Wednesday, 22 September 2010


It's Chusok now.
The most important holidays in Korea. It is on the 15th of 8th lunar month, so it is either in September or in October of the Gregorian solar calendar ( means the calendar we use globally).

The encyclopedia says that it is 2000 years old harvest festival in Korea. It is also sort of thanksgiving day, though not to the God as it used to be in the West, but to the ancestors.

It is a time of enormous traffic, as most of the inhabitants of Seoul are people who live here for  no longer than 50 years. Most of these modern nuclear families go to the countryside to visit their relatives and on the Chusok day pay respects at their ancestors graves.

The ancestors worship originates from primeaval Korean times, longer than confucianism, buddism taken altogether. It has it's roots in Shamanism, in times when harvest was crucial to survival of the group (clan) and ancestors were worshipped as the source of care and inherited group wisdom shared spiritually by all of the members of the tribal village. In ancient Korea there were several shamanistic influences both from the South and from the North, nevertheless with the similar characteristics in it.

Ancestor worship was digested by buddism and taken as part of the belief system, later confucianism also did not fight with this as it fell into the category of filial piety.

What is Chusok now? It is difficult for a foreigner to grasp. All we see is that buses are not that much crowded, on subway there are less people, less cars race down the streets. The lazy relaxed athmosphere is somehow in the air.

I have learnt from my Korean friends that Chusok requires lots of preparations. Ideally these are women of all generations gathering together for baking song pyun and cooking japchae. Song pyun are traditional rice cakes, very delicious, and japchae are friend brown noodles, something worth to try.

Sometimes guys help in these preparations as well, especially in the families where there are no girls. Chu Won, my ex- coworker, helps his mother a lot during Chusok and Sollal.

In the old times there used to be common gatherings and festivals in the villages, just like globally in the rural society getting together is an important thing.

Currently Koreans cook and eat, but they also play games or watch movies. Encyclopedias say that they also make their traditional dances in the evenings, but I haven't seen it in my own eyes.

Not everyone goes home though. Some troubled young people or those who quarelled with their families, go nowhere.

Chusok is a test of character for many. Together with Sollal, Chusok is also a time when couples suffer, cause no matter how much in love they are, usually both have big family assemblies. In the West, we would not invite someone casual, but a serious partner shares our family holidays. It's actually a test for the relationship, as to how serious it is. Here though, even if the relationship is serious, people are still parted for that time. I have no idea yet how is it with married couples, this is yet to discover.

And dear Iris, Doe Won, I will never forget your invitation for Sollal. Time which we, foreigners, could share with you and your family at your family table on the first day of Lunar New Year.

Source of a photo:

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Climate typhoons etc

Last night the typhoon hit South Korea's capital area including the city where I live, Suwon. We woke up in the middle of the night, both of us, not knowing what to do next. Things were flying in the air and trees were falling down. After 4 hrs or so it all calmed down, but the remains of fallen trees are still there. In Seoul several people were killed.  Now I know what the tropical storm is, and I didn't wake up for the worst part of it, which my friend survived in a lonely nervous silence. Two weeks ago, back in Poland, I've been through worse things though ( but that's an offtopic).

Climate in Korea is warm temparate monsoon with influences of subtropical. It varies depending on the lattitude.
Winter normally is cold and dry, with not much snow, except for recent times. Autumn is beautifull, but short, characterizes in beautifull colors of leaves on the trees. It also doesn't rain a lot during the autumn, compared to the monsoon time. Spring is warm and nice with not that much rain either.  In summer, when monsoon season starts, it rains a lot and it's also humid. Humidity in the air exceeds 90%, means that all you wear or touch is wet.

I survived the storm inside the building and I will take some photos of the remains and present them here.
As I was sitting in the embrace of quite safe modern building very sure that nothing will happen to me, I thought of how big progress Asian countries made over recent decades. I remember the phrase from James Clavell's Tai-Pan in which on the island of Hongkong in the end of the 19th century Tai-Pan's beloved asks the question: - Where are we going to hide, Tai-Pan?
And he replies:

- There's no refuge from typhoon My Love.

They both die in each other's embrace killed by the tropical storm.
Each time I think about this I appreciate the engineering skills of construction. We survived the storm unscratched as we all live in modern buildings.