Saturday, January 4, 2014

Back in the Family

규, their cat! Bigger and cuter than ever.
Tonight, I had a very pleasant evening with my homestay family from last year. I was beginning to worry that they had either forgotten about me or didn't care to keep in touch, since I hadn't seen them since Chuseok, around September. After Christmas and the New Year passed without comment, I decided to simply invite myself over to their house, a sort of last-ditch effort before I gave up altogether.

As it turns out, they assumed that I had gone home for Christmas, and then they went on their own family vacation in the first few days of January. So it wasn't until this morning that host mom responded to my text and called me from the airport in Seoul, announcing that they had just returned from Cambodia and asking if I'd to join them for dinner tonight.

So, this evening, I baked cranberry-pecan scones and whipped up some cinnamon cream to go with it, then jogged over to their apartment. Not much had changed! The dogs still peed on the floor, their cat had punctured holes in everything during the family's four-day absence, and host bro was still taking care of his menagerie of a hedgehog, several spiders, and a bucket of mealworms. He had also acquired a giant centipede, although his scorpion had gone missing. "Where did it go?" I asked. "I don't know," he said, quite unconcerned. Host bro himself has gotten noticeably taller, but his personality is the same as ever.

As usual, host dad was craving 회, or Korean sushi. We had Korean sushi almost once a week last year. He really loves it; I really do not. But I was happy just to be spending time with them. They regaled me with stories, photos, and videos from their tour of Cambodia: Angkor Wat, floating villages, and eating snakes and tarantulas.

Apparently, K-pop and K-dramas have been a hit in the country, so children selling trinkets on the street had picked up enough Korean -- more than just "Gangnam style!", surprisingly -- to bargain with my family in a language they knew. "One, one dollar!" was the universal way to begin a bargain war for bracelets or toy flutes. But the next kid would offer three for one dollar. My host mother bought three bracelets for one dollar, only to learn that her daughter had bought five for one dollar from another kid. "필요없어요!" ("I don't need it!") she said to the next tiny salesman offering eight for one dollar. To her surprise, he responded, "필요어요!" ("You do need it!") Taken aback, she just repeated, "필요없어요!" And the mischievous kid cried, "거짓말!" ("Lies!")

Host sister had similar drama (pun intended) with a tiny flute saleswoman who tried to charm her with, "언니 예뻐!" ("Sister, you're so pretty!") We all had a really good laugh at these stories. I was surprised when host mom first insisted that Cambodians were really good at speaking Korean, but I suppose it makes sense!

I thoroughly enjoyed the time we had to catch up. They invited me over for tea after dinner, and we munched on the scones I had brought. (It was my first time making scones, and as far as I'm concerned, they were a success!) We continued chatting as the cat crawled over the kitchen table and tried to get at the cinnamon cream. I found out that host dad has picked up the saxophone, host bro is ranked ninth in his middle school, and that host sister is going to Ewha Womans University! (Her parents aren't happy about the sticker price, but it's an elite school.) I left with more gifts than I had brought, as well as an offer from host dad to drop by whenever I wanted. I'm really glad we got to reconnect, and I hope that they'll remain my family, in a sense, as long as I'm in Korea.
Cranberry-pecan scones -- my first batch ever! I loosely followed this recipe, substituting cinnamon for nutmeg and heavy whipping cream for the buttermilk. They were fluffy and delicious.

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