Category: Flying

Chuseok weekend

Chuseok, commonly described as the Korean Thanksgiving, is a major holiday in Korea.  It’s so big, in fact, that it actually warrants 3 whole days off of work, plus Saturday.  But of course, they wouldn’t want to go overboard with the days off, so most people still have to work or go to school on Saturday.  Lucky me, I don’t work on Saturdays, so I had the whole day to myself.

I decided to go back to the International Expo with my friend Harry.  I was going to go explore Busan, Korea’s second-largest city (about 1 1/2 hours from Gyeongju), but Saturday dawned rainy and windy, so I nixed that idea.  The Expo was a decidedly different experience this time.  For one thing, I could actually talk to the company with which I was with, always a plus.  Also, because it was raining, we avoided a lot of the outside exhibits and tried to see more of the inside performances.  But it was still a lot of fun. 

There was a tent set up with stuff from all over the world – I got to wear a hand-made head scarf from Turkey, which was cool.  Then we went to see an exhibition on Dok island.  Dok island is a disputed land between Japan and Korea.  From the way that Koreans go on and on about Dok island, you’d think it was this huge land mass with massive amounts of natural resources….or something.  It’s a tiny piece of rock.  Seriously.  That’s it.  There’s nothing on it, no one lives there….you can’t even see it on a map.  But apparently it’s very important that everyone who comes to Korea knows that Dok island is Korean – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I know about Dok island.  It’s rather amusing, but at the same time kind of sad and ridiculous…

Turkish shawl, rain jacket, and backpack.  With a Russian woman.  Oh yeah, that’s awesome 🙂

The sign says “Dok island, our land.”  Over….the….top….

After Dok island, we made our way to the Spanish puppet show.  The vast majority of the audience was a third of our age, and the only thing “Spanish” about the show was that the puppeteer happened to be Spanish (gosh I love Spanish accents!!! <3), but it was still enjoyable.  I think I'll always be a kid at heart, anyway... 🙂  After the puppet show we went to a highly acclaimed performance called "Flying" - it was advertised as an acrobatic, break-dancing, rhythmic gymnastics extravaganza.  And it was - for the last 10 minutes.  The other 60 minutes was this bizarre combination of....I don't even know what.  I'm sure there was a plot, and I was just too dense to find it.  But all I could gather was that there was some little demon dude who liked to run around bopping people on the head, and when he did they turned into zombies.  And the only way to un-zombie them was to poke them three times and then whack them in the chest.  Complete with sound effects.  Oh and there was a time-traveling star.  And a cross-dressing cheerleader.  And a crazy guy who just growled at everyone.  And a fat girl who was always exercising.  I'm still pretty confused about the whole thing.... The most disappointing part was that they were really talented acrobats.  The last 10 minutes, when they really started to show their stuff, was incredible.  I really felt that they had sold themselves short by inserting all of this silly cartoony stuff.  But oh well, that’s Korea….  

Spanish puppets playing the violin… 🙂

The only picture I was able to take of Flying before the attendants scolded me

So we finished our romp listening to a performance by the Gyeongju youth choir.  Harry used to sing, so he can attest to the quality of their performance.  I never sang, so I cannot, but I do know that they sounded lovely.  Lunch was 감자탕 (gamjatang) – literally, hangover soup.  Apparently pig spine soup has the magical quality of curing hangovers… I ended the day going out to dinner with some friends from church and then playing games with my host sister.  The Christian fellowship was wonderful, and it was nice to spend some time with Songi – she’s always so busy studying, I never really get to hang out with her.

Gyeongju youth choir….incredible!!!

They said they needed pictures with “special people.”  So I asked for their picture, too.  Fair’s fair! 🙂

I don’t remember what the game is called.  But the end result is pieces flying all over the room…

Love my church friends <3....Martene, me, and Eric

Anthony, Lauren, and Priscilla

Sunday morning was the official start of Chuseok weekend.  We bundled off bright and early to go visit relatives.  First stop was a nursing home to see aging and sick grandma.  I have to say, nursing homes are not any better in Korea than they are in America, and I was glad when we left.  Next stop was Pohang.  Then, once we got there, only the cousin was there, so we just hung around doing nothing for several hours.  It was kind of frustrating, because I could have gone to church and come after and not missed anything…but oh well, c’est la vie.  The aunt and uncle finally showed up right after lunch, and we spent the rest of the afternoon cooking for Chuseok the next day.  We made tofu, and kebabs, and fish cakes, and basically alot of fun in which the general theme was to dip them in eggs and fry them in oil.  Eggs and oil make everything better…

My host sister, Songi

The result of our labors…lots of egg-and-oil fried food!!

Making 똑 (ddok), a traditional Korean rice pastry

Monday morning, Chuseok, dawned bright and early.  It’s true that, just like at Thanksgiving, Koreans eat a lot of food and gather with family at Chuseok.  But that’s where the similarities end.  We were up and out of the house by 6:00 in the morning, on our way back to Pohang.  When we got there, people were running around cutting up food and setting out platters and dishes in a very specific, elaborate arrangement.  I wisely planted myself in an out-of-the-way corner and waited for the ceremony to start.


And what a ceremony it was.  Although Chuseok does mean lots of food and family, the real purpose of the holiday is to give homage to your ancestors.  So they had a whole table loaded with food – all placed in multiples of 1,3, or 5, although no one could tell me why – and all of it was symbolically given to the ancestors – although we were the ones who actually ended up eating it.  While the women stood outside the room and watched silently, the men of the house did a very intricate series of bows, followed by pouring glasses of wine, which was then held over a stick of incense and then dumped out into a bowl.  Yes, the women were not allowed in the room….not sure what I think about that one =/.  The wine and incense was then followed by spooning some rice and other food into bowls and letting it sit for a few minutes – presumably to let the dead members of the family eat their fill before the live ones did.  Then they burned some little pieces of paper covered with Chinese characters, and that was it.  The ladies were then allowed into the room to clear the table, and then we set it with normal tableware (after all of this it was still only 8:30 in the morning!), and ate breakfast (로렌, 많이 먹어다! – Lauren, eat alot!…story of my life these days).  We hung out for a little bit afterwards, went back to the nursing home (definitely not any better the second time around), and then came home and all took naps for a while. 

The Chuseok spread

Cleaning up after the ceremony

Later in the afternoon, we were off again!  More family!!  This time it was the mother’s side of the family, and I don’t know where we went – I just know it was about a 30 minute drive.  This was far less formal, and much more fun.  I still didn’t know what was going on, but there was a lot more laughing – including impromptu K-pop lessons and walks in the rain – and far less awkward silences happening.  Maybe it helped that they were all drunk, I don’t know….  When we finally came back, around 9:30, I went out on my own for a trivia night with some foreigners.  But I was wiped out, and didn’t last very long before I headed home and to bed.

우리 할머니 – my grandmother 🙂

 So that was my first Chuseok.  Takeaways from the weekend: 1) wear waterproof shoes if you plan on walking in the rain.  2) Don’t expect Korean performances to have a logical or mature plot.  3) My church is awesome.  4) Nursing home creepiness crosses cultural borders.  5) Eggs and oil make the world go ’round.  6) You better tell people you’re full wayyyy before you actually are, because you’re still going to be stuffed with food, whether it will fit or not.  7) Koreans like to talk about you to your face, but act as if you’re not in the room.  Note to Koreans: just because I can’t understand everything you’re saying does not mean I’m deaf and dumb, and getting pointed at and and poked and prodded and paraded around as the pet American is really starting to get old.  Oh, and 8) apparently Korean ancestors like their wine, just as much as their living relatives do.  A very strange weekend, but overall a success.  A Korean Chuseok is not something that most foreigners ever get a chance to experience, and I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to do so.