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Friday, July 23, 2010

A Week at 거창귀농학교

Highlights include:

- A rainbow

- (Even if you read it already, click again, there are new photos included.) The 100km or so bike trip out. Actually, the Korean map says 100, Google says 67.3, and I say, based on signs and times, that 90 is probably about right.

- Enjoying three daily meals made almost entirely of hyper-local, organic ingredients. Surprisingly, I was not too bothered by the lack of variety. Rice, some soybean paste soup, and side dishes made of some kinds of leaves, mountain greens, chives, and sauces usually made of some red pepper paste or soybean paste concoction. The side dishes were made in bulk and usually lasted 5 or 6 meals each, but still didn't get boring. Candied peanuts were the best.

- Riding in the back of a pickup truck with 2 ajeossi (middle-aged, married men) and 6 halmeoni (grandmothers), then spending a few hours weeding potato and pepper fields. We stopped for a snack break and the ajossis produced a bunch of bready snacks, among which were pre-made, pre-packed hamburgers and chicken burgers. The grandmothers had a hard time coming to grips with the fact that they were actual sandwiches rather than bread, and they had a harder time trying to figure out how to open up the plastic wrapping.

- Spending a night at an apple orchard (click on the leftmost apple to get to a picture of the farmer and area, and then click the second radio button under the farmer for more pictures of the place) that belongs to a friend of one of the volunteer/apprentices here. He fed me an apple that was picked last September and had been stored in his huge walk-in fridge since then; still crisp and sweet and delicious. The next morning, his parents provided an awesome vegan breakfast, with a nice pumpkin leaf side dish I'd never tried before.

- Twice: Biked about 3 miles and up some massive hills (got up to 58 km/h on the way back down, new top speed) to Dong-seok (the guy from the bus)'s house. Helped with some weeding in the corn and bean patches, and helped to plant some radishes, prepare a field and plant some buckwheat, and transplanted some green onions. Had lunch comprised entirely of things he had grown himself, aside from the rice. Got to see what eggplants, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, beans, chestnuts, walnuts, peanuts, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, watermelons, sunflowers, sesame plants, and perilla plants look like up close. Played with his pre-toddler son and, through no effort or fault of my own, terrified his two elementary school daughters.

- Spent a lot of time listening to and chatting with middle-aged Korean guys who had either left the city to return to country life (actually, the Korean name of the school means "Return to farming school," despite the official translation of "Farm School"), or who had come to the school to learn about and prepare for something similar. We shared several reasons for disliking the city - busy-ness, noise, artificiality, competitive education, dirtiness - but most of them weren't as concerned as I am with sustainability and the international and overall environmental effects of consumer culture.

- Made particularly good friends with Jeong-dong, a 42 year-old volunteer who's been at the School for 3 months and who'll be staying for a year, who is also a vegetarian, and who shares most of my feelings about...stuff..and is also trying to figure out how to put said feelings and beliefs into practice. Also became close with 35 year-old Dooboo (which means "tofu" in Korean), who is responsible for the professional looking photos you see and for introducing me to the appleman. Once he finishes at the School, he's looking to buy a house in the same area, bring his girlfriend down from Seoul, and start living the simple life.

- Hung out with two dogs, three ducks, two turkeys, ten chickens, a cat, and a goat.

- Finished two books that my friend Julio at Seoul National University borrowed on my behalf: The Good Life / Continuing the Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing, along with The Politics of Experiencee by R.D. Laing. I recommend the first if you want to read a lot of details about how to build a wooden frame to support stone walls while you're in the process of cementing them; I recommend the second if you want to re-evaluate schizophrenia and maybe even give it a try. (Honestly, they're somewhat related and both worth reading. One is a critique of the way we view and treat each other, and one is a memoir of people who abandoned the wage economy and all that goes with it in order to live a simple, useful, and satisfying life. )

All in all, I didn't learn a whole lot about farming - I think you really have to spend several months or seasons or years on a farm to learn enough to run one - but I got a bit of a feeling for somewhat-close-to-sustainable country life and spent a lot of time talking to people who had been living it for various amounts of time. I also feel a bit closer to my food now that I at least know what it looks like and have tried a least a few of the varieties of work that go into producing it. It's also possible that I'll be able to set up a sort of CSA program, either for me and my coworkers who live in my apartment, or for a friend who runs a mostly-organic, mostly-healthy restaurant/used book shop downtown. I've made a promise to come back at least once in September, and perhaps once a month after that, to visit and to check out the farms in a different season. Next up: September apple and corn harvest, and planting cabbages and other hardy autumn produce.


T. Bob'nish Kumar said...

First off: the picture of you and unidentified moon-faced korean lady in a lawn chair looks like a wedding portrait. An eerie look into the future perhaps.

Second: this is the first unrelated comment in what I hope is a long partnership for us. Sorry it took so long for me to become a dedicated follower. See in you Korea towards the year's changeover.

Third: I'm beginning to kind of consider you a mix of hero and nemesis for me. Does that resonate with you?

Mike said...

1) I had been thinking about how to describe that lady. Moon-faced is exactly right. She's not exactly unidentified though, she's the apple farmer's mother. I quote: "The next morning, his parents..."

2) I forgive you, kind of like the way Jesus will hopefully forgive all the indigenous people not lucky enough to receive his teachings.

3) I sometimes think I am the best person on the planet, but I simultaneously am filled with self-loathing. So yeah, it resonates.

The carved fruit platter et. al. offer still stands.

Dave said...

Mike, I'm assuming this was your approximate reaction to the rainbow. What does it mean?