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Monday, April 11, 2011

SALT!

1) women walking from the field back to the village with salt and crops on their heads
2) ocean view from the Salt Resort
3) black barns where salt is kept for 5 years so it can dry out/age
4) the salt fields (we got in trouble for walking through them)
5) Paris, Katie, me, Erica and Annie at the salt factory.. holding our souvenir salt
6) healing salt cave
7) part of the village... the house next door to the one we were staying in








I think my managers said to themselves this past week… ya know, Emilie hasn't had any mishaps lately. "Why don't we go look in her classroom and see what we can bust her for. Ah yes, the soap that she brought in for the kids to wash their hands with is not really soap… it's probably some type of poison that she is using to get the children all sick. We must sit her down and explain to her that this is wrong, she's got to take her soap home!" Oh my GOD! Okay… it wasn't this dramatic but it was pretty ridiculous. I told you, I brought in my own soap because everyone is always sick and I think it's imperative that we wash our hands. I wouldn't need to do this if my school just provided soap… I mean come on! I brought in the soap that I've been using for the past 7 to 8 months. It's quite lovely.. I use it everyday. Not only does it make for germ free, soft hands but it smells just delicious. I wouldn't let the kids use something that I didn't think was okay! So why was this such a problem? Well, apparently this soap is for washing dishes… but since I don't read Korean, I did not know that. The management thinks that no soap is better than my soap. They sat me down on Friday after work with the soap in their hands and reprimanded me for my bad judgement. I am happy to report… there is hand soap in all the bathrooms, YAY! This was definitely the highlight to my Monday.

Thank god my only work drama was on Friday.. I didn't squirt the soap in their faces like I wanted to cause I knew the weekend was only moments away. I'm just kidding, I wouldn't do that… but really… there is a tiny part of me that has thought about it… muhhhahahah.

On Friday, I enjoyed a tasty dinner with the company of you know who… I'm trying not to talk about him too much, I don't want to jinx it…. I got up early Saturday morning and met up with my friend Katie. We got our coffee, (I can't believe how addicted to black coffee I am… I can not go a day without- does this mean I'm an adult now? Haha) found our Korean girl friends and headed off to the islands of Shinan. These tiny set of islands are about an hour and a half south west of Gwangju. The islands are known for harvesting salt. These chain of islands, especially the island we went to (Jeungdo) has the highest percentage of salt on land, in the world. Pretty incredible right!?

Our Korean friend, Erica rented a car… what a nice change! Before we got into Shinan, we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up on food for lunch, breakfast, dinner and snacks. The plan was… the Korean girls will cook a Korean-style dinner for Saturday night and the American girls will cook a Western-style breakfast Sunday morning (brunch). After getting all the cooking necessities we headed to the house in which we were going to be staying at. This was the house of Erica's friend's sister, something like that. The house had been vacant for quite some time so they let us use it, free of charge. This house was out in the middle of nowhere..really, the whole town was out in the middle of nowhere. I've seen little Korean villages like this but I have never stayed in any. It was all so interesting… it looked like something out of a movie. This is what I thought Korea was going to be like when I moved here… steep, narrow, country roads, old hunched over women walking through the fields with bags of salt and giant bunches of crops on their heads, run-down Korean style houses, fish drying on poles outside of houses… so quaint and yet, drab at the same time… it's very hard to explain. Okay… so, once we got settled in to this little home, (basically that meant turning on the floors so we could be warm later and, throwing our bags down) we set out into the town to learn about salt harvesting. We went to a several different museums, the beach… a salt factory, a healing salt cave (this was really incredible… the cave is an artificial salt cave made by solar salt produced in one of the near by salt farms. The temperature of the inside of the cave is kept at around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit… you can actually breath the fine salt particles continuously. Apparently this is very effective for healing, beauty care and psychological stability. I was extremely relaxed when we left) and finally… the best part of all, the salt farms.

Erica's friend took us to the salt farms and educated us on everything while viewing it all at the same time. Apparently, the harvest season is in summer when it is hot. Water from ocean (obviously) is taken and put into these sectioned off areas where it sits on top of tile and a special black canvas-like material. In grass fields across the way, there are large solar powered plates that stick out of the ground (sorry I don't know actual terms), they attract the sun to the sectioned off areas which dry out a lot of the water, leaving salt. There is a special process in which farmers scrap the salt and gather it for storage. It goes into a giant, black barn (special black paint that helps to dry out the wood of the barn). The salt sits in the barns for 5 years drying out and aging. The salt needs to age for flavor… the taste of the salt before it is dried/aged is awful (we tried it right out of the salt fields). I had no idea that harvesting salt was such an in-depth process.. and my description didn't even fully explain what really happens.

Many countries in Asia get their salt from this island but right now it's a major problem. Japan has bought out most of the island's salt because of the earthquakes. Once Japan started buying out all the salt, Korea and China did as well. As I am sure you have read or heard on the news, the many earthquakes in Japan caused nuclear power plants to release radiation into the atmosphere. Korea has had radiation rain and now there is large amounts of radiation in the water. The island of Jeungdo will not harvest salt for the next five years because of this issue. This means that the entire town is going to be in quite a slump for a few years… it's very interesting to be here and see this depression in Korean and compare to the recession in America.

After a day full of learning, we went back to the house and had a delicious Korean meal cooked by wonderful Korean chefs (our friends)! We turned in somewhat early…sleeping was basically just a bunch of blankets thrown on the floor. The only piece of furniture in this home was the little table that we ate our meals on. This is typical for an old-style Korean home. You don't need furniture cause everyone sits/sleeps on the floor. Katie and I woke up early and began preparing our Wester-style brunch. We made my tasty spam style corn beef hash, scrambled eggs, chopped a bunch of fresh fruit, had cream filled buns and of course orange juice.. oh wow, I just realized I went without of my coffee (the day was still a success.. ok, thank God i'm not addicted). The girls LOVED our meal but for them it was not complete without kimchi and steamed white rice. The couldn't even go one meal without their kimchi and rice, I couldn't believe it haha.

We cleaned like maniacs and headed off to the Salt Resort for our scheduled sauna session. This was the gym experience I didn't have earlier in the week.. I finally got naked and not just around a few Korean women but around at least 50 of them. Ohhh man.. this sauna session was so drawn out but it was amazing. Once we got naked we stayed naked for two hours.. lord! We soaked in these hot salt baths that over looked the ocean.. we showered in these giant rooms- no privacy what so ever. All the Korean women were washing each other. Katie and I didn't take part in this washing ritual. Being naked around each other for a few hours was just enough. Katie and I were the only foreigners at this place. All the women stared us down.. mostly they were looking at our boobs and vaginas… judging, noticing the differences… hmmm.. I quickly got over the stares and just relaxed. After the long showers we put on these special brown outfits and were escorted into these little huts (steam rooms) that sat right on the edge of a cliff over looking the ocean. The four of us had our own private hut. Hot rocks were brought in and set into the ocean water that filled the center hole of our hut. After that water got steaming hot, jasmine and citron were added. All my senses were at ease… what an incredible experience… the sound of waves crashing right outside was also a nice touch. What a way to end the vacation!

Driving home was quite wonderful… every single cherry blossom tree in Gwangju and the little towns outside of it, were in full bloom. I have been waiting for these trees to bloom since I got to Korea. They were well worth the wait. They are so beautiful, they look fake. I have never seen a tree so incredibly full of flowers… not just any flowers, fluffy, white, with a hint of pink flowers. The flowers only stay on the trees for 10 days. I will be sure to get some pictures this week.

Korean Facts/ Randomness:

I think I've rambled on enough.. don't you!?
…. I've got parents teacher conferences with my Kindergarten parents this week… should be exciting. I'm moving in to my new two bedroom apartment this weekend… stay tuned! :)

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