It's a Friday night here in South Korea and after finding out that none of my coworkers wanted to go out, I decided to enjoy myself on my own. If you know me at all, you know this entailed food and well, food.
Sure, I could have walked into any shop with pictures on the walls and pointed to what I desired. Sure, I could have walked into any shop at all and said the word "ramyun" and found myself enjoying a steaming bowl of one of the world's tastiest dishes without a problem. But I wanted barbeque. I just had to have me some barbeque.
For you n00bs, Korean barbeque differs from good ol' American down-south bbq in pretty much every possible way. It consists of raw meat being brought to your table and being cooked on a grill that sits in oh, the middle of your table - alongside a bunch of banchan (side dishes). It's always a big meal with a lot of variety, meant to be shared as a family, drinking soju and lingering.
-Back to my story-
So I walk in and say "hanna" (one) to the waitress. She ushers me to a table, and that's approximately when the stares began. The head of every businessman, adjumma (grandmother), and small child swiveled my way like one of those creepy Chuckie dolls and they all watch me order. I'm looking around, frantic to find pictures of food I can point to. Finding none, I get flustered and say: "Uhhhh . . . ummm . . . uhh . . . sin galbi?" This is a word that I'm still unsure of the exact meaning, but I've only ever heard others say. Next thing I know, the waitress is bringing a slab of meat my way, pointing at it and saying "SPICY!" like I'm not only unable to communicate, but also deaf. The stares resume, but now with the lovely addition of mocking smiles. I just nod my head and try to get her to stop speaking to me in Korean.
Okay, so the meat's frying, the banchan is out and looking pretty edible. Everything is going well, right? Wrong. Waitress is back. She could be speaking English, maybe, but it still sounds Korean to me. She leaves. Now she's back with a fork. I'm mortified. I'm unable to communicate, deaf, and uncoordinated and now others are noticing. Waitress leaves. Waitress is back again. This time with a coke, because what else would a deaf, dumb, uncoordinated American like with her "cultural foray" than the milk of the motherland? I wave away the coke.
Finally, I'm being left to enjoy my meal. But now I'm self-conscious and like the bull-headed American stereotype that I am, I am determined to eat with chopsticks. So I actually drop a hunka-hunk of meat ON THE FLOOR. Like, rolls down my entire body, leaving its greasy footprints all over me, and lands, splat. I look around quickly, hoping no one noticed. If they did, they looked away to save me the embarrassment. Not two minutes later, I attempt a pickled quail's egg that lands in my meat sauce dipping dish, splattering my hair, clothes and face. This time, I actually heard snickers. By the end of the meal, I'm picking up corn kernals from my corn salad (it's a Korean thing) one at a time with my chopsticks hoping not to make a fool out of myself anymore.
No matter, it was totally worth the 11,000 won.