Tag Archive: traditions


One of the biggest holidays in Korea is Chuseok.  Everyone has days off to celebrate together.  Essentially it translates to Korean Thanksgiving and celebrates the Korean autumn harvest.  Everyone travels to see family and spends time eating with them.

There is a special type of dduk, a rice cake called songpyeon, that they during this time as well.  My kids were writing about it in their journals for weeks leading up to the holiday.  They all were excited about the special dduk.  I had some and it was quite good.  They do put it in bags with pine needles which was a bit strange, but definitely tasty. The link to Wikipedia tells you all the deliciousness inside.

I had the honor of being invited to spend the day at Eileen’s grandmother’s house with her family.  I have spent time with them before if you remember at her grandmother’s 90th birthday party.  Her family has been really kind to me this year, and I am really thankful for them letting me be a part of their celebrations.

So I woke up early and met Eileen and her mom for our journey down to Suwon.  We took the subway for over and hour and then a bus for about 40 minutes.  Finally we arrived.  There was so much food.  Kimchi, of course, jeons of all kinds, egg battered veggies, sides galore, and this delicious soup yukgaejang,  which I call six things soup because its name sounds similar to the number six.  Eileen laughs every time, but it totally makes sense to me.  Her grandmother made it with chicken and it was so tasty.  We ate and ate and I was so full, but then her grandmother kept bringing out fruit and snacks and she kept personally handing me things being the good Korean hostess, but I was so full.  It is rude to not accept things offered to you in Korea so I just kept eating until I finally just said I’m sorry but I am just too full. Saying I’m full is one of the things I learned early on in my year here.  Haha you hear people saying it all the time. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of the food because there weren’t many people there and I kind of wanted to just enjoy being there and not being the weird foreigner with a camera, so sorry about that, my words will just have to be enough.

Side note: The word for stomach in Korean is bai.  This word is also the word for sheep and pear.  So sometimes I just sit and giggle at all the ways you could get all three of these words mixed up in a sentence taken out of context in translation.

Anyway, so after so much eating, which was totally ok because it’s a holiday and those never count, plus the food was amazing, we were asked to go help pick some veggies.  Eileen’s grandma has small portions of these community gardens near her house.  It’s really interesting because these plots are on the sides of these hills almost up into the trees.  To get to one of them you have to climb up these makeshift dangerous rock stairs.  It was fine though I suppose because if her 90 year old grandma can climb them like a champ then we figured we should too.  Though I am still not sure how grandma did it, to be honest.

I did take pictures of this 🙂

Eileen borrowed some clothes from her grandma so that she wouldn’t mess up the nice clothes she was wearing.  Of course you can’t work in a garden without a hat, so we borrowed those too.

She totally looked like an ajumma, it was hilarious.

I was in charge of picking peppers in the first garden we went to.

Eileen and her grandma.

Then we went to the second garden, and there were so many mosquitoes it was crazy.  I think I ended up with 15 bites by the next morning.

Also, in the middle of the second garden there was this make shift sitting area.  I am pretty sure its where old men go to drink soju while they garden haha.

Again, we couldn’t stay long because of the mosquitoes. We did get some good veggies though.

After we were finished and had helped clean up her grandma start packing food bags for all of us. She even sent some left overs for me.  They were so delicious and I was surprised she even sent some for me.

Overall, it was a good day and I am really glad I got to experience my last holiday here properly.


War Memorial of Korea

Sunday, Andy and I decided to go check out the War Memorial of Korea and museum. It was raining of course, but we figured that since a majority of everything was inside it would be fine.  We weren’t planning on spending more than a couple of hours there but actually ended up spending the whole day pretty much because there was just so much to look at and see and do.

Outside there are a lot of memorials that represent different things.

This represented the sword and the tree of life…I totally thought it was two sides of a bullet buuuut I was wrong. It was really cool to see.

These face ball fountain pieces did not have any explanation in English.  It was kind of strange though to see all these little faces on several of these throughout the court yard area.

This is a replica of a monument built for a great king.  Sadly, the original stands in China on what was once part of Korea during a heightened and stronger period, but now is Chinese territory.

This was a really awesome piece to see and read about.  The English text explaining the monument called the Statue of Brothers says this:

“The Statue of Brothers is an 18 meter wide and 11-meter high symbol of the Korean War. It consists of the upper part, lower part and inner part. The upper part of the statue depicts a scene where a family’s older brother, an ROK officer, and his younger brother, a North Korean soldier, meet in a battlefield and express reconciliation, love, and forgiveness. The lower tomb-shaped dome was built with pieces of granite collected from nationwide locations symbolizing the sacrifices made by our patriots. The crack in the dome stands for the division of Korea and the hope for reunification. Objects inside the dome include a mosaic wall painting that expresses the spirit of the Korean people to overcome the national tragedy and a map plate of the 16 UN Allied Nations that dispatched troops to the war. The links of iron chain on the ceiling signify the unbreakable bonds of a unified Korea.”

Bronze statues like these that represent all types of people on both sides that were, and still are, effected by the war between North and South Korea.  They were big and detailed and to me that made them powerful.

Also, along the outside of the museum was an area that displayed various planes, vehicles, and artillery used during Korean history.

This ship is an exact replica.  The real one is housed at a different site and unfortunately we weren’t able to see the inside, but it was still cool.

Then to get out of the rain we decided to check out the inside of the museum. There was so much information about Korea’s history as a whole, not just the Korean war that divided the peninsula in two.

One of the interesting, funny little things about Korean museums is that they seriously love using dioramas. Seriously, they love them.

The swords that Korean’s used to fight with were crazy big and scary.

awesome fighting details.

Pretty much hoping I can find one of these awesome outfits around Halloween.

huge boat replicas.

A flag that was signed by a volunteer corps during the war in the 1950s.

Tear drop made of dog tags from the Korean War. It was a really cool piece to see.

On the bottom floor there was a really cool exhibit we didn’t get to see but it was kiiind of like our version of gingerbread houses only they were made out of toothpicks and this puffed Korean cereal and rice cake things.  It was really neat.

I didn’t take many pictures in the museum because there was just soooo much to see, and I was really focused on reading what I could and just trying to keep all the things that have happened in the long history of this country separated. I totally recommend this as a place to see if you ever visit Seoul, just make sure you have a good chunk of time you can spend taking it all in.


Grandma turns 90…

Well not one of my grandmas, but Eileen’s did. I hope all of my grandmothers make it to 90, though there is something different about the Korean lifestyle for sure.  I mean they eat their fair share of ridiculously fried foods but all of the other ways they take care of themselves more than make up for it.

Eileen’s grandma’s party was the first Korean birthday party I have attended where things were done in a really traditional manner.  Firstly, in my opinion the woman didn’t look a day over 75 in American years but alas she turned 90 last weekend.  She spent a decade of her life pregnant and birthed 11 children that all survived.  She never lost one. I think that makes her a strong woman for sure, especially considering only 2 of the 11 are boys.  I would pretty much runaway if I had to live with 8 teenage girls. No thank you.

So anyway I think 7 of her children were at the party and some of their families.  It was hosted by one of Eileen’s cousins.  He runs a Tae Kwon Do school outside of Seoul and so there was plenty of space.  It was a lot of fun.

Of course there was a demonstration done by his students.  There was kicks and music and board breaking and flips and it was impressive considering the oldest kid there was probably 15.

Grandma put on a hanbok a traditional Korean dress for the occasion.  It is also tradition that no one eats or drinks until the oldest person does so the party starts with a toast to Grandma and she drinks and the party starts.  Then there is a cake with a sword knife. no joke.

Then little Grandma used that huge sword knife to cut the cake. This all happened at the beginning before the meal or anything.

Then there was the gift giving.  The children line up and place the gifts in front of Grandma on the table.  Then they bow.  They had to bow twice though because the first time there was no food on the table because it was across the room.  In Korea the only time you bow without food is if the person has died and Grandma was very much alive and kicking.  So, there was food and a rebow.  The daughters went first, then sons and son in law, then daughter in laws, grandchildren, and finally great grandchildren.

Of course the tiny kids were the cutest.

Then we got to eat! The food was SOOOOO good. I ate so much raw salmon I thought I might just fall over dead from happiness.  It’s hard to find sushi as we think of it in America, and salmon in general is a really expensive fish here, sadly.

and that was just round one. I was so full and it was all so delicious.

After food and the older family members had drank a little soju and beer they started up the karaoke.  It was all in Korean and went on for a couple of hours but it was fun.  Everyone, including Grandma was singing and dancing and having fun.  There were also some of the cutest kids there and I wanted to snatch them soooo badly. Instead I just paprazzied them with my camera.

Eileen and her mom singing and dancing.

Grandma dancing.  The man in this photo was kind of running the entertainment part. He kept telling everyone where to sit and when to clap or dance and when he talked I felt like he was preaching to me, but Eileen says he is a professional announcer.  I could totally tell. It was funny.

Grandma belted out a few tunes and at one point they were dancing around her in a circle.  I have no idea why, but it obstructed her view of reading the lyrics and so it was funny.  She is a tiny woman the top of her head only came to my chest.

He was such a sweet baby, and check out that tiiiiny little tie he was wearing. So adorable.

I took about 30,000 photos of this little girl.  Her mom is a beautiful Japanese girl.  So her being half Japanese and half Korean is definitely working in her favor.  She was sooo adorable and she will definitely be breaking hearts when she is older. We played with balloons together for like half an hour.  I wanted to bring her home with me.

A picture of Eileen and Grandma in their hanboks.

Me and my lovely Eileen…at first…then towards the end of the party she got really hot in her hanbok.  She didn’t think to bring an extra set of clothes soooo I offered to trade with her. hahaha needless to say everyone laughed at us for sure. For one we are no where near the same size in any way at all.  So her hanbok was short on me and difficult to tie because I am so broad in the shoulders.  And she was swimming in my dress so we had to use bobby pins to keep the straps shorter.

Once the party was over her aunt and uncle drove us home.  We slept most of the hour long trip home because we were just exhausted.  I had so much fun though and I was really glad she had invited me along to be able to celebrated such a milestone with her family.

My Lunar Vacation

Since I didn’t have a ton of funds I decided to stay home and do some cultural things around Seoul.  After a bit of research I found that the National museum was going to be hosting some traditional events.

My friend Sara and I enjoyed weather that was a balmy 40 degrees.  The sad part is that we really did think it was warm.  We were wearing light jackets and spending hours walking along the river near our apartments.  After having a month with 10-15 degree constant weather we were glad to feel some sun and soak up some vitamin D.

On the day of the actual Lunar New Year holiday the city…and I feel like it is safe to say the country was like a ghost town.  Literally there were a few cars but there were no people seen all day. Everything is closed and everyone is with their families doing traditional things.

The day after Sara and I headed to the National Museum of Korea.  It was huge and we only made it about half way through before we decided that it’s free and instead of rushing we could just come back another time.  We did have a few interesting things happen while we were there. First, the place was packed. Seriously, packed. So we were getting lunch waiting in line like all the Koreans and finally we order and sit down to wait on our food to be ready.  While we are waiting a fight erupts between two Korean men.  This is abnormal because I am very serious when  I say Koreans are not big on showing emotion in public.  The trains are usually silent for the most part and I have never seen them be overtly happy or sad or angry at all in public.  However. there were two men with their families pushing back and forth.  Sara said that in her 3 years here she has never seen anything like it. We were shocked and I felt bad for the little lady about half their heights trying to get them to calm down.   Everyone else in the room is acting like nothing is happening because another Korean tried and true rule is to mind your own business.  If it doesn’t concern you, then you don’t get involved.   In this instance I wish someone had helped that poor manager lady out.

Anyway, after lunch we went to see some traditional dancing, drumming, and calligraphy drawing before really digging in to the museum.

I had a bit of trouble taking pictures because there were so many people.  All the same these guys wear hats with ribbon dancer like things attached to them called a chae sangmo and the move their heads and dance around while other people play traditional instruments.  It is a farmer’s dance of sorts.  I did find a pretty short video that gives you a good idea of what I couldn’t capture in photos.

Then there were women that danced around slowly, and delicately of course, while playing a slow drum rhythm. All of the performers were also in traditional clothing and costumes.

Next came the most awesome part. The drum team.  These guys were waaaaay into their act and watching them was mesmerizing.

And this lady was by far my favorite. I could not take my eyes off of her she was so exciting to watch.

and here is a random shot of the crowd watching on the other side from where we were.

and here is me in front of a really tall guy in the museum. ^^


I also did some volunteer work but it has it’s own post coming soon.

Year of the Rabbit

This week has been a holiday week for most of Asia as it is time for the Lunar New Year. In Korea it is called gujeong. We got a 5 day weekend which has been super nice and much needed after having such an awful month of intensives.

If course per usual since he runs such an informative blog, Ask A Korean! wrote a brief but pretty to the point blog about the new year traditions in Korea.

This year is the year of the Rabbit.  I am super interested in this since I was born in the year of the Rabbit and so all of this talk about traits, and attitudes had me doing a bit of research on just what it means to be a Rabbit. I found this website to be the most useful.

I apparently am a fire rabbit. no arguments there I am also an Aries and if you know me you know I fit that to a tee.  So rabbit qualities:

creativity, compassion, and sensitivity

Rabbits believe strongly in friends and family and lacking such bonds can lead to emotional issues

Classy, sophisticated, expressive, well-mannered and stylish.

enjoy leaning about cultural issues and learning about people from other countries

Rabbits make excellent diplomats and politicians

Fire adds spark to the Rabbit’s personality and all that Fire Rabbits do. Fire compels Rabbits to seek new adventures. Prone to tantrums, Fire Rabbits prefer to avoid conflict.

Me? oh please, yes. The universe has me molded too well, of this I am sure. The only way I don’t always exhibit signs of the rabbit are when it comes to dealing with conflicts. Now, I do hate conflicts and confrontations make me nauseous, but I can do them when I have to.  Also, I kind of thrive on stress, even though I will be the first to admit it’s not healthy. I get things done under pressure and under stress and after a minor freak out. Can’t be perfect, right?

And what does the year of the rabbit mean for Korea? Apparently its a year to sit back and have few worries, the rabbit is after all quite lucky.  I hope this means we won’t have to deal with anymore irrational behavior from our kind neighbors to the North, at least through October.

However, as for my personal horoscope this site says I should probably not count on the luck and watch my back:

This year at work, there is a lot of pressure for the rabbit, social relationships may not be too good when dealing with bosses and fellow colleagues, disputes may occur.

This is a very bad fortune year for the rabbit. Not only it is difficult for you to earn bucks, you may encounter money loss that may cause you to result in financial crisis. You should be more aware of your spending as well as being extra careful whe dealing with money. Do not rely on others, and avoid doing any business. You should be careful on any investment or being a guarantor is not advisable. As for those that are doing business, you may consider to stay low profile and avoid any big investment. Strong advise to avoid stock investment or any form of gambling. NOTE TO SELF…don’t put your money in stocks this year. done and done.

This year health is not pleasant as there is an evil star in it. Health for the rabbit will be relatively poor, pay extra attention on the gastrointestinal problems, you are also prone to Xueguang. You should develop good eating habits, have healthy meal and eat on time. You will also be prone to limbs injury, be careful when handling metal tool, stay as far away as you can. When you are not in a good mood, you should avoid going out, such as the inevitable need to drive or travel. Pay attention to safety this year, avoid situation that may triggers your emotion and provoke unnecessary trouble. And second NOTE TO SELF avoid those metal tools.

oh man the things I have to look forward to this year. Good thing I don’t really put my trust in this kind of thing or I would be living under the covers until January 2012.

Giving Thanks Pt. 2

Last Sunday I was able to join with another set of wonderful people for Thanksgiving part 2.

I arrived to see this little apartment all set up for a feast, and a feast it was indeed.

The other side of the room looked like a mirror image of this one. And the ‘tables’ are actually Sarah’s bed with the mattress removed and the bed frame separated. I thought it was a super smart way to accommodate everyone.

They ordered the turkey and most of the dinner from one of the army bases here. Another great idea. So Sarah told them that we needed a big turkey to feed like 30 people. So she talked him into trading us three small turkeys for the biggest turkey that they sell with the meals, which they usually dont let off base.

It literally even said BIG TURKEY on it. and seriously, it was the biggest turkey I have ever seen in my life.

And it was delicious. Thank you Army. There literally were over 30 people in and out eating food and we still only conquered a little over half of the bird.

The spread from my seat. Dressing, cranberry sauce, rolls, turkey, salad, gravy….so much good food. I ate myself silly.

Round one. and the dressing was very different than what I am used to but it was so good it didn’t even matter. However, I am looking forward to Thanksgiving normal style with the family next year.

And what is a post without telling you an Allison quirk. So, my family knows, or should know, I really, really, really  hate it when my foods mix. Like it kind of drives me crazy the whole time I am eating. So when I had a moment of trying to save my sweet potatoes from the gravy and failed and clearly looked flustered the girl next to me made a comment about how I was one of ‘those people.” why yes. yes I am. I just don’t like things mixing. I like to eat one thing at a time around my plate. It is weird but that is just how I work. Anyway, this is all to say I made a big step Sunday. I reused a plate. I reused plates for food no problem but dinner and dessert on the same plate. NEVER. I did it though. I pulled through. I also used a roll like a sponge and cleaned it pretty well, but that is besides the point.

yummy pumpkin pie from Costco.

They were not sure how much food they were going to be getting from the base so they had everyone bring extra so there was so much more food than anyone could eat and my mashed potatoes were never opened so I brought them home and looked up recipes for left overs. I found some good stuff and made some amazing potato soup! Yay holiday season.


All about giving thanks pt.1

Yesterday afternoon I went with my friends to a bar in Nowon-gu called Metropolis.  It is run by a Korean named Andy and he is awesome.  There are a bunch of regulars, meaning Americans that have been living in Korea for years…(one guy has been here 11 years!) anyway so he opens up his space for American Thanksgiving. There is a 2 drink minimum which is totally fair since he buys the turkeys which are super expensive here and it’s his space.

It was done in a potluck style so there were all kinds of different dishes made all sorts of ways.I took mashed potatoes which were awesome if I might say so. Literally though I got so excited I took like 6 pounds of potatoes. They were all gone though 🙂

I went with a handful of people I have gotten to know and we brought two Korean teachers with us. I spent a lot of time this weekend with Eileen and Joanne and I am super glad I work with them. We ate ourselves silly. That really is what Thanksgiving is all about after all, and why it is clearly my all time favorite holiday.

So we ate and ate. Turkey, dressing, green bean casserole, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, deviled eggs, and oh so much more, including some Korean dishes. Then there was plenty of pumpkin pie for dessert. Thank you costco. 🙂

Glorious. It was truly glorious. I have to work on Thursday and that will be a total bummer, but I was glad that I had the opportunity to even have these foods.

I tried to take more pictures but I got wrapped up in eating and just kind of enjoying my time with the people I was with. Plus, the lighting was pretty terrible.

Also, I am so very lucky, because not only did I get to have this awesome feast, I get to do it all over again next Sunday with Amber and her friends. I can’t wait. I feel like it is totally fair I get my favorite meal twice since I am so far away and all. That is justifiable right?

So one of my younger students, Hellen, came into class today. She had lost a tooth yesterday and was showing off her new gap.

So I asked her what they do with their teeth in Korea and if they were visited by something like a tooth fairy.

H: No teacher. roof. umm roof we throw.

Me: You throw your teeth on the roof?

H: Yes teacher and the bird comes and gets it and then brings you a new one.

iiiinteresting.What a way to dispose of teeth. I kind of hope I get to see a small kid throwing teeth in action one day. It also makes me wonder where the tradition came from. I tried looking it up but I didn’t find much. But I am still intrigued by this. They laughed when I said we don’t throw our teeth we put them under our pillows.

Then when I told them we got money in the States for our teeth they were amazed. Though she said I was a liar for saying the tooth fairy existed.

Me: well Hellen, do you believe in Santa?

H: *rolls her eyes* Yes teacher

Me: Well its kind of a known fact that Santa and the Tooth fairy are best friends. How did you not know that?

H: oh really teacher?

Me: yeah and the Easter Bunny.

H:Easter Bunny?

Me: Yeah we can talk about him later though.

There were interjections by Dorothy in there too but they were mostly to support Hellen, though I appreciate how often they talk and how much they enjoy teaching me things. I have to give them vocab tests in Korean and today they told me my Korean writing was getting better haha go me.