Erin Choi’s column “A Summer Abroad” pieces together recollections from her pilgrimage back to Korea.
Korean heat is the kind of heat that makes you feel like you’re being steamed. Sweat doesn’t evaporate. Everything bogs down, slow and soggy, and in the absence of air conditioning, I was basically debilitated. Summer afternoons at my grandmother’s house, my time was mostly spent setting up camp in front of the television, guarding the remote so that it would stay on channel 7: 동물농장 (Animal Farm).
It was — and still is — a documentary-esque program running features on animals and their eccentricities. Once, there was a story about a dog that would run errands for a dollar (his father had done the same). Another time, there was a story about an elderly man and his wild boar, which he would ride through town on, despite the fact wild boars are notorious for charging humans.
Last summer, I met a famous dog.
He was tethered by a metal chain to a pole outside the restaurant. We didn’t necessarily mean to come to a restaurant with a famous dog. It happened by coincidence. I think he was happy to see us, or maybe he was panting because of the heat. He was an Alaskan Klee-Klai, bred for wintery tundras. His red-and-white fur came out in tufts near his legs. Circling around our feet, he padded off to drink water out of a scratched frying pan.
Inside the restaurant, the owner played a recording of the Animal Farm episode the dog is on. “Look at that! That’s my son on TV!”
It turns out that the dog’s name was Tattoo, after the owner’s previous occupation as a tattoo artist. His special backstory, if it counts as such, was that he was supposed to stud another Klee Klai, his purported “wife,” but ended up getting another Labrador Retriever pregnant. The “wife” claimed the litter as her own. Out of confusion? Jealousy? Really, who knows? Funnily, the TV show had anthropomorphized this entire incident into a K-drama-esque story with birth secrets and cheating scandals and illegitimate children. “Her children are actually NOT her children! A sacrifice to keep the family together!”
We finished eating, got the check and left. Before the door chimed behind us, the restaurant owner told us about a convenience store two stores away, and the brand of treats Tattoo liked best.
Of course we followed his suggestions. How could we not?