Sunday, January 23, 2011

Like the Taste of Api

The last 3 weeks have been a bit crazy for me. I taught the Drama class at Winter Camp as well as a conversational English class for adults in the afternoon. The days were busy, but on Friday it all finished! The students performed their modern version of The Wizard of Oz, including music and dance to songs like "Eye of the Tiger", "Lean on Me", and "It's Gonna be a Bright Sunshiny Day."
The students did a great job and we had a goodbye festival for them as well as the adult students. Then after work, I caught a bus to Jeonju, a neighboring city where my friend lives who recently had a baby. She is from Colombia, and 2 other friends from Ecuador and Bolivia also were there for a visit. So it was a convergence of South American women married to Korean men. And it made me wonder exactly how many native Spanish-speakers there are living long-term in Korea. I have no idea, but it can't be that many.
We arrived in the evening, and soon after I noticed a distinctive purple liquid in a pot on the stove. "Is that api?!" I asked. Api is a Bolivian drink made from blue corn, cinnamon, pineapple juice, and oranges, usually served hot with empanadas, pastries, etc. The Bolivian who had brought it was shocked that I knew this regional drink. The thick, warming fruity taste brought back a flood of memories- of sitting at a street stall in Potosi one night, having an evening snack with a Japanese man who spoke almost no English or Spanish; of the camaraderie of the senoras in the cold high-altitude night air; of eating snacks in the market of Capacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca amidst the smell of fish and bread. That one bright purple cup reminded me of whole other world beyond Korea, one where I could communicate with people and where I was deeply fascinated by the culture.

I have been in Korea for over 10 months, and have had a wonderful time. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. But I am starting to sense a certain monotony, a certain apathy on my part, a sense that I am forgetting some part of myself. I think one year is just the right amount of time to be here. It will soon be Winter Vacation, and I will take a much-needed break from Korea before coming back for a few weeks to finish my contract.

Oh yeah, back to my happy South American vortex. In the morning, my friend made a sort of Colombian breakfast soup called chagua. It's onion broth with milk and cilantro with poached eggs and crackers (or stale bread). She also made traditional Colombian arepas which are corn patties (corn masa brought from her country) filled with various fillings, in this case cheese, and grilled on a griddle. To drink we had our choice between cafe con leche (coffee with milk) or panela, a drink with Colombian brown sugar. It was all really delicious.
Back home I'm considered a decent baker, on par with any of my friends. But here, I am considered phenomenal. It's only because hardly any foreigners have ovens, and Koreans don't have a tradition of baked goods. I was lucky enough to get a convection oven on loan from my school, but that's rare. I like to bake, but don't want to eat it all, so I end up giving a lot away. I bring it to my coworkers, friends, and the other day I really didn't want a whole carrot cake sitting at my house, so I brought it to the movies where I was meeting friends. They were a little surprised but definitely not complaining. I finally tried Molly Wizenberg's carrot cake recipe which was awesome. So while the South American friends cooked up their traditional food, I showed them how to make an apple tart. We made the pastry dough the night before, and in the morning rolled it out and assembled it. A great skills trade for every one!

1 comment:

ElizaBeth said...

I have never seen such perfectly arranged apples! I agree, one year is plenty to be gone. But don't worry, that part of you that feels missing will reappear within a week of being in familiar surroundings, and only then will you know how much the experience affected you. Enjoy your vacation - you've earned it!