I Love You, Korea: Summer Love-Letters

Let’s talk about the things that I love lately and why I do that thing where I love them.


오징어 순대 (Ojingo sundae)


Want want want want want want want want

I am not a big seafood fan. We’ve talked about this before, internet. If it has pincers or a shell that is also its house or horrible beady little eyes floating away from its body on fibrous little shiver tendrils, I don’t want to ingest it. If it lives in the darkest, scariest parts of the ocean where things are basically two steps away from being Cthulhu, I don’t want it on my plate. Why do people do this to themselves? We have other food now, don’t they know? You don’t have to scrape the things off the bottom of your boat and suck sustenance from their horrible chitinous razorshells.

However. Occasionally I will stumble on something vaguely seafoody that surmounts my defenses. That proves tasty despite my long entrenched biases against the entire food genre. I will reluctantly savour this food, as though the sea itself conspired against me.

Never before has anything been so victorious against my tastebuds as ojingo sundae.

Sundae, for the record, may appear in this pages later under hate letters (it’s blood sausage, essentially). But this is different. Let me explain how you make this food.

First, take a fresh squid. Kill it dead. Lob off its many legs, and chop them fine. Begin frying these pieces. Mix in rice, clear rice noodles, maybe some green onion, and spices. Not just any spices. Possibly the spice from Dune. The kind of spices that people invaded and colonized unwilling nations around the world for. Spice that transports you beyond your fleshy bonebag body into the land of spice heaven. Fry these things up.

Now, get a big glob of this spicy goodness and cram it up the squid’s asshole. Pack the cavity of the squid tight, until it is basically nothing but a delivery capsule for the food you have just made. Steam several of these awesome flavour torpedoes in a bamboo basket.

Now, slice the squid into thin pucks. Then pour out some oil, and fry said pucks once more.

Then put a piece of ojingo sundae in your mouth, reach enlightenment, and move on from this profane mortal realm a greater being.


Milkshake Goo-Bag

Korea is pretty good at frozen single-serve ice creams, and I know that as the ass-sweat season is upon us, I will begin to eat every single kind. But one of the greatest, most unassuming kinds is basically bagged semi-solid goo.

The milkshake-in-a-bag is basically a slice of arctic heaven crammed into a warped, misshapen Capri Sun baggie. When you buy it, you spend the first few minutes of your time with your purchase squeezing desperately, trying to melt the contents into a state of matter that can be reasonably squeezed through the container’s sphincter and into your waiting, desperate maw. When your fevered mashing has reached the threshold of success, soft-servish ice cream begins to flow. Your hands are blisteringly, wonderfully cold, and suddenly, you have a mouthful of icy awesome.

The whole process is a series of different textures, moving from hard ice cream, into the soft-serve oeuvre, then over to milkshake town, taking a brief stop-over in smoothie village, before finally arriving at basically extra-sugared cold milk. Every state of matter that this product exists in is glorious, and refreshing, and basically the only thing that will keep me from actual death this summer. Viva goo bag.


Patios and Rooftops

Like most Canadians, I measure most of my happiness as a function of how much time I am spending outside on a patio. Being a people, as we are, confined to parkas and indoor spaces for large portions of the year, looking forlornly out our windows and wondering if the sun continues to exist somewhere out there, spring and summer are crucial joy times. We hunch, stooped, mewling and unhappy for so many months, that basically as soon as the snow is melted, people will begin pulling out the deck chairs. Canadians are good weather and fun time camels. We stock up on sunshine and happiness and relaxation like fat padding out our massive fun humps so that we might survive the long, dark, patio-less winters.

Korea being a country of laxer drinking laws, the nature of the patio is not quite the same. Bars are often shoved indoors, and if you’re lucky, the bar will have a bazillion windows or begin just shoving tables and chairs out into the sidewalks. Convenience stores begin throwing down folding tables and picnic benches so that one can simply make patio life right outside of the closest 7-11.

I am in no happier state than when I’m on a patio. It doesn’t matter the beer, or the people, although it’s great when both of those are also of high quality. If I am sitting outside, in a chair of all things, and not being burned to death by the wrath of the sun or swallowed whole by unyielding tides of snow, I am content.

Grade 4s

My grade 4 students: exuberant, willing to learn, and fearless of embarrassment. When I give them a task, they don’t immediately begin gutterally hollering at one another in Korean, like my grade 5s, nor do they roll their eyes and sigh like the teenagers my grade 6s are aiming so desperately to become. They want to learn English. They want to talk to me. They want to have fun, and sing stupid songs, and draw things, and just be happy and pleasant.

My major group class management technique for most of my classes is making them hang out after class based on exactly how much time they wasted during my class-time (I make them stand in absolute silence, which for children means that even the piddling 10 second penalties I give seem like exhausting eternities). The grade sixes are bags of apathy but ultimately docile, and thus come in usually around only 15 seconds, and happily serve their time before scooting off to lunch. The grade 5s ramp themselves up to such intense degrees that we occasionally veer into minutes of time for certain classes.

The grade 4s? Only of seven classes have ever managed to get noisy enough to require a count-up of time wasted, and even then it didn’t get beyond 2 or 3 seconds. That they even suffered this once is held as a sort of deep-set group shame, and when we ask whether they have served penalty time before, all 30-odd of them begin to look deeply embarrassed and aggrieved, as though they had disgraced their names, their school, and their country. When discipline problems arise, I at first forget what I’m even supposed to do, because it’s been so long since one of them acted out in any way. Grade 4 classes are also the last ones I have every week, and thus no matter what stresses I face the rest of the time, I know my Thursday and Friday will be gentle, happy, English miracle fun time, issuing me into the weekend without the feeling that I’ve even really taught at all.

10 thoughts on “I Love You, Korea: Summer Love-Letters

  1. Oooooo…I know an ESL teacher’s life in Korea isn’t always milkshake goo-bags and Grade 4s, but I so envy you, being there.

    You’re a great writer, by the way. Very, very funny. I think going with the “Talk about you life, be funny”-niche was a good decision on your part.

    P.S. I REALLY want to try ojingo sundae. (Hmmm….might be a bit difficult realizing that particular desire here in Minnesota–we do have a lot of lakes, but none of them, so far as I know, are populated by any squid.)

    • “I know an ESL teacher’s life in Korea isn’t always milkshake goo-bags and Grade 4s,” boy do I like this sentence.

      Thank you! It’s also the only niche I felt equipped to aim for. I don’t care about Kpop enough, and also don’t have the time to be as well-read as a sort of current issues blogger would need to be.

      Find a way! It is a taste that is meant to be enjoyed by all humans.

  2. My teachers used to use the time wasted thing too, but the difficulty with teenagers is that they just continue to talk through the catch-up time and in the end we had to be allowed out or we’d miss our next class. Sounds like you’ve got them well trained though! Maybe it will put them off acting out when they’re older…

    • Yeah, I work with young ones, I have no idea how well it would work with older students. With mine at least, they have no recess but for the 10 minute breaks between classes, so losing ANY time is a big deal to them.

      I used it back home to a certain degree as well, and even sometimes well with some students with behavioural issues.Because the time felt absurdly long to them, I barely even needed to penalize 30 seconds of their time before the message really got through.

  3. Silent catch-up time for some, miniature goo bags for others!

    Hey Mikey, this is me commenting with my brand new laptop. You will be read once more! Also, let us Skype sometime soon.

    • My mom even mentioned on the phone once recently: “Where are Zack’s comments? He isn’t commenting anymore. I don’t know why.” Your presence is missed.

      New laptop! High roller over here. By the way, I got your letter, and enjoyed it, even if you spoiled most of the contents. Sorry for not replying to it with actual writing, because I am a jerk, and also my mom did not give me your address. That’s how I’m assigning the blame here. Indeed, skype away! Look up my full name, or alternately, my username, “goat shaker”.

      Always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!

  4. My parents are Newfies and despite the fact that I had the opportunity to eat squid many, many times I’ve never, ever wanted to try it until now. Such is the power of your writing. Awesome!

  5. Good god, the ojingo sundae sounds terrifying and yet strangely delicious. Totally thought you were talking about ice cream sundaes at first though…octopus flavored ice cream sundae, now made with real octopus.

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