중앙데일리

Expats take up Chuseok tradition

Making songpyeon, some reflected on their own countries’ customs

Sept 29,2009
Expats inspect the songpyeon they helped prepare before it is steamed at the Seocho Volunteer Center in southern Seoul. By Andrew Siddons



As summer gives way to fall, and winter looms, showing thanks for the abundant harvest that will keep us nourished through the months ahead has become a common rite.

In Korea, that celebration is known as Chuseok, and it’s also a time for people to join with their families, venerate their ancestors and make merry. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, falling this year on Saturday, Oct. 3.

Last weekend, about two dozen expats representing countries such as Canada, China, France, Indonesia, Malaysia and the United States gathered with Korean families to make songpyeon together in an event organized by the Yeoksam Global Center.

Songpyeon is a traditional Korean treat that, while made and consumed year-round, is especially made together by families ahead of Chuseok. The small, half-moon shaped rice cakes are usually stuffed with red beans, sesame seeds, or chestnuts and are steamed among layers of pine needles, which gives them a special aroma.

“Foreigners have a lot of experience with baking, so it isn’t that difficult for them,” said Shin Eun-hee, the manager at the Seocho Volunteer Center, in Seocho District, southern Seoul, where the event was hosted.

Jaye, a Canadian teacher who declined to give her surname, agreed: “I’ve made something like that back home [...] called pierogies,” referring to a stuffed dumpling originating in Poland. “It’s really similar, making sure there are no cracks in the dough.”

Some of the Korean families who gathered Saturday, however, may have had even less experience with the technique than their foreign counterparts. “For some of the Korean families, it’s their first time making songpyeon, since so many buy it at the store,” Shin said.

Once the songpyeon had been successfully put together, steamed and packed, groups of families and expats split up to deliver the sweet snack to elderly residents of the Seocho neighborhood.

The experience made some reflect on their own countries’ traditions.

In China, families come together to celebrate the Moon Festival, the same day as Chuseok. Lotus seed paste-filled mooncakes are the typical Chinese treat for the mid-autumn festival which, as in Korea, is about more than just food. “This day in China we’re used to all the family being together. It doesn’t matter what we eat or what we cook,” said Nancy Wang, a graduate student from Beijing.

Muslims around the world recently celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month-long Ramadan fast. For Henny Kumalasari, who is traveling far away from her native Indonesia, the pre-Chuseok gathering helped fill the void left from missing her family during Eid. “I missed the celebration, but this is a good way to make up for it.”

And in Malaysia, Muslim communities also mix with people of Indian heritage. According to Syez Mohrosmen, a Malaysian undergraduate student here, learning his country’s varied cultures is a significant part of the autumnal thanksgiving tradition there. And likewise, in Korea, “We’re not just making songpyeon,” he said. “We can get to know new people, and a new environment.”

Foreigners interested in service opportunities and cultural experiences like this can visit the Yeoksam Global Village Center at http://global.seoul.go.kr/yeoksam/.




By Andrew Siddons [asiddons@gmail.com]


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