Wwoofing is saving my ass again. Sure, I make no money, but at least I don't spend any. And there's a chance to come back here in few months to make some money harvesting persimmon. We'll see when the time comes.
I'm situated in the Sweet Persimmon Village in the south of Korea, halfway between Daegu in Busan. It's a place with the lowest precipitation in all Korea, which is a refreshing change (read that "refreshing" as strongly ironic, the temperatures are going crazy and with high humidity is a challenge even to breath). Working can be a madness, but you'll never believe that every day I can't wait to go to work. The alternative is to lie on the floor in the room and try not to move a single muscle (with all available fans on). But the work... OK, the first 30 seconds are painful because I have to walk under the killing sun from my room to the orchard, where's always shadow and a soft breeze. I tried to sleep there one afternoon, but no way - you must be standing to feel the breeze. We work slowly and never in the hottest hours of the day. I think this is the first place in Korea that I find to be really organic (for the most part, a few orchards aren't) and not just a wannabe eco farm. All the weeding is done by hand, no herbicides used and for pesticides they use mostly hot pepper based homemade liquid. Nice, but the sceptic in me is always alert so I do have a problem with an organic fruit farm, that is surrounded by acres of rice fields. When the rice is sprayed with all possible chemicals it really doesn't affect your trees? Crap, you may well fuck me, but the rice is grown organically, too. I just can't believe I've found such a place in this country. The farm is huge, it actually deserves the name "village". It has it's own packing facility, a persimmon wine production center, restaurant, office building, education center, few warehouses, lodging facilities (one traditional and two less traditional houses), archery field and you name it. The owner (or owners, I have no idea) lives with an extended family, usually they are ten at mealtime, add one employed worker, a student of agriculture who is doing here his internship and me and you have a picture of a communal meal. Oh yes, for lunch we are joined by two hired ajuma that also do farmwork (but luckily at lunchtime the daughters, sons, nieces or nephews are not home).
Here's one of the smaller orchards in which is situated the traditional Korean house or hwantobang.
A zoomed look at the house, which is my temporary home, complete with ondol - I surely don't need in these days.
The chap is my next door neighbour. Since he has no name I called him simply Tokki (which means rabbit in Korean). Tokki and I are now friends. He's a very clever rabbit because he knows the Slovene language. Cleraly he cant speak, he's not a fairy tale rabbit, but he understands me. He really does what I tell him to do.
Well, this is the story I sold to the guys here. Of course they were laughing when I told it, but when I proved it to be true... it was my turn to laugh. The fact is that if I call Tokki he comes to me. The others can't catch him even if they try in group, Tokki is fast as a flash (and clever also, as I already said). A fistfull of fresh grass every time I pass by does the trick since I pass there twenty or thirty times a day. So when he sees me approaching his nose is alreday stuck in the fence, waiting. If I go in I have to be very careful not to step on him so today I really had to kick him a few times so I could finish my work - I dug a new house for him, since the one he did for himself was all the time flooded.
It was my day off when I dug Tokki's house, I finished it very fast and then I went with Kang (the boss) to learn something about Korean traditional archery. I suppose that me with a Korean bow was the funniest thing the folks here have ever seen. So far I have never tried any archery, let alone some Korean traditional (kids playing as Indians really doesn't count), so the arrows were flying in all directions and everybody was running in panic for shelter. I'm really surprised that I didn't manage to shoot myself in the back. With my skills it would be perfectly possible. The worst part was finding the arrows. Some were in the nearby sweet potato filed. One was in the rice field. Lots of them were at my feet. When Kang patiently repeated and showed me the technique for the third time I managed to hit the target with one arrow out of thirty (here I use the term target very widely since I hit only the frame). When Kang realized that I actually can send the arrows approximately in the target's direction, continued with explanations. That here is no point in aiming in a straight line, since Korean bows are used to give to the arrow a ballistic curve so you aim at a certain degree over the target. Ah, that's the trick! Not really, since I had to collect my arrows on the other side of the house. They didn't believe me that I was aiming at enemy helicopters landing on the roof. At that point I had it enough and the fingers started aching but Kang decided that it was time for an archery contest, internetional of course, Korea vs Slovenia. I wished my brother or my nephew were here to be in my place, but maybe they would find the Korean traditional bow a sort of a toy, simply a piece of wood (so finely polished that at first I tought it's plastic), a synthetic string and fiberglass arrows with steel tip.
To make me feel at ease he told me that Koreans are known as best archers and that the Korean women are invincible since they practice fourteen hours a day. Of course Korea won in this contest, too, but not so smoothly as Kang was expecting. I remembered a book, Zen and Archery, that I didn't read, but the title gave me an idea. Why should I care so much about what I'm doing? The arrow is supposed to know where to go, I'm just helping it! Now don't think that I suddenly became some archery master by a zen miracle, not at all, but the improvement really looked as a sort of miracle. In the first round I managed to hit the target with thirteen out of fourteen arrows making one single point (against Kangs' 32). We did the second round with thirteen arrows because I couldn't find the one that missed the target. This time I made two points, all arrows in the target (or the frame). In the third round Kang almost had a heart attack when with the first arrow I hit directly the center (5 points) and ended with 10 points in all. When he managed to make "only" 27 points, he declared that my 10 are worth much more and proclaimed me winner (of one round).
Oleg, The Lord of the Smell
Oleg is a well known myth among visitors of SF/F conventions. He's a myth because he attends almost every Con in Europe, he's been even on the Slovene Confusion. He travels hitchiking and he never washes. Usually organizers of a Con know one day in advance if Oleg is coming, because his smell comes one day before him (and it also leaves one day after him). His smell is something tangible and it's hard - when it hits your nose you start bleeding. With his perseverance he became a sort of an icon - you can hardly call your Con a success if Oleg wasn't there.
Why this introduction? Because in this village I heard a story of a similar legendary smelly being. A guy who was here for one month, worked every day and didn't take a single shower. According to the folks he smelled as rotten cabbage. He's somewhere from East Europe. You can bet that Oleg was the first person I tought of. And dismissed the idea. Not because of the hitchhiking, if there is a person who could do it, Oleg is your man. Just because here we don't have Cons. Sad, but true.
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