"I ate dog".... But let me tell the story first!
About 6 months ago our hotel got involved with a vary small rural village in the North / East of South Korea who produce everything from rice, corn, potatoes, peppers, cabbage, cattle, and more. The area is called Gonggeunri, which has a population of 400 people, with the average age around 57 years old.
The reason our company has got involved with this wonderful rural community is two fold. Firstly, they have lived for generations under the wealth and prosperity of the products they produce, but in modern times they are losing a battle against the giant rural corporations not only in Korea, but all over the world. They do produce fine products, all completely naturally produced without any chemicals, but sadly they cannot compete with the technology and mass production of the big boys. Secondly, they are an aging community as I mentioned the average age is 57. Most of the 20's & 30's generation moved to the big city to provide additional income for the families, and also basically to get away from this rural lifestyle like so many younger generation are doing. So as you can only imagine they are faced with such trying times and sadly you can see it in their eyes.
So where do we come in. We have created a win-win situation by purchasing a lot of our products from the community directly, as well as sell products to our staff directly. For example three weeks ago a letter went out to all the staff that we have been requested by the Gonggeunri community to purchase potatoes from them. 10,000 won (US$10) for a 10kg box of potatoes. Now I am not shopping everyday, so not sure the market price but I was told by the staff that this was a great deal and much better than the shops they buy from. Gonggeunri community needed to sell at least 250 boxes and in the end between our two hotels with more than 1000 staff we purchased an amazing 580 boxes of potatoes. Our staff was happy, and most of all the community of Gonggeunri were happy. As the year goes on this type of selling will happen on a regular basis to the delight of all parties concerned.
So let me get to the actual story. Last Monday, around 930am I got a call from the President of our company requesting that I join him and a group of senior managers from our owning company and our staff committee to go to the Gonggeunri Community. At this stage all I knew about this deal was that we bought potatoes from them a few weeks before. So I jumped onto the hotel bus with about 20 others and we began our two hour drive to our destination.
Along the wat our President explained the story of the relationship and its importance. I knew this was no bull shit PR exercise, rather a fully open armed gesture to assist this community. Already my enthusiasm was growing, and as we left Seoul behind I had my first looks of country side South Korea. It is not what most would expect, with sweeping mountain ranges covered in the thickest if tress and vegetation. As we drew closer to the Gonggeunri community we passed some amazing scenery including the photos below.
After our walk around in the blazing heat, we then went to the main village office where we did an unveiling ceremony of a large stone with the inscription of our new found community friendship. As you can see by the photos is was a fun occasion, but I could see it in their eyes and emotion that this was far more important than a stone unveiling or a shake of a hand. I was at this moment very proud to be a part of this.
we then moved over to the the community recreation area where they had set up a rows of tables for a great big feast. We were all placed at specific seats (Note - we our outside in 35 degree heat, wearing suits, sitting on stools, with not a hint of a breeze!) and then the formalities began. There were several speeches, all in Korean of course, and then the eating and drinking began! Placed in front of all of us was endless amounts of food, from the vegetables they grow, to the beef, pork, and dog! Now let me put this situation into perspective. I am in the middle part of the table where the governor of the town is, vice governor, our President, etc.. No food was explained to me, and of course there were no labels all menus! There was a hot pot of boiling meat in dark sauces for every four people along each table, along with plates of other meats and vegetables and soups of course. Now by this time in my Korean two month stint I knew that Dog was a meat eaten here, but is seldom seen, almost never by a tourist, and is only eaten by the Koreans in times of particular celebration. It is not a staple food by any means and is supposed to be very expensive. The dogs used are not your household pet, rather dogs raised as if they were cattle, fed a particular way etc. Anyway I am making no excuse for it, but just to put the facts on the table.
So I wondered if any of the meats in front of me were dog, but I was afraid to ask, and new my questions would end up "lost in translation" so I did not ask and began to try everything. It was the hot pot that drew my attention and this was what they were telling me to try. Was it dog I thought to myself? So I did it, I took a tiny piece of this meat from the hotpot, about as big as my thumb nail and tried it......................... The President then asked me so how does it taste? Do you know what you just ate? I swallowed quickly, trying not to think of my dogs back home, and told him it tasted like beef in a stew...which it did. I am not proud that I can say it didn't taste so bad, but I know that will be the last time I eat dog.
Anyway off that subject, we then continued to eat and drink for the next two hours including lots of Soju, and locally made rice wine that was as dark as the colour milk (does that make sense?), and the highlight was eating the freshest and sweetest white corn I have ever eaten. Finally and sadly it was time to go. I was actually sad to leave, and I think we were all sad to part ways. We were given fresh bags of corn as parting gifts, hand shakes of goodbyes. My last piece of enjoyment I will mention was a big hug goodbye from a farmer about 65 years old. I thought he was going to plant a big wet kiss on my face but he just gave me a great big hug. In his broken english and translation from some others earlier in the lunch he explained how hard his life was. He lost two brothers in the Korean War and had lived his entire life on the land. You could see it in his face and his rock hard hands. He had not spoken any english to a foreigner since we was young in the war and had never visited Seoul!
So we left for our ride back to Seoul. Our President announced to everyone that I had eaten dog and I received a round of a applause! We all then sunk into our seats and did our best to sleep and sober up before returning to work.
It was the most unexpected of days, but really a highlight of the stay in Korea so far! I will try to add photos for this page when I figure out how to reduce their size!