Today, in something of a trial run (runs?) for Korea, I enjoyed a meal of Bibempap with my pals Peter and Selene.
Back when I lived in Seoul in 1988, I ate a lot of Bibempap, which essentially is hot rice and veggies with an egg on top and some crazy spicy paste mixed in.
It does not taste like chicken.
It tastes like heaven on earth.
But whenever I ate Bibempap, I needed to be near a toilet within a half hour. Sorry, I know that’s too much information. Yet, it’s relevant. My stomach would cramp up and well…my thoughts ran as much as the diarrhea.
Was the Bibempap supplier poisoning me?
All I did was call them up and said : Yogi ELS hamnida. Bibempap hannah chuseyho. Kamsamnida. (Literal translation? Here is ELS. One bibempap please. Thank you.) And voila, a steaming plate would arrive at the door of my staff room. I’d fork over a few thousand won. I’d eat the meal, and then rush home for the onslaught.
Did the restaurant have a grudge against the American teachers at ELS? Oh those clever new capitalists, I thought, make the Mee-Guks (Americans in Korean) pay for what makes them sick. But the taste was so good, so I became their willing victim.
Or, perhaps, I was convincing myself of something that wasn’t true. Maybe the food just didn’t agree with me. And I was looking for someone else to blame–as I so often did. After all, the person who taught me how to order the Bibempap also turned out to be the prime suspect in the murder of my friend. I had been one of her staunchest supporters.
Blaming food without evidence. Defending a killer despite evidence.
Some 20 years later, I found a place in Burlington, Vermont where I could get Bibempap. In the three years that Peter, Selene and I have been eating there, I’ve never had a tummy ache. Not even a minor gas pain. Not even a burp.
Back at work after lunch my tummy was distended. I spent more than a few minutes in the bathroom. I had to lay down for a while. And whilst laying down, I realized the source of my Bibempap problem.
It’s not the spice that disagrees with me. Nor was it the restaurant in Seoul trying to poison me.
Rather, it is me.
The problem has to do with my issues with Korea, which is why the tummy trouble resurfaced today on the eve of my trip. I had poisoned myself against in Korea. So much so that the country’s food made me sick. Now, poised to go back, Bibempap is trying to tell me something.
I think Bibempap is telling me to take Lorazepam.
My anxiety is the issue not Korea’s cuisine. Now that I think of it, I could have eaten a crust of bread in Seoul back then and suffered from diarrhea.
I’m sorry, South Korea. The problem was me, not you. In fact, on the way home tonight, I realized that going back to Seoul is about the battles in me. Nothing else.
When I landed in Seoul, way back when, I knew that I had made a mistake. I thought I was headed for Southeast Asia, a place like my beloved Philippines. Yet I blamed South Korea for not being in the tropics. And I kept blaming the country for everything after that.
In five days, I’m headed to the wrong place again. On purpose this time.
And with Lorazepam.