WOOFing No. 5, Boryeong, Korea
May 31, 2016
|Our first WOOFing venture in Korea has been at a fig and blueberry farm, at Boryeong, about a 2 hour bus ride south of Seoul. Our hosts, Man Soo and Soon Ja spoke very little English so we were lucky that a 37 year old Malaysian lady WOOFer who spoke quite a bit of Korean had arrived the day before us and could be our interpreter! And the day after she left, another young Malaysian girl arrived who could also speak Korean quite well. No need for Google Translate!
Man Soo is 70 and Soon Ja 60 and she is a bundle of energy! They were a little hesitant, they said, to accept "our age" WOOFers as they wondered what tasks they could get us to do, but I think they were pleasantly surprised that we could handle all the different jobs. They had two children and four grandchildren so we could trade grandchild photos!
Previously, the house had been a restaurant and homestay so we had our own little room with bathroom and solar heated water. Soon Ja was a great cook and we got to try so many new tastes. Each meal was rice, some sort of soup, kimchi and lots of side dishes. You eat a little bit from one dish, a bite from another, have a sip of soup, mixing spicy and mild. We are becoming more adroit at using chopsticks! The only downside is that there are so many dishes to wash at the end of each meal!
Mostly for breakfast we would have seaweed soup, lunch was often a kimchee based soup with perhaps chicken, fish or tofu in it and also the same for dinner. Those little dried fish we saw in the market turned up in some of the soups or as a side dish with chillies and sesame seeds. You just had to not look at them in the eye and eat them whole! Korean food uses a lot of garlic, ginger, green onion, vinegar and sesame oil plus their three essential sauces - soy sauce, fermented soybean paste and hot red pepper paste.
On the farm we had to be careful not to pull out what we thought were weeds growing randomly as often these were precious "greens" that would appear in soups or side dishes. Nothing was wasted. We dug out some dandelions thinking they were weeds, but Soon Ja rescued them and they turned up on the table as a vegetable next day. Also pumpkin leaf stalks were boiled, de-stringed (like rhubarb) cooked and eaten. They eat a lot of large white radishes and one batch we were eating had been pickled for 3 years.
As you can see from the photos we were stylishly outfitted when working. They insisted on us wearing long pants, socks, arm protectors, gloves and very stylish hats to protect ourselves from the sun.
We did a variety of jobs. Weeding the blueberries which were under bird netting and also in the fig greenhouse between the rows. We put up strings, scythed grass, pulled off extra fig shoots, cut, washed, chopped and dried a purple leafed plant. This was dried on the roof and used for tea. Soon Ja had all sorts of things drying around the house to use as medicinal remedies and also on top of the roof had several earthenware pots of fermenting soybean paste, kimchee, soy sauce and other unknown (to us!) foods.
From the figs and blueberries they had developed an extract or "enzyme" as they called it. It was concentrate that you added to either hot or cold water to make a drink. Delicious and supposedly very healthy. They also made jam and sold these products together with the fresh figs and blueberries in season. Blueberry picking would start about 20 June so we were too early for this. They had just flowered when we arrived and 2 weeks later when we left the berries were little-finger-nail size. Figs would be ready for picking in July. From the photo of the fig we have attached, the branches had doubled in length by the end of 2 weeks and were needing to be tied up. Curiously, the fig does not have a flower but develops from a green knob that looks just like it is going to be a leaf. Once the figs are apparent you have to break off the small leaves right next to it, leaving only the fruit.
A Korean barbeque is an art that we have now learned to do properly! Meat, usually pork, is grilled on a hot plate together with mushrooms, onions and lots of garlic. You select a lettuce leaf, put a piece of meat on it, garlic, mushroom and some sauces and salad from the side dishes. Then you wrap up the lettuce leaf into a parcel, stuff the whole lot in your mouth and chew with bulging cheeks to enjoy all the flavours! Messy but delicious!
Soon Ja had been on a TV cooking programme and we watched a tape of it. Also their organic fig and blueberry farm had been featured a couple of times on a programme like "Country Calendar".
Another couple of things we have learnt about Korea. Correct protocol is for the youngest person at the table to pour drinks for everybody as a sign of respect. However, when we were served rice wine at the barbeque the host poured for everyone, then the youngest person poured his drink. I guess that is why being asked your age is such a common thing.
There are only about 300 Korean surnames used and the three most common Kim, Lee and Park account for nearly half of the population. They write their surname first followed by their first names. Almost everyone has two parts to their first name but no middle name. Married men and women usually keep their full personal names, and children inherit the father's family name.
We were a half hour walk from Boryeong Beach which is famous for its mud festival each July. It is a nice beach with a walkway stretching 3 km to a harbour and fish market. This was a great place to be on our days off and when we REALLY needed a hamburger or an icecream!
We took a bus 2 hours further south to GwangJu where we spent two days in a hostel before embarking on our next WOOFing job which is quite close by.