Sponsored by the Gwangju International Center, I signed up for an opportunity to make kimchi, free of charge. Kip, my good friend who I met two years ago at the International Korean Adoptee Association (IKAA) Gathering in Seoul, was visiting on a weekend trip from his place of study, Inje University in Gimhae. I even hosted a couch surfer at the last minute. Mascha is an art student from Germany, but currently studying in Seoul. She came down to see the Gwangju Biennale, a big modern art exhibition occurring once every two years.
We went out to dinner on Friday night along with Cobi, Steph, my neighbor from Canada, her friend Ryan, and another CouchSurfing girl I met named Hyungjung, a Korean English teacher with an adventurous and curious mind. Needless to say, there were quite a few countries represented at the dinner table. We went to a Japanese bar afterward where we boasted a private room and downed some beer and fruit soju cocktails at a relatively cheap price. They taste more like fruit smoothies than alcohol drenched ice to me. Following drinks was some games at my apartment and a sleepover!
We woke up nice and early the next morning to catch a taxi to the Gwangju International Center to get our hands dirty in kimchi. After filling up on coffee, we loaded on the bus and headed toward “Kimchi road”. We were brought to a museum entirely dedicated to the beloved pickled cabbage. We entered the modern building to be greeted with the distinct smell of kimchi. An adorable and tiny Korean girl with impressive English taught us about the history, the many different forms, the regional kimchi, the health facts of kimchi (they apparently believe that it’s one of the world’s healthiest super foods). We took glances at the huge pillars dedicated to each ingredient in kimchi.
We were brought into the kitchen area to watch two women demonstrate the process of making cabbage and cucumber kimchi. With their smooth chopping skills and eyeballing measurements, it was obvious that these ladies made their fair share of kimchi. We were eager to get in the kitchen.
The ingredients were laid out there and ready for each station. Cobi, Kip, Mascha and I worked well as a team. We chopped up the cabbage into bite sized pieces and plopped loads of kosher salt in the bowl to seep out the moisture. In the meantime, we cut cup some cucumbers, scallions, and mashed loads of life-enhancing garlic, pestle and mortar style. In a separate bowl, magical things happened: the creation of the firey red pepper paste. We put a generous amount of red pepper flakes paired with fish sauce, sesame oil, anchovy sauce, soy sauce, ginger, and other ingredients irretrievable from my brain at the moment. The whole process was rather easy for us. Since the kimchi was immediately ready to consume, it’s not the traditional kimchi. Kimchi needs to be fermented for at least a few days. Nonetheless, it tasted decent for waygooks’ kimchi. I brought a batch over to my birth parents’. They laughed at me, like they always do if I do anything Korean, and politely served it at every meal.
With our take-out bags of kimchi, we got dropped off at the World Cup Stadium for the Gwangju International Center (GIC) day. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate the international community represented here in Gwangju. Not only are there people from English-speaking countries here as teachers, there are people hailing from Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, China, the Philippines, and other small countries from each continent. I won a raffle for free food from the Philippines stand where I indulged in lumpia and pancit.
The stage was set for a talent show. The Peruvian dancer rocked the stage before some foreigners broke boards in Taekwondo. Perhaps my favorite performance was the Indonesian (I think?) dance. Their costumes were festive and their moves were fluid and natural.
I generally view Korea as a homogeneous country. Not only do Korean people share similar physical features, they dress the same, wear the same kind of make-up, and have similar hairstyles. It is obvious that they go through great lengths to look like everyone else because heaven forbid you are an outcast. No one would wish such a thing upon a great enemy here in Korea. That weekend, however, changed my perspective. The country is growing in diversity and Koreans are becoming less xenophobic and more open to new experiences. I am glad to be able to experience this transition as Korea is an exponentially rapidly developing country socially and economically.