Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jellom nam do (part 3)

For Part ONE click here
For Part TWO click here

Today is green tea picking. We pile off of the bus and are greeted by a woman with the air of ancient royalty. She is smiling sweetly, her neck and back are straight as arrows, and the way she holds her body is grace itself. I feel like she belonged in a more elegant era and has somehow magically and mistakenly been transported to the future. She explains that we will have a contest for the most and best green tea leaves picked. We make groups of threes and begin to pick. The smaller the tastier we are told. The larger, the more bitter so we are looking for the youngest sprouts. She inspects our basket and laughs. Obviously our leaves are too big.
We are trying to hold our teas properly. I feel like a goob.

Once the picking is over, we are lead to a tea serving room. We are taught proper gender etiquette on holding our tea cups and pouring. Males and females have different hand positions for both actions. Their tea is watered with special golden water increasing its health benefits, value and price. When I say golden, I mean that they literally add gold dust to the water that nourishes the plants allowing them to charge the ridiculous price of $1,000 for two normal size boxes of tea. They assure us of the health benefits of drinking gold infused tea, but I taste nothing incredibly special to warrant that price. Each cup, which mind you is two full sips, would cost on a normal day $25/cup, but because we are in a special group, we don't pay for the tea.

Our elegant guide

Boys being silly while picking tea

They weigh our baskets. We are miraculously in the running for most and highest quality. I may yet have tea picking in my career options. We make our way to the tea processing room. We are told to wash our hands without soap because if we use soap, it might contaminate the taste of the leaves. The first step is throw the leaves in a massive wok. You allow it to roast a few seconds and flip them over with your gloved hands. This is done for maybe ten minutes. After which, it is placed on a straw mat with a cloth covering it and rub in an anti-clockwise direction. No idea why the direction is important, but I do what I am told for the most part. My arms and hands are starting to ache and evidently, I am doing a poor job. We are told that we are squeezing out all of the liquid in this process, but my little pile is not juicing like the rest of my team. After some more time, it is time for the tea leaves to return to the roaster. This process is continued something like ten times. It is grueling, hot and tiresome. Looks like I won't be a tea maker after all, but I have a new found respect for them now.

Our basket doesn't end up winning. We loose by .05 kg. We hold our head up high in spite of our devastating loss.

The bamboo forest sounds amazing, but honestly is lacking in interesting things to look at after five minutes. We walk through the bamboo stalks, along the path, and quickly notice that this bamboo forest is exactly true to its name, with nothing else to offer but more bamboo stalks.

bored in the forest

Our last stop before heading home is a road with trees. That's right folks, we stopped to look at a road with trees. After the Korean War, or the fighting portion of the war (since they are technically still at war) , Korea was pretty devastated. Just about the entire country including the trees, and wildlife had been destroyed. So one of the presidents or dictators which ever label you prefer to refer to him as, introduced a tree planting program. This program was different than our "plant a tree day" in that it was mandatory for all Koreans to go out and plant a tree. It generated and replenished many lost forest and animal habitats (if they had had any animals left, I am sure they would have been happy). And this road was one of the famous tree planting roads with trees glorious in their size and and age lining it. The idea of every Korean actually planting a tree as a national project is amazing in itself. The tree lined road, not as amazing, but what it stands for, national pride, and willingness to give even if it was just some time and a seedling with the promise of hope for the future, is something worth stopping for. To commemorate our stop on the road, and because we are a little bored with walking down a road with little variance we decide to take a group photo jumping in the air. I think it turned out pretty cool.

Arriving back home, I am exhausted, but am loving being in Korea more and more everyday.

No comments: