Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The Rest of Chuseok in Seoul
On Sunday morning, September 30, I woke up around 7am and had a bagel and milk for breakfast courtesy of Hyun-ho's parents before heading off with Hyun-ho to his church, which was a tall, beautiful building about a ten minute walk from his apartment. We walked across a stream to get there, and from the other side we took pictures with the apartment building visible in the background:
I was able to do some sightseeing in Seoul, as I wrote in the last post and will describe in this one, but visiting this church service was a great example of how wonderful the less obvious experiences can be for me. We went early because he was helping with the music for a service for middle-schoolers. I met a few of his friends from the church and then had some tea and listened to them practice the songs for the service. The church usually has an English language service, apparently, but so many members were traveling for Chuseok that the service had been cancelled. The pastor giving the sermon for the middle-schoolers was usually the English language service pastor, and he introduced himself to me before the service. While giving the sermon he was kind enough to pause from time to time to give me a translation of what he'd been saying. It made me feel self-conscious at first, since I was the only foreigner there and would not have minded just listening to Korean service, but it was a warm gesture and I appreciated his making sure I had a better idea of what he was preaching.
After the sermon a couple more songs were sung, and I actually joined in the final song once I recognized the melody:
"All to Jesus I surrender
All to Him I freely give
I will ever love and trust Him
In his presence daily live
I surrender all, I surrender all
All to Jesus I surrender
I surrender all."
This is another one I've heard and sung countless times back home, and hearing it again here, I couldn't help but grin. I also really enjoy hearing the songs I don't recognize as well, but some nostalgia is nice once in a while too. Nostalgia is not quite the right term, though. It's more a thrill I feel in recognizing that these things I grew up with can be found halfway around the world as well, and the thrill is much more profound when it's a hymn instead of a hamburger.
After a delicious dinner back at the apartment (pork galbi, if I remember correctly, with more pajeon and lots of great banchan) Hyun-ho and I caught the bus to Jongno. Our first destination was Gyeongbokgung Palace. We spent about an hour looking around the palace grounds which were beautiful and expansive. There were many foreigners touring the complex, and also a lot of the Korean children were wearing hanboks, traditional Korean dress, for the holiday. One family was kind enough to let their kids get in a picture so you can see what the hanboks look like:
King Sejong is the big golden figure on the right side of the picture, by the way, and not the hanbok kid intrigued by the awkward waygook in her way. It made for a nice goodbye to summer to see all the bright colors of traditional Korean dress for the Chuseok festivities, as shown in the picture of festival performers below:
From here we began walking toward Insadong, a popular area for tourists with lots of shops selling traditional items. Along the way I was pleasantly surprised to run into a couple of new teachers from my hagwon, who had just arrived in Korea about two weeks before. They had mentioned at work the previous week that they were considering going to Seoul during the break, and I told them I would try to meet up with them if they did. Unfortunately, I forgot to take along my iPod to send messages and they didn't have phones since they were so new to the country. By some stroke of fate, however, we happened to be walking down the same stretch of street at the same time and we stopped and chatted for a bit.
Following this Hyun-ho and I went to Insadong, an area well-known for its traditional shops. It was interesting to see the various goods available in all directions. We stopped for a drink in a green tea shop specializing in green tea from Boseong and Jeju and had green tea lattes, which has become my go-to drink at coffee shops recently. We sat up on the second floor and looked out through the windows onto the passing throngs below, which made for an intriguing contrast between the peaceful interior and the bustling crowd on the other side of the glass.
It was getting close to the time we were meant to be at Hyun-ho's grandmother's home to meet up with the rest of the family for Chuseok dinner. We caught a bus and were there about half an hour later with an appetite built up. Honestly, though, from that first lunch in Gangnam until the time I arrived back in Gwangju Monday evening I was not hungry at all. They fed me so well while I was in Seoul. Every meal was delicious and plentiful. The Chuseok dinner was the biggest, and I was very happy to have the chance to share this holiday meal with a Korean family. Here's a picture of part of the feast:
Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, and this will be the fourth year I haven't been at home for the holiday. During college my break was only Thanksgiving day and the next day, so it was impractical and expensive to fly home for a four-day break, though I did enjoy it the one year I flew home on Thanksgiving morning. Luckily, my freshman year my adviser actually invited me to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner, which was a wonderful and heartwarming experience. My sophomore year I went home, and the last two years of college I had my older brother up there with me as a grad student so I had some family with me, which was great. However, recently the family is spreading out more and more and the Thanksgiving crowd gets smaller and smaller. Christmas has been the holiday for which all my brothers come home and everyone gets together, whereas for Thanksgiving we've learned to celebrate remotely.
That being said, for Chuseok I really enjoyed being able to join Hyun-ho's family for their celebration. They were all very friendly and really made me feel comfortable and involved, despite the language and cultural barriers. Smiles and good food is a powerful method of doing that. Hyun-ho and one of his uncles both speak very good English, so they were able to converse with me and translate when necessary, but I felt very content sitting on the couch enjoying fruit and songpyeon for dessert and watching and listening to this family enjoying their time together and opening their hearts and home to me. Toward the end of the evening they made a video call to my neighbor back in the states to include her in the family celebration, and I got to talk to her for a while. Seeing and talking to her on the phone while I was with her family in Korea and she was back near where I'm from in the states, in conjunction with the hospitality with which her family was treating me made me feel very close to home.
The next morning I packed my things to prepare for my return to Gwangju. I had a couple of hours before I had to leave for the bus station, so I had more time to visit with Hyun-ho and his parents. His mom showed me how to make kimchi jiggae, which I had requested to eat for lunch. I actually tried making it for myself just the other night, and mine turned out okay, but not as good as hers. We had another delicious and filling lunch, and as I left they gave me a container of kimchi and a bag of flowers for tea to take back with me. I thanked them again for being so kind and generous and for giving me a taste of home while being so far away, and Hyun-ho led me to the bus station.
Before I got on the bus back to Gwangju, Hyun-ho showed me the Krispy Kreme shop at the station and bought me a couple donuts to take along. I got a kick out of that. There's a Dunkin Donuts here in Sangmu, but I hadn't seen a Krispy Kreme in Korea until then (although I've since heard that there is one in Gwangju), but it's the more popular brand back in St. Louis and the company started in North Carolina where one of my brothers goes to school.
With my bag of donuts, I thanked Hyun-ho for hosting me for a hugely enjoyable weekend and boarded the bus. I slept about half of the four hours it took to get back to Gwangju, and read for the other half. From the Gwangju bus terminal I decided to walk back to Sangmu. As I walked I reflected on the weekend and on my time in Korea. It was October 1, and I was starting my third month here. Thinking of it now I can hardly believe that was nearly two months ago now. Of course, there was a lot that happened during that time that I still need to write about.
When I arrived back in Sangmu I met up with a few other teachers for dinner, and they invited me to join them for a trip to Jeju that weekend, which will be covered in my next post soon. Until then, thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!