October 2020
People > [Jeju Playbook] A ‘Contena-full’ of Tangerines?
[Jeju Playbook] A ‘Contena-full’ of Tangerines?

The tangerine season has just begun. In fall, tangerine farms on Jeju Island are cloaked in the rich dark green leaves and orange fruits of the countless tangerine trees. But one can also see a lot of yellow, thanks to the color of the crates in which the harvested tangerines are stored. These yellow crates are called contena.

The name contena is presumed to have originated from the English word “container.” Once, I told a friend from Seoul that I eat a contena-full of tangerines that I keep on the veranda in winter, and he was truly astonished. He thought I was eating a cargo container-full of tangerines. I was equally surprised to find somebody who did not know about contenas.

In the old days, tangerines were put in wooden boxes, but as tangerine farming grew extensively in the 1970s, contenas were supplied to tangerine farms. Contenas became popular largely because they could save storage space, as the tangerines could be piled in layers more securely than in wooden boxes. Contenas are usually yellow but they also come in red, black, and blue. These days, even pink ones can be spotted from time to time. A contena weighs an average of 2 kilograms and costs KRW 5,000 to 6,000. The boxes have slits on each end that are used to hold them, and below these the names of the farms or owners are written, so that they are not confused with those from other farms.

Contenas are widely used during the tangerine harvest season. When workers take a snack break, they turn the contenas upside down and sit on them, and when they pick high-hanging tangerines, they use contenas as a step ladder. Contenas are indispensable to tangerine farms, but they are also the farmers’ worst enemy: a contena full of tangerines weighs approximately 20 kilograms, and it is the hardest work of the season for the farmers to move the fully-packed crates.

These days, tangerine contenas aren’t just found in orchards. At a trendy home goods shop, I saw a white contena, not the classic yellow, for sale as a laundry basket, and recently, a contena-shaped café, as big as a cargo container, opened in Jeju,. It seems the contena has more uses than I thought!

Written by Mr. Tangerine

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