Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Korean Neighbor

On nice evenings, when the rain has subsided, our little family goes on a walk down back behind our home. As we weave through the older homes, gardens and rice patties/fields, we meet older Korean men and women out and about doing what needs to be done in thier small farming community. Most tend to thier fields or greenhouses, while others sit out and chat over a cigarette or box of soy milk. Some aspects of our walks feel quite homey to me having grown up in the rural farmland of Indiana, and yet I am still caught off guard more times than not. Traditional Korean culture is very giving and sharing oriented. Living in the countryside, Taylor aand I tend to experience this aspect of Korean living more so than our city friends. There have been multiple times where Taylor will come home from school with massive amounts of fruits or vegetables... or if we are not quite as lucky, strange rice cake concoctions. None the less, we are always very grateful for the generous gesture and have tried to recipricate our thankfulness with a homemade treat. This is where things get a little comical. But wait, I am getting off base... I was talking about our evening walks. Several times now, Taylor and I have come back from our walks and have recieved some sort of garden fresh, hand-picked crop. A few weeks ago... one such gift was recieved by a sweet little Korean widow that lives just a few moments walk away from our apartment on the alley behind our complex. She is weather worn, but gentle in appearance. I would guess her to be in her late 70s or early 80s tops. Her smile is laced with silver fillings or caps, but there is no harshness to her smile whatso-ever. She is one of the warmest women I have encountered in Korea and you can't help but be drawn in by her kind spirit and graceful gestures. She is thin, yet able bodied and is constantly in her garden weeding and nurturing it. She has entitled herself Corin's Korean grandmother, a title which I would not deny her. Corin finds her quite approachable too... which is rare for him since he is usually smothered by the older generations here and therefore avoids them like the plague. But his Korean grandmother... she is different. She is unique. She is loving and gentle and patient and willing to communicate with us in the most primitive manner... gestures. Siunce neither of us really speak the other's language, we are forced to play cherades with one another hoping our smiles and expressions relate our feelings well enough. So as we walked home a couple weeks ago, she popped her head round the corner of her home and quickly came near to us, gestureing to her garden and repeating the word "sam". Which means "three" or "wrap" in in Hangul. So we were a little confused at first. But then she proceeded to pick us a massive amount of lettuce and prune it to be sure we were getting only the finest quality gift she could bestow to us on that day. It was enough to make two HUGE batches of salad with, but that is not what this type of lettuce was used for here in Korea. Here, it was for "wrapping" ingredients to create a little lettuce bite. You see it mostly in wrapping marinated cooked meats like bulgogi or sam gyup sal. (beef or pork) But you can wrap veggies and rice in them too. Taylor and I of course do not have traditional Korean food on a regular basis in our homes so we felt a little guilty taking from this womans supply in such a large helping... but if there is one thing I have learned, there is not refusing or compromising with an older Korean... you just take the gift and smile. So as an effort to bless her in return, I went home and immediately began to make her homemade caramel corn to present to her the next day during our family walk. She had gestured to us where she lived and so I knew if she was not out and about, I could find her. The next evening, Taylor stayed home to rest after a long day and some not so great school cafeteria food, and so Corin and I ventured out to find our little Korean grandma. She was not out that evening, so we walked up to her home and called to her. I felt badly when I realised she had been anpping, but she woke with such a joyous smile on her face that any guilt quickly subsided. She came out and joined us on her patio as we presented her with a gift of two ziplocks bulging with caramel corn (a treat Koreans tend to enjoy.) At first she tried to give it back as she blushed in the sight of the wrapped gift. I of course, pushed it into her hands with a smile and she began speaking in Korean with a touched expression on her face. The smile never left her. She opened the small token of our appreciation and tears began to form in the corners of her eyes... and then so they formed in my own. She was abundantly grateful and invited us into her home. Corin made himself right at home as he sprawled out on her entry floor. I peered around and tried asking if she lived alone or if her husband was out working. She hung her head for a moment and touched her hand to her chest, covering her heart. She rubbed her heart and then pointed to a nearby hillside where burial mounds graced the side facing us. She then gestured a sleeping motion and held up one finger. She had just explained in hangul that her heart had died and was buried there on the hillside and that she was left here alone. My heart broke for her. You typically see older women living with thier children once widowed, but she seemed determined to live her life out in her own home, in the home she shared with her "heart", her love, her husband. It was a sweet little home. Small, but plenty of room for her and her husband to have thrived in. It was very clean and tidy, with little clutter or material items on the floor. She was a simple woman, from a simple generation and was not used to life of luxury, but rather a life of labor in the fields. I remember seeing her sweet face helping in the garlic planting season last fall as she and several other older women from the community squat in the fields hand-planting the garlic bulbs in hopes of a great harvest come late spring. All these thoughts of how we could minister to this woman swirled in my head as we sat in a moment of silent glances and smiles. I then gestured that we needed to leave and she was up in a split second to walk us out. as we left, she loaded us up with rolled cookies to take and then stopped to gift us even more treats from her garden. I tried to politley decline for fear that we would eat her out of house and home, but she forced the fresh picked garlic bulbs into my hands and smiled as if she had sufficiently returned her gratitude for the popcorn treat. Such a generous heart amongst a very generous generationa dn culture. We are constantly given such bountiful gifts and yet have nothing to give in return...
In fact, just yesterday Taylor came home with about a 15lb bag filled with massive heads of cabbage. Oh dear, we will have cabbage for weeks! :) But such a sweet gesture and gift. Taylor and I have been enjoying giving "American" treats in return for the Korean treats we recieve. Hopefully we are not only sharing our culture with the recipients, but also Go's love is shining through. We can only hope. :)

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