Holiday fun for the foreignerChuseok, Korea’s version of Thanksgiving, is one of the most festive holidays of the year. It’s a time when extended families gather together and feast on cuisine that has often taken days to prepare. Most people flock to their hometowns to spend time with relatives and enjoy good cooking (and prepare it, if you’re on the female side of the family).
The holiday traditionally falls at the end of the rice and fruit farming cycle, which is why the table setting is abundant. People also honor their ancestors; customarily, a table is set for them. Traditional games are played. Sometimes, in rural areas, there are even bullfights.
During the Chuseok holiday, which essentially starts tonight and continues through Wednesday (the day of Chuseok itself is Tuesday), Seoul becomes a different place, with so many people out of town. The highways in Korea are jammed, but the traffic in Seoul is noticably diminished. Many restaurants, especially neighborhood eateries, will be closed; major department stores will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. But the city won’t turn into a ghost town. Movie theaters such as COEX Megabox, CGV and Artrion will be open for their usual business hours; Artrion is even scheduling extra screenings for the holidays.
If you’re an expatriate in Seoul during the holiday, there are places where you can go to take part in Chuseok traditions in your own way. Or if you’d prefer, you can indulge in less holiday-specific entertainment too. Here are some suggestions.
Try these places for a foreigner-friendly taste of Chuseok.
Namsangol Hanok Village
Monday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(02) 2266-6923~4, www.namsan.co.tv
This surprising haven from modernity can be found near Chungmuro subway station, line No. 3, exit 3. Some Chuseok events will be held here, amid the hanok (traditional Korean houses) decorated with old-style furniture. Visitors can play folk games, make songpyeon (the half-moon-shaped rice cakes) and watch traditional performances.
An exhibition of charyesang, the table prepared for the ancestral memorial ritual, will be on display from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Special demonstrations for expatriates are scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
Traditional performances, such as pansori (a form of musical storytelling performed by a vocalist accompanied by drums), mask dances and tightrope walking can be seen at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day. Visitors can make songpyeon from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
National Folk Museum of Korea
Saturday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(02) 3704-3114, www.nfm.go.kr
The National Folk Museum of Korea, on the Gyeongbok Palace grounds (use Gyeongbokgung station, line No. 3, exit 5), houses a collection of 71,000 artifacts illustrating what life was once like for Koreans, both working people and aristocrats, particularly during the Joseon Dynasty (1392 to 1910). The museum’s five-story main building is styled after Palsangjeon Hall at Beopjusa temple.
On Sunday, the museum will host a few events specifically for expatriates: mask dance lessons, from 10:30 to 11:20 a.m.; instruction in making Chuseok food, from 11:20 a.m. to noon; a short traditional performance, from noon to 1:10 p.m., and mask making, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Other activities, from folk games to traditional dances, will be going on throughout the holidays.
Sunday to Wednesday
This palace, near Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 4, is known for its biannual reenactment of the last royal wedding in Korea, that of Emperor Gojong and Empress Myeongseong in 1866. It’s scheduled for Oct. 2; in the meantime, the palace is hosting some Chuseok fun.
Visitors can try their hand at folk games from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday. There will be traditional music and dance performances on the outdoor stage on Sunday from 5 to 6 p.m., and on Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m.
Seoul Museum of History
Saturday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; closed on Monday.
The Seoul Museum of History, near Gwanghwamun station, line No. 3, exit 7, focuses on the history and traditional culture of the nation’s capital. The museum is open for most of the Chuseok holidays, and on Wednesday, visitors can watch traditional performances from 2 to 3 p.m. and join in games from noon to 5 p.m. Souvenirs will be awarded to winners of the games.
Korean Folk Village
Saturday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Located in Gyeonggi province not far outside Seoul, the Korean Folk Village is an open-air folk museum that sprawls over 245 acres. There are more than 260 homes here, designed in late-Joseon-Dynasty style. The museum is devoted to showing visitors traditional handicrafts, clothing, housing and cuisine. Traditional events are scheduled during the Chuseok season.
Visitors will get a chance to make songpyeon and participate in folk games, like jump rope and tuho, a game of accuracy in which you throw sticks into a barrel, from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday to Wednesday.
On Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m., there will be folk games specific to Gyeonggi province. And from Saturday to Wednesday, there will be a daily ritual giving thanks to the seongju spirit, which is said to take care of the household. This can be observed from 2:30 to 3 p.m. each day.
Additionally, traditional performances will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday.
From Gangnam subway station, line No. 2, take exit 6 and walk to the LG25 store; there, you can catch buses No. 1560 and 5001-2, which will take you to the folk village. These buses also stop near Yangjae station, line No. 3, exit 7, in front of Seocho Gukminhoegwan (Seocho Community Center). From Yangjae, the trip is 40 minutes if the traffic is good.
A few theaters will be open at night during the Chuseok holiday.
Nanta (“Cookin’”) Theater
Friday and Saturday at 4 and 8 p.m., Sunday to Wednesday at 3 and 6 p.m.
www.nanta.co.kr, (02) 739-8288
This performance has become a Seoul staple, especially for expatriates. While no special events are scheduled for Chuseok, the theater will be open during the holiday.
This nonverbal performance, about four wacky chefs clowning their way through preparations for a wedding banquet, puts Korean traditional percussion into a comic setting; it was recently adapted for an off-Broadway theater. The Nanta Theater is near Seodaemun subway station, line No. 5, exit No. 5.
Tickets are 30,000 won ($26) to 50,000 won.
Saturday to Wednesday
(02) 751-1544, www.chongdong.com
This theater, near Deoksu Palace in central Seoul, was founded in 1995 to promote traditional culture. It’s holding several events for visitors during Chuseok.
Starting from 7 p.m. nightly in the lobby, you can play folk games like yutnori, played with four wooden sticks, and sample traditional desserts like yakgwa, a fried cake made of wheat flour, honey and oil. At 7:20 p.m., you’ll have a chance to learn the basics of the jangu, an hourglass-shaped drum. The 8 p.m. performances at Chongdong Theater feature traditional dance, music and salmunori, a percussive musical form. After the performance, step outside to Ssamzi Courtyard for a ganggangsuwollae, a Korean circle dance. A package ticket for both the lesson and the concert costs 20,000 won.
At the concert only, if three family members attend wearing hanbok, the traditional attire, admission is half off. Expats employed by the same company might be able to get 10-percent group discounts with prior notice. “Chuseok is about spending time with your family in your hometown, but these expats are far from their homeland,” notes an organizer. Concert tickets are 20,000 to 30,000 won.
Besides the rides and assorted fun they offer year-round, some of Seoul’s theme parks have specific Chuseok activities planned. Here’s when those events are scheduled.
Monday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
(02) 982-6800, www.dreamland.co.kr
Take your kids to this amusement park for traditional Korean games like tuho. They can also get their pictures taken with Dreamland characters. Basic entry is 2,000 won for children, 3,000 won for adults; an all-inclusive pass is 12,000 won for children, 16,000 won for adults.
(031) 320-9271, www.everland.com
Saturday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
This park is updating the folk games yutnori, played with sticks, and jegi chagi, or kicking the shuttlecock; Everland’s sticks are two meters long, and the shuttlecock is half a meter wide. Kids can play at noon, 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. each day, except Monday.
Also, for that perfect old-fashioned photo opportunity, there will be a “royal throne setting” every day; visitors can pose for a picture with characters dressed like a Joseon Dynasty king and queen.
An all-inclusive pass is 23,000 won for children, 30,000 won for adults.
Seoul Grand Park
Saturday to Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(02) 500-7114, grandpark.seoul.go.kr
It’s not really a theme park, but it’s a park. Seoul Grand Park will be holding a daily concert for Chuseok called Dongmulwon Gajok Eumakhoe (“Park Family Music Festival”), featuring guitarists and Korean oldies. It will be held daily from 4 to 5 p.m. Admission to the park is 1,000 won for children and 3,000 for adults.
Sunday to Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
(02) 504-0011, eng.seoulland.co.kr
Expats get into Seoulland at half price through Oct. 3. The park’s Comic Bolshoi Circus will be held daily at 2 and 5 p.m.; there’s a scarecrow making contest from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday and folk games daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 7,000 won for children, 12,000 won for adults; all-inclusive admission, 18,000 won for children, 26,000 won for adults.
by Joe Yonghee