The Chuseok Thanksgiving holiday rests this year on September 25th (today), or the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar Korean calendar. Most of the 23 million citizens of Seoul pack up and leave for their hometowns throughout South Korea. From what I’ve briefly researched, the holiday is a time of remembrance that is spent with family preparing special food (including Songpyeon, 송편), performing ancestral ritual services by paying respect and visiting grave sites, and vegetating:
a Cheosuk set-up, shot at Korean House, 9/25/07.
Chuseok is also a time when Spam, olive oil and toothbrush/pastes are packaged in elaborate gift boxes and sold at exorbitant prices by saleswomen dressed in hanboks at your local E-Mart or Homever. Consider it the über holiday package, a combination of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, New Years and Independence Day.
It’s a big deal.
Most businesses have been closed since yesterday and remain so until tomorrow. The emphasis of the city’s mass exodus during Chuseok left me with the impression that Seoul was going to reincarnate herself into Monument Valley and John Ford’s slow, bow-legged walk was going to guard these Korean streets while the occasional tumbleweed passed by.
It turns out that these Korean streets during Chuseok are occupied by families with grandparents holding onto grandchildren clad in colorful nylon hanboks, men who stink of soju, and foreigners, including those from China, Japan and South East Asia, as well as English teachers from dirt.
I upgraded my holiday as my only relatives in Seoul fled the city this morning for Northern California and left me with their beautiful apartment. Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to spend the entirety of this week indulging their library (Ulysses! Susan Sontag! Le Corbusier! Art and Design! Albert Camus!),
but looking back on today, I don’t regret the single bit that I spent walking, touring palaces, being reminded of how awesome Korean culture and history are, and eating cheap vendor grub.
Gyeongbokgung Palace (경복궁):
Deoksugung Palace (덕수궁):
Four hot, sweet-bean filled cakes for 1000 won ($1.00 only!) from a street vendor.
Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을):
For only 2000 won ($2.00) I bought my dinner at a street vendor in Insa-dong that was crowded with young Koreans standing and grubbing from a various assortment of spicy rice cakes wrapped in leaves, meat rolls, and egg-wrapped rolls.
I finally had my Bourdainian moment.