Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July in Korea

I'm having a cookout today, my first in some time. This weekend, I got all the necessaries at the store, except a grill: I have one, a gas grill, here at my house, from one of my predecessors. My youth minister wisely suggested I make sure it works. I tried it out yesterday afternoon: gas worked, but no ignition. It looked pretty rusty, too.

Well, I had a choice: I could borrow my youth minister's charcoal grill, from his back yard (but I'd have to get someone with a pickup to drive it over), or I could run to the store and get a new charcoal grill; I did that latter. (I like charcoal grills better: low maintenance, and it'll work until the bottom falls out, seems to me.) While at the store (it was a surgical-strike, my favorite kind of shopping: I looked it up on the Internet, knew exactly what to get, so I could go in, collect the items, pay the ransom, and get out quickly), I picked up some lighter fluid and charcoal -- oh, and I needed some "Off" or something to drive the bugs away* (uh-oh, I began to think: I'm getting sucked in to shopping! I wisely withdrew after this); I got a massive can (it was the only size) of something that looks rather frightening and the directions seemed only to tell me what not to do, such as this helpful advice: "not for use on people." Dang! Whether the insects will be intimidated, we'll find out later.

Well, anyway, all that is in the trunk of my car, and the grill is in its box, in the back seat; God willing, "some assembly required" won't necessitate any welding, or else I'm SOL (if you don't like that expression, just remember it stands for "so out of luck"). After I've had all my coffee, and prayed all my office this morning, I'll go assemble it.

As I put off that task, I am reminded of the most interesting 4th of July I celebrated, 4 years ago, in Korea. (South.)

I was in Korea that summer as a seminarian; a Maryknoll priest, in Cincinnati, had gotten word from a confrere in Korea that the seminary of the Korean Foreign Mission Society wanted an American seminarian to come over for a month, and essentially hang out with a group of their guys, and help them work on their English. The rector announced it at dinner one evening, and I thought, "what an adventure!" So I was chosen to go.

Well, it was all a great adventure, and I could tell stories all day about it, but I will focus on the 4th of July. I remember waking up (I wonder how many of you have ever slept on a bed such as I had: a wood frame, with a solid bottom, and then, a fairly thin, dense, distinctly unspringy "mattress." Fortunately, they gave me several blankets, which I laid over it. I got used to it, but I had to turn over every couple of hours.) feeling a little blue to be away from the U.S.A. on the nation's birthday. It was just another day in Korea, of course.

Well, I was rather touched, at Mass that morning, when the priest included a prayer for the United States; after all, I didn't even expect anyone to know it was anything special. And I thanked him, afterward. The day went as usual; and toward evening, I was online.

Now, one of the weirder experiences involved the time-difference. I don't mean the physical effect: I quickly adjusted after arriving in Korea. I mean, rather, the experience of trying to relate to what was going on back home. The difference is 13 hours, and (this still boggles me) because of the date-line, it would frequently be one day where I was, another back home. The world's day begins where I was: so, by the time the 4th of July came round in the U.S.A., it was coming to an end where I was. In like manner, when I got up on the morning of the 5th, y'all were still celebrating the 4th.

So that morning of the 5th--in Korea--I wake up, and discover it's a huge feast day for Korean Catholics. This was St. Andrew Kim Taegon Day (the day for him, and his companion martyrs, in the universal calendar is September 20); and my brother seminarians excitedly told me, "this is a big day! We're going to have a big celebration later!" The big deal was . . . wait for it . . . a cook out!

Well, it was a great party, and a great cookout! They got out these huge grills, and cooked up loads of thin-sliced pork; a lot like thick bacon, only not cured.

This was the centerpiece of a kind of buffet table, featuring piles of food: leaves of lettuce and some other plant I didn't recognize (reminded me of my mother's house plants), sliced, raw garlic (very hot: my Korean friends were amazed an American would eat anything hot and spicy), a red-pepper sauce, Kimchee (a kind of fermented vegetables, akin to Saurkraut, but not shredded, and made with lots of garlic and red pepper; can be made from almost any vegetable, but most often cabbage. I believe Kimchee was on the table at every meal; I loved it), some other sort of dipping sauce, and of course, rice.

The way you ate this was to take one of the leaves, and fill it with whatever combination you liked, then popped it in your mouth. I dubbed it a "Korean fajita." To wash these down -- we all ate quite a bit! -- we had Maekju (beer) and Soju (rice wine). Most of the Korean Maekju I had was a lighter, pilsner-style, such as our mass-produced brands; but for this special occasion, they also had "black beer," which was Stout.

Well, it was all a great party; a number of dignitaries came down from Seoul (we were in a rural area outside Suwon, a city of over a million, I believe, about an hour south of Seoul), including the American, Maryknoll priests who had been there for many years.

And, although by the time of this cookout, it was the wee hours of the 5th back home, this was my most memorable "4th of July cookout," which I shan't try to replicate today.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at the sky; it's fascinating, but not very cheerful, mottled shades of grey. (There's a puddle of rainwater, from last night, in the gutter in front of my house, where no doubt the mosquitoes are donning their chem-warfare gear and plotting their attack). Hum-hmm...

*Not those candles! I've sat at a party with those, and watched a mosquito land on me!


Anonymous said...

Father Fox, your everyday musings are addictive. I said on a post that probably never made it (some kind of computer glitch flared up)that I have not enjoyed commentary this much since reading the travels of Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain. Keep it coming! Good writing skills combined with unique and insightful observations are a rare find. (Applause!)

Dad29 said...

Best mosquito contol I have EVER seen and experienced is the little propane-fired jobs (they're at Home Despot.)

Not cheap--depending on how many square feet you want to cover--but absolutely effective. If I had not experienced the difference, I would NEVER have believed the advertising hoopla.

Happy Fourth!

Anonymous said...

My daughter had a guy named Mr. Slayman for a teacher for about six months. He had a son who is a Maryknoll priest in Korea so I really enjoyed this post. (I have lots of reasons for enjoying other posts as well...)

Flambeaux said...

Cheaper than the propane fired mosquito-control things, and a lot less hassle:

1) Get a big, galvanized washtub.
2) Put in a corner of the yard well away from any people.
3) Fill with dry ice.

In addition to the cool fog-effect you get for your party-goers, all that CO2 attracts the mosquitoes, so they'll leave you alone.

Anonymous said...

Charcoal grilling also tastes a lot better than gas, and they are less expensive. I use gas for the convenience, we grill probably 2-3 times a week year round. But for the purist, charcoal is the only way to go.

By the way, I'm from Ft Worth, TX so I've never met you or been to your parish. I have no idea how I ever came across your blog, but it is one of my favorites. Keep up the great writing.

F. S. Poesy said...

My eight-year-old asked me what "SOL" meant when I inadvertantly let it slip. In an uncharacteristic moment of quick thinking I calmly told him it meant "sadly out of luck".

And though I've never had kimchee I learned of it while in the Army where those who had spent a tour in Korea used the phrase "deep kimchee" to describe being in big trouble, i.e. "Private Jones just got caught drinking on guard duty. Man is he in deep kimchee!"