Monday, September 27, 2010


CHUSEOK HAS come and gone. The annual three-day holiday can most accurately likened to thanksgiving. As with other harvest festivals, it has traditionally been a celebration of a good year's harvest.

I had three days off for it - time to see the country, to explore. I didn't get around to any of that. Chuseok barely knocked at my door as far experiencing it went. I didn't plan things for a trip down south in advance. Then I drank too much on my first night off. I didn't plan some more.

For the holiday, the year's biggest, people typically clear out of the cities and visit their extended family in the country - if, of course, that's where they live - and eat and drink well. What struck most about talk leading up to the holiday was how negative it was.

Few people seemed to be looking forward to it. In fact, it sounded like the exact opposite of what a holiday should be. Rather, it seemed a sort of dreaded obligation instead. The women of the family generally do a lot of cooking for a lot of extended family. That probably goes some way toward explaining female antipathy for Chuseok.

For some of the younger generation, time with the extended family is an tiresome chore. This, at least, is a universal trait of the hormonally volatile. Spending time with your uncle and aunts or grandparents is about as uncool as an Aran sweater paired with stonewashed jeans. And if your relatives don't pay out like bizarre ATMs with pulses and a shared family name -- well, that just compounds the indignity of it all.

What also stood out for me was how busy Seoul continued to be, Chuseok or no Chuseok. More than half of the shops where I live were open. If you really couldn't wait to go to Dunkin' Donuts, you were in luck. Irish streets on a Christmas day by comparison are as quiet and empty as a school at midnight.

How my company decided to mark the occasion and reassure me of my worth is worthy of note. Actually, to me, it was downright odd. They sent me a 10kg sack of rice in the post, as they did every employee. Such gestures from employers are quite normal in Korea.

Unfortunately, though, my sack never made it to this end and possibly now resides in a post office depot somewhere between Seoul and Bangladesh. It's a shame. It was one huge sack of rice and, given my current financial status, could have come in handy for warding off malnutrition.

You can live off of just rice, right?

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