Saturday, October 07, 2006

Korean Harvest Festival: Chuseok 2006

Dear Bex:

Well I am glad to hear from you especially because you are heading out this way but also because you are a kindred English major which always helps catch my attention as I believe in most countries it is a dying humanity. You are just the nobody who might appreciate my little story and I am in a PC Bang, one of dozens of internet enabled games rooms where it costs as little as a dollar an hour for internet service.

Today is the second to last day of the longest annual Chuseok Harvest Festival Holiday held for two days usually over the harvest moon and a third day added to give the millions of recent city dwellers time to visit their hometowns. This year it coincided with another annual holiday so most people took the middle working day off as well making it five days straight. I guess you could say the first Korean friends might generally be the ones you keep the longest as I still have a few in the little fishing port town far down on the south coast.

Two guys who were students in my first adult class ten years ago both called and asked me to eat with their families this holiday. It is not the first time, but it was the longest trip I had to make by bus so far, I left at 8:00 at night from my home and arrived at 3:30 in the morning there. Twenty dollars paid for a simple yogwan/inn room and then around noon I crawled out of bed and picked up some bottles of honey and raspberry wine to bring as gifts. But my friend wasn't home; I arrived at a little traditional farmer's home and slid the little door open and slipped my gifts inside while a little chihwawa yapped and growled in the yard.

I then went to the bus terminal and had a "jung-shik" or standard meal which includes rice bowl, local vegetables in a brothy stew, and various preserved vegetable side dishes including a small dish of halved cockles in spicy garlic sauce. A whole small fried tilapia was also there for all lookers, head and all at a price of about four fifty. Reserving a more comfortable room costs about forty dollars so I took one close to my first apartment building near the sea shore.

My friend called just as I was stepping out of the shower around two o'clock and I went back to his place to meet him, his wife, and two daughters. I was at his wedding in 1999 and his daughters are now four and seven. His parents are farmers and in their mid-seventies both quite bent in the back. The first thing I did was go to his father's room and pay my respect and accept his welcome. Then we were free to go and have some specially prepared festival foods, dried fishes, fried fishes, small snacks, candied sweet potatos, and the season fruits, thick skinned grapes and large cold sliced "stone pears."

Then we met two women, one I worked with at hagwon also ten years ago and the sister of my old boss. Went out for tea at a special shop next to a brand new eight kilometre bridge, then took a ride over to an island where we used to ride bikes, and stood on the dock watching the full moon glow over the sea coast and surrounding islands.

Afterwards my friend Seong Cheol had to meet his brother's family just arriving so he left me with the ladies and i went o my boss's mother's house where we had often gone in the two years I lived there. We ate a dinner of similar prepared foods and fish stew again finishing off the meal with stone pears, and since Kyung Hee's mother was passed out from cooking we snuck a small dram of Chilean wine out from under the stove.

That evening I slept until 3:00 but the moon was calling so I walked the ten minutes down to the large harbour with about a hundred and fifty fishing boats again to look at the moon over the water. Slipping back into bed at dawn I slept until 8:30 and then returned to Seong Cheol's for breakfast at his mother in law's house and met his in laws and played a little with his kids.

Around eleven I received a call from Kang Jeong Hwan, now Vice Principal of his school (he was a Chemistry teacher when I taught him) After knocking at a few wrong gates in his mother's village we arrived at his family home. I met his son who was also my student and whom I had not seen in eight years. He is now a design student.

One Mr. Kang left me with another Mr. Kang and he and his wife took me deep into the countryside in an area called Hadong where I almost worked. It took an hour and a half to make it up a steep and rutter small track of road to a hillside valley full of agricultural industries. We arrived at a traditional bee keeper's house who sells a special honey and plum concentrate which is very refreshing when mixed with water and ice.

Then we took a short detour and climbed again to a green tea master's house who grows and sells his fermented and dry green teas exclusively to Buddhist temples. It was the first time I have met a master tea maker and also the first time I have seen a man make and pour a cup of green tea. So I bought some for my friends as well as myself and on the way back to the Jinju City, I thanked them so much for their warm welcome yet again, and let them know the reason I came after all.

My friends, "I come to see you because I miss you and love you."

So that's my story. Korea can be a pretty amazing place sometimes. It is the right people and not always the right job that makes all the difference.

Cheers, Danny

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