Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Common Octopus

I've been here for a long time. Just three months shy of two full years. So long that nothing seems weird any more. Or if it does, it's the normal, everyday kind of weird that I've come to expect, and I don't give it a second thought. There is one exception, though: The Common Octopus.

Now I have no idea whether what I'm seeing is actually the species of octopus called the common octopus - in fact, I suspect it's several different species that ooze around the tanks and giant buckets along the streets of Gwangju - but they are nothing if not commonly found in this country. Octopus is about as ubiquitous in the Korean diet as chicken is on Western dinner tables. It's certainly more appealing than some of the less identifiable seafood alternatives (멍게 or 개불, for example), but it still doesn't quite sit right with me.

Let me clarify. It's not the eating of octopus that doesn't sit right. I was initiated into the Club of Grilled Octopus Lovers when I was in Greece. It's the casual way they're housed and flung around. If they could all predict the outcome of important soccer matches like Paul the Octopus, I'd understand wanting to have one nearby at all times. As it is, they just kind of freak me out.

They're creepy. The way their bodies transform from slippery solid to oozy liquid when an ajusshi grabs them by the head and yanks them from the water. The way their suckers stick to the plate as if to save their lives, even after they've been chopped up and dressed with sesame oil in a handsome 산낙지. The way I just know their scheming, super-smart, squishy little brains are planning to take over the whole of Jeollanam-do if they could just get far enough down the street before the ajumma catches them and shoves them back in her bucket. And don't even get me started on that octopi vs. octopuses debate.

But living in Korea, neither live nor cooked (or prepared, I should say, for they are commonly eaten raw) octopus can be easily avoided. They reside in street-side tanks outside the seafood restaurants on every block. They show up regularly in my school lunches. An experienced Korean market-goer knows to keep an eye out to avoid stepping on one that's attempting a grand escape. There are even octopus trucks - like ice cream trucks back home, but a whole lot ickier.

So, for all the normalcy that has settled into my bizarrely run-of-the-mill life here, I can thank the common octopus for keeping it real(ly weird) for me. Please remember I said that, octopuses, when you're building your World Domination Headquarters.


  1. Absolutely hilarious! Thanks for sharing, Caitlin. :)

  2. You should start an expat bar called "The Common Octopus"! :-)

    I didn't realize octopi/puses were so common in Korea. Thanks for writing this post and expanding my horizons!

  3. handsome blog


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