Cow foot soup meal count: 16
Right now, my host mom is haltingly playing "edelweiss" on the tiny piano in the back room, over and over.
Last weekend we went to visit the boys' grandparents (on my host dad's side, I'm reasonably sure). They live on a farm about ten minutes away...and I wish I could move out of Tae Woo Apatu and move in with them. Halmoni and halaboji (grandmother and grandfather) are two of the tiniest, wrinkliest, friendliest people I've ever seen. Halmoni is bent nearly in half when she stands or walks, has a mouth full of silver fillings, and wears the largest visor ever whenever she goes outside. She got a huge kick out of me and liked patting my hair. They live in a very traditional Korean farmhouse, with little low, narrow buildings of house and farm storage space laid out to form a sort of double courtyard. The house itself has no furniture in it whatsoever: just smooth fake wood floors. There is a TV on the floor in one room, a refridgerator in the corner of the main room, and the kitchen has a stovetop and one little cupboard. All the other household belongings (blankets that serve as beds, the little table that's brought out at mealtimes, clothing, etc) are stacked neatly on the floor in the smallest room. Long buildings that hold farm tools, harvested crops, random things, and a cute little dog in a big cage give the courtyards their sides. Behind the house is the little mini second courtyard, where huge clay pots hold kimchi, kochu jang, and ten jang (kochu jang is the chili pepper sauce that we eat with absolutely everything, and ten jang--which I'm probably romanizing terribly--is a salty sauce made with soybean sprouts that we eat with a lot of things. It's really, really good), fermenting and preserving them in the traditional manner. In the corner is the little spigot and bit of rubber hose that provides the farm with all its water. Laundry is also hung up there, and little plots of herbs and sesame leaves have been carefully planted across the middle and along the edges, creeping out through the gaps between the buildings to join the large gardens that surround the little farmhouse. The crops would make a really pretty overhead picture, as each different plant is in little carefully shaped intersecting plots that form circles and circles around the farm. The back of the mini courtyard is the farm's tallest building, a cement rectangle with a high thatched sort of roof. Plants and herbs dry in bunches all along the ceiling, and stacked bales of hay cover one of the walls and form a partitioning wall in the middle of the building. Inside the building are 9 pretty little brown cows (one a little calf) with mean looking metal rings through their noses (the rings are roughly shaped metal wire and have a rope attached to them and tied over the cows' heads). Kiyeong proudly led me up through the second courtyard, weaving through a maze of plant rows, to see the cows and feed them bits of hay. They were skittish for a while until they realized we only wanted to feed them and talk to them softly.
Lots of family came to the farm for lunch. There was a baby, tons of little kids, a few sullen teens who lay around in front of the TV, and tons of adults. One of the ladies (I think she's my host dad's sister in law) is a middle school English teacher, so she could actually say speak a fair amount of English. Unfortunately I didn't get to talk to her much at all--her 5 year old daughter spent most of the time she was there crying uncontrollably and her mom had to keep taking her outside and on walks (I wondered if she was crying because she was afraid of me, but it was unclear). The baby, who has the fattest cheeks I have ever seen on a child, was just learning to walk. It kept coming over to me and either giving me something or demanding something of mine. Whenever I would give it something, its parents would tell it to say thank you and it would execute a perfect Korean bow and almost knock itself over.
We all had lunch together and then the boys and I went on a bike ride (on the three rustiest, most misaligned bikes imaginably) through the farmland. It was so beautiful. When we got back, the other families all left, but we went back in the house for a snack. The grandma busted out a GIGANTIC dried squid--fully 3 feet long--and slid it across the floor to my host mom so that she could singe the ends of it over the stove burner (the delightful effect of this little move was to overwhelm the house with the smell of burned squid). Then we sat around ripping pieces of it off and dipping it in kochu jang. It's really tough and hard to chew and just sick. After that though, we got to venture out into the fields and dig up buckets and buckets of little red sweet potatoes, some of which halmoni cooked up immediately and we squatted in the courtyard eating with our fingers. It was wonderful...definitely one of my favorite moments in Korea so far. I loved being out in the field in the sun, digging around in the dirt together. It's so satisfying to eat something you've just spend time and effort pulling out of the ground and to eat something so fresh. The sweet potatoes are much smaller and softer than American ones, pale yellow and very fluffy.
For dinner we had chicken soup with rice...although the chicken was whole and you take it out of the soup first and eat it it separately for a while, then add some of it to the broth and rice. It was really, really good...one of the only times that I've actually enjoyed meat. We left right after dinner, filling our truck with a big box of sweet potatoes, a giant tupperware of kimchi, a bag of pears and apples, a huge bag of weird wheat stuff, and handfuls of loose chestnuts (which we disappointingly eat raw).