An Expat Chuseok Break

Chuseok is a Korean harvest festival that takes place on the harvest moon, the first full moon of fall. imageMany people compare it to the American Thanksgiving, but it’s celebrated differently. Mass amounts of food are the main similarity. But this is also a holiday when many Koreans partake in ancestor worship, leaving offerings for their dead family members and feasting in their honor.

On Tuesday all the kiddos wore their adorable traditional hanboks to school. I almost forgot how annoying some of them can be. It wasn’t much if a school day, we let them play traditional games and make song pyon– a rice dumpling with a sweet filling. Then I was in my way to a five day weekend.

The good and bad aspect for a foreigner in Korea during Chuseok is that Seoul is deserted. It’s a very family centric holiday. So whether they are spending the holiday with the living or the dead, most Koreans are out of town or at least off the street for a day or two. I rode the ghost train into central Seoul Wednesday evening. Never have I seen so many empty seats on the subway (and it wasn’t the usual token empty seat beside me because the seat next to the foreigner is usually the last one taken It seems). As we got deeper into the city it filled up a little, but it was still remarkably half full.

There is something exciting about wandering around Seoul without being bumped and jostled. You get to see the bones of the city. However, due to that emptiness, there is also very little to do. Convenience stores and western style fast food restaurants are about the only thing you’ll find open.

The best part of the movie was then they raised the window screen to show this view aftewards.
The best part of the movie was then they raised the window screen to show this view afterwards.

So what is an ex-pat to do? There was a foreigner friendly film festival announced on Facebook, so I decided to try it out. Two other teachers from my hagwan also went. We arrived at a small, but incredibly classy megabox theatre early on Thursday. My impression of the even was this: just like most US film festivals, it was organized by a bunch of pretentious, self indulgent, pseudo-intellectuals. I’m sure there were enjoyable films being shown, but we didn’t happen to see any. From the perspective of myself and the other two teachers, it was a collection of films attempting an art house style “depth” with disturbing convoluted imagery that never quite came together to express any actual meaning, and hollow revenge tragedies by Park Chan Wook wannabes, full of smoking and stabbing. We were felt rather psychologically scarred and disheartened, so we left early to try our luck in Gangnam.

It was a little more bustling than some of the other districts, mainly with military, but also some locals disentangling themselves from their families later in the day. We ate some chicken at a western style restaurant and headed home, trying to find meaning in the films we had seen on the subway ride home.

For the rest of my Chuseok break, I’ve been catching up on tidying my apartment (and figuring out what to do about that damp patch on the wall…). I’ve also camped out in a 24 hour Tom n Tom’s coffee to do some writing, and managed to make my wifi hold out long enough to do a little Skyping.

Today is much of the same. The neighborhood has come back to life now that the holiday is over, so I’m going to explore a little. Tomorrow I’m going into Seoul for an English bible study group.

It’s been a lazy Chuseok, but hopefully it will help re-energize me for the long stretch of teaching ahead. No big breaks again until Christmas I think. Ugh.

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