BokNal: South Korea’s Dog Eating Days /1
BokNal: South Korea’s Dog Eating Days /1
This is the first of a series of articles on South Korea’s BokNal, written from my own first hand experience. The articles will be numbered to follow the sequence of events as they unfolded on the day.
July 13th, 2015 kicks off the first of South Korea’s three main dog eating days, known locally as BokNal. Festival organisers pray for excessive heat and no rain because Korean dog eaters falsely believe eating dog meat is the best way to cool their body temperature during their oppressive summers.
The first of the three days is called Chobok, July 13, and the weather forecast is 24c (75f), with “tons of rain” the night before, followed by “heavy rain” in the morning and a possibly “mostly sunny evening” (official weather wording.) In other words the first festival day is already not going to plan.
Seoul is a cosmopolitan city with impressive skyscrapers and home to some of the world’s most advanced technology. As much as its winters are bitterly cold with snow and ice, its summers can be oppressively hot and humid. The rains in summer can dump rain like a monsoon, which don’t take long to cause major problems because Seoul’s landscape is flat and therefore drainage is not able to cope with the sudden influx of excessive rain. Consequently this can cause flash flooding, making driving in the city next to impossible and being a pedestrian becomes a nightmare.
I was caught in one of Korea’s dumping rains the year before last, when the skies opened up and within a short time I was walking in water half way up to my knees. This sort of summer rain can certainly ruin any of the BokNal days.
However, don’t start celebrating the rain just yet. The year before last when I attended the second of the BokNal days known as Joongbok, the main ‘party festival’ was “not” held on the announced BokNal day of July 23, but rather the following day, July 24th!
I know this for a fact because I spent that week inside South Korea’s infamous Moran Market – spending up to 12 hours a day inside the market, where I struck up undercover ‘friendships’ with a number of the main dog butchers in order to obtain information and be invited into their killing rooms (I will write about this in a later article.)
On the official Joongbok day of July 23, 2013, Moran Market was almost empty of people, apart from butchers and slaughterhouse workers; but live dogs were stockpiled in the holding pens and death cages. Considering this was Joongbok, it seemed erily strange for Moran Market to be so void of people. On that day I was inside the market from early morning until after dark, where I watched trucks of dogs arriving and being unloaded, and house pets sold into the hands of dog butchers by the pet dog’s owners!
Moran Market Layout
To understand the series of articles about Moran Market, it will help if you understand its layout. Moran Market is situated on the “other side of the road” that marks the boundary for the capital city Seoul. This was a deliberate move so South Korea can say they have no dog meat slaughterhouses within the city limits of Seoul. But all you have to do is walk across the road. [Before leaving South Korea I also briefly visited some small-scale illegal dog meat sellers inside the Seoul city boundary, where live dogs were kept in small dark cages and slaughtered on the spot for their meat.]
If travelling by the subway, as you come up the steps its only a short walk to Moran Market and a McDonalds restaurant is less than one minutes walk from the main entrance of the market. It is not unusual for backyard vendors to sell small animals or vegetables along the busy sidewalk, before you have even turned the corner for Moran Market’s entrance. For instance: live cats tied into onion bags are sometimes sold on the street, for cat meat. Other vendors may sell vegetables to go with dog meat dishes.
The Moran Market area is shaped in a long rectangle. Standing on the pedestrian crossing on the main highway looking into the market, you will see a long strip of buildings on your right, flanked by a sealed narrow roadway. A thick concrete barrier, about mid-calf height, runs down the length of the roadway to more buildings in the far distance. On the other side of the concrete barrier is a huge carpark with a solid fence running its length to hide the assorted buildings and shed-type structures on the other side of the fence. These buildings and shed structures become part of Moran Market’s party central day.
The next morning, July 24, I arrived back at Moran Market at my usual very early time and instead of entering by the rear side entrance, from the side street alongside the slaughterhouses, I walked from the subway toward the main entrance. There were people everywhere, hustling and bustling in all directions which seemed strange because Joongbok was yesterday.
Throughout the night Moran Market had been transformed into party central. The usual empty carpark was filled with giant marquees which housed all sorts of market goods from mundane household gadgets through to clothing and appliances. The front of the market (highway entrance), was filled with plant nurseries selling all types of flowers, plants and garden accessories. There were people everywhere and more people arriving by the minute.
Walking past the plant nurseries it didn’t take long before the true reason for the Joongbok party day smacked me in the face.
As I walked past the flowers, shrubs and small trees, next in line was stalls with large displays of herbs and spices which were the specific ingredients for cooking dog meat. Live dogs were the only other “ingredient” customers needed for their recipe.
As I stood at the herb stalls, directly behind me, just several steps away were live dogs in death cages, ready for customers to choose to eat and watch be electrocuted on the spot. These live dogs were the missing ingredient to go with the herbs and spices. Welcome to Joongbok. Moran Market’s party would not be like any other party I had ever attended.
This is the first instalment in the series: Bok Nal: South Korea’s “Dog Eating Days” /1
Please watch for the next article in the series.
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