Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Watermelon, 2001

June 10th.
An early heat wave has struck Korea. The kind of heat wave
that is usual for August after the monsoon, but just a couple of
months early. Which makes people wonder how bad August is
going to be. Already, I want to shower twice a day and have to
fight sleepiness when I'm not in an air-conditioned space, or
fight off chills from over-air-conditioning. The 30-degree(F)
change in temperature is what causes a lot of summer colds.

In the middle of this heat, I have become mesmerized by the
beauty and wonder of watermelon. Who created this amazing
fruit, with the sweet juicy flesh that when cold actually
heightens the sweetness(most foods become less sweet when
cold)? And with enough water in the fruit that there is
practically no need to drink water all day(granted, that's
a lot of watermelon). The watermelon is shaped differently
from those in the US, a little more rounder, like a lopsided
basketball. And, as with most fruit here, I think a lot sweeter
than fruit in the US. It might have to do with less mass-
production and genetically tampered foods, or, as many Koreans
say, it's because of the soil.

So as I eat my watermelon daily in a grateful ceremonial break
from the heat, I have childhood flashbacks of eating watermelon
in Arizona. When a huge watermelon was 50 cents, and as soon
as it was cut open me and my brothers would find any opportunity
to cut into the center, gradually creating a shallow crater in the
middle. Or wanting to save the center pieces for later, I would break
off the centers until there was a small pile in front of me only to have
my brothers steal it from me as I cried about the injustice of the
world. I could have cried to my parents, as I suspect that I did,
but what could I say to make them understand my loss of hope in
humanity? That I lived in a world where saved watermelon centers
were no longer sacred? Is this where my political consciousness first
began to develop - with the playfully cruel acts of my brothers? And
did I first learn the overwhelmingly corrupting influence of power when
the tables were turned for the first time, as my brothers stood in front
of me begging, swearing to do anything for that remaining half a Big
Mac that I couldn't finish? I cannot say for sure, but it is certainly a

In the three months since I wrote, I continued my exploration of
Korea when the weather became tolerable(from the cold). Emma,
a friend from Ireland whom I met in Ecuador, came to visit for a
couple of weeks in May and Emma, Mimi(a friend from San Francisco),
and I visited Andong in Kyoungsang Province. As I found out while
we were hitchiking, the region lives up to it's reputation of men who
don't talk. My brother always says I could have a conversation with
a wall, but I met my match with Kyoungsang-do guys. And they eat
really really salty food. But the area is also full of interesting villages
and mountains, so we enjoyed it despite the bad food and constant
need to chug gallons of water after meals. The next week, we took a
trip to Yeosu in South Cholla Province, accurately reknown for its
amazing and abundant food. Even at budget restaurants you get a
table full of panchan(side dishes), and its not just kimchee. We had
fresh oysters, oysters bean paste soup(it's a port town, can you tell
I like oysters?)and other good stuff at a meal that only costed W5000
(less than 5 bucks). Food is such an important part of traveling, and
I have to highly recommend Yeosu just for the food. After this trip,
tho, everyone needed (and wanted) to skip a few meals.

July 3.
Sorry, I'm finishing this letter very late - it's July already.
Last weekend I went on one of my most memorable trips in
Korea. It was with a group I recently discovered and interviewed
for the Korea Herald called TrekKorea, specializing in budget
backpacking/hiking trips. We went to Damyang in South Cholla
Province, the aptly named bamboo capital of Korea – we ate rice
cooked in bamboo, drank bamboo alcohol, shopped in stores selling
all kinds of bamboo products made of bamboo. Unexpectedly, I
discovered the city had a wonderful history of cultural activism.
We attended a small concert and afterwards drank makkoli
(rice alcohol) at the house of the concert organizer – one of the most
beautiful mud houses I've ever seen, also decorated by him and
his wife – while people randomly began singing on guitars or
pansori, or Korean traditional opera. It rained all night and the next
day we took a drenching walk to a mist-covered fortress that the
TrekKorea president called the Macchu Picchu of Korea. It is
virtually unknown and therefore we met no one the entire day.
We finished the day eating dduk-kalbi (bbq pork minced with
vegetables) at one of the friendliest restaurants I've ever been to,
complete with coffee and watermelon(!!) for desert.

All the elements of a great trip – great food, great (and new)
alcohol, beautiful scenery, wonderful people and no other
tourists in sight. If all goes well, I may even be working with
this group in the future as either responsible for their English
website or/and as a guide when they have groups of foreigners.

Sorry this update is coming so late. I will try to write more
often - and as always, letters are greatly welcomed.

Take care,


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