Moon Kimchi

Mirae Kim watched the pockmarked surface of the moon get bigger in the window of the spaceship Chandra. Her stomach felt queasy with a mixture of excitement, nervousness, and three days in zero gravity. She had tried to eat the food the crew had given out, but most of it would not stay down.

The view shifted as the Chandra prepared to land, and suddenly Mirae was looking at the Earth through the window. It was strange to think that except for her parents, that tiny circle of blue and white held everything she had ever known in her twelve years. The ship descended into the underground spaceport and the big doors closed above them.

Mirae and her parents had arrived at Moon Base Serenity-2. It sat in the dark area of the moon called the Sea of Serenity, although Mirae knew there was no water anywhere on the moon. This was the first moon base designed for families, and Mirae was the first Korean child to go to the moon.

The base was arranged like a sun, and each family lived in its own sunray. A road ran around the inside edge of the base, connecting all the apartments. On the other side of the road were the shops and other services they would need to live. There was a laundry, an electronics repair shop, a school, and a kitchen where cooks made all the base’s meals.

Mirae’s stomach rumbled as they waited to leave the Chandra. “What are we going to eat here?” Mirae asked.

“Just rice cakes,” her dad said with a grin. In Korean legends, a rabbit lived on the moon and made rice cakes. He had made the same joke at least five times in the last month. Mirae rolled her eyes and he laughed.

As they walked to their new apartment, Mirae felt like she was walking on a giant trampoline. She was a sixth of her weight on Earth and she could not help laughing at how she bounded off the ground with every step.

Then they reached their new home and Mirae’s elation died. The floors were dusty from the construction and it looked like a prison cell, with its stark white walls and grey floors.

“We’ll make it our own,” her mom said, seeing Mirae’s disappointment. “You can paint your room and we brought some things from home to put on the walls. That goes beyond our house, too.” She brought Mirae to the door and looked out across the domed interior of the base. “This was just built last year and we’re some of the first people to live here. We need to give it some personality. Think about what you can bring to the base that no one else can. Something to make it a home.”

They stored their clothes and other luggage and went to the cafeteria for their first meal. Mirae looked at the dozens of people already there, talking, laughing, and getting to know each other, all in English. English swirled around Mirae like a conversational cyclone, and her stomach gave a small twist.

Mirae knew English. She had been studying it since she was a baby, but sometimes it was hard to get the words out of her head when she needed them or to take them in when other people spoke. And here, everyone spoke English so fast. It did not feel like home.

“Is there any rice?” she whispered to her mom as they stood in line.

“Not today, but sometimes,” her mom said. “They rotate every day. They don’t have kimchi though, I checked.” Most Koreans ate kimchi every day—spicy, fermented cabbage or other vegetables. Mirae found it hard to believe she could not eat kimchi for two years, until the time they were scheduled to go back to Earth.

They took their food out to the Park, a circle of artificial grass in the very middle of the base between all the shops. Tables were raised out of the floor for meals and then lowered afterward. The weather was always the same inside the base, so it was like having a picnic every day. Above them stretched the domed glass roof crisscrossed with metal beams and beyond that, the Earth glowed like a blue and white marble floating in a pool of inky blackness. Mirae picked at the unfamiliar foods on her plate and gazed up at that colorful marble that held all the delicious foods she had left behind.

The next day they got to work. Mirae’s mother was an engineer. Her job was to expand the base and eventually connect it with the research station Serenity-1, two kilometers away. Her father was one of three doctors at the base. He walked with Mirae around to the far side of the school and dropped her off at the school.

There were six children in Mr. Brand’s class, ranging from 8 years old to 15. Mr. Brand was the base psychologist and teacher. He spoke more slowly and Mirae could understand most of what he said. Mirae was happy to see that some of the other children looked nervous too. Mr. Brand had them all introduce themselves. Maddie, a girl from Canada was already helping her mother with research and Dmitri, who was from Russia, could do gymnastics and play half a dozen other sports. They all seemed so talented. Mirae could not think of what she could contribute to the base.

During break, Mr. Brand brought them out to the Park. The children lay down on their backs and looked up at the window and the jewel of planet Earth in the very center.

“I see Canada!” Maddie said.

“I can see Russia!” Dmitri shouted.

Mirae pointed. “I see Korea!” They all laughed since none of them could see any countries from that distance, or even tell the land from the sea.

“I wish we could go outside the base,” said a boy from France named Robert.

“We can’t because of the moon dust,” Mirae said. “It’s called regolith.” Her mother had taught her all about moon dust that was so fine that it would damage the air filters if they tracked it inside. Mirae liked the sound of the word regolith, but it was a very difficult word for a Korean to pronounce.

“Legolas?” Maddie said and the other snickered. Mirae felt her face get hot.

“Hey, don’t pick on her,” a girl named Lakshmi said. She was from India and a year younger than Mirae. She came and sat down by Mirae, then reached over and squeezed Mirae’s hand.

“I was just kidding,” Maddie said. “Sorry.”

After break, Mirae sat next to Lakshmi in class. Lakshmi laughed more than anyone else in class, and she was excited about everything. Her enthusiasm was contagious and she often had the whole class laughing with her.

“How much do you weigh here?” Mirae asked Lakshmi after class.

“I don’t know,” Lakshmi said.

“You don’t know?” Mirae cried. “Come on, let’s see!” She grabbed Lakshmi’s arm and dragged her to the clinic where Mirae’s dad weighed them. Mirae weighed 5.4 kilograms. Lakshmi weighed 6.2 kg. They laughed and laughed.

“We’re like newborn babies here!” Lakshmi said.

The next day, Maddie’s mother visited the class. She was the base’s botanist.

“We are going to create a garden on the side of the park,” she told them. “I want each of you to think of what vegetables you miss eating from back home. We have hundreds of kinds of seeds here and you can pick what you want to grow.” Mirae knew what she missed eating; she just did not know what she needed to grow.

“Mom, what do you need to make kimchi?” she asked that evening. “We are planting a garden and I want to make kimchi.”

“That’s a great idea,” her mother said. She listed the ingredients they would need.

“Great,” Mirae said, writing them down. “Now, how do you say all those in English?”

The next day the class visited the research lab, and Maddie’s mother had them pick out their seeds.

“I need cabbage, garlic, ginger, hot red peppers, daikon radish, and scallions,” Mirae read off the list.

“All those things?” Maddie’s mother said in surprise. “We have ginger and garlic in storage, but I can give you seeds for the others. Why so many?”

“I’m making kimchi,” Mirae said. Maddie’s mother nodded and handed her the seeds with a smile.

The class planted their seeds in a strip of real soil brought from Earth that was just next to the school. Mirae planted her seeds next to Lakshmi’s cucumbers and spinach. She looked after them every day, watering them and adding fertilizer until the joyous day when little green shoots poked through the soil.

The whole base took an interest in the little garden. In a world of metal and concrete inside and featureless gray outside, the sight and smells of the living greenery were a blessing to everyone. Lakshmi’s spinach was ready to eat first, and Maddie’s mother announced it in the cafeteria that night to cheers. Everyone got a tiny bit to eat, but Lakshmi and her family got the most.

As Mirae’s vegetables became ready to harvest, she hid them in the cool storage room by the kitchen with a sign saying DO NOT EAT YET! -Mirae Kim. The spicy red peppers were the last to be ready, but finally Mirae could pick them. The cooks helped her dry and grind them into powder and everything was ready.

She only had three heads of cabbage, but the whole class helped to chop and mix the ingredients. Then they put on rubber gloves and smeared the spicy red paste between the cabbage leaves and packed it into containers to ferment. It was just as Mirae remembered doing with her grandmother back in Korea.

 The day Mirae’s mother proclaimed that they could eat it, they brought it to the cafeteria. Her dad explained what kimchi was to the rest of the base. Then they passed it out so everyone could try it, but her dad asked no one to eat it yet.

“You eat the first piece, Mirae,” he said. “The first kimchi ever made on the moon.”

 She took a piece and put it in her mouth, letting it fill up with the familiar taste. It was different from her grandmother’s, but that was okay. They were on the moon now. It was moon kimchi.

“Kimchi girl!” Lakshmi shouted and everyone clapped.

This is what I can contribute, Mirae thought. I’ve made this place mine. She looked around and realized she was truly home.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I love the end when she was truly home since, what we call home really is different for everybody, I love the picture of her. I also love how her grandmother came into play, Moon Kimchi not the same as Gram’s. I so get it being more or less raised on my Granny’s food living downstairs from us. To this day I still think about her eggplant…my Kimchi. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I had the chance to make kimchi with a family in Korea once. It was a fun time, all sitting around, chatting and working together. I’m sure there similar ones in every culture.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Love the image of that, like a Korean Thanksgiving. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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