Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A time for thanks, a time for rest

Chuseok is the Korean name for their Thanksgiving Harvest holiday. Chuseok, usually, is sometime in September but changes yearly due to the Lunar Calendar. In fact, last year it spilled into October. Tombs are visited, special food is had and time is spent with your family. One of the many activities that take place at Chuseok is the Ganggangsullae dance.

In May, the Public School teachers in Sejong went to Jindo Island on a culture trip with our co-teachers and the Office of Education. Whilst there, we ate like Koreans all day (3 Korean meals in the day) and visited several sights including the place where the sea parts (just as in the story of the parting of the Red Sea). The highlight for me was dancing the Ganggangsullae. This is a dance where everyone holds hands and form a circle that winds in and out. From a distance it looks as if more people are dancing than there actually is. This dance was actually used to make invaders think that there were more Koreans fighting than was actually true. It was a lot of fun and you chanted Ganggangsullae all the while.

Last year, instead of participating in any traditional Chuseok activities, I  went to Geoje-do. Geoje-do is an island near Busan in the Southern part of South Korea. I'd a wonderful few days there with my friends - 1 couple and two single guys. Whilst the two single guys partied plenty, the rest of us did a little more sightseeing such as walking along the harbour near where we were staying and taking a tour boat out to Oedo Island. Every evening we spent time hanging out and drinking soju or going to Noraebang. It was so nice to just relax and spend time with wonderful friends.
Photo courtesy of Aletia.
Photo courtesy of my friend, Aletia. 
This year was a little different. I headed North to Seoul with two of the newbies and a friend of theirs. Originally, we were meant to go to Sokcho but we (me) left it a little late to get anything booked. This holiday I didn't participate in any traditional Chuseok games but I believe I participated in what appears to be a traditional Chuseok family day out - Lotte World! LotteWorld is the Korean version of Disneyland and from what I saw (I've never been to Disney), heard and read - its design, layout and, indeed, logo is very reminiscent of that park. It was packed with families that included the very young and the very old. People patiently waited over two hours for rides and, as the day progressed, the crowds intensified. Food was corn-dogs on sticks and ice cream filled choux.

The park is split in two - an outdoors area and an indoor area which includes an Aeronauts Balloon Ride that I was dying to try out. However, on the two occasions I went up to do so the wait was OVER 2 hours. Not happening! I did one ride by myself which was a cheesy kids ride called Fantasy Dream. It was slow with nothing scary. It reminded me a little bit of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the one with Gene Wilder) when they are on the boat ride. I could have sworn, as we meandered our way down, that I'd seen an Oompa Loompa waving merrily at me and cautioning me to be wiser than I am now. The highlight of this day out was definitely the Comet Express which was an underground ride that we were cautioned was quite tame (all the better for me!). However, it turned, twisted and jumped us along through space. It was quite fun and one of the girls took a video, which I am pretty sure is just me screaming the whole time. The other ride that I went on that was a lot more exciting than the Fantasy Dream was the Atlantis ride. I couldn't open my eyes for fear of seeing us fly over the edge. I also couldn't open my mouth as I was pretty sure my stomach would fall out. Whilst I never want to go on this ride again, I'm glad that I did because I can officially say that I am NOT a scary rollercoaster person.

The rest of Chuseok was spent wandering around various parts of Seoul like Insadong (think Templebar in Dublin or the Old Market in Omaha), Hongdae, City Hall and Itaewon. We even got to spend a little time at the beach but as the water was pretty mank, we soon left. As it was Chuseok, and as I'd originally planned to holiday by myself, I took some time out a few of the evenings just to read. Whilst the girls explored Itaewon, I sat myself down in Ediya with a Chai latte and delved into the world of Jeffrey Deaver. On Saturday, the art exhibition I wanted to attend was too busy so instead I read The Piano Turner and wondered if I would ever be brave enough to explore areas of the world so cut-off from everything that I know.

So you might think I'm mad to have not spent Chuseok playing traditional games and eating traditional foods. However, I thoroughly enjoyed each trip and the company that I had. At the end of the day, Chuseok is spent in the company of family. My family aren't here - but the family of EPIK teachers is and that's who I spent my time with.

PS - this post is inspired by two very different and wonderful Chuseoks.
PPS - Thank you to all those who I spent Chuseok with last year and this!

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