Dog Day Afternoon

On Saturday Sarah and I took advantage of a spectacular clear and crisp (and cold) afternoon to go explore a side of Korea we’d heard much about but had yet to see for ourselves. The practice of eating dog meat is one which has earned Korea a considerable amount of infamy in the West and with Busan’s largest dog market only four stops from our apartment, it was something we couldn’t resist seeing for ourselves.

Gupo market lies a short walk from Deokcheon subway station, the other side of the hill from our neighbourhood in an area we’ve up until recently left largely unexplored. This side of the mountain things seem to get a little less polished than the downtown and beachside areas, with the city gradually giving way to rice paddies and other agricultural land the further north you go. The market itself is a sprawling maze of alleyways and backstreets where everything from live frogs to house slippers fill the buckets, tanks and tables of the work-beaten market ajummas.

While our original plan had been to find something to eat before hitting the dog market, after only a few minutes walking the cawing of chickens heralded the onset of the livestock section and with it a heavy dose of culture shock. Rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and black goats were all on offer but while the array of live animals was astounding, as we’d expected it was the dogs themselves that proved the most striking.

They were large, reasonably young looking animals, confined seven or eight to a cage and resembling a cross between a wolf and a labrador. They looked surprisingly domestic, and for the entire time we were there remained eerily silent. Behind the cages, dog carcasses lay either splayed and ready to be butchered or (more unrecognisably) hanging from hooks and laid out on meat counters.

Sarah and I were unsure about whether we’d actually eat dog soup, but after seeing the dogs we decided to pass. I don’t have any qualms per se about the practice, providing everything is done humanely (though by the looks of it this may not be the case,) but the truth is I like them too much to eat them myself. There is something dopey, faithful and reassuring about dogs and to turn on them like that would just seem like a betrayal