Man’s best friend, skinned and strung up for sale

I have been studying Korean while at work sitting at the information desk. When I am not busy helping library users, I am doing lessons on a number of websites and practising the alphabet. Last week during a staff meeting, one of my colleagues asked me if I was studying Korean. After I answered that yes, I was, the next question I received was “Why?”. 

“So that I can read the signs,” I answered. 

That broke the ice and I revealed to my colleagues my summer vacation plans. In fact, I had been “open” about my trip as far back as December, as I looked through Korean travel guides while at work. Colleagues asked me back then if I was planning a trip to Korea. “I’m thinking about it,” I answered honestly. I just didn’t want to tell them which Korea I was thinking of. I didn’t want to tell anyone yet anyway, until formalities and visas were finalized. 

My coworkers have had many questions about this trip and I have taken great pleasure answering them. Sooner or later the inevitable remark comes up about the Korean predilection for dining on dog meat. I have had to face questions about dog meat many times already, and not just from colleagues. I have avoided this very topic from any post about my DPRK travel plans so far because I do not want to sensationalize what in my opinion is a Western tendency to be xenophobic when it comes to different gastronomies.  

Yet I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked “So are you going to eat dog?” already. 

The answer? Maybe. 

I certainly wouldn’t put myself in the same boat as Bear Grylls or any of those “Survivor” fauxlebrities, where eating elephant dung is all in a day’s work, but I have no reservations, ethical or otherwise, about eating meat from an animal that in North American culture is put on a leash, not on a plate. If dog is served during my stay in the DPRK, I will try it. I will not ask, however, what breed it is. Some information is better left unknown. 

In May when I met with Christopher Graper, the Toronto-based North American rep for DPRK travel company Koryo Tours, we talked about this very topic. In fact, he brought it up (no pun intended). While Christopher was showing me his photos from his own trip to North Korea, he showed me a picture of a dinner table, all laid out with various plates and bowls for him and his girlfriend to share. One of these bowls contained dog stew. Wow, I thought, they do serve you dog. He assured me that when my tour group is served dinner, we will be served dog (in a stew, most often) only if we ask for it. All of our meals will already be paid for in advance, however dog stew is an extra charge. I myself will not order it if I have to eat it all by myself, as a serving of stew is large enough to feed a few people. However I will partake of the stew if a group of us decides to order it. 

In preparation for the world’s media in advance of the 1988 Olympic Summer Games in Seoul, I remember reading how the South Korean government attempted to “clean up” its indoor and outdoor markets by placing a temporary ban on displaying dog meat for sale. In a news magazine article about pre-Olympics preparations, I will never forget the caption for a photo that I have used for the title of this post. The photo showed dozens of skinned dogs, hung up by their tails around a street vendor. The nature of the North’s economy likely means that I will never see such a kiosk, but I will have the opportunity nonetheless to sample its delicacies.

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