Sunday, February 7, 2010

I'm gonna get you little fishy...

This weekend I decided I better start actually doing stuff with my remaining days in Korea. I killed two birds with one stone on Saturday, as it turned out.

The first bird was the COEX aquarium. Part of the COEX mall (literally part of, the entrance and exit are right in the mall), it's a pretty impressive aquarium, though a bit different from how we do at home. And, in a stroke of POOR PLANNING, I forgot to check the batteries in my camera and alas they were out. So I'm stealing photos from other K-blogs.

The first of many lifted images to come.

First of all, you're shuttled through the entire aquarium in just one direction. There's no milling about and picking and choosing where to go first, second, third...they tell you. It's all one-way, no going back. That was annoying, but on the plus side, a lot of the signage was in English as well as Korean and the presentation was pretty well-done. It was a bit depressing, as it seemed less about being a home for fish and a place to educate the public about marine life and more about being gimmicky, but whatever sells tickets, I suppose.

They started with exhibits of native Korean fish and the ecosystems of rice paddies (of course). They had an exhibit of "Korean fish versus foreign fish, FIGHT!" and I was hoping that it would be, like, an aquatic showdown for the ages but apparently it was just an area to compare Korean fish with fish from other countries. LAME. This was also the one and only time in Korea where I've seen the word "foreign" mean "any other country" and not just "white/Western"—they had Japanese and Chinese fish "fighting" the Korean fish just as often as American ones. (But no British or Australian fish, sorry!)

They had a mock koi pond set up (remember my earlier point about gimmicky?) in the next room, and then the piece de resistance: the Weird-Ass Art Aquarium Exhibit. I'm lifting pictures from other blogs because it's just better that way.

Fish in a toilet bowl!

Fish in a phonebooth!

Fish in a sink!

Fish in a microwave!

Fish in your chemistry set!

You get the picture. The entrance to the Weird-Ass Art Aquarium Exhibit read: "Throw away the prejudice that fish live in bowls only!" Consider that prejudice discarded, Korea. Thanks.

Then came an Amazonian display, which was cool, minus the two monkeys they had in a tiny glass cage smaller than my bathroom. Poor little guys. Inexplicably the "Amazonian" room also had Egyptian Fruit Bats. Geography fail.

They were cute, though. But I have an unnatural fondness for bats, thanks to years of professional spelunking tour-guiding. The Korean girls next to me seemed a bit freaked out, as evidenced by their obnoxious shrieking every time a bat flew near the glass.

The other cool thing in the Amazonian exhibit was the two-headed turtle. Aww yeah:

Then came the really aquarium-y part of the aquarium: a giant tank of water with lots of different kinds of marine life: fish, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and all of that good stuff. There was a tunnel through this tank, so you could get right into things, so to speak.

At the end of the tunnel were more big tanks, one with manatees (given the signs they had advertising the manatees in the mall, I guess they were newly-acquired or on loan?) and one with seals. I felt kind of bad for both animals, their tanks were kind of small without anything in them. Just water. It must be boring to swim around in a box all day, even if you're a manatee.

Then you got dumped out into a snack stand (no sushi!), with a display about penguins, and then up the stairs into the gift shop, which opens right into the mall (so of course you can mill about in the gift shop and come in and out as you please....nowhere else, of course).

Despite my lack of picture-taking, it was a lot of fun, and only 10,000 won to get in. That's like...eight dollars. Nice.

Bird number one: dead. Bird number two's days were numbered when I got a text from a friend (while I was saying hello to the manatees).

"What's this about you wanting to eat Labrador?"

I had been curious about 보신탕 (bo-shin-tang) since I got here, since that was the second question people usually asked me about teaching in Korea. (The first one being, "North or South?" Hm, I wonder...) But I am a timid person and I didn't want to just wander into a 보신탕 restaurant on my own. I can barely order in proper restaurants as it is, plus I had heard from other people that it smelled and tasted awful; I didn't want to order something by myself that I might not be able to finish. So I had been looking for someone to go with me for a while.

So I wandered back through COEX mall to Samseung station (which took a good fifteen minutes, COEX is huge!) and met up with Mark in Gunja to find a restaurant he had come across earlier.

We got some nasty looks when we first came in—foreigners in Korea have sometimes protested outside restaurants that serve dog-based dishes and generally been big assholes about it. The waitress did a bit of a double take when we ordered—maybe because 보신탕 is considered to be good for men's "stamina" (virility) and a 23-year-old girl really has no need for virility enhancers? or that foreigners were eating dog? unsure—but obliged.

"What did it taste like?" you ask, morbidly curious. The answer is: exactly like beef. Maybe just a bit tougher and stringier. It didn't smell of wet dog, like some people had described it, and it tasted just like good beef.

I have picture proof of this on Mark's camera, but that will have to wait until I get it from him.

As an aside, Wikipedia tells me that it's illegal to sell dog meat in Korea now, but that raising dogs for meat is still legal...kind of. (It's not like they cap the family pet and throw it in a soup; the dog you eat has been raised for consumption like cows, chickens, or pigs.) More information from Wikipedia:

In recent years, many Korean people have changed their attitudes towards eating dog meat from "personal choice" to "unnecessary cruelty." Animal rights activists in South Korea protest against the custom of eating dog meat. Some Koreans state that "civilised people don’t eat dogs in Korea". A recent survey by the Korean Ministry of Agriculture showed that 59% of Koreans aged under 30 would not eat dog. Some 62% of the same age group said they regard dogs as pets, not food. Many young Koreans think those who eat dog are an anachronism. Although early Western media reports stated that some dogs were beaten to death, the dogs are not butchered in that way these days and usually [are] instantly killed by a blow with an electronic rod.

So it seems to be phasing out. Even Jong-min, by his own admission, has never had dog. Good thing? Bad thing? Neutral?

Rating: 4 out of 5 Lassies. Hearty, filling, but not spectacular. But I wouldn't say no if someone invited me out again.


Picture proof!


  1. oooh i was like ... did shanna & dave come back to korea and go to coex aquarium with you? disappointed that no pics of me made the cut :(

  2. well you didn't go to coex with me either, missy. I'll take pictures at dinner and put them up if that'll make you feel better.

  3. but we DID go to coex with s&d when those pics were taken ...! ('twas my point. sorry for not going again with you.)

  4. If you haven't read this yet, you're missing out:

  5. Your ugly and you can eat even baby's like chinese people due that will not change YOUR UGLY and moral-less.

    How sad americans have become.....