Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ginseng Festival and Hiking Trip: Part I

This weekend I went to a Ginseng Festival followed by a day of hiking with Adventure Korea. Basically they're a travel/tour group that has events running every weekend all over Korea. They're very well organized and they have some cool events. I've done a handful of trips with them now including the DMZ and Mud Fest, both of which were right at the top of my list for things to do while in Korea, and both were pretty great. It's nice because usually when I'm off doing something on the weekend I head into Seoul or somewhere that is easily accessible by just jumping on a bus at the local terminal. With Adventure Korea though I've been able to see some areas of the country that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to really navigate myself to and have had a few unique experiences along the way. The owner is a cool guy and the guides are a mix of Koreans and foreigners who volunteer. I can't recommend their trips enough.

So Saturday morning I was up at 5am to get ready and then take the train into the city to catch the tour bus. Except I actually couldn't fall asleep at all (my work schedule is not conducive to such an early wake up call) so I was dragging my feet real bad as we headed out the door. 

We left the city around 8am and had about a 3 and a half hour drive with a rest stop and lunch break thrown in there. Have I mentioned how much I love Korean rest stop food? Because I do. The rest stops here are pretty similar to the ones back home- convenience store, bathrooms, junky souvenir area, couple of fast food joints, etc. However, you're also sure to find a bunch of vendors selling what pretty much amounts to street food. Delicious, amazing street food that is. Bags of football-shaped, custard filled deli manjoo, paper bowls of potato balls, french fries, mini churros, and tasty tasty skewers of chicken. You just have to be careful that you don't lose an eyeball in the crowd with everyone walking around and not paying attention to where they're waving the pointy-end of their stick food but if you make it out alive it's so worth it.

After lunch we arrived at the Punggi Insam (Ginseng) Festival. 
I knew they had a few activities for us lined up but the first one took me by surprise. They whisked us over to this stage area and told us we were going to have a ginseng peeling competition. Uh, it is exactly as exciting as it sounds. They split us into two groups and had us sit on stage and well, peel a ginseng root. Which isn't too easy to do actually. Those roots pretty much look the same when they're all cleaned up, it's not like peeling a potato where the difference is obvious. So I just sat they're awkwardly peeling away and I think I over peeled mine and therefore did not win the giant box of ginseng tea for my efforts. Sadness.
Look at how jazzed this sea of elderly people who were just looking for somewhere to sit down crowd is to be observing such a thrilling event.
Basically it was just an excuse to put a bunch of foreigners on stage and have them make a spectacle of themselves. In that we succeeded admirably. The whole festival was actually like a publicity event or something, photographers and videographers would not leave us alone. I know that foreigners get stared at a lot here and this is especially true when you head out of the main cities and into less foreigner-traveled areas. But it was overkill at the festival and really awkward. They kept swarming us and I kept covering my face (hello, 24 hours with no sleep at that point, the last thing I want is your HD lens picking up how many shades of gray are happening in the dark circles under my eyes) and waving them off but it did nothing. So I started taking pictures back while they were taking pictures of me. Because what else can you do?
Yeah like I couldn't see you creeping from behind that pillar. Nice try. He did pose with the Korean V sign when he saw what I was doing but I was too slow to catch it.
After making fools of ourselves we had some free time to wander the festival. There was a nice turnout and it was pretty big but it was less festival-y than I was expecting. Lots of food tents and such but only a handful of craft booths (what I always troll at festivals) and an overload of identical tents all just selling ginseng roots. There was literally rows and rows of them and people were snapping those things up like crazy. So that was the big draw really. We just walked and took it all in.
There was a small area with apple tents and this little house made of apples. I caught these two old buddies posing for a picture in the apple house, aww. I also got a picture sitting there but I had to wait for the three kids in line in front of me to finish first...
At 2pm we met back at the bus and drove to a ginseng field where the town mayor met us and told us we would be helping to pick some ginseng. I managed to dig up a row of about four roots and then they had all us foreigners pose with our rooty booty for the paparazzi again. I'm pretty sure our fate is to end up on the festival banners for next year.
Then it was back to the festival again to make ginseng wine. It is basically the most simple process ever.

Ginseng Wine Recipe
Step 1: Clean a ginseng root. It is clean when you can no longer see any dirt on it or when the people supervising realize you're the last one doing it and quickly announce it is clean so they can finish and go home.
Step 2: Get a tall plastic bottle with a screw top.
Step 3: Place root inside tall plastic bottle with screw top.
Step 4: Fill tall plastic bottle with soju.
Step 5: Screw on top
Step 6: Let sit for 100 days.

So basically ginseng wine is soju with a root in it? If there were any other way to make soju worse than it already is I think this would be it.
Also, ginseng floating in liquid is scary looking, like some sort of malformed alien fetus. It gives me the creeps. Also also, I am bringing mine home with me so clear a spot in the dining room next to the other wines Mom and Dad. You can put it out on Halloween to scare trick-or-treaters. Or when repair people come to the house. Whichever works.
I'm not entirely sure what criteria of fabulous a ginseng root must meet in order to win a prize because they all looked the same to me but apparently this one was pretty special. 
This weekend was good but wore me out big time so I'll cover day two of the trip in a separate post which I'm hoping to write tomorrow night when I'm off from work early. After I've gone grocery shopping that is. And after I've finished my toilet paper roll bat decorations. And after I've done some more studying for the GRE. And after I finally attempt skillet ginger snap cookies. And after I've bleached my bathroom to hell. All in order of importance of course. Yeah. Another blog tomorrow night.


Trivia of the Day: Myeonje Baegab (면제배갑), claimed to be the world's first, was a bullet-proof vest invented in the late 1860s in the Joseon Dynasty, modern day Republic of Korea. During the French Campaign against Korea, 1866, the military of the Joseon Kingdom, at the time using matchlock rifles, experienced the superiority of western rifles. As a result, Heungseon Daewongun, then acting leader of the Joseon Kingdom, ordered the development of bullet-proof armor. Through multiple live fire tests using matchlock rifles Kim Gi-Du and Gang Yun, who were national weapon developers, found that 30 layers of cotton fabric were effective in preventing penetration by rounds fired from a matchlock rifle at around 100 meters. The vests were distributed to soldiers after its creation, and were used in battles fought on Ganghwa Island against United States Navy and Marine forces during the United States expedition to Korea in 1871. Although the vests were effective against bullets, they were susceptible to fire because they were made of cotton. The vests were easily burnt by fragments from cannon fire; US records indicate that some Korean soldiers caught fire after a cannon attack. Also, the vests were too hot to wear in summer.*

*Adding my own note here to say that any article of clothing is too hot to wear during a Korean summer.