|No Korean dog stew jokes, please.|
I ruined a great kickball game this weekend.
I was dogsitting a little, volleyball-sized pup. I was taking it for a walk past a park where the same group of men meet weekly for a kickball game. The matches are always intense, the players grunting and sweating like in a Powerade commercial.
Along I came with little Nola, a white perky thing trotting along on her 4-inch legs. She scurried towards the game with doggy curiosity, ears perked and nose sniffing at high speed.
One man saw her coming and leapt back, his arms drawn into his chest as if he’d stepped under a cold shower. Standing eight feet away, she blinked up at him in a cuteness overdrive move that would make most folks melt.
The rest of the team noticed her now. Their bodies tensed and bristled. They muttered my favourite Korean term, the gong-like “huuullllll.” Translation: “yikes.”
Grown athletic men, recoiling fearfully from a waggly-tailed pocket pup? Huh?
I’d love to present some anthropological research here, explaining the phenomenon. Truth is, I’m stumped, and any online search with “Korean” and “dog” in the same query will lead to some, um, odd finds.
Could it be that, because Koreans live primarily in compact apartments, they’re not used to having or interacting with domestic pets?
Could it be that most pets stay indoors, and people just aren’t accustomed to seeing animals on the street?
Could it be that the foreigner/puppy combo is just too darn weird?
My colleague told me a funny story once about the student homestay she did in
, where she wrote “likes pets” on her application. She was thinking of pets in the Korean sense; a kitty-cat, a purse dog, a docile bunny or fish. When she arrived at the family home, two huge, excited golden retrievers came bounding up and scared her half to death. She said that at the time “I couldn’t see how something so big could be safe to have in the home. I thought they were like bears, and they were going to eat me.” Canada
On our later walks, I noticed older people beckoning Nola, patting her head calmly. I noticed young children stopping in their tracks when they saw her, grinning shyly as they reached to pet her. The kids would usually pull their hands away in the end, scared and giggling. For them, petting a dog seemed to have the same dangerous allure of a high diving board.
We would pass other dogs on our walks sometimes, little fluffy things in doggy sweaters and booties. I watched owners carry their dogs down the street, something that puzzled me. Maybe they were carrying the dogs to a park, where they could run about without cars and motorbikes whizzing by. Unless a kickball game is on.