After an hour bus ride from Gwang Ju, we arrived at Shinbuk, a small country town. We waited for our promised pick-up but it didn't eventuate, nor did phoning get any answer. What next? Taxis were waiting near the bus drop off area so we showed a driver the name and address of where we wanted to go. "Yes, yes, I know them, no problem." - we THINK this is what he said in Korean! So in we jumped and a short taxi ride later we arrived at the farm. After calling out hello a few times, Mr Tieng appeared - I think he had been having an afternoon nap!
This persimmon, pomegranate and mulberry farm is owned by Mr Tieng (we never did find out his name - his wife always referred to him as Mr Tieng too!) He is 76, Hyo Sook is 67 and she presently goes to University an hours drive away Tuesday's and Thursday's doing a Food Engineering degree. He is a retired Army Colonel and still very fit and active.
Hyo Sook informed us when we arrived there were two rules. A shower before breakfast and no snacks between meals. We definitely didn't need to eat between meals as we had so much good food at meal times. Still not sure why the request to shower in the morning! It meant we had to be up at 6.30, ready for breakfast at 7am.
Mr Tieng and Hyo Sookl can speak some English but we still used Google Translate frequently. We did lots of miming - to their amusement! One thing Hyo Sook Google translated was "clap". The translation - "thunderous applause". This was used quite frequently after that as appreciation for a good meal or a job well done. Hyo Sook was a great cook and everything was always presented so nicely. Korean food is colourful - always adding different vegetables to have a spectrum of colours in each dish. Here we often got toast, persimmon jam, apples and tomatoes for breakfast - and an egg when their chickens had been laying!
They are in the middle of testing a new vinegar they are making from a berry similar to a mulberry. Every five days they spend the whole day in the Lab at Mokpo University doing testing under the guidance of a Graduate Chinese girl. We drove to Mokpo twice with them for the day and explored this interesting fishing and port city.
The farm looked like it had got away on them. Weeds and grass grew waist high in the orchard, but we think this was part of the organic look. It would get mowed and weed "eaten" just prior to harvest time. The large vegetable garden was also overgrown and this was our first task to weed, then plant. As we weeded, we left the dandelions as these were needed for "medicine". We thinned carrots, keeping the thinnings and these appeared in a variety of dishes for the next few days. We planted onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and some other greens we can't remember the name of.
One large area had chives badly in need of weeding. As I pulled out the weeds I exposed a curled up snake. I quickly retreated and brave Sven got an old container to put over the top of it. We went to tell Hyo Sook and she assembled tweezers and a half bottle of Soju (a high alcohol Korean drink like Scnapps). But alas, when we returned, the wily snake had escaped through a crack in the container. Apparently the snake was going to be put into the bottle of Soju to make "medicine".
We harvested garlic one afternoon and left the bulbs out to dry for a day. Then they were bundled into lots of 25, tied up, and hung from a roof. We counted 40 bundles, each with 25 plants, which would add up to 1,000 bulbs of garlic! Quite a lot for a couple!
Bamboo was encroaching on a field where they wanted to plant sweet potatoes and along the side of the coolstore, so we spent 3 - 4 days attacking this and trying to get the roots out. We first cut off the bamboo and dragged it to where we lit a fire and burnt it. I dug down a little bit to expose the roots and Sven wrestled with the roots with a steel bar. Hot sweaty work that earned us cold beer for our first break at 10am! And more in the afternoon! We queried the reason for having the bamboo, to be told that during typhoons they hide there. It bends but is a good safe place to be. One typhoon blew out the windows in the house so they are cautious. Once the wayward bamboo was removed, we planted sweet potatoes.
There are two traditional houses on the property. One they live in during the winter and it is heated by lighting a fire at the side and heating rocks and stones under the floor. Sven helped cut and stack firewood for this house from the persimmon prunings. In the main house, it has under floor heating, run by electricity.
For many years they have been making persimmon vinegar (tastes like Balsamic vinegar). The whole process takes 7 years. They have big vats and containers with things "brewing" at different stages. They also make quite a few other beverages from herbs and fruit. For two days we were bottlers, complete with white hat and mask, first straining, then bottling, capping and labelling persimmon vinegar for an order. Each meal we would have a glass of diluted persimmon vinegar - tasty and refreshing.
Another task we helped with was to scythe a plant with a white flower growing in the orchard under the persimmon trees (can't remember its name). It survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. We accumulated large piles which then had to be washed twice in big tubs and next day guillotined into smaller pieces and 25 kg at a time stuffed into a plastic container. Sugar was added, the container sealed and left to ferment for 6 months before the next process of extracting the juice.
Mr Tieng has two rice fields which had just been ploughed. We visited them to scatter snails. These snails eat the weeds but not the rice plants. The rice seedlings were to be planted the next week.
We slept in a room that doubled as an office so each evening we had to sweep it, then lay out a thin, hard reed mat. On that we put a blanket/quilt and another one on top of us. Koreans don't seem to use sheets as we know them. They also showed us the pillows, half round pieces of wood of varying thicknesses depending on how high you like your head to be, but we made our own pillows from jackets and sweaters from our backpacks! We tossed and turned the first few nights until we found extra blankets that we could put under us to cushion our hips and shoulders.
They are a great couple and we shared many laughs. Sometimes Hyo Sook sounded rather strident as she talked to Mr Tieng. I think it was lucky we didn't understand Korean! He just looked unperturbed and silently continued with what he was doing! They have no children, so we wondered what will become of the farm and the vinegar production in the future.
They took us to Naju train station for the 4 hour trip back to Seoul.