Much as I would have liked to spend my time in Korea reading, playing computer games, cleaning Amy’s apartment, doing logic puzzles and keeping a wary eye on the rabbit, I took steps to actually support myself and headed out to Sandeul Farm in Hwaseong, a couple of hours away from Yongin. I was expecting a fairly big operation from the WWOOF profile and the pumpkin-filled pick-up truck I was collected in, but the reality was quite a bit different. It turns out that the place is a Christian-run complex of “alternative schools”, and I was quickly whisked round the buildings, introduced to the headmaster, plonked down in a church service (with a Korean/English Bible) and given the (pretty brutal, for WWOOFing) work schedule (breakfast 07:30, work in the fields 08:00-12:00, lunch 12:30, cleaning 13:00-17:30, dinner 17:40, English lessons 19:30-20:00). I had a few misgivings, but decided to suspend final judgement until I’d tried the routine for a few days.
I had some trepidation over the food situation – meals are taken in the school canteen, which means I get dished up whatever the students and teachers eat. This being Korea, vegetarian options are few and far between – I’ve had more than one meal composed entirely of kimchi and rice, and things like shrimp tend to find their way into otherwise-edible vegetables. However, some extra food is available at the farm and I’m in no danger of undernourishment. The work itself is fairly uncomplicated – so far we’ve been planting rows of pumpkins and labelling the last harvest for sale. I suspect onions and potatoes will be involved soon, as we’re almost out of baby pumpkin plants.
I was cleaning the house one afternoon last week when the headmaster turned up at the door and requested my presence in the school. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but all became clear when I was told that the English teacher wanted a break from teaching and I was to take over her class. Within a few minutes of this announcement, I was put in front of twenty high school students and told to make them learn something for the next 45 minutes or so – a job made more difficult by the lack of a curriculum (this is an alternative school), textbooks, preparation and any information on what they’d been learning before. I was expecting students to go to sleep (from other teachers’ stories), but not for them to bring pillows to make it easier. I doubt they learned much from me, but then there isn’t much emphasis on learning anything.
The weekend arrived promptly, and I headed out to Yongin at maximum speed. Amy had cooked a hearty and delicious soup (and cookies!), we drank some brightly-coloured and sugar-laden soju with Anne and Dan, and were treated to oatmeal and walnut pancakes the following morning. After this brilliant start, we caught The Simpsons Movie (excellent, and there were several parts where we, or sometimes just Amy, were the only ones laughing) and made appearances at two separate parties (one in Itaewon; the other in Yongin), thus setting up a rather lazy Sunday after so many crisps, brownies, cakes and other nibbles. Sunday was actually a Seoul Veggie Club meeting, and I ate rather more than is usually considered healthy at an Indian buffet before repairing to a board game cafe (with Amy, Anne and Dan) for a few rounds of wholesome delightfulness.
A light drizzle was falling as I wandered back to the farm (once again, it’s an hour-long walk from the bus station), which has ruled out working in the fields for the time being. Thus I spent the morning labelling pumpkins (they just keep coming) and there is talk of heading outside after lunch. I’m hoping for tofu.