Sunday, April 6, 2008

Travelogue #32: It's ALIVE and I'm eating it!?

<---Travelogue #31: My Not-So-Lonely Planet Guide to Fukuoka, Japan and Busan, South Korea
--->Travelogue #33: A Spring Night in Hongdae

Some writers don't have balls. They bravely pick at emotional wounds through verse or prose, but when it comes to physical risk, they have about as much stugots as Artie Bucco.

I don't exempt myself from criticism. Christopher McCandless I am not. Into the Wild was an intriguing adventure read, but the last thing that appeals to me is a life without central heating and iTunes. Food-wise, I have experimented in Korea, but I usually draw a line at anything Fear Factor-esque. That means no squiggling sannakji for me. I mean, I'm a writer, right? My job is to watch other people gnaw into the quivering jelly of live octopus. I'll report. I'll review. I'll pontificate.

Or I'll grow a pair and eat the damned thing. Believe it or not, that's exactly what I end up doing.

The scene is Garak Market at night, an any-and-every-fish brouhaha of commerce. We smell sand, but this ain't no beach. "The sight of gutted sting rays," David writes later, "lay upon a poorly sanitized shelf like trophies." We hear shouts of Korean from squinty, scraggly men and women who wouldn't look wrong garbed in the fisherman suit from I Know What You Did Last Summer. This swirling atmosphere of the senses can only mean one thing: dinnertime.

*courtesy of Wikipedia

Sannakji was featured in the Amazing Race 4 as a detour challenge; only one team managed to finish a bowl of it. Five years ago, I watched the show with my mom and I grimaced, feeling fortunate that my supper was chicken fingers and waffle fries. When it comes to sannakji, common sense and Wikipedia warn, "The active suction cups can cause swallowed stick to the mouth or throat. This can present a choking hazard for some people, particularly if they are intoxicated."

My friends and I sip soju and beer, prepping ourselves for a feast that wiggles. My teeth clack like a metronome. This is how I intend to eat, not with an eye on savoring flavor, but with the fixed purpose of mauling the octopus until its nerve endings stop twitching.

God. I glare at the little sannakji as it ropes around the end of my chopsticks. Mike is filming me. There's no turning back. I'm eight-years-old again, standing at the edge of the diving board, ready to jump because if my next-door neighbor pulled this off, so can I. I'm eleven-years-old, hands flailing on the Zippin Pippin' as it cranks up, up, and up its wooden stairs, my first rollercoaster ride. I might be older now but that same energy juices anew through my body. There's no turning back.

I chew it like a madman. No mercy. The taste? Not bad, not bad at all. The zesty kick of sesame seeds make the sannakji more palatable, but still I stab the wormy boogers with my chopsticks, not content to let my teeth do all the damage. If only a picture could do proper justice to my bravery...

*photo courtesy of Emily Palmer

I might have not looked cool doing it, but I did it anyway. I did it!

Though they might not be the size of cantaloupes, I do got balls.

On to the Amazing Race!


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