Donky Fried Chicken

One night, after a particularly heady bout of alcoholism at one of Jinju's finest watering holes, a few of us not yet ready to call it a night headed out for more beer, good cheer and chow. While Jinju was a city, plenty of its eating establishments had a curtain call somewhere in the vicinity of midnight, leaving us with not many choices.

The distance in the December cold was beginning to wear off my buzz when we stumbled upon, in all its deliciousness, Donky Fried Chicken.

I did not mean Kentucky Fried Chicken. This is Korea, not Kentucky, and the colonel didn't get his passport stamped at the airport. But, the donkey (er, "donky") did, and he's got a heaping plate of greasy chicken for your drunk ass to tear apart. Very, very greasy.

Oh man, just the thought of it now is making me salivate.

One man was working at the Donky. Working is a bit of a stretch, he was lounging behind the counter, sipping beer, watching television, probably wishing he was somewhere else. It was 3 a.m., can you blame him?

The four or five of us -- myself, Estevez, the guy from Canada who played guitar and wanted to start up a Dave Matthews/Decemberists-styled rock group to play at Zio Ricco's with me until I decided to haul ass back to the States, and a couple other people who, I apologize, have disappeared into the mental ether, slogged through our pockets to come up with enough dough to get ourselves an order.

Chicken, at least in my experience, was prohibitively expensive in Korea. Several occasions I wanted some, and the only time it was of a reasonable price was a "chicken" sandwich I got on a lark at the only Popeye's in Jinju. Who knows how truly chicken that chicken may have been. A foreign teacher could bank thousands of dollars during a one-year stay, so long as they drink only in cheap bars and eat primarily gimbap (Korean-style sushi, which you could get for a buck a roll). Have a steady diet of fried chicken, and you're bound only to break even.

Despite the price, when the five or six pieces came out of the deep fryer to soak through our paper plates, we tore into them like animals. Between gulps of Hite beer and the numerous napkin wipes to keep the copious grease from running down our chins, it was drunken ecstacy.

We weren't done. With a few dollars left, we ordered a smaller portion and waited. Discussed teaching. Discussed some of our malaise about being there. Remember, it would be only a week or so from this point where Estevez would start a chain-reaction of teacher exodus, resulting in both he and I leaving within a week of each other, followed by a few others in the coming couple months.

Once the second order was out of the fryer, our non-English speaking friend behind the counter took a delivery call. And, yes, he let the four or five drunk foreigners watch the store while he was gone. It's a different world over there.

After he'd returned, after we had scoured each piece of chicken for remaining meat, we left Donky Fried Chicken only to run into a couple older, noticably drunk natives pounding away on what can only be described as a cross between a pinball machine and one of those Friendly's restaurant lobby attractions where you use the little mechanical arm to grab a cheap stuffed animal from the machine's bowels.

They were having a ball. So were we. Feeling bold, one of our crew decided to play along with the gentleman, and soon we were all cheering someone on for some stupid prize in a rusty machine, outside a strangely-named chicken joint on some quiet, moist boulevard in downtown Jinju, South Korea, at only an hour or two before sunup. The memory of it is surreal.

I do not condone overabuse of the spirits. But if you cannot help yourself, I advise you to find a Donky Fried Chicken. Hopefully, a couple of intoxicated Korean men will be outside waiting for you.

~ originally written April 23, 2007; revised Dec. 15, 2009

—John Dunphy