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hedgehog

THE GUPO DOG MARKET

Sam swore that he'd never eat dog again. He's only eaten once before, almost two years ago at this point, but after what we saw today, his conviction to lay off the stuff forever was cemented.

Yesterday morning, the taxi driver woke me up near my house. It was six AM and the sun was up, doing its best to pierce the cloud of haze that envelopes this city during the summer months. It was already hot and the air tasted like dirty cotton. This, combined with the seeing in triplicate drunk I had on did little to bring out the morning cheer. Brendan and Lilly, two friends here, had just given birth to a daughter, and we spend the evening with Brendan, buying him congratulatory shot after shot, downing pints of beer during the intervals. At one point we left him for the more female populated envinrons of Pusan National University, where we passed the rest of the night and early morning drinking even more shots and trying not to fall down.

I paid my fare and thanked the taxi driver, staggering out of the cab and gripping the railing of the pedestrian overpass like that of a ship. Before I knew it I was leaning over and projecting the contents of my stomach - a spicy pork and rice concoction known as "jae yuk dup bap" - onto the empty road some twenty feet below. Ahhh... back in action, yes sir. Drinking, Korean expat style.

So yesterday was spent in a state of near death, burning off the previous night's session. I had a date but - thank God - she decided to go out of town yesterday and it was moved to Monday. Sam and I met back up and nursed our poisoned selves back into the realm of the living with a couple of sushi plates and the best "odeng tang" I've ever tasted. We also managed to lay into a few beers, though we nursed with absolute care.

"Dude," Sam said, "let's go to the Gupo Market tomorrow."

"You mean the dog market?" I asked.

"Yeah. I want to see the dog market. We've been here two years and never checked it out. It's time."

I had heard rumors about a dog market in town for some time. Dog is eaten here so it must be bought and sold at some central location, though I'd never even seen a hint of such transactions at the myriad of other markets I'd explored, which had been most of the major ones in town. Gupo was the last one standing, and upon inquiry earlier this week, several students informed that the dog market was located in the greater Gupo complex.

So late this morning I got a call from Sam. We met up on the train and headed out toward Gupo, which is near the river, on the edge of town, well off the footpath traveled by most any foreigners.

The Gupo Market is not just a dog market. It is a massive and comprehensive market, selling fruit and vegetables, fish of all stripes, pork, chicken, meat, housewares, spices, rice, clothing, and hardware items. But Sam and I had come for the dog, and we found it straight away.

By the time we got out of the subway, I was officially starving. The coffee I had for breakfast was boring a hole in my stomach lining. I was famished and ready to eat for real. Sam was in similiar shape, so it was decided that before heading into the catacombs of the market, we would grab a bite to fuel us for what to come.

But we had no time to duck into a restaurant, for straight away we came onto it. The first thing that clued me in was the bark and yelp of a dog, echoing up the sidestreet on which we found ourselves. We then came onto a stall to our right. Chickens and ducks were crammed into cages, lorded over by stern look old women and their husbands. The place was badly lit and dirty; we sensed that we were in the rougher part of town, the fringe of Busan. Next to the foul was the first dog cage. Ten or so yellow dogs were laying in a large metal cage. The looked out at us with friendly dark eyes. When Koreans talk about dog meat, they tell how the meat dogs are bred for that purpose only. This is true, I'm sure, but the dogs we gazed upon looked like sweet, friendly, pet dogs. They had no look of livestock, no total uniformity. These were social, healthy looking pups.

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(Note: this photo was lifted from the net. They're from another Korean marktet. Sam brought his camera, but the battery went out right as we made our second pass. The dog merchants heavily object to people - especially foreigners, taking photos, but we had decided to get a few anyway. I'll go back soon and snap a few if I can.)

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A typical reaction to photo snappers.

For the next two blocks we passed cage after cage of dogs - most of which contained these cute yellow dogs, but with some other breeds thrown in for good measure - perhaps a canine butcher's affirmative action program? Next to the cages were the open air meat cases, containg the skinned carcasses. This insides were hollowed out, with only the liver and a few other tasty bits remaining. The legs stabbed into the air like those of an inverted table, with the naked tail poking and coiling, wormlike.

As we descended into this market, we tried to maintain our cool, our distance. We were foreigners and the sellers were eyeing us with obvious suspicion, but no one was shooing us away. At one point we approached a case to closely inspect the carcass. The hard as rebar old woman tending the front tried to bar us from taking a peek, but we ignored.

"Looks delicious," I said to her.

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We made it out of the sidestreet and paused to take a breath. I had seen markets before all throughout Asia, but what I just took in hit me in a deep place, psychologically at least. Whatever the case, my ravenous appetite was temporarily suppressed.

Sam and I walked some more and eventually found a little restaurant, where we ordered pork cutlets and rice. Disturbed as we were, pig meat was still on the menue and welcome in our stomachs.

We decided to take another pass down dog alley and try to snap some photos. So after lunch we headed back in, a bit better prepared for the site. Though we got no photos, we saw more sights, included cages full of black horned goats, and one full of mewwing cats. I have never heard of the Koreans eating cat, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent. Perhaps they ship 'em to the North.

We found a new wing of the the dog area. As we approached one stall, the old woman warmly greeted us in Korean and invited us to check out the wares. She held up a let cut.

"The leg is the most delicious part," she said. She gestured to the scale, ready to wrap it up for us.

We smiled and politely declined the offer, walking away from the cages and the keepers. As we passed one, I saw a man open the top of the cage and slip a snare around one of the unfortunate occupants. His cellmates stared out helplessly.

"Life's tough, guys." Sam said.

The man lifted the struggling dog out.

As Sam and I turned down a side alley, and we heard its futile yelps and cries reverberating behind us. We kept on walking into the more welcoming section of the market.

Just another day's work at Gupo.

Comments

To the tune of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top":

"Cats and dogs may cause diarrhea
When you eat them in South Korea..."

I'm working on the whole thing. We'll see.

(Anonymous)

vegetarian

Dogs, cows, sheep,pigs, squid, cockles. All the same to me.

Re: vegetarian

At least you're consistent.
I doubt I could handle that. Even as an admant meat eater, I'll eat all parts of pigs and cows and sheeps and all sorts of birds and fish and lizards and reptiles and mollusks. I can even go to a farm and see these animals that I know will soon be food. I can fish and gut my dinner. It doesn't bother me. The dogs bother me. I realize it's an american thing and a learned social rule, but I could never eat a dog and I doubt I would have been able to walk through there without trying to liberate the lot of them. The pictures alone are making me sad.
Ethically, it's probably no different than eating any other animal, but our Western attachment to dogs does color the picture differently. I was a little disturbed at first, because they really were sweet looking cute dogs, but I tried to check the judge in me. They've been doing this here for thousands of years. It is a tradition, albeit a fading one. Who am I to look down on them for it? Once I managed to turn of the sentimentality, I found it quite fascinating. I've always been curious about it.
I know, I agree with you. I just don't think that I would be able to turn that part of me off. I'm too attached to dogs. I have to stop and pet everyone I see. I grew up with them. They protected me my entire life. I've helped them give birth. It's too personal.
An argument could probably be made that, throughout world history, dogs and cats have spent far more time as pets than food. Which would make this Korean treat a true abberration.

What's disturbing to me is that it is a little deceitful to the dog. They are "man's best friend". Distinctly adaptable to contact with humans. They trust us. If you're a big fan of animal rights, I'm sure it's bad enough to exploit them in races and shows and medical experiments - but hell, we do that to people, too. But to go off and EAT them? That's just way over the line. And I'll eat just about anything, I've even eaten a rabbit. I like to think I'm tolerant of other cultures, but I think eating a dog is just plain wrong.
Yikes! I've heard all about this from my Korean students but to finally see the pics is disturbing!! Of course we raise pigs for consumption in the West...no moral difference there, but dogs.....just disturbs me.

(Anonymous)

Oh dear, I just ate dog yesterday and was just about to finish my post on it.
I will include a link to your story now.

I did wonder what the market was like having seen some older photos on the net,
but I had hoped things were better now.

I will not be eating dog again, not that it makes a difference to the market sadly.

Jon
www.seoul-man.blogspot.com