Sunday, March 14, 2010

Making Some "Meg-kolli"!

This past weekend I had the opportunity to learn how to make 막걸리 (makkolli/makgeolli/other romanization), a traditional Korean wine made from rice, with a Worknplay group. Worknplay is both a recruiter and cultural event organizer, and I am excited to go on more of their excursions in the future.

Dana had found the event a while ago and she talked Laura, Julia and I into joining her (it was not a hard sell...believe me). We paid our 30,000won and met the group at the Wondang Stop bright and early on Saturday morning. Wondang is, for those of you keeping score at home, on the other side of the WORLD from where I live. I reside in southeastern Seoul, and this little location is nearly 30 metro stops (and over an hour travel time) away from me. It happens to be the farthest northwest I've ever been in the city. New experiences abound!

After my late ass friends arrived, our rag-tag group of about 25 foreigners walked for about ten minutes to the Baedari Brewery and Traditional Wine Museum. Along the way I had the opportunity to talk to a British girl named Amber who lives one stop away from me and had actually just e-mailed me a day or two before about tickets for the Wine Train. How random. The tiny foreigner community in Seoul strikes again!

When we arrived at the museum we had about a half an hour before our class was set to start. This gave us time to walk around the museum, and really, we didn't need more than that. There were a number of artifacts but nothing had any English on it, so we were kind of left in the dark about what they were or how they were used. Don't worry...Julia, Laura, Dana, Derrick (a new SMOE hire from March that we befriended) and I made up descriptions for many of the items.

At 11:00am, we were allowed to enter the brewing room...the place where all the magic occurs, haha! After we were instructed to "wash our hand without soap," we paired up (Julia and I, Dana and Laura) and took up our positions around a long table filled with metal bowls. In each bowl there was a suspicious substance that looked and smelled remarkably like the organic hamster bedding that I used for Cody and Kibeti. Turns out this is nuruk, a "fermentation starter", composed of wheat, grains, and yeast. It comes in a big block, but it had been crushed up a little before it was put into our bowls. We added some mineral water to the nuruk and got working. Your goal was to extract the wheaty/yeasty goodness from the nuruk so that it would be left in the water. To do this, you squeezed handfuls of the mixture, and rubbed it between your hands. Since my goal was to photograph the process, I attempted all of this one-handed and was only marginally successful, lol. Julia and I tried to perfect pairs nuruk rubbing, but I don't think it is going to catch on any time soon. A side note that is both interesting and kind of gross: kneading the nuruk was a great exfoliater for your hands! An entire bottle of already made makkolli was added to the mixture as well, in order a role model? No, I think it had something to do with yeast again.

Table with all of our supplies.

Nuruk in the bowls.

Laura and Dana striking a pose with their nuruk.

Julia and I following suit.

Mixing the nuruk with spring water.

Everyone working on properly mixing their nuruk, water, and makkolli concoction.

After a short time, the head of the museum (and our teacher for the day) brought out a big steaming bowl of rice. This rice is not your average Uncle Ben's, it is grown specifically for making rice wines. It was steamed before we got there, but we still had to wait a little while for it to cool after it was spread out on our table. A big scoop of warm rice was added to each of our bowls, and we were instructed to continue kneading the mixture. The rice felt like warm feathers as you squeezed it...a totally random sensation.

Steamy rice.



After squeezing and rubbing (shut up) for a requisite amount of time, we poured our makkolli through a metal funnel and into a plastic jug that we had been given by the museum. We were shown how to cover/store our makkolli for the first few days (you rubberband a paper towel over the top, rather than covering it with the screw top, so the makkolli can breathe) and given a bottle of home brewed makkolli made on site. Hopefully it was not some other foreigner's "finger makkolli" as the guy across from me said as we cracked joked about not being able to wash our hands with soap. Then we did the whole process again so that Julia and I would each have a jug of makkolli to take home. The man from the museum strained some fresh makkolli for us and we got to sample it. It was delicious! After we collected our jug and bottle, we were sent down to get something to eat.

Julia and I working together to make our second round.
(One might even say our 이차? LOL...that was just for you DHC girls.)

I look like I'm ready to do Super Junior's "Sorry Sorry" dance.

We are practically professional makkolli makers.
(picture stolen from Dana's Facebook album)

Final product: Our Messy Makkolli.

Straining the fresh makkolli.

Love, love, love these girls.

Lunch was included in our day and man did we take advantage of it! We kept the makkolli flowing (until they finally had to cut our whole group off before we drank them out of business) and ate copious amounts of kimchi, pajeon, and dubu kimchi. All of the food was totally delicious, and we enjoyed some super random (as per usual) conversation between the four of us, Derrick, Amber, and a guy from Maryland named Dan (who was confusingly wearing a shirt that said Jonathan). Julia and I discussed the possibility of starting a makkolli business in the states, perhaps calling it Waegookkolli, a combination of waegook (foreigner) and makkolli. I think it has a nice ring to it, haha.

Makkolli at lunch (look at Laura and Julia's good Korean manners!) with Dan and Amber in the background.

After a while we migrated into the sun (it was an absolutely beautiful sunny day with a cool breeze) and talked with foreigners on the trip and two Korean guys who came along to help with the day's activities. We also made friends with Emma, the girl from Worknplay, who had organized the whole event. When people started to get a little restless, we decided to play a drinking game called "The Image Game". As far as I can tell, it is a Korean game, where you make assumptions about people based solely on their image (how Korean, haha). Each person is given a chopstick and one person starts by saying a sentence like "Who looks like they got the best grades in school?" Everyone then says "one, two, three, IMAGE GAME" and points their chopstick towards the person who they think fits that category the best. I decided not to play, but just to watch, and it was certainly entertaining. It was especially hilarious to watch as one-by-one people's verbal filters fell and they started saying increasingly bizarre things and over-sharing. The game kept attracting more players, and soon there was a group of about 10 people from England, Ireland and the US, all gesturing wildly with chopsticks and guzzling makkolli. I am only impressed that no one was injured. Also, I'm sure the Korean families and biking groups eating lunch at the museum were annoyed with us...but hey, we were there first!

Who looks most likely to be absurdly drunk. 1...2...3...IMAGE GAME.

During a break in the game, a slightly inebriated Julia took it upon herself to lecture the Korean boys about the prevalence of the sex trade in Korea. This is another one for the DHC girls, lol. Changhye will be so proud!

As the game progressed, Dan from Maryland (or "Not Jonathan" as we took to calling him, since he was seated next to a guy whose name was actually Jonathan) continued drinking at a frightening speed. Entire bottles of strong, home brewed makkolli (about 16% alcohol by volume) were disappearing down his throat. Slowly but surely he began to lose the powers of speech until he was eventually just sitting slumped in his chair with the sun beating down on him. Emma was upset, thinking she should have ended the game earlier, or told him to stop drinking. But really, he is a grown ass man, he should be able to regulate himself. By the time we were ready to head out, he was unable to stand without help, reflecting beautifully on the group as a whole (and Maryland, boooooo!). He lived quite far south in an area no one was heading towards, so Emma and the two Korean boys were faced with the task of transporting him home as it became increasingly obvious he would not be able to get himself there. We all started heading for the metro station, and one of the Korean boys accidentally picked up Julia's bag full of makkolli. Julia, who was pretty inebriated herself, ran after the boys and tripped just as she got to them, knocking down both Korean boys and the drunk American they were supporting between them. Dana and I watched it all happen in slow motion; it was like a bowling ball getting a perfect strike. Sadly, Julia killed her ankle during this daring feat and Dan got so jostled around that he threw up all over himself, the ground, and the Irish boy who tried to help him up. It was (to borrow GOB's words) utterly macabre. We put Julia in a chair and I helped get paper towels and trash bags to clean up drunky, which thankfully was handled by real Jonathan. Apparently he used to take care of a paraplegic, so his skills were put to good use. I did what I could to help and them we headed towards the train station, Julia limping along slowly and at one point falling down in the middle of the road in front of an approaching car full of Koreans. THANKFULLY we got back to the train without incident and after Julia convinced me she had sobered up enough to navigate home, we parted ways. (Update: The next day Julia woke up and was unable to walk on her ankle. After a trip to the hospital she was told it was a bad sprain and put in a crazy cast/wrap thing and is now hobbling around Seoul on crutches. Aigh!) By the time I got home my arms were killing me. A day of kneading, rubbing, squeezing, and carrying heavy things is a recipe for disaster with carpal tunnel, and arms hurt from my wrists almost up to my shoulders. Thankfully I had some prescription strength anti-inflammatory meds and it calmed down by the next day.

Drunk Dan being taxied home by one of the Korean boys.
(picture stolen from Worknplay's Facebook album, hahaha)

Julia's injured leg. Note the soju sock on the other foot, hahah.
(picture stolen from Julia's Facebook album)

Sunday was pretty uneventful (certainly compared to Saturday!) and I basically just lounged around and watched some TV. It was another stunning spring day, so I decided to take a walk around Olympic Park. The trip from my house, completely around the park, and back took about two hours and is just under six miles long. It was a nice walk though, with lots of families out walking and bike riding. And lots of tiny dogs still in clothing, even though it was warm enough that their built in fur coat should suffice. I also took care to stir my makkolli twice, once in the morning and once in the evening, as I was instructed. My whole apartment smelled like a makkolli lab. We all joked that we didn't know making makkolli was going to be so intense. We were sent home with these seven pound bundles that demanded attention multiple times a was like having a makkobaby!

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were horrible, weather-wise. It was really cold (low 40s), pouring, and extremely windy. Wednesday night I met Laura in Gangnam after work to take her makkolli because she is going on a three-day field trip with her students and needed someone to babysit it. By the time we walked out of Starbucks it had mostly stopped raining but it was still so damn cold that my teeth were almost chattering! While I am not looking forward to monsoon season at all, at least it won't be so damn cold. Today the sun finally came out, and I super excited to see it. I am thinking I'll walk home from work today, a trip that I mapped the other day and appears to be about 4.2 miles. I want to take advantage of this gorgeous weather while we have it. Most of the azaleas are blooming in their super bright colors, and there are HUGE lilac TREES, literally bigger than any lilac bush I've ever seen that smell so good as you walk by/under them.

Huge azalea bushes I passed on my way home. The lanterns are already starting to go up for Buddha's birthday in May.

Spring has sprung near Olympic Park!

Today I started a new lesson on shopping and asking for help when shopping with my sixth graders. We played The Price Is Right and it was pretty hilarious. Obviously these kids are having their parents do most of their shopping. Sometimes they were so excited to win I thought they might actually think they were GETTING whatever prize they saw, haha. It was definitely entertaining and the day went pretty quickly.

A class discussing their bids.

Making their guesses. Most of these kids would go home from the actual show with no prizes. Their guesses were often SO OFF, hahah.

Please enjoy the madness in video format, hahahaha:

Sadly today was the last day for my sub, Cindy. She has been in for Eun Kyung (pregnant coteacher) since we came back to school in March and she has been absolutely wonderful to work with. She got a real teaching job, so she's off to work at another school and I get a new sub on Monday morning...back to square one. Ugh.

When not teaching at work I've been planning Carl and Monica's Amazing Race: Korea Edition challenges. Carl arrives three weeks from today, and Monica arrives three weeks from tomorrow. I am beyond excited! Can't wait for all the fun I have planned. I am also pumped about this weekend: wine train, brunch bunch, its almost too much!

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