Monday, June 21, 2010

Black Raspberry Festival

This weekend I did my first trip with the tour company Adventure Korea. They are based out of Seoul and do cultural, outdoor, and adventure excursions all over the country. This trip was centered around the Bokbunja (복 분 자) black raspberry that is in season near Gochang, in the southern part of my province. There were about 35 other people in the group, mostly English teachers and mostly foreigners.

We picked our fill of black raspberries on a farm and drank berry slushies in the hot sun. Then we headed to the main event, the Bokbunja Food and Wine Festival. This region is also known for their freshwater eels, which are traditionally eaten with the bokbunja liquor. We had the chance to try to catch live eels in this big pool. The pool also had black raspberries, so the water was completely opaque and you could feel berry pulp brushing your legs. Any eels you caught you got to keep. At first I thought the whole thing was kind of hokey, but once they dropped the bag of eels into the water and I got over my squeamishness of the slippery creatures, I got really into it and the huntress emerged. I wanted an eel! Must catch my own meat! But they were really difficult to catch. Not that it would have been probable to keep it for the rest of the weekend and take it home anyway...

Then we walked around to explore the myriad of food and drinks. The bokbunja beverages ranged from fruit punch to beer to cloudy rice wine to the classic liquor, which was sort of like a fortified wine or not-too-sweet dessert liquor.

We tried some tempura ginseng with a bokbunja dipping sauce. Whoa, straight ginseng is way too intense for me, but probably good for health. Then we had eel, live a moment ago and cleaned and grilled in front of us. I like the eel I've had in the States, and this was good as well, if quite fatty. As with any Korean BBQ, it was served with dipping sauces, raw ginger and garlic, and lettuce leaves for wrapping.

Then to Seonunsa Temple which was beautiful, and admittedly similar to every other Buddhist temple I have seen in Korea. I would have loved more guiding on the trip, more explanation of history and cultural significance, but mostly we were left to our own ponderings. Other people I talked to on this trip said that there was more narration in the past, and this trip was not typical in that way.

Things started to get even stranger in the evening. The post-dinner activity had been billed as a bokbunja wine and costume party, so I assumed it would be just our tour group in silly costumes. But no, we were taken back to the festival and seated at tables in the front of the tent, a huge group of conspicuous foreigners in front of Korean families not in costume. We drank the local berry wine, which some in the group downed like we were at a frat party. Local press, photographers, and film crews were documenting the crazy foreigners all evening. It was a little uncomfortable and embarrassing, not quite what I had envisioned. The entertainment of music, juggling, fire show, and dancing was too loud to have a very decent conversation with any one around me. Finally it turned into a dance party, both foreigners and Koreans, and I danced for a bit before heading to a noraebang (karaoke) with a more mellow crowd.

Sunday morning we headed to the beach, on the Yellow Sea. Unfortunately it was a cool and cloudy day, but still nice to be by the water. People in the group who had done Adventure Korea trips before said this wasn't a bad trip, but probably the most disjointed and least pleasant one they'd been on. I had a good weekend, though not spectacular, and I would consider doing another trip with them in the future. It was nice (and a bit intense) to meet so many other foreign English teachers at once. There were so many interesting and funny people in the group, from such different backgrounds, but all in this country doing a similar thing for a blip of time. We have our small handful of foreigners in Gunsan, but this big group was like a whole other world. In a way it made me wish I worked in Seoul, where one girl plays live music, another is in a book club, another a Salsa dancing club, another can find good Mexican food... all things that aren't part of my daily life. But when the weekend was over, I was quite happy to head home to my sleepy Gunsan.

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