Monday, 23 September 2013

Celebrating Chuseok

Autumn has at long last arrived here in Korea. Although it's still pretty warm, the days are getting shorter, the evenings are growing milder, and some of the trees have already begun their gradual shift towards more sombre colours. I'm a little sad that summer is over, but with the onset of autumn comes the realisation that I have almost come full circle, a whole year in a foreign country. Winter is just around the corner, and not far behind it is the journey across Asia that I've been yearning to embark upon for so long. It's an exciting time, even if there's still a way to go yet.

In the meantime, let's embrace this most beautiful of seasons in true Korean fashion. Korea has its own special celebration of autumn, a major festival known as Chuseok. Held in honour of the harvest, it has become one of the country's most important and widely celebrated holidays. During the three day vacation that surrounds the Autumn Equinox, Koreans from all over the country visit their ancestral hometowns and share feasts with their families. It's kind of a Korean equivalent to America's Thanksgiving. I was lucky enough to celebrate Chuseok on two occasions: firstly, at my school, and secondly, with Angela and her Korean family.

At most hagwons it's common practice for the kids and the teachers to wear hanbok, or traditional Korean clothing, to celebrate Chuseok. Here are my three girls from UCLA class.
Before the main celebration in the school playroom, we had our students make jegi, which are shuttlecock-like toys that you kick with your feet.
The girls show off their finished jegi.

We soon gathered the kids in the playroom.
We had to demonstrate to the children how to perform a traditional Korean bow. There were two separate ones for men and women.

Then we posed for photos. Here I am with Roxie-Teacher and UCLA class...
...and with Grace-Teacher and Harvard Class. Note the autumnal backdrop representing celebration of the harvest.
All the morning teachers and kindergarten students together.
Soon the teachers were divided and sent to supervise different activities. Carmen-Teacher overlooked Yut, a traditional board game played with sticks.

She also refereed some rather hard-fought arm wrestling matches!

You can tell David (left) really wants this.
Joe-Teacher supervised sabangchigi, the Korean version of Hopscotch. It's played slightly differently to the western version, since you start by throwing bean bags onto the number squares, and you have to pick them up as you navigate the board.

I was in charge of Tuho, in which players must throw long wooden sticks into a barrel to score points.

Joe-Teacher and I also helped the kids play with their jegi, which they had to kick up in the air with the sides of their feet.

Lauren-Teacher helped the kids make songpyeon, a sweet rice cake traditionally eaten at Chuseok.

On actual Chuseok day, Angela and I were invited to a meal with Angela's Korean family. As always, they were very hospitable and warm hosts, at what was our first Chuseok dinner together. Here's Angela playing with their dogs, Poochi and Poopoo.

Just like at Seollal, Angela's aunt prepared a sumptuous feast comprised of dozens of delicious side-dishes.

We were extremely grateful for their generosity and good company.
One last hug with the puppies.

Overall, Chuseok was a wonderful way to start the Autumn season, and I'm especially grateful towards Angela's family for welcoming us to their home and being so friendly and giving despite our clumsy attempts at communicating in Korean. Did I mention they also took us out to see a movie afterwards? Not the greatest cinematic experience of all time - The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is not my kind of movie - but the gesture is what counts.

Happy Chuseok to everyone in Korea, and here's to a colourful, bountiful Autumn for all!

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