Today I woke up bright and early to participate in 김장 (The process of preparing 김치 during the winter time!) with my host family. We drove out to visit my host mom’s parents’ house in order to make the one Korean food that is probably most known to westerners! I was really excited to do this because it is a big part of Korean culture. Actually, I have already technically made 김치 when I participated in 요리동아리 (cooking club) during the NSLI-Y Summer program, but I knew this was going to be a different experience– a more intimate one if you will. And, I was right!
We got to my host grandparents’ home a little before 10:30 am and went right to work! I was advised to take off my cardigan and we all crowded around these large bowls on the living room floor. One was filled with the filling or ingredients that the cabbage would be fermented in and the other ones were empty so that we would have space to prep the kimchi. We put on these long rubber gloves and wet them in order to have an easier time at handling the kimchi. First, we would take the filling/ingredients and do a quick wipe all over the outside of the cabbage. Then, we would separate each leaf (I do not know how to describe this process…. I apologize!) of the cabbage and spread the filling all over it so that the white/greenish color would become tinted with a red color. And then close to the center of the cabbage (the location where all the leaves come together to form something with the resemblance of a door hinge. Okay, I am sorry for not making any sense!) we would place a little amount of the filling– the amount would be proportional to how many leaves there were as you did not want any of the ingredients spilling out from the side. Lastly, the kimchi was turned onto its side and folded/tucked into the boxes where it would be allowed to refrigerate and ferment. It was a lot of fun… but it was also quite a bit of work! My arms were hurting afterward. I probably did more than ten heads of cabbages.
After using all our energy on making 김치 we hung out in the living room until it was lunchtime. I am not exactly sure what we had to eat…. I do know that we had some type of fish soup, 삼겹살 (pork belly), and this really interesting (read: weird) looking sea creature. I ate one and it was pretty slimy and did not have much of a taste. Definitely, something I have never tasted before. My host grandmother was so very kind during lunch and kept telling me to eat more meat and asking if I wanted more rice or soup. She even showed me how to eat the 삼겹살 with the 반찬 she had out: lettuce, meat, 고추장 (pepper paste), and then some salty shrimp mixture? It was very delicious.
When lunch was finished and we all cleaned up, I went with my host dad, host grandfather, and my host siblings to a toy market in 동대문. Here we walked through the stalls and into the very crowded and narrow shops to look at all types of toys, stationery, and snacks, too. My siblings each picked out a toy and their grandfather purchased it (for Christmas I presume). It was a bit confusing to me though… because when they got home they opened their gifts right away. And, additionally, their grandparents had already bought them each one other gift earlier and they opened those as well. I know Christmas is not a huge thing here but I did not expect them to open them so early. It was interesting. My host sister got a cotton candy machine and the stuff it spun was not half bad, and she had a blast making them for everyone with the special wand.
We had dinner there and then drove back home afterward. I was pretty exhausted from the day’s activities so I quickly took a shower (removed my kimchi stained socks off my feet for one) and headed to bed.
I left my home during the late morning to meet Addie at 인사동. We planned to do some Christmas shopping together as we both really wanted to send packages home for Christmas. We planned to hit up two famous places: 인사동 and 명동. In 인사동, we would be able to find more traditional and souvenir type gifts while 명동 would have more modern things to buy.
When we got to 인사동, the long street was bustling with families, couples, and lots of tourists. The first thing on our list of missions to complete was to purchase some type of cards and any other traditional things that caught our eyes. We went inside this one store because I was looking at the traditional bags that they had out on display. (My mom currently has one she uses to semi-protect her phone when it is in her purse. She bought it at this bookstore when we were visiting Koreatown in New York. I told her not to buy it since I could get it for way cheaper, but I let her, in the end, do what she wanted.) Here, I found the same thing and one even better for 4 dollars cheaper. I decided to buy one and send it to her as part of her Christmas gift. I also bought this cute little traditional bag that I will send to my friend Kara as a part of her Secret Santa gift. (I figured it could be a cute pencil case or makeup pouch!) The man that ran the store struck up a conversation with Addie and me which mostly consisted of complementing our Korean. Apparently, he studied in America for more than 5 years I think? We definitely did not impress him; he was just being nice (I see your profit making tactic!) He also asked us if the guys at our school go crazy over us. It was honestly so hilarious so we both started laughing. (At the time, I did not realize that Addie goes to an all-girls school so it must have been even funnier for her.) He was all like “They must be shy and nervous about their English language skills.” If only that was the case.
After visiting that shop, we visited the famous outdoor 4 story building walk thing (I honestly suck at describing anything it seems! Seriously… what is wrong with me?) to look at the more crafty things available for purchase in 인사동. We ended up buying these cards that are shaped like flowers. To open them, you unfold the petals and becomes a normal piece of paper. We also bought these handmade wooden signs for our parents. I got my mom one that says Our happy (home) in Korean. Addie’s had little cartoon drawings of a mom, dad, two boys, and a girl. She got her family’s names engraved under each of the drawings. It was adorable! I love them! And, it is not that heavy so I do not think that it will make the package too expensive. We also were able to find 한복 cards there for pretty cheap! Once we walked through 인사동 and purchased/saw everything we wanted to, we left to head to 명동.
In 명동, we walked around and ate some really good street food. I indulged in a cup of 고구마 (sweet potato) and Addie had this corn dog covered in fries. It was so funny though because while she was eating it and walking, this lady came up to her and started asking about it and wanting to take a photo! It was hilarious. I ended up buying Christmas wrapping paper and a taekwondo outfit for my dog while Addie also got a sweatshirt for her brother and body lotion from a famous French brand from the Lotte Mall.
It was a lot of fun hanging out with her! For dinner, we went to the Innis Green Cafe. I really wanted to try their pancakes and even though the wait was an hour long, I waited!! They were so delicious and I have been craving pancakes~ Definitely worth the wait.
And that was my Sunday spent Christmas shopping with Addie! I had a great time spending the day with her~ We updated each other on our lives, ranted a lot, and de-stressed. It was so nice.
Thanks for reading this blog post! I hope you enjoyed!~ I cannot believe it… less than 50 days left in Korea… How can I make the most of this time left?
- Emma 엠마