Happy Chuseok!

September 13, 2008 at 6:33 am (Uncategorized)

This weekend we find ourselves in the midst of one of the biggest holidays on the Korean calendar.  Chuseok (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuseok) is essentially the Korean version of Thanksgiving, minus the turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce (oh, how I miss you) and most certainly football 😦  Because much of Korean culture follows the lunar calendar, the actual date of Chuseok changes each year.  It is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, which happens to be this weekend.  We got gypped this year – Chuseok itself falls on Sunday, so Korean tradition says that we get the day before and day after off from work.  Wow, we get Saturday off of work?!?  Thanks!  On other years, if Chuseok falls on a Thursday, for example, they’d get the Wednesday and Friday off, plus the weekend.  This is normally a five day holiday, but not so this year.  I’m not going to complain though – we get an extra day off work! 

Instead of giving thanks for a big stuffed bird, Chuseok is where Koreans pay their respects to family members who have passed away, as well as spending time with older relatives.  Tending to familial tombs is incredibly important here, and many families mow the lawns, plant flowers and keep the grave site impeccable on a weekly basis.  I have often had kids tell me that they’re “visiting grandma’s house” on the weekend, which I took to mean that they were, well, visiting grandma’s house.  It turns out that it actually means that they are visiting grandma’s tomb.  Death is not not viewed in the morbid way that we Westerners are used to, and kids learn from an early age that it is important to pay respect those that have passed away without any kind of fear or aversion. 

So although this holiday is a celebration of the fall harvest, it’s also an incredibly important occasion for Korean families.  It would be considered extremely rude not to visit one’s elder aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc. during the weekend, so for most Koreans much of the next three days is spent travelling throughout the country.  We have been told that Seoul itself is an absolute ghost town this weekend, but trying to get in or out of the city is a nightmare.  I read today that a trip from one side of the country to the other, which would normally take maybe 6 or 7 hours, could take anywhere from 12 to 20 hours this weekend! 

Most businesses are not open tomorrow (similar to Christmas Day), so we’re planning on taking it easy this weekend and relaxing.  It’s still ridiculously hot, so although we really want to go out and do some sight-seeing it’s still not feasible for us thin-skinned Canadians.  One of our meet up groups has planned a tour of the Han River this evening, so we’re looking forward to that.  We’ll be taking videos and pictures, but as we still can’t upload them onto our home computer.  The software we have is in Korean, so we really have no idea what we’re doing. 

Friday was a really great day at Kid’s Club.  Everyone came in dressed in traditional Korean robes called Hanbok – beautiful, brightly coloured silk gowns with embroidery and beading (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanbok).  It was so cute to see all of our little 4, 5 and 6 year olds in these amazing outfits!  The Korean teachers also wore their Hanboks, which were quite a sight to see.  I definitely want to buy one before we come home next summer, but they are apparently quite expensive, considering the fabric and the detailing. 

The day started off with the kids learning how to make a traditional Chuseok snack called songpyeon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songpyeon).  The teachers handed out big chunks of glutinous rice paste, which looked an awful lot like Play Doh, and the kids moulded into half moon shapes and filled with raisins, chestnuts and bean paste.  The songpyeon are then steamed in a huge cauldron over pine needles, which smelled amazing.  While the process of making songpyeon was pretty cool, the final product was not exactly as tasty as it looked.  Glutinous rice tastes an awful lot like plain oatmeal – extremely bland and chewy – and the raisins and nuts inside didn’t really help the consistency much.  Oh well, it was a great experience to watch, and the kids had a fantastic time playing with their food. 

Next the kiddies spent time playing traditional Chuseok games – one was a version of hopscotch, which proved a little difficult to play, considering the length of the Hanbok robes.  Another involved tossing a wooden stick into a pot, and the last one was called jegichagi which was very smiliar to playing hackey sack.  The kids had an absolute blast playing all of these games, and we took some great videos and pictures during the morning.  If we could only figure out how to upload them to the computer we’d be able to share them on the blog…..we’ll keep trying.  The other part of the morning was spent learning how to bow properly, which is very important when wearing a Hanbok.  Again, the little ones looked so ridiculously cute as I taped them slowly lowering themselves to their knees and bowing in front of me.   Hopefully the videos will be up soon.  Keep your fingers crossed.






1 Comment

  1. Freaky Deaky Lesley said,

    Wow, that sounds pretty flippin’ awesome. I would like you to mail me a Hanbok please. Right now. Thank you kindly.

    I’ll get an international calling card soon Lisa! I’m just slow. You’re in my thoughts and I miss you.


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