Today I got to meet my grandparent’s second son. Let’s just call him “uncle”. He is a chef for Samsung and is in charge of feeding thousands of Samsung work employees. He was to drive us to a Korean cemetery because it was the death anniversary of grandpa’s mother. A thin, but solid man, who married first out of the three brothers, Uncle was really nice and easy-going. We loaded into van along with a box containing food and ingredients for a picnic we planned to have after the cemetery.
Now in the U.S., a cemetery is usually next to a church and is on flat, spaced out ground. But most Koreans bury their dead on the side of mountains. I don’t know why they do that, maybe lack of land. But what I do know, is that a Korean cemetery has a brighter and happier ambiance than ours. Well… maybe not during the dark. Hell, I think any cemetery is creepy in the dark. Anyways, a Korean burial is not just a slab stone on flat ground with flowers. The ground protrudes out like a dome over where the person is buried with marble that serves the equivalent of a tombstone.
After placing a plate of fruit on this mini-alter also made out of marble, my grandparents and their son, poured makoli (rice wine) three times into a cup and moved the cup in a circular, clockwise motion over the plate of fruit. Uncle explained how to juhl “Bowing” to the dead. “You take two deep bows and a short half one. When you bow to old people just do only one. They’re not dead yet.” After bowing and grandpa saying, “It was good seeing you again mother! I’ll visit you soon”, we all headed to this river to have the picnic. I learned that Korean picnics are different from American ones. Expect for banchan (side dishes) and maybe fruit, there is no cold food. Forget about cold cuts or sandwiches, we are talking a Colman stove, moksal grilling, dumpling boiling picnic. Due to the lack of rain, we practically spread our padded blanket on the river bed. With the Samsung cook on the grill, I have to say that the sesame seed oil-less moksal was grilled and seasoned perfectly. Actually, scratch that. We didn’t have samgyupsal, rather it was moksal, which literally means “neck meat”. It’s basically the meat around the neck of the pig.
Koreans have this habit of feeding people. It doesn’t matter how old you are a 70 something dad was feeding his 40 something son. And what’s wrong with that? Parents have been feeding their children since they were born. The way you eat moksal also helps. You grab a piece of lettuce put some rice, a piece of moksal,dangjang (fermented bean paste), maybe add some garlic, and just wrap the leaves into a shape of a ball and stuff it into people’s mouths! After eating may be 10 – 13 of these, washed down with makoli, I found myself lying across the picnic blanket like near-perfect new Roman god. Well, except for the fact I was wearing clothing, no toga, no concubines bending to my every wish (no pun intended), I almost felt like a god. The sun was shining, it was nice and coll near the river. I was surrounded by loving family. I knew at that time, that moment… ZERO fucks could be given. Usually, Koreans just eat and then nap right on the spot we had to head back into the city and fight rush hour so I slept in the car.