Seoul stragglers have many holiday optionsLunar New Year is all about feasting, blessings and having fun. A classic Lunar New Year’s Day begins with a bowl of tteokguk, or rice cake soup. Then children, all dressed up for the new year, bow to their grandparents, who in return bestow good wishes along with a gift of money. Then follows the Lunar New Year’s pastimes, like yutnori, a traditional board game played with four sticks.
The holiday spirit, however, is everywhere long before New Year’s Day, which is tomorrow. Rice mills start pounding before the holidays. Housewives can’t get out of the kitchen, cooking holiday treats like tteokguk and dumplings. One bowl of this soup was thought to add one year to your age, so parents used to tease their children who asked for more bowls of the holiday treats.
Even evil spirits keep busy during the holidays by visiting homes. According to the legend, a witch called Yagwanggwi marks the new year by finding a pair of shoes of a human that fits her feet.
After the witch takes the shoes, the previous owner is going to have bad luck for the rest of the year. To avoid the ghost, Koreans used to hide their shoes and then hang a sieve at a front gate, so that the witch would spend her time counting the holes in the sieve.
If it does exist, the ghost will have less fun this year, as more than 80,000 Koreans are packing their bags to take off to another country. On top of this rush, the peninsula will be overwhelmed with people heading out of the capital to their hometowns in the countryside. No matter where you go, you’re going to encounter plenty of people in a hurry to get to wherever they’re going.
But there’s one place you’re likely to avoid the crowds this holiday season ― in Seoul. Here’s your guide to enjoying the bountiful three-day holiday, followed by a weekend. Seoul can serve as a decent place for your holiday, with plenty of things to do around the city, especially for expatriates.
Just don’t forget to hide your shoes before dark tonight.
A taste of tradition in the capital
Five days off is a long time to be sitting on the couch. For those willing to get outside to enjoy Korean traditional culture, the Lunar New Year holiday couldn’t be a better time.
The National Folk Museum of Korea is an excellent place to start. Starting with a traditional lion dance performance, called Bukcheong saja noreum, today at 2 p.m., the museum site is likely to be full of holiday spirits.
On Friday at 2 p.m., experts will demonstrate taekgyeon, a traditional Korean martial art. After their performance, participants get a chance to learn basic taekgyeon moves.
If you want to get your kicks somewhere else, you can visit the museum on Saturday for a Lunar New Year exorcism dance, which will go on until 5 p.m. During the holidays, you can enjoy traditional games such as jegichagi, which involves kicking a shuttlecock, and paengi chigi, or spinning a top, throughout each day.
Lunar New Year’s Day without tteokguk is like a Thanksgiving without turkey. The museum will offer a special tteokguk treat for expats on Feb. 4, to coincide with the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. The best part of this event is that you can cook your own bowl of tteokguk, following instructions in English. All the ingredients will be provided.
If you can’t wait until then, you can get a preview, as the museum lays out a standard Lunar New Year feast table for display.
To reach the museum, take the No. 3 subway line to Anguk Station and use exit 1. For more information, visit the Web site at www.nfm.go.kr. The museum also has audio guides in English, Chinese and Japanese.
Korea National Tourism Organization offers an English guide on traditional Korean games like yutnori every day through Sunday, along with a screening of “Chunhyang,” with English subtitles, at 2 p.m. To reach the KNTO building, take the No. 1 subway line to Jonggak and use exit 5.
At the Seoul Museum of History in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, you can feel like royalty. Every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., you can be the king and queen of the Joseon Dynasty for free.
The museum offers the visitors a chance to dress up in the Joseon traditional court costume, in the lobby of the main building. All you have to do is bring your camera and pose for a picture with your best regal smile.
Take the No. 5 subway line to Gwanghwamun Station and use exit 7 and walk for five minutes. For more information, visit the Web site at www.museum.seoul.kr.
Today through Sunday, Namsan Hanok Village, one of the few places in Seoul where you can appreciate a well-preserved hanok, a traditional Korean house, is giving the first 500 visitors each day a Lunar New Year special painting called sehwa, which drives away bad luck.
Tomorrow, the village will hold an exorcism dance to welcome the new year, and on Friday, it will display a traditional Korean drama performance, both at 3:30 p.m.
Another performance, this one of a traditional seesaw game where the participants are propelled high into the sky, will be presented on Saturday at 2 and 4 p.m. Namsan Hanok Village sits in Pil-dong, northern Seoul, best reached by taking the No. 4 subway line to Chungmuro Station, exit 3 or 4.
Old palaces are also good holiday choices, where admission is free for those dressed up in hanbok, or traditional Korean dress. Unhyeon Palace goes even further, offering a free gift, a bokjori, a straw scoop for good luck, to every visitor. Subway line No. 3 takes you to the palace, at Anguk Station, exit 4.
For the holidays, the subway will run much later than usual, until 2 a.m. from Friday to Sunday.
Networks full of crowd-pleasers
So even with all the great cultural opportunities around Seoul, you still want to be a couch potato? Well, everyone’s entitled to some time to kick back and do nothing.
A few snaps of your fingers on the remote will get you a star parade: Leonardo Dicaprio, Natalie Portman, you name it. Major local TV stations, KBS, MBC and SBS make it their business to fill Lunar New Year’s holidays with special movie treats. Though DiCaprio may speak in flawless Korean in the dubbed version, some fiddling with your faithful TV remote control will get your good old DiCaprio back, American accent and all.
Holiday specials on major TV stations have traditionally been tried-and-true family flicks. This year is no exception. From the British claymation film “Chicken Run,” to the now-classic “Titanic,” you don’t even have to bother going to your nearest video rental shop. Just sit back, relax and look through the listings for your favorite movie below.
TV listings for the holidays
Jan. 21 KBS2 10:50 p.m. “Married to Mafia” Korean Comedy
MBC 2:05 p.m. “Saving Private Ryan” English Action
MBC midnight “Extreme Ops” English/German Action
SBS 11:05 p.m. “Exit Wounds” English Action
SBS 1 a.m. “Two Cops” Korean Action
Jan. 22 KBS2 midnight “Belphecor: Curse of the Mummy” French Drama
MBC 12:15 p.m. “Star Wars: Episode 1 ― The Phantom Menace” English Sci-fi
MBC 11:05 p.m. “Lover’s Concerto” Korean Romance
MBC 1:05 a.m. “Once Upon a Time in America” English Drama
SBS 11:05 p.m. “Catch Me if You Can” English Drama
SBS midnight “Two Cops 2” Korean Action
Jan. 23 MBC 12:15 p.m. “Godzilla” English Sci-fi
MBC 9:55 p.m. “Classic” Korean Romance
SBS 9:55 p.m. “My Tutor Friend” Korean Comedy
SBS midnight “X-Men” English Action
Jan. 24 KBS1 2 p.m. “Chicken Run” English Animation
KBS2 10 p.m. “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” English Fantasy
MBC 9:45 p.m. “A Tale of Two Sisters” Korean Horror
MBC midnight “2424” Korean Comedy
SBS 9:55 p.m. “Jail Breakers” Korean Drama
SBS midnight “Replicant” English Sci-fi
Jan. 25 KBS1 midnight “Titanic” English Romance
MBC 10:45 p.m. “Conduct Is Zero” Korean Comedy
SBS 9:55 p.m. “The Tuxedo” English/Cantonese Action
SBS 11:45 p.m. “Payback” English Action
by Chun Su-jin