Sunday, June 5, 2011

Korea Memories - Sunday, May 22nd

Sunday morning Susie had to do some work when we woke up, so I took off down the hill to see what I could find for breakfast. I am happy to report that Koreans are world leaders when it comes to waffles. Take a look at this next picture and tell me that doesn’t look good for any meal. They generally make their waffles from scratch (no Bisquik), then pile them high with ice cream and a ton of fresh cut fruit (no canned pie fillings, take that IHOP!). Sooooo good. All I know is that at least one house in Owensboro will be changing their waffle routine for good.
After I had breakfast, we headed to the Hanok traditional village to see what life was like in ancient Korea. On the way in we stopped at a traditional tea house and had a traditional tea setting, complete with Korean goodies. Another thing Koreans set the bar at is tea. We tried a number of different teas while in Korea, and even visited a tea farm on Jeju Island (that’s what those in the biz call “foreshadowing”).

As you can see, traditional homes were constructed very similarly to temples and palaces. The major difference, aside from size, was that only temples, palaces, and shrines were painted for the most part. In the front left of this picture you can see the chimney. More on that later.
The Koreans were very efficient with their indoor climate control from a very early time. See the hole near the ground in the picture below? Koreans used what is known as “ondol” heating, which is locating the furnace under the house at one end, then passing the flue gas under the house, which heats the floors, then passes out the chimney at the other end of the house. This picture shows wood, but most of the time coal was burned as the main source of heat. The floors were generally made from paper that was soaked in sesame oil. Koreans were historically light years ahead of other cultures when it came to making paper, so it wasn’t like curly fax paper on the floor. It was sturdy paper, and you can see it in the picture below as well.
This is a typical traditional Korean kitchen. Actually, this is a very large kitchen. You can see that they also routed the flue gas from the cooking fires out through the ondol system for home heating as well.

Ever heard of kimchi? If you go to Korea, you will. It’s fermented vegetables, usually cabbage or radish, that is served with every meal, bar none. If you like it, you can make any Korean meal taste good. This picture is of a kimchi refrigerator. They would take the raw kimchi, add seasonings, then put it in large ceramic pots that were buried in the ground up to their tops. I think it usually took a few weeks for the fermentation to finish. Nowadays they just use refrigerators just like what is found in western homes.

You can’t tell from this picture, but this is the room where they would sleep during the summer. This room is cantilevered out so it has good air flow underneath it to help keep it cool in the summer. Another kind of funny thing is that hanging up on the back wall is what our tour guide called the “bamboo wife.” It’s like a big hollow oblong basket shape, and they would hold it to their chests. This created another passageway for air to flow around them during hot summer nights. (It should be noted that even though traditionally the husband and wife slept in separate rooms or buildings, those families were still generally pretty large.)

This is a traditional kids game. Susie and I looked at each other and said “Korean cornhole.” It had bamboo shoots that had dull weighted tips. Think lawn darts, but not as lethal.
The day we were at the Hanok village there was also a traditional Korean wedding ceremony, and it was open to the public. It was very interesting to witness, and even though it was all in Korean I think we still comprehended the basics. The groom was a white guy, and I don’t think he understood everything that was going on either, because he made a couple whoopsies like bowing at the wrong time or bowing incorrectly. That usually brought a bunch of giggles from all the old Korean ladies.

After the wedding we went to a traditional tea ceremony. The woman hosting it only spoke slightly more English than I did Korean, but she was a very peaceful and kind person, and I think eventually most of the important messages were communicated. The traditional Korean tea ceremony is very specific, and we enjoyed getting to learn the different parts of it. It's a very relaxing time. You can see a demonstration here if you want.

The final thing we saw at the traditional village was a group of Korean dancers. They were extremely athletic and it was impressive to see them flying around while keeping a steady beat. There is a leader, and he is one of the guys that has a two-sided drum (in the middle of the first photo). Apparently, this traditional drum leader is legally allow to be tripping on some sort of chemical enhancement in an attempt to achieve nirvana, or an altered state of mind while leading the rhythms. There isn’t a specific order to the rhythm/dance, and the rest of the group reacts to beat and tempo changes made by the leader. I guess if you ask a leader what was played during the last performance there’s a good chance they won’t be able to tell you. What is impressive is how seamlessly the ensemble reacts to the tempo and rhythm changes and how athletic they all are. Susie and I were commenting that they really resembled some of the traditional dances done by Native Americans. Makes you wonder if the northeastern Asians weren’t at least partially responsible for populating North America way back in the day.

We stopped by Insa-dong, which is a traditional Korean street market filled with lots of native things. If you can guess what the next picture is, I’ll figure out a way to order you some online and get it to you. I’ll give you a hint: it was the one thing I saw in Korea that I refused to try. Answer at the end of the post.

After the market, and after regaining our appetite, we went to eat dinner at Sungwon’s parents’ house. Sungwon’s parents were incredibly generous and hospitable and helped facilitate an extremely wonderful time for us in Korea. We are very grateful to them. Gamsahamnida! Sugo hashyeoseumnida!

(In case you were wondering, the picture up above is earthworm stew. Yep, imagine how bad you think earthworm stew would smell. Then multiply that awful smell by about two thousand. I didn’t actually see anyone eating it, but the smell honestly turned my stomach.)

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