Gae-go-gi

The puppy was a tan blond color that wasn’t quite yellow but that’s the Crayon a child would draw it with. Christi saw a girl feed it rice and scraps every day and change its water. But no one ever played with it. Christi had always loved dogs. She played with the puppy. It was intelligent and playful and took to her immediately.

Jin-do gae

One day between classes she told Diane about the puppy. “I’ve been playing with it because no one else does. And I’ve been wanting a pet so I thought maybe I could buy it or something.”

Jasper was listening. He said, “You’re setting yourself up for a fall.”

“No one’s talking to you, Jasper,” said Diane.

“When they eat that little bugger you’re gonna cry, is all I’m saying.”

“Don’t listen to him,” said Diane.

“What do you mean?” Christi asked Jasper.

“That puppy is dog food without Purina, if you follow me.”

“They’re not going to eat him.”

“When it’s big enough.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yeah, well, ain’t life grand?”

“Oh, he doesn’t know anything,” said Diane. But Christi was upset. She left the office and went to class early.

About half of girls were there and none of the boys. They were hand feeding each other squid jerky. She said hello and sat down at her desk and stared into space. Her favorite student looked up at her with curiosity. Christi’s eyes were a little glassy.

“Teacher. Crying?” asked Mee-sun miming the rubbing of eyes.

“No. I am fine. How are you?”

“I’m Mee-sun,” she answered, perplexed by mishearing the question. The other girls thought this was hysterical. Another girl grabbed her shirt and commanded, “Ki-bun.”

“Oh my God,” said Mee-sun, bringing more laughter, “I’m fine.”

Christi loved the kids. They made everything smoother. There was nothing that could happen in class that she couldn’t handle. There was no culture shock or wrangling for the emotional upper hand with children. Children were children. And Korean children were happy, bright, artistic, and disciplined. When she could match their attention span and keep them in their seats, which she usually could, it was a teacher’s dream.

When Christi went home that night she played with the puppy. She brought herself up short, though. She went up to her apartment after just a minute of it.

The next morning she went into the office and only Miss Maeng and Wally were there. Wally had been in Korea longer than anyone else so Christi decided to ask him about it.

“I heard that Koreans eat dogs,” Christi said.

“Nah,” said Wally, “It’s illegal.”

“Really?”

“Sure, since ’88. They had a national campaign against it right before the Olympics to improve national image. Come out of the past and be more like the rest of the world. Nobody does it anymore. Now if we could just teach ’em to use forks.”

“Really?”

“I have not once, in three years, seen gae-go-gi on a menu and I’ve been in and out of Seoul and every back street town between here and there.”

“Gae-go-gi?”

“Like mool-go-gi, fish, or bool-go-gi, barbecue. Go-gi means meat. Gae means dog. Besides, Koreans love dogs, they’re all Buddhists. You see the old ladies carrying the things around all the time, don’t you?”

“You’re sure? I heard they eat the big dogs.”

“Ridiculous. Those are Jin island dogs and they have a history about them. They practically worship them.”

“Really?”

“There’s a story all the kids know about a man who took his Jin island dog to market with him. He bought some ma-co-li and got stinking drunk. He passed out in a field and his dog sat and watched over him. There was a brush fire. The dog ran to the river and soaked himself. He came back and dripped all the water around his master. And he did it again and again. The fire passed around his master but the dog died from exhaustion and running through the fire. The man woke up. Figured out what had happened when he saw the wet grass and his dead dog. He buried the dog in a human burial ceremony—that’s as good as it gets—with a stone and everything. And when he died a great-grandfather he met his dog in heaven.”

“That’s a great story.”

“See? They love them.”

“Thanks Wally. You made me feel a lot better.”

“Glad I could help. If there is anything you ever need. Just ask.”

When she got home that afternoon the puppy was there but didn’t come running out of its plywood house to greet her. She crouched down to look in at it. It was sitting with its paw held in the air. The leg was broken. She acted without thinking about it much. She took the puppy off its chain and carried it back to the bus stop.

In the vet shop the vet put the puppy’s leg in a little splint that it probably couldn’t chew off. She paid the vet and took it back. She spent an hour in the dark, holding a pocket flashlight in her mouth, trying to fix up the dog house. She did a fair job. The puppy was asleep from fatigue. She sat and watched his little paws twitch in dream.

At work she told Diane about her adventure. All the teachers were giving dog advice. Wally was helping Allen put together the pieces for a children’s English game.

“What are you gonna call him?” asked Diane.

“I was thinking about Buster because he reminds me of that shoe dog. Remember?”

“How about Lun-chee,” suggested Jasper not looking up from his Time magazine.

“Leave her alone, Jasper,” said Diane.

The class bell rang and everyone got up but Jasper.

“Don’t you have class?” said Diane.

“Nope.”

“Why do you hang around? We’d all really enjoy coming to work more if you weren’t here.”

“I did not know that.”

“How many hours are you teaching?”

“Eighteen. How ’bout yourself?”

“Thirty-four. Why don’t you teach as much as the rest of us?”

“Just lucky, I guess.”

“I hate this fucking place,” said Diane to no one. “Fucking Mr. Kim.”

Mrs. Bae said, “Come on, let’s go to class.” Diane and the stragglers left the office for their rooms.

Christi passed many months taking care of Buster. He grew into a strong dog by the time autumn blew in. When the weather got cold she left him with some used blankets she got out of the closet at the school. She lined the dog house with caulk so it wasn’t so windy and the melting snow wouldn’t drip inside. She nailed a piece of carpet to swing over the doorhole.

One Monday Christi sat down to write some postcards. The other teachers went around the office making copies, cutouts, and class plans. She sipped tea and watched the first snowfall out the window. It made the town beautiful. Tremendous flakes grouped like feather down. The quiescence and silence made Suwon seem like Banff. She wrote that in her postcards. She knew no one would believe it but it was true.

“How’s Buster doing?” asked Dexter on his way to hang his coat.

“Great but he took off this morning. His collar was still there so I guess he got loose.”

“Oh, no.”

“It’s happened before so I’m not worried. He always comes right back. I didn’t have time to hang out and call him. My bus was coming over the hill.”

“I hope you get him back safe and sound.”

“No worries,” she said and meant it.

Jasper sat reading the dictionary next to her. He was shaking his head.

“What’s the matter?” she asked curtly.

“Christi, you’re not the type who handles life’s blows well.”

“I don’t hear you when you talk like that.”

“Okay.”

“They don’t eat them,” she said.

“Yes, they do.”

“Maybe before, but not anymore.”

“Uh, well, they do it less now, that’s true. But they do it.”

“Well, you’re wrong again, Jasper. Wally told me they don’t.”

“Ha! He’s an... he’s been misled. It’s everywhere, I told you. They put the things in a burlap bag and beat the poor things to death. You’d think it would spoil the meat.”

“Wally said it’s illegal.”

“It is. So’s incest, child pornography, murder, rape, fraud, insider trading, jay-walking, cheating on your income tax, double parking, and oral sex in Utah.”

“You’re just trying to scare me or hurt my feelings or something. I don’t know why you’re doing it but I won’t believe it.”

“Hey, don’t cop a ’tude with me. I wouldn’t do it, I love dogs. I have dogs. I’d just as soon eat a kid, but Eric’s tried it. Isn’t that right?”

Eric, on his way past them to the copier, said, “What?”

“Dog,” said Jasper.

“Yeah. But I’d never do it again. It’s not so great. Gave me the squirts.”

Christi said, “They don’t still do that. Wally said it’s not on the menu on any restaurant he’s ever been in.”

“Well, it is.”

“He said gae-go-gi is never on the menu.”

“That’s because it’s illegal, get it? They call it bo-shin-t’ang, usually, on the menu placards. A lot of places you just gotta ask for it ’cause they don’t wanna advertise. But I’ve seen it in Seoul plenty of times. It’s more popular in the small towns where it’s easier to get away with.”

“You must have made a mistake.”

“Not in recent memory.”

“Everybody’s right about you, you’re just an arrogant prick.”

“It’s an interesting world wide phenomenon that honest people are considered assholes. I’m just giving you straight information. And you realize that taking Wally’s word over mine is the most insulting thing anyone’s ever done to me.”

“Prove it then.”

“You don’t want me to.”

“I know you can’t.”

“All right, you asked for it.”

Jasper pulled his feet off the desk and stood to the book shelf. He rummaged around his shelf, flipping through stacks of file folders and notebooks.

“What are you doing?” Christi asked.

“Getting you your proof so you can see that though I may be an asshole I’m the only one here with any brains and I won’t lie to you even if you gotta call me names. Here you go,” he said pulling out a photo envelope, “I took these in the summer.”

He passed her the photos. They were black and white printed on 4x6 paper. They showed a yard full of dogs of various large breeds, mostly Jin island dogs but some mixed breeds where Dane or Doberman stock was visible. The conditions were not good. One photo showed six adult dogs, on the back of a big flatbed truck, crammed into a cage apparently designed to hold four chickens. The dogs were so tight, they bulged the mesh and couldn’t move as much as a paw or open their mouths. The farmer stood in the side of the frame lifting a sixty pound dog by the scruff of its neck out of another cage. The photos were all of the yard of dogs but the last. The last was of poorer quality but clear enough. It was a photo of an animal inside a portico on a plastic cutting block. The shininess was the give away in black and white that it was all blood and muscle; no skin, no head. The man was holding an immense cleaver to chop off its feet and the peeled skin in gathers around them.

Dog farm

“And I’ll tell you that guy was mucho pissed when he saw me taking ’em. I had to put on the telephoto and hide in some bushes to take the butcher shots. That’s the only one that came out. That ain’t the other white meat, honey.”

Christi didn’t look at anyone or anything. She just walked out of the school without her jacket. It was the first time she’d missed teaching a class for any reason.

She hadn’t learned much Korean. She got one of her neighbors in the building to come downstairs with her. They stood shaking in the cold sunshine. The sky was a superior blue. The snow had stopped earlier at three inches.

The girl who used to feed Buster was there. Christi made the neighbor ask the girl where the dog went. The girl said they sold it. The neighbor asked more. The girl didn’t know. The neighbor was pushed by Christi to ask more. The girl said the dog had been taken in a cage in a big blue truck, if that was helpful. It ended the questions. Christi knew it was the truck from Jasper’s photos.


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