Korea 206: Finding Grandma

There are two stories I wanted to share before ending the Korea trip blog. Firstly is finding Hanna’s grandma. It was quite the experience. We had just come from visiting her grandparents on her dad’s side; they lived in the mountains on the border of North Korea. We were driving to the ocean and had stopped to buy fishing equipment, because apparently the fishing was really good on the coast. As were driving I look out and see the scenery change from mountainous green to the flat, sand and rock strewn coast.

Eventually we stop and I’m told that Hanna’s grandma works in the morning and we are supposed to go out and find her. She works digging up shellfish. We need to help her bring back her catch of the day – since she is older and has difficulty bringing it back. Once we get out of the car and onto the shore I realize a potential problem. What we see is a huge field of mud with hundred’s of workers bent over digging through the mud with orange vests certifying that they are allowed to work. They all are wearing visors, making it difficult to see their faces. You can well imagine what I was thinking. How in the world are we going to find Hanna’s grandma? She could be anywhere midst the sea (haha) of workers. Yet unperturbed and very confident Hanna’s mom starts trekking through the mud. Hanna turns to me and tells me to follow the roads. I’m super confused as all I see is mud, very much lacking any type of road.

“Look to where the water collects, they make paths and those are the paths you are to follow. Otherwise you sink in the mud.”

Fantastic. So you can sink. But the “roads” started to become clearer as I followed Hanna – the water really did collect in trails that we could follow, steadily making our way through the workers determined to fill their netted-bags with shelled creatures. We followed Hanna’s mom until she yells a greeting to a bent over figure. The figure was indeed Hanna’s grandma but she barely stops to acknowledge us as she continues to dig up clams. I try to make my Korean-bow, which I got pretty good at doing, but I don’t think she even noticed. We were then told to start digging up shellfish of our own and putting it in a net. So we proceed to dig through the mud. It was such an interesting experience, and honestly it was pretty fun. Gave me flashbacks to elementary school when we would play with the ‘gadoue’ which is the french word for mud. We would also get in trouble for it, apparently it wasn’t what proper french kids are supposed to do. But anyway – finding clams was pretty hard. You had to lift a pack of mud and look under it and hope that you found some decent-sized clams. Sometimes you would pick up blobs which you thought were edible, but after cleaning it a bit you would find it to just be mud. Or open clams filled with mud.

After a few hours of picking up clams, and after over-turning a few large rocks and finding crabs, hermit crabs, weird oysters, and an octopus, we made our way to the car. Hanna’s grandma had collected somewhere around 130 lbs of clams. It was incredible. And that was all from the morning. Once we got home we put everything in a pot of boiling water (yes including the octopus) and ate it. That was definitely something that was unexpected. You really just eat everything in Korea.

The rest of the time at Hanna’s grandparent’s place by the ocean we slept and fished. The fishing is totally different from the fishing in a canoe in the American Boundary Waters. We fished off of a long cement dock, with shop fronts about fifty feet away. Not the quite the wilderness I was used to. Hanna’s mom caught eel, which I had never seen caught before. And the bait we used was some type of strange worm. It looked like a centipede except without an exoskeleton, so it was “soft” like a worm.

We made it back from Hanna’s grandparents safely spent the next week visiting old friends and buying presents to bring home. Oh ya – and I forgot to mention but Hanna’s grandma. She would always try and talk to me. Especially when Hanna was in the shower and Sam was sleeping. Cutest and most awkward thing ever. And she made no motions, so I couldn’t really quite make out any body language clues. So it was a lot of nodding, and smiling and “I really don’t speak Korean”. But all in all she told me – and this part Hanna was out of the shower so she could translate – that she wanted to see me again. Very sweet. And she gave me somewhere around 20 dollars while I was sleeping. That was an interesting discussion I had with Hanna about whether or not that was appropriate for her grandma to give me money. Mmhm…but yes. Very nice woman. Hopefully I’ll speak more Korean the next time I end up there.

Korea End

“This is the end – hold  your breath and count to ten – feel the earth move and then – hear my heart burst again” Adele.

And that is Korea. I will be posting a few stories that occurred in a Korea 300 series. But I want to write a close to the Korea trip when it’s fresh. My flight is tomorrow in the afternoon. This trip has been crazy – filled with thrilling excitement, accompanied by huge unknowns – and yet – it all worked out fine. I’m still alive. The people I stayed with still like me. I have been given a plethora of gifts which I never knew I needed or wanted, but am incredibly grateful for what I have been given.

So many emotions conflict as now I head to a new life. I head to the United States to start my college journey. Am I really heading off to college? I still feel like my awkward middle school self, embarking for the first time to Germany. Has life sprung up on me already? It really does catch you by the throat.

As I prepare to say my goodbyes to Hanna and her family, I am hit with all the goodbyes I’ve had to say in the past few months. I’ve parted from close friends, mentors, and family. And yet, the encounters I’ve had in the past few days have shown that goodbyes are never really final. On Monday I met up with my senior sibling when I was a freshman – Hannah Kim. Today I met Daniel Park – someone who I’d thought I’d never see again. Both of these people I haven’t seen since my freshman year of high school. Goodbyes are necessary – but they aren’t the end of a relationship.

I’ve learned and experienced so much on this trip. You can never out-give a Korean. They are bound and determined to spoil you. You cannot take your shoes off and on as fast as a Korean. You will never fully know all the random health facts (especially the ones concerning food) that Koreans know. Korean food is some of the tastiest food in the world. Restaurants’ food portions are not in direct proportion to how big a people group is. Let me explain. Growing up I knew that American food servings were large and french food servings were small. French people are skinny and Americans tend to be larger than the french. Therefore. I assumed that a countries serving size was in direct proportion to a country’s size of people. And yet. Korea has HUGE food portions – at least compared  to Europe. There is an incredible abundance of food. And yet the people are definitely some of the smallest I’ve seen. So my belief in food portions equaling the size of a people group is shattered.

Also. Koreans have an incredibly direct way of communicating. Let me give an example of an hilarious and awkward example of this.

I was at church eating lunch with Hanna and a few children – because that’s what you do at this church. We were eating and a bunch of the children started talking to us, and asking different questions. Eventually a mother came up to us and spoke decent English and asked me questions. I didn’t think much of her first question: “Do you speak English”, because in any other context it would be rather normal. However, thinking back it is a little odd, since I had been speaking English the entire time and had been introduced to the church as an American. She then asked me if I knew English History. I was a little baffled, but felt a solid enough background that I answered with affirmation. She then asked me if I knew Shakespeare. Again a little baffled, I said I did. She then asked if I could tell the kids the story of Hamlet. In Korean. At this point I looked straight at her and expected her to be joking, or at least willing to offer some sort of explanation. Hanna at this point pipped up and explained that I didn’t speak Korean. Without missing a beat she asks me: “Oh, do you have a disease?” I didn’t know not speaking Korean was symptomatic of a certain disease. She also made sure to ask Hanna in Korean if I had some sort of mental deficiency. In that moment I realized that Koreans can be very direct with their words, and they have relatively little fear of expressing their ideas. I was stunned that she would think that I had a mental disease because of my inability to speak Korean, but I realize that I was not in her definition of someone who is normal. Messing up someone’s view of acceptability is rough.

My time here really has flown by. It does seem as if I’ve only just landed. “hold your breath and count to ten” oh Adele. You and your heart-wrenching songs.

I’m excited, nervous, worried, anticipating my flight tomorrow – because then everything begins. My transition (gah the dreaded T word – that has been mentioned so many times in the past few months) is now about to start. woot woot. Alright. Let’s start this America. Let’s become acquainted again. Let’s feel like we know each other.

Korea 205: Host Fam. #2

“SUUUUNNNNYYYYYYY”

I almost pied my pants at the blood-curdling scream. I had to laugh. Very much the main-actress-from-King-Kong-screaming-in-fear-when-about-to-be-eaten-by-King-Kong kind of scream. It was impressive. And frightening. And with all of the throat warbles necessary in such a powerfully- high screech.

That was the six-year old daughter of Mrs. Kong. Note – another relation to Peter’s Jackson’s huge monkey movie. Technically her name is Mrs. Che – but there are too many Mrs. Che’s for me to refer to – so I refer to her by her husband’s name. The very first day she came and very shyly gave me a can of Cric Croc’s – or Korean Pringle-rip-offs. Later as she became more comfortable with me, she tried to teach me Korean, except I was too slow for her. She regularly brought in awesome snacks to my room. The screams started coming about the third day with her family. She knew one english word to describe the weather – and it was “sunny”. So she made sure to state that it was sunny, regardless of actual weather patterns, very exuberantly. She tried many different voices to tell us about the sunshine, but her favorite way to communicate was to scream. Possibly to represent the burning, massive ball of fire that the sun actually is. We mainly underwent these descriptions of outside conditions during the drive to the school every morning and coming home every afternoon/evening. It was endearing.

The host family tried very very hard to be as kind to me as possible. They were even so thoughtful as to clean my room and go through and hang up my clothes in my suitcase on the first that I arrived. Sweet, but a little unnerving. Of course, they made sure to do it when I was at school, so that I wouldn’t be inconvenienced. Mmhm…oh yes and the grandfather was the best. He would come up to me at random intervals of my stay and start talking to me. Unfortunately I had not yet received the gift of tongues, so my responses were short. But he definitely felt free to come and talk to me in the room I was using, even when I wasn’t in the room.

Breakfasts were also a very big deal. I have never seen so much food for breakfast. The prep alone for breakfast must have taken at least an hour every morning. Mrs. Kong made these sandwiches – incredibly intricate. One slice of bread was soaked in egg, while the other was lightly toasted. Inside there was an assortment of vegetables all cut in tiny strips, homemade mayonnaise-based sauce, and small meats. It was super intense. They were presented in squares in individual wrappers. Next there was a salad, either with mozzarella and tomato and balsamic vinegar (which together must have costed a ton of money, since cheese is ridiculously expensive over here) or a mushroom, lettuce and oil salad. Next there was a hot dish – either rice and curry, or beef. Generally there was also a soup. Oh and there was yogurt, fruit, milk and juice that were provided as well. Needless to say that it was a very large ordeal and I did not have the heart to say that I didn’t eat much in the morning. So I ate a lot in the morning. I made sure to finish what was in front of me. She was a very gracious host and worried that I didn’t get enough Western food (even though the breakfast itself contained mostly Western ingredients) and so she made sure to buy cereal that I would have at the following breakfasts along with the usual food.

Sunhyung is Mrs. Kong’s son. He’s in 8th grade and attends CCA. I taught his class once. I also tutored him and his friend in English. We went and saw Pacific Rim, and World War Z and made sure to go make late night food runs. We also saw the King’s official palace – Gyeongbokgung. All in all a very fantastic stay with these incredible people. They also at the end of my stay gave me a very nice bag. And pictures that Mr. Kong took – he’s a professional photographer so they were really well done. And little Sunny – or Yehyun as she is called – gave me a tiara to give to Hanna. She was a little bitter that I was leaving, but her family convinced her that I needed to see my girlfriend – which though little Yehyun was upset, relinquished her crown jewels. I was touched.

Anyway. Today I am off to visit Hanna’s grandparents. I will be out for the week and hope that it will all go well. Much love and all the best.