Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back in Korea

It was a strange feeling saying goodbye to Chris in the Bangkok airport. After nine months of being together everyday 24/7, we thought we would be be ready for a break from each other. But I had gotten used to having someone there to turn to comment on whatever strange sight or amazing view I happened to see that day. Now I would be travelling around with my mom and two of her sisters. And while Korea is starting to feel like a second home, everything here is still strange enough that I miss having someone to turn to and say, "Seriously is every stranger here going to ask me why I'm not married?!?"

I had a great time hiking in Korea and people we met in other places frequently commented on that portion of our trip saying that is sounded like a lot of fun but daunting, or that they had never considered going to Korea but were really intrigued by the hiking possibilities. In response to that interest, I've decided to start a trekking company that will lead a two-week hiking trip in Korea in the fall of each year. I chose to end my trip by spending three weeks in Korea in order to do some research and take care of logistics. So my mom, two of her older sisters and I set off on a tour or Korea revisiting many of the places we hiked through last fall.

In some ways ending the trip in Korea is a good slow easing back into the "regular" world. The hyper-consumer capital Seoul feels just foreign enough that I still feel like I'm travelling, but at the same time eases me (well throws me off the deep end) back into a world of modern conveniences and capitalism.

So here is my three week trip in Korea, summed up in pictures - because that's more fun than reading through a long blog post!

Kongbiji: Oddly I had been daydreaming about eating this for almost two months while hiking in Nepal. It is a stew made from ground soybeans. You add a healthy dose of soy sauce usually mixed with chili pepper, sesame seeds and green scallions and enjoy this bubbly boiling dish. All the other dishes on the table are panchan, or side dishes. They are lovely and fresh in June when there are lots of random vegetables - my mom vaguely calls them edible vegetables, the only way she can think to translate the word namul - that have come into season

Incheon emo (so named because she lives in Incheon) has a garden on the edge of the city. We went one day to help her weed and pick some greens. She thanked us by cooking up a storm of bacon to eat with the fresh greens we picked.

Mom demonstrates how to put a lettuce wrap together: lettuce, sukkat (a chrysanthemum relative), sauce and the bacon. To eat: shove it all in your mouth.

Recycling in Seoul is done indirectly. Someone pays enough for cardboard, so this old woman pushes her cart around picking it up off the street where people leave it outside their house or business. She will then take it to the recycling center in effect to receive her pay for picking up trash.

My aunt runs a pojang macha - basically a food stand . Each day she goes to a distributor where she picks up all the food she will sell - corn, dumplings, steamed bread and pigs feet. Really until travelling this much I didn't realize so many parts of an animal could be eaten, let alone taste, well, good. We didn't hang around for the finished product, but after the meat cooks for several hours it practically falls off the bone, which is a good thing as I'm not sure anyone would eat it other wise. It's long day of hard work. We left the house at 8 am and returned around 11:30 that night.

The Incheon Port fish market. This was the start of our road trip. We bought several pounds of fish and miscellaneous seafood for a special dinner at another aunt's house that night and to take with us. That fish would make up a spicy seafood soup that was breakfast, lunch and dinner for about the next four days. Wonderful.

All the fish are kept in tanks here, so it's the freshest place to enjoy hwoe-Korean sushi (basically chopped up raw fish). These three guys are enjoying a Sunday afternoon with some fish and soju.

On a stop for lunch we met the woman who helped us get a cab from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere. She remembered us from last fall, so we hung out at her rest area and made lunch for her.

My mom, her oldest sister (Seoul Emo) and her third oldest sister (Incheon Emo) in front of a waterfall made famous by being in a popular television drama. Chris, Jeff and I remember it as being a place we came upon after the sun had set. We gave up trying to find a good place to camp and just camped in the stream bed and cooked eggplant parmesan (well a camp approximation of it).

It's garlic harvest time, we found it in every market and on many street corners through out our trip. Korean food uses A LOT of garlic. A household would probably go through at least two, possibly three of these bunches in a year.

This cat was yelling at everyone on the street to buy his ddok (Korean glutenous rice cake) and come try free samples. If after trying his "free" sample, you didn't buy any, he would run after you and grab you buy the arm back to his bowl asking, "Why don't you buy any, didn't it taste good?" and pretty much hound you until you bought some. Pushers come from all walks of like. Luckily the stuff was tasty and we bought a bunch for our hike.

The real ajuma. You may have had to been to Korea to fully appreciate this picture. Yes I am actually related to these women, god help me when I buy a visor and start perming my hair.

Maeshil. A sour plum, I think it's the same as as the Japanese Ume plum. It was in season while we were travelling around. Incheon emo, in addition to the 5 kilos she bought right before we left, bought another 5 kilos (for you Americans, that's 22 pounds of nearly inedible plums). She will turn them into some kind of potent alcohol drink and soak a lot of them in salt and sugar to become some type of long lasting panchan (side dish). Buying and preparing too much food obviously comes from my moms side of the family.

Scenes from a folk village in southern Korea. Typical Korean style houses (hanok), are making a come back as Korean nationalism grows and Koreans take an interest in traditional Korean arts.

Grains drying on a wall, a bird shares in the harvest.

Wouldn't be a post about Korea without some pictures of flowers!

Suncheon Bay. When I lived in Suncheon there was this picture of the Bay that I could never find where it was taken from. Every time I went looking for it, all I found was an inaccessible muddy wetland. Seven years later, after Suncheon Bay became a "wetland of international importance" under the Ramsar Convention (it's like the Kyoto protocol for wetlands), the town of Suncheon created a boardwalk trail through the wetland to connect to another trail up a mountain that yields the famous view of the Bay I had spent so much time looking for. The boardwalk is great, giving you up close views and sounds of frogs, crabs, salamanders, and so many birds. Wetlands are like the liver of our planet and highly under appreciated. If you ever get the opportunity go spend some time in one.

My "second" mother (I lived with her and her family for a year when in Korea), Seoul Emo, my mom and Incheon emo.

After eating far too many large restaurant meals (which was still a nice change from nine straight meals of spicy seafood soup), we protested saying we just wanted to eat in, something simple and small. So my host mother "just" whipped up this amazing broiled duck concoction, served lettuce wrap style. It was absolutely amazing.

Fishing boats at Maryeong, a port in the southwestern part of the country, on our whirlwind day tour or the islands of the southwest province.

Taking a ferry out to Pyeong-il island. Kind of felt like home.

My mom and aunts enjoying the cool sea breezes on the ferry.

Note that I finally have hair again.

Buoys as far as the eye can see (top). They're all seaweed "farms." The lines are hauled in once the seaweed is the desired size and then laid out all over the island under fishing nets (bottomw) to dry in the sun.

A family spends their Sunday afternoon digging for crabs. It's amazing how connected Koreans are to their food. You always see people gathering wild food while hiking, or old ladies collecting ginkgo nuts in the city. Equally amazing is how fast that knowledge is disappearing - in less than two generations.

Signs of fishing livelihood all over the island.

Back in Incheon, this is a large cemetery near my aunt's house. Cemeteries like this are not common. Usually graves are up on a hillside, each hill belonging to a certain clan. I thought the cross of Korean tomb styles and Arlington National Cemetery was interesting.

Cats aren't very common in Korea - even stray ones. I think there's some superstition around them. My mom, besides being very allergic to them, claims "they can't be trusted." This cat earns it's keep by catching mice around this food stand.

Last night in Korea: Jogye Gui (grilled clams). Clams fresh from a tank are grilled over a charcoal fire. You eat them straight out of the shell with a generous dash of hot pepper sauce, washed down with soju or in this case Cheongha, soju's less potent, smoother cousin.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home