Monday, January 23, 2012

My Weekend In the Korean Country



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This was the first Seollal (Korean New Years) with my Korean mother. It's a bit strange because I always adored how quiet the city was when the rest of the country was making their trips to their hometowns. Though I was a bit weary, I decided to make the trek home.

I expected more craziness on my first venture during Seollal. It was crazier at the airport the year I went to Bali. I went to the bus station and got my ticket and an hour later I was on my way. There wasn't even that much traffic.

Home for me is 5 hours away and requires a transfer. Once I arrive in my hometown, I could take a city bus but I usually opt for a fifteen minute taxi ride. This angers my mother and she will pester me to take the city bus. I tell her that the next time I will.

When I arrived at my hometown my mother was a bit peeved that I took a cab and she thought the driver took me on a longer route to hike up the fare. (I didn't tell her I tipped him a little extra.)

We went into the house and I gave her my Seollal present. It was a wine and cheese gift set because I knew she liked these so much. It wasn't much. A bottle of Chilean red wine, brie, emmental cheese, cheddar and some crackers. She was happy to receive this. We were soon joined by some of her friends and so we opened the red wine and she served us japchae. We sat and talked for a while. Her friend that I just met mentioned that I looked just like my mother (just much fatter.)

My mother had another friend she wanted to introduce me to so she called her friend who is a taxi driver and we drove to her home. But first my mother brought a gift of hanwoo beef and some liquor for her friend, Auntie Lee.

Auntie Lee lives among the rice patties in a very nice little house that is next to another traditional house that she uses as her chicken coup. Auntie also has only one arm. I was going to ask her about that but I didn't get around to it.

Her house was hot. Like most Korean houses her house is heated by the floor and she liked to keep it quite warm. It felt like I was a hamburger on a grill.

After sitting for 30 minutes or so my back started to ache and my thighs were burning so I suddenly just got up and started standing in the room. My aunt and mother thought this was strange and later I explained why. They were nice enough to bring a blanket to put down on the floor for me to sit on.

They then brought out a little gas grill and some sides of kimchi and pickled garlic and we just started grilling beef right on the floor and we ate this with Soju. It was a good meal and after drinking a bit, I took a little nap on the floor.

That night we returned back and we went to my other aunt's house and she had some rice wine and some spicy chicken feet there waiting for
us. We sat on the floor in her restaurant for some time before my back started aching too much. I excused myself early and went home.

Monday was Seollal. I didn't know if we would travel somewhere or not. Apparently not since it was frigid out and my mother had a cough. That morning my mother made some tteokguk and we had a very simple meal of soup and kimchi.

It is typical for Seollal to set a table before your ancestors and give thanks to them. Since I don't really know my ancestors, I gave thanks to my mother and gave her an offering of cash. Typically the parents give money to their kids, but we are not a typical family. Plus, although my mother never asks for money, I think it makes her life a little easier.

We spent the day comfortable in her house as we snacked on tangerines, sweet potatoes, and she made a delicious lunch of grilled fish, egg-battered pollack, kimchi, rice and beef soup.

I think I started off the year on the right foot.

Happy Seollal Everyone. Welcome to the year of the Dragon.

Dan

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