Monday, February 4, 2013

번데기! Scrumptious Silkworms and Swatties

There isn't much to say here. 번데기 (beondegi) is a popular Korean street food that is quite literally boiled silkworm chrysalises. Not something an American is used to eating. I ate one.

I only did it on a dare, and it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't met some friendly and lively French people at the hostel where I was staying the night before. We and I mostly lazed around the hostel and chatted all day, and then we decided to maybe go out and sightsee something before the sun set, so we set off for Changdeokgung, an ancient Joseon Dynasty palace. I've been before, in the summer, but in January after a recent snowfall, the place seemed quite different. It was tranquil, with fewer people around, and snow crunching beneath our feet.
In front of Changdeokgung in the winter with friends from France and Korea.
The linguistic situation was quite interesting with our group. Julie, Aurelie, and another Julie were traveling together, and Ludovic was joining them from China, where he'd been studying Chinese. Ludovic also asked his Korean friend to join us; she had been in the same program as him in China. She then brought along her cousin. (They were both very generous and treated us a lot that afternoon.)

So, there were four French people, two Koreans, and myself wandering around the ancient palace, switching continually between French, Chinese, and Korean. We caved to English when the other three languages didn't work. As someone who enjoys studying languages, I felt like all those years spent in classrooms and cramming vocabulary and grammar actually paid off. For once, I got to communicate with other people in their own primary language rather than mine, and I really enjoyed it, even though it was hard work.

Beondegi in a cup. From the Korea Blog.
After wandering around the palace, Julie said that she wanted to try silkworms. It was part of her carpe diem attitude while in Korea. So, she got a cupful of them from a street vendor and spent a good five minutes psyching herself up to spear one on a toothpick and pop it in her mouth. As soon as she did, she spit it out! But since there was still a lot left, I told Ludovic, "J'en mangerai un si tu fais le même!" (I'll eat one if you do, too!) We got little beondegi on toothpicks and counted to three, and then ate them!

Well, to my surprise, the little brown thing was juicy. Warm silkworm juice squirted out as soon as I bit into it, and it was a supremely unpleasant feeling. It didn't actually taste bad at first, kind of like some sort of roasted meat. But after I swallowed it, a bitter and nasty aftertaste was left on my tongue. I washed it down with some candy that Aurelie had. Ludovic also spit his out. And... that was that! I ate bugs, you guys. In Korea. With French people. Who speak Chinese. The things you can do while you're abroad...
Julie with her cup of silkworms. Ludovic looks on in interest...
Cathy and me. She interpreted the entire evening's program!
Some last things of note: that evening (the 19th), I attended an event for Swarthmore alumni held at the Lotte Hotel. Our college president was touring Asia and stopped by to talk to alumni, some prospective students, and mostly parents of students about the college's vision and some plans for the future. The event was nice because I saw a few old faces and also because the food was excellent! There were about a hundred people present, and I think I might have been the only non-Korean under 30. Ha! But it really was nice to see a bunch of Swatties together again, especially Cathy, a current Senior from whom I hadn't heard for several months. It reminded me that yes, I do miss college. Quite a bit sometimes. But it's also time for me to move on, stop the pining, and get to work on making a future for myself.

J Kwon and me.
Speaking of seeing Swatties, I forgot to mention earlier that I saw another friend, J Kwon, whom I hadn't seen in two years because he had to do his mandatory military service. We watched Cloud Atlas together (which was mind-blowingly good) and caught up on old times.

Now that I'm back in Seoul after all of that traveling, I look forward to reconnecting with other people! There are lots of old friends and peers in the city, and actually, four weeks is starting to look like not enough time to see them all!

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