Bitter memories, lost time and unpleasant food

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Bitter memories, lost time and unpleasant food

There’s a saying in Korea that every grave has a story to tell. I think the same principle applies to people in prison. Having seen some close family members and friends go to jail, I’d say that everyone to whom that happens has an explanation for it.
I must have been pretty young when I learned that life depends on how you look at it. If you think that breaking the law, in and of itself, is a reason to condemn someone, then what difference is there between a person who steals an apple and a person who lies at customs to avoid paying a duty?
Years ago, my father, who was an executive distributor for a global electronics company, was put in jail for a few weeks after a rival company accused him of smuggling a chip from Japan. It must have been around Christmas that the scandal broke. I still have a photo of my mother standing next to my birthday cake, her eyes swollen from crying.
In the photo, I am dressed in a pretty velvet dress, blowing out candles for my seventh birthday. I remember that an elderly gentleman from my father’s company visited my house that day, and slipped me a thick white envelope full of bills. Of course, my mother took the envelope out of my hands after he left. My father quit his job soon after the incident, and our family moved to Canada.
My college friend Eun-gyeong is married to a man who is a conscientious objector to the military draft because of his religious background. Of course, a healthy Korean man who refuses to fight for his country pays the price for his decision. He served about a year in jail, and became more intensely involved with the church he belongs to; I wonder sometimes whether his tenacity in fighting the government’s oppression of his religious freedom might not have made his faith stronger.
Then there is my cousin, Angie, married to a director at an organic food company. He was recently put in jail for three weeks on charges of fraud. Allegedly, his company used potato paste imported from China in making its noodles.
What interests me in talking to people who have been in jail is how food seems to be such an important part of their unpleasant memories.
Some of the stories are about how lucky they were to meet friendly prison guards, who slipped in snacks that wouldn’t otherwise have been provided to them in jail.
But a lot of them are just bitter stories of how bad the food they ate in jail was. Hearing them describe the menus offered to them, the fact that they survived eating that food almost seems like a badge of honor in itself.
My father rarely says a word about what happened to him 20 years ago, but he does talk about how horrible the barley rice tasted combined with the other dishes he was given when in jail. Eun-gyeong’s husband also recalls that the coarse feel of the barley grains on his tongue seemed like a punishment in itself. But he admits that it might have seemed coarser than it really was, because that was how he felt deep in his gut.

How to Cook

Boribap (barley rice)

Ingredients (for 4 servings): 4 cups of barley rice, 4.5 cups of water. Optional: gochujang (red pepper paste), kimchi
1. Soak the barley rice in water overnight.
2. Drain the rice. Put it in a pot with 3 cups of water; cover and bring to a boil.
3. When foam appears, add the rest of the water, cover and boil for another 30 minutes.
4. If you like, serve mixed with gochujang, diced kimchi or both.
Provided by, Delicook

by Park Soo-mee
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