, "Paul has live octopus and wants us to come and eat it." I thought she was joking. Unfortunately, she wasn't.
Paul, our boss, decided to place an order for a large styrofoam crate of live baby octopus. He wanted us all to enjoy in the salty, squirmy, dipped-in-hot-red-pepper-paste goodness that Koreans take part in from time to time..."for good health" as is the theme here in this country.
I have tried live octopus, or san nak ji, before at a restaurant where they chop the body off and cut the tentacles into small pieces. Everything moves for well over an hour after it's been killed. This was a little different though. There was no table to sit down at, no beer or soju to drink, no dinner alternatives. This was straight up, reach into the tank, pierce it's head with chopsticks, wrap the body around, dip in pepper paste, and shove the whole squishy wet thing into your mouth.
The thing is, these things aren't that small. I'm not sure that many of us would ever think of putting that much cake, or ice cream into our mouths, let alone a live creature.
Of course the foreigners were a spectacle because people always want to see our reactions. I knew for a fact I wasn't going to indulge, so I played the "oh, no thank you, I've already tried it a couple of years ago...I'm all set" Mike, Catroina, Sharon, and John weren't quite so lucky.
First up was Mike, who surprisingly just ate the whole thing without much hesitation. However his eyes were as big as saucers when the whole thing finally made its way in there and started grabbing at the sides of his mouth [this is actually a dangerous thing to do, and there are a few deaths a year in Korea related to eating live octopus...but hey, when in Rome!].
Catroina was by far the most interesting to watch. She made a deal with John to do it together, so she went first and the octopus went in...she gagged for about a minute while trying to chew/kill the thing in her mouth and then she threw it up onto a plate. Sick. John was so grossed out by the puke up factor that all he could muster was a torn off full tentacle shoved into his gourd. Sharon followed John with the single tentacle and I stayed in the shadows...snapping photos.
Anyway, it was by far the most interesting work night this week. I'm sure that the students wondered what the hell the teachers were all doing screaming and yelling in one of the classrooms on the main floor while they all finished rewriting their tests and serving their detentions.
Gotta love Korea.