Korean Fruit and Sodapop…

Chilsung Cider was a clear, fizzy soda that was common and many signs around Seoul advertised it. Maybe it was ₩700 for each small can of it and it tasted like our 7Up. This was around 80 cents/Canadian. Cans of many drinks in Korea were ‘slim’ and ‘skinny’ or short and ‘squat’ and did not hold as much as the ones in North America. This soda is still made and sold over there now.

I landed in Seoul on September 1st in 1997 and it was very warm and humid, whereas at home the weather would have been cool and I would have needed a sweater. That September Seoul was sunny every day and the temperature was always 28 degrees. The sun was relentlessly hot when I was outside. I was 12 hours behind from the time zone difference and had no friend at first. I had left my friends and family on the other side of the world. I did know I would be so alone but had not imagined being made to feel bad and alienated by the other westerners where I had to reside and work. I hadn’t thought that would happen to me. The awful feeling they gave me was much worse than the time change and the horrible ‘rotting’ smell from the market across the highway outside. And it was worse than the constant, horrible fear I had over there of getting lost and not being able to communicate about it. Also, I had not much money and would have to wait a month to get my first pay and this worried me terribly. What could I do? I had to go along and hope it would get better and that was hard to do.

These feelings and fears are why I was happy to at least find and be able to buy some of the wonderful juice they had over there at the time. When I put my first tall plastic bottle of purple Korean grape juice in the little teachers’ fridge on the 4th floor of my brick building it made me feel better – like at least something was going right. Pretty desperate but that’s what happened. When I was a very little girl, I had Welsh’s grape juice, made with concord grapes, and loved the beautiful, rich taste of it. So for me, it was comforting to have some even richer, tastier Korean purple grape juice at that time in September of 1997. Even the containers felt like they were of better quality than ones back home. The plastic bottles were a different, slimmer shape and the plastic seemed to be thicker. It all felt ‘different’, and that was exciting to me and it gave me some relief from my hurt feelings and alienation.

I can remember the sunlight and heat of their September when I think of the rich taste and the dark purple colour of that juice. The strangeness and fear I had, mixed with my excitement of the newness of Korea is a feeling I can’t forget, even 23 years later. I still associate those contrasting feelings with the kyoho juice.

I only searched online recently about Korean purple grapes and discovered they are called “kyoho” grapes. They are grown in Japan as well. I knew they were not found in Canada, although we have concord ones that are grown somewhere else in the late summer for sale in my area of Canada. They are not commonly bought or eaten though. In my home province, purple grapes, sold all year round but not grown in Canada, have thinner skins and are a lighter purple colour. They can be bought with or without seeds. We have green grapes too and the green grape juice in Korea was very much like green grapes sold in Canada but we never have any green grape juice for sale. So green grape juice was exciting to me, but what made it extra exciting was the fact that it as actual peeled green grapes in the juice! Small, squat cans of green grape juice were for sale everywhere with real chunks of fruit right in the juice…imagine! There were other kinds of juice sold in small, short cans as well – Korean pear and apple and orange. And there was fruit in them too! These cans of juice were in vending machines, on roadsides and in lobbies of buildings, usually.

Green grape juice (with fruit!)
This is a small can of Korean pear juice where chunks of pear are found in the juice. Korean pears are wonderful. You can just barely see the small bits of pear flesh in the glass shown here, and these pear bits make the juice look somewhat cloudy in this picture.

I found other great drinks in Korea back then too. There were slim cans of soda-pop called “Milkis”, which were a pop like 7Up with a bit of yogourt mixed in. There were three kinds : “plain” had a blue-themed colour on the can, “orange” flavour with an orange-coloured theme on the can and there was a “strawberry” kind which displayed a pink theme. I marvelled at how the Korean people had thought of making such a drink, as it was very delicious. I missed getting Milkis after I returned to Canada. I did always wish they made a “diet” version though, as it’s quite sweet and I have always tried to watch my caloric intake.

Korea didn’t have any “diet” or “light” foods, mostly because everyone had to be active, even if they were up studying, and no one dared to be overweight, as their society mandated being trim and thin. Anyone who was “fat” was not accepted and was more than frowned-upon. Their diet was low-fat and like I mentioned in a former blog, even their chocolate bars were noticeably less sweet than the ones made in North America. The fact that everyone in Korea worked or studied long hours and everyone got less than 8 hours of sleep every night made it easier for them to stay thin as well. My society back home was laid-back with lots of leisure time for everybody. In Canada, it was way more acceptable to be overweight. Like I said before, everything in Korea was different for me.

Things have been happening fast for Korea and since I lived in Seoul, gradually, companies have been forced by the Korean government to become more reasonable and more accomodating than they were 23 years ago. Back then, my friend and student called “Sail”(really SuIl) worked for over 10 hours each day and sometimes had a 2-hour commute to and from his workplace on top of that. The length of his commute depended on the horrendous traffic in Seoul. I could see he often stayed at work for 12 or more hours on some days. Lately, the people haven’t had to work as long each day like many did when I was there. I understand why everyone slept while they were travelling on the subway back then., as none of them seemed to have enough time to sleep. When I have seen Korean news articles in the past 22 years, I notice news excerpts about rules and laws being changed every so often, like limits being put on how long a shift can be. These progressive laws are bringing their society closer to a ‘western’ one.

Korean pears are round and very big. The flesh is firmer than the soft pears found for sale in Canada. One huge Korean pear cost ₩1500 to ₩2000 in the fall of 1997. This was between about $1.50 and $2 in Canadian dollars. The Korean people told me that October was the month where their pears were in season. I found them for sale outside of the Garak Market, on display outside of corner stores or even in the back of blue Daewoo trucks that were parked somewhere or were driven through side streets selling different foods.

The grocery stores in Atlantic Canada sometimes sell Korean pears and they are called Asian pears. They are smaller than the beautiful ones from Korea. For Canadians, a pear has a distinct shape but the pears in Korea are not “pear-shaped” the way I had always experienced before I went to Korea. I never would have imagined that a pear could exist somewhere that was not “pear-shaped”.

The many varieties of pears we can buy in Canada have bigger, wider bottoms than tops. With all kinds of varieties, the shape gets smaller as you get to the top of the pear, making a unique “pear-shape”. Korean pears are not shaped like this at all. And in Canada, if the fruit is ripe, it is very soft and juicy, at least if it’s a common “bartlett” pear. The flesh of an “Asian” pear is juicy and the taste is similar to ones found in North America, but the texture is not at all the same when you’re cutting it or chewing it. A Korean pear is ‘grainier’.

By jcorvec123gmailcom

I have a deep passion for Korea and love reminiscing about my time spent there in the late 1990s.

2 comments

  1. Your blog always brings back good memories. By the time you arrived, I was a month back in the states wondering my next move. One of my best memories of teaching in Korea is my adult students buying me coffee from the coffee machine which was nearby. As always, teachers were treated well.

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