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Sunday, April 10, 2011

The World and Fried Chicken

Somewhere outside the familiar contours of my homeland . Far, far from my origin. Tucked inside this distant location where I had escaped everything that was familiar to me. I wasn't necessarily in the epitome of the East, Why, I sat in a pub surrounded at a table by South Africans, I surely wasn't home. But then, on the radio, as I held my mug, blasting over the radio, the song "A Little Bit of Chicken Fried" played. And like, a surreal dream, almost as though I was having a flashback, a number of people began to sing along, and sing louder when they got to the words "Chicken Fried". I had to do a double take. I thought the main places where you'd hear this song, was only in Southern bars with Lynyrd Skynrd posters hanging on the wall, or in bowling alleys where guys name Gus shined their bowling balls with snuff. Now, I have heard "Sweet Home Alabama" in many diverse countries, even dancing along with it. But this was different. And that bubble that I kept my home inside, while I tried to float outside it. That bubble had burst.

Fried Chicken has its lure. I could write about how the hamburger has marched its Golden Arched Empire all over the world. And how all of youth, in every corner of the world crave pizzas on Friday nights. -But the love of fried chicken is something a bit more close to home. It's truly southern.

And Fried Chicken is everywhere here in Korea. They have such a strange idea of it. For some reason, these fried chicken hubs line the streets but they usually only open at night. As though, it is unseemly to indulge in the pleasure of eating fried chicken during the sober, righteous hours of the day. I guess, they're saying that fried chicken is the sort of food that you eat when you are drunk, or dining out with prostitutes, or want to talk about cocaine deals. I don't know. And then the prices are highly, highly curious. Most Korean meals here you can eat a king's feast for around 5 dollars. But these chicken places charge like $15. Maybe there's something else included. Maybe there's a rival place to Church's Chicken. Its called Brothel's Chicken.

Though, it is true. They don't just sell Chicken. They advertise chicken and beer. Many places have a picture of a hen holding a mug of beer. There's a place directly across the street from my apartment, its called "Chicken and Joy". Why that place is never packed full with such a claim, I do not know.

Such cravings have not fully possessed me just yet. I just pass by, glancing at the prices and what kind of deals they have...that is until that insatiable southern appetite takes hold of me, and I have to get my next fix. Truly, there is nothing more southern about me than my stomach. Everything else could be mistaken for somewhere else. But my belly has the wiring of a true southerner.

I remember living in New Zealand. I had been there for over a month content with their meat pies and fish and chips. I found myself working on an orchard and the days I had off, I would hitch-hike to the the nearest town where I'd indulge that long lost love, fried chicken. I told this co-laborour, this Scottish guy about it, describing our southern cuisine in detail while doing our day's labour of picking fruit off of tiny trees, and before long we both were hitchhiking to get some of this fried chicken.

But I shall not sing the praises of the Colonel. I can't remember the last time I had KFC. But I do remember that in astonishment, and perhaps horror, it was when I witnessed that on the upper floor of KFC in Cairo and out the glass window you could see the Sphinx and the great pyramids. The most mysterious and enduring constructions of humanity that has cheated time and epic history, and yet a blasted KFC is perched next to this Necropolis, City of the Dead. Ozymandias' somber inscription ends with a question of whether one should choose dark or white meat.

But there are KFC's the whole world over. As for me, I never got over what my brother told me when I was probably 8. Something about a fried rat being found at the bottom of a bucket. Either these cultures don't care, or truth be told, they may enjoy the fried rat more. Who knows.

No, but I am a fool for Popeye's. In fact, I was certain that I saw a Popeye's Chicken here in Suji City, as I was riding on the back of a motorcyle one cold night. It could've been a mirage. But I swore I saw a Popeye's Chicken. I asked some of the other western teachers here. And they didn't know what I was talking about. So, just the other day. I ventured out on my own quest to find this Popeye's Chicken. I walked all the way to downtown Suji and there, without much effort, I found Popeye with that strange grin on his face. And, of course, a can of spinach clutched in his gargantuan arms. My eyes twinkled with delight. Dreaming of not just the fried chicken, but the biscuits.

But it was not to be. The place was closed down. In fact, I don't think it was really THE Popeye's Chicken from the US. I think the previous owners just made it a knock off version. Everything looked so run down. How else could you explain the fact that it was closed? So, I continued to peek into all these chicken and beer joints. Their prices are two high. But I don't know. It is quite the mystery.


Anonymous JamesBrett said...

there was a popeye's on the most popular walking street in beijing when i first moved to china. it was incredible. the fried chicken was great -- but the biscuits, they were incredible.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Brian Harrison said...

The only fried chicken joint that I remember in China was when we went to KFC in Wuhan. And all that I recall was that there were a number of students wanting to practice their English as we ate.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous JamesBrett said...

yeah, popeye's was only in beijing. and it closed after i'd only been there for 4 or 5 months. it was a sad day. not that i was there on that day or even realized it had occurred. but the day i found out that it closed was a sad day. a different one than the day it closed. but sad all the same.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Brian Harrison said...

You and Lance must've Larry BBQ'd the place. Cleaning the Popeye's store out of all its chicken so that they had to close.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Helen said...

"As though, it is unseemly to indulge in the pleasure of eating fried chicken during the sober, righteous hours of the day"
Perhaps my favorite quote from your cultural observations!

This is random, but I once watched a Burundian rap video in which the artists found an innovative way of advertising their wealth since they lacked the requisite dolla bills to spread across a table or bed or throw into the air.
These young men's affluence was instead symbolized by waving around a plethora of fried chicken legs. Which of course attracted throngs of attractive females who expressed their admiration by dancing suggestively whilst brandishing said chicken legs.
Subsequently, viewers had no further questions as to the artists' success.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Brian Harrison said...

Yes, one day, fried chicken will be the new world currency. And we of the South will be sitting on a gold mine.

9:04 AM  

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