Mike Map

View Mike Map in a larger map

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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Hardest Things I've Ever Done?

I am fairly proud to say that, between the 10 days of silent knee agony known as Vipassana and the 100ish kilometers of burning thigh agony known as the trip from my apartment to Geochang Farm School, I have accomplished two Relatively Difficult Feats this July. [I am also fairly concerned about what mental issues may lie behind these recent quasi-masochistic compulsions, but I think I'd rather keep such thoughts out of the public sphere.] Given how much I wrote about Vipassana, I'll opt for a shorter, bullet-list style for the description of the voyage.

- 1 hour from my house to the last subway stop in Daegu. Another 20 minutes until I couldn't see any massive apartment buildings. Another 10 minutes before I stopped at a random gazebo and had an apricot.

Another 30 minutes before I hit the first hill I couldn't pedal up. Another 30 before I stopped for lunch (mixed sides with rice cooked in a bamboo tube). An hour to eat and massage my thighs.

Another 20 minutes before I stopped at a rest stop and a Saxophone Instructor/Jehovah's Witness from Daegu asked if I'd give him private English lessons and gave me a pamphlet full of teenagers telling me about why I should avoid premarital sex. Another hour until I realized there were no other cars on the road. Then an hour of alternately biking, pushing, eating apricots and almonds, and lying down on the side of the road wondering if I'd make it. An hour of second wind, strong enough that I decided not to stop despite seeing a hotel with a nice view and a hot stone bowl rice and tofu shop. 20 minutes eating fruit n nuts at another rest stop and begging to fill up my water bottle. Ran into another pack of cyclicsts coming from my destination and was assured that the rest of the way was mostly downhill or flat. About one more hour of closing out the trip, hoping to find a farmer with "We Accept Guests" spraypainted on his wall. No luck. All in all: left my home at 10:30 in the morning, arrived at my penultimate destination at 6:30pm.

- I had heard that Korea was 70% mountains, but I hadn't felt it in my bones until this trip. Some were so steep that even in my lowest gear I couldn't pedal up (I blame the bag of apricots). And in some cases, the wind was so freakish that after panting my way up the mountain, all the while looking foward to flying down, I was met by headwinds strong enough to make my descent even slower than the way up.

- I had heard that a liter of oil contained about as much energy as a man would expend working for 5 weeks. Not sure if that's exactly right, but after experiencing how hard it was to move myself, my bike, a few shirts, a jacket, and a bunch of fruit over that distance, and how it only takes an hour on the bus, I think I have a more visceral sense of how much power sits cooped up in fossil fuels.

- Discovered, confirmed, and had occassion to curse an unavoidable truth about biking: you will spend much more of the trip (time-wise) battling your way up hill cursing yourself than you will ecstatically coasting downwards.

- Despite the things people usually say about driving/drivers in Korea, I didn't have anyone honk at me or come dangerously close. Also, the roads were in really good shape, well-marked, and with good, clear, bi-lingual directions at almost every important intersection and junction.

- The Farm School is about 20km out of town. It was getting late and dark when I got to Geochang, so I decided to stay at a hotel. Had my biggest fight ever with a Korean person: the hotel manager at the motel who kept yelling at me demanding money up front, while I kept asking why he wouldn't show me the room first. It culminated with me saying "That's enough. Don't be so rude to your guests." and biking off to find another spot. What venom!

- Found a hotel and paid about 25 bucks for the night. Not long after I had checked in and showered, the owner of the Farm School called to say he was coming to town and he'd give me (and my bike) a ride back. I checked out of the hotel, received a 33% refund (these places all have hourly rates for special rendezvouses, which explains the mirrors everywhere and jacuzzi showers), and wound up spending about 17 bucks to take a shower and cool off. I was a little frustrated that biking wound up being more expsensive than riding the bus - after all, shouldn't the world be rewarding me for my virtue? - but mostly I was exhausted and happy to have been able to lie down for a while.

All in all, a pretty good trip. The scenery was generally quite nice, and my road ("normal country road number 26") ran next to a river for almost the whole time. I got to see lots of green rice paddies nestled between the mountains, and at one point, a huge field of pumpkin leaves blowing in the wind.

Had a few nice random chats at restaurants and rest stops and received free water from a few people along the way. I hope the trip back is more or less the same, though a little less opposition from the wind this time would be nice.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wisdom #2

"Hundreds of people came to see us and our farm in Vermont. The thousands of young people who now come to our farm in Maine are the same type of seekers. They have heard or read about our Forest Farm and are curious to learn what it has to show or teach. They are ready for anything that makes an idealistic appeal and that is fairly far from standard community practice. They are unattached except in the very limited sense of selective mating. They are apolitical, impatient of restraints - especially when governmentally imposed.

"Increasingly they are turning their backs on a world community that has tolerated war and is preparing for the contingency of one in the future. They are ardently in favor of peace in a braod sense, but are not ready to accept a commitment to any organizaion that works collectively for the cause. Almost universally they favor "freedom": that is, the pursuit of their personal goals and fancies. They are not joiners and genreally not members of any group more specific than is implied by the adoption of a specific diet or the pratice of some yoga exercises.

"They are wanderers and seekers, feeling their way toward an escape from orthodoxy and superficiality, with the nervous dissatisfaction that characterizes people who do not have a home base in any real sense. Perhaps they can best be described as unsettled. Never before in our lives have we met so many unattached, uncommitted, insecure, uncertain human beings."

Helen and Scott Nearing, Continuing the Good Life (1979), Chapter 15.