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Rural Korea, or More Strange Things That I Have Eaten

We drove down a dirt road to Wonil’s family’s house. It was way out in the countryside, and surrounded by fields of green Korean onions.

The house was small, but very nice, and Wonil’s father built it himself. We all managed to fit in the entry room, where we sat cross-legged on the floor. They served us a delicious sweet fermented rice drink called Sikhye. It is a milky white drink with actual pieces of rice in it. I hope I can still find it when I get back to the US.

For lunch, we took a little bus to another sashimi restaurant. This one followed a similar pattern as the one we went to on the coast. First came the sashimi course with some side dishes, then a spicy fish soup made from the rest of the fish. However, while our last sashimi meal focused on raw fish eaten by itself plus a lot of side dishes, this meal involved eating sashimi with spicy paste and lettuce.

I forgot to take a picture of the sashimi itself, but here is a picture of the soup.

We each had a big bowl of a dry salad which we mixed with spicy sauce to our taste. Then we took a piece of fish, dipped it in more spicy sauce, and added some of our spicy lettuce to the mouthful. It was pretty hot. This fish was really delicious, and the ambiance of the restaurant was really nice. We ate outdoors on a raised platform.

After lunch, we went swimming in a river nearby. It was really fun. We had to walk through some fields of green peppers and past a lot of wildflowers and dragonflies to get to the river where about half of the students got in.

We all wore pretty normal clothes rather than swimsuits; shorts and t-shirts mostly, though one girl got in wearing jeans! We swam in the deeper areas and splashed each other and buried each other in the sand. I love how the students in my group play around like little kids. With the help of his son, we tried to dunk Professor Tae in the river. He was wading in an ankle deep area upstream, so first we had to convince him to come to the deep water, but he saw right through us. I think he was laughing at us, too, when we tried to tell him it was better downstream in both Korean and English, so he stayed where he was and we were unsuccessful.

We also played a game where we stood in waist deep water in a circle and passed a volleyball around. If you missed the volleyball, you had to go into the center of the circle and be splashed by everyone.

We also caught some of the little minnows that were in the stream. The fishing nets were really interesting. It was composed of two thin pieces of wood (about one yard long) with a piece of netting (about 10 ft long) strung between the pieces. You then stood facing upstream and pressed one end of each stick together against the riverbed, forming a “V” which the fish then swam into. I asked if we were going to eat the fish, but everyone said, “No!” in a surprised voice. It seemed like a reasonable question to me because here we often eat little fish less than 3 inches in length.

Before heading back to Wonil’s house, we drove further downstream to a deeper area where we could dive into the water.

We were all pretty hungry by then, so we soon headed back to the house, where all ten of us took turns showering. The bathroom was strange to me. There was no curtain or shower stall; instead there was a shower head on a hose attached to the wall about two feet off the ground in the same room as the toilet. The whole room was about 15 ft by 8 ft, I think. I think this is a pretty normal thing here in Korea. The hotel we stayed at before had a similar setup, and the house where Jaeeun and I stayed the next night (tell you more about that later) was also set up like this. Another thing that I have noticed about Korean bathrooms is that the floor is always a few inches lower than the floor of the rest of the house, and rubber slippers are usually provided for you to use while you are in the bathroom.

The water was cold, so I showered very quickly, as did Meei chyn, a student from Malaysia. The Korean girls took forever to shower, though, and I don’t know why. I asked Jaeeun, but there doesn’t seem to be any special Korean way of washing that makes showers take longer… Anyway, because Jaeeun and I were the youngest, we had to wait the longest for our showers.

After we were clean, we had the dinner Wonil’s parents cooked for us. I thought it was very good.

The main dish was 4 or 5 inch long fish that had been covered in batter and fried. Whole. Bones and eyes and everything. Abhi loved these, but a few of us, including some of the Koreans, had a difficult time. They tasted really good, but I did not like the idea of bones in my mouth, even if all but the skull were too small for me to feel. We also had potato pancakes and pieces of cucumber and spam covered in egg and fried. Spam is actually pretty popular here; we eat spam fried in egg at the campus cafeteria and when the lab gets together to enjoy beverages. Speaking of which…we also had a plum drink with dinner that was very delicious, though strong-tasting. Almost everyone was drinking out of small glasses, but somehow I ended up with a normal sized glass, and they kept filling my glass too much. I was drinking maybe twice as much as everyone with small glasses, until I got one of the boys to trade with me.

We napped for a couple of hours, and then we had a second party after Professor Tae and his son left to go home and Wonil’s parents went to bed. We played a lot of silly games, like usual, and we ate so many snacks and drank so much I almost had a food baby. To work off some of these calories, we went for a walk and played another game. For this one, we had to stand in a line on one side of a single lane road, and kick one of our shoes to a line on the other side of the road. Whoever’s shoe was closest to the line won, and whoever’s was furthest away lost. The winner got to flick their finger at the middle of the loser’s forhead. When I won, Jaeeun was giving me advice about how to do it best. I didn’t want to seem weak like I had at the mud festival, so I flicked my finger as hard as I could. It made a loud “THWOK” noise on impact, so I felt sort of bad, but everyone else congratulated me, so I guess I did good.

When we finally went to sleep, it was on thin pallets on the floor with hard pillows again. Jaeeun and I got to sleep on a bed, but since the bed was basically a hard piece of wood covered by a thin pallet, it was like sleeping on the floor. Jaeeun said older people like this kind of bed, and the hard pillow is supposed to keep you cool in the summer. In the winter, they used softer pillows like we do in the US.

The next morning (Saturday), everyone got up really early to drive home. However, some of the students, including Jaeeun and I, went to the bus terminal instead. Some of the students caught buses to go to their hometowns for the weekend, while Jaeeun and I took the bus to Yongin where we would meet up with the other Caltech students and some of the GIST students on another GIST planned trip. While we were waiting for the bus, we bought some samgak kimbap to eat from the convenience store. This is a triangle of white rice with something in the middle (like kimchi or meat) wrapped in kim (a seaweed thing) and served cold. I thought it tasted pretty good.

When we arrived in Yongin, Inseok Ham, the man who always drives for the GIST trips, picked us up and took us to the Korean Folk Village. He is very nice and seems friendly, but I always thought that he did not know English. However, it turned out that he can understand English pretty well, but he has difficulty speaking it, so we could talk in a sort of roundabout way where I butchered the small amount of Korean I knew and Jaeeun helped to translate. The folk village demonstrates what life was like for Koreans 500 years ago. It was interesting and I learned a lot. Tell you more in the next blog!

Carly Bond