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Krista's Travel Tales

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Sunday, 27 February 2011 | Views [432] | Scholarship Entry

The taxi brakes slammed to a stop outside a row of dilapidated buildings. I jerked forward, my breath catching in my throat.

Making sure I was watching him, the taxi driver pointed out the window. “Yogi,” he barked indicating a storefront that looked much like it’s neighbors.

Neon lights lit the orange and red signs of the soju hofs lining the street. The heat and humidity filled the July night defying the doors left open.

"Yogi," he barked again. One. Two. He tapped the meter.

I nodded, unstuck myself from the leather seat and reached forward giving him a couple thousand won. Fighting with the door and the sticky seat, I stumbled onto the worn sidewalk. Straightening I saw Jamie, my new coworker, swagger out of bar ahead of me.

"There you are!" He shouted waving a hand high. 

Jamie led me through a metal screen door and across an asphalt floor to a round metal table. Small dishes of bean paste, tofu and kimchi filled it. In the center a hot coal burned—sizzling slices of pork to a golden perfection.

Soon a glass of beer was put in front of me. Light and skunky I quickly drank it down. The beer was replaced by makali. The sweet and sour rice wine left me praying for the beer again. Thankfully my companions were happy to oblige me with a quick two-handed pour from the over-sized pitcher on the floor.

I clumsily imitated my fellow imbibers, using chopsticks to pick up a bit of pork, slather it with sauce and wrap it in a lettuce leaf. In my hands bite after bite fell back onto the grill.

At last, I successfully carried a dripping morsel from the grill to the lettuce in my hand. Carefully I wrapped the lettuce around the meat and had my first delicious bite of samgypsol.

After the initial eating slowed, the sounds of Korean and English filled the air around me. When the samgypsol was half gone, it was time for soju. Jamie once again took the lead.

“Drink it fast and chase it with something spicy,” he instructed picking up a piece of kimchi. “Like this.”

Then he downed a shot and popped the fermented spiced cabbage into his mouth.

“Ah, that’s good.” He sighed, his eyes closed.

Gingerly I picked up my full glass.

“One shot!” My co-workers shouted. I nodded silently, clinking my glass against each of theirs above the center of the table. Then throwing back my soju, I shoved a piece of sauce-covered meat in my mouth at the same time.

Instantaneously my eyes watered, my throat burned and my stomach roiled.

“My God,” I coughed. “People drink this?”

Jamie shrugged and pointed the green bottle at my empty glass.

Grinning I presented him with the glass in both hands.

Tags: #2011writing, journey in an unknown culture, samgypsol, soju, south korea, travel writing scholarship 2011

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