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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Korean Worm Snack Gives Tourist Y2K Bug




There is much I can say in my defense when called upon by a hotel full of Russian tourists in Pusan, South Korea, to explain why I ate the roasted silkworm.


But the best explanation I can offer is that I was trying to set an example for today's youth, who are desperately in need of responsible role models now that Boris Yeltsin is gone from the political scene.


I was in Korea for two weeks with my girlfriend, Nonna, and her 13-year-old son, Seryozha. The night after we arrived, we were strolling down alleyways filled with nine-story neon signs, video game arcades, movie theaters, leather goods wholesalers, Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, restaurants with braziers of glowing coals, and camera shops.


Not only is Pusan packed 10 stories high with thriving businesses, but the roads are lined with street vendors. Old women sell strawberries, bok choy and tubs of live carp.


The discriminating customer can pick up a stuffed green cow or a set of toy pigs that perform tricks on parallel bars. Best of all, we discovered a vendor with a kettle of steaming silkworms. Toothpicks were laid out on a napkin, for those who wished to sample a worm before buying a bushel.


"Go on, try one, Seryozha," I said. "I dare you."


"No way."


"I'll give you 1,000 won [91 cents] if you eat one."


"You'd have to pay me a lot more than that to eat one of those."


"Come on, guy, you can't really say you've experienced a new country until you have sampled its cuisine in all its richness and diversity."


"Then you eat one."


Me? Suddenly I was on the spot. Could I walk away from consuming a national delicacy just because it was a gross, creepy creature? What sort of message would that give to a youth struggling to find his way in a turbulent world: He tried to make me eat a larva but wouldn't touch it himself?


I speared a silkworm and popped it into my mouth. "Tastes like roasted walnuts with Tex-Mex seasoning," I assured everyone.


Fast forward to two hours later, where I lay in the hotel room, clutching my gut and groaning. "I guess you caught the Y2K bug," Nonna said.


"Be quiet."


"Or is it just a stomach bug?"


I dashed for the bathroom, where I was to spend much of the next 18 hours kneeling before the toilet.


For almost two days I could eat nothing but rice, a true cross-cultural culinary experience. Four days later I still feel a lingering nausea.


It may take time before Seryozha stops regarding me as a circus geek and fully appreciates my gift to him.


Life must be lived with gusto, as Zorba the Greek might say.


Let us drink wine, dance in the streets and eat bugs whenever traveling in East Asian cities.


And let us always remember to bring along the Pepto-Bismol.