Whit and I have had a great Chuseok so far. I mean, really, what can be better than three paid days off work? We have shopped, read, eaten, explored, and today, went hiking!
So, what is Chuseok, you are probably wondering.
Well, it’s a Thanksgiving of sorts, where Koreans cook all day and eat with their families. Nope, no turkey. In fact, when I told my kids how we eat turkey, they all said, “Grooo—-oossss,” shaking their heads back and forth as if they didn’t eat pigs feet, which we saw for sale in red buckets at the market on Sunday.
I’ve never been to a Chusuok dinner, but I’m guessing it’s the usual rice and kimchi and other Korean staples. But what they do have every year is songpan (pronounced songpyan), which is a rice cake with chestnut and sugar inside. Whit and I bought some on Sunday at the market, after we had passed aisles and aisles of fish hanging from yellow rope, stingrays displayed on plastic tables, and God knows what else. I’m building up a strong stomach here just from the smells!
Chuseok is also a time to be with family, much like Thanksgiving. They give gifts to each other in the form of giant boxes of fruit. It reminds me of that Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Raymond thought it would be idea to buy his mom fruit for a year for her birthday. She received a box every month. And she hated it. “Make it stop!” she told him. “We hate fruit!” He couldn’t. And apparently, the Koreans can’t either. I mean, these are big boxes! I don’t know how it doesn’t go bad. And for this big box, they pay $35. I saw the price today!
But the most important part of Chuseok is honoring your elders–your grandmothers, grandfathers, great-great grandmothers and grandfathers, and ancestors. The children explained it to me last week. “We go bow,” they said, imitating the deep, low bend they must perform to honor their elders. The families all go out to the hills and mountains where their deceased family is buried, just to bow to them in honor and appreciation. (See the photo of the grave site we found on our hike today!)
I think this is a nice tradition. It makes you remember where you came from, and appreciate all the things your family has passed along.
Today, I thought of Grandma, in Kennett, Missouri, who probably got up at 4:30 a.m. just to go help out at the bakery, get her daily socializing in, and then come home so she could cook for all her neighboring family. She is so sweet and selfless like that. When I told her I was going to South Korea, she said in her sweet, country drawl, “Well now, how ’bout that? That sounds just like somethin’ you would do. Now you be careful, ya’ hear?”
Then I thought of Mammaw, who is probably running back and forth from her church, socializing with the women, visiting the ill in the hospital, and listening to her daily Christian radio programs. She is the one who helped instill in me an appreciation for travel. She took me and my two sisters each on a special trip when we were young. Kathryn went to Japan. Jessica went to California. And I went to Hawaii. These days, Mammaw still travels the globe, visiting her family in the military who has been stationed in Germany, Japan, Hawaii and now Utah. And between these trips, she usually likes to throw in a cruise or two. She is a go-getter like that. Age has not slowed that woman down. To me, it seems she only gets younger.
So, Chuseok for me has been a time to appreciate my family, all of you! While Whit and I are enjoying our stay in Korea, we also look forward to coming back to all of you.
And while we didn’t get any gift boxes of fruit (thank goodness, where would be put it?!?), we did get a good Chuseok gift. Our friends, Ethan and Maria, from Black Mountain, North Carolina, have arrived in Gwangju to teach for a year! We are going out to dinner tonight! That is, if we can find a restaurant that is actually open.
Happy Chuseok! Enjoy the video.