Monday, July 5, 2010

Weekend and Q & A: Food Allergies; Spiders

I had a delightful weekend, although it was rainy off and on both days. On Saturday, I woke up early and had a nice little hike with my husband. Then a friend (Paige) and I went out to Ulsan to visit Hayoung (the Korean MC at our wedding) who has taken ill once more. We got lost for a bit and ate a lot of dairy-based junk food which made me roll around in pain for about two hours, vowing to go vegan as soon as the pain was relieved.

On Sunday, Min Gi and I awoke even earlier to meet Min Su and In Shil (the in-laws) for a trip out to the Bong-hwa area of the Nakdong river for three hours of rafting (I would hardly call it whitewater, though). Our guide was a Physical Education major at a university in Daegu (I didn't catch which one) who lamented the fact that he was single and then proceeded to entertain us like a gag-show comedian for three hours. We also dove off of very big rocks into the river, which was a little terrifying, but fun. We ate tiny freshwater fish (so much for veganism) and visited a 500 year old village famous for a kind of cookie that tasted like sugar-coated gingerbread. Min Su sent pictures to Min Gi that I will post in short order.

Now for more formspring fun.

If you have allergies and still refuse the food, are you offending them?

By "them" I'm going to assume you mean Koreans and that this is a follow-up to my previous comments about trying not to refuse food because it is considered rude. Refusing food in Korea is like refusing to shake someone's hand in a Western country. I recommend you try to explain why you are refusing the food--most will be understanding, but yes, you're probably going to offend some people. That's just the way the world works. You'll be seen as a weirdo and very unfriendly. At best, they'll dismiss it as a foreign oddity. At worst, you will permanently damage your professional relationship.

I'm lucky that Korea has a pretty high number of Buddhists and therefore at least a passing acceptance of vegetarianism, if not a clear understanding of what that always entails (and I admit my eating seafood is not helpful to future foreign vegetarians... sorry guys!) Still, I offend people by not eating meat, but it's just a few. For example, after one semester at my school, they hired a new nutritionist. I had been eating in the school cafeteria (a MUST DO for foreign teachers in Korea if you want to make nice with your co-workers), but the new nutritionist LOVES meat. Seriously, the woman puts meat in everything, even the rice. I was only eating once a week, but paying for all the meals, so I finally just said I couldn't do it anymore. It was ok because I'd already established myself at the school, but I can see hostility/resentment/confusion/curiosity about my absence from the cafeteria in newer teachers to the school. It does not send a positive message.

Most Koreans are overwhelmingly accommodating of my food limitations (and sensitive to the preferences/limitations of other foreigners--especially spicy food because they firmly believe foreigners cannot eat spicy food) because Koreans love food (really!) and want you to love their food, too. Hopefully your bosses and other people who have a serious influence on your life in Korea are going to be understanding. I really recommend not refusing anything for the first couple months, even if you don't eat it. Fake it. Eat the rice, but pick at everything else. Take it home and toss it out there. Accept a new food, but don't take a bite until later when you can confirm what's in it (Korean teachers do this all the time, so I assume it's ok).

If you have life threatening allergies, you can try to explain this to the teacher/co-worker who speaks the best English, but food allergies are not all that common here (even Koreans with an allergy to alcohol--which is a common allergy in Asians--will consume it and just deal with the bright red, blotchy face they get as a result). It's possible they won't really understand. I'm not saying eat a food that will send you to the hospital, but I am saying that you might have to work double time to repair cultural bridges.

Are there a lot of spiders in South Korea?

What an odd question. But I guess now that it's summer, I'm seeing more of all kinds of life here, including spiders.

I encounter spiders in Korea at about the same rate I encountered them in the U.S. (I lived near Washington, DC). There are very few in my house (because I have cats). There are more in the countryside and mountains than there are in the cities. Some have very pretty colors. Most are tiny and harmless. Spiders are called Keo-mi (거미) in Korean. Beyond that, I know nothing.

Keep the questions coming, guys.

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