Side Quests

Seollal Pyeongchang Trout Festival

*For context: I joined a four day foreigner ski trip to the home of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang.

A good trip overall but I’ve learned that going forward tour groups are not and have never been my forte. I had a few odd moments this weekend where I was thrust back into my early college days when not socially drinking amongst strangers marked me as a weirdo.

“Am I still an extrovert? Am I bad at making friends now? Why isn’t this fun?” I thought to myself, watching strangers get cozy playing drinking games.

Today I said good morning to two of the men and they looked at me like “why”. The unfriendliness knocked me off balance a little.

It only took a decade but I finally realized: I don’t like this type of social drinking with strangers if alcohol is the only thread holding our tenuous new relationships together. I don’t like when the camaraderie we share over beer evaporates in the light of day.

(I mean, still invite me to parties. I like hanging out with my friends and meeting new people.)

But all those thoughts were knocked away at the small trout festival:

A tiny girl demanded that she carry the caught trout and proudly trotted along as the giant fish flopped in its final death throes in the clear plastic bag. Her mom caught my eye and grimaced and we had a shared moment about her daughter and the fish.

In the communal eating tent I peered into 4 separated bins to determine which was recycling only to be thwarted by the trash in each one. An older woman working in the tent looked at my confused face and we both laughed.

There was also a small market in a greenhouse like tent. The following proceeded in Korean:

One woman offered me tea but I told her my stomach hurts. She guided me to a another table with medicinal tea. The new plan gave me a cup of brown bitter sludge and told me to drink it all then drink hot water after. I sipped the concoction and another woman filled my empty cup with delicious hot tea.

The medicinal tea woman complimented my Korean but was not in the mood for further conversation so my tea and I perused another table. The woman there, in her late 30s and the youngest seller by far, had a horse shoe shaped smattering of freckles from her eye to cheek. I asked her about her items because they were all foreign to me.
“This is fermented soy bean paste.”

“It looks like a hamburger. Ah! I ate this in Japan! The taste was…not good.”
She laughed. My first and only impression of that terrible invention is that it looked and tasted like baby diarrhea.She also had bottles of tea with a woman’s face.

“Who is this?”

“This is my mom.”

“Ah. She. Her face. Is looking nice. Um she is kind.” I had forgotten how to say “she looks kind” but my point was made.

“Thank you,” she replied sincerely in such a way that makes me think her mom has passed.

She explained some other things and gave me a sample of jam.

“Is this honey?”

“It’s honey mixed with beer and fruit and other things.”

“And this. I see this vegetable everywhere.”

“Yes. You receive energy from it.”

“Ah! So you ‘lack energy’ but the opposite phrase is ‘receive energy’?” In Korean you receive energy rather than energy being given.

“Yes! That is correct.”

She handed me an apple sample from the table to her right and told me it is 일등. “일등? What is that?”

The Apple table seller came over and the woman introduced me:
“She speaks Korean well!”

“I don’t, really.”

The Apple lady added, “this is 일등! Best. 이등 is best two. 삼등 is best three.”
“Aha…” I then told the two how korean numbers get me and when I go to a restaurant and see “3set” I have no clue which number system to use.

“Korean is difficult.”

“Yes, there are so many numbers! 일 니 삼 사 (Chinese 1 2 3 4)… 하나 둘 셋 (korean 1 2 3…)… 첫번째 두번째 세번째 (first second third)… and now 일등 (best).”

“Yes! “ the Apple woman clapped once in approval of my understanding.

“Well. For numbers, I am always wrong.” We all laughed. I thanked them for my samples and rejoined the group.

The honey lady is just one of those people who gets it. Uses simple language, breaks things down into categories of plant/animal/fruit when I don’t know the food, and was so kind

That small moment blasted me out of the funk and reminded me that it’s okay to value connection over company, and that these are the memories that keep me warm, much like the one of the two Korean children with whom I played a wordless made up little game between budget seats on a short flight.

The day reminded me of the fantastic poem “The Invitation” which I encourage you to read in its entirety:

…It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…..

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy….

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