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Friday, October 2, 2009

My 1st Chuseok Experience!

This morning I had the rare privaledge of being invited to someone's home for Chuseok!  My Vice Principal's family allowed me to come and join in on the celebration and take as many pictures as I wanted, in order to document the experience and teach all of you how the day works.  I thought this was incredibly generous, especially because Koreans are so private and shy.  

I had heard it was customary to bring a gift to a persons home if you were invited for Chuseok, so I purchased this gigantic giftset of apples! I felt like apples were especially meaningful coming from me because I eat so many a day!  When I arrived at their home, holding this box, they we sooo excited that I knew to bring something!  I think it was a good call on my part! :)

They quickly invited me in and greeted me with hugs, handshakes, and smiles.  Then, my VP invited me to sit in his bedroom!  How weird is that?!  The whole family came in there and sat with us, but in America, that would NEVER happen!  I've learned to roll with things here, and try to understand the cultural differences!

Here's the gang:  They all have Korean names, which are incredibly hard to remember, so I'll just say their relationship and age, from left to right:  My VP's son (30), my VP's daughter (27), my VP's wife (age?), my VP's mother (80), my VP (58), and me!

Korean women HATE Chuseok, because they are stuck in the kitchen for days preparing ALL the food while the men relax... Sounds a little bit like American Thanksgiving, huh ladies?!  When the food is prepared, the women place it on a table (This table happened to be in one of the bedrooms) and the men of the house put 1 place settings down for every ancestor that they have chosen to bow to.  Today, they chose to bow to 3 ancestors: My VP's dad, and his grandparents.

They each bow about 10 times to give thanks to their ancestors for health, wealth, etc...  As a side note, after the ceremony, I asked my VP if it is emotional for him to bow and thank his ancestors, and he said, "No.  It's tradition.  We don't believe they can hear us. They are dead, so they are just dust now.   But Buddhist believe they look down on us and help us."  

In between each bow, my VP and his son would do different things for the ancestors.  At this point, they were pouring Makoli (rice wine) into these small cups.  After it was poured, they held it over incensce for a couple seconds and then placed it on the table, next to each place setting.

Then, my VP took each of the ancestors spoons and took one scoop of rice from each bowl and placed it in the bowl of water beside the rice.  After he was finished, he put each of their chopsticks directly into the rice (You can see in the background.)  When I arrived to Korea, I was told to never stick my chopsticks into the rice like that... now I know why!  Then, my VP took each of their chopsticks and placed them on different items of food on the table...

These two ancestors were lucky because they got to each the beef and fish!  mmmmm

When the men were finished with the ceremony, my VP's mom bowed.  She is Buddhists, so this ceremony means a lot to her and she believes that her ancestors (including her husband) can hear and see what is going on.

For an 80 year old woman, I was very impressed that she could bow, all the way to the floor, so many times!

After the ceremony was finished, we all sat around a very small table and ate.  The food was delicious!!  We began talking about different festivals around Korea and they told me about a festival called Jin Ju Nam Gang Yew Dong Chewg Che, which is about 2 hours from my apartment by bus!  It sounded amazing, so they helped me find information about how to get there. I'm planning on actually going tomorrow!   

As I was walking out the door, they handed me this gift bag and said "Happy Chuseok!" 

Inside were these 2 bottles of red wine!  I asked his daughter if this was customary to give a gift to the guest, and she said "No, but my dad really likes you!"  I felt incredibly honored and special!   

One of my favorite parts of the day was when they asked me to call them Omma (mom), Omani (Grandma), Appa (dad), Oppa (older brother) and Yeuh Dong Seng (younger sister).  Since I am away from my own family, it meant a lot for me to be able to feel like I was part of a family here in Korea.  :)  As I was walking out the door, my VP said "My family really enjoyed having you here today.  You were the 1st foreigner we have ever had in our home!"  Once again, I felt very blessed, lucky, and loved!

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