Well Sunday I thought I was going to go just to a Ginseng festival with my head co-teacher (my Korean mother)…but boy was I in for a surprise! (extra pictures here ^^)
Sports Day…for Alumni?
So Sunday morning there was quite a bit of noise and commotion happening down on the track and field. I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening and I got very vague translations. The track was decorated with tents and a lot of adults and old people milling about. There were some old-looking cheerleaders…definitely 30s+, some men practicing Tae Kwon Do in the school courtyard (above the field), and some of my students in the band and ‘rotary club’ (self-proclaimed on their vests). I didn’t stick around to find out too much. I left when all the old people grouped up on the field (I think organized by year of graduation), and some old women marched around with some drums.
So I hopped in the car with my ‘Korean mother’/head co-teacher and was completely unaware where we were headed. I was captivated by the scenery along the way and only had short tidbit dialogue with her on the hour and a half car ride. When I figured out we had arrived at our destination (the car pulling into a parking lot was my clue), I got the suspicion that I was not taken to the promised destination of the Ginseng Festival. As it so happened, we were not at the festival, and were in fact at a large and old Confucian village.
I was not exactly sure what was supposed to happen here–there were a few shops (like 5) and obviously homes. So I just trotted behind my coteacher in blissful ignorance enjoying the scenery surrounding me. She eventually enlightened me as to why we were here–to see some sort of dance or musical performance. When she went to the ticket hut (not really a counter), she learned that they musical performance was the previous day. I think she was a little disappointed, but she paid for us to enter the village and so we walked in.
The first and most important stop in this village was at a traditional home where a lady in a Hanbok was sitting behind a tea-table and making some braided bracelets/key-charms. My coteacher seemed interested in what the lady was doing, so we climbed up the stone steps and she started talking to the lady. After standing quite a bit, my coteacher asked me if I wanted some tea–sure, why not? right? So, I took off my shoes and climbed up into the traditional house, plopped down ‘Indian style” with my legs crossed, and looked around for some tea. haha. Guess no tea was immediately ready, and in fact, I was to be treated to long directions and learn etiquette for a traditional tea ceremony.
This is all fine and dandy, except for a few things. 1) I was a little tired and the lady spoke in this soft murmuring voice that would soothe a screaming baby. 2) It was all in Korean (and my coteacher didn’t explain anything) so it was monkey-see, monkey-do. 3) My ankle is still recovering from its sprain so it was complaining about the uncomfortable position. These were all minor inconveniences, and I felt that I could really learn something out of this experience. So I followed the motions and just relaxed and enjoyed listening the murmuring Korean.
After…oh 20-30 minutes…I became painfully aware that my legs had fallen asleep. Being the easily distracted person that I am, I decided to (well I hope inconspicuously) poke at my legs and feet. Much to my amusement (yes amusement), I found out that my feet/legs couldn’t feel my finger touching them. Another 5-10 minutes later, I started to worry that I’d fall over when I stood up and surely this ceremony is almost over? Apparently there are three rounds to be made with the tea and you have to down your little tea-cup in 3 separate sips. (This could be mistranslation, but that’s what I got out of it.) Unfortunately, there was still one more round of tea to go and the last round seemed to go agonizingly slow. I hurried up with my drink and stretched out my legs–agonizing sweet relief (surely everyone is aware of the painful discomfort when blood starts re-circulating)–though I looked odd being the only one with my legs sticking straight out and not crossed. Luckily I’m a foreigner and can get away with stuff like that.
After a quick walk around the village and the available museum, we headed back to the car.
Hopping back into the car, a little more energized, I watched the scenery unfold and couldn’t help but notice that we were backtracking. Turns out, the festival was just down the road from my co-teacher’s mother’s apartment. So she parked the car, and we walked to the festival. On the walk, I was becoming infinitely more curious–just what is a Ginseng festival?
It was…well… I guess I’m getting a better concept of what exactly ‘festival’ means in Korea. It’s like a carnival type thing. There are a bunch of tents with people selling objects, selling food, providing games to play, or arts & crafts activities. This one had a place set up for the lower body sauna–you paid by the minute I think. I drank free samples of ginseng tea, toured some of the shops (bought some stuff at discount jean station of $5/pair and then a few items at like a $1 store-tent), and wrote a wish on Korean paper to tie to a tree. I bought some fried ginseng for us–which was…bleh. The fried part was okay and the dish of sauce made it bearable, but it had the after taste of asparagus (the closest thing I can identify to its taste). A random guy approached me as we were making our way back, and had me sign a foreigner log…weird.
My head coteacher took me to her mother’s apartment for dinner. As it is with Koreans, food is important and they want you to eat as much as you can and more if they think you need more. Also, it is disrespectful if you don’t finish everything on your plate. So, as a guest and because they like me, she wanted to make sure I had ALOT of food and I would feel morally obligated to finish it all. So–I created a game plan. I would eat everything I could as fast as I could so that way I could finish everything before my stomach realized how much I just stuffed into it.
The first dish was japchae (잡채), but it’s a noodle/beef dish. I noticed my helping was bigger than my co-teachers. I started to just scarf it down. (It’s a very delicious dish by the way; I will definitely try to order it when I go out to eat if it’s available.) A few bites in, a bowl of seafood soup was placed next to me, followed by a fairly large bowl of rice. Other communal side dishes were placed on the table, but I was not to be distracted from my goal. The seafood soup consisted of: shrimp, tofu, some kind of mussel, mushroom, and unidentified ‘fish.’ It, too, wasn’t bad. My coteacher noticed how quickly I was consuming everything and asked if I wanted more of the chop-chey, and I said like, “oh-no thank you, there is a lot and I want to be able to finish everything.” lol. Needless to say, I was very proud of myself. I ate EVERYTHING…and boy did my stomach hurt afterwards. lol.
Soon after dinner, we headed back home. Out of curiosity, I stood on my scale at home–I had consumed 3 pounds of food. O.o