24 (Sat) July 2010
by Kim JA’s nanny
at Sanjang Gwanggwangji
-Gapyeong, Gyeonggi, Korea-
with the Family, CBD et al.
Gimbap (김밥) is a Korean dish. It consists of vegetables (e.g., carrot and spinach and burdock root and radish) and meat/fish (e.g., beef and/or ham and/or fish cake and/or (artificial) crab meat) and egg and rice, all rolled in a sheet of dried laver and sliced into cross-sections. While similar in appearance to a Japanese-style sushi roll, gimbap doesn’t include vinegar in the rice. The name means “dried laver (kim) rice (bap).” Each bite represents a self-contained well-balanced meal (without dairy, though some versions do include cheese). The number and variety of the individual ingredients make preparation extremely time and work intensive, thus symbolizing care and dedication when done at home. Once everything is ready to go, however, rolls can be quickly assembled in mass quantity, especially at snack shops and quick-fix eateries. Easily wrapped in a sleeve of aluminum foil, no utensils required, and best at room temperature, gimbap is the food of choice for picnics, meetings, and other situations requiring convenience, arguably one of the most popular daily food items in Korea. In many ways, it’s not unlike a burger.
The gimbap featured here is remarkable for the single-layer precision of the rice, which allows the other ingredients to play a more prominent role. Not at all conventional, but the smaller size is great for kids. Always a welcome contribution to our camp outings.
Sanjang Gwanggwangji is a car-camping campsite. Located about 55 km northeast of Seoul.
When I arrived this afternoon, the initial impression was distressingly lousy. First, although nature had not been a stated criterion in the selection process, my underlying camping philosophy is always that the experience should be somewhat removed from civilization, even if only from the overt signs urbanity. The campgrounds here were directly adjacent to the main road with a full view and within earshot of traffic, surrounded by concrete bridges, buildings and other infrastructure. The site itself, with asphalt parking lots, soccer fields, and rows of bungalows for noncampers, was far too industrialized to even try to pretend we had escaped the grip of the city. Second, the people, oh so many of them. We had anticipated crowds to be sure, and we were aware of the growing popularity of camping, but the teeming masses amidst the chaos of Korean car camping gear was enough to give us pause and wonder if perhaps the time had come to find a new pastime. And third, as a direct result of the second, we were forced to set up in one of the asphalt parking lots mentioned in the first, making the situation “car camping” in a literal sense. One of us couldn’t even pitch his tent, a model that requires driving pegs into the ground. Not an auspicious beginning to what had been intended as a quiet getaway to the country.
Within minutes, however – minutes, I tell you – my perspective changed completely. It turned out that our location was the best choice we could’ve made (had we been given a choice). Whereas the designated campgrounds and soccer fields where the majority of campers had set up were mud swamps due to recent heavy rainfall and poor drainage, our asphalt surface was clean and dry. We had secured a corner of the lot on the far edge of the grounds that was elevated and overlooked the river, which not only provided unobstructed views of the water and isolated us from the crowds but also gave us the gift of wind. “Beverly Hills,” one of us called it. And owing to the lack of surrounding vegetation, we were completely free from the nuisance of bugs.
Another revelation came from the experience of car camping with campers who know what they’re doing. In the past, my car camping trips often involved inviting non-camper friends or family, motivated by a four-pronged desire to go camping, to share time with my loved ones, to show off my skills, to persuade them to become campers themselves. But the hassle and expense of buying and preparing all the food and drinks, of packing the tent tarp tables chairs burners grills firewood gas lamps coolers silverware plates cups utensils cutting board paper towels mats sleeping bags mosquito repellent laundry line dishwashing detergent sponge and even the goddamn kitchen sink and getting it into the car and setting it up and disassembling it and reloading it into the car and then unpacking it, of cooking and cleaning and serving everyone, of attempting to ensure that everyone’s needs are met, like boiling a tub of water so that a friend could bathe in warm water – it just wasn’t worth it anymore. So I’d recently decided to give up car camping altogether, except with my family or when merited by a special occasion. But on this trip, with each member of the group contributing food and drinks and setting up their own gear and sharing in the cooking and cleanup and taking care of their own minimal needs, the situation was immediately comfortable and worry-free. The car camping policy has been revised to allow for trips with other bonafide campers.
In the end, in addition to the convenience, camping with campers was fun. We all knew why we were there, why we were not. We knew what to expect, what to appreciate, what not to expect, what to deplore. We learned from each other, teach each other. We shared.