Coming up from the subway on our way to Yangdong Market, we found our selves in the middle of a sidewalk shopping center; everything from sun visors to rack of cow. Being that it’s still a bit shocking to see a hanging meat carcass next to a man selling q-tips, I stopped to take a picture. The butcher, immediately aware of the situation unfolding, jumped out from his shop and into the picture. We shared a laugh and thanked him as we continued up the street. At the time, we thought this was very nice of the shop owner, but we had no idea.
On our way back down the street twenty minutes later, we passed by the same butcher shop. As soon as we entered the field of vision in front of the shop, the long haired middle-aged butcher from the picture darted out and grabbed us. “Come! Sit! Cawpee? Here, sit, yes?” We sat. Another middle-aged Korean man joined us. He had significantly less hair, and was missing part of his right thumb. Seconds later, we each had a cup of hot coffee in our hands. In front of us was a rectangular stainless steel bowl filled with a bright red liquid. It could have been kimchi soup, or it could have been the inner body of a pneumatic tire. “Food”? the balding one asked. We had just eaten. Thank God. “Korean speak”? he asked. “English speak”? Erica asked. We had hit the language barrier, and there was only one solution. Alcohol.
Out of the refrigerator from behind the counter, the butcher pulled out a bottle of what he called “Chinese rice wine”, and proceeded to pour a round of shots for us all. We toasted, and as soon as the stuff hit my lips, it became all to clear that we were not drinking wine. The balding Korean man warned us (with hand motions) that the drink will make one very high, and subsequently, very low. When the drinks were gone, the butcher wrote something down on a business card and handed it to us. The other Korean man explained, “Today. Twenty-one. You come. My restaurant. Dinner. Give to Taxi.” At the time, we thought this was very nice of the two men, but we had no idea.
Twice along our travels that afternoon, I lost (and found) the business card the Korean butcher had given us. Hopping into a cab at 8:30, Erica handed me the business card to hand to the driver. He looked confused. “Anni. Anni”, the driver said as he waved his hands with slight displeasure. Before we could say anything, the cab driver reached for his cell phone and called the number on the card. Conversation ensued. He was asking for directions. Sixty-two hundred KRW later, tucked behind a gas station on a side street in an unknown part of Gwangju, the cab pulled over and stopped in front of a small Korean restaurant. “Eeyogeeyo”, the driver said pointing at the eatery. Two smiling women greeted us as we walked through the door, but the men from earlier were no where in sight. “We are meeting someone here,” I said. The two women looked at each other confused and just kept smiling. Moments later, the butcher arrived, and the supernatural force of Korean hospitality was unleashed.
We were joined by the balding man, and the butcher’s eleven year old daughter. The waitress, actually the butcher’s wife, brought us a horror film of different foods that would give a vegetarian nightmares. Uncooked beef (sliced into 1/8 inch think squares), cow blood soup, raw cow stomach, raw liver, pork belly fat, and cuttlefish jerky. To help with the language barrier, we had a pocket phrasebook, and Korean dictionary, four bottles of Soju, and fourteen 22oz beers. Until 2am we were there, talking, eating, and drinking until I could barely see and the balding man passed out on the floor. When we tried to pay, the butcher refused, and told us to come back anytime.