By Whit Altizer
Biking through the Korean countryside always makes me fall more fiercely in love with this country. The masses of people, the identical apartment blocks, and the breakneck pace of the city often feels inescapable. But take a step just outside the clamor of the city and you’re hit hard with a different side of Korea. Outside the cities the faces get friendlier, the rice fields get greener and the pace of the people is similar to the slow meander of the streams and rivers that traverse the peninsula.
It was about that pace I was pedaling my bike and two sleeping children up a steep hill when a bongo truck came puttering up behind me. It was Chuseok in Korea and we were on a family and friends bike trip to Andong. It was our last day and we were all hot and tired and feeling mildly defeated about the slow climbs in the last 30 km of our ride.
A farmer got out of the old blue truck and reached into the bed for something. Then she turned toward us with an armful of red apples. Smiling at my sleeping children, she tucked them into the trailer with my kids and disappeared over the hill like a mirage.
About 10 miles down the bike path, hot and exhausted, our caravan of parents and children pulled over in the shade for a quick break from the unrelenting sun. My friend and his daughter had seen the same farmer and also had about a half-dozen of these beautiful apples. We pulled out the apples and moaned with delight at their sweet, crisp taste.
Sharing food with strangers is very Korean. My son is learning this at his Korean school and I hope it is one thing that becomes second-nature to him. When you go somewhere with food, bring enough for others. It’s such a small gesture, but so lovely when made toward you.
So there I stood huddled in the shade, feeling incredibly grateful for the farmer that took 30 seconds out of her day to give us a small, but delicious taste of Korean hospitality. I doubt I’ll ever taste an apple that good again.