Songtan Rice Harvest 1990

This article first appeared in Nov. 1990. Any of us who served in Korea at this time, or earlier, have seen this tedious work performed, if only from the window of a bus during God only knows how many trips to this post or that station. I remember seeing this up close and having even more of an appreciation for just how hard these folks work. I’m not an expert on the subject, but it was my understanding that this process was just beginning to be mechanized at this time. So, for sure, the troops who served before me witnessed an even more difficult process — while those serving today a much easier, and productive one.

 Not sure how many current or former GI’s can understand where I’m coming from with these posts, but here it is: a few people have asked me why I’ve posted so many things about Korea. Well, for starters, those of us who served were able to experience this country first hand at different periods in time. It’s a unique experience that only we can discuss with each other. Next, I saw many, many things that I had, frankly, never seen before in my life. I loved my time in the U.K. and would not trade it for anything (btw – I haven’t gotten to the part of my container full of old base newspapers – I have many from RAF Alconbury). However, many of the things I saw in England were things I’d already seen in movies, or books, etc. I’m not taking anything away from the British experience; it’s just that I was already aware of much of what I saw there. The Korean experience was complete new to me every day.

Thanks again for reading. Ray

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Lunch time in the fields.

Traveling the Korean countryside, it’s not hard to notice the amount of rice paddies that line the highways.

Workers are hunched over the precious rice plants, skin dried and cracked from over exposure to the elements, backs bent permanently from years of continuous stooping.

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To aid the drying process, the rice is groomed with a tool resembling an oversized rake.

Soon, another season ends for the rice farmer.

Through the coming winter, the reservoirs will be refilled with the rains and snows, only to be released in spring providing the nourishment needed for the survival of the rice.

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This young man follows the path through the drying rice.

As spring turns to summer, the small, individual plants soon appear as one as stalks reach for the sun. As fall approaches, it’s harvest time.

In ancient times, the pains-taking harvest was accomplished by hand, but modern mechanisms accomplish the work of many, as the stalks are cut and stacked in orderly fashion.

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The older generation takes a break during the harvest.

The rice is stripped from the stalks and laid out to dry. Space is lacking in the small communities forcing the farmers to seek flat dry areas elsewhere. Many use side streets and alleys. Finally, the rice is dry and it’s off to the market for sale.

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Ajashi cuts the rice before it is laid out on the road to dry.

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Kimchi

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Here is a topic of which anybody who ever served in Korea is well aware. Some of us loved it, while others despised it — but everybody experienced kimchi in one way, or another. Personally, I love it. I wonder if this is still how it’s mass produced. I’m assuming the scale is much larger now as it’s gained, significantly, in popularity….one example being the enormous containers now available at Costco. I also wonder what percentage of Koreans still make their own. I find the comment that kimchi has medicinal value interesting. I remember reading an article a few years back which speculated that one of the reasons Korea hasn’t been widely affected by bird flu, or other pandemics, is because of all the kimchi and garlic in their diet as compared with other countries in the region.

My how this company has grown! http://jinmi.en.ec21.com/

This article was written by Jeffory Mulcahy (nickname: father, or padre), a co-worker of mine, and first appeared in the MiG Alley Flyer Nov. 23, 1990.

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Kimchi being loaded into barrels where it will be refrigerated and aged to perfection.

These fermented vegetables have come a long way in the past 500 years and as kimchi’s popularity continues to grow it may find its way on to dinner tables worldwide.

“We export about $2 million worth of kimchi a year to Japan,” said Lee. “That’s about 20,000 two-pint bottles per week. We make more money than other sellers of kimchi because ours sells at an expensive price, but it’s the best. South Korean President, Roh, Taw-woo buys our kimchi.”

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Factory workers load the weighed baskets of kimchi into the vat which mixes with the ingredients with the vegetable, whether it be cabbage, radish or cucumber.

Traditionally, November is kimchi-making month in Korea, but according to Lee, the younger generation in Korea isn’t interested in learning how to make kimchi. Still, many people make their own: everyone did 10 years ago. Nowadays, however, most people buy it.

“Kimchi is gaining fame for its medicinal qualities as well as health food,” Lee continued. “It’s very good for the stomach, intestines and brain.”

Like foods in America, Korean food differs in every region. In the Pusan area, kimchi is very salty and spicy hot because of the weather and temperature. Working north the kimchi is less salty and spicy. In the Seoul area, kimchi taste is considered medium, and in North Korea, it’s not very salty at all. The saltier the kimchi, the longer it will last.

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After being cut or shredded and soaked in salt water, the vegetables are washed on an assembly line.

The Jinmi factory produces anywhere from three-and-a-half tons to five tons of kimchi a day. The factory is located at Boeun, 105 miles south of Seoul.

“We built our factory here because of the temperature in the area and the good water here. These are very important in the kimchi-making process,” said Lee.

When the vegetables are delivered, whether they’re Chinese cabbage, radishes, turnips, cucumbers, or peppers, they are all chopped, soaked in salt water and then cleaned.

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All the vegetables are kept cold in large refrigerator units.

After the cleaning, they are checked for good quality and then loaded into baskets to be weighed. The baskets are then dumped into a vat and the vegetables are mixed with the peppers, ginger, fish oils and garlic. After being mixed, the kimchi is loaded into plastic barrels and refrigerated at four degrees Celsius for about a week, then bottled and distributed.

“I’ve been trying to get into the American market,” said Lee, “and next year I plan to expand to Hawaii, Taiwan and Singapore.

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