This is from an actual conversation, with what I would consider to be a realtively intelligent and open-minded group of women:
"I don't eat meat."
"Do you like chicken?"
"I don't eat chicken."
(Muttering in disbelief.)
"What about pig?"
"I also don't eat pig. I don't eat any meat."
(Group muttering in disbelief; some discussion of where they could go that I could eat.)
You see, in Korea, especially in non-Seoul Korea, vegetarianism is a relatively new thing. Not eating something, especially something as expensive as meat, is strange. Furthermore, "meat" doesn't mean "meat." It means cow meat. Chicken meat is something else, and pig? Let's just say that the attached picture (coming soon) is of a "veggie roll." And yes, that is ham and imitation crab inside of it.
As we were hiking down a mountain and going to go to lunch, I thought it might be a good idea to mention to the group that I did not eat ANY animal products, so I went on:
"I also don't eat fish."
"No fish? What about fish cake?"
"No fish cake, either. No seafood."
"No clam or shrimp."
At this point, the entire group became intently focused on, as nearly as I could tell, discussing where we were going to eat. I had made the choice nearly impossible, or so I thought, and wanted to explain that I could just eat side dishes or snack a bit, but my Korean was not that good. (And Koreans would never let such a polite offering be accepted, anyway.)
Going on to seafood, generally if you say you don't eat fish or seafood you can avoid the seafood but sometimes it's not considered food--e.g., shrimp put in tofu stew is "flavoring," not serving you shrimp. So you have to ask for it to be taken out. And then sometimes you'll be told the dish can't be made (as you are removing an essential flavor) or the shrimp simply won't be taken out because your Korean was that bad and no-one could understand you.
Oh, and fish cake. You see, fish cake isn't fish. It's fish cake. This, logically, makes a fair bit of sense. Those frozen fish sticks you buy in the west have very little to do with actual fish except that at some point in time, some meager offering of fish parts was heavily processed to make them. As far as I can tell, Korean fish cake is the same thing, except that Koreans generally don't recognize that any fish went into the production of fish cake.
In Korea, I have to thank my lack of commitment and dedication. Normally my tendency to half-ass the difficult things in life has cost me dearly, but being a "sensible" vegan (who will pick the potatoes out of chicken stew or pick the clams and shrimp out of tofu stew and set them aside) has kept me from starvation. Or rather, kept me from a boring and unhealthy just-rice-and-kim-chi diet.
Source: http://taegukilchang.blogspot.com/2009/07/no-meat-doesnt-mean-no-meat.html - Permission Given by Darren Bean