If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. ~ J. R. R. Tolkien
( One of the Chuseok feasts I had over the holiday. )
Autumn marks festivals for many people around the world. A time to gather with loved ones, celebrate and give thanks for the bountiful gifts of life and those who came before. This past week I had the honor of being welcomed into a local family’s home to celebrate the traditional holiday추석 (Chuseok) with them.
(A very full me after a weekend of feasts)
To say that the entire experience was new and different would be slightly misleading. When being far away from familiarity and amoung people different from oneself, we often seem to clump everything into the category of different. This is an easy way to categorize that which we don’t understand.
(A tiger guards the gateway of the Deajeon veteran’s cemetery)
When doing so, we often forget that despite all our differences, people across the world are remarkably more similar than they are dissimilar. There is an innate sense in humanity that unites all of us. When acknowledged, it can no longer be ignored, its presence glowing obnoxiously in our faces. That was my experience this weekend. A festival with many beautiful and meaningful traditions, rooted in the same human motivations of love celebration.
(Deajeon veteran’s cemetery)
추석 (Chuseok) is the time in which many Koreans come together with family to remember their ancestors, celebrate the harvest and eat way too much food. That is exactly what I did during my Chuseok homestay and at times I was reminded of my own family during times of celebration.
(Out looking to my fast favorite mountains over a sea of traditional kimchi pots)
One of the first things we did was go to a traditional market to purchase the necessities for thecoming feast. Now, not being a big fish eater, this was quiet the experience for me. The first thing I noticed upon entering was the wave of smell wash over my nose. A sea of fish stalls, as far as the eye could see. It was quite striking and beautiful.
(Local traditional market – produce section.)
Row after row of vendors offered up their wares! Crabs the size of your head, frozen five three feet long and octopus. I watched fish, crabs and scrimp get selected to the feast. I watched one seller chop the head from a fish and slice it open, only to find out that we would be eating that particular fish as an after dinner snack.Needless to say, I was apprehensive about having meals entirely made of seafood.
(A sampling of the wares sold at the fish market)
Later that night, I had my first taste of raw fish. Nervous for the prospect of disliking it I found some bravery tucked away for such an adventure and put the whole piece in my mouth (after dipping it in the sauce of course). Instantly I found that I really liked it! It goes to show how much a preconception of something really shapes your ideas about it before you’ve gotten to experience. It gave me courage to try octopus a few days later with my family, which also a pleasant surprise, tasted much like mushrooms only with less flavor. (Daejeon veteran’s cemetery)
Over the holiday, I got to visit some local places of wonder. For those of you who know me, the Daejeon veteran’s cemetery was by far my favorite spot. Families go to have private ceremonies for their ancestors. Imagine umbrellas popping up over the graves. A mat on the ground with food careful and thoughtfully arranged upon it. A young couple sit, their shoes set to the side while thier two daughters, dressed in the traditional 한복(hanbok) gown chase eachother before being called by the father. They family sit together in prayer.
(Expo Bridge all lit up!)
Chuseok day itself was fairly laid back and wonderful. There were two different meals with both sides of the family, with opportunity to rest in between and digest all the food. I really got to know and spend time with my host family and began to build relationships them. They were warm and welcoming. Although my Korean is very poor, we found ways to communicate and share our time together. I was even given some lesson’s by their youngest daughter in exchange for singing.
(My host family and I exploring the arboretum.)
This Chuseok I am grateful for the opportunities that God has granted me, helping to come to Korea and alrady introducing me to many wonderful people.
(Jiwon and I enjoying some not so traditional cotton candy. 🙂