Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Our Landlord, the Apples, and the Ant Highway…

It was like telepathy. We stared at the woman sitting across from us, the ajumma with blinking eyes and a bright smile


Ken and I were both happily eating our supper last evening, when we heard a knock at our door. We both suspected that we were being too noisy. We didn’t think any of the Myungdang-ri residents were awake at this hour (7:30pm), but we thought that the sound from our movie (playing from our wee USB speakers) drifted across our rice field into some of the neighbouring houses.

So I prepared myself. As I was walking towards the front door, I rehearsed my speech. I’m sorry, we’re new here. We’ll keep it down. Do you want an apple?

I opened the door. Standing outside in the lamplight was an old ajumma, smiling with such intent. Beside her – a very handsome Korean man, towering over six feet tall, with a kind of shyness about him. Before I could even say, “An nyoung hasaeyo” the ajumma stepped into our home, with her male companion, slowly creeping in behind her.

As I offered her a chair, still confused, she shook her head, helped herself to our floor, and invited us to join her. I sharply turned my head to look at Ken and mouthed shirt. He was still in shock, sitting at our dining table (half-naked), with the movie still playing, and his food getting cold in front of him. He cleverly stood up, and with cunning movement, slid his arms into his shirt sleeves and buttoned up while sitting down.

For many, many excruciatingly awkward seconds, no one said anything. The ajumma merely smiled and turned her head back and forth, between me and Ken.

After about a minute of stillness and noiselessness, the ajumma finally broke the silence – with rapid-fire Korean. Her Gyeongsangbuk-do Korean dialect was throwing me off, so I really couldn’t decipher what message she was trying to tell us. Glancing over at Ken, his eyes told me everything – Oh God, what in the world is happening…you’ve got to tell me something…anything.

Something switched on in my brain. Immediately, all of my inhibitions went away and 23 years of learning Korean passively came to the surface. I started speaking Korean the way I had learned it, and it worked. I started to tell her our story, where we were from, when we arrived in Andeok, what schools we were teaching in… She understood perfectly.

I found out that the man sitting next to her was her son (in his late twenties and unmarried, she told me) and that the two of them were apple farmers. She had decided to move-in with her son for one year to allow the new English teachers to have a home in Andeok (isn’t she so sweet?). The house in which Ken and I were living was actually the house that her son had bought for her – meaning that she was our LANDLORD. What a great first impression we had made.

Remember I mentioned that they were apple farmers? I hadn’t even noticed the vibrant yellow basket behind our landlord, but it immediately caught my attention as soon as pushed it towards me. Oh goodness – a full bushel of apples. It looked like there were about forty-five apples from what I could count…and they were all ours – both Ken and mine. She informed us that they had to be refrigerated. We didn’t know if we had enough room in the fridge to fit even three-quarters of the apples. So, we told her that we would do it after she left. She also gave us a bag of apple cider packets. The freshly pressed juice in each of them was pleasantly warming my hands.

Our landlord let herself up from her wooden seat and decided to see what we had changed in her house. She laughed as she commented, “You haven’t done a thing to it. Why? You don’t have enough space?” (as her voice echoed in our living room). As she double-checked our boiler, gas stove, washroom and kitchen, she asked, “Do you have any problems or questions for me?” (We decided to momentarily forget about the switch we found for the blue orgy living room lights). As we shook our heads, our landlord’s son was urging his mother to “leave us alone” as she hit his hand away. Finally, she gave in, and handed me her business card, decorated with apples, her name, and her phone number. She reminded us to put the apples in the refrigerator and kindly told us that she would be seeing us soon :S .

We still hadn’t recovered through that entire episode, and were exhausted from our initial shock. We were so tired, that we quickly finished our cold dinner, watched the rest of our movie, and retired to bed.

We forgot about the apples.


The next beautiful morning, Ken had to leave early for the bus to Gucheon School. I was lazily getting ready to go to Hyeonseo School – a bus ride for me as well. As I walked slowly towards the kitchen, I noticed something. I thought, “Hey… Why is there a black line on the floor from the bathroom to the kitchen?”

I honestly wish I didn’t have an innate sense for spotting bugs, but I can’t deny it. I do have one. And I wish I hadn’t seen what I had seen this morning. I really wish I hadn’t. I wished for my dear life that Ken was around, but he wasn’t. I couldn’t call him and ask him to take a bus ride back to Andeok…and I had to quickly get ready for my bus to Hyeonseo.

The dotted black line across the floor wasn’t some stupid prank Ken had drawn on our home’s floor. There was no logic to it (but I figured, hey, he’s a guy…maybe that’s just one of the things that guys do). The shifting dark line was a carefully and strategically planned trail of ants, leading from one corner of the bathroom door to the gift our landlord had given us. We hadn’t put the sugary apples in the fridge and now I was suffering the consequences.

For the first minute, I freaked out in my head. Then I composed myself, and planned my attack on the ants. Instinctually, I had grabbed our baking soda spray (that Ken had told me killed the ants very well) while I was panicking. Better not waste the spray I thought. So for half of the three hundred tiny soldiers that were marching their way back and forth, and around the basket of apples, I placed my thumb of death upon them, squishing their stupid little bodies with all of the energy that I could muster.

Next, I started to spray.

It should have been a sickening experience, but I put all of my personal feelings aside, and unleashed the power of baking soda on their scurrying bodies (they had started to panic when many of their companions had unexpectedly disappeared). I then focused on their point of origin – the corner of the bathroom door. I made a semicircular barrier around the bottom of the door’s frame and flooded their hole with the milky baking soda solution. The ants within the semicircular barrier were too disoriented to see their impending doom…the shadow from my thumb was growing bigger and bigger each second.

I had to catch the bus, and I was afraid the ants would return. So, I crazily opened both of our front doors, grabbed the basket full of apples, and dropped it outside, on our concrete front yard. I put it as far from the house as possible, making sure that the sunlight wouldn’t touch it.


When Ken came home after school, I knew what he about to ask…

“Jess…” he started.

“I know, I know,” I finished. “Why is the basket of apples in the middle of our front yard?” I sighed…and told him all about my morning adventure.

That evening, we spent hours happily peeling, dicing, and cooking down over forty apples (because they wouldn’t fit in our fridge).


Ken and I decided to give our gracious landlord a name – Aunt Kimchi (I’m sure you’ll be hearing plenty about her – very, very soon).

So thank-you, Aunt Kimchi, for our lovely house-warming gift. Thank-you for the apples, the ant highway, and yet another memorable installment in our Andeok adventures :).

- Jess


  1. Oh, no.. what a unexpected experience for Jessica!
    You're a baby who always scares a little spider. I'm really surprised with your reaction by ants' attack.. you're growing! Haha :)

  2. Thats quite the story! You're lucky she didnt notice her apples left outside on the front porch! Id have put them in the back. Imagine the insult of finding her gift of 40 apples left outside of the house to rot on the front porch! :O